Mr. Mickey came into our lives on a hot summer afternoon in the backyard of my parents’ home near Atlanta. My niece, a toddler at the time, played in a wading pool as I enjoyed her excitement about the cool water on a scorching day. A friendly, meowing black-and-white kitty approached. He was tentative at first, but within a few minutes he let us pet and coo over him. I later asked my dad whether he knew anything about the cat. He thought the kitty had taken up residence in the backyard because he was lost or homeless. I knew we had to make things right for this cat, who we’d started calling "Mr. Mickey."
Although my parents are not particularly fond of cats, they adored this wanderer and, after I returned to my home in the Bay Area, made sure he had food and fresh water. My dad saved parts of his fish dinner to feed to the cat, which I think my mom didn’t like very much. Dad placed an ad in the local paper asking whether anyone was missing a cat like this; no one responded. Dad took Mr. Mickey to the vet, where he learned the cat was in good health and approximately 5 years old. We felt confident that Mr. Mickey needed a home, and we liked him too much to see him living in a clump of bushes in the Georgia heat.
I lived in an apartment in Walnut Creek, CA, with two other cats: Violet was nearly 13, and Muffin had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Knowing I’d probably lose Muffin soon, I asked my dad to help me adopt Mr. Mickey. Soon he was on an airline flight to San Francisco. Once at home, he immediately bonded with Muffin and Violet, and he did charming things — such as taking down pictures of other cats pinned on my bulletin board with his teeth. He still liked to be petted and adored.
Muffin passed away within a few months, and the following year I married my husband, Jim, who had two cats of his own. We moved into a little San Francisco house and became a family of two humans and four felines: Mr. Mickey, Violet, Frankie, and Sam. The transition was smooth; we’d carefully planned for the cats to be introduced to each other all at the same time, ensuring that no one cat would feel he or she "owned" the house. Our first year was conflict free. Then, I moved the litter boxes from a hallway into our garage. Almost immediately, things changed.
In response to the exposure to the small amount of outside air, Mr. Mickey started marking territory. He sprayed our sofa, curtains, inside one of our computers, and my husband’s clothes. When we figured out what was happening we were devastated. As any cat owner knows, cat urine is very difficult if not impossible to get out where it has been sprayed. And even if the odor is gone to humans, a cat can still pick up the scent and it may trigger him to spray again.
A vet examined Mr. Mickey and said he was fine physically but offered to prescribe an antidepressant to see if that would help with his spraying. We started on Wellbutrin initially, which wasn’t effective. The doc switched him to Prozac, which did make a difference. Within a few weeks his spraying had nearly stopped, and we had time to clean up the mess. I bought a gallon of Anti Icky Poo and got to work treating our sofa, walls, clothing, curtains, and other areas. I never could get the stench out of our sofa, which we gave away just to get it out of the house. We replaced our curtains with shades and pulled up carpet. We bought a new sofa, with the fervent wish that Mr. Mickey would not spray on it. Things did get better; the spraying lessened but didn’t stop.
It didn’t last long, unfortunately. Our vet eventually recommended that we see a specialist at the UC Davis Animal Behavioral Health clinic. The specialist and I went over Mr. Mickey’s behavioral patterns and even the layout of our home. He diagnosed Mr. Mickey’s behavior as territorial, as he was anxious about being exposed even just to the scent of cats outside our home. Moving the litter boxes back wouldn’t fix the problem, now that the behavior had been established. Also, we learned that more cats in a household increases the risk of spraying, about 10 percent per cat. In other words, a household with 10 cats would virtually be guaranteed to have at least one spraying cat. So what could we do for Mr. Mickey?
Lots of things could be done to curb his behavior. We put food and water in several places in our home, creating a "house of plenty," where there would not be competition to get nourishment. To prevent Mr. Mickey from seeing cats outside we put paper over all the windows on the lower levels for six weeks. We installed a motion sensing water sprayer in our back yard to ward off animals. We continued to give him his prescribed medications, made sure Mr. Mickey had all the treats he wanted, and engaged in play time every day. We were determined to do whatever it took to change this behavior, as we loved him and wanted the best for him.
For three years Mr. Mickey seemed happy and rarely sprayed. But it started again, despite our efforts. We took him back to the vet, who said he was in excellent health. It was time to think about another living situation for Mr. Mickey. Is it possible he just was not happy living in the city?
Fortunately, one of my sisters offered to take Mr. Mickey. At her country home in Georgia he would live outside, so he could spray as much as he wanted without ruining anyone’s living environment. She would ensure he got food and water, and her kids would love him just the way my husband and I did. So Mr. Mickey got into a carrier and flew across the country, this time to his forever home.
For the rest of his life, whenever I was in Georgia I visited my sister and Mr. Mickey. He was happy, chasing small animals and lying in the sun. My nieces and nephews doted on him and gave him all the love he could want. My husband and I missed him terribly, but we knew this was the right place for Mr. Mickey. He lived with my sister’s family until his passing at the age of 17. Mr Mickey was a country cat, not a city kitty.
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