Continuing in the vein of plants, pets, and partnership — or the ways in which companions both reflect the quality of our treatment, and express their own nature independent of us — in the past 20 hours since we brought her home, our newly adopted kitten Eloise has proven both delightfully surprising and shockingly predictable.
At the city shelter where we adopted her, the staff warned us that Eloise would probably be extremely shy. She and two siblings were found in a car (not sure whether this makes them stray or semi-feral), terrified of the long human arms reaching down to nab them. Within the cat pound’s contained visiting space, surrounded by cages, she seemed calm enough on our betoweled laps, but didn’t purr or rub her head against us like some of the older cats did. One of the women on staff wore a foreboding face when she advised us to handle the kitten as much as possible once we got her home, so that hopefully she would grow comfortable with humans. Sobered but optimistic, we left her over the weekend to be spayed Monday morning. Following that surgical ordeal, we anticipated a drugged bundle of quasi-hostility retreating to the remotest corners of our bathroom for the first days or weeks.
Sure enough, the minute we lifted her from the vet-issued cardboard carrying case and set her on our bathroom tiles, she fled to the farthest (and dirtiest) corner (straight past the cat bed I so lovingly fashioned for her out of a cardboard box and an accidentally-shrunken cashmere sweater). There she remained, cowering behind the dusty toilet.
However. Between food and water, Ryan’s eye-kisses, and my cheek-and-chin rubs, over the next few hours Eloise transformed from a timid shadow-dweller into a lap-loving purr monster.
Personality? No doubt, in part. But also, Ryan and I have been researching kitten care fairly extensively in the past couple of weeks. And even though we’ve both lived with cats, we discovered many new and exciting facts about them. For instance:
- A cat’s ideal scratching post approximates a tree stump.
- Water dishes should be large enough to allow “whisker clearance.”
- Cats respond to reward much better than to punishment. For example, if you catch a cat scratching the furniture or carpet, rather than shooing or disciplining her, you should take her to her scratching post and use a toy to play with her there. That way she learns that the scratching post is more fun than the couch.
- Kittens prefer toys that are light enough to bat around easily.
Eloise is adapting to her new space like Neo to the Matrix. Even deciphered the litter box. (!) And I’m thankful for all the information — online and from staffpeople at the pet store — that is helping me learn to treat her the way she wants to be treated. For example, one web site advised that while you’re lavishing your cat with dreamy lap-pettings, also play with its paws and touch its mouth so that it develops pleasant associations. Then, in the future, the cat won’t stress out when you’re trimming its claws, or if the vet needs to get a peek in la boquita.
We also learned not to introduce Eloise to the scratching post by holding a paw and making scratching motions for her. Instead, we baited her with toys and an irresistable laser pointer on the post itself, until she figured out that it feels divine against her claws. (Apparently sisal material, as distinct from sisal rope, affords ideal vertical shredding action. The post also needs to be stable and sturdy; otherwise, if it tips even once, the cat’ll get spooked and ditch the thing forever. Can you tell that much of my research stemmed from fears of the cat wrecking the carpet and losing our deposit on the apartment? My hopes are seriously pinned on this object.)
Listen, I’ll be honest: I’m skeptical when it comes to fancy pet products. I am. After all, most cats and dogs in the world eat garbage. Not that I wish that upon them, but what I’m saying is, I’m a believer that it’s possible to be good and kind to adopted animals without dropping $25.99 on six ounces of dry cat food, you feel me?
And toys? My childhood cats never had many toys, as I recall. Merlyn amused himself with golf balls and glimmers of sunlight on the linoleum kitchen floor. This kitten, on the other hand, already has a feather-mouse, a magenta poof, a sparkly fish, and four rolling rattle balls. Why? Not just because they’re a hoot for us humans (though I won’t lie: watching her pounce on an inert pink poof is not a gloomy way to spend time), but also because now I understand, thanks to online feline experts, that indoor cats can get bored, and when they get bored they can get destructive.
See what I’m getting at here?
Treating our companions well, being generous to others, strikes me as a fascinating undertaking. Because it partly means offering them the best of ourselves. And it partly means that what we think of as “the best of ourselves” might not be what they need. I may want the kitten not to scratch, but the kitten has to scratch. So we get her a surrogate tree stump. I would like the kitten to sleep near the sink, where we can see and adore her, but the kitten prefers to be ensconced behind the shitter.
As a compromise, I’ve temporarily moved her bed back there, so she can enjoy her sedative painkillers in peace. Did I mention she purrs? If you turn up your volume and listen closely, you can hear it starting around 0:10.
She’s a beauty. Congrats! She is a lucky luck-luck to have you two as parents!
How do I get to the video?
I just died. I MUST PLAY WITH KITTEN. So cayuuuuute! Toilet loving kitten! Moooooooar kitten!!!!!
i am not a cat lover — i bought into the dog/cat dichotomy since young and had to pick one :) — but you just made cat rearing sound very amazing, precious and adorable. and the cat is, kinda, sorta, really, just a little bit, super cute!!
cute kitty. enjoy!
Thanks, y’all! Anastasia, come over and play! JM, you should see Ryan right now. 100% cat-devoted. :)
Kate, not sure why the video’s not working for ya, it should be at the bottom of the post (below the fold), right above comments. Thank you for helping us adopt this sweet girl. You’ll always be her first auntie. :)
It is so great that you did all this research to find out how to care for her and help her be happy.
I loved this ! I’m practically a cat farmer at this point, and I did not know about whisker clearance. She is beautiful.
Cat farmer, haha, I love it! Give me 10 years and I’ll be right there with you.
YEAAAAHHHHHH ELLA! This is by far the most time I’ve spent sitting in our bathroom.
How sweet. Good for you two for really doing you research. She is so beautiful. She will bring you much joy……and my a lil mischief too.
Cuuuute! I don’t fancy myself a cat person (I’m more of a rescue-dog-with-lots-of-anxiety-and-a-little-fear-aggression-to-boot sort of pet owner), but little Eloise is so precious. Congrats on your new, adorable companion. Can’t wait to meet her.