Cat Problems in Daily Life
As you have certainly noticed already, it is not just peace and happiness in our home. We have also had problems and misunderstandings with our cats. Some simply resolved themselves. Others we had to work on and actively look for solutions.
When our first cat, the beautiful, lovable Fox, moved in with us, I knew next to nothing about cats. At the beginning, I made a lot of mistakes, which I still do on occasion, by the way, which is why we still have problems sometimes. Over the years I have also learned a lot—from my own experience with cats, from books and from other media. I learn something new about having a cat, or about communication either among cats or between cats and humans, almost every day. I believe that every relationship has its problems from time to time. The challenges with the cats that we have confronted together have strengthened our relationship.
For example, when Vimsan had been with us for two years and had settled in well, she started going out more often and staying out longer. The triplets were not at all happy that she stayed away so long and brought strange smells from the neighborhood back with her. I have to admit that we did not even notice at first. Both my husband, Lars, and I were much too occupied with our work and were very tired in the evening. But when Rocky and Turbo started to follow and attack Vimsan, and I started having to clean urine stains off the floor, pillows, rugs and blankets—even off the wall behind the stove—every day, we were forced to admit that our happy family was not so happy anymore.
In this chapter, I will share my experiences with such problematic interactions with cats. Maybe they will be helpful to you in similar situations. I must emphasize that I am not a veterinarian, a cat psychologist or a therapist. There are no generally applicable rules with cats. Instead, it always depends on the context, the cat(s) and the specific case. I myself have often consulted with professionals. With their support and my own experience, I have been able to resolve many problems with my cats.
My Cat Only Comes to Other Family Members, Never to Me
When Vincent moved in with us, he showed a great preference for me. He lay purring in my lap for hours every evening. In the morning and the evening, he often followed me meowing so as to make it clear to me that he was hungry. My husband, Lars, often watched jealously; although Vincent let himself be petted by Lars, he never came and lay in Lars’s lap. We often talked about this and concluded that it had to do with me having the most interaction with Vincent in situations where it was about his needs. I always fed him and brushed him, cleaned his kitty litter and smoothed his blankets when they were crumpled, as well as doing other things for him. I also played and spoke to him the most. So maybe it was understandable that Vincent tended to come to me when he wanted something.
Then I took a long trip with my colleagues (we spent two weeks at linguistics conferences and symposia in Malaysia and Singapore). Lars was home alone with Vincent at the time.
It turned out that Vincent understood that Lars was a really nice guy as soon as I was away for a few days. Lars fed him just as well, and he could relax on Lars’s lap just as well. When I got home again, we set it up so that I fed Vincent, brushed him and cleaned his kitty litter in the mornings (because I am often up before Lars anyway) and Lars does the same in the evening. After that, Vincent became a very just, unbiased cat. Every night he spent an hour on my lap, and then exactly as long with Lars. At night, he often lay between us in bed, and turned to Lars just as much as to me when he wanted something or had something to show us. Finally, we were convinced that Vincent cared for us equally.
Tip: If your cat ever goes to only one person in the family, try dividing up the chores (feeding, playing, cleaning the kitty litter) among family members, so that the cat understands that they are loved by and can expect help from everyone in the family. And if your cat goes only to other family members and not to you, try to spend a few days alone with the cat and pay special attention to the cat in this time, play a lot and spend a lot of time with them. If you are lucky, you and your cat will have a much better relationship as a result.
My Cat Wakes Me Up Every Night
For a long time after he came to us, Vincent had a bad habit. In his old home, he had lived with a very intelligent roommate, a female cat who harassed him daily until he developed a bladder infection because he was so afraid to go to the litter box and hid under the sofa all the time. To help Vincent, we decided to bring this tyrant (a beautiful gray tabby named Kisseson) home with us for a while, until she could be returned to her former owner where she had lived before she got Vincent as a roommate. Then, after a while, Vincent came home with us as well, but by that time, Kisseson did not live with us anymore; we loved her a lot and it was very hard on me when she returned to her old mistress after a few months.
