Today, we have the second part of my interview with Dr Katrina Warren, the host of Housecat Housecall presented by Purina Cat Chow on Animal Planet. [Click here for Part 1.] We discussed everything from the feline grieving process to how veterinarians deal with the more difficult aspects of their profession.
Karen: Dr Warren, what is your favorite episode so far?
Dr Katrina Warren: I loved doing the Carrie Ann story, but I also loved doing the story about a cat who was bonded to a Great Dane, and they were best friends and did everything together. [NOTE: This episode aired June 12th] Then the Great Dane passed away and the cat was a mess…. looking for the dog all the time. It was really distressing and really sad. Then the family went out very quickly and rescued another Great Dane. And we all thought the chance that the cat would bond to the new Great Dane and vice versa and have a relationship similar to the one they had before was very small. But sure enough, a month down the tracks they are best friends. They play together. They curl up and sleep together. It’s just a really beautiful ending to a story that was sad.
Karen: Yes, I’ve experienced that. One of our cats died, and he was one that was the best friend of all our other cats. Everyone loved him. When he passed away, I had to deal not only with my husband’s grief, but the grief of the two remaining cats. They were depressed, distraught, and obviously grieving for the loss. So it makes me mad when people say that animals don’t feel emotions, or say, “they’re just cats.” They’re not “just cats.” They have the same rich emotional lives that people have.
Dr Katrina Warren: Yes, yes they do. And they do grieve. They grieve at different levels, some more than others. Some get really stressed and depressed by it. That’s important to understand. And that was the thing with this story, it was not only so sad, but I’d also recently lost my dog, so it hit a raw nerve. And then when we followed up down the track and saw the animals were happy again — that was beautiful.
Karen: Do you encounter situations where there are problems with cats becoming accustomed to dogs in their environment where they had not been around dogs previously?
Dr Katrina Warren: Yes, indeed! That can be an issue. And that’s something people need to consider when they bring a cat into a household when you already have a dog. I think it’s important to focus your energy on picking a cat or kitten who has been socialized to dogs or who you know is a pretty robust outgoing kind of cat. If you go to a shelter and you adopt a cat who is shy and timid that is hiding from people, well the chances are she’s not going to appreciate you bringing her into a household with a rambunctious dog.
For example, in my own situation, I just adopted a slightly older kitten. He’s very outgoing, and I did that because I know I want to get another dog, and he’ll be working the dog into his life. So you really need to consider the personality of the cat before you bring him into a home with a dog.
Karen: So is the breed of dog important? Say, someone is going to get a dog and integrate him into a cat household — are some breeds better than others when it comes to cat-dog harmony?
Dr Katrina Warren: No, because it’s all about what they’re socialized with. If you get the dog as a puppy and there’s a cat in the home, he’ll be absolutely fine with the cat in the house, since he’s been socialized from an early age. It’s more a challenge if you have an adult dog and he hasn’t experienced cats before and you bring a new cat into the house. It can be tough because they’re often inquisitive and they want to chase. So the key to make that process work is to try to make the addition of the kitten — or even a baby, whatever the new addition is — a positive thing for the dog. Don’t just make him sit whenever the cat or baby is around, but give him treats and play and make it a really happy time.
Karen: How did you become a cat behaviorist?
Dr Katrina Warren: I graduated from vet science in Australia a long time ago, but I’ve pretty much spent my whole career working in the media. What I discovered is that what I really enjoy doing is enhancing the relationship that people have with their pets. I’m not actually a certified behaviorist, I just have a very special interest in cat behavior. So when I was approached by Purina Cat Chow a few years ago to see if I was interested in hosting the show [Housecat Housecall]. They were familiar with my work in Australia, and that’s where it’s lead, and I’ve become more of a “pet expert” as the years have gone by.
Karen: Have you had a practice?
Dr Katrina Warren: No, I work in the media back home in Australia, doing television and writing. And to be honest, I don’t think I could work in a practice now as a veterinarian because I just get too upset, especially when animals have to be euthanized and I find it quite stressful, whereas with the job I have now, I feel I’m doing more good for the animals of the world than I would do in a clinic.
Karen: It’s interesting to hear you say that. When I was young, I always wanted to be a veterinarian, and I spent part of my summers tagging along with my vet who had both a livestock and small animal practice. And it was a good thing I did that, because I
realized before I started college that I just got too emotionally overwrought when animals were in pain or had to be euthanized and it probably was not the best career choice for me.
Dr Katrina Warren: Yes, and vets aren’t generally trained — that’s starting to change now — but they don’t give you enough training in that kind of “people” side of it and the enormity of the grief that you go through yourself and with these families when they lose their pets. And as you know, your pets are really like part of your family, and when they die, the grief is huge. And that, until recently, hasn’t really been acknowledged as much as it should. It really is a burdensome to be the one who puts the animals down, and I just don’t like it. I like helping people get through the process, but I don’t really like being the one to make that final call.
Karen: I just recently had a conversation with a vet friend who works in an emergency vet clinic, and he said it really does get to him, and that sometimes he craves just a few days in a regular clinic, giving vaccinations and dealing with more mundane problems because it is hard for him to spend so much time dealing with pets in severe trauma, and dealing with their families as well. It’s gruesome, difficult work.
Dr Katrina Warren: Yes, and that’s why I feel blessed because I can still promote and support the veterinary profession and I admire my colleagues that work in the field, but I’m very lucky because I get to play with puppies and kittens and help their people deal with the behavior issues!
YESTERDAY: Part 1 of the interview with Dr Warren.
MONDAY: We’re giving away Housecat Housecall Season 2 DVDs with Purina Cat Chow swag!
Watch Dr Warren work with Carrie Ann Inaba on Housecat Housecall presented by Purina Cat Chow on Saturday morning, June 19th at 10:30am, and Sunday morning, June 20th at 8 am on Animal Planet. Check your local listings — the show is usually rerun a couple of times during the week.
Don’t get Animal Planet? Click here to watch the cats’ stories online.