We are three black cats who don't get along. It's complicated: You see, some of us do and some of us don't - some of the time. So let's begin at the beginning.
All About Me
|Raffiki: Handsome and Debonair|
Brave? not so much. I run and hide when the doorbell rings. If I recognize a visitor's voice, I might come out to say hello; otherwise you will not find me. With those I know, I'm very affectionate and cuddly; so many who meet me say I'm gentle and sweet as well as handsome. I will even ask to be picked up; but I'm nervous around people who wear shoes, walk fast or make a lot of noise when they walk. I tend to be very polite at the vet's and take medications easily. I really like Herself.
I am open to making other feline friends within limits. I did spray around the house when Himself moved in with His cat, though eventually we reached an understanding; this cat has been dead for some time. I also got along with a rescue cat who lived with us for about 10 months before dying from a brain tumour. But I do not tolerate invaders of our outside property and will run them off. I prefurr not to tangle and usually yell loudly enough that Herself intervenes; but I don't back down from a fight. At my age and in my state of health, I can be in the backyard without any chance of escape.
I have had diabetes which went into remission followed by kidney disease. I was doing well but had a major slip 5 months ago and almost died. I had another crisis in a month later. My hind legs are weak and I have arthritis in my spine and hips. My lower fangs were removed last year because of dental disease and part of my voice was lost as a result. (Exactly why that happened is a mystery.) Needless to say I'm on a special diet plus a variety of pills, powders and injections. I have a mild heart murmur which manifests when I am sick or under stress.
|My Sister Black Berry|
My half-sister, Black Berry, is slightly older (16) with reddish-brown highlights and polydactyl paws. Having 6 toes on each paw means that she looks as if she is wearing baseball mitts; and her back ones resemble those of a snowshoe rabbit. But her toes are not very strong and several don't work well.
She has food allergies but refuses to eat hypo-allergenic food. When stressed or exposed to an allergy trigger, her eyes get itchy and she gets plaque on her corneas and up the tendons on the back of her hind legs. She was better in the winter but flared up in early summer - a situation which continues. She is on medication for this condition and also for arthritis.
Yet she is the social butterfly of the household and answers the doorbell when it rings. She likes to sit with company but never asks to be picked up; she accepts attention and cuddles only on her terms. She is also very vocal and expresses her feelings LOUDLY! Being an older woman, she sleeps a lot usually in a quiet hidey hole where no one can find her.
She has no tolerance for cats who invade our yard. If another cat comes near a window while she is looking out, she attacks the window and then attacks me when I come running to save her! Yet she has always adjusted to having other cats inside the house; she just withdraws to a secret place and sleeps.
Lucky Little Guy
|Lucky Little Guy|
He was originally to be given to the local humane society. But when Themselves found that as a stray he would first go to the pound for behavioural testing, they refused. You see with his wildness, his unpredictability and history of serious biting and scratching, he would have been euthanized. And they didn't want that to happen to him. So he is part of our family instead.
I have several names for him: Mr. High Energy, Mr. Jumper, Mr. Climber. Need I say that he is confident, playful, intensely-focused, very smart, curious and likes to be busy? He has trained Themselves to run after him by clawing the furniture (which is a no-no); so they chase him to the scratching post and I think he enjoys the chase. It would not surprise you to hear that he gets bored easily. When workmen come to the house, he likes to help them solve problems; but sometimes he needs to be locked away so he won't stick his head or paw in someplace it doesn't belong.
He tends to be aloof and has a nervous, scared side - even though he is brave about most things (except for thunder and lightning). He hates having his feet or back end touched and ducks if someone tries to pet his head. He doesn't like to be interrupted or picked up when he is playing. He gives warning signs when he is about to blow and Themselves are starting to learn what they are.
He is slowly getting more tolerant of Herself picking him up for kisses and cuddles several times a day. And his behaviour at the vet's has changed. This year he was very well-behaved except when she tried to check his anal glands after a painful rabies vaccination. But this is a great improvement over last year when they had to hold him down with welding gloves as he believed he was in great danger.
Other than a plugged anal gland from time to time, he has a sensitive tummy and gets special food. He tried Clomicalm (an anti-anxiety medication) for about a year to help mellow him out but it hasn't solved our problem with him. He no longer takes it.
