Spank him? Send Him Packing?

Elliott amd Sophie

First in a series

We love our pets like little people in furry suits but if they bite, chew, bark, or relieve themselves indoors they need to stop that @#%& right now, don’t they? Even if you’re not a violent person you could be tempted, but please don’t spank him.

Way back in the day, I was an undergraduate student, a pre-veterinary major, at Michigan State University. Getting accepted to veterinary school, someday, required having math, physics, biology, and inorganic and organic chemistry blasted into my brain by fire hose. We also swallowed livestock sciences plus English and humanities. It was during this challenging time that I became fast friends with Anna and her significant other Tom.

Anna and I, each aspiring veterinarians, shared an almost identical class schedule. We often studied together during the week and, well, we were college students, so there was some minor weekend partying which always included Tom.

I sit today on Tom’s and Anna’s front porch in St. Paul, MN ready for school again. The annual presentation of scientific papers, held by the college of veterinary behaviorists, will start tomorrow, followed by the internal medicine forum. Anna is a veterinary internist. My residency training was a deep dive into the brains of animals but I’m still trying to learn it all.

Tom’s and Anna’s cat Elliott is sitting next to my laptop, watching me carefully. He may know that he is a main character in an unfolding drama.

The brain is considered the most complex organ in the body. Elliott’s is special because he’s making bad choices. His people love him but he’s using their gorgeous house (believe me, it’s magnificent) as a blank canvas to relieve his stress. This otherwise placid pet has been an indoor urine graffiti artist. Nobody, including Elliott and his feline housemate Sophie, nor their people is happy.

Soiling one’s own domicile is abnormal behavior for any species. Anna and Tom had done their best, believing that “they’d tried everything.” What they missed was the underlying reason for Elliott’s self-soothing. It’s OK though; his brain is in my wheelhouse.

Next week: Spank him? Oh, no. Let’s find the cause and fix that.

For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website,

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom ( Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Email pet behavior or physical questions to or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.