Friday, December 23, 2016

Cat Wars

I’d planned to produce a writing post this week—or perhaps a history post—since I am off work and madly tearing through The Vermilion Bird. But the end of the week rolled around, and I decided history and writing craft were just too serious to use as topics this close to the holidays. So instead, I have a post about cats—because everyone knows the Internet loves cats, right?

It all began when the Filial Unit and his girlfriend decided to visit us for the holidays. As a mom, I’m genetically programmed to welcome such visits with unbounded joy. And when they floated the idea that their cat, a rescue animal who has lived with them for only a couple of months, might not do well with strangers coming in to feed him, the Mom program kicked in and I offered to host the cat, too—even though Sir Percy and I have two cats of our own.

Now, the new cat is a fine animal. He endured seven hours in the cat carrier with minimal fussing. He broke free of the confinement room and was exploring within hours. He’s coping well with new territory and new people, with just the occasional hiss or growl to let us know he hasn’t completely accepted us yet, but he’ll tolerate us so long as we give him some space. And the title of my post is somewhat misleading, in the sense that very little fur has actually flown so far. Even so, the acclimatization has been fun to watch. And not to get too heavy,  it might even say something about conflicts and their resolution—not only among cats.

 


First, the newcomer. Let’s call him Cat #3. After living who knows where, then in a shelter, then in a small apartment with two people, he’s naturally a bit nervous at a sudden transition to a full-sized house with four people and two other cats. He knows the basic cat drill: hiss a warning, growl if needed, hit out as a last resort, slink away if possible. But he has trouble figuring out when to yield and, especially, how to tell if Person or Cat X actually poses a threat.



Enter Cat #2, the only female in the group. She’s also a rescue cat, a feral kitten captured at six months, so she went from the outside world to a informal shelter with few cages but many cats to our quiet house with two adults who are around almost all the time. She has no desire to live anywhere else and a hyper-vigilant threat center that even eight years of daily reassurance can’t entirely reset. One hiss from the newcomer, and she raced for her favorite hidey hole. She stayed there for thirty-six hours until I dug her out and put her in a quiet room by herself, with food and water and a litter box. Since then, she’s reclaimed her spot in my study, but she’s still not sure about Cat #3 (who as I write this is inching his way up the stairs, one by one).




But the surprise hero of this narrative is Cat #1, our senior citizen. Cat #1 lives by Siamese (Cat) rules, of which the most fundamental is “Thou shalt snuggle.” He’s already suffered a certain amount of disappointment due to Cat #2’s propensity to flee at the very moments when, in his mind, snuggling is required. But diligent work on his part has won her over, most of the time. Indeed, just before the arrival of Cat #3, Cats 1 and 2 spent the entire evening huddled together on the couch, sharing an appropriately named Snugli. Still, there was some question as to how he might react to the arrival of an unfamiliar, younger tomcat.

It’s been an education for all concerned. Cat #1’s first reaction was to walk into the bedroom assigned to Cat #3 and his family—in the middle of the night, no less—and, ignoring all hissing and growling, to establish his right to the bed, after which he sauntered off to eat what remained of Cat #3’s dinner. Message: “My house, my rules. Get used to it.”

The next day, he followed Cat #3 around the house, stopping just close enough to elicit the first rumbling growl, then sitting there until it stopped before edging in closer. He did not look at Cat #3 while doing this, because staring is an aggressive act between cats. But he didn’t back down, either. After a couple of hours, Cat #3 gave up on the hissing and growling, at least with the other cats. He also became more accepting of the unknown humans, although he’s having none of that petting. That’s right out.

By the third day, Cats 1 and 2 are hanging out together as they always have, and Cat #3 has taken to roaming the house, often in the vicinity of the resident cats but not close enough either to cause trouble or to consider them friends. Cat #1 has socialized the newcomer with not much more than a sideways stare.

In all this back-and-forth, the cats have come to blows exactly once. Cat #3, preoccupied with the raising of the Christmas tree, did something that attracted the ire of Cat #1, who despite his fifteen years and kidney problems, let out an ear-splitting yowl and chased Cat #3 back to his borrowed room. Fifteen minutes later, tops, Cat #3 was back, his past sins forgiven.

Is that the end of the story? Unclear, as they still have a good week of reorienting to go. And the relationship between us and Cat #3, while developing, has grown much more slowly. We don’t read the signals as well, and we certainly don’t send them as clearly. Conflict avoidance demands effective communication, and communication, first and foremost, requires us to speak the same language. Guess I’d better go and brush up on my Cat.

Still, they are an example to the rest of us in this conflict-ridden world. So in the spirit of the season, peace and good will to all. Happy holidays, everyone, and best wishes for a stellar year to come!



Images: Wreath Clipart. no. 7597540; Cats 1–3 © 2016 C. P. Lesley.

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