April 15, 2020
The past month has been a challenge, emotionally and mentally as much as anything. I suspect like most people I did not really see this coming. Using the word ‘pandemic’ seems like something out of a movie, something to fear but something that will probably not happen here (meaning wherever I am). I had seen news about the Coronavirus but generally avoid following major news feeds, questionable Facebook posts, and general fear mongering. So at first I thought nothing would happen here. Then as the cases in BC in were announced and suddenly toilet paper was flying off the shelf to be stockpiled by worried people I finally started to pay attention. Though I assumed after a few weeks the panic would die down and things would go back to normal. Within a very short time my business was drastically affected as people started cancelling their vacation plans, and eventually most people had to start working from home. I am prone to worrying, so it was really quite alarming how quickly things changed and how the future seemed very uncertain. I think the scariness of it really hit me the first time I went to Save On to buy groceries after the self-isolating began. It was very alarming to see people so terrified of each other, people in masks and gloves, and completely empty shelves.
On a personal level having more time at home, a kind of ‘forced sabbatical’, is much needed. As my business has grown over the past few years, and particularly in 2019, I have been working very long hours and experiencing extreme burnout. I do love my job, but working 7 days a week and often 12 plus hour days was taking a toll. So, while I was scared about finances and the future I was relieved to have some extended down time. I have luckily still been able to work a little bit and have some savings to fall back on so my situation was not as dire as it was for a lot of people. The biggest hardship is simply that my future plans are postponed, I have to crack down on unnecessary spending, and I will have to wait to buy some wishlist items in the distant but more stable future. I have been living as a crazy cat lady hermit anyways so all this social distancing is not a stretch at all. I have work, I have a roof over my head, I have entertainment, I have food, and I have 5 (yes 5!) cats to keep me company when I am home with all this extra time.
One of the positives (and negatives) of this extra home time is attempting to integrate my cats with foster cats Moxie & Ramses. As many of you know, my client Jim passed away in the Fall and I took in his cats rather than let the family take them to the SPCA or another rescue. I did this partly because I was already taking care of them while Jim was in the hospital which was for almost 2 months. I had also known them for 7 years at that point and was bonded particularly with Moxie. See my previous post for more about that story. But, I had hoped I could find them a home together as that was literally Jim’s last wish. I placed an ad on Social Media for a while and did receive one offer by a cat rescuer but I held out hoping to find them a home of their own where they would be loved like they had been their whole life. Christmas holidays came and went and I advertised again at the Pet Lover Show in February with absolutely no interest shown. It was really discouraging and I had to seriously consider that this may be a foster fail situation.
Then we have a pandemic where rescues are scrambling for foster families and resources and less pets are getting adopted out while more pets are coming in. I am happy to have the boys with me, I love them. But do I really want 5 cats? 3 senior cats, and a cat with urinary issues and pancreatitis? The answer is no, and maybe yes…?? I admit I have envisioned a future with a ridiculous amount of animals, maybe a small acreage with a donkey, chickens, a llama, lots of cats, and dogs, and so on. I think it is really important to give back and help where I can. But I also had to spend a couple months worth of rent on my sick cats in February between 3 vet visits, medication, and special food. Things happen and those things cost money. I have some resources so it is not impossible for me to care for all these cats. If they all get really sick at once, well I can hopefully manage it. It would of course still be ideal to find them a home where they can live out their days cuddling in someone’s lap and peacefully enjoying food, treats, and sunshine, but realistically that may not happen. So, I had to start the process of integration and I finally had the time to do it.
