SAN DIEGO — Buster barks, wags his tail and chases mail carriers—yet incredibly, the playful pooch started his life as a cat named Sparkles!
The furry former feline is one of a growing number of “transpecies pets” that have gone from dog to cat or vice versa.
“When Buster, the only name he answers to now, was just a 4-month-old kitten, he lifted up his hind leg to urinate on a fire hydrant,” says his doting owner Felicia, 42. “That’s when we began to realize he was ‘different.’”
As time passed, the wannabe mutt increasingly exhibited traditional canine behavior while turning up his nose at the typical practices of cats.
“He absolutely refused to use a litter box and the one time we were able to coax him into catching a mouse, he showed no interest in playing with his food before he ate it,” Felicia remembers. “What excited him was burying bones in the backyard and riding in our car with his head out the window.”
Yet Buster was often depressed when he found himself rejected or even harassed by his peers who refused to accept him as a “real” dog.
“You’d see him sitting in the window sill wistfully watching a pack of strays chase a cat up a tree,” his owner says. “You could tell he wanted to join in but couldn’t. It was heartbreaking to see him so sad and we knew we had to do something about it.”
The operation cost just over $13,000 and was performed in a Philadelphia animal clinic, one of only 11 nationwide that handle veterinary snip and tucks. In the five-hour procedure, Sparkles’ ears were reshaped from triangular to floppy, his snout was lengthened and surgery was performed on his vocal chords to turn his meow into a deep bark. Contact lenses altered the distinctive slit-like appearance of his pupils.
Since his transition in July, Buster couldn’t be happier.
“You should see the joy in his eyes as he leaps into the air to catch a Frisbee,” said Felicity’s husband Roy, 43. “We’re so blessed to have a role in helping Buster to finally be the animal God intended him to be.”
According to a recent report, there were 145 dog-to-cat operations and 96 cat-to-dog surgeries last year, along with three hamster-to-guinea pig species reassignments. Those are twice total number of species swaps in 2013 and experts predict the figures will only grow.
“The old paradigm was that if you were born a dog, you’d spend the rest of your life as dog,” observes animal psychologist Jeneanne Hebleck. “But our understanding of what a species is has evolved. A dog raised among wolves would act like a wolf, believe itself to be a wolf and for all intents and purposes would BE a wolf. Same goes for a chimpanzee brought up in a human household.
“It turns out species is largely a state of mind.”
Copyright C. Michael Forsyth
If you found this story by fiction writer C. Michael Forsyth entertaining, you might enjoy his thriller The Identity Thief.