“One cat just leads to another.”

~ Ernest Hemingway

P S Y C H O   K I T T I E S
T H E   S T O R Y


“If you don’t take him,” my friend said.  “He’s going to the pound.”  So on April 26,1995, I adopted a nine-month-old Siamese-mix cat.  Then I took him straight to the vet, where he was tested for feline-leukemia, vaccinated, neutered, and renamed Pyewackett.
 
From the minute he moved in, charming Pyewackett followed me around like a puppy dog, sat on my lap on the toilet, and slept on top of me at night.  He quickly befriended two of my other neutered male housecats, Bakhu and Aslan.  But from the start, shy, eighteen-month old Sho-zen was afraid of him.
 
 

Sho-zen began hiding under furniture and perched on the kitchen countertop 24/7.  Whenever Pyewackett spied Sho-zen on the countertop, he would leap straight up in the air, landing erect on his hind feet.  A cat rescuer who had thirty cats told me, “They’ll work it out.  It’ll take about nine months.”
 
I thought, magically, nine months later my cats would be cuddled up in a kitty ball mutually grooming each other, but I was wrong.  Nine months later, Sho-zen was urine marking the countertop, which created a chain-reaction, as the other cats soon began spraying as well.  My human friends caused me even more stress, insisting I needed to find a new home for one of the cats (most voting to get rid of boring Sho-zen), but I was so in love with all of them, it felt like Sophie’s choice.
 
What I did next only makes sense to true animal lovers.  I embarked on a mission to resolve what several behaviorists later defined as the most severe case of feline intermale-aggression they had ever seen.  Over the course of ten years, I voraciously read everything I could find on cat behavior and consulted with behaviorists, holistic and western-medicine based veterinarians who treated animal behavioral issues, veterinarians who specialized in animal behavior, animal communicators (pet psychics), cat rescue workers, and one animal trainer for the movies.
 
This was an uphill battle because in 1995 the scientific study of feline behavior was in its infancy.  Little information was available in books or on the Internet.  Additionally, the field of animal behavior had, and still has, no regulation.  Anyone with the means to print up business cards can go into business and claim to be an expert.  As a result, some of the advice I paid big bucks for, in the early stages of my quest, made matters even worse.

Some of the unsuccessful and successful behavioral modification techniques I tried:

1.  DRUGS: Valium, BuSpar, Alprazolam (Xanax) Clomipramine. Amitriptyline
2.  HORMONES: Ovaban (progesterone) intended to lower aggression.
3.  NATURAL DRUGS: Bach Flower Remedies, homeopathic remedies, Kava-kava.
4.  POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT WITH FOOD: This way, they associated eating with positive feelings with the other cat.
5.  MULTIPLE FEEDINGS: Fed kitties as many times a day as possible with and without meds.
6.  FEED CATS WHERE THEY SPRAY: They sprayed elsewhere, anyway.
7.  TIMESHARE PROGRAM: Cats were separated at all times.
8.  INCREASE VERICAL TERRITORY: I bought a Floor-To-Ceiling Cat Tree.
9.  LITTERBOX STATIGIES: Increased number and type of boxes. 
10.  WALKING ON A LEASH: Cats hated this!
11.  CAGED THE CATS SIDE BY SIDE FOR A MONTH: Big mistake!
12.   BOOBY TRAP AREAS IN THE HOME THE CAT’S SPRAYED
13.  LOUD NOISE TRAINING: Shook a can of pennies at bully when he attacked.
14.  DISEMPOWER THE BULLY: Placed a bell around Pye’s neck and Sofpaws on his claws, which made him look like Robokitty. 
15.  FELINE FACIAL PHEROMONES: Encouraged cats to “mark” with their face, rather than by urine spraying. 
 


Behavioral modification techniques, recommended by “professionals,” I DID NOT try:

1.  GIVE SHO-ZEN A MOUSE: So he could kill it and feel empowered!
2.  RAW MEAT DIET: I’m a vegetarian, therefore not an option.
3.  PUT CATS IN YOKE: A mini-one like the kind that harness oxen. 
4.  FIND PYEWACKETT A JOB AWAY FROM HOME.
5.  SHOCK COLLAR: This was my dumb idea!  What was I thinking?

Ultimately, my own intuition led me toward a resolution.  I read about a population density study on feral cats living in Venice Italy.  The number of male cats that could live peacefully together in a small area is in direct proportion to the availability of food and females.  I had noticed that Pyewackett would attack Sho-zen if I took Pye to the vet, or if Pye was hungry and it wasn’t feeding time, or if I petted Sho-zen.   Per the vet’s recommendation (due to the fact that Pye had a tendency to look like a sumo wrestler when he was free fed) I had fed Pye meals twice a day for years.   I wondered if Pye’s aggression was his way of acting out a need.  So, I gave him as much food as he wanted, and lavished affection on him. 
 
