Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Tale of Two Cats

The Players:

Nyla - adopted from the Humane Society when she was about 4 months old, Nyla has enjoyed a home completely to herself.  No dogs, no other cats, no kids.  She also spent her days alone in the house while I was working and had me all to herself in the evenings.  Now that I'm retired, she has me all day unless I'm traveling.  When I'm on the road, she's home alone with plenty of food and water dispensed from water bottle/dish set-up and has one or two kitty litters, depending on the length of the trip.  Other than the occasional look-in by a neighbor, Nyla is pretty self-sufficient and used to taking care of herself in my absence.  When I return, she's very glad to see me and spends inordinate amounts of time in my lap or pressed up against me in bed at night.  The operative words here are:  Only Pet, Quiet House.

Cimmie - the consummate chaotic household cat, Cimmie is used to moves, relocations, babies, toddlers, kids, lots of company and people in the house.  She's been transported cross-country twice by car, flown to Hawaii in the passenger compartment, and flown to Houston as cargo.  She seems to take all this in stride and accepts any willing lap or chin scratch from most anyone.  The operative words here are:  Well-socialized, Accustomed to Change.

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The Background:
My son and his family are in the midst of relocating to their new duty station in Mississippi.  As part of this, they have disassembled their household in Hawaii and Christina and the kids have flown to CA to visit with friends and family for the summer, while Jeremy stays behind in Hawaii to finish his tour before the relocation.  Their cat Cimmie has been flown to Houston to spend the summer with me.  All will regroup at my house in late August enroute to their new home in LA before Jeremy starts his new position at Stennis.

In preparation for this house guest, I had closed off the front bedroom so that Nyla could get used to not having access to this room.  I cleaned it thoroughly, vacuuming and washing to remove cat hair and, hopefully, cat scent in anticipation of using this room for Cimmie.  I bought a new litter tray and bowls, had everything set and ready for her, and then loaded some clean towels, a trash bag, and a cat carrier with fresh bedding into the car and headed for the airport Thursday morning to retrieve Cimmie from the Pet Cargo facility at Continental Airlines.

I have to say that this is a very well-run service!  When I arrived, there were several cages on large dollies in the cool, airconditioned lobby of the Air Cargo building.  Off to one side is the Pet Transport counter and I headed there with paperwork in hand to claim Cimmie.  The very nice man behind the counter checked the flight and found thatit had arrived about 20 minutes late, which would have been about 10 minutes prior to my getting to the counter.  He got on the walkie talkie and within seconds confirmed that someone at the other end had Cimmie in their possession and would have her at the counter within a few minutes.  In the meantime, I peeked into the cages to find some very calm and comfortable dogs, a couple of cute, squealing little piglets and some flat plastic boxes that the counter man said contained sugar gliders.  Animals are brought here between flights to stay cool, while waiting for their connecting flights.  We chatted a bit, and he said that most of their animal transport business is from breeders.  The piglets, for example.  I could read on their tags that they were coming from the same person but going to two different destinations.    He showed me a bulletin board covered with photos of unique or adorable animals that they've handled in the past.  Cool!!

The Story:
Cimmie in her carrier arrived, I signed for her, then brought her out to my car and got the car started and A/C turned on.  Then I opened her cage and let her get out, stretch her legs in the car for a few minutes before I picked her up and held her, hugged her, and gave her kisses and scratches.  She immediately started to purr.  I'm glad I brought the smaller cat carrier with fresh bedding as she'd soiled the towel in her transport carrier.  She willingly stepped into the new carrier on the front seat of the car, I buckled it in, and then headed for home. 

Now, before I left the house, I gave my cat Nyla lots of attention - hugs and kisses and scratches - as I knew that she'd probably go into a snit once Cimmie came into the house.  Little did I know just how big and bad this snit would be.  When Jeremy and family passed through here three years ago, Nyla retreated into the master bedroom closet but did not react defensively, just stayed hidden until they were gone, several days later.

This time was different.  And in hindsight I know the mistakes I made. 

I brought Cimmie into the guest room, spent a few minutes with her to make sure she was okay and knew where the litter, food and water were, then brought the carrier out to the garage.  I removed the soiled bedding from the transport carrier and then stowed that carrier as well.