He enjoys being outdoors but since running away (for several days) he has now been either re-tethered on a leash when out (which is not entirely satisfactory) or put into a kennel which is some distance from the house and not big enough for him to really jump around in. Not the best!
We live in a bungalow with a full basement and access to a fenced-in backyard. We have 3 tall cat trees on the main floor and a smaller one in the basement. In addition we have several resting areas and my sister and I have warming mats in the bedroom. Both floors of the house have litter boxes and feeding and watering areas. We have a variety of fishing-pole type toys, catnip toys and scratch pads with which we are expected to play because our humans don't play with us much at all.
Two adult humans take care of us. They are very good about feeding, medicating, cleaning the litter boxes, providing toys and cuddling us. But as I will repeat, they are very remiss about interactive play. My sister and I prefurr Herself (though we find Himself to be fine, too). Lucky really, really likes men and so hangs with Himself. But truth be told, Himself is a bit wary - having received bites and scratches especially when called upon to break up fights.
The Introduction Process
Okay Greyce, I'll level with you: Lucky beats us up! And since you seem to think that how we were introduced makes a big difference in our ability to get along, I'll give you all the details.
I think we have tried everything:
- Being able to see each other and sniff noses through a screen. That went well.
- Sharing scent through getting rub downs. No big deal. Enough already!
- Having the chance to explore each others' spaces with the 'owner' of said space not being present. Over and done with.
- Taking Lucky to a cat boarding facility for a few days to see how he behaves with others. He was a perfect gentleman! If only he was like this at home.
- Anti-anxiety medication (Clomicalm for Lucky - for almost a year). No difference noted.
- Installing a Feliway diffuser in common areas. Did it. Stopped. Doing it again.
- Putting all three of us in separate kennels and seeing how close we could be and still tolerate each other.
- Installing a chain on the bedroom door and using rubber doorstops - so doors could be only open a crack while we got used to each other. We don't do this anymore because Themselves forgot (on a couple of occasions) to properly close or lock said doors and all hell broke loose. And now they are too scared to try this again.
- Putting Lucky on a leash in the house. Himself gets very anxious and stops most encounters after a short time; and when Himself gets anxious, Herself does too and starts talking loudly; and then everyone gets stressed.
- Putting Lucky in a kennel, in the house; but then when we approach the kennel he starts to move and the tray makes a big bang and scares us.
- Time-sharing space. This is what we do now. Lucky has the basement at night and we have the upstairs. During the day, when we have the bedroom he has the rest of the main floor (and vice-versa) - except when we are out in the backyard where we can all hang out because he is in a kennel. Since Lucky arrived, I am not allowed in the basement for fear that I will start to spray again.
- Putting Lucky in a kennel in the yard; but he is too far away from the rest of us to feel part of the family. Besides the kennel is too small from him to really jump and play in it.
One thing for sure, we have problems with consistency and with persistence.
The Nature of Our Fights
When I think back on our fights, Greyce, they seem to fall into one of two categories: 1) we run into each other by surprise, or 2) Themselves forget to ensure that all entries to a space are truly closed and one of us mistakenly enters into the others' presence. Regardless, Lucky starts to stare. His tail starts to lash. Sometimes his skin twitches. Then he lunges, bites, scratches and chases. He will take us on one at a time; but he won't if we are both present. And we want nothing to do with him, thank you very much.
A Miracle Please
Well Greyce, I am stressed. Black Berry is stressed. Herself is stressed. Himself is stressed. And I bet that even Lucky is stressed.
Our vet has talked with Themselves and recommended that Lucky be re-homed. But Themselves don't want to give him up. And they are feeling guilty about stressing the rest of us out, since I've been so sick this year and my sister's condition has worsened.
Can you pull off a miracle and figure out a way that we can live together?
Raffiki and The Black Cat Gang
Dear Raffiki, Black Berry and Lucky Little Guy,
Thank you for your thorough description of your present situation. As you know, introductions between cats who do not know one another are extremely important especially in a household where they do not have the choice of whether or not to stay or leave. And you have done many things to try and observe proper cat etiquette in undertaking this.
Let me review what you have done and tell you why it worked or did not.
MY ANALYSIS OF WHAT YOU HAVE TRIED
Measures to Keep You Safe and Give You A Sense of Control
Being able to see each other and sniff noses through a screen. Of course this is a first step and it did go well. All of you were safe and could choose whether or not to even approach the screen. Good work.
