Monday, February 26 was the day a big ol’ tabby cat picked me. Monday is my day to volunteer at PetSmart. The wonderful Cat Crew at Sarge’s usually keep a group email going with current info about the cats available at PetSmart. In the latest email it was mentioned that a cat named Atkins was new there and was mostly staying in the bottom of the enclosure. I walked into the cat area and closed the door behind me and then said hello to all the cats. I opened the top of the first enclosure and saw a big tabby slip quickly up from the bottom to the top with a little trill noise, walk forward, and put his front paws immediately on my chest and look me straight in the eye. I had been picked.
There was only one problem. I already had a home full of pets, two large labradors and two cats. Would it work? Would they accept an adult cat? Did I really need another cat in my home? I had a choice to make. I went to PetSmart every day that week to visit Atkins. Everytime he greeted me the same way. He was one of the calmest most loving animals I had ever met. I figured being that calm, he would be a great match with my animals. I filled out the application and planned to take him home on Saturday.
I read everything I could about introducing cats and dogs in safe healthy ways. I talked to Sarge’s staff, I read info from the ASPCA and vets. I set up a room just for Atkins and assumed I was prepared. I was not. I got Atkins settled into his room, and closed the door with the plan of introducing him to the other animals later that day. I put my dogs (90 lbs and 80 lbs) on leashes and led them towards Atkin’s door. I heard his trill on the other side of the door and slowly opened it.
That was a mistake.
Atkins viciously attacked.
He was going at both dogs and me…all claws and teeth. I was terrified! Even once I started dragging the dogs back down the hallway, all of us scratched and bloody, Atkins was coming after us still going at the dogs. I am still not sure how, but I got Atkins in his room and threw the dogs outside and tried to catch my breath. I was shaking, then sobbing. What was I going to do?! How was I ever going to make this work?!
I tried a few more times, without success, to integrate Atkins into the group in different ways. Everything I read said a few weeks or a month or so at most and all the animals would be getting along, or I should consider that they may never get along. I was starting to worry. When he was not near the dogs, he was the greatest cat I had ever known! How could I return him?
The next time I was at Sarges I was telling this story to Stephanie who suggested talking to Caitlin Morrow, a specialist in animal behavior, working with Sarge’s. I was willing to try anything to keep my new tabby cat, so she passed on my info to Caitlin and our training adventure began.
At this point I had already spent a month carefully negotiating who was free and who was not free and listening to very noisy protests from both dogs and cats at having limited freedoms within the house. Caitlin came over with some very easy to follow instructions and took the time to get to know the animals and demonstrate each training technique. She agreed that Atkins was a very special cat and gave me hope that we could, with careful training for both dogs and cats,have a happy, peaceful home. I was still very nervous, but never gave up hope.
Over the next two months I worked with my dogs and Atkins. I rearranged my house, renegotiated locations, and learned along side my furry family how to communicate what I needed from each of them. Caitlin visited a few more times, even calling in reinforcements for another set of eyes and hands, and we all kept working. None of us, humans or pets, gave up trying to figure this out.
I could not be happier to report that we have turned a corner. Thanks to everyone’s willingness to do the work, and not just return him, Atkins is now a happy, healthy, fully integrated member of my furry family. In those first few weeks I never would have believed it could happen, but this tabby cat who didn’t know what he was in for when he chose me, has now chosen to be a part of our family, and will be for many years to come! So much love and thanks to everyone who helped in this adventure which is a true success!