When I returned into the house, I made a beeline to the bedroom to wash my hands and arms and change clothes so that my cat wouldn't catch a whiff of the strange cat.  Too late!!  I came upon my cat Nyla just as I was going from the bedroom the bathroom.  She froze!!  Then she hissed!!  Then she screeched and ran out of the room leaving a trail of pee and poop behind her on the carpet.

Well, crap!!  I should have enclosed her in the closet/bathroom before I went to the airport to avoid this unexpected encounter before I'd had a chance to de-scent myself.   Well, too late.

I washed, changed clothes and then went in search of Nyla.  She was beyond crazy!!  What then ensued was beyond anything anyone could ever imagine!  Nyla was a wild cat!  Screeching, hissing, growling and piddling and pooping!  I desperately wanted to herd her into the master bathroom/closet - her normal retreat when she's spooked - but I couldn't get her to go in that direction.  After all, that's where she had her first encounter with me when I smelled like strange cat, so she was absolutely not going there!  For a while she hid on top of the kitchen cabinets but eventually left that perch in search of somewhere else.  That "somewhere else"  was the guest bathroom.  When I entered that room she panicked and left a good-sized puddle or urine - thankfully in the bathtub - as she bolted past me, screeching and hissing, and down the hall.  Unfortunately she left a trail of piddle behind her the entire length of the hallway.

Her next panic perch was the dining room table.  She was desperate, but so was I.  I really wanted her in the master bath/closet area where I knew she'd feel safe, but she was having none of it.  She eventually bolted from that location, again leaving a large urine puddle that trailed along the table, onto the upholstered dining room chair and onto the carpet and again screeching and hissing like a banshee.  This was going nowhere!!

Her next destination was the office, where she disappeared under the desk, on a shelf of the hutch.  She stayed there for a while, hissing and growling, pooping and peeing, before she frantically ran out of the room and into the living room.  Finally!!  She headed into the master bedroom!  I followed her and closed the door behind me.  We're almost there!  But not before she piddled on the nightstand and across the bed as she headed for the bathroom.    Thank you, Cat!

She's now on her favorite hidey-hole shelf in the closet, a bank of shelves tucked behind the open door.   Now if she'll just calm down!   I left her alone for a couple of hours, then brought her litter, food and water into the bathroom and tried to check on her.  More shrieking and growling and hissing and, of course, more poop and pee.  But this time it was on the old towel that has been her favorite "alone" space on that shelf for years.  Well, she'll just have to live with that discomfort until she'll let me change out that towel. 

Okay...so day one of Cimmie's visit was a fiasco for me and stressful for Nyla, but at least Cimmie seems okay with all this, tucked safely in the guest room and apparently taking all of this in stride.  When I checked on her, she was comfortably ensconced on the windowsill taking a little nap.


I spent the rest of the day cleaning up the mess that Nyla had made.  I have a small Hoover steam cleaner so that got some extensive use as I shampoo'd the pee'd-on carpet in the master bedroom, the dining room, the hallway.  One of the pillow shams on my bed got urine on it, so into the washing machine along with the small rug in the guest bathroom.  Cleaned the urine out of the guest bathroom tub and washed the urine off the tile floor.  Washed down the nightstand, the dining room table, the shelf in the office with Windex then with furniture polish.  I had reupholstered the seats of the dining room chairs so knew how to disassemble the soiled chair.  I removed the cover and the foam pad and soaked them in cold water with Febreeze Tide, then laid them outside in the sun to dry. 

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Day 2:
I left the bathroom door open to the bedroom overnight and when I awoke in the morning, Nyla was in bed with me, but as soon as I awoke and rose to go to the bathroom, she panicked, hissed and growled and bolted for the closet.  Okay...she apparently is associating me with the strange cat.  Well, I guess that's right, since I'm the one who brought that cat into the house. 

I checked on Cimmie, who is doing just fine with all of this nonsense, and then turned my attention to Nyla.  I really don't want to keep her confined to the closet/bathroom but may have to if she can't live in the open house without panicking and peeing everywhere. 

