Friday, July 18, 2008

Cat Ambivalence: Come Here, Come Here...Hiss! Hiss! Go Away!

Our new cat, Zyelena, curled up with Phillip in 1987.

Phillip and Zyelena, 1987

We had a new kitten. Well, cat. She was about six months old and she was a beautiful little girl, very slender, with a black coat, white tummy and chin, and white mittens. We got her to replace our wonderful little dog, Amber, who we'd decided really needed a family that could give her the full-time attention she deserved. My wife and I were both working full time, and the poor puppy spent too many hours alone. She was a bright and active dog, so that meant that when she was bored she started getting into trouble. After a while, and some painful soul-searching, we decided to give her up. My wife found a home for her with a coworker who had kids. As it turned out, his retiree parents fell in love with Amber and ended up taking her home with them. It was the right thing to do, but it hurt at the time.

To fill the hole left by Amber, and to keep Phillip company, we went to the pound to find a new cat. I had seen a beautiful little orange tabby about Phillip's size when I was at the pound earlier. My idea was that we should get another cat about Phillip's size since he was a rambunctious little boy, and the other cat should be big enough to stand up to him.

When we got there, the orange tabby wasn't there any more. She was a gorgeous, friendly little thing, so hopefully someone took her home (I expect so, since she was in the unavailable section when I saw her before and the time until we came back may not even have been enough time for her to become available.) At any rate, we looked at the cats that were available.

I was approaching the process in a more or less logical fashion. I did a once-over on all the cages looking for signs of health problems, injuries, and other potential problems. Then I started looking at size and form. Then I started assessing the sociability of the cats as best I could under the circumstances.

My wife, however, had no such approach. She had already fallen in love with the cat who was to become our Zyelena. I had already eliminated her in my assessment as too small, likely to be bullied by Phillip. The cat had immediately reacted to Toni when she went by the cage. She had rubbed up against the bars and looked deeply into Toni's eyes and purred for her.

I suggested another cat or two to Toni, and she humored me by having a look at them, but in each case she wanted the little black cat more. We briefly discussed coming back another time, but she wasn't willing to risk losing a chance at the little black cat.

So, logic to the breeze, we took home the little black cat.

We took her straight home, we wouldn't have a chance to take her to the vet until the next day since we'd picked her up in the evening. When we got there we pulled her out of the box and let her get acquainted with her new home. It's always hard to do the right thing. You want to hold them and pet them and get acquainted with them yourself, but you have to stay back and let them take things at their own pace.

Phillip was immediately curious, of course. The black cat avoided him at first, but after she'd made a circuit of the living room she stood and looked at him, then quivered her tail.

Phillip walked up to give her muzzle a sniff. He no sooner got within sniffing range than she turned into a fireball, hissing and scratching and yowling at him. Phillip ran away, then turned and gave us a hurt look, as if to say, "What did I do?"

We spoke to her, I stayed away since she seemed leery of me, but she was immediately friendly with Toni. She brushed up against Toni's hand and purred. Then she suddenly seemed to notice Phillip. She made eyes at him and quivered her tail again.

Phillip came slowly over. She reached her nose out toward him. He stretched his neck out to give her a sniff. Again she transformed. She hissed, spit, scratched, and howled. Phillip leaped and raced away, hiding behind the couch. Once he was there and sure he wasn't being followed he looked over toward me. His expression was mournful. He looked confused and frightened.

The black cat continued her inspection of the house. Phillip followed at a distance. He was still very curious about her, but also much cowed by her treatment of him. Three more times as we went through the house the scene repeated itself. She would see Phillip, stand and invite him over, then go berserk the moment he was near.

"I suppose she needs some space," I said, "too much excitement or something." I made preparations to separate the cats for the night. I set up cat boxes and dishes in our bedroom and checked the box in the hall to make sure it was fit for use. We kept Zyelena in the bedroom with us that night, and poor Phillip was left outside in the hall. He cried a little and dug at the door a little, but overall he held up well. I went out and visited with him a couple of times during the night.

The next day Toni dropped off both cats at the vet. We had an appointment for Phillip as well as for our new cat. Toni mentioned the odd interaction the two cats had had the prior day. Later that afternoon, she got a call from the vet that explained it.

Zyelena was in her first heat. They learned this when they did the spay on her. I hadn't seen any of the signs either before or after we got her. I had thought of the possibility but her size made me think she may still be too young, and there hadn't been any signs of it--other than her behavior toward Phillip.

Phillip had already been neutered. So here she was, attracting him as a possible mate only to have some cat who didn't smell right for the job come walking up!

After we got them both home from the vet, though, they tried again. Zyelena stood and quivered her tail. Phillip wasn't sure what to do. Finally, his desire for friendship won out over his fear of claws, hissing, and spitting. He walked up, stopped. Then extended his nose. She reached out her nose. They gave each other a good sniff. Then she stepped forward and rubbed against him. he rubbed back, then started to get too curious about her backside. She drew back, and he froze. His eyes were nearly closed and his ears were rocked back like he was waiting for a storm.

She turned around and gave him a head bump. He relaxed, and gave her a lick on the forehead. Everything was OK.

Until ten minutes later, when she went and hid under the bed for two days. But that's another story.

Our Two Old Cats, Phillip and Zyelena, over seventeen years later.

Phillip and Zyelena, 2004


No comments:

Cat Yarns at Blogged Add to Technorati Favorites