Pyewackett gained a little weight, but his aggression diminished dramatically.  Then I lavished affection on Sho-zen and encouraged him to venture out of his safety zones.  Slowly but surely the cats began tolerate each other.  They were no longer destroying my home.  I no longer had to keep a door between them.  Sho-zen was no longer in danger of being injured.  

For a few years the cats got along better, but Sho-zen was still cautious.  He hissed (a form of fear aggression) when Pye came too close and lived in “his” own self-defined territory.  Then, every six months or so, Sho-zen would move to a new territory.  For instance, he would spend 90% of his time sleeping in the living room on the rocking chair; then he would move to the Victorian chair, then to the couch, then upstairs to my studio/office to the art-deco chair, then back to the living room, etc.  The only exception to the rule was the couch in the living room.  For some strange reason, the couch was neutral territory, as both cats would cuddle up with me on the “Swiss Couch.”
 
I tried to encourage Sho-zen to expand his territory by carrying him into the bedroom, but that terrified him.  Pyewackett had clearly defined the bedroom as his.   Then in 2008, Sho-zen’s desire became stronger than his fear.  After Pyewackett was placed on a prescription diet, Sho-zen (who is normally a picky eater) began to sneak in the Pye’s room to dine on the delicious kibble. 
 
May of 2009, Sho-zen had moved to the loveseat in the kitchen.  For well over a year, his coat looked terrible and he lost weight.  Ten months prior, his veterinarian couldn’t find anything wrong with him, and chalked it up to old age.  I was convinced there was more to it than that, and I was terrified that there was something was seriously wrong.  So, I drove Sho-zen thirty-one miles to Dr. Tracy McFarland, “The Cat Doctor”, for a second opinion.  She discovered four abscessed teeth and surgically removed them. 
 
When I brought Sho-zen home from the hospital, wide-eyed and doped up on pain meds, like a cheetah, he leaped out of the carrier the instant I opened the door and ran upstairs into the bedroom.  So, I closed the bedroom door, and there he stayed for days, safe and protected.  Needless to say, Pyewackett was not happy about this arrangement.  When Sho-zen was feeling well enough to venture out about in the house, Pye was intent on showing Sho-zen he was boss.  A few minor scuffles occurred, but no one was hurt.  
 
Four days, after surgery, Sho-zen was showing signs he felt better than he had in two years.  I working away at my computer, when I heard a catfight.  I ran downstairs, yelling “PYEWACKETT, PYEWACKETT!”  When I got to the bottom of the stairs, Pyewackett was trotting out of the kitchen into the living room.  Sho-zen, to my surprise, followed Pye and jumped on top of him.  I stood there, not knowing what to do.  Part of me wished I would have grabbed my camera, so I could have captured the knock-down, drag-out, furious screeching, ball of teeth and claws for the film.  Instead, I screamed, “SHO-ZEN, YOU HAVE NO TEETH!” 
 
I was so worried Pye was going to hurt Sho-zen, I grabbed a throw pillow and hit Pyewackett, breaking up the fight.  “Go to your room,” I ordered, pointing toward to the stairs.  Well-trained Pye dutifully obeyed, and trotted upstairs, all puffed up like a Halloween cat.  Again, to my astonishment, Sho-zen was undeterred and pursued Pye up the stairs.  I followed them both.
 
Sho-zen stood at the bedroom door, Pyewackett was in the bedroom, still resembling a Halloween cat.  I entered the room, knelt down, and petted both cats, one at a time.  As, I stroked the top of Pyewackett’s head, Sho-zen strutted by like he was the King of the Castle, jumped on top of the bed, curled in a ball and went to sleep. 
 
The moment Sho-zen stood up for himself the dysfunctional dynamic instantly transformed.  Sho-zen has moved into the bedroom.  He has full access of our entire home without fear of being attacked by Pyewackett.  For years, I slept with Pyewackett cuddled up next to me, the door closed, so I could be assured war wouldn’t break out in the middle of the night.  I fantasized about lying in bed at night cuddling both cats.  I honestly never thought it would happen.  But, now I sleep with the door open and Sho-zen by my side.  Pyewackett has been displaced a bit.  Mostly he sleeps on the couch, but in the mornings he cuddles with me, and Sho-zen. 
 
My dream came true.  It only took fourteen years, one month and two days.