Far From the Litter Box
Think of the word “drool,” and it’s likely that you picture a dog salivating over its dinner, or long slimy strings hanging from a jowly pooch’s lips. I think of my cat, April, who wakes me well before my alarm with tippy taps on my face, and as she purrs, little droplets of drool fall from her canines onto my cheeks. The feeling is about as pleasant as stepping in water while wearing socks, but in a small, strange way, living with April reminds me of my days with canine companions.
There are other ways she reminds me of a dog, too. She is wild for food and starts meowing desperately when dinnertime rolls around, and she begs for scraps at the table, especially when cornbread is on the menu. She adores the outdoors and loves a good roll in the grass or a short — very short — hike on leash. And most importantly, she is incredibly loving; unlike many dogs, her affection is conditional, but she’s reasonable enough. All this is to say that the dichotomy that exists in our culture between dog people and cat people is simply a false narrative.
There are cat-like dogs and dog-like cats and everything in between, and many dogs and cats don’t feel the same pressure that some humans do to stay in their lanes. It takes less than five minutes of scrolling on social media to find cats and dogs not only comingling, but genuinely enriching each other’s lives. In this story we introduce you to our favorite canine-feline combos — and one feline-donkey combo — to illustrate that cats are capable of more than just being aloof couch goblins. We see that when the two species come together, beautiful friendships result.
In 2019, Chloe, a French bulldog-Boston terrier-pug mix, earned a new nickname: cat whisperer. She was being treated for a mast cell tumor on her paw when veterinarians noticed the special way she put her feline counterparts at ease. So powerful was her presence that she became a de facto “comfort dog” for kitty oncology patients.
These weren’t the first cats to benefit from Chloe’s kind ways. That honor belongs to Koda, the British shorthair who joined the pooch’s household when Christina Ho adopted the small kitten at six weeks old. After some initial hesitation, Chloe took the small, grey kitten under her wing, introducing her to her other canine siblings, Winston and Dexter, and helping her fit into the pack.
“She took on this mothering role and would do things like grooming Koda, licking her and cleaning her,” Ho says. “I think that being around Chloe all the time made Koda develop these dog-like tendencies.” Among those tendencies is Koda’s adventurous spirit. Early on, Ho noticed Koda’s interest in the outdoors and her desire to tackle the same experiences as her canine siblings. She started small, with short waterfall hikes, expecting timidity from Koda, who is Ho’s first cat.
“Instead of being scared of the waterfalls, she would stand there and just love it,” Ho recalls. “She let the breeze hit her face and was like, ’Ah, I love this.’” Since then, the family has conquered endless new adventures together. They’ve visited seven national parks together, snapped festive photos at Halloweentown, and delighted in the trippy visuals at the Museum of Dream Space. Ho takes her four-legged best friends everywhere she can in the hopes of showing them everything life has to offer. And Koda, with her protective and loving posse of pups, is always up for it.
“Koda is curious, and she likes to go out and see things,” Ho says. “As her owner, I want to be able to show her as many things as I can. Just like for humans, it broadens [her] perspective to get so many different experiences.”
When James Eastham first met his partner’s cat, Gary, the cat did what cats sometimes do: hide. The then-two-year-old’s favorite spots were under the bed and in the closet. Back then, his only outdoor adventures included slipping through an open apartment door to catch some fresh air.
Eastham and his partner soon noticed Gary’s affinity for escaping and decided to offer him a new experience: leash training. Though the process was tedious and slow-going, Eastham says Gary’s love of grass munching quickly outweighed his harnessed hesitation. The couple moved to the mountains of Canmore in Alberta, Canada, and began building up Gary’s hiking stamina. In just a few short years, he’s become a genuine outdoorsman, accompanying his humans and their three dogs — Duke, Marge, and Douglas — on incredible adventures, including a 22-mile hike to Yoho National Park’s Opabin Lake. Though Gary likes to get out and stretch his paws, he often spends long hikes in his backpack or perched on Eastham’s shoulders.
“Beyond hiking, he loves to paddle on a little inflatable pack-raft. We’ve also gone skating with him and he goes skiing, as well,” Eastham says. “He’s summited quite a few mountains with me and stood on a number of peaks.” The once-timid cat has even darted among the crevasses of Athabasca glacier and joined Eastham for some appropriately named cat skiing, a type of backcountry skiing where skiers are transported up runs by snowcat vehicles. These new sights, sounds, and experiences have changed Gary’s life, giving him more confidence and a safe outlet for his love of the outdoors.
