Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Cat Revolution

Well, the time has finally come. My two cats, Max and Dollie, have staged their quiet but effective revolution (or should I say coup?) in our house on Main Street. For almost a year now the cats have been living in our basement, forced down there by our dogs, Spanky and Adora. Why, you ask, did this all happen? Let me tell you a little story....

Last summer we moved into our current home. At our last house, we could not have any pets besides fish (you DO count, Scrappy and Kayo!) and I had always yearned for a cat and/or dog. So when we moved here, our lease allowed for two cats and two dogs on the premises. If you know me at all, you know that I went all out and got exactly two cats and two dogs. How could I help myself? We had lived for over two years at our other house with no furry children to snuggle with and keep us warm at night (although Pete is a human space heater, if I've ever known one).

So off to the local Petsmart I went, and I checked out all the different cats that were available for adoption through our local animal shelter. I remember instantly liking Dollie, with her little chunky body and soulful pumpkin face, and I even got to hold her at one point. True to nature, she gyrated in my arms and purred like a well-oiled machine. It was hard putting her back, but I had to move on. I saw Max in a nearby cage and moved closer to take a look. I had wanted to get a male cat first, since I already had a female cat named Ginger (who currently lives with my parents). So I had Max brought out of his cage, and we observed each other for a while. He was glorious looking cat, with model-perfect features and a long, lean body. I can't say that he was overly affectionate, but he must have been a little scared. Max was very sweet and gentle all the same, and he had a quiet, serene nature about him, so I decided we belonged together. Dollie looked rather forlorn as I walked away to fill out the adoption paperwork, and I never could quite get her out of my mind.

I brought Max home and it was like Christmas for him. He had the run of a nice, empty house, full of fun cat things like empty shopping bags and crinkly packing paper. Max could climb piles of old carpeting, hide in cardboard boxes, and frolic in the open dining room windows. Max was always lonely, however, since Pete and I had to leave him alone every day while we went off to work. He would cry like a human baby when we locked up and left every day, and I felt horrible for abandoning him. And I couldn't shake that nagging image of Dollie looking so sad in her cage at the store. So that following week I headed back to Petsmart to adopt Dollie. Everyone there was so happy she had finally found a home (apparently she had made a big hit with the staff) and I was happy to bring Max a companion.

Introducing Max and Dollie to each other was...interesting. Max just walked around with a bewildered look on his face, like he couldn't believe this was all happening to him. Of course Dollie had a grand old time running amok, chasing flies and playing in spider webs. After several days of cold and uneasy shoulders from each other, Max and Dollie eventually became buddies. They spent their days goofing around together in every corner of the house, which was punctuated by their frequent, lazy catnaps.

That is, until Spanky and Adora arrived.

In late September, Pete and I finally got the chance to get our first dog, Adora, from Pete's sister Cathy. We had "visitation" for a few weeks in a row, and we would take Adora home with us on sleepover weekends so everyone could get used to one another. Max did not seem at all happy with the newest member of the family, and would hiss at Adora whenever she came near Max. Poor Adora would always look guilty and slink away from Max, and would try to hide her big furry body as best she could. Dollie, on the other hand, was somewhat timid but intrigued, and would sniff noses (and butts) with Adora from time to time. Dollie pretty much seemed to accept Adora; and, satisfied with the situation, Dollie continued her important job of catching all the spiders and other assorted creatures in the house. Max couldn't be bothered with such things, and instead spent his days observing the birds and squirrels outside.

When Spanky arrived in early October, Max once again reprised his hissing dominate pack member role. Max liked intimidating little Spanky and being especially mean to him for some reason, perhaps because Spanky is small. Spanky had never lived with cats before (Adora had), so he was first very perplexed, then nervous, then afraid of Max. As usual, Dollie was fairly quick to accept Spanky and the two became buddies of a sort, digging through garbage together and sleeping near each other at night. But the aggressive behavior didn't stop from Max, and Spanky slowly built up a burning anger inside him (or so I'm guessing—I know I would).

One day I was driving home from work and got a call from Pete, who was home alone with all the animals. He said that Spanky had "snapped" and with a flurry of barking and snarling, drove Max and Dollie into the basement. Pete was unsure what had happened, but I'd bet that Max pushed Spanky a little too far that day, and that was the last straw for my little mutt. When I got home, Spanky and Adora were very agitated and the cats were hiding in the basement. Unfortunately, Dollie was punished along with Max, probably because she is a cat and cats were evil at this point in time in Spanky and Adora's minds. Little did Max and Dollie know they'd be hiding in that basement for the next eight months.

The cats had tried coming upstairs many times since being forced into the depths of the house, but they were always herded back into the basement by Spanky and Adora. Max and Dollie did get to roam freely in the house during the day, since the dogs were locked up in their cages while we were at work, restricted from touching a hair on either cat's head. But the nights belonged to the dogs, and they took every opportunity to go on the offensive at the slightest hint that Max or Dollie were trying to sneak upstairs during "dog hours." Pete and I were sure we'd be giving the Dog Whisperer a call any day, begging him to come to Warrenville to help us with our dilemma and work his magic.

So that brings us to the last couple of weeks. Turns out we didn't need to call the Dog Whisperer, after all. Max began popping upstairs, a little at a time, just out of the blue. Maybe he was sick of the cold, dark basement; maybe the summery smells and warm breezes were calling to him; maybe he missed sitting in the windows and watching life go on around him...who knows? It was just time, and I took every chance I could to protect him when Max did emerge from the shadows and made his escape. The dogs did try several times to drive Max back downstairs, and most often he'd end up dashing back down there, but there were many times I was able to intervene and allow Max to pass about freely, wherever he wished. 

After several days of this radical behavior from Max, Dollie began sticking her head out from the basement doorway too, looking around for the familiar shapes and scents of the dogs, and would silently dart into our dining room. Dollie knew she was safe there, since there is no floor at the moment (it's under construction), and Spanky had almost fallen through once, so the dogs were leery of going near that area and stayed away. Dollie was able to prance around on the floor beams, jump onto the gravely dirt below, play with the fascinating new bugs she discovered, and sneak in as many stroking sessions as she could with Pete and me. It was wonderful to have the cats back up in the land of the living, walking about as if it were old times, rubbing against our legs and drinking out of our water glasses.

Now here we are a few weeks later, and Max and Dollie are fairly confident in their right to come upstairs and go anywhere they please. I do have to watch carefully to prevent Spanky or Adora from attempting to force the cats back into the basement, but overall things have been progressing rather well. And every time the dogs behave themselves and leave the cats alone, I reward them with praise and treats. I'm hoping in a few weeks' time that the six of us can live happily and harmoniously together just like last fall, sleeping in one big furry bunch on the bed, snuggling together on the couch while watching tv, and everyone getting to do their own thing without fear of attack or threats.

The revolution has begun.

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