Most animal lovers have either read Marley and Me or seen the movie of the same name. For those of you who haven’t heard of Marley and Me, it’s a true story about a recently married young couple, John and Jenny Grogan, who are contemplating having a baby, but decide to get a puppy first. They choose Marley, a rambunctious Labrador puppy who destroys their house, is kicked out of obedience school, and earns the reputation as the world’s worst dog. This lovable story shows that throughout the ups and downs of life, the world’s worst dog actually brings out the best in the Grogans and their family.
Although I never read the book, everyone kept telling me that as an animal lover, I had to see the movie. Knowing how the story ends, it took me awhile before I could bring myself to watch it. However, after I saw the movie once, I kept watching it over and over. I felt that I could relate and identify with this story. Although I grew up with dogs, ever since I’ve been out of college, the only pets I’ve ever owned have been cats. In fact, I adopted my first two kittens within a few months of being hired to work at the Michigan Humane Society 14 years ago. Maybe it was because I was in my early twenties at the time and had more energy, or maybe it was because I lucked out and happened to adopt two of the best behaved kittens in the world, but back then, raising kittens seemed like a piece of cake. I always lived in apartments that only allowed two cats, so I never considered adopting another one. It wasn’t until one of my cats died suddenly from a heart attack two years ago that I considered getting another one. That’s when I adopted Sushi from an area animal shelter. I didn’t know it at the time, but just as Marley was the world’s worst dog, Sushi was the world’s worst cat.
As part of my job at Animal Adoption Solutions, I go into shelters and photograph adoptable pets to be published across various forms of media. Since I work three jobs, I usually don’t have too much time to spare; I go into shelters, get to know the pets so I can appropriately write up their stories and descriptions of their personalities, I take their photo, and I leave. Having worked in the animal welfare business many years, I’ve learned it’s best to not get too attached to the animals. But then came Sushi. I walked in to take his photo and he rolled over immediately for me to rub his belly. Of course I had to get to know him better, so I sat down to pet him and he instantly crawled on my lap. He was cute as could be and I knew he’d be adopted quickly. So I took his photo and moved on. A few days later I came back to take more photos of other animals and I was surprised to see that Sushi was still there. The next week was no different. Finally, I decided that I had to get to know this kitty better. I spent quite a bit of time with him and became so fond of him; I brought my husband to meet him. As soon as Sushi fell asleep in my husband’s arms, we decided that we had to adopt him.
Having had experience with cat behavior, I knew how to introduce two cats to each other. When we brought Sushi home, we kept him in a separate room for a week and let our resident cat, Sola, investigate the smells. I figured Sushi would adapt okay being a five-month-old, but Sola who was 13 at the time, was another story. The introduction went surprisingly smooth, but it was all downhill from there. In the next few weeks, Sushi managed to destroy almost every piece of furniture we owned. He would run and slide on our leather couch and chairs as if it was a game. I woke up one morning and found that the tears on the couch had turned into holes and there was stuffing all over the house.
And just like Marley, Sushi was eating us out of house and home. Sola used to eat a half a can of cat food per day. With Sushi onboard, we were now going through more than three cans a day! Aside from his appetite and his love of destroying leather, Sushi would wake me up in the middle of the night tearing apart the bottom of our box springs under our bed. I tried to lock him out of the bedroom, but he just scratched our bedroom door apart (god, I hope my landlord isn’t reading this). He was curious, as most kittens are, but I didn’t realize that he could never be left alone. I once set the printer in my office to print out a dozen adoptable pet pictures and left the room. Several minutes later I returned to find Sushi with his paws reaching inside the printer and he had different colored ink all over his white fur. If that wasn’t enough, I once woke up in the middle of the night when I heard a very loud chewing noise. I turned on the light and saw Sushi on top of my dresser. Since I’m a minimalist and have no knickknacks around, there was absolutely nothing on the dresser that Sushi could be eating, so I assumed the chewing noise was my imagination and I went back to bed. It wasn’t until I awoke the next morning at 6 a.m. that I realized Sushi had been chewing my wooden dresser all night.
Since, like Marley, all of Sushi’s actions were completely without malice, I couldn’t help but still love him. He was neutered, had been to the vet, and had even been checked out by a pet psychic, so I knew there was nothing physically or mentally wrong with him. Just like Marley failed to grasp the idea of what humans expected of him, Sushi also had no clue.
Although Sushi is lovable, falls asleep on my lap, and loves Sola with all his heart, unlike the Grogans, I am unwilling to accept this bad behavior. I read that John Grogan looked back on his family’s time with Marley and the lessons learned, and concluded that: “Commitment matters. That ‘in good times and bad, in sickness and in health’ really means something. We didn’t give up on Marley when it would have been easy to, and in the end he came through and proved himself a great and memorable pet.” Although I admire his willingness to stick it out with Marley as I am willing to hang in there with Sushi, I differ in the fact that I just can’t accept Sushi’s behavior. It is especially necessary to modify Sushi’s behavior since I have a baby on the way and need to get Sushi under control before a little one comes into the picture.
I have tried rewarding Sushi’s good behavior with treats to attempt to get him to understand what acceptable behavior is, and this method has started to show some early results. Also, I recently spoke with my coworker, Rhonda, who happens to be a cat behaviorist, and she told me about clicker training for cats. I bought a book and I’m going to get started as soon as possible in order to get manage Sushi’s behavior.
My intention of this column is merely to entertain and is by no means meant to dissuade people from adopting a cat or dog. Most dogs do not behave like Marley and most cats do not behave like Sushi. I believe that Marley’s behaviors could have been corrected and it is my objective to curb Sushi of his behavior problems.
If any of my readers have stories about their cats who act more like unruly dogs, please feel free to post your story under comments. I’m hoping I’m not the only one with the world’s worst cat whom I still love!