Putting all three of us in separate kennels and seeing how close we could be and still tolerate each other. You don't mention how this went but I gather it wasn't a great success or you would have kept it up.
Installing a chain on the bedroom door and using rubber doorstops - so doors could be only open a crack while we got used to each other. We don't do this anymore because Themselves forgot (on a couple of occasions) to properly close or lock said doors and all hell broke loose. And now they are too scared to try this again. And this is unfortunate because this would have given each of you control with safety. Unfortunately, as you mentioned, safety was not able to be maintained so I guess we just have to chalk it up to human error and be done with it.
Putting Lucky on a leash in the house. Himself gets very anxious and stops most encounters after a short time; and when Himself gets anxious, Herself does too and starts talking loudly; and then everyone gets stressed. Here I think it is the combination of not exactly knowing what to do with Lucky when he is leashed plus human anxiety involved that is leading to failure of this method. So we may try this again, but much later in the process. Wait and see.
Putting Lucky in a kennel, in the house; but then when we approach the kennel he starts to move and the tray makes a big bang and scares us. Once you send me a picture of this equipment I can make more informed comments.
Time-sharing space. This is what we do now. And a good idea it is. In fact it is fundamental.
Putting Lucky in a kennel in the yard. Good idea but as you mentioned, we need to upgrade this in order for it to really work.
Measures to Establish a Sense of Belonging to a Group
Sharing scent through getting rub downs. The establishment of a group scent is an important part of bond formation. But as you have learned, it isn't everything.
Having the chance to explore each others' spaces with the 'owner' of said space not being present. Again this is an important part of the process but will not cause a bond to be formed, in an of itself.
Stress Relief Measures
Anti-anxiety medication (Clomicalm for Lucky - for almost a year). Medication while, at times, very helpful is not the be all and end all - unless a consistent behavioural program is in place.
Installing a Feliway diffuser in common areas. A nice touch though insufficient in an of itself.
'Beats Me, I Can't Figure This Out' Measures
Taking Lucky to a cat boarding facility for a few days to see how he behaves with others. He was a perfect gentleman! I suppose this was done to try and figure out if Lucky just hated all other cats and would never get alone with anyone. My dear, the boarding facility is a strange place and often, a new cat will be on his best behaviour. It takes at least 72 hours for a cat to adapt enough to start showing his or her true colours (so three days wasn't enough). But even more important, in a strange environment no cat has the upper paw, so to speak, because the territory is all shared (purrhaps with the exception of the individual suites where each cat sleeps). So as long as resources are abundant, the general rule is to live and let live.
One thing for sure, we have problems with consistency and with persistence. Well dear, without consistency and persistence you will get nowhere. So we need to work on that, meaning clearer more specific steps to follow and, as importantly, ways to lower everyone's (including Themselves') anxiety levels.
WHAT I CAN DO FOR YOU
I see my job as:
1. Helping you choose which measures to keep and which to add.
2. Providing you with more detail on how, exactly, to implement them.
3. Helping your humans deal with their anxiety which is now a main contributor to the current state of affairs
The Overall Process
As a general rule of thumb, it can take up to one month for every year of the age of the eldest cat in order for an introduction process to be successful. In your case that is 16 months (one for every year of Black Berry's age.) In some cases the process is much shorter; in some cases, longer. In your case given the problems encountered, be prepared for longer. My dear, you are in it for the long haul. And if your household doesn't get its act together soon about consistency and persistence, then aim for forever! Yes, I'm being fierce here but I want to make a point: We need long-term commitment, in addition to love.
Next, safety is paramount. Nothing can be accomplished if everyone does not feel safe. And there have been several instances where the safety of at least one of you has been violated. So I want you to be extra careful about this aspect of the program. I will help you with this, to the best of my ability.
After that, control is essential - not only human control over the process but also of each of you over your environment. Part of having a sense of control is safety. Part of it is educating your humans enough to have confidence in what they are doing (especially when it comes to Lucky). Part of it is being able to rely on routine. More on this later.
Stress release is critical. Let me be frank here: Without consistent implementation of stress relief measures, you are doomed! Anxiety levels will rise and your ability to learn and to thrive will be impaired. Both you and your sister are very vulnerable. And the rest of you aren't much further behind. We need to turn this aspect around as soon as possible.
