Our Four-Cat Family

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We lost our dear little cat Thursday in June of 2013.

Probably sooner than I should have, I went to the Humane Society of Chittenden County and adopted a pair of little black kitties, not sisters (technically), but nonetheless cats that had always been together, and brought them home. One was a shorthair, about two years old, whom the Humane Society had named “Little One”. The other was a medium-to-long haired cat, about a year old, that they’d named “Farrah”. Since Farrah was black, and Farrah Fawcett was blonde, that name seemed wrong right off… and since Little One was larger than Farrah and not exactly a small cat in any case, that name didn’t sit right with me either. I decided, for some odd reason, that they were actually little French mademoiselles, and renamed them Jacqueline (Farrah) and Marie (Little One).

They have an established base of operations in our downstairs bedroom. We put a cat box in the corner, for a start, and we bought two nice cozy cat beds and put them under a table in the opposite corner. In order to make the cat beds a safe secure place for them to retreat to, we draped said table with a large red blanket, establishing what we’ve come to call “the cat cave”.

Jacqueline is by far the more timid of the two; she can spend whole days lurking darkly under the guest bed, coming out only at mealtimes and only when the person putting down the food bowl has retreated a reasonable distance. Marie is bolder and has been much more interested in exploring the house. However, even Jackie has started displaying signs that she’s less wary and more at home. We can’t reach down and pick her up — she’d run like heck if we tried that — but she comes out to the dining room and looks at us, wanders around poking at things, and has been having fun with the many cat toys we’ve left lying around.

They’re both beautiful cats, but we’ve yet to experience the joys of cuddling with them. They have a very curious rule which we don’t entirely understand: when they are lying in their beds in the cat cave, we are allowed to lift up the blanket and pet them. Marie in particular likes that — she buzzes loudly and will occasionally roll over so we can rub her tummy. Jackie puts up with it, purrs a bit, but isn’t as enthusiastic about it as Marie. But let us try petting them anywhere else in the house and they evade our grasping hands with ease.

We know that they came to the Humane Society from the same home; they’d always been together. Unfortunately, being very very timid, and being black, no one wanted to adopt them. They were there for months. (I still don’t get the the whole “people don’t want to adopt black cats” thing.) I couldn’t bear the idea of adopting only one and leaving the other bereft and lonely, so that’s how we wound up with both. If I understand correctly, their former family dropped them off because they had “too many animals.” I wonder if they were abused a bit at some point in their prior home; Jackie in particular acts like a scared, nervous cat as though she’d been through something unpleasant in the past. The Humane Society also told us that Jackie had had a litter of kittens that came into the shelter the same time she did, but they’d all been adopted out before I came along. Carole thinks Marie must also have had a litter, based on her large nipples; Carole says she recognizes the signs of a former nursing mother from all the cats she had when she was a kid.

Our eight-year-old boy cat, Huckleberry, gets along fine with the two mam’selles; while he doesn’t exactly go in and play with them, we’ve seen him sitting side by side in the hallway with Marie waiting patiently for mealtime, and we’ve seen him walk down the hall, nod to Jackie in the doorway of the guest room, sort of as to say “‘Sup?” and then keep on going. On the other hand, our 11-year-old tortoiseshell cat, Starlight (whom Carole calls “Torbie”), is angry and upset with us for bringing new cats into the house. She had learned to get along with Thursday, whom she deferred to as boss cat, and over time she learned to get along with Huck, but she definitely doesn’t like having Marie and Jackie here. She’s taken to hiding on the top floor of the house, usually in Carole’s office or in the master bedroom. From time to time we hear loud growling from upstairs and we know that Marie has gone exploring and gotten a cold reception from Starlight.

Starlight treated Huck that way when he first came home back in 2005. For that matter, she did the same to our former boy cat, Freddy, who came into our house in the winter of 2005 and died around Memorial Day for reasons we’ve never been able to determine. Freddy was the sweetest tabby boy imaginable but Starlight spent all her time trying to pick fights with him. He would just go and hide and she’d stalk around looking for him. We’ll never know if she would have warmed to Freddy over time, because he one morning we found him lying stiff and cold in the hallway. Our veterinarian theorized that he may have had a heart defect.

For Huck’s part, it was probably six months after we brought him home before Starlight stopped trying to fight — and it probably would have gone on much longer if Huck had also been willing to be a doormat. Huck wasn’t, so Torbie took on the role of aggrieved victim. I was wise to her play-acting, but Carole tended to blame Huck.

I’m sympathetic to Starlight’s issues. Some cats just have a stronger dominance urge than others. She understood that Thursday was in charge, but Thursday was four years old when we brought Starlight home as a year-old cat, so Starlight probably felt that Thursday was a mentor of some kind. But Starlight’s tried to boss around/scare/pick fights with every other cat we’ve ever brought home. We’ve tried Feliway diffusers, and perhaps that helps; we don’t know what things would be like without them. Perhaps worse.

But, in general, I think things are looking up. As Marie and Jackie become a little more at home in our house, and as Starlight eventually gets it into her head that other cats are allowed to share her living space, I think we’ll eventually have a big four-cat happy family.

 

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