In the meanwhile, alone at his old home, Vincent had gotten tremendously fat, and his vet had put him on a strict diet. That means that he only got a specified amount of special food at a certain time. As a result, he was often hungry. He started to meow very early in the morning and jumped on our bed, trilling and purring, kneading the blankets, and doing everything he could to wake us, so that he could have his breakfast. He walked across our pillows and faces, sat on our chests, and looked at us intently, and if we still did not wake up, he bumped his head into our noses until we really could not sleep anymore. It was not a nice way of being woken up, and we felt no desire to be woken that way morning after morning. What to do?
I learned from multiple books and television programs about having pets how important it is to be consistent and not to give in if the animal wants something that is not good for it or that the human does not like. I said to myself that we had to practice consequences, so we employed the following method: we delayed dinnertime until shortly before bedtime, and we also played with Vincent for an hour before we went to sleep. He loved cardboard boxes and paper bags, for example, and used them as play houses before biting them to shreds. He also liked to play with his favorite toys, fur balls (preferably black), which we threw to him and he kicked through the apartment like little footballs. Then Lars and I went to sleep and promised each other to ignore Vincent when he woke us up at four thirty the next morning.
The next morning our alarm clock woke us, and Vincent came to us for his breakfast only when we got out of bed. Finally, we could sleep peacefully at night again. Of course we continued with our new nightly ritual of a late dinner and playtime. Vincent tried to wake us up early only a few times after that, but when we did not respond (instead we consistently acted as if we did not hear or notice him), he lay back down pretty quickly and waited until we got up.
We learned from this experience and we used this method from the beginning with the triplets, and never fed them immediately after getting up, but waited for an hour or two instead. And really, they have never woken us in the early morning so far. Donna just trills softly in the early morning in winter on occasion, because she wants to get under the blankets where it is warmer.
Tip: If your cat meows and wakes you up every night or very early in the morning, you can try changing its feeding time, too, and spend half an hour before bed together—play or cuddle for a bit. You, too, should stay consistent. Do not get up at three thirty to feed them (unless the cat is old or sick). I hope you will be as successful with this method as we were.
My Cat Is Too Fat
Turbo is the youngest of our triplets. The woman from the local humane society found him a day after his siblings, all alone and mewing weakly but desperately in a hedge near the community garden where the mother cat had brought her young. His mother had only a little milk for him.
His siblings, Donna and Rocky, were much larger and often pushed him away when he wanted to nurse. So he received extra nourishment (first formula, and then real cat food). When the triplets came to live with us after three months, little Turbo was the one who was hungriest, and that is how it stayed. He not only ate up his own food, he also went to his siblings’ bowls to clean them out afterward. At first we did not notice that he was slowly gaining weight, as he was still the smallest. But when the triplets were grown we could no longer ignore the difference between Donna and Rocky, who were both slim, and the rotund Turbo. Even our friends had started to call him “Fatso.”
We bought him diet food and took away the other bowls as soon as Donna and Rocky had eaten. But Turbo continued to get fatter. So we went to the vet with him and consulted a dietary specialist, who suggested that we put him in his carrier and leave him in the garden for an hour, so that he could gather some new experiences and be a little less fixated on food. At the time, we did not let the triplets out yet, as we had friends who lived on the other side of the street who had lost two free-range cats to car accidents. There is no way we wanted to experience that. So we played more at home with him, and tried to stem his hunger by putting some of his food in “food toys,” like a cat activity “snack ball” and a perforated empty toilet paper roll whose ends we had sealed with paper. But Turbo still did not lose weight. He even started to steal his siblings’ food before they were done eating. It couldn’t go on that way.
Maybe we could take little walks with Turbo on a leash? I bought three cat leashes, and slowly got all three used to wearing their harnesses (of course we had to make Turbo’s the biggest!) and then we started attaching the leashes. After that I started to take short walks in the garden with one cat after the other. Not with only Turbo, as I did not want to be unfair to the other two; rather, I wanted to give all three the chance to catch some fresh air and experience our garden. At first it was a lot of fun. Donna was always the brave one, who liked to walk and run fast and to crawl into our hedge, so that it was sometimes hard to get her out as the leash got stuck on the twigs.