Your Part of the Bargain
Raise your paw and meow after me:
1. We, The Black Cat Gang, will follow your advice.
2. If there is something that does not make sense or confuses us, we will contact you as soon as possible and ask for clarification.
3. If there is something we cannot implement, we will notify you as soon as possible stating the reason(s), so you can work on an alternative.
4. We will send in regular progress reports so that you can refine the process and add more steps (without overwhelming us).
If you do not agree to these conditions, then I cannot help you. But I am assuming you are desperate enough to try and right now, that's good enough for me.
The Next Steps
Of all the control measures you have tried (and are still trying) two seem to have the best chances of success for right now: 1) time-sharing of interior space, and 2) the outdoor kennel for Lucky.
Time-sharing of Interior Space: Keep this up just as you are doing now. In other words, you two elders have the bedroom while Lucky has the rest of the main floor (and vice-versa) - during the day. At night, Lucky has the basement while the two of you have the main floor. I'm fine with you, Raffiki, being banned from the basement for now. And I'm also fine with your outdoor sharing arrangements.
Yes other than outdoors, this means you don't have opportunities for visual contact but since we are largely going back to 'square one', this is purrfectly fine. Besides your humans seem to be able to manage this aspect well (and keep you safe) so let's go with their strength for now, until we build up their confidence.
As a safety backup (because accidents can happen) I want you to visit your local hardware store (something like a Home Depot) and get some Corplast. It is like a plastic-coated cardboard that comes in sheets. (If you have plain, thick cardboard at home, you could use that instead.)
You will be doing a craft project: A cat separator.
Extend your nails along the sheet to cut it (or, if you have just had a pawdicure, use a box cutter). Cut a piece that is wide enough to block a door entrance in your home and tall enough that your humans can keep the bottom of it at floor level (by holding it with a hand, at the top of the sheet) without having to bend down. Because humans do not have paws, you will need to cut a hand-hole for them to use, near the top (so they can grip it easily and securely), as shown in the figure to the left.
Make several of these and have them near key entrance ways where they might be needed. In an emergency, these can be inserted between Lucky and whomever has been unlucky enough to get in his way - giving you a chance for safe escape or a chance for another human to rescue and/or properly separate you with a minimum of harm to the appendages of both the furry and non-furry household members. My Herself has used it successfully to safely herd a cat into another room (and then close the door), without the other party having access.
The Outdoor Kennel enables all of you to have time in the backyard (weather permitting) - with Lucky inside it and the rest of you out and about. This is an excellent for two reasons: 1) it is stimulating (more about the importance of this later), and 2) it provides the chance for safe visual contact amongst the three of you - in a way that doesn't trigger your folks' anxiety because all of you are safe.
|Lucky's outdoor run with taller enclosure at back|
In the long run, you need to think about a more suitable outdoor enclosure, meaning one that could possibly to attached to your home (and thus give the cat in question the chance to go in and out without human assistance) - one that can brave the elements (especially during winter - for there are wonderful sunny days when cats I know love to sun on an outdoor shelf if they can), and one that has more height (critical to lowering cat anxiety). Indeed your long run portion is most generous. You wouldn't have to increase the overall area of the building but rather, shorten the run part and increase the size - height and area - (and shelving, etc. options) of the tall part. Just a thought.
But I would still push for a 'fancier' and sturdier model, largely because I get the impression that Themselves adore cats and there is a likelihood that felines will remain a part of their lives for a very long time. And an enclosure is an excellent way to offer felines safe outdoor experience.
Whatever you settle on, it must be of adequate size, particularly height, and fitted with shelves, shaded areas and the means for him to maximize the stimulation it could provide - safely. For these reasons, I refer you to my entry: An Outdoor Room for Cats (May 10, 2010). Since your folks aren't handy with tools, pay particular attention to Habitat Haven which has a number of ready to assemble cat enclosures. I believe there is a display of that product in the city in which you live (just check the site). Purrhaps Lucky can encourage those workmen to return and put it up!
In the meantime, I want you to start thinking of how you can move the kennel closer to where the rest of you hang out, so Lucky can be included safely as part of your group. Yes, yes, I know this involves a fair bit of human effort. You might even share with me any problems you now have with herding lucky to the enclosure in the first place (and then we can work on that).
