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Posted on Sat, Jul 10, 2010 : 9:48 a.m.

Merging two households: the blended pet family

By Lorrie Shaw

Today, there is a lot of talk about "blended families." Ours is a blended family, but it's not what you would expect in the traditional sense. We have no children. We have pets - three of them.

My partner Chris and I hit it off right away. One of the main things that we found that we had in common when we met was our love of pets - and we're both "big dog" people. After knowing that the two of us were compatible, we had to consider the next obvious step: the compatibility of our four-legged family members. Our pets were very important in our respective lives, and we were not willing to part with them to further the relationship. It would have been futile to proceed any further if our pets couldn't be happy together, too.

Before meeting Chris, it was just the three of us - Gretchen, a St. Bernard/Shepherd mix; Silver, a domestic shorthair; and me in our household. The two animals were roughly the same age and had pretty much been raised together. After some speed bumps initially, they had a solid rapport after six years. Bruiser was used to having top billing after he and Chris had roughly four years together in their household.

Chris and I knew that we had very like philosophies in co-existing with our animals, so we felt that we were off to a great start. Being mindful about how sensitive animals can be was important.

We decided to introduce the dogs first. We felt that how we did it was crucial. We did so on neutral ground outdoors and just let them do their thing as we all played. The two seemed to accept the other readily; we were obviously relieved. We'd visit each other's homes over the course of time, bringing our respective dogs with us. That turned out to be a good experience, after observing the behavior of both dogs during and after our visits. Each grew to trust and accept the new humans in their life, and Chris and I were satisfied with what we were seeing.

However, our first big obstacle became apparent immediately: Chris is very allergic to cats. I was always in the habit of keep my house very clean, especially having two indoor pets. I made a point to give Silver a bath regularly as was prudent, to keep the dander to a minimum.

It certainly seemed as though things were fine when Chris and Bruiser came to visit, and Chris showed no sign of a serious allergic reaction - nothing that an allergy pill couldn't take care of. But, we both began to wonder: if our relationship progressed through the years - how would we handle bringing two dogs together in one house for good? The issue of Chris' allergy to cats and also introducing a feline - one that we could clearly see was the alpha of the three pets - into a new environment permanently, was something that we also needed to give serious consideration. What if we weren't successful? Chris and I were steadfast in our commitment to keeping our pets in their stable living conditions.

We decided to make the transition on a trial basis, bringing everyone together for short amounts of time, usually on weekends, and then resuming our solitary lives. That gave us the opportunity to continue to gauge any behavioral problems and adjust or decide that maybe a permanent situation wasn't a good idea.

Fast forward years later, and we are all living happily under one roof. The dynamics of our lives have changed from before we were together, but with a healthy dose of honesty and mindful attention to our pets' needs, we were able to make it work as a blended family.

Lorrie Shaw blogs frequently about the social aspects of pet ownership on More Than Four Walls, and is a regular contributor to As owner of Professional Pet Sitting, she has extensive experience with animals including dogs, amphibians, exotic birds and cats, and is always interested in fostering healthy dog behavior. Contact her via e-mail.