Rocky was very cautious, but he seemed to enjoy slowly promenading through the garden, smelling the flowers and trying to catch butterflies. Turbo seemed to like being outside, too. He quickly learned how to walk around our house and found his favorite places (the bench in the sun, the flower bed in front of the greenhouse). The disadvantage was that it took over an hour when I took all three cats for a walk, and I often simply did not have time.
The cats also always wanted to stay out longer and longer, and meowed and pushed so as to be the first to get to go out, because they liked it so much. I did not know where I was supposed to find the time. Walking the cats on a leash for hours every day was not an optimal solution.
My husband and I thought about solutions for a long time. I was ready to let the cats out freely into the garden, but Lars did not want to risk it. Maybe we could close in a part of our garden with a high fence, covering the borders with metal chicken wire buried deep in the ground, so that the cats could neither climb nor dig their way out? So we had a fence about ten feet tall and with holes no bigger than an inch built in a part of the garden between the house and the greenhouse. We told the construction workers that the fence had to be cat proof. We had the chicken wire buried about twelve to fifteen inches under the fence. Finally, the day came when we let our cats out for the first time.
They loved being outside from the very start. At first we let them out for only an hour, when we were in the garden as well. It was a pleasure to watch how they jumped around and went wild, sniffing everything, or just sat quietly in a corner. They seemed to enjoy their new outdoor territory very much.
After a few days we dared to let them out without supervision. A few times they discovered small holes in the chicken wire while playing nearby and tunneled their way out to the other side. We had to look for them for hours before we could take them home to safety again. But aside from these escape attempts (of course we always repaired the holes right away), they were good about staying in their fenced-in garden, where there was always something new for them to experience: plants, insects, birds, sun, rain, snow and occasionally a neighboring cat who showed up on the other side of the fence—they were fascinated by all of it. Then we had the idea of having a cat flap installed, so that they could get to and from the garden on their own and we did not always have to open the door for them. That did make it a bit easier.
Tip: Do you have a fat cat? Neither diets nor visits to the vet help? Try to help your cat find an exciting activity, or a hobby. Play with them every day, or give them access to new rooms or to the garden. Or try a food dispensing toy or an activity board with lots of places to hide food or treats. Try filling an empty toilet paper roll with five to ten treats, and poke small holes in the roll so that the treats can fall out when your cat plays with it. Look online or in cat books for more examples. Everything that encourages your cat to be active and makes it harder for them to get to their food has a positive effect on your cat’s weight.
But how did it work for our glutton, Turbo? Wonderfully! In the meanwhile, he became much less fixated on food. Every year, when we go to the vet for his shots and checkup, he weighs a little less. Shortly after the cats went free-range, we traded Turbo’s diet food for normal food, and he still did not gain weight. His new hobbies include sitting in the greenhouse and watching flies, walking around the garden, and occasionally eating a little grass. He does not run to the other bowls after every meal; instead he goes straight outside, where he sits on his favorite bench and cleans himself thoroughly.
My Cat Bites and Scratches Me
We do not know where Vimsan came from, where she grew up or what experiences with humans she had before she came to live with us. She must have been in great pain when I found her severely injured in our basement. Still, she did not try to defend herself when I petted her, so she seemed to be used to humans. While she was convalescing, Vimsan lived in our basement so that she could have her peace and did not have to confront our other cats all the time. We visited the veterinarian frequently, changed her bandages regularly, and gave her antibiotics and painkillers, which she took bravely. I spent an hour with her every morning and every evening, and after each meal she lay in my lap, where she stayed for a long time, purring and letting herself be petted. But once, I petted her when she was still standing in front of her bowl, and she bit me immediately. I had to go to the doctor, where I was prescribed antibiotics for the deep, inflamed wound. From then on, I was a bit more careful around Vimsan.
When we introduced her to the triplets a little while later and she started to share her space with them, we tried to pick her up like we did with the others, but she did not care for it at all. She hit us with her front paws, tried to bite us with her sharp teeth and swung her tail intensely. She managed to bite me once more. We gave up our attempts to pick her up, and guessed that Vimsan’s aggression might be due to bad experiences with humans earlier. Maybe she was often held against her will, and perhaps humans had also hurt her.
