Dear Readers, You may remember Suzi, a lovely cat who lives in Bulgaria, and shares her home with two other permanent felines (her brother Koko and her nemesis Sissi), two foster cats (Jack and Rijko) and one human. She has been the topic of several blog entries beginning with Stuck in the Kitchen (4/21/10); to follow her situation see also entries of the 4/26 - 29 inclusive/10. Suzi has been singled out for bullying: One of the foster cats (Jack) is quite aggressive to her and one of the other permanent residents, Sissi, hunts for her and attacks. Suzi can’t even go to the litter box in peace!
And so Suzi spends most of her time on top of the kitchen cupboards except for a few hours in the evening when she and her brother, Koko, have most of the place to themselves (and the other cats are locked in another room).
I provided some advice but it doesn’t appear to be working - which just goes to show that even though I’m extremely knowledgeable and very intelligent, I am not purrfect.
I want to share Suzi’s letter with you. Be assured that I’m not yet ready to give up on the situation, so don’t forget to read my reply as well. Greyce.
Dear Greyce, I took your advice. I had a special room (the master bedroom) prepared for me to spend most of my day away from the bully cats. I started to get used to it (just a bit) then something worrisome happened. Herself went away for several days and left me in the room! I had food and water and a good litter box but no human visitors (none of us had). I was very worried. So I stopped eating.
When Herself returned she was very distressed by what had happened. So she let me out and we are back to the old routine. I park myself on top of the kitchen cupboards most of the time to avoid the bullies. But I can’t manage that when I need to use the litter box!
Herself is still looking for homes for the two foster cats. At least once Jack leaves I will be left with one bully only – but a permanent one!
Amidst all of this, my brother, Koko, behaves as if nothing is the matters! Sissi is a BIG bully – but to me only; Herself tries to distract her when she is up to no good (a method you had suggested) but she does not pay attention!
I’m sad and depressed. Is there anything else you could suggest? Sad Suzi
Dear Suzi, I am so sorry that your situation has not improved.
You had mentioned in previous correspondence that Sissi has always been aggressive toward you; but that had settled down and you seemed to be able to tolerate one another – until the foster cats started to share space with all of you.
Yours is not an unusual situation when you live with a human who rescues cats. Such people have very big hearts. And so they open their homes to other cats in need. And if they need extra care or take longer to place in homes (which is usually the case for special needs cats and those who are no longer kittens), then you may find yourself with a new boarder for a long time.
In an effort to keep everyone social and to ease the load on the human, the rescuer usually tries to let the foster cat(s) mingle with the permanent residents. Alas too often these introductions are rushed (that is, they do not take place in tiny steps over the course of one or two months but are done far more quickly). And this can cause problems especially when several cats are involved. And now the foster cats have been out and about for so long that it would be well nigh impossible to put them back to living in a single bedroom by themselves.
When there are new cats on the scene, everyone reacts differently. Some, like Koko, take it in stride. Others, like Sissi, become more aggressive and since she has gone back to being a bully, it tells me that she is stressed as well. And because you are the most vulnerable (due to your history with her and likely because of your temperament), she is taking it out on you.
In other words, both Sissi and you are telling Herself that you are all stressed because the situation is too crowded. It is not the size of the apartment you live in but rather the number and temperament of the feline residents in it that determines crowding. I know of places where introducing a second cat is too much for the resident, and other where everyone is fine until, say, the eighth cat is introduced. It’s very complex and thus is not totally predictable.
But Suzi, let’s not give up just yet. It would be lovely if the foster cats could be placed in good homes soon. Jack has special needs and so he needs a home that will keep him safe; he just cannot go anywhere. And Rijko has developed a fondness for hunting for bugs on the balcony, so ideally he should be placed in a home where he could have access to an enclosed outdoor space or a yard. And Suzi, you need safety and peace. So let’s see what I can suggest.