The main reason this integration is happening now though is that Moxie was no longer content having half of my home. There were breakouts, system repairs, flaws discovered, and then more breakouts, and repeat. So, I mustered up my courage and released the hounds, so to speak. As I anticipated the issues are mostly between Ziggy and Moxie, and then poor Bean gets chased by Moxie too. Ziggy and Moxie have very similar personalities and Ziggy was a handful so I figured they would clash. And, clash they have. They have had two all-out brawls apparently trying to eat each other’s faces. Mostly it has been what I have started calling a serious ‘tiff’, meaning not an all out howling biting rolling around frenzy but posturing and smacking of a paw, then a retreat. Luckily bloodshed has been minimal. There was a scary eye injury that took a day to heal (Moxie), some minor scratches (both), and a paw was bleeding but healed quickly (Moxie? but not sure as no injury was visible). The eye injury was the most upsetting of course but luckily was very minor and nothing was seriously damaged. I have experienced lots of guilt and anxiety and stress for putting these cats through this. These less violent tiffs are still frequent but these seem less dangerous and more just vying for their spot or area of choice. Moxie is still really territorial about his half of our home but Ziggy is determined to check it all out and spend time there which is generally when these tiffs occur. If only I had a second hallway or the ability to catify my place completely. But, as I have only the one hallway and can’t start drilling holes in walls here I am working on easier techniques to create a peaceful household.
I have participated in several cat behaviour webinars over the years via Pet Sitters International education resources, online conferences, etc. The latest of course stuck with me more because I was able to immediately see a way to apply it to my situation at home. It featured Marci Koski (https://www.felinebehaviorsolutions.com/) a feline behavior and training consultant. And one of the things she mentioned was allogrooming which is something a mom or another cat in a group will do to create a group scent. So she suggested that the pet parent can do this themselves by using the same soft bristled brush on all the cats. I also watched a Jackson Galaxy video (https://youtu.be/wcIUHjfzTvA) where he discussed the cat’s safe space and transferring their stuff from that space to the rest of the house as part of the integration process (he calls it ‘exploding basecamp’). Both of these are easy to do, and I latched onto hope. Space is limited but I used a few blankets and toys and spread them around. The grooming is a bit trickier because Hal is not keen on brushes of any kind so I can only get in a few swipes. Bean and Ziggy are tolerant for a brief brief brushing. Ramses likes to be brushed up to a point. Moxie on the other hand loves being groomed and I am not sure how helpful that will be (other than keeping him busy for a few minutes). I also put up two of the special Feliway plug-ins for multiple cat households. Every little thing can help.
One of the other tips is to use feeding time or treats to get the cats to associate each other with happy things. That is a tricky business with my gang because Ziggy is restricted to urinary care food and no treats at all. He will also eat everyone else’s food given a chance. Hal is a finicky eater and likes to graze so needs to be cajoled and supervised so Ziggy doesn’t get any of it. Bean likes to eat in different spots and can be a bit tricky too. Ramses will steal and eat any food he can find and Moxie eats in elevated spots so that Ramses can’t eat his portion. It took me a while to figure out how to sort out everyone’s needs and keep it positive. The current system seems to be working. When it is dinner time everyone gathers, Moxie & Ramses hang out with me in the kitchen while my gang waits in their usual dinner spots. Then once everyone’s food is prepared the boys eat back in their room and I close off the hallway so Ziggy can do his thing safely and Ramses doesn’t eat all of Hal’s food. So it is a modified version but at least it’s something.
I am struggling a bit with frustration and impatience. Ziggy & Moxie may always be problematic or they may eventually accept each other. I am trying to enjoy the hours of peaceful coexistence we do have, minimize the fighting, preventing injury, and distracting with playtime and cuddles. I wish I could just sit back and relax and have 5 best friends cuddling on the couch with me, but I will settle for a few hours with no fighting, chasing, or hissing.
I am still separating them at night which I think is part of the possessiveness over their room. However, my sleep is critical so I am still debating on what is worse and whether I should attempt to leave them all out all night or not. I lean towards not yet, particularly for Bean to have a peaceful period to do her own thing. But, I hope to get to a point where I feel they are more respectful of each other and perhaps can integrate for the whole day.
During these peaceful periods, or when I have given up and separated them again, I have managed to make use of this extra time and clean up my place a bit, take care of some paperwork, and so on. The cats have been a huge distraction at times so I am not getting as much done as I had hoped but I am chipping away.
I will keep you posted on our progress! Wish us luck!