Dear Greyce, My name is Ted and I am a handsome, two-year-old, orange tabby. In my short life I have had four addresses and while I've been treated well in each of them, I've had to move on through no fault of my own. (I became a stray when I was about a year old. Then a householder offered me temporary shelter because I cried under her porch every night for a week. She took my to another my purrson who looked after me well until she became very ill and could no longer care for me. And so on.)
At present I live with Herself and Kato, a wise fourteen-year-old cat who tends to keep to himself. But Herself is moving out of the country! There are boxes all over the house and furniture is being moved.
The next while is going to be quite stressful for at least three reasons. First, several new (to me) adults will be visiting for a few weeks over the holidays. Kato knows them and assures me they are okay, but I'm always nervous with new people. Second, a few weeks after those people leave, Kato and I will move to our new home. Our new purrson is a good friend of Herself. Kato and I know her pretty well already. Third, our new household has two children (ages 9 and 13) whom we have not met. Did I mention that I'm nervous with new people?
Now it's not all scary. Herself assures us that this will be a good home. Kato and I will have separate, safe rooms. There are several carpeted staircases on which to run and from which to jump; I like to view things while seated on stairs (a great combination viewing and hiding spot, I think). There is a small park just out the door; we will be allowed to use it sometimes, just as we are able to now.
But the whole idea is a big challenge for me, Greyce. What do you advise?
Dear Ted, You are a remarkable cat and most definitely, a survivor. Considering all the changes in your life, you have coped amazingly well. And being nervous around new people is no disgrace -- lots of us behave exactly the same way. I am concerned not only about you but also about Kato given that he too, will be undergoing a remarkable transition at quite a senior age. So the advice I will give will be for your both.
FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION
The advent of boxes and the moving of furniture is incredibly disrupting to a cat's sense of security because it signals changes in territory. And as you know, territory is the MOST important thing for cats because it is fundamental to our sense of safety. In addition, Herself is likely under stress, not to mention the stress of the holiday season and of stayover visitors. I could go on and on. So first and foremost, strongly recommend that Herself purchase Feliway diffusers NOW! -- one for Kato and one for yourself. Well not actually for you but for your rooms. Plug them into the electrical outlets of the two rooms you most hang out in, NOW! This will go a long way to helping you both stay as mellow as possible in the face of boxes and moved furniture.
Feliway is a synthetic version of the facial pheromones that you rub against objects in your territory -- to help you orient and to give you a sense of comfort. It will do a good job of helping you 'chill' during this stressful time. The diffuser has two parts: a permanent bit that fits into an electrical outlet and a glass container filled with liquid pheromone that attaches to it. Over time (about a month or so) the pheromone will get used up and need to be replaced. She can buy replacements separately. Depending upon where you live, this can be purchased from your veterinarian or at a pet supply store. This liquid will decay over time, so it is stale-dated. Herself should just make sure that that supply she buys is fresh. I estimate that you will probably need Feliway starting now and for at least six weeks after you have moved into your new home.NOTE: Feliway spray (a.k.a. Comfort Zone) is the same pheromone BUT NOT in the right form for what I suggest; get the diffuser.
To the extent possible, the location of those things most important to your daily routine -- your food, your water dish, your litterbox, etc. should remain the same. Ditto for your usual daily routines themselves (like feeding times, time for play, etc.)
Does your new purrson know much about cats? If not, recommend your local library or bookstore for something such as Pam Johnson-Bennett's book, Think Like A Cat: How to raise a well-adjusted cat NOT a sour puss. A bit of reading in advance could go a long way to helping her help you.
Stayover visitors are no worse than those who just drop by -- except that you cannot get rid of them as easily. And they do tend to take up more space. I assume that while they are hanging about, you will have a safe place in which to hide.
Visitors should be told that you are to be left alone when in your safe place and are NOT to be approached. If and when you are ready, you will come to them. And should you choose to do so, they should offer a hand for a sniff and NOT make ANY attempt to pet you. You may, however, rub up against that hand if you so choose.
Sudden movements and loud noises are likely to disturb you and should be avoided in your presence. If they have to behave like ruffians (you should see holiday gift opening in some places!) then you need to be in your safe place when this occurs.
I assume your access to a clean litterbox, fresh water and good food will not be hampered by their stay -- either because said items will be in the vicinity of your safe space or that reasonable provision has been made to keep those visitors away from them. (If they are in your safe space, just ensure that your litterbox is reasonably far away from your food and water.)
