HAPPY HOLIDAYS !!!
Birdie is our 3rd rescue cat. Our first girl. She’s very… well, hard to describe. She’s small, black, inquisitive & friendly, yet standoffish:
She doesn’t like to be picked up, although once she’s picked up [at least with Jim], she’ll relax and start to purr. She doesn’t like to be patted, although she loves her chin scratched – but you have to approach with one arm extended [not two], otherwise she thinks you’re going to pick her up and she tenses up and backs away. She loves stuffed catnip toys [like her banana] but not loose catnip like the boys:
She LOVES her hair brush [it looks like a human hair brush but it’s for cats]. She likes for me to hold the brush so she can rub her cheeks on it, first one, then the other, back and forth, over and over. They told us at the shelter she loves to be groomed, but whenever I try to brush her back or sides she tries to bite me…
The poor girl was at the shelter for a year. She’d been left in a cat carrier on the side of Route 1 in Ipswich, MA, with her brother, Bogie [they were found adjacent to a golf course, hence the names]. Once at the shelter, Birdie didn’t want anything to do with Bogie, any of the other cats, or most of the people. She just wanted to be left alone. She was adopted twice during her first few months, but returned both times. After her second return [“she doesn’t enjoy the company of children… or other pets…”] the shelter enacted a “Birdie can only be adopted by a household with no children or pets, preferably by someone older” rule. We’d seen her a few times, and loved her, and asked if we could try adopting her based on the fact we have 2 other shelter cats, but were told no. And we completely understood why – they were focused on finding her a home where she’d be happy and relaxed. They even housed her in the back of the shelter, away from the other cats, in her own large cage [large enough to house a human!].
A few more months passed, and Birdie was still at the shelter. We asked again if we could take her home, just to try, and were told no. And no the next time we asked. Another 2 months went by and she was still there, so we asked again and this time they said they’d consider it! They called a week later to say we could take her on a trial basis. HOORAY! We picked her up on 8/11/14 – here’s her first foray around our upstairs:
We were determined that this would be her forever home. It was heart breaking trying to picture the poor thing being returned a 3rd time! It’s not like she’s violent, or hard to handle, or terrified of her own shadow. She just doesn’t like other cats or people in her face.
At first we kept her upstairs in the master bedroom suite, with a baby gate between her and the upstairs hallway. We thought that would give Darwin and Bonkers a chance to get used to her smell, and vice versa. That didn’t work out too well. Bonkers was immediately aggressive towards Birdie, even through the gate, so she wouldn’t go near it, and Darwin could jump over it – d’oh! We moved the baby gate to the top of the stairs [2 steps down], to keep Bonkers downstairs and Birdie upstairs. Birdie happily declared the 2nd floor as HER territory. She loved the upstairs hall cat platforms and the art table in the girl cave:
Sometimes she’d sleep on the bed, especially when one of us was home sick:
[I love that face she’s making – I caught her in mid-yawn or mid-grooming, I can’t remember].
We currently use the gate at night to give Birdie some peace and quiet:
Bonkers, who can’t jump, likes to sit as close to the gate as he can get, and stare up at Birdie when she’s on the platforms. Here’s a “Bonkers eye view”:
He usually either mournfully howls at her, or sits on his back legs and begs in her general direction… She always ignores him.
Here’s Darwin demonstrating how he – and now Birdie – can move between floors despite the gate:
After about a month of having Birdie, and giving her free reign of the second floor, we’d see her watching us from the top of the stairs [safely behind the gate], or poking her head through the railing to see what we were up to downstairs. We realized she wasn’t as aloof as we’d first thought, and actually wanted to be part of the family – yay! We started carrying her downstairs and putting her in places we thought Bonkers couldn’t get her. She’d usually hang out for 5 minutes then bolt back upstairs. One evening, Jim put her on the couch and she seemed fine! Then Bonkers ran over to the couch, stood on his hind legs, and bitch-slapped her in rapid succession. WTF? She’s done her best to avoid him ever since.
