I’ve spent the last few days on what I am jokingly calling “caternity leave” while I introduce a new cat to my household.
This is, I imagine, a lot like hosting a state dinner at the White House when someone accidentally added two warring dictators to the list, another guest forgot to mention she was a raw vegan, and the house staff has just realized they’re short a chair. It’s possible to pull it off, but it may require superhuman powers, some blood will probably be shed and someone at some point will probably be found crying with despair in the walk-in.
It all started when I walked into the Feed Store to pick up some litter for Loki. The Humane Society places cats in the feed store to lure in unsuspecting suckers like myself, and usually I resist them. They sit in the boring metal cage by the counter, looking sort of sad, and I say “Hi kitty,” and then focus on the task at hand.
But Leila looked at me with luminous blue eyes and slowly, tantalizingly rolled over. She took her time about stretching her back and placing her paws just so until her head was almost entirely upside down and her creamy tummy was exposed, and she looked at me.
“Hello cat,” I said.
Oh shit, I thought. I’m a goner now.
I hoped one of the staff would come over to rescue help me, but they were all busy with other customers. I squatted by the cage and looked through her records. Leila had been abandoned with her brother in a foreclosed home and left there for six months. When she came into the shelter, she was wormy, flearidden, dehydrated and thin.
She kept looking at me.
Finally the flood of customers slowed to a trickle and one of the staff asked me if I’d been helped.
“I’m, uh, just here for some cat litter,” I said. “My usual.”
She nodded and started writing up the tag, but I kept looking back at Leila. The corner of the worker’s mouth quirked up in a grin. She knew exactly what was going on. She rang me up and there was a moment where we looked at each other and one of the barn crew got my litter out to load in the car.
“So, uhm, if I were interested,” I said, pointing at Leila. “What exactly do I need to do?”
She gave me a knowing smile and told me I would have to go out to the Humane Society, get screened for adoption and then bring the paperwork back. I have a feeling a lot of people ask, but not many follow through, so she sort of went through the spiel and then said “Have a good day” as I went out the door.
You need to think about this, I sternly told myself when I got in the car. Introducing a new cat is very stressful and I don’t know if you’re ready for it. Plus, you need to check with the landlords. And things are kind of unstable right now. This might be a really bad idea.
I went around town doing errands, and after about an hour, I was seized with terror. What if someone else adopts Leila?!
So I drove out to the Humane Society, where a very cheerful redhead grinned when I explained the situation. She was so very friendly and deft as she asked questions about my house and Loki and my cat experience and all the while she briskly filled out miles of paperwork and I signed things and then suddenly there was a stack of paper in my hand and I was driving back to the feed store to bail Leila out of jail.
“Oh, she’s going home!”
It was the staff member I’d talked to earlier, grinning ear to ear, pleased to see that I’d returned. I had to pick up some supplies for Leila and they gave me a little discount and bundled Leila up in her carrier and home I went.
So began caternity leave, a slow process of gradually integrating her. First there was much hissing and growling under the office door. I am sorry to report that Loki sounds like a cross between a basset and a defective fire siren when he’s upset. At one point, he snuck into the office and there was posturing and growling and vocal feline rage. I gently ushered him out.
The basic wisdom on integrating new cats is that you keep them separated and gradually introduce your cat to the new smell; for example, I have Leila’s carrier out in the living room right now for Loki to sniff. I may have bribed him with cat treats so he associates her smell with food, because I am shameless.
It’s a long and slow process and cats don’t like to be rushed, so currently my house is a closed-off maze of doors that require careful opening and closing to prevent face-to-face contact.
I looked up just now to see Loki sniffing with interest under the door to the hall, but not hissing. Then he bounced away to sulk on his chair. He is a champion sulker.
So far, my favorite advice on new cat introductions comes from this article, where we are informed that:
If a fight breaks out, do not interfere directly. Instead, throw a blanket over each cat, wrapping the blanket around the cat before picking him up. Separate the cats until they have calmed down.
There’s something I find oddly hilarious about that wording. At the same time, I really don’t want to have to chase cats around with blankets for the next three weeks.
Sometimes, new cats never settle in. It’s too early to tell how things are going to go; if Loki and Leila will tolerate each other or even become friends, or if I am going to be that person who has to bring a cat back to the shelter because “it didn’t work out.” Sometimes it just doesn’t, and there’s no guilt in that if you gave it your all. Forcing animals that hate each other to live together is its own kind of cruelty and while I'm not going to give up if they aren't best buds at the end of a week, I'm also not going to prolong things if it's clear they won't ever get on.
At the vet’s, where I took her for her introduction examination, everyone cooed over her. Her Dx is “cute,” with a possible case of “really adorable.”
“How’s she doing with Loki?” the vet asked.
“Oh, you know,” I said. She nodded.