There are four things I want to focus on:
1) re-visiting distracting Sissi when she is up to no good;
2) re-visiting the concept of time-sharing in a slightly different way;
3) discussing your litter boxes; and
4) in my next blog entry on your situation (which I promise to work on quickly), discussing altering some of the design of your living quarters to create (from a feline perspective) a more spacious environment. By itself, this interior decoration will not solve the problem but it will help ease the tension over the longer run. It will be good to implement because you are likely to host other feline boarders from time to time and you want to have as stress-free an existence with them as is possible.
#1: Re-visiting Distracting Sissi When She Is Up to No Good
You mentioned that when Sissi is up to no good, Herself is unable to distract her (with talk or toys). I know that some cats are too intent on bullying to be distracted by such devices. In such cases I recommend using the time out.
Can Herself not give Sissi a time out – where she would either pick her up and take her to another room and let her stay there for about five minutes with no attention, before letting her out? Or if that isn’t feasible putting her into a cat carrier for the same amount of time again without attention?
If Herself was able to intervene quickly, Sissi would start to learn that picking on you means a lack of attention and a removal of privileges for her. And that might help her get the message that picking on you is out of line. Please let me know if time-outs have been tried. Or is there another reason why they either haven’t been tried or haven’t worked?
Usually if a short time-out doesn’t work, a longer period (like 20 or 30 minutes in a separate room or a LARGE crate) is tried.
Since your purrson volunteers in animal rescue, it would be a good idea if she could purchase a medium-size wire dog crate. It can be used as a time-out place if a cat is intimidating or getting aggressive. Under such circumstances, the cat is only sequestered in a separate room (for a much longer period like a few hours) if he or she shows continued aggression after being let out of the crate when five minutes is up. Many people find the crate a very convenient device for this because it is located in the same room where all the cats tend to hang out (or where most of the aggressive behaviour occurs).
The second purpose of such a crate is protection by keeping one cat in it for some time, but in the same room as the rest of the group. Everyone can see one another but a victim is safe from harm and a bully is prevented from antagonizing the rest of the group. Usually the crate is for the bully (especially since someone like you only feel safe in high places). If the cat is to stay in this crate for some time, then a small litter box and a bowl of water and a soft towel or blanket for sleeping is added to the crate.
#2: Re-Visiting The Concept Of Time-Sharing, But In A Slightly Different Way
Keeping you in a special place for most of the day MIGHT have worked. I thought it would give you a break from both bullies. I thought that it would be easier to separate you, than to separate the two bullies in separate spaces. Obviously I was wrong.
I think the problem is that you were not fully adjusted to the new routine before Herself left for a few days. So when the schedule became unpredictable because Herself did not appear when you expected her to, both the change in routine and lack of human contact made it increasingly stressful. And so you stopped eating.
Given your situation, with time-sharing I recommend that your purrson get a reliable human to come in twice a day (for about a half hour at a time) to visit if she has to be away overnight. The usual rule-of-thumb for cats who live in a group AND get along is a minimum of one, 30-minute to 60-minute visit per day for the first four days, and then two such visits per day. In cases such as yours, where there are problems, I would recommend starting with two visits per day or more, depending upon how many different time-shared spaces were in operation. And yes, that’s a lot of work!
Regardless, I’m sure Herself and you are loathe to try time-sharing again. But I want to ask you to re-consider it in a different form because time-sharing of space in households where cats who do not get along, can work well. I have this on good authority from my colleague, Kahlua, who lives with seven other cats and one dog. Different cats joined her household at different times; but things got quite difficult with the last three cats who joined within a six-month period. To start, the house had to be divided into five, separate sections! Now a year later, the house is divided into two sections; most everyone gets along with everyone else, except for one cat.
Time-sharing takes planning and work. But it can be worth it. So I want to review the basic principles and have you think through how it might work in your household. And if after you have given the matter some thought, you believe it won’t work in your case, I promise not to mention it again.
Time-sharing is used not only to introduce new cats to one another but also to keep cats who do not get along apart (that is, in different parts of the house) AND to allow them to rotate through the parts of the house for different parts of the entire day. Keeping such cats apart protects them from each other and prevents them from building or in your case maintaining, an aggressive relationship. And rotating them through parts of the house on a daily basis means that none of you builds up an exclusive territory. In other words, you all feel as if you own the whole place.