That’s when I realized I needed to up my game with the cat platforms! So in October I built the downstairs hall cat platforms, then extended them, then extended them again. She LOVES them! Every morning we remove the baby gate* from the stairs, and Birdie [after checking for Bonkers] trots down after us and immediately jumps to her platforms. That’s where she eats her breakfast, often followed by a nap:
Sometimes Darwin chills out nearby:
Wherever Birdie goes, Bonkers is usually lurking, ready to pounce [as if]:
We’re not sure if he wants to hurt or, or if – in some cat-brained way – he thinks he’s protecting us from “the evil”. His aggression has been a total shock for us. He’s always been the beta to Darwin’s alpha! Darwin, meanwhile, has always respected Birdie’s space, so she in turn lets him hang out nearby.
Everything with Birdie has been a lot of trial and error. Especially litter boxes. We now have five… Each cat seems to have their own preferred box. Darwin, of course, uses all five… Up until recently, Bonkers did his best to keep Birdie away from the litter. He’d sleep in front of the upstairs box [the one in the bathroom that she always used], or he’d ambush her once she was inside. It got to the point where she started going on her platforms – poor girl! Jim kept mentioning we needed to build an elevated litter box, but I kept putting it off. Finally I smartened up [after she drenched our upstairs bookcase… gross…] and set up a couple of litter boxes accessible by platform only:
And, also thanks to Jim, Bonkers now wears a bell so Birdie knows where he’s at. She’s even left the safety of the platforms a few times to have a snack or explore the living room:
We also bought her a cat tree for the bedroom, which she sleeps in and hangs out on all the time [Bonkers can’t jump up onto it, so it’s another Bonkers-free zone]:
OMG this post took on a life of it’s own! The whole reason I started writing it was to get to this exciting update:
Two nights ago, Jim and I were on the couch watching TV and heard horrible sounds coming from the upstairs hall. We raced up and Birdie was on her platform and Bonkers was on the floor acting aggressive. There was black fur everywhere, and it was obvious that Bonkers had somehow managed to get either up onto the main platform, or at least up onto the “step”, which he’s been trying to get onto since October:
We hollered at him [like we always do when he’s being aggressive towards Birdie] and he took off downstairs. Birdie seemed remarkably unfazed. It didn’t immediately occur to me that something major had just happened. I did notice that all the fur on the floor and platforms appeared to be Bonkers’. I went down and found him hiding behind the Christmas tree, sulking. I sat down and after a few minutes he finally came over and snuggled with me.
Then last night Jim was getting ready for bed. He’d already put the baby gate up and carried Birdie upstairs. He likes to roam while brushing his teeth, so he wandered into the upstairs hall in time to see Bonkers, who’d been up at the gate staring at Birdie, turn around and go back downstairs. And then he saw Birdie jump to the floor – quickly and quietly – and follow Bonkers downstairs! He had no idea she was behind him. She trotted right down, a few steps behind him, and jumped onto her downstairs platform. What?
And this morning I woke up at 6 to get ready for work [Jim stayed in bed – he had the day off], and headed into the hall to go downstairs and feed the cats. Birdie was sleeping on the upstairs hall platform, and when she saw me coming, she jumped to the floor and immediately ran down the stairs and up onto her downstairs platform. Without a complete and thorough proximity check for Bonkers first. I’m sorry, but what???
It seems that whatever happened the other night reversed the polarity of the Birdie/Bonkers tractor beam. She no longer seems afraid of him. It seems she might have taught him the “I’ve got claws and you don’t!” lesson. I hope so! This morning after they ate, Birdie headed back up to her platforms while I got ready for work. At one point I looked into the hallway and saw her up on her platform, and Bonkers lurking below. But instead of stalking/howling at her, he was rubbing his face back and forth along the bookcase below her. I’m not sure, but that seems like a much friendlier action than howling! I think the tide is finally turning. I think our girl is getting some confidence!!!
PS – I’ve also noticed today that whