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In Our Own Backyard...Dogged determination

They say it's a dog eat dog world out there. I would argue, however, that it's the cat the dog better watch out for!

Our two pampered felines have grown up around dogs — more or less — since several of our family members are dog owners. Whenever they come to visit, our cats grudgingly accept their canine cousins, but they spend most of their time keeping a "polite" distance from atop some high perch, or the comparative safety of our bedroom.

The cats never seemed to mind the mellow, mild-mannered yellow lab when he visited, and they were known at times to walk right over him while he was sleeping. And every chance they got, they'd crawl into his bed, curl up and monopolize it while he was away. When he wanted to lie down once again, whichever cat was in his bed would patently refuse to leave. And I do have to say, the dog never challenged them.

When it comes to my sister's two small herding dogs, however, it is a somewhat different story. To be herded around like common sheep is something our cats will simply not stand for, and they pretty much channel the two persistent pooches into the same category as pesky rodents and small children — and retreat in disdain.

Recently, there's been a new dog in town, one that's kind of a combination of all the others, and one they haven't quite been able to figure out yet.

His name is Tucker and he belongs to our daughter and her family from the Twin Cities. He was supposed to be a yellow lab mix, according to the shelter, but now that he's fully grown (at a whopping 40 pounds or so), he looks more like a yellow greyhound, with a deep chest, wasp waist and ears that are permanently cocked sideways. He's a dear dog, rather shy but full of rambunctious energy, and when he comes to our house the cats can't decide whether to fight or flee.

When he arrived with his family a couple of weeks ago after not being at our house since last spring, one of our cats — Sunshine — immediately bolted upstairs and hid under the bed. The other — Mufasa — decided to stand his ground right inside the front door. As Tucker burst in, Mufasa's build expanded to a frightful diameter as the hair on his back and tail stood on end, and he began to utter a long, low growl from somewhere deep in his inner workings.

The shocked dog immediately bolted back out the front door and hid behind the legs of the two kids.

We decided to put a child's safety gate across the hallway to our bedroom, so the cats could escape to a place of solitude and the dog could walk about the rest of the house without cowering. That worked for a little while, but the gate didn't exactly fit the opening, so every once in a while it was knocked askew. When that happened, Tucker seemed to have a hard time containing his curiosity over the two cats, and he would take a reconnaissance mission down the hallway into the bedroom and then whirl around and dash back out.

Every once in a while he'd resort to guerrilla tactics and grab a cat toy in his teeth as he dashed back down the hallway, which didn't exactly earn him any Brownie points with the cats.

One day when the rest of the family was outdoors, I came in to start dinner and Tucker followed me into the kitchen to keep me company. As he sat there gazing up at me worshipfully, hoping some tidbit of food would fall on the floor, Sunshine — the timid one — slowly glided into the kitchen and delicately patted the end of Tucker's tail.

That set into motion a whole chain of events. Tucker felt the tickle and whirled around in surprise. When he did, Sunshine leaped straight in the air, and Mufasa appeared from out of nowhere and raised up to his full height in a dead standoff against the dog to protect his "sister."

Poor Tucker slunk in terror into the farthest corner of the kitchen.

Now, if I didn't know better I could swear the two cats had planned the whole thing in an insidious plot of revenge. Scenes from "Lady and the Tramp" flashed through my mind, when the two visiting Siamese cats taunted the dear little cocker spaniel mercilessly and got her into trouble with her owners every chance they could get.

I felt kind of bad about the whole thing, particularly since Tucker looked so totally miserable. But I do have to admit, the perverse side of me couldn't help but feel the tiniest bit proud of them….