Interview With Susan Nilson Of The Cat and Dog House

Susan NilsonPhoto provided by Susan Nilson

My name is Susan Nilson (she/her) and I'm a cat and dog training and behavior expert, with professional accreditation via CAPBT (COAPE Association of Pet Behaviorists and Trainers) and PPAB (Pet Professional Accreditation Board).

I am the owner and founder of The Cat and Dog House, an online educational authority site geared towards helping cat and dog owners better understand their pet's behavior, body language, and emotions.

And I live with four rescue dogs and six rescue cats.

dog training Photo by Blue Bird: by Blue Bird:

I am also a published pet behavior author and editor, and have been featured on Newsweek, Readers’ Digest, Homes & Gardens,, Bustle, The Bark to name a few.

I have many tales of rescue pets but for now I will stick to just one of them.

Dubai Photo by Walid Ahmad: by Walid Ahmad:

I spent several years living and working in Dubai, during which time my husband and I encountered many cats and kittens struggling on the street.

We stepped in and rescued several of these precious souls from precarious situations, including from a car engine, a drainpipe on the side of a busy highway, and multiple injured cats and orphan kittens that we found in various parking lots.

One day, my husband returned home from work with a specific mission: to go back and feed a tiny tabby kitten he had spotted in his office parking lot.

He did this for a few more nights until I finally decided to tag along.

frightened cat Photo by George Bonev on UnsplashPhoto by George Bonev

When we arrived, the dearest little tabby kitten shyly emerged from behind a large piece of plywood that he had leaned up against the wall of the stairwell to provide her with some shade.

I couldn't get over how tiny she was. She was maybe 6 weeks old, if that.

The moment I laid eyes on her, I knew we couldn't leave her there.

A busy parking lot,_Alausa.jpg,_Alausa.jpg

It was a busy parking lot, attached to the corporate headquarters of a large international company.

Obviously, she was not safe there.

So of course we took her home!

We already had two adult rescue cats so we set her up in a spare bedroom with food, water and a litter tray.

We named her Mini Me, because she was a miniature version of our huge tabby cat, George.

Even though she was covered in oil and ticks, and had a skin infection so there was no hair on her ears, she was immediately curious and playful, and incredibly trusting of us.

We took her to the vet to get cleaned up and checked out.

Mini Me as a babyPhoto provided by Susan Nilson

Once she had had the right treatment, put on some weight and her fur was in better condition, we began the search for a loving home, and it seemed we had found one with a lovely South African couple (and their dog) who had just moved to Dubai.

I was thrilled that Mini Me had found a good home but also quite sad as I had quickly become very attached to her.

She already thought of me as her mom and would follow me around the house, sleep on my neck, and come running when I called her.

Luckily, fate had other plans.

cat high five Photo by Jonas Vincent on UnsplashPhoto by Jonas Vincent

A few days later, the South African couple returned Mini Me as their dog was not very accepting of his new cat sister and they didn't think it was fair to stress him out further, after the move from South Africa.

I was secretly relieved, but also a bit worried, because I didn't really want a third cat and our resident cats, George and Loulou were a very tightly bonded sibling pair.

Luckily, we found another lovely family who also had a dog.

But when we went to drop off Mini Me, she was absolutely terrified of the pup.

She hid and cowered under the furniture and was extremely stressed.

I didn’t feel comfortable leaving her there and the potential new owner was also quite concerned.

And so we agreed that Mini Me would come back home with us.

Introducing a cat and dog Photo by Helena Jankovičová Kováčová: by Helena Jankovičová Kováčová:

Looking back, it’s very obvious that the cat-dog introductions in both cases were not done properly.

Handled differently I am sure both of them could have been successful.

But in the end, these failures were our gain because we decided to keep Mini Me and work through a proper integration process with our other cats.

Luckily, because Mini Me was so young, it was a fairly easy introduction process - although George was a little aggressive to start with.

cat sleeping with human Photo by Alina Levkovich: by Alina Levkovich:

So at night, I would hide her under the duvet in the crook of my arm so I could keep her safe and George wouldn't bother her.

This quickly became a learned behavior and she slept in that position for the next 15 years, until, very sadly, she developed a lung tumor and we had to make the agonizing decision to let her go.

Mini Me's bond with me grew even stronger with time, and I was her greatest source of comfort right up until her very last breath.

During her 15 years with us, she came on two international moves with us, from Dubai to USA, and USA to Finland.

She took it all in her stride and adapted like a duck to water both times.

Mini Me as an adultPhoto provided by Susan Nilson

I feel so grateful that our first two attempted homings didn't work out and we got to keep this sweet, loving, quirky cat who left such an indelible mark on our hearts.

Imagine if my husband hadn't cared, or made any effort to help her, or we hadn't gone to check on her that night! We would have missed out on so much.

I can't help but feel grateful for every twist of fate that led us to keep Mini Me.

And it all started with a simple act of compassion – a decision that enriched our lives in ways we couldn't have imagined.

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