The key elements are:
Only cats who get along well with each other stay in the same place (or room) at the same time. All others are prevented access (usually with a closed door).
Each space has a litter box, water bowl, toys, and places to sleep or rest. If you free feed (rather than get fed at specific times), then food is there as well.
At times established by human convenience (because your purrson has to make this work), each cat or compatible group of cats gets moved to another area in the home – taking care to keep any victims safe. This may mean carrying a specific cat to the new space or putting a specific cat in a carrying crate to do so.
For example, if your person works set hours of the day the schedule of time periods might look like this:
When your purrson wakes up
When yours purrson returns for the day
When your purrson goes to bed.
At each of these times, different cats get to occupy different spaces. For example:
Group One: Master Bedroom
Group Two: Guest Room
Group Three: Main Area
Return for the Day
Group One: Guest Room
Group Two: Main Area
Group Three: Master Bedroom
Group One: Main Area
Group Two: Master Bedroom
Group Three: Guest Room
The schedule can be altered on weekends or days off – again depending on what makes sense. The point is to have each group of cats spend a fairly equal amount of time in each space, so that no one group is confined to the smallest space for the greatest amount of time.
Any cat who gets along with all the others, can choose where he or she wishes to stay.
The point it that each of you gets to spend some time in different areas of the apartment, but you are always kept away from the bullies.
The other critical thing is this: Your purrson MUST spend time with each group of cats. No group should be without at least an hour a day (in two, 30-minute periods) of human contact. It means that your purrson has to be present and awake. Petting and playtime during contact are welcome, but depending on the situation, your purrson could watch television, read or do chores in the space during the visit as well. In some cases, I know of purrsons who rotate to the different spaces. In other cases, the purrson tends to stay in one or two spaces, but makes sure that she or he had contact with every group of cats. It depends on the circumstances.
This takes a lot of work on the human’s part, making sure everyone is okay and making sure to spend a decent amount of time with everyone. So if you think Herself could manage it, this might be what to try.
(I will not got into the details of how you go about getting the entire group back together at this point.)
Kahlua mentioned that especially at bedtime, her room-mate Social desperately wanted to be in the bedroom (even if it wasn’t his turn). But he would beat up the other cats. So their purrson put him in a medium-size wire dog crate in the bedroom. If he made too much of a fuss, he was sent to another room for the night. He soon learned (after a few nights) that if he wanted to stay in the bedroom at night, he’d have to stay in the crate. And he because quite comfortable in it.
#3: Your Litter Boxes
I know that your litter boxes are kept in the storage room which is a convenient location in your home. There are two, up against each other and up against the wall and the corner.
In the ideal situation, the boxes would be in two different locations, so that a bully cat could not patrol both locations at once, giving the victim the chance to select the safer box of the moment. For this reason, you might consider locating one of the boxes in another room.
If at all possible, each box should be at least 6” ( 15 cm.) from any wall or object, since most cats like to travel around the box and select the cleaner area in which to deposit waste.
Boxes that are up against another box or up against a wall reduce the number of escape routes from the box. And you need escape routes when you are being bullied. And since your boxes are in a long, narrow space with only one door of entry or exit, it is all too easy for a bully to lie in wait and block your path.
For the box in the storage room, would you consider placing it on a raised bench or low table (with room in front to land) so you can be higher when you use the box and thus in a safer position when you exit it? It would put you in a position to be able to either leap over Sissi or pounce on her. I assume Sissi only attacks when you leave the box and not while you are using it.
If I am mistaken and she has the nerve to attack when you are using the box, you might consider a covered box as well.
Think about which of these suggestions on litter boxes you might be able to implement.
So Suzi, I’ll now get to work on the last item – feline interior design – for my next blog entry on your situation. In the meantime, please think about what I suggest and let me know if you try any of it (and if so, how it works).
I do wish you the best, Greyce