Friday, December 6, 2013

Cat allergies... Cats 'allergic' to each other... And happy endings!

I can't imagine life without some form of feline, or at least furry, friend. And I would certainly hate to think of any childhood deprived of such a thing. I do have a preference for cats, I suppose, because my first cat coloured my early years, although I remember being disappointed when he arrived on the scene one Christmas because I'd been hoping for a rabbit... As consolation (for me), the cat was named Benjamin after the Beatrix Potter character. As it turned out, having a Siamese cat suited me fine, especially as we had seen the Aristocats film, and so had got to know a thing or two about their cunning Oriental ways.
The haughty behaviour, quasi-evil traits, weird sense of humour and psychopathic sentiments were all irresistible, even to a child initially wanting a 'cute' fluffy bunny. And I shouldn't have worried; I didn't miss out on the rabbits... As a formidable feline hunter living in the countryside, he regularly managed to bring back roughed-up rabbits, mauled moles and numerous shrews that he didn't even bother to nibble before devouring (don't ask me how I know...). Yet despite his murderous tendencies, Ben was a great friend to me, even if not always very well behaved, and was certainly a devoted companion. He was also the first to religiously home in on any visitor that declared that they 'didn't like cats', not to mention those with allergies, and was, of course, always ready to give any self-confessed 'cat-lover' a very wide berth. He lived through almost all my teenage years, and finally died during my first year at university, kindly doing so when I was home and able to say goodbye to him, with all the fondness and due respect he truly deserved.
Fast forward almost 11 years, to when I found the essence of Benjamin in my second Siamese cat, Pedro. The kooky, quirky traits, perverse behaviour, wanton disrespect of others, the drive to be positioned in the middle of any activity thus causing maximum disruption, the evident joy to be gleaned from sleeping in any warm place, regardless of any other consideration were all manifest in Pedro, multiplied and intensified because he was for the most part, a 'house cat'.
A generation down; Pedro
He enjoyed a saunter around the garden, and would take purposeful swipes at bats, butterflies and bugs of all kinds, given the chance, but only once caught and killed a bird. Who killed Cock Robin? Pedro. The official line to the children was that Pedro and the robin were 'playing', though I'm not sure they bought that... especially having had first-hand experience of his 'games' which invariably involved a deft scratch and fleeting bite. However, true to his Siamese genes, Pedro, just like Ben before him, was nothing if not a devoted companion, following the children and myself around the house, albeit ever-ready to mark out the lines again when those weren't respected the first time. Pedro became increasingly affectionate towards the children as the years passed, although that never extended itself to their passing friends, who may still remember being systematically scratched and bitten.
This belated affectionate behaviour made it all the harder when it was officially declared that both children had cat allergies. Fortunately, we didn't have to take any action ('re-homing') and within less than two years poor Pedro had died of natural causes, in relatively old age. After this we entered the zombie-zone, of a cat-less existence... Until I heard of a hypo-allergenic breed of cat, that is...
Fast forward two years, subtract vast sums of money and finally greet Krasnogorsk Felix, the Siberian cat from the depths of the Loire region. Despite all my hopes, both children had truly awful allergic responses to our new furry friend, and for at least two months life was full of hankies and anti-histamines (inefficient). I despaired, and wondered how I could have been so stupid to take such a risk on every single level. However, little by little the situation improved considerably; Oggie became hypo-allergenic and/or the children less reactive.

 Fast forward three years, subtract sightly less vast sums of money and greet a female feline companion for Oggie; Masha the Siberian from Switzerland. Fearing that Oggie was getting bored during his extended day-time hours of solitude, I thought a little company would be beneficial and so when the occasion presented itself, I seized it. Act in haste, repent in leisure... Well approximately six weeks of nail-biting leisure, as it turned out. Had I taken the time to do research on the very basics of cat behaviour, I would soon have realized that cats do not 'need' other felines to feel good. Quite the reverse; a cat feels good in his space, alone, on his own terms, and certainly doesn't appreciate another feline encroaching on this territory. Although I had gathered that it was best to introduce the new-comer very gradually, I really hadn't foreseen any particular problems. Perhaps I thought Oggie would find the kitten as endearing as we all did. He didn't. After an initial interest that seemed encouraging, Oggie soon began to regard Masha as an over-sized mouse, ready to be chased and thrown around at will. His will. Although Masha did try to give as much as she was given, there was no match...
There followed several weeks of intensive study of cat psychology, numerous videos watched for practical advice to accompany the minutes, hours, days and weeks of keeping the cats separated, yet together. But finally...

So, if the introduction doesn't go well, take as much time as you possibly can to get both cats used to each others' presence. Don't ever let the cats 'fight it out' alone. Only let them spend time together under strict supervision, preferably with food and toys to distract them should one cat get aggressive. Having a greedy hostile cat is definitely a bonus at this point. Trim the claws of the hostile cat, but not those of the other cat; a useful self-defense weapon, if needed. When you do decide to extend the introductions, keep the cats shut in the room with you, making sure that there are escape routes available (space under furniture). Let the cats spit and spar a little, but only if it doesn't appear too hostile on both sides, and preferably allowing them to use strategic vantage points - furniture and cat castles.

A little rough-and-tumble should establish how the land lies, but it shouldn't turn too feral. For all of the dramatic element, there shouldn't be any blood drawn, although expect the odd tuft of fluff to fly in the action. We watched the trilogy of Lord of Rings over many evenings in order to let the cats find their marks under our watchful gaze. As the Hobbits and dwarves were battling against the Orcs, Oggie and Masha thrashed it out around us, to great theatrical effect as their battles became more and more playful. From what I have seen, cat politics seems quite subtle; without anything apparent to us humans, one cat is able to establish itself as boss, and it isn't necessarily the cat who was initially hostile!
Should all of this process take longer than you anticipated, watch the videos of the genius cat b
behaviourist, Jackson Galaxy, on YouTube to find hope and inspiration... My Cat from Hell.


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