I had breakfast before heading into the bathroom for a shower.  I left the bathroom door open to see if Nyla would wander out into the rest of the house.  She did, but promptly headed for the kitchen cabinets where she hissed and growled at me everytime I passed through the room.  I was concerned, too, because there was no evidence that she's eating or drinking, or using the litter.  I need to get her confined and calm so that she'll get back into her routine.  So another chase through the house, more pee, more hissing, but she did go back into her closet space.  Here she stayed, the door to the bathroom kept closed.

I let Cimmie out of her room and gave her free range of the house for the day.  She explored, sniffed, and settled into my lap at one point while I watched TV. 

At the end of the day, I closed her back up into the guest room, checked on Nyla - still hissing, still growling, still not eating or drinking or using the litter.

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Day 3:
Cimmie was very glad to see me when I checked on her and I even suggested to her that I might sleep in her room a night or two to give her some companionship. 

I headed out for a long run, then had breakfast, letting Cimmie join me in the house for the morning.  I was determined, however, to have a break-through with Nyla today.  She's still not eating or drinking water and I'm getting very concerned. 

So afer showering and putting on clean clothes (with no Cimmie scent), I started to work on gaining Nyla's trust.  I went into the closet frequently and sat on the floor at a distance that Nyla was comfortable with and talked to her.  I moved her food, water, and litter into the closet, putting them near her perch.  I stayed for 10-15 minutes then went about my day, returning to her every hour and spending this time with her.  If I got too close to her, she'd hiss and growl. 

Then I had an idea.  In the winter, I pull on a fleece over my PJ's to keep me warm while I eat breakfast. Nyla loves this fleece!!  She'll climb into my lap, tuck her head under my arm, and have a major kneading session into the jacket.  Consequently, this jacket is covered with her scent, her fur, her saliva and it rarely gets washed.  So I put this jacket on, pulled my hands up into the sleeves, and then slowly reached toward her, talking to her calmy and sweetly.  She hissed and growled at first, but gradually relaxed enough to let me touch her with the sleeves.  I continued this for a long while, until my legs were falling asleep from the awkward position. 

Then I had another idea.  There is a stack of two boxes next to that shelf, containing photos and photo albums.  Moving slowly and cautiously,  I put a towel across the top of that stack and then placed her food and water bowls up there.  These are within reach of Nyla, without her having to leave her hidey spot.  She immediately went for the food.  I knew she had to be very hungry at this point!

Her mood change was magical!!  She slowly and carefully stepped down from the box and came near me.  I let her approach me, let her rub against me, and then she started to purr.  I didn't pet her at first, just let her rub against me, check me out.   Occasionally, she'd get spooked for no reason, hiss a little, and return to her shelf.  But her need for human touch and companionship would overcome her and she'd return to the floor next to me. 

I stayed there with her for more than 2 hours, being careful not to spook her or make eye contact with her, which seemed to scare her.  Eventually I was able to move around a bit, and started to do some rearranging of her little hidey hole.  I cleared out a pile of stuff from beneath the shelves and put her food and water there.  I put a plastic bag and then a towel under the kitty litter.  I changed the soiled towel on her shelf with a fresh one and put a towel onto the top of the boxes to expand her living space.  She drank a lot of water and ate more food.

Then I left her alone, closing the bathroom door behind me, but returning to check on her periodically for the rest of the day and evening.  She would still get easily spooked and would alternately hiss and growl at me, and then approach me for petting.   That evening I moved into the bedroom to watch TV, in hopes that Nyla would come out into the bedroom to join me, but she was drawing the line at the bathroom door.

Lights off, bedroom door closed, but bathroom door open, I hoped that Nyla would assume her usual place at the foot of my bed sometime during the night.

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Day 4:
Surprise!  Nyla is in bed with me this morning and is not spooked upon seeing me in daylight, letting me pet her, letting me rise from the bed without her panicking.  I showered and she sat outside the shower door as she always does, she joined me for breakfast this morning, as always, and is now lolling around in her usual favorite places in the house.  She occasionally walks through the house, her nose in the air sniffing the air;  she senses there's something a little different, but she's not getting spooked by it.  She even checked out the door to the guest bedroom, giving it a serious going over with her nose, but it didn't set off a panic.  Whew! 

Hopefully we can keep this status quo for the next month or so.

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