Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Taming of the Mew: An Adventure in Cat Behavior

First off, let me introduce Matches:

Matches is a big, black tomcat that Bob had when we met. He's sweet, smart, and craves attention more than a lot of dogs I know. He's also very much Bob's cat.

I've got countless more pictures like this. He loves cuddling. Matches will cuddle with me too, but Bob is his person.

So I wanted a Matches of my own. I've been pestering Bob for a while and attempting to forcibly adopt any kitten we come upon. My best friend got two new kittens. Bob's friends have acquired kittens. I wanted my own. A fact that Bob was intensely aware of.

So because he's super sweet (and let's face it - he loves cute kittens just as much as I do), Bob decided to get me a kitten of my own to celebrate our four year anniversary.

We went to the shelter with a completely open mind. I didn't care about gender. I didn't care about breed or color. All I wanted was a cat that would love me as intensely as Matches loves Bob.

And this is what I found:

My own mini-Matches. He was the first kitten we saw when we walked in. He was vocal and exceedingly friendly. He wanted us. He chose us. I attempted to look at all of the kittens, but I just kept coming back to this little guy. I took him out of his cage and he immediately gave me kitty kisses (rubbing his face on my nose). That was it. He was the one. 

Introducing Julius Robert Oppenheimer (Oppie for short):

I certainly didn't intend to get a clone of Matches, another black boy-cat with a loud meow and big ears. Their personalities are very similar and, we hoped, compatible. Matches didn't see it that way.

Matches has always been an "only cat" and while he is great with dogs, he hates cats. And we brought one into his house. 

For the first couple of days, Matches hissed at the kitten continually. And at us. And at the world in general. He transformed from a happy, lovey cat into a grumpy old man in the space of twenty minutes. Neither of us was surprised, but it upset Bob. He missed his kitty. The kitty Matches used to be. 

I've always had lots of animals growing up and my dad is a vet, so I wasn't that worried. Of course it would take time. 

At first, Matches was too scared to even approach the kitten. He spent the first evening hunched up in a corner. Slowly he was goaded (by an overly enthusiastic kitten) into asserting his dominance. Matches has never had to prove his dominance before, so it didn't come naturally to him. And Oppenheimer wasn't making it easy. Oppie is fearless and inquisitive and talked ugly to Matches. That kitten has a mouth on him. Eventually they began to interact and Matches realized he was bigger. Much bigger. 

A few wrestling matches later, their interactions felt less like fighting and more like play. Matches still wasn't pleased, but a couple of days on he was beginning to act more like his old self. The fateful key ended up being Oppie's litter box. 

When Matches was finally allowed in Oppie's bathroom, he immediately used the litter box and it was like a switch had been flipped. Suddenly everything was infinitely better. Matches cuddles Bob and still gives me kisses. The cats chase each other around the house and are comfortable napping on the same bed. All this only since last Wednesday. 

Several of our friends have expressed surprise at how quickly these two have adapted to living together. The only advice I can offer is this: let the cats work things out between them. It's good to be there to make sure that no one gets hurt, but some fur has to fly for them to figure out who is on top. That's normal. They're going to hiss and talk ugly, but eventually, they'll settle down. 

Now we have two black cats. I have a cat that loves me, that hurries every morning to cuddle and kiss me. Bob has his Matches back to normal. Matches has a playmate. And Oppenheimer has a forever home. 

All is right with our world. 

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