Of course, Eastham says, hiking with Gary is different from hiking with dogs. He’s slower, sometimes refuses to walk, and requires more attention and care. Still, he wouldn’t trade the special bond they’ve developed through adventuring. “Gary and I have been doing this for a while, and I think we’re pretty good at reading each other. One of the benefits of having him on my shoulders is I can notice changes — if he’s really relaxed, if he’s tensed up, if he’s not happy,” Eastham says. “It’s just nice to have a buddy when you’re out. It’s nice to be able to bring Gary and have someone to get out and do something with.”
Samantha Draper’s hobby farm already had plenty of animals, including two Anatolian shepherd livestock guardian dogs, mini cows, alpaca, goats, chickens, turkeys, and a mini donkey, but it didn’t have a cat. Draper always thought she could never have mousers on hand with her two rough and tumble livestock guardian dogs and four additional rescue dogs. Plus, cats never seemed to like her much.
Then one day she spotted a tiny kitten running around on her property. Draper decided to keep the fierce little feline, and slowly began introducing her to each member of the family. Luna, as she would come to be known, made herself right at home. “She wasn’t scared at all. I mean, you would think any cat would be intimidated. She was a kitten, and it was like nothing to her,” Draper says. “We joke that she’s kind of like the ranch supervisor and oversees command and control at the ranch because she seems like she’s got control of the livestock guardian dogs, and all the farm animals bow down to her.”
Luna’s closest relationships on Raventree Ranch are with livestock guardian dogs Lilly and Bo, whose job it is to stay with the farm animals at all times, protecting them from threats like coyotes or foxes. Draper says Luna has the two dogs, who are several times her size, wrapped around her little paw — especially Lilly. “They kind of have a language of their own and they have games that they play. I have security cameras so I can watch the dogs at night and she’s out there with them,“ Draper says. She will often catch the trio playing hide and seek together, and the dogs seem to consider Luna part of the team.
They aren’t the only ones smitten with Luna, though. Even the notoriously pushy mini donkey, Molly, is charmed by the little cat’s big energy. “She takes her time to really win over the hearts of each animal,” Draper says. “They almost look at her like a little god or something, and they worship her. They really love her and adore her.” Draper feels the same way: “Luna kind of transformed our life when she came into it. She just brings a magical quality to the ranch.”
Casper the Samoyed and his feline brother, Romeo, are like human siblings in nearly every way. Even their earliest days together reflected those of new siblings learning to share time, space, and resources. Little by little, Casper and Romeo warmed up to each other.
“Then it just happened,” owner Rensa Li says. “Casper would really softly, gently follow Romeo around, and Romeo was just like, ’OK, but not too close.’ On week three, Casper and Romeo just kind of bonded together.”
Since then, the two have been inseparable. Li and her husband Wei Chang Phee noticed the cat and the dog copying each other’s behavior: grooming themselves at the same time, operating on their own special schedule, and changing their eating habits to match one another. Romeo came when Casper was called, and he picked up on his canine brother’s tricks, too, even learning to shake — a genuine feat, as any cat owner knows. And they hated to be separated.
“[We decided] if my dog can go out, my cat can go out,” Li says. The couple started to leash train Romeo, expecting disaster, but instead watched him take cues from Casper. “He just wants to be by his brother’s side. So, it was really easy for us. If we can control Casper, we can control Romeo.”
Of course, like any pair of siblings, the two have their disagreements and differences. For one, even though both are fluffy and white, they are opposites in other ways. While Casper usually has the typical “sammy smile” plastered across his face, Romeo’s perpetually sour expression rivals Grumpy Cat’s. And jealousy often creeps into their relationship, causing many spats. Phee says their relationship has its love-hate moments, but shines when they are out exploring New Zealand’s Remarkables or Port Hills: “It’s an interesting dynamic when we’re outside. It kind of seems like they look out for each other quite a lot.”
Their love for each other, and the ways in which it mimics human relationships, touches audiences across the globe through social media, too. Li and Phee get messages daily from people expressing their gratitude for the love shared between Casper and Romeo. “We never knew that they would have this impact on peoples’ lives,” Phee says. “If we can just make people smile, even for a couple seconds, it brings happiness to [our lives].”