It occurred to me only much later that it might also have to do with the rapidity of my movements. I had already learned that two rivals who do not like each other but wanted to avoid a physical altercation removed themselves from the field with very slow movements, in slow motion. It was a signal to the opponent that they should not follow and should not launch an attack. Hence, I thought that if I wanted to show Vimsan that I am not dangerous, I should move slowly as well.
We are still working on it, but it seems to be going all right. If I approach her with my hand and pet her using slow movements, she does not defend herself and does not try to scratch or bite me either. If I touch her fur with rapid movements though, she turns around right away and hits at the air with her paw, as though to show me that she is not interested. We train every day though, and I speak softly with her, repeating the same slow movements and holding my lower arm up like a “friendly cat tail.” I believe that with a little patience and a little practice, we can both learn to get along with each other. My husband, Lars, can now pick her up and put her on his lap without a problem when she rubs up against his legs. When I teach Vimsan new tricks, such as getting into the carrier by herself, I do it with a lot of patience, a lot of rewards (e.g. treats), a soft voice and very slow movements.
Tip: If your cat bites and scratches you, try to be more patient and use very slow movements when you want to pet them or pick them up. Please consult a veterinarian, cat psychologist or therapist, as there are no universally valid rules. Give your cat time to get used to your hands (or gloves) and never use your hands as a biting or scratching toy. I hope it will work as well with your cat as it did with our Vimsan.
My Cat Does Not Get Along with Other Cats
We noticed early on that Vimsan did not like to be around other cats. If she wanted to get on one of our laps and noticed that one of the triplets was already there, she would hiss and run away quickly, as though she were afraid or angry. Then spring came and it got warmer, and Vimsan learned to climb the high fence in the garden, so that she could get out of the garden and away from our other cats. She roamed around all day and came back only to eat at night. Day after day, she climbed over the fence and ran to the neighbor’s garden, where we often heard her growling, howling and snarling. When we ran to her, we usually found her in an aggressive situation with Kompis or Graywhite. At home, too, things were not going that well between Vimsan and the other three. Especially Rocky and Turbo, who liked Vimsan less and less and began to follow and sometimes even attack her.
Thus, Vimsan stayed out longer and longer. When she got home at night, she brought strange scents with her, perhaps from a plant from the neighbor’s garden or from a new spot she had discovered. These strange smells made Rocky and Turbo even more suspicious. The situation escalated.
With us, too, Vimsan became increasingly reserved. She did not want to be petted and would run to her favorite spot immediately after eating—a high shelf, which she liked because she could not be ambushed there. When we went on vacation for four days, we separated our cats to be on the safe side. The triplets got the house except for the kitchen to themselves, while the cat sitter gave Vimsan her food in the kitchen. She could also spend as much time as she wanted in the garden, and come and go as she liked through the cat flap in the kitchen door.
After our return, Lars and I considered how we should best proceed. Although Vimsan had gotten along all right with the other cats for a while, their relationship had deteriorated and it was clear to us that Vimsan and the toms did not like each other anymore and fought more and more. The question was: Could Vimsan integrate into our household without forcing her or the other cats to give up their free-range lifestyle? Luckily, we have a big house. Thus, Vimsan could move into her own “suite” of three rooms. We put her favorite toys, her litter boxes (she had two: one for urine and one for stool), blankets and basket there, and gave her a safe space to eat for her alone. She could even get onto our garden fence and into the neighbor’s garden through a window, so she did not even have to climb the fence anymore.
The results were apparent immediately. The door between Vimsan’s “suite” and the rest of the house always stayed closed, and we noticed with relief that both Vimsan and the boys became much calmer and more relaxed. Every morning I went in to Vimsan, fed her and let her out, though she often came right back if she noticed me eating my breakfast at the same time in “her suite.” She would jump on my lap, curl up cozily and stay with me purring for a long time. It was a huge difference, as she had hardly noticed us humans before. We ate our dinner with her every evening, and spent two or three hours playing or cuddling with her, which she seemed to enjoy immensely. Every day she became increasingly loving and social.
