Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with cats
Ah, sibling rivalries. From establishing their spot on the hierarchy of cat trees, to who gets to use the litter box first after it’s been cleaned, you know what I’m talking about. One minute they’re sitting calmly on the bed, humoring their human’s desire for a group photo, and the next they’re screaming so loudly the neighbors can hear it and chasing each other under the bed. This blog is the record of the peace process in our three-kitty household: the Kitteh Peace Summit.
In the beginning, there was Deidre. She will be twelve next month, and has always been the queen bee, no matter what house she’s lived in or how many other furry kids also resided there. She once resided with a 90-pound German Shepherd who bowed to her authoritah. She’s really a cuddle muffin; she just appreciates those who show her the proper respect. That’s her at the top of this blog.
When Deidre was about one year old, my roomate at the time got a kitten. For a week or so, Deidre asserted her authoritah, and then they were best friends. They ate together, bathed each other, played together, slept together… licked each others’ butts before we got them spayed. So I thought, OK, she gets along great with other cats. Boogala (roomie’s cat) accepted that Deidre was the boss, and they were friends. Of course the cat in residence is the boss. No big whoop, right?
Well, roomie and I moved, and Deidre and I moved in with two other (male) cats, and the aforementioned German shepherd. New place, new cats, new species, new humans… let’s just say Deidre wanted to establish herself as Queen of the household, and left a few scratches on noses in her wake. But, as before, only after a couple of months this time, she settled in, confident that the other creatures in residence knew she was royalty, and tried to make friends. But they were TERRIFIED.
You see, the two male kitties in residence were not only boys, but older, and declawed, to boot. This strange woman with claws in the front was a force to be reckoned with. So when she tried to approach in a friendly manner, they ran away. To which she said, “Well, FINE, if you’re gonna be like that, I WILL swipe at you again!” It was a vicious circle for quite some time.
So, when we moved out of that house and into our own place, after she had lived here for about a year and was thoroughly bored by herself, I decided to get her a playmate. But I had learned my lesson! I went to the local shelter (Maxfund no-kill animal shelter: http://www.maxfund.org/) with a plan in mind: I wanted a cat that was younger, female, and with claws, as Boogie had been.
I thought my plan was foolproof, and soon I would be taking adorable pictures of snuggles and joint bathing sessions again.
Enter Maggie Magnificat, my beautiful tortie girl. She is younger, and female of course, just as I had planned. What I didn’t know was that she had no claws in the front. And apparently the shelter didn’t know, either, as other cats had big signs on their kennels (it was a free-roaming room with individual kennels for privacy) declaring “DECLAWED” in bold print. It wasn’t in her paperwork, either. They said she had been so depressed, she never came out of her kennel, and she had been at the shelter over a year. I believed it, as it wasn’t until my second visit that she even got up to move closer to the door so I could pet her better.
Well, miss Maggie had lived with me for a few weeks before I finally said… hey… why haven’t I seen you scratch any of the scratchers around yet? And I discovered what some other human had done to my sweet lady. OK, I was a little worried, but I still had hope. She was younger (she’ll be eight in December) and female, after all.
I read up on introducing a new cat in several cat books to make sure I was doing everything properly to help make the transition go smoothly: feliway plugged in, slooooowly introducing them to each other, switching rooms so that they could smell each other’s smells before they came face to face, etc. I thought surely, with all this effort, they would make friends before long.
Sweet Maggie is a bit of a nervous Nelly. Not that I blame her: her main weapons were taken away, after all. But I tried everything. Feliway, no-stress spray, multiple cat trees, shelves on the wall, cubbies to hide in, cat behavior books, animal communication specialist, you name it, I tried it. But the vicious cycle returned. By the time Deidre determined that Maggie knew she was boss and tried to play nice, Maggie was terrified. And… well… FINE, if you’re gonna be like that…
Maggie and Deidre lived together for almost two years before I finally started catching them even sharing the bed without me playing Great Wall Of China between them. Yes, they weren’t exactly cuddling on it, but I took what I could get. Deidre figured out that she had to be oh so patient and gentle with her sister, and started making impressive efforts to approach her slowly, quietly, and non-threateningly. She even got a few sniffs in before Maggie would realize she was there and turn around and start growling. Even then, Deidre didn’t swat or chase, she just sat back calmly and looked at Maggie like, “See? I’m harmless! Cuddle?”