Basically, I'd like you to take it in stages (especially since I don't know the complete layout of your yard). So let's start with Step 1: Is it possible to reverse the configuration so that the taller cage is at the front (closest to where the rest of the family hangs out) and the tunnel part is further back? Lucky is more likely to feel comfortable if he can be higher off the ground on a shelf, than at grass level. This Step could be done be either rotating the whole thing by 90 degrees (right angles to what it is now) or 180 degrees (reverse of what it is now). Just make sure that you all have a good view of each other when he is in the tall part of the enclosure. You might want to offer him a hidey hole in it if he doesn't want to be disturbed; but given his purrsonality and his love of being on the top level of interior cat trees, I don't think it will be needed; so consider it an option rather than a requirement.
The Biggest Changes to Implement NOW
Don't rest on your laurels just yet, because I have more for you to do.
You MUST convince your purrsons to commit to daily interactive play sessions with each of you. It is ESSENTIAL for stress relief. I am so concerned about this that I'm going to devote a lot of space to it now - much of it taken from earlier blog entries (which tells me I need to re-organize my blog - but that's another matter).
Play is a form of predatory learning, and we cats are born predators who must exercise our predatory cycle on a daily basis to keep our arousal levels in check. High arousal levels mean that we become more anxious and reactive. And the higher they climb, the less able we are to keep them in check; play is a great way to let off steam. It is not an option; it is essential.
Lucky, I want you to work up to two daily sessions with a human, of at least 15 minutes and possible more, each. So start with one session for, say 8 minutes, and get your purrson to start extending it by a minute a day. This should buy some time for your purrson to figure out when (and how) to work in the other session.
For example, one could be at dusk when most of us get 'ants in our pants' and run around like crazy chasing after thin air - because that is the time when, in the wild, we would hunt. Dusk for you could be after Himself returns from work and has had his nap, for example. Given your household schedule, I'd think of just before bed as the other suitable time.
Raffiki and Black Berry, being elder and arthritic cats, need a more moderate level of play. By moderate, I mean less intense - not fewer sessions or necessarily shorter ones, unless you guys are too tired or ill. At least one session and prefurrably two per day are advised. And because you are relatively aged and are friends, the interactive play session could be done with both of you together.
So I see the possibility that, for example, Himself could have a session with Lucky while Herself has a session with the two of you - obviously in separate areas of the house and obviously with the doors closed (so all of you are safe). Lucky's session(s) could, purrhaps, be in the basement where he hangs out at night.
Right now I'm going to concentrate on the latter: which largely means play with a fishing-pole type toy or a wand (which can give you a workout while keeping Themselves' hands and feet safe). I'm going to tell you how to make Themselves play smarter because this is a case where QUALITY is as important at QUANTITY.
For maximal effectiveness, your purrson must operate the toy in a way that simulates prey behaviour. We are hunters; so we need to stalk, chase, pounce and kill several times a day.
Here are ways in which you can re-train your folks, so that they can deliver the goods. They are adapted from a behaviourist, Pam Johnson Bennett who has written extensively on our superior species.
1: Prey never come out when you are in the open. You need to be at least somewhat hidden from them (or they from you). Unfortunately many people think you should play in the middle of the room where there is no cover. Now how many hunters go out in the open rather than hiding under a bush or behind a tree?
No I'm not suggesting that your purrson bring in some dirt and a ten-foot tree to add some realism. However a cardboard box with cutouts can serve as an excellent blind (think duck hunter here). A cushion on the floor can be a barrier (or something behind which prey can hide). A tablecloth or low bench can serve to partially hide you while in hunting pose. You have some excellent equipment in the photo: that s-curved scratch pad and the crinkle bag along with the hidey hole in and near the cat tree.
Here are some more suggestions: 1) Put a tunnel (bought or constructed from a cardboard box or two) off-side, that is, NOT in the middle of the room but rather beside the couch. 2) Consider that duck blind I just mentioned. Have a cardboard box (or two) with some entrances or windows cut out to use as escape hatches and ‘blinds’ from which to watch the action – again in strategic locations. Jump in the box and wait for the prey! 3) As stated, some pillows could be propped here and there – for things to go behind. 4) Tissue paper loosely crumpled on the floor makes a great topping underneath which a toy or two can hide. And if the wand or feather goes under the paper, all the better.
And no, I don't suggest this be a permanent redecoration scheme, but rather that your folks vary your play environment (and then put the stuff away when it is not in use - otherwise you will get bored with it).