We asked ourselves whether we should not try to improve the relationship between Vimsan and the triplets after all. We still have not made a decision, as it would require a lot of work and patience from us, and the result (whether it worked or not) would remain in doubt. Some cats simply do not like other felines, and Vimsan may be one of them. We have bought a new cat flap for Vimsan, so that she can get in and out without our help. The division of rooms has become routine by now. The triplets know that I disappear into the other living area every morning and that my husband, Lars, and I do the same thing every evening. They simply go out, or lay down somewhere and sleep until we come back. For the moment, we are leaving it like that and are postponing the decision as to whether we will reintroduce Vimsan and the triplets to a later point.
Kompis initially lived exclusively in our garden, and we never let him into our house. Although we took him to the vet to treat his injuries and had him vaccinated and chipped, we did not trust ourselves to introduce him to the other cats. But then winter came, we closed the door to our hall so that the triplets could not go there, and let Kompis stay in the hall when the nights got colder. We provided him with his own food and water bowl and a soft blanket. When he had had his dinner in the hall one cool evening and was lying on his blanket, I dared to introduce him to Rocky. They had met on opposite sides of our garden fence and been lying pretty close to each other (separated by the fence) without growling or howling. Rocky—the most cautious and anxious cat in our family—had already seen Kompis through the window in the door, and was happy when I opened the door. He hurried toward Kompis with a friendly raised tail. I held my breath. Would Rocky and Kompis become friends? But when Kompis saw Rocky, he was scared and went to hide under a chair. Of course I carried Rocky right out again, then went straight back to Kompis and promised him that he need not meet any other cats if he did not want to.
Tip: If your cats do not get along with each other, try separating them for a time and see if things improve. After a few weeks or months, you can try reintroducing them. Please consult a veterinarian, cat psychologist or therapist first. Many experts recommend proceeding in this order: First use scent (trade blankets and baskets, and try to produce a shared group smell), then sound (first through a closed door, then through a door that is slightly ajar), then sight (it is best to use a screen door, so that the cats can see, hear and smell each other, but cannot attack). You can then try to elicit good experiences by giving them food, treats and toys when they sit peacefully across from each other at the screen door without demonstrating aggressive behavior. If everything goes well, you can open the screen door under your supervision for a little while every day. But please be patient and be prepared for the possibility that it might not go well.
And that is how it still is today. Kompis has his own “suite” in our relatively large hall with the guest bathroom and often sleeps on his favorite footstool. We have now installed a cat flap for him as well. It responds to the code in his chip so that he can come in and out at any time, but no unfamiliar cats can come in. When he comes home in the evening, Lars and I often sit with him in the hall for a while and talk to him. Kompis is a very social cat, who likes spending time with us, both in the garden and in the house.
My Cat Pees Everywhere
When Vimsan was still living with the others, we noticed on multiple occasions that one of them had missed the target while peeing. At first we suspected Vimsan, as she sometimes peed in the sink in our bathroom or in the kitchen. We assumed that she did so because her former people had not cleaned her litter box often enough, or perhaps did not even have one for her, so that she was forced to pee in the sink. As long as it went into the sink it wasn’t too bad. But when we found puddles on our carpets, on clean laundry, in the cat’s baskets and even on the kitchen stove, and when we had to search more and more often (once we even searched for days until we found a puddle in a plastic bag on a shelf), we started to suspect the other cats.
Adding to our suspicions was the fact that Vimsan hardly had any reason at all to pee in the house anymore, as she was out and about almost all day and she could do her business in the neighbor’s garden. And even before Vimsan came to us, we had found cat poo on the carpet in the playroom a few times. We had assumed at the time that it was from the anxious Rocky, who might have been scared by a noise on the street and might have “let loose” as a result.
Confronted with this problem, we went searching for tricks and tips that might help us deal with this problem. We found them online and in books. We read a lot about why cats become unclean and tried a lot of helpful tips. We bought new litter boxes (so that we had six litter boxes for four cats), and tried other kinds of kitty litter; we placed the litter boxes at different places in the house (two on the ground floor and three more upstairs, well distributed, so that they could do their business undisturbed, and then an additional litter box on the spot of the last puddle). We took all four cats to the vet to see if a bladder infection could be the cause for all the peeing outside the litter boxes. At night, we separated all the cats to see where the new puddles would be the next morning. We caught Rocky in the act once. He had just tinkled on the entry mat by the entry door and was busy scratching away, trying to hide the puddle.
