We know that cats are good at showing people who’s boss (try to remember the last time you woke up without your cat telling you it was breakfast time), but did you know that their “leadership skills” can pop up in the animal kingdom, too? One cat proves it. A kitten who grew up around support dog trainees helps socialize the canine helpers at Support Dogs, Inc., in St. Louis. Named D.O.G. (rhymes with “emoji”), the former barn cat gets dogs comfortable with fellow pets so they can go out in the world and help others. “He has stolen the hearts of many a dog lover,” says Anne Klein, CEO of Support Dogs.
D.O.G. came to the assistance animal facility at 7 weeks of age. The plucky black-and-white kitten came right up to a Support Dogs staffer who was staying at a bed-and-breakfast inn with a barn that had working cats.
“The cat kinda chose her,” Klein says. “One little kitten came up to her, when all the others scurried away.”
After asking Klein if the kitten could come live at Support Dogs, she said they could “give him a whirl.” And what a whirl it was.
“The cat from the beginning was kind of fearless and stood his own,” Klein says. “He would bat at the dogs’ noses and engage with them. And the dogs were kind of curious because, you know, they’re dogs. They’d kind of say: ‘I want to sniff you and play with you!’” This went for most of the nearly two dozen dogs who either came in with employees or were there for advanced training. The support dog trainees are typically in puppy stage, up to 2 years old, and D.O.G.’s comfort around the canines made him a great candidate to offer an essential training tool: how to tune out distractions.
“The cat will come in, chasing something or batting at their tails — they just have to remain calm,” Klein says. “He’s been a great tool to make sure they’re really listening to the training and, eventually, to be able to listen to their handlers without distraction.”
The puppies stay with their trainers at night, and come morning D.O.G. gets “up in their faces” right away, as Klein says. While he might be the only animal to get full-time room and board at Support Dogs, this guy earns it. “He’s got a job, just like everyone else,” Klein says.
D.O.G. is now 6 months old, in the prime of his distraction abilities. Klein thinks this talent will last beyond kittenhood. “I think he really thinks he’s a dog, so he’ll still go up to them and play with them,” she says. “When he’s older, he’ll still be a good distraction, a good training tool. He’s a pretty awesome cat.”
We agree. What’s more, his awesome personality is making way for people in need to have awesome assistance animals. This cat’s outgoing behavior — and comfort with his inner management strengths — make him the perfect boss of dogs.
Anastasia Thrift has covered cat news and lifestyle topics for eight years. She has two cats, Killer and Linc.
Thumbnail: Photography courtesy Support Dogs, Inc.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
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