[The following was written in response to this week’s assignment for Blogging University’s Writing 201: Instructional. It is definitely not something I would normally write. I promise more authentic pickled stuff is to come. Please check back. Thank you.]
Last night was the first night Mercy slept in our bed since October. Between her and Trouble, she had always been the one to snuggle. That is until Lilly, a long hair tortoise shell adult female, came to live with us. For the safety of all concerned, Lilly got the bedroom. A closed door separated this newest member of our household from the other two cats. As might be expected, Mercy was none too pleased. Reluctantly, she resigned herself to curling up on the sofa. Trouble had pretty much always been content to sleep just about anywhere, so thankfully there was no immediate crisis in his world. It was, however, going to be a long two months. The great cat compatibility experiment had begun.
When it was first decided that Lilly would be coming to live with us, I wanted to make everyone’s transition as easy as possible. Insofar as Trouble and Mercy had lived with me since they were kittens, I decided a little research was in order. I searched Google for “how to introduce adult cats” and was reminded of two things I already knew: cats are primarily territorial by nature; and introducing adult cats would require tremendous patience. I was not deterred. I read on. Some of the advice proved helpful. Much of it was just common sense. Two months have since passed and we’re all still alive. Maybe I did something right.
Separate but equal
I didn’t need an expert to tell me to initially keep the cats separated. This was Trouble and Mercy’s home and a new cat would certainly be perceived as an intruder. Lilly’s bed arrived a full three days before she did. The other two didn’t seem to care. Both were relatively uninterested in the bed and its strange scent. I took that as a good sign. I was optimistic. When Lilly finally did arrive, carrier and all went into the bedroom. The door was promptly shut, and Trouble and Mercy were left on the outside wondering who or what had just taken possession of such a large part of their territory.
For Lilly, everything was new. She still had her bed. Her food and water bowls were the same. And her litter box hadn’t changed. But everything else about this new space was unfamiliar, especially the strange smelling blanket (Trouble and Mercy’s favorite) that lay next to her bed. Lots of attention and reassurance would be required. It was absolutely essential for her to feel safe and loved. Someone was in the room with her as often as possible and, when not possible, the television was left on to keep her company. By necessity, she was adjusting.
Trouble and Mercy were understandably curious and insatiably needy. It was imperative that their schedule not be disrupted. Meals and treats came at the same times they always had. Their litter boxes were scooped promptly after breakfast. With the exception of their having been cut off from the bedroom, nothing else had changed. But that one closed door was all the evidence they needed to know something was amiss. I don’t think they ever had more interactive play time and loving, but they still knew life was about to change drastically. Tentatively, they waited.
Not so pleased to meet you
About the time Trouble and Mercy figured out there was another cat in the house, it was decided that introductions were called for. Now, the experts all agree that you should never hold one cat in your arms while introducing it to another. A bit of advice I would encourage my reader to heed. In the event things don’t go well and a fight breaks out, someone could easily get hurt. I, however, have always been somewhat haphazard when it comes to the instructive wisdom of others. Holding Lilly securely in my arms simply felt like the right thing to do. So that’s I did.
Now, Trouble and Mercy are your typical black and white cats. Not tuxedos mind you, just mixed up black and white. They took one look at Lilly in all her multi-color long-hair glory and appeared immediately confused. I was sure I could read their thoughts: “Is that a cat?” “Don’t know. Hard to tell under all that fur.” They gawked. Lilly trembled. The humans cooed and coaxed in conciliatory tones. Not much else happened. Initial introductions were concluded. Lilly was returned to the bedroom. The door was once again shut.
The next day, introductions continued. Same preliminaries. Only this time, Lilly ventured beyond the safety of human arms onto the sofa. And so it went. Each day, Lilly mustered up the courage to go a little farther. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there was some hissing. Truth be told, there was a lot of hissing and even the occasional growl. Lilly, Trouble, and Mercy were definitely three less than happy cats throughout the whole ordeal. There were moments I feared our feline compatibility experiment might fail. But giving up was not an option. The humans would prevail. We persevered.
Good things come to those who wait
For nearly two months, progress was only made in increments. Lilly would spend her days negotiating the sometimes perilous territory of the house, and her nights safely sealed away in the bedroom. Ever so slowly, however, the climate in the house began to change. First, treat time became a group activity. All three cats. All at the same time. All within feet of each other. Then, there were those occasions when, for one reason or another and only ever for a short while, no one would be home to supervise. The bedroom door was deliberately left ajar. Much to our relief, everyone survived unscathed.
Little by little, Lilly, Trouble, and Mercy began spending more loosely supervised time together. Any audible tension was immediately investigated and addressed. But, for the most part, all three cats were tolerating each other—or maybe even getting along. Although Lilly was still spending her nights in the bedroom, Trouble let it be known that these arrangements were no longer satisfactory. He’d lie in the hallway, reaching beneath the door with his paw and whimpering like a rejected lover. For her part, Lilly would hiss and carry on, but I suspected she was rather flattered by the attention.
Before long, Lilly and Trouble would be rocking that door in its frame at night trying to get Lilly out or Trouble in. I’m not sure which. They learned if the noise persisted long enough, someone would eventually get up and open the door. The first time it happened around 5 AM. The next, closer to 4. And then, opening the bedroom door became more like a middle of the night trip to the bathroom. Finally, it seemed pointless to even close the door in the first place. At least that was our reasoning last night. The door was left open. The humans slept. The cats survived. And Mercy got the bed back.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, they still hiss at one another. The top perch of the cat tree has become the major cause for contention, but they can just as easily get their whiskers in a knot over any perceived offense. A spray bottle has proven enormously helpful in pointing out selfish behavior. They can stomp their feet and hiss at each other all they want, but raise a paw, and they get a squirt. Not that I’m foolish enough to think we will live in perfect harmony happily ever after. There are and will continue to be skirmishes. We are all going to be ok, though. I am sure of it.
I would encourage anyone who is bringing an additional cat into the home to do your research. Do a Google search. Talk to your vet. Call that crazy cat lady you been trying your best to avoid up until now. In other words, know what you are getting into. But, when all is said and done and those paws hit the carpet, the single most important thing you’ll have going for you is that you know and love your cats. They pick up on that. Cats are smarter than we give them credit for. If the humans in the house are convinced that everything is going to be okay, chances are they will.
Please know, dear reader, I write only out of my own experience. There are some cats in this world that cannot cohabitate regardless of any amount of love shown or patience demonstrated. Such an outcome, while unfortunate, is no one’s fault—neither human nor feline. If your own experiment fails and it becomes necessary to rehome your newly adopted cat, just make sure he or she is entrusted to the care of someone who will love and care for it as you had wanted to. It is your responsibility to make sure your cat has a new and happy home.
Now that our sleeping arrangements have been renegotiated, I am confident the nights around here will be considerably quieter. I also suspect the day will come when the great cat compatibility experiment will be but a distant memory and any initial fears long forgotten. I am looking forward to that day. For now, however, my attention has shifted to seeing whether or not our Christmas tree survives until the end of the year. It’s always something.