We took Rocky to the vet again, who said he was 99 percent certain that it was a behavioral problem. Rocky was marking his territory with urine because he did not want Vimsan around him. The vet suggested finding Vimsan a new home. But we loved all the cats equally (even if they did miss the mark when they peed), so we started to look for other solutions. Should Vimsan move back into the cellar? But we seldom spent time in our cellar, so wouldn’t Vimsan feel lonely? Moreover, we would never know whether she was down there or outside in the garden without going downstairs to check on her. We were at a loss. The peeing problem had now gone from bad to worse. We rarely found puddles in the same place; they were always someplace new. Every morning and every evening we went sniffing through the house trying to find out where a puddle might be hiding. It was a tough time and when I discovered nine (!) new pee stains one Saturday, I had had enough. Something had to be done!
This all took place at the same time as the events depicted in the last section. As soon as we set up the three-room “suite” for Vimsan and noticed that the triplets grew calmer, the errant peeing miraculously stopped as well. For a while, we still found a couple of old stains, but after a while we didn’t find any at all. Success! And although Vimsan did not live with the other cats anymore, all of the cats were much happier—and so were we!
As already mentioned, we are still waiting before we decide if we want to bring the cats together again. But if we do, we have to be very careful and perhaps ask a cat behavior expert for help. We might give clicker training a try. (I got this tip from the German cat expert and behavioral consultant Birga Dexel  at a cat conference in Austria. She has had a lot of positive experiences with clicker training.) This method includes conditioning the cat to a certain sound produced using a clicker and followed by giving the cat a reward (a treat, cuddle or toy). In this way cats may learn new things, for example, that it is actually really nice when everyone lives together.
Help—There is a Strange Cat in My Garden
There were also problems that we could not solve. We could not save the beautiful but very sick cat Red, who came to our garden and was fed by us every day for several years, because we waited too long. If we had taken him to the vet sooner and contacted the humane society he might still be alive, enjoying a nice life in the country. Why did we think for such a long time that he had a home where someone cared for him? Is our human perception so limited that we do not notice when a cat is not doing well?
After the experience with Red, I often thought about how we might become more conscious of cats in our neighborhood who were sick or had accidently run away from home and could not find their way home, or wandered around homeless. And what can we do to help these cats? More on that in a second.
Another problem arises when a cat owner cannot keep their cat for some reason. Maybe somebody in the family became allergic, or the cat owner has to move into an apartment where cats are not allowed. Other reasons might include the human falling ill, or taking a new job that makes keeping a cat impossible for lack of time.
There are many books and online sources where one can find advice on this topic. I have acquired some valuable information there and have been able to help cats a couple times, even though I could not take them on myself. We have reached our upper limit with five cats; and although we have divided our house into three cat “suites,” we do not dare to take on more cats. We do not have time for more cats (and more cat problems). I have discovered that a little often goes a long way for a cat though.
Cats have a low status in our society. You can often get a kitten for free (a dog, in contrast, costs a pretty penny). As a result, many people do not think it through enough before getting a cat, and know little about their needs. Unfortunately, many cat owners do not vaccinate, fix and chip their cats. Unchipped cats are difficult to reunite with their humans if they run away from home. Cats who are not spayed or neutered—whether they are homeless or family pets—quickly lead to even more homeless cats.
Many thanks are owed to every animal sanctuary and humane society. They have a very important job, as, due to the low status of the cat, many people think that it is not a big deal to put an animal who is not young and sweet anymore on the doorstep. They assume it will somehow be okay on its own. But this is not true! Especially not if the animal is used to living with humans. Every single cat needs food, water and a warm, dry home every day, one where they feel safe and well. They have to be taken to the vet for vaccinations and checkups and when they get sick, they need someone who takes care of them and treats them until they are well again.
