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Your Pet's Cheating Heart

We like to think our pets are our best friends, but what happens when your dog or cat falls for someone else?

Getting a pet is a lot like a marriage: It’s meant to be for life. At least, that’s what we like to think.

Our pets sometimes have different ideas about what they want from a relationship, and they aren’t always shy about seeking it out.

Take my neighbor’s cat. Tired of sharing his home with a drooling dog and three adolescent kittens, he took off for the greener grass of the neighbor across the street. Alison sees him once in a while, but he’s made it clear that she no longer holds first place in his heart—if indeed she ever did.

Dogs and cats that swap living spaces might not be common, but they do exist. Veterinary behaviorist Terry Curtis of the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville acquired Molly, an orange tabby, after the cat became dissatisfied with the presence of two dogs and a newborn in her own home. She began spending more and more time next door with Curtis, where she could have toys that weren’t stolen by the dogs and attention that wasn’t shared with a baby. The neighbors loved Molly, but they could tell she was happier with Curtis. When the veterinarian moved, Molly went with her.

Dogs, of course, are supposed to be the epitome of loyalty, but some of them are, well, a little unclear on the concept.

Take my dogs. They love the neighbors. Not in a tail-wagging, “glad to see you” kind of way, but more along the lines of obsessed stalkers. When they hear Mary Lou’s garage door open, they race downstairs and paw at the screen door until I take them out to see her—and the treats she hands out. And even though Jim and Jennifer moved out two years ago, they still stare longingly at their door and try to drag me to it, in the hope that Jim will appear with something special for them.

Why do pets prefer other people or homes?

“I don’t think it’s any more complicated than they find a different place that’s more attractive to them,” Curtis says.

Given that dogs are supposed to be our best friends, it can be a little disconcerting when they show a preference for someone else. But I like the attitude of pet behaviorist Arden Moore of Oceanside, Calif.

It’s healthy and natural for our dogs (and cats) to show affection for other people, Moore says. “It shows that they are very social and welcoming,” she says. “It helps us not to have pets that are so Velcro’d to us that they may have separation anxiety.”

And unless your dog or cat packs his bag and moves away, relax. We all like to have lots of friends, and chances are he really loves you best.

Andromeda November 26, 2012 at 07:24 PM
I think ascribing human values to animals is flawed. A dog is a dog and a cat is a cat. They are not capable of strong emotional attachments like we humans are. So my suggestion is not to expect your dog or cat to act like a human being. Love them for what they are. IMO it is cruel to expect a dog or a cat to act human or show human emotion. Besides, let's say a human who is neat and tidy was forced to live with a couple slobs. How long would it take that human to find another place to live if he or she had any self-respect? And spouses often leave their mates for someone with better looks or more money. So some humans are not that far removed from acting like animals. The door swings in both directions.
Janet Whitcomb November 27, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Oh, I don't have a particular problem ascribing certain human values to animals. Or perhaps I should just say values? Such as affection, fear, gratitude, anger, etc. . . . these are emotions I've noted in my pets, and certainly they are emotions we human beings experience as well. I've noticed some of my pets are more social than others . . . one dog in particular loved to socialize with my neighbors, friends, etc. But I never had the feeling she would prefer living with them; when I did leave her with someone, although she seemed to enjoy the adventure, she always happily greeted me when I'd pick her up. I never had to pry her away! On the other hand, if someone--human or animal--is being neglected, or the situation isn't conducive to a really good long-term relationship--who can blame them for seeking another situation?
GAILMcCORMACK December 01, 2012 at 08:20 PM
To Aandrometa... U evidently never experienced the love and closeness of an animal. And i feel sad for u. They are loyal ..trustworthy...loving ..and so smart. You should be so lucky to ever have this kind of LOVE.
Andromeda December 01, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Gail, I have owned many animals in my lifetime. And I have deeply cared for all of them. But animals are not capable of human love, Gail. Their brains are not designed to work that way. You may call it 'love'. But it's not the same 'love' that we typically experience as human beings. Part of the problem of pet ownership is that people expect animals to act like human beings. They can't, Gail. They are beasts. Not humans. Oftentimes animal cruelty is a result of humans having wild and exaggerated expectations of their animals. I am only telling you the truth. So please don't be offended.

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