My hope was restored.
At about this time I thought I might start volunteering at the shelter, and in preparation, I asked my landlord if there was any way I would be allowed a third cat. She knew me and said it was kosher. I knew if I started seeing homeless kitties every day eventually I was going to break down and need to take SOMEBODY home.
Then I went to PetSmart. You know they adopt out cats there from local shelters. Don’t pretend.
Meet Yuan, my snuggly, lovey, bold, frisky little man. He wouldn’t know what the word “timid” meant if he could learn from a dictionary through osmosis. The girls agree that the vacuum is the Big Scary Yellow Noisy Thing. Yuan says, “Hey, Mom, whatcha doin’ with that thing?” The girls won’t go outside even if I leave the door wide open. Yuan is out on the stoop rolling around in the dirt and leaves that get blown up there. The girls hide when strange humans come over to the apartment. Yuan is waltzing up to them asking for snuggles and pets.
He once approached my jigsaw… while I was using it.
Yes, I shut him inside for the remainder of the power tool session.
So Yuan is basically the yin to the girls’ yang, and not just because he’s male. Deidre has always been the queen bee but she’s not a social butterfly. Yuan is the kid with five thousand Facebook friends. He launches from the top of the floor-to-ceiling cat tree like he’s Superman. He actually likes to be held. He’s the one that causes things to go “bump” in the night. He’s three now but still acts like a kitten. He plays hard and naps hard. And noms on just about anything if I let him.
Needless to say this shook up the family dynamic. Little did I know that cuddly, friendly little Yuan was also an alpha cat. Deidre suddenly had a challenger! Maggie now had two of these crazy cats to deal with! He took over cat tree shelves! He had no respect for territory! He’d take naps in their favorite haunts and play where they liked to sleep! It was chaos!
At first it looked like things might pan out just as I’d hoped… that Yuan, being so friendly and affable, might make friends with both the girls and then be a bridge between them. I figured if Maggie saw Deidre being nice to another kitty, maybe she’d think, oh. If I don’t growl or hiss, maybe she’ll just cuddle with me, too.
I know, I know… silly human.
It wasn’t so bad at first. And then, suddenly, as though they had been taunting each other from opposite sides of the fence, World War III broke out in my apartment. But not just any old cat fight, oh no. The two alphas decided to pick on Maggie, tag-team style. Poor Maggie took to hiding inside my box spring (Deidre had long ago clawed a gateway to the interior under my bed) all day if I’d let her. I’d have to literally lift the box spring and mattress and shake them until she came out, just to get her to eat, drink, and use the litter box.
So, Maggie eventually got the one bedroom in my one-bedroom apartment all to herself. The two bullies are not allowed in there, and the door stays shut. Her stress levels have ratcheted down quite a bit, but are still enough that I talked to the vet and now she’s going to start some kitty anti-anxiety meds. My poor baby. I’m hoping it will help enough that Deidre (the more likely suspect) or Yuan (less likely) will be able to make a gentle approach and Maggie will say… “Oh… okay… you’re not pouncing? Sure, you can sniff my paw… ”
Meanwhile, the two that have been left with the run of the living/dining/kitchen/bathroom area (which is not that large as this is a 600-some-odd square foot apartment) are now duking it out with each other. Sometimes, Yuan gives Deidre the slow-blink submissive look; others, he stares her down like Jeff Dunham’s Peanut (“I will never blink!!”). Deidre is not used to being challenged. And every day, he encroaches on more and more of her territory. I feel like I’m going to have to get a second bedroom just for Deidre now!
But just when I think she’s been intimidated, she up and screams like a banshee at him and sends him packing.
This is the story of the peace treaty negotiations, and other adorable kittyness, of my three cats.
They really are all very sweet… to me.
I think if I got a camera with slo-mo, I could make a homemade rendition of 300.
John Lennon help me.