- Hating Cats is a Learned Behavior, Part 1: The Learning
- Hating Cats is a Learned Behavior, Part 2: The Unlearning
We’d been toying with the idea of adopting a cat for a good year. After a lot of research and many discussions, and taking into consideration the safety and security of our house rabbit, my sketchy history with felinekind, and all the personality traits I wasn’t willing to tolerate, we landed on three inviolable rules:
- Shorthair only
- One single, solitary cat
- Absolutely. Positively. NO. KITTENS.
Then we broke two of them.
Meet Jekyll and Hyde, our new short-haired, five-month-old kittens.
In fact, their names aren’t Jekyll and Hyde, but they very well could be. Jekyll (whom we actually named Cheddar) is the dream cat of even the most nervous, unsure first-time cat parent (by which I mean me). Gentle, calm, loving, quiet, and utterly unflappable, he is the antithesis of your typical kitten (as far as I know—where cats are concerned, I know nothing).
He bats lazily and uninterestedly at the string toys and crumpled up bits of paper that drive his sister wild. There’s no startling rush of movement, no spastic flailing on his back, no zipping around like Dash Parr on Ecstasy (speaking of drugs, Quaalude would have been a fitting name). He’s the willing victim, not the instigator, of any feline tussle sessions. And when it comes to lap sitting, he’s a born champion. After just a few seconds of necessary position-testing, he’s an unmoving lump of furry warmth.
Contrast this with Hyde (actually called Mango—what can I say? I like food), the female counterpart to Chill Cheddar. Never were two feline littermates more unalike (again, what do I know?).
The sticky, crunchy peanut butter to Cheddar’s smooth jelly, Mango’s the active one—a 24/7 purring machine. If something rolls, she’ll bat it. If it dangles, she pulls off a vertical leap that would make Nike® rethink its Air Jordan™ contract. Give her a wadded up scrap of paper and she becomes the Wayne Gretzky of the feline world, batting that sucker back and forth like a puck, across the kitchen and into the dining room, over and around chair legs, and occasionally straight up into the air. I have to remind myself that it’s a good thing she can self-entertain.
When not vying for the Stanley Cup, she’s a toddler with ADHD, constantly squirming in my arms, unable to sit still. If someone’s going to get scolded for being on the counter, it’s Mango. Using the furniture as a scratching post? Also Mango. Nor does she follow the time-honored tradition of sleeping 18-20 hours per day, as the universal cat manual says she’s supposed to.
The truth is, it’s a miracle this post got written at all. Every time I sit at the computer to write, Mango’s in my lap, on the keyboard, in front of the screen, batting at the cursor, in my lap, sniffing my drink, in my lap, chewing my zipper pulls, getting picked up and moved elsewhere, back on my lap . . .
In case it’s not perfectly clear, let me put it this way: if Cheddar and Mango were human teenagers, Cheddar would spend Saturday nights studying at the library, whereas Mango would be escorted home by the police for underage drinking and disturbing the peace.
In fairness to Mango, though, she does give me several laughs a day.
But what of the bun-cat relations, you’re surely wondering. Indeed, that is the crux upon which this entire interspecies experiment rests. After extensive research, we expected several days—if not weeks—of baby steps and slow introductions. In the end, though, it was about 24 hours before they reached a détente. I had specifically narrowed my cat search to felines described as easygoing, gentle, “loves everybody—dogs, cats, humans.” We started out with “scent handshakes,” then moved to introductions with the cats caged and the rabbit roaming free. Soon we decided to try one-on-one free-roam, water bottle aimed and ready, but never needing to be deployed. It’s been a few weeks now, and they have agreed to a peaceful co-existence, with some affection thrown in. Cheddar has even been seen grooming the bun, who took to it like it was the most natural thing in the world (and then, when Cheddar wasn’t looking, proceeded to clean all the cat slobber off her head).
I still don’t like the smells emanating from the litter box, and nail trimming is a skill we have yet to acquire, but on the whole, we’re one big, happy family. Remember that 90’s-era TV show Party of Five? That’s us now. If I haven’t been great about reading and commenting on your posts lately, now you know why: I’m a little distracted at the moment.
I hope you can forgive me.
I’m a tabula rasa, open to all your best cat-rearing advice. Fire away.