2: Prey never just walk right up to you. They may wander across your line of vision. They will go away from you. But no prey invites himself to be your dinner.
A common mistake most people make with interactive play is to just dangle the toy in front of you, so you stand on your haunches and box. This is a defensive move and does NOT simulate hunting. It entertains the human but has zippo value to you. No prey would behave so stupidly; so no wonder you are NOT amused.
So make your purrson work. Have your purrson drag your fishing pole toy along the floor. You can watch it and then pounce on it. But it gets more interesting if your purrson drags it behind her as she walks through your home.
I like when it goes around the corner into another room or behind a piece of furniture. And it is very entertaining when it starts to crawl up on the sofa and over the cushions. Of course, such toys can also be airborne.
3: Prey follow a path of some sort, either on the ground (in and around things too) or in the air. And from time to time they stop and rest. For example while birds fly a lot, they also walk on the ground (looking for worms and bugs) and this is the more likely time when they are caught by hunting cats. And after prey has been caught, it will try to get away. Over time of course, it will get more and more tired and become more and more still. Still prey is dead prey - of not much interest.
4: Prey Get Exhausted. They Don't Exhaust You! Some people make another common mistake: To make the toy go off in a dozen different directions at top speed so that you exhaust yourself chasing it and NEVER catch it! This may be human entertainment but only serves to frustrate you. (This is also the reason why many behaviourists now recommend against continued use of a laser pointer as a toy; you can never catch the red dot which can lead to frustration or obsessive-compulsive behaviour.) So you need to insist that they mimic proper prey behaviour. And here is a tip for Themselves: If you are panting, the play is far to intense and they need to slow it down.
5: Prey eventually get caught and die. And then you eat them. The game should NOT continue at a high speed on and on or your 15 minutes will be up and you'll be wound up tighter than a drum! To help you wind down, the prey needs to get exhausted during the last few minutes of the game, getting slower and slower, and finally be dispatched for the very last time. That way you can chill out. Follow your play session with a small food treat to mimic what you would do in the wild: hunt your prey, catch it and then eat it.
Get More and More Stimulating Toys - Especially for Winter
You live in a climate that has four seasons. We need to keep you occupied during those colder months (and when it rains, too) and outdoors is no longer an option.
Fishing Pole Toys
So you have fishing pole toys. Great! When your bank account is flowing, introduce a bit more variety. I suggest Nekoflies which make a fishing pole with a variety of interchangeable prey (mice, bugs, spiders, even a dragon fly.) They are strong and well made; you could buy one (with the rod) and then add to your collection over time.
I also like Da Bird, consistently rated one of the best interactive toys of the market. It looks like a lot of others but it works in a unique way. My American cousins, Lucy and Emma, give it a rating of 4 paws up! And replacement feathers are available, which really comes in handy.
I have also enjoyed the Cat Dancer - While there is nothing like a fresh grasshopper to give you some get up and go, Herself prefurrs to use the Cat Dancer (available from pet supply stores for around $4.00 Canadian). It is very simple: a coiled wire with some cardboard bits on the end. In fact it looks so simple that many people are not impressed by it in the package. But in action, it is another matter. Herself holds the wire and it goes erratically in the air. Sometimes she gets the bug to go into an open paper bag (or my brand new cat tent) so I can hunt for it there. Sometimes the bug goes between layers of tissue paper on the floor and rustles about to attract my interest.
Laser pointers are often touted as a great interactive toy, especially since is requires the least amount of human effort to activate. And while I do have a Laser Pointer I have become bored with it. If you have one, tell your folks to use it sparingly or you will become frustrated with it. Some cats who use is frequently (or exclusively) develop obsessive-compulsive disorders. So I don't advise that you use it exclusively or even on a daily basis; but less frequently should do no harm.
Just make sure Themselves NEVER POINT IT IN YOUR EYES because the light is intense and could cause blindness.
And don't forget a feather wand. It's like a fishing-pole but instead of being on a string the toy is at the end of a long wand. I love my three-foot feather wand. In fact I loved it to death, so Herself had to go out and purchase several more.
