My cat and dog have THE worst marriage I’ve ever seen. This could be because they’re not actually married… but honestly that’s just the tip of the iceburg. They’re rude to one another. They push each other’s buttons on purpose. I’m not even convinced that they like one another at all. Still, I am determined to help.
I sent these two to a marriage counselor (me) for an afternoon to attempt to sort out some of their deep rooted marital issues and help them better achieve wedded bliss. From the outset, I was fully aware of the problems associated with me counseling these furry lil chicas:
1. I’m their mother, which means it’s 100% unethical.
2. I’m not a licensed therapist. In fact, my degree is in theatre and has nothing to do with this.
3. They’re not married.
These things are true, yet I was inclined to give it a go. After all, they are pretty much bound together for eternity. Plus my mom is an elementary school guidance counselor, so like… I should be a natural at this, right?
Let’s meet the couple, shall we?
-Gilda, Gilly or Gil for short
-German Shepherd Collie Mix
-Had a tough start to life as a stray on the streets of Bakersfield, CA
-Adopted in January 2016
-Likes: squirrels, stealing loaves of bread off the kitchen counter, head scratches, snuggling
-Dislikes: her harness, being told not to eat Marti’s food, the Bulldog who lives across the hallway
-Marti for short
-Polydactyl Orange Tabby with Alopecia (she’s got lotsa bald spots on her bum and extra toes on her front paws)
-Was surrendered by her previous owner to Best Friend’s Animal Society
-Adopted in May of 2015
-Likes: stealing straws from your cup, playing with straws, face rubs, snuggling
-Dislikes: sudden movements, guitars, not being fed exactly on time
We immediately ran into problems. Gilda arrived promptly for our scheduled meeting. She wiggled around my office (the living room), while Marti hid in the closet to avoid her. Eventually, though, I convinced Marti to join us.
Okay, now we were cookin’!
Even though Marti wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of touching or even sitting within 5 feet of Gilda, I convinced her to join us by offering her a place on my lap. It was a highly unorthodox maneuver — I’ll bet it’s even illegal for a licensed therapist to do this? But I’m not a licensed therapist AND she agreed to it. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was a perfect (wedded) union between canine and feline. Baby steps.
Now that they were both in the same room, it was go time. I attempted to start a lively discussion about how each of them feels in this holy, holy union. Gilda informed Marti that it is exhausting work being the only one working to keep the magic of their relationship alive through spontaneous gestures.
Hearing this, Marti rolled her eyes. Uh oh.
Hostile gestures like eye-rolling are never welcome in my office. I asked Marti if she had anything to say or add to Gilda’s comment, yet she still refused to participate. Instead of forcing her to speak before she was ready, I asked if she would be more comfortable sharing her feelings via writing. I asked her to make a list of changes she’d like to see Gilly make, and to my surprise, she obliged.
What was on the list?
-“Move slower, Gilda. Not so many sudden movements. It’s v scary for me as I am much tinier than u.”
-“Please let me eat my own food instead of stealing it out of my bowl. You have your own food and your own bowl.”
-“Stop being so greedy with mom and dad’s attention. Sometimes I want to hang out with them solo, ya kno?”
-“Plz plz plz don’t act like you want to eat me alive, mmmkay?”
Unfortunately, Gilda did NOT take this list well. She said she was open to constructive criticism, yet when presented with it she shut down. She regressed to juvenile middle school passive-aggressive behavior and gave her wife the silent treatment.
Some therapists would say this kind of behavior could be traced back to Gilda’s relationship with her mother. But I disagree.
As I watched this unfold, I couldn’t help but notice that many, if not all, of this couple’s problems stemmed from one larger issue: a lack of trust. This called for the oldest counseling trick in the book: TRUST FALLS.
Listen, I know it’d be cruel to actually drop my cat onto my dog’s head. I knew from the start that I was never going to go through with it… in order for my counseling tactic to work, I only needed them to believe that I was going to drop Marti onto Gilda’s head.
As I held Marti above her wife, I felt the energy in the room shift. The office/living room was now chock full of electric intensity as adrenaline surged through their furry little bodies.
“Here we go. Ready? One… two….”
Yet, instead of “three” I shouted:
…and whisked Marti off to the safety of the coffee table.
They were both stunned. Marti seemed grateful for the misdirection, but Gilly was confused as to why I aborted operation trust fall. I asked them to sit in silent contemplation for 60 seconds to gather their thoughts on the experience, all the while hoping that perhaps this high stakes experience had helped them bond in a new way.
At this point there were only a few minutes left in our session. I began to wrap things up by asking them what they’d learned from their experiences in therapy that afternoon. But before either of them could answer, my office door (err.. the front door to my apartment) swung open abruptly: Dad was home.
Gilda trotted to the door to greet her father, while Marti made a mad dash out of the room, most likely to resume hiding in the closet. Here I was thinking we had made progress, but the two still couldn’t stand to be in the same room as one another! I had failed as a marriage counselor! My mom (the real counselor) was going to be so disappointed in me 🙁
CUT TO LATER THAT NIGHT:
Most therapists do not have the luxury of living with their clients (cause that seems like it wouldn’t be allowed, right?), but I only have two clients and luckily they DO live with me. Otherwise, I would have missed this…
Okay. I know this might look like a trivial little moment, but it was truly HUGE for this duo. Maybe they don’t always get along. (In fact, they rarely do…) But there is some definite affection there sometimes and that’s a start. Obviously my one marriage counseling session with this couple didn’t solve all their problems, but I can honestly say I don’t think they’re gonna get divorced any time soon, mostly because:
–They’re not actually married
–The state doesn’t recognize marriages between animals as binding under the law.
–These two have no human money, and I don’t think a divorce attorney would draw up papers in exchange for a rawhide (Gilly) or some straws (Marti).
Maybe I’m not the Cesar Millan of the marriage counseling community, but I AM available for hire for all of your pet marriage needs — and I will gladly accept rawhides and straws as payment.