To the extent possible, routines that affect you should be maintained. And at the very least, there needs to be provision for some kind of daily workout if you so wish (games with a fishing pole toy, for example). If you are stressed and just feel like hiding, then so be it. But it would be a kindness if Herself could spend even 5 or 10 minutes twice a day with you even though there are others about. Even just sitting and perhaps talking in quiet tones to you during that time would be helpful.
TO DO LIST BETWEEN NOW AND MOVING DAY
In this period, Herself needs to make preparations necessary to your smooth transition.
1. A binder of vital information on Kato and yourself. I have a loose-leaf binder with the following sections tastefully tabbed. It should contain the following:
Contact Information of Herself. Sure she is moving but she isn't falling off the face of the earth. Forwarding address, phone, cell, e-mail, etc. numbers will ensure she can be contacted. I'm sure she wants to hear from you. And it's important to know how to get in touch with her, should your new purrson need information you are unwilling to impart.
An Identification Page. Kato and you should EACH have a single place on which the following is kept:
a) your name; b) a recent photo of you; c) a physical description of you (coat colour and length, eye colour, gender and sexual status -- neutered I assume, whether or not declawed, year of birth rather than age so it won't need to be updated often); d) identification (e.g., collar colour, City license #, microchip, tattoo # and location); e) your general catsonality (in your case, noting that you tend to be nervous with or hide from strangers).
Since it is not unusual for cats to 'get lost' during a move or transition, this page has all the critical information which can be photocopied and circulated if necessary. (And I always believe that if you have a page such as this, you will NEVER go missing; it's like insurance!)
Ted's Routines and Preferences (yep, another one relating to Kato, as well)
a) Eating Habits
- brand of food you eat, wet/dry, etc., amounts and scheduleor free feed).
- supplements, if any, and how to administer
- anything with which you can be tempted if you stop wanting to eat (really important since this can be life-threatening)
-prefurred treats (including brand and flavour)
b) Water preferences (some like it with ice, or only in a glass, etc.; how often refreshed)
c) Litterbox Habits: kind and brand of litter (absolutely important as if would be VERY upsetting if you suddenly went, say from unscented to scented), cleaning schedule
d) Medications, if any and how to administer
e) Grooming Routines - nail clipping, grooming preferences
f) Toys and games - favourites - any toys or items that could be hazardous to you -- (e.g., a fondness for eating string or elastic)
g) Unusual habbits, fears and/or dislikes
h) Behaviours with visitors, new people, other pets, and vets. Behaviours during car rides.
i) Outside experience
j) Safety issues
a) Name and all contact information of your veterinarian
b) All contact information for the emergency veterinary clinic
c) Vaccinations (and dates)
d) Date of last full veterinary examination
e) Relevant medical history (e.g., tendency to urinary infection)
2. Remind Herself to contact the following to notify them of your new home (and its approximate start date) and your new purrson:
- your veterinarian
- the veterinary clinic that registered your tattoo (if applicable)
- city licensing (if applicable)
3. In addition, have Herself make a Checklist of Supplies that need to accompany you (or be sent in advance) to your new home (including food, treats, supplements, medicines, litterbox, litter, litter scoop, nail clippers, comb, toys, Feliway refills, etc.) Because moving is very confusing for everyone, this will help Herself organize your 'stuff' so that it can be put into your new home without forgetting anything.
4. A tape of her voice. In the olden days, there used to be inexpensive tape recorders on which someone could tape a message of her voice. If such a thing (or reasonable facsimile thereof) exists and Herself is so inclined, then she could make a tape of her voice, talking to you by name, in soft, quiet tones. This can be quite soothing and could be played to you one or more times during the day. My slave made such a tape when my colleague, Simon, had to go to stay in isolation at the veterinary hospital for 10 days. The tape was about 20 minutes and staff played it for him everyday. In your case, your purrson would have to make a tape for you and for Kato; she could use both your names in the same tape and then your new purrson would play it in each of your rooms -- perhaps onces or twice a day.
If she chooses to make the tape, then it would be helpful if she would play it for you daily, even starting now. It will help create a bridge between your old and new environments.
5. A week before you are to move, make Herself wear a pair of sweat or tube socks to bed each night. They should be the same socks EVERY night and she must NOT wash them. This is VERY important because it will create a smell memory for you and for Kato and since smell is a critical identifier for valued items in our territory, carrying Herself's smell into your new environment will act as a transitional bridge.
