What did the crazy cat family do this time?
When I was a little girl, we had sheep that roamed the fields of Redbird Farm. To keep them safe from wild dogs and other predators, we would round them up, especially during lambing season, and bring them into the fold. Along the way we acquired a gorgeous white goat named Cauliflower, who took her charge so purposefully that bringing the sheep in at night ceased to be a strenuous human task. After a while, my parents thought it would be a good idea to breed Cauliflower and in the casual way that animals arrive and depart in the country, we acquired Billy, a shaggy orangy-brown goat with wide horns and an impish attitude. Cauliflower wanted nothing to do with Billy and hated being penned up with him. She tried every way she could to escape and return to her sheep scattered on the hillside, but she found herself stuck in a pen with him.
One day, a single ewe—something one hardly ever sees—came scurrying past the house on her way to the barn. A few minutes later she returned with Cauliflower—the message that the goat was needed by the flock somehow urgently communicated. My parents went out to investigate and found a wild dog stalking the sheep.
From then on, Cauliflower and Billy were allowed to work the sheep together, but one impish goat plus one very good one means that the sheep will be kept in a flock, but they’ll also be shown how to escape every pen, every enclosure, every field. Neighbors called from all around to let us know, “your sheep are over here eating my lawn; your goats are eating my shrubs,” and off my mother would go, often as not on horseback, to herd the animals home again.
Cauliflower and Billy were eventually replaced by Sunshine and Diane, pretty dark brown goats with white blazes who were worthless as herders but specialized in costing us money by eating specialty shrubs across the road at the neighbors’. We gave up goats, after that, opting instead for a capable if slightly insane border collie named Moss.
What I didn’t understand as a child that I know painfully well now is that as the person making the decisions about the animals, there is a tremendous responsibility involved. And when it all goes wrong, it’s awful. When I was little the farm animals came and went, some tragically, some to the table, some without ever becoming part of the family or pet-like. Even then, some of pets that lived in our houses and cuddled with us and relied on us to bring them food and attention felt far more like members of the family. Today that is even more true. The situation when the family members aren’t getting along feels significantly more dire: you can’t so easily farm them out elsewhere.
In “Fur Flurry,” https://overneathitall.com/2014/08/09/fur-flurry/, I wrote about the catastrophe in our household. We attempted to resolve it, with heavy, heavy hearts, by delivering Charcoal back to the shelter from whence he came. Brave Twelve, who felt she had discovered and chosen the magnificent beast as a tiny kitten, went with me to return him. I kept thinking “no deposit, no return,” but I was encouraged by a number of voices that let me know that they, too, had at one time or another had to part with a beloved pet because animals or animals and people in their households hadn’t been living in harmony.
It was with considerable, albeit perhaps short-sighted, surprise that we found the problems didn’t end with Charcoal’s departure. Our two older kitties, companions for six years, had discovered each other’s weaknesses and continued to bait each other, hissing and chasing. The smaller kitty, Katy, who had been persecuted by Charcoal for her position as Alpha kitty, got to the point where she would not go to the basement to use the litter boxes, where she would not pass one of the other two kitties without hissing or growling, and where she was spending as much time as she could curled up in a tight knot on Ninety’s bed, where she wasn’t entirely welcome. Neither feline nor human could approach her easily and the more cross she became, the more times she broke training, the more cat fights erupted in the middle of the night, the more crazed I felt by the stress of it all.
Isolation for Katy was the most logical solution: Back to the laundry room with litter box, cat tree, food and water she went.
And then I had an idea. Katy used to be in my room at night, long before all of the chaos began, behind the door she exclusively was allowed through (https://overneathitall.com/2014/01/14/the-door-to-everywhere-2/). She would come in during the evening, sleep on my bed, and asked to be let out in the morning. Before the troubles began, she was totally trustworthy. I have never wanted to keep her there all the time; however, because I didn’t want a litter box in my bedroom. And once Katy felt imperiled, she could no longer be trusted. But the laundry room and my bedroom share a wall. What if she had a cat access through the wall, could keep her kitty accouterments in the laundry room and come for socialization with me at night as she used to? It still wouldn’t be perfect solution, but, I reasoned, it would stem the stress and Katy wouldn’t be as lonely. All it meant was we would have to break the house a little … and with high hopes that we were
building a passageway to peace, that’s exactly what we did.
Ninety often says, “People don’t stay done.” I’m thinking animals (pets) don’t seem to either, but I hope this is a solution of sorts. Certainly my stress level over the issue has diminished … for now. Katy’s been sleeping on my bed, purring and cuddling a lot, and the other two cats stop at my door and look in. I hope one day we’ll be able to reunite the felines. Maybe a full moon in the spring? Meanwhile, happy full November moon … with love & gratitude for the journey, Rxo