Cats rule in our house, so when one of us humans has to be away, we work hard to make sure it doesn’t impact their cushy lifestyle. When I go for my annual trip home to see my mum, Tom reorganises his schedule and yet our furry divas act as though they’re suffering agonies of deprivation.
To amuse themselves, the little fiends plague him with all kinds of innovations. A trip or two ago, they convinced him to serve extra meals. This year, Target decided they needed a steady flow of homecooked chicken – and my hapless better half caved completely and delivered.
Despite being spoilt rotten, the cats greeted my return with happy purrs. Target sat on top of me and then he helped me unpack. Despite the chicken diet, my old boy wasn’t happy until he saw the suitcase put back in the cupboard.
Swooner demanded kisses and immediately asked for his Spanish cat treats. As for Tic Tac, she has grown an inch, filled out and she looks shiny healthy. She brought me her new ribbon and asked for kisses too, just like her brothers.
After all the excitement, Swooner sloped off to visit his friend Charlie across the street. I wasn’t surprised because Charlie and Swooner are close. In fact, their friendship deepened while I was away.
As the cats were shut in during office hours, a move to safeguard them, Swooner would go out as soon as Tom came home. It was a protest move and even the free flow of chicken didn’t completely make up for the hours of shut-in.
Swooner tells a good sob story because Charlie’s mum WhatsApped regularly with cute photos of Swooner romancing her for extra meals. At one point, I saw Swooner have dinner while Skyping home and, 10 minutes later, photos of him came in from our neighbour documenting our pet meowing pitifully about starvation.
I knew Swooner had been taking advantage but as he did the same last year, I expected matters to return to normal. They didn’t. A week after my return, Swooner was still spending most of his waking hours at Charlie’s.
I blamed myself, deciding that it was my fault because we adopted a kitten. Tic Tac is a sweetie but she does run wild and as she adores Swooner, she’s all over him all the time. The second he puts a paw in the door, she’s hanging around his neck, wanting to play.
Now with Target being 10 years older, Swooner wanted a friend. However, as I watched him interact with Tic Tac, I understood he had discovered that kittens are hard work.
Tic Tac is super bouncy every waking second. She climbs the sofa, the curtains and she runs up and down the stairs. It’s OK; that’s what kittens do. But Swooner is now a mature cat, young but grown up, and he’s not totally into kitten games anymore. Some human people are the same, so I do get it.
Yesterday morning, I tried to see the positive side. I reminded myself that Swooner was coming home for meals, for cuddles and to sleep at night. In fact, the night before, he was in bed with me, purring up a storm and demanding that I rub his tail and ears. Those are all signs that Swooner loves me.
But despite the pep talk, I wasn’t very happy. Then, while I was fretting, there was a growl outside. I opened the door and there was Swooner, growling at Charlie.
That’s pretty typical. Charlie generously allows Swooner into his territory but Swooner does not reciprocate.
Charlie is not allowed in our garden and he’s not allowed to talk to me for more than a minute.
So there was poor Charlie, just sitting on our doorstep, with Swooner growling and showing his hackles. When I went out to mediate, Charlie was visibly upset but not moving. The reason? A toddler out for a walk with grandma.
That little boy adores cats. As he is very gentle and brings treats, you’d think the cats would hail him with open paws. However, some other thing spooked Swooner, so he did the sensible thing and ran home. Then Charlie had followed his friend.
It was simple to sort out. I picked up Swooner and took him inside, at which Charlie went to see his small human friend. Seeing Charlie happily rolling on his back so he could get some quality petting, I left him to it and went to speak to my boy.
Swooner was sitting on the stairs with a grumpy look on his face. But when I picked him up, I got a head butt and a purr. Swooner saw the little boy handing out treats but he wanted to spend time with me. For half an hour, he sat on my lap, paddling his paws, butting me and running his purr at loud.
That bit of personal time has cheered me up and helped me get some perspective.
Swooner is spending a lot of time with Charlie and that’s OK. They’re being cats together, that’s all. It doesn’t mean Swooner loves me less. As for the meals, well, he’s having his cake and eating it. That’s standard cat behaviour.
For now, Swooner has a home with us, and a home away from home with Charlie. When Tic Tac is a little older and less bratty, Swooner will spend more time in his own house. I can also help foster their relationship.
So, I’m sending Charlie’s mum a thank you gift for being kind to my boy. I’m adding some treats for Charlie too. Lots of them because I’ve no doubt Swooner will be there, claiming he hasn’t seen any and is in desperate need.
How to help cats get along
Introducing a kitten into a home with older cats isn't easy. Young cats have high energy levels and they're not too hot about boundaries. Older cats, especially those who are elderly, sometimes don't have the patience for it. If that's you, here are a few things you can do.
1. Institute personal time with your older cats. Your older pets are used to one-on-one time with you and it's important they don't feel neglected. So, set aside time when you sit and do the things you both like. For me and Target, it's snuggling and having him on my desk while I work.
2. Be rigorous about separate bowls at mealtimes. Little cats will bounce from bowl to bowl and older pets will let them get away with it because they're kind. However, it makes mealtimes stressful. So, feed the kitten by itself in a room and then have communal time afterwards.
3. Involve yourself in their play. Older cats will teach kitten the "rules" of playing, so don't worry if there's the occasional hiss or smack. However, your older cats won't want to play all the time whereas your kitten will.
4. Take the pressure off by playing with your kitten. Ping pong balls, ribbons, feather toys – there are plenty of games that will keep you both amused. Also, don't be surprised if the older pets join in sometimes!
5. Finally, be patient! It takes time to adjust. Also, cats aren't human so sometimes they run purely on emotion. Relax, don't push it too much and, if you're stressed, talk to a sensible friend about it.