When I adopted my youngest cat, Kissy, this May, I knew she had some behavioral challenges. She had a history of being hissy and aggressive with other cats, but when I met her I sensed that her behavior was a lot more about fear than it was about hating other cats. Because I’ve had some success with rehabilitating traumatized cats — and I’d fallen in love with Kissy — I wanted to do everything I could to help her.
The earliest days were a trial. Kissy was ensconced in a room separate from my other cats, Siouxsie and Thomas. But they could certainly hear and smell her, and there was plenty of hissing and growling from both sides of the door.
By mid-June, things were getting better. The door to Kissy’s room was open most of the day. Kissy began tentatively exploring the rest of my apartment. She hugged the walls and skulked from place to place, making her way under furniture wherever possible. Nonetheless, she was out and exploring, and I figured things would get better from there.
At the end of June, I left for a two-week vacation, confident that things were going well. The cats were in the care of an experienced cat sitter who visited twice a day to feed them, hang out with them, and do the necessary cleanup. But three days in, I got the first indication that things weren’t going well. My sitter’s daily e-mails included reports of regular fights between Thomas and Kissy.
When I returned home, it was back to step one. Kissy stayed in her room while I was at work, and when I got home she had supervised time to wander around so I could easily de-escalate fights before they became serious.
Once again, things started getting better. Kissy regularly explored the house and sometimes even tentatively touched noses with other cats. I fed them in the same room. There were only one or two hissing matches a day, and fights were getting increasingly rare.
I bought a new cat tower, which eased stress by adding vertical territory in my home. Kissy liked it, too, and sometimes she even climbed into it (when Thomas and Siouxsie weren’t looking, of course). I moved the old cat tree into Kissy’s room, so she had a safe and comfortable perch for observing life from her window. Everybody was getting along now.
In early September, my employer sent me to a conference. Once again, my trusty cat-sitter watched over my little clowder. All seemed to be going well until that dreaded e-mail came: "Totally unprecedented a**hole attack by Thomas."
Apparently Thomas had cornered Kissy and wailed on her for all he was worth, literally scaring the pee out of her in the process. The fight was so bad that even this experienced cat caretaker and feral-cat wrangler didn’t want to get between them, so she tossed some water at them to distract them. She also left me a business card for a local cat behaviorist. Yeah, it was that bad.
I knew I had to do something serious when I got back home. Returning Kissy was not an option because I refuse to rehome a cat before I’ve tried every possible thing to make it work. Besides, I’d promised Kissy that this is her forever home.
Once again, it was back to step one. Kissy came out only when she was supervised; the door to her room stayed closed when I was at work and when I slept. I stopped procrastinating and ordered some Spirit Essences holistic remedies — Safe Space for Kissy and Bully Remedy for Thomas — and began anointing their meals with the products.
It took only a day or two before I started seeing the difference. Kissy was getting braver. She started sitting on my lap while I was working on my computer. She explored my bedroom, which she hadn’t done since Thomas assaulted her there in her earliest days in my home. She started counter surfing and trying to eat her dinner before I put it down. She started trying to eat my food (I really wish she hadn’t gotten that brave).
Meanwhile, Thomas seemed less inclined to react violently to Kissy. They still had arguments, which were usually initiated by Kissy, who tends to hiss, bristle, and scream when any cat gets near her. But even when Kissy and Thomas did need to be separated, Kissy was recovering her cool much more quickly.
Now that Thomas and Kissy were getting their relationship sorted out, Kissy began to bully Siouxsie. In response, I added some Bully Remedy to Kissy’s food and Safe Space to Siouxsie’s. Everyone began getting along better.
Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago. I knew things were getting better when Kissy curled up in my lap for the first time. I figured that might have been because of the music I was playing at the time, but I took it as a good first step.
I had no idea what I was in for.
On Saturday night, as I sat on my couch watching movies, one of my cats curled up next to me. This wasn’t unusual. I began petting said cat and felt the usual happiness when the purring began.
During a break in the action, I looked down to see who I was petting.
It was Kissy!
Tears welled up in my eyes.
She’d finally moved beyond her terror and hypervigilance. She was finally able to curl up and snooze on the couch next to me and know she’d be safe.
Now she sits with me — actually, she sits on me — every night. Sure, there’s an occasional hiss when another cat comes close, but it feels more perfunctory than necessary.
I finally feel like my Kissy knows she’s part of the family and that she’s safe in her own home. What an honor and a privilege it is to be the person who helped facilitate that. It’s been several days, but I still get misty eyed over that magic moment and probably will for the rest of my life.
Have you ever had a wonderful experience like this? Please share your magic moments in the comments.
Photos by JaneA Kelley