There had been no discussions about adopting another cat when Terry looked at the photo Frank texted him of a tiny blond and white kitten. “Look what found me!” Frank’s message crowed. Terry wasted no time responding. “Absolutely not. Don’t even think about it.”
“But he’s only 12 weeks old,” Frank reasoned. “How do you know?” Terry asked. “That’s what the vet said.”
Uh-oh, Terry thought. There’s going to be trouble. As he made the long drive from Covington, Tenn., to their home in Cordova, Terry considered the potential problems of introducing a new kitten into their two-member cat family. He remembered the previous tensions when Frank rescued Lil Bit less than two years ago from the warehouse of the material handling company he’s worked for over the last 30 years.
“Lil Bit weighed only 20 ounces when I found him on the dock,” Frank recalled. “He had pneumonia and an ear infection. He was in bad shape.” But his physical problems weren’t the biggest challenge. Two years before they’d taken in Rusty, a neighborhood tomcat tabby. Although neutered, he was still territorial and jealous of the newcomer. Over time, Rusty let down his defenses and accepted the little black and white cat, who’s now grown into a hefty, handsome butterball.
Frank, who had the reputation at work as an animal lover, took a chance and brought home the cat he named Tink. “I thought the kitten was a girl so I told the vet her name was Tinkerbell. But she was actually a he, so it got shortened to Tink.” He assured Terry he would throw every effort into finding Tink a “real home.”
But Terry wasn’t convinced. He and Frank have been together for 36 years, and married for three. “I knew what he was thinking, and I was not happy. He wanted to keep this kitten, and all that talk about finding a home couldn’t be taken seriously.”
By day Terry works as a controller for a large multi-state industrial corporation. His practical, analytical nature counterbalances Frank’s gregarious, fun-loving impulses. “I was concerned about our other cats’ initial reactions,” Terry confessed. “We’d just gone through this with Rusty and Lil Bit.” He expressed his concerns about food sharing and litter box guarding. Would they destroy their neat and beautifully decorated home? He was also troubled by Rusty’s deep growling and by the disappearance of Lil Bit, who had retreated under the bed right after Tink’s arrival.
In retrospect, Frank admitted he also had some qualms about the other two cats’ acceptance of Tink. After some furious rounds of spitting, hissing, growling and posturing, Frank thought sadly, “I’ve made a big mistake.” He began making some halfhearted attempts to find Tink a new home. “I contacted a neighbor who’d lost a few senior cats to old age. She was interested, but her husband said no, and that was the end of that.”
Frank and Terry decided to ride it out and see what happened. They are now happy with that decision. “In less than two weeks, it deescalated from serious hissing to horseplay,” said Frank. “We kept Tink separated for a while, but the acceptance came quicker than we’d expected.”
It wasn’t long before Tink’s kittenish antics won over the resident cats. Curiosity trumped their jealousy and soon all three were eating, playing and sleeping together.
Terry remembered, “I guess it was about the fifth or sixth day, when Lil Bit finally came out of hiding and sniffed Tink. Tink sniffed back, then bolted under the furniture. There was some hissing and funny-looking swatting but we knew they weren’t trying to hurt each other. It took Rusty longer to come around, but I remember saying to Frank, I can’t believe it’s only been a week since Tink arrived and look at them all eating treats on the counter together!”
“Tink is still a kitten and wants to play constantly,” added Frank. “He’s a perfect playmate for Lil Bit, who’s also young. Rusty tolerates their play and sometimes joins in. They’ve all become a good fit.”
Too often cat guardians miss the opportunity to bring in new family members because they’re afraid of upsetting the tribe. More often than not these fears can be allayed if newcomers are introduced slowly and carefully. Patience is the key ingredient.
There are numerous techniques described on websites devoted to cat care and training. Several times we’ve used the screen door technique—a method of introduction that places the new cat in an area that can be closed off with a full-sized screen door temporarily propped up so cats on either side can see, smell and hear but not touch each other. The bottom is inched up daily so small paws can swipe under it and eventually make contact.
Frank and Terry are glad they persevered. “These little guys have become a great source of joy and entertainment for us,” said Frank. Do they have any advice for someone wanting to bring home a new family member but is afraid of upsetting the status quo? “Don’t force them to meet each other.” advised Terry. “Let them test the waters on their own. Don’t favor the new arrival over the original residents, and try to show affection and comfort to everyone equally.”
Contact Deborah at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments or suggestions.