In winter, before my folks get into bed we have a special game. I hop on the bed and Herself messes up the duvet and spreads the pillows around to make an interesting hunting ground. Then the wand comes out. It goes in the air, hits the bed and flops about. It hides under the folds of the duvet. No matter where it is, I watch carefully and pounce. From time to time the feathers fly off. After a while, either I start to lose interest or the toy starts to move more and more slowly, like I've actually maimed it. And after a final pounce, it's dead. And then Herself puts it away for the night. I'm then ready for a snack.
And just as review, here are some things humans should NEVER do.
Shine a laser pointer in your eyes (it can blind you).
Use their hands (even gloved! even those gloves with toys dangling from the fingers!) instead of a toy. This is dangerous to them because your will pounce, swat, claw and bite them by accident. And it is dangerous for you, because they will think you are vicious when you decide to bite their hand when they put it under the sheets at night, thinking it's another game.
Leave these kinds of toys out when the human has gone. Cats have been known to strangle themselves or bite and swallow the strings, when unsupervised. Such toys should be kept in a drawer or closet when not in use. Besides they are more interesting if saved for special occasions.
Other Suitable Toys for You
Of course, your folks cannot play with you 24/7 and so you need some toys you can play with on your own.
Raffiki and Black Berry, I understand you enjoy the Panic Mouse - so much so that it has to be hidden when not in use, or you will go and get it. While it may be noisy, it is obviously a source of pleasure and I think it deserves use. Tell Themselves that while they are working up to increasing the quantity and frequency of your play sessions, purrhaps a session with this Mouse could be a good substitute (either for an interactive session or a second session of the day). Ask that they use it for you when Lucky is otherwise occupied - either outside in his enclosure or downstairs having his own play session. In any event, only use this Mouse when there is a human at home - to keep an eye on things. Besides, a constantly operating toy will start to bore you, over time. So maybe this is a once a day occurence. Or even an every-other-day or twice weekly one - as a special treat.
Here is a solitary play toy that might be of interest:
Play N Squeak - mouse toys only. I'm less impressed with the wand and floor product line.
Lucky, you need more solitary play toys. I understand you enjoy your Crazy Ball. So you could try the Zig n Zag Ball and the Play n Treat (food puzzle) Ball by Go Cat Go! And speaking of food: I wonder if you wouldn't enjoy a portion of kibble (no more than ¼ of his daily ration to start) in a homemade food puzzle . That way, you'd have to work your brains and paws to get food.
Other puzzles include:
Kitty Dipper by Kong
Trixie's Cat Puzzles
Flashing Firefly Mat by Pet Stages. (I'm not as impressed by several of their other toys so don't get caught up by the website.) There are lots more examples of these kinds of toys on the web. And many are available at local pet supply stores. Homemade versions of some are even possible. So go for it!
And don't forget the principle of toy rotation. Marinate a portion of your toys in a closed bag with catnip in it (hidden away). When they are ready to come out, put toys you have been using in that bag. This keeps toys interesting.
Other Ways to Relieve Anxiety
Keep on using the Feliway diffusers. You mentioned that they are in the common areas of your home. I don't know how many you are using at once, but I suggest you might change the location a bit. How about one in the bedroom (and no, I don't mean getting yet another one just using an existing one from another location)? The bedroom seems to be your safest zone and Feliway would reinforce that.
Consider stopping using any other diffusers at this time. But do save them - because we may very well need them later.
Most importantly, we need to lower the anxiety levels of your folks. One gets stressed which stresses the other and the next thing you know, everyone is stressed. Suggest they adopt a quick trick that Herself uses (and yes, she still uses it after years of experience with problematic households): Any time they are going to do something with you about which they are apprehensive, take several (up to 10) deep breaths (each as long and a deeply as possible). This helps to slow respiration and can have a calming effect and since we cats are very sensitive to this, it helps chill us out as well. Even if they have to intervene and use the Cat Separator, it might be easier if they take a few deep breaths while doing so. A trick like this helps to restore their sense of control.
Well guys, this might not seem like much but you do have your work cut out for you. Please let me know how it goes, because we have a long road ahead of us.
And by the way, I noticed that you, Black Berry, detest your hypo-allergenic food and refuse to eat it. We need to explore this more, because getting you on to a proper diet may help immensely in reducing the stress load on your body.
But right now, let's just take the first steps at getting your household back on an even keel and working toward integration safely. Remember that what I've written about here forms your new Step 1. There will be more to go.
Try to think of it this way: One step at a time, well-executed, will be a step in the right direction.
I'm rooting for all of you,