ON MOVING DAY
I don't know what the logistics will be for moving day. Herself may have moved some of your stuff over the previous day for all I know. But let me assume she will do it all in one day.
It will be important for you and Kato to be in safe, secure area while your purrsonal effects are gathered and moved (litterboxes, food, dishes, toys and Feliway).
Herself should put one of those socks she kept wearing to bed, in your crate. This will be a very important smell memory of her, that will help you adjust to your new surroundings.
If at all possible, the safe rooms in your new home should be set up before your arrive (even if it is just 15 minutes before). Alternatively, they can be set up upon your arrival -- as long as you remain crated during that process. I assume Herself is quite savvy about cats and knows that you and Kato must have separate crates (or be moved separately if there is only one crate) so you don't start taking out your rising anxiety on each other.
Each safe room needs:
- that Feliway diffuser plugged into an outlet,
- a place for your food dish, your water dish and far from these two, your litterbox.
- your toys.
- your bed if you have one.
- your scratching post. (If you don't have such a post, then a corrugated scratch pad --available from a pet supply store -- is recommended.)
- a hiding box (a box turned on its side, or a box taped shut with an entrance hole cut out).
- something higher on which to perch (a cat tree is ideal, but a shelf, comfortable chair or anything that can get you off ground level would be fine -- most especially if it was in a corner and gave you a view of the room's entrance so you could use it as your guardpost).
Assuming that your room is set up (food in the bowl, water in the dish, litterbox ready and waiting) and with the door to that room closed, Herself can open the door to your crate. There is no need for you to go out until you are ready. If possible, it would be a kindness if Herself could spend a bit of time with you but that may not be possible. To make sure that you and Kato remember each other, Herself should take a small, clean cloth (or a clean tube sock) and gently wipe your cheeks (both sides). Ditto (but on a different cloth or sock) for Kato. Then she should leave the item Kato marked in your new safe room so you have a smell memory of your companion (and the item you marked, in Katos's safe room.) That way you are less likely to freak out when you next see him. (Because you are so skittish, I don't advise your new purrson trying to 'refresh' these items by the cheek rubbing method.)
What is most important is that Herself NOT make a fuss over you before she leaves (because that will just be upsetting). She can repeat the same process for Kato.
You can keep Herself's sock in your crate or pull it out -- whatever YOU wish.
Obviously your new people will want to meet you. Since you already know the adult, she can join Herself when you arrive in your safe room.
And if possible, when they both leave the room they could put on Herself's voice recording (if one has been made).
There will have been enough commotion for you for one day, I think. So even though the children may be eager to meet with you, I suggest they hold off. When they do so, they should be accompanied by your new purrson. Use the same rules as you did for stayover visitors. Their initial meetings with you should be brief -- no more than five minutes. No attempt should be made to approach you because you need to be in control. And they should talk to you quietly. But children often get excited in the presence of handsome cats, which is why your new purrson should be present. They need to understand that you will take your time in getting used to your new surroundings and to your new family.
Over time, if one of the children would like to read a book or engage in another quiet activity, she or he could do so in your safe room and thus stay with you longer. (And depending on the child, she or he may be quite able to do so without an adult present.) That would mean that you'd get the chance to get use to her or him just by presence, without having to interact much.
When You Show Interest in Leaving Your Safe Room (or after a week has passed, whichever comes first)
Once you have settled in (and when the children are out of the house), your new purrson could leave the door to your safe room open and allow you to explore if you wish. To prevent overwhelm, it would help to only let you have access to a room or so at a time (by keeping the doors to other rooms closed).
Try to keep your re-introduction to Kato in a neutral space for a brief period (unless the two of you reunite like long lost brothers) so you both get used to the ideas. Regular (daily or more) brief re-introductions will work best. But both of you should always be given the option of returning to your safe room(s) if it is just too much.
Patience and going slow is the key.
VENTURING OUT OF DOORS
Ted I understand that Kato and you enjoy the park. But I'm uncertain about the particulars. Is this the same park that you use at your current residence (which means that your new purrson is a neighbour)? Are you on leashes when you go out, or to you venture by yourselves? These are very important questions and until I know more details I cannot advise you about this important aspect of your routine. Please e-mail me the particulars and I will take it from there.
In any event, Ted, you and Kato are in for a BIG adventure. If all goes well you should have three slaves (instead of one) to respond to your wishes, along with the security of a known feline companion. I wish you both every success.