The Truth About Cats & Dogs (& Chickens & Guinea Pigs & Mice &…)

5 Jul

Sid on the left, Snuggles on my back, and Ollie in my face.

This is a pet-related post. And a tiny tiny bit of a rant.

Right now, sitting in my lap as I write this, is my cat Boris. A few minutes ago, Boris jumped up behind me in my chair and, purring loudly, attempted to climb my back and over my shoulder to get into my lap. Boris really, really, REALLY likes to snuggle.

Four and a half years ago, in December 2007, Boris was removed from the home of a cat hoarder. He was taken from his mother a bit too early and was therefore quite scrawny. He was fostered out to gain weight, and when he was healthy, returned to the Humane Society to be adopted out. Since he was a cute little ball of black kitten fuzz, this happened quite quickly.

Boris’ new family named him “Barracuda.” They must have thought this was cute and clever. They kept him for a full year before returning him to the Humane Society, claiming he was unmanageable because he “runs away.”

I met Boris in October 2009. By this time, he’d been at the Humane Society for quite a long time. He had groomed away most of his fur from the waist down due to anxiety. Apparently, when cats groom, they get an endorphin rush. Boris took this to the extreme and groomed all the time to soothe himself. When I arrived, I already knew which cat I wanted – I had chosen him off the HS website because he was male and black, and I’d recently lost my black male cat, Piglet, to a coyote. I didn’t know about his overgrooming issue when I chose him, and although when I first saw him I was a little concerned he had the mange, when I learned the real cause I wasn’t too bothered. As soon as I arrived in the cat room and saw him, he immediately jumped into my lap, curled up, and went to sleep. I briefly expressed interest in another cat (I didn’t want to take it home – I was pretty much immediately sold on “Barracuda”), and the volunteer hurriedly told me about the other cat – a fluffy, friendly cream and orange tabby – “That’s Peaches, but she’s going to find a home right away.” I could tell from her tone of voice that Boris was  a hard sell, and by his behavior, I could assume this was based on appearance only. How sad.

Boris’ Humane Society headshot.

My cats are indoor outdoor, so the “escape” issue was never a problem for me. Boris did have about a year’s worth of “adjustment” time – my other three cats are older and his constant insistence on chasing and playing came off as very aggressive. They were not fans and he was somewhat excluded and isolated. The overgrooming continued, abating when we were home and worsening when we’d go away on vacation. After our three-week trip to get married and honeymoon, the overgrooming never stopped, even upon our return. I finally had to start medicating Boris with Prozac.

MAYBE why he needed the Prozac… Boris’ first Halloween with us.

This October, Boris will have been with us for three years. His fur is completely grown in. He is no longer on Prozac. He gets along beautifully with his brothers. He will snuggle any person who walks in this house. He likes to do things like tunnel under the bed covers, earning him the nickname Mongoose. For the first year or so, he was outside as much as he was in, often bringing us “presents” of rats, birds, and other wildlife. 😦 Now he spends about 80% of his time inside, and hunts primarily moths and houseflies. He is a different, and way cooler, cat than the one I adopted.

As a brief overview, my other three cats are, in the order I acquired them:

Sid – ~13 – adopted in Lakewood, WA, when I lived in a military neighborhood after someone abandoned him. Probably abandoned as a kitten, he was feral and I had to do a lot of work  to get him to trust me. When I finally did, I took him to the vet and had him neutered. He’s never trusted me again. KIDDING! He is my shyest kitty, but extremely loving.

Oliver – ~11 – ALSO adopted in Lakewood, WA, when I lived in a military neighborhood after someone abandoned him. Found neutered and with a badly infected ingrown claw. Has since had to have all his teeth and one eye removed for medical reasons. Most laid back kitty I have ever met, we call him “The Teddy Bear.” Only cat I have ever met you can step SQUARELY on by accident who, instead of running, looks up at you with an expression that says, “Oops. We all make mistakes.”

Sebastian (aka Snuggles) – ~12 – Guess where I got him? Yep – adopted in Lakewood, WA, when I lived in a military neighborhood after someone abandoned him. Found neutered AND DECLAWED. I had four cats at the time and had no intention of adopting him but went home for two weeks in the middle of winter and when I returned, he was still on my doorstep. I put up signs and ads but no one claimed him. He’s been mine ever since.

Let me get to the two points of this post, after all this rambling.

1. DON’T ADOPT AN ANIMAL UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE COMMITTING TO. Animals are not presents, they are not accessories, they are RESPONSIBILITIES you take on for the life of the animal. This can be 20 years OR MORE! Agh, sorry for all the caps but seriously, how is this even still an issue? Okay, Kate, calm. Just – if you want to adopt an animal, ask yourself the following questions:

-Am I prepared to commit to this animal for 20 years, if it comes to that?
-Do I have the means (money AND time) to care for this animal properly? Keep in mind this means regular vet visits, food, clean water at all times, treats, exercise, and quality time.
-What am I going to do with this animal when I want to go out of town or stay out all night?
-Is it possible I could be allergic to this animal? What will I do if I become involved with someone who is?
-Do I have a stable place for me and this animal to live?
-Will I be able to take this animal with me if I move? Am I willing to do the work required to find animal-friendly rentals?
-If something happens to me, what will happen to my animal?

Think of adopting an animal as though you are adopting a child. It is virtually the same thing. You wouldn’t enter into the latter lightly or without a LOT of planning. Don’t enter into the former without the same.

2. YOU WILL GET OUT OF AN ANIMAL EXACTLY WHAT YOU PUT INTO IT. Yes, animals all have different personalities. You may get a high-strung dog or a very mellow cat. But in the end, the real decider is you. The older an animal when you adopt it, the more time you have to put into it, but in the end, you WILL see the fruits of your labor. My high-strung, crazy, mighty hunter of a cat, Boris, is now a lap cat who snuggles his brothers and likes nothing better than to be touched. When we first adopted him you had to feel his throat to know if he was purring or not; now you can hear him from the other side of the room. My feral kitty Sid, who literally peed on me in bed about a dozen times the first year I had him, now only uses the litter box or the great outdoors, and takes turns rubbing on my husband and me. My goldendoodle puppy, who is 6 months old, constantly amazes people with her gentle, calm demeanor and mild personality. And my hens – these are just regular old, egg-laying hens – run to me when they hear my voice, wanting to be held and snuggled. Take time EVERY DAY to bond with your pets. Respect but push their limits – if your cat doesn’t like being held, insist on holding it for 15 or 30 seconds a day, slowly building until the cat will allow itself to be held for a minute or more. It may never enjoy being held, but it should allow you to do so without a big scene. YOU are the owner, YOU are the parent, YOU make the rules, and YOU form the animal. You cannot change an animal’s inborn personality but you CAN change its behaviors and reactions – all it takes is time.

I really hope I haven’t offended anyone or come off as too preachy – it just breaks my heart to see animals constantly returned to animal shelters because of “behavioral problems” that are easily resolved with time and training. Although if you do have to get rid of an animal for ANY reason it is definitely far more humane to take him or her to a shelter than to simply abandon it in hopes someone will take it in! Domestic animals are NOT prepared for life fending for themselves – please do not make them try to figure it out!

Okay, this is by far the longest post I have ever done. I hope it’s at least somewhat informative, and I welcome any questions or comments. Have a great Thursday!

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