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In Our Own Backyard: It's a cat-eat-dog world!

The yellow dog has come for a visit, and the cats aren't having any part of it.

Every year around this time, our son heads up to the hunting shack and we get to have his yellow lab, Tanner, all to ourselves. We always love having him at our house, since long work days and other commitments have kept us from having a dog of our own for quite some time.

Tanner has been coming to our house for pretty much all of his 10 years -- long before our two pampered shelter kitties became a part of the household. It took some doing the first year after we adopted them to convince them the laid-back yellow dog was a friend and not a threat to life as they know it.

At first the cats ran in terror, to the far reaches of a closet somewhere or the deepest, darkest corner under the bed. When they began to realize the dog was getting all the attention, however, they eventually came skulking out and began to test the waters.

It took several sessions of stalking around stiff-legged, issuing "hands off" growls or hisses and the occasional arched back before the cats settled into an uneasy truce with the dog. Tanner, of course, wanted as little to do with them as possible, since human beings are way more his cup of tea. I couldn't help think of that memorable scene from Walt Disney's "Lady and the Tramp," where the two cunning Siamese cats plotted and planned against the new puppy and did all they could to get her in trouble and hopefully out of the house for good...

Over the past couple of years, the cats and the yellow dog seemed to have come to an unspoken understanding. They are willing to share the same house, and for the most part, they are even OK with sharing the same room. But when it comes to anything having to do with food, all rules go by the wayside.

Food is without a doubt the greatest "bone" of contention among them. As soon as we get up in the morning, or step in the house at night, or sit down at the dining room table, or make even the vaguest move toward one of their food bowls, the two cats and the yellow dog are immediately there staring at us, jockeying for position and glaring at one another.

When we feed the cats, we have to decoy the dog into the other room, and when we feed the dog, we have to chase away the cats. If Sunshine, the feisty little female, can manage it, she'll position herself craftily between Tanner and his food bowl, just to make him sweat. And since the yellow dog is non-confrontational by nature, it often becomes an impossible standoff until one of us intervenes.

This visit has been much the same. Pet feeding time is a scramble of jockeying around food bowls and animals to make sure the yellow dog doesn't gulp down the Feline W/D low fat food for cats with delicate digestions, and that the cats don't inhale the Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Salmon Formula for senior canines.

In between times, the three of them remain ever vigilant, lest one get something the others don't.

One night, I was fixing dinner and mixing up something or other on the kitchen counter. It was a new recipe so I was concentrating on measuring the ingredients. I happened to look up at one point -- and there were three sets of eyes all staring silently at me from the kitchen floor.

Their quest for food isn't always so passive, however. Another night we were eating dinner and having a nice conversation. The yellow dog kind of materialized all of a sudden to the left of my chair and rested his chin endearingly in my lap (just in case some little morsel might happen to drop, I suppose). Before I knew what was happening, a paw shot out from the right side of my chair and took a swipe across my lap at the startled dog's muzzle! I jumped, the dog recoiled and the cat gave me a beady stare (as if willing something to drop into my lap at that particular point in time).

Perhaps the most unnerving situation happened last weekend, however. It was drawing close to the animals' feeding time, but I decided to take a quick shower before feeding them. I lathered up, washed and rinsed my hair and then toweled off before sliding open the shower door. And when I did, there stood both cats and the yellow dog, all crammed into the bathroom and staring daggers at me!