Preconceptions Are Limitations:  Change the Environment


When I moved from Arizona to Georgia, I had no intention of adopting any additional animals.  I already had three cats and two dogs.  So when I met Christmas, I wasn't thinking of adoption.  After all, he already had a home.  However, that home included six other cats, three adults, two teenagers, and three children under the age of twelve.  He spent his time sleeping on one of the bunk beds or hiding under the furniture.  He didn't receive much attention and was very timid.

       After several visits, our hosts recognized his unusual attachment to us and asked if we would like to adopt him.  They identified him as an unregistered Ocicat and explained that during the two years he lived with them, a bite on his back became infected and impaired his sense of balance.  He avoided high places and didn't climb onto anything that failed to provide a large flat surface.  After considering their offer for a couple of weeks, my husband and I decided to take him on a trial basis.  We didn't want to make him more miserable that he already seemed and worried about how he'd react to meeting dogs for the first time.  Our other cats were also indoor/outdoor during the hours we were home to supervise them.  Surprisingly, Chris adapted fairly well when introduced to the dogs.  Whenever our young Sheltie, Clancy, settled down in an accessible space, Chris soon found him, sprawled out next to him, and began to purr and tread in his heavy ruff.  Clancy, of course, looked bewildered and beleaguered.  Soon, Chris was submitting to regular ear cleanings.

After a few weeks, I decided it was time to introduce Chris to the outdoors.  We had a small fenced patio bordered inside by shrubs and colorful bulbs.  Just outside the fence were two huge old long-leaf pines.  As I followed Chris around, he sniffed and bit various branches and tufts of grass before heading under the fence and out to one of the trees.  He immediately started to climb it and seemed quite pleased with himself.  Shortly after this, I began to find Chris in interesting places all over the house.  While still a bit unsteady, he systematically checked out all the reachable surfaces in the house.  His former caretakers were amazed and delighted by the news.

       As he gradually became more and more confident, he began hunting.  During our stay in Georgia, he brought me birds, hummingbirds, snakes, chameleons, and various bugs.  Of course, we had a discussion about this!!!  While I accept that my cats have a natural hunting instinct, I also believe that they are intelligent enough to moderate it.  Basically, I "told" him that baby birds and hummingbirds were not acceptable and that continuing to catch them would result in immediate curtailment of his outdoor privileges.  He never again brought me either hummingbirds or baby birds and even adult birds became an infrequent "gift."

       I think the bird ban was reinforced by my adoption of a small parrot, weighing about 140 grams.  Parrots are not known for adaptability, requiring a reliable low-stress routine and plenty of attention to avoid neurotic behavior such as feather picking.  When I took Erin home to introduce her to the household, the cats remained on high alert for some time.  I made it a habit never to have her out of her cage in a room with the cats, but hoped they’d eventually adapt to one another.  Gradually, the cats calmed down and Erin herself never seemed frightened or intimidated.

One day, I had moved Erin from her main cage into her small traveling cage while I was cleaning up after her.  She was happily perched in the small cage where it sat at the end of our waterbed.  I saw Chris leap onto the head of the bed and gradually make his way down to her cage.  Erin seemed unconcerned, remaining on her perch and gradually leaning toward the bars of her cage as Chris approached.  Chris slowly brought his nose toward Erin's beak and she promptly bit him and then trilled in triumph.  Chris sat back in shock, gazing at her in amazement as if to say, "Hey!  You can't do that!  You're the bird and I'm the cat ... that's not the way it works."  Today, all my cats discriminate between Erin and "outside" birds.  I often wind up in my rocker with Erin on one shoulder and the remaining animals, cats and dogs, sprawled on or around me.

       Chris has continued to astonish us all.  Today, he and the Sheltie remain great friends.  He continues to be both adaptable and sweet.  I sincerely believe that he is perhaps the smartest cat I've ever had.  I can't remember the last time he caught a bird.  Many mornings I let him out front after I've finished showering with an admonishment to be back before I leave for work.  When I open the door before leaving, he is either waiting for me or comes running after only a couple calls.  Preconceptions limit animals just as they limit people and I encourage you to see your cats as individuals with their own individual needs and personalities.  Loving an animal means connecting with them on their terms instead of our own.  You'll be amply rewarded.