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Suck it up and see

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OVER the years I have frequently counselled clients on how best to introduce a new animal to their household when one or more pets are already in residence. The advice varies with the situation, of course; a mature dog or cat might accept a young puppy or kitten much more readily than an older animal, which may be regarded by the original pet as more of a threat to its position in the family circle. A second rabbit might be gradually introduced to the resident bunny by a simple chicken-wire screen, which allows them to sniff and look at each other without any degree of physical contact, reducing the risk of all-out war starting when the two are actually put together. And there's no doubt that the clever, pheromone-based products now available have been a huge success in this sort of situation, easing the way for new arrivals to fit in.

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On the other hand, sometimes there's the argument that one should simply put the animals together and see what transpires – a real suck-it-and-see scenario. Unfortunately, there's not always a happy ending, and all vets will have witnessed the problematic situations whereby the new arrival has to be hastily rehomed, or returned to the breeder or pet shop, because things just didn't work out as planned.

However, I had a case recently that was – for me at least – unique. A client mentioned that a new acquisition was causing all sorts of ructions in the home, despite the fact that the seller had assured him that, once the dust settled, everything would be absolutely fine. Indeed, my client had understood that the new arrival would actually make things in the house better, because it wasn't an animal at all, but a robotic vacuum cleaner. You'll know what I'm referring to – indeed maybe you even have one yourself. Small, round and neat, these smart little devices sit quietly recharging in a docking station when inactive; when required, they busily whizz around the home, sucking up dirt and debris from the carpets, cleverly changing direction if coming up against an obstacle such as stairs, furniture or walls.

Unfortunately for my client, as soon as he had introduced the cleaner to his house and ensured it was fully charged, off it set on its mission, scaring the living daylights out of his pets. One cat shot through the cat-flap and sulked under the shed overnight. His terrier growled as it sucked the carpet around him and then tried to attack it. And his other cat hissed and spat as soon as it came within 10 feet of her.

The owner persevered, reasoning that the animals would grow to accept the new arrival, but they didn't. The old labrador, which had been the only one of the animal quartet not to be initially perturbed by the machine, became more and more agitated as the days went by, obviously convinced that the cleaner was following him from room to room, so that he could get no rest. The first cat moved out to stay with neighbours, while the other cat regularly sprayed against the machine and its docking station. The terrier appeared nonplussed, regarding it as a mute opponent who wouldn't back off no matter how much he growled at it. After three weeks of this my client gave it up as a bad job and took the machine back to the store for a refund, telling me that he had resorted to an old-fashioned manual vacuum cleaner which, although time-consuming, did not alienate all his pets.

As my partner noted afterwards with a smile, Aristotle foresaw this 2000 years ago. You might recall it was he who said ‘nature abhors a vacuum’.

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