Jul 26, 2014

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?

Your Pet's Cheating Heart

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.

Don’t miss updates from Patch!