Most animal sanctuaries are overflowing and cannot take on any new guests, but they often have waiting lists and if it becomes impossible to keep a cat, one can certainly find a spot on a waiting list. My husband and I regularly make donations to cat sanctuaries, whether through a bank transfer or by tossing something in the tin at the supermarket. We have seen with our own eyes that the animal sanctuary can truly mean the difference between life and death for many animals. Please never simply set an animal on the doorstep. Find an alternative residence in a sanctuary until a new home can be found. You will probably be saving its life.
When we had been living with our triplets for a few months already, a pretty, fixed gray tomcat came to our garden and asked us for food. He seemed to be accustomed to people and he used to come and finish Graywhite’s breakfast. Of course he got extra food and water from us, as we knew that one should give a strange and hungry cat something to eat before contacting the local authorities. It was summer and very warm. “Little Gray,” as we called him, slept on a blanket in a party tent that we had in our garden. He was very affectionate and often came to lie in our laps. We dewormed him and treated him for ticks and for fleas, so he would not infect our cats. It so happened that a woman from the humane society came by shortly afterward to see how Donna, Rocky and Turbo were doing, and I asked for her advice. The police were not aware of any cat owner who had registered a gray tomcat as missing, and no one had responded to the posters that we had hung up in the area about a found cat.
It turned out that the chairwoman of the local humane society was going to give an interview to the local paper shortly, so she suggested that the chairwoman say something about Little Gray there. The article appeared the next day, and the chairwoman got in touch with us after a couple of days and said she might have found Little Gray’s owner. When he came to our garden with his carrier, Little Gray recognized him right away, and it was a happy reunion.
The owner, who lived alone with Little Gray, got sick and had to go to the hospital for two weeks. When the cat sitter visited to feed his cat, Little Gray slunk away unnoticed and could not get back in, as the window that was his usual entryway had been closed by the sitter. So Little Gray had no choice but to find something to eat and somewhere to sleep elsewhere. Well, he had found the right place. We were so happy that we had been able to help the friendly and pretty Little Gray reunite with his owner.
Last summer, there was a heat wave in August and we often sat in the garden until late in the evening, where Kompis usually kept us company. He lay in our laps, slept on his blanket, or played boccie with us or with twigs and blades of grass, which he liked to chase as we moved them about. One night, we noticed that he kept looking into our large rhododendron bushes. As I looked into one bush more closely, I saw a long-haired gray cat with a white nose and chest. At first, we thought that a new neighbor cat had moved in somewhere close, and left it alone.
However, the next night we found him in the rhododendron bushes again, and the night after that, too. He (we assumed it was a he, because he was pretty big) and Kompis observed each other and howled at each other on occasion. Whenever we put out food for him, he ate it immediately and asked for more. Although he was afraid of Kompis, he occasionally ventured from his rhododendron and allowed us to pet him and hold him on our laps. His fur was tangled, but he seemed to have had a good home once. We hung up signs at the vets and in stores. Because the newcomer was a pedigree cat, we took him to the vet to see whether he had been chipped. There we learned that there was already a notice of a missing cat that matched our foundling. The posting came from a cat owner who had accidentally left a window open, allowing the cat to escape. Because he was not an outdoor cat, he grew afraid, ran away and got lost. The owner was in despair, as the cat had already been missing for more than a week.
That night, we set up a nice room for the long-haired gray cat in our basement, complete with litter box, water and food and drove directly to the vet with him the next morning. “I will call the owner right up and ask if he can come,” said the veterinary nurse. The owner came a few minutes later, recognized his cat right away and was very happy. I lent him our carrier so that he could take his cat (who was called “Kis,” by the way) home with him, and when his wife and daughter returned the carrier an hour later, they brought a large box of chocolates with them as a thank-you. We were really happy that the cat had found his way back home…and Kompis seemed very happy to have the garden to himself again.
Last fall, another strange cat appeared in our garden. This time, it was a young brown-and-white tomcat who had not been neutered. He and Kompis did not get along at all. There were repeated physical altercations. The two of them howled and growled so loudly and for so long that we often had to go outside and bring Kompis inside so that we could sleep. Again, we assumed initially that it was a new neighbor cat, as he was often away for two or three days, but then he suddenly returned and seemed to be really hungry.
We hoped that his owner would take him to the vet to be neutered soon and that the fighting would then stop, as we were growing worried about Kompis, who often returned home with scratches and even bite marks on his face. It was clear that he didn’t like this new cat at all. A few times we even chased him from our garden when he was being especially rough with Kompis. I had a terribly bad conscience afterward though, as I had the foreboding that the cat might not have a home after all. I started to observe him more carefully and noticed that he regularly emptied Kompis’s food bowl, which we left in a little hut in the garden. I also noticed that his fur was not so shiny, and that he occasionally slept on Kompis’s blanket outside if Kompis was inside for the night.
We hung up notices and informed the police one more time. At the same time, we considered whether we should try taking on one more cat after all. But we had enough to do with our own cats’ problems and realized that it would not be a good idea to add one more, especially as the new one was thrashing Vimsan as well as Kompis.
Finally, I wrote an email to a cat sanctuary near us and asked if they could put the tomcat on their waiting list. I got a reply with good news the very next day. “We have found homes for many of our cats recently, so we have a spot right away. When can you bring him?” It was negative sixteen degrees Celsius (about three degrees Fahrenheit) that night, so we did not have a problem coaxing the new cat into our basement with some food. I was allowed to pet him and sat with him for the whole evening, happy that he would have a warm new home and would not have to spend the entire cold winter outside in our garden.
We took him to the cat shelter the next morning. It was the first time I had visited such a place, although I had seen many on television. It was a very beautiful and well-maintained shelter that provided a large room for each cat, and it was warm. The director had prepared the cat’s room with warm blankets and three different kinds of food: “Just in case, as we don’t know what food he prefers yet.” When I let him out of the carrier into his room, she approached him and was allowed to pet him. She said, “What a beautiful and nice cat. I don’t think we’ll have any problems finding him a home.” Working with the director of the sanctuary, we placed an ad on the website of the cat sanctuary, and offered to pay for his costs (vaccinations, neutering) at the vet’s. Just two months later, we learned that “Teddy” (as he was called from that day forward) had found a new home. We continue to think about Teddy regularly and are glad that it ended well for him.
So what can you do when you find a cat that seems to be homeless? I would start by finding out whether it is hungry. I would then feed and water the cat whenever it comes by, but leave food only if I were sure it is not a neighbor cat who is only visiting your yard. In winter (if the temperature is below freezing), I would add a little cooking oil to the water so that it does not freeze right away. If it is a healthy, well-maintained cat, you can observe it for a while and leave it outside, so long as the environment is safe. Kittens should be brought inside only once one has looked carefully for their mother. One should never separate a mother from her young. Injured or sick cats should be brought to a vet as quickly as possible; healthy cats should be offered a spot where they are protected from the wind and the weather, as well as a warm blanket. I would also try to have as much contact as possible with the cat. I would see how it responds to humans, whether it is in pain, is pregnant or shows signs of unusual behavior. I recommend keeping each new cat separate from your resident cats, so as not to risk spreading diseases.
Then consider how you can best help the foundling. I would go online and search for a website with information about regional resources for helping cats. What local authority can one call? What humane societies or animal sanctuaries are there nearby?
Create a flyer with a photo and hang it in the area around your home, as well as in nearby stores. It is advisable to require someone claiming to be the pet’s owner to provide a photo of them with their pet to ensure they are legitimate. Bring the cat to a vet to check whether it has been chipped. If the cat has a collar, check for the telephone number or address of the owner. I would buy a collar for a cat who does not have one, and add a little note with your cell number: “Is this your cat? Please contact…” If no one gets in touch, put the cat on the waiting list of an animal sanctuary and help with food, water, company and protection until it finds a place.
If you give a homeless cat just a little of your time and patience, you can help it to find a new and better home. It is not particularly difficult, and you just might save their life.
You are approaching the end of this book. I hope you enjoyed reading it and maybe learned something you didn’t already know about cat communication.
I certainly had a lot of fun writing the book. I laughed—and cried—as I relived my own experiences with cats by putting them into writing. Cats are wonderful animals, and our relationship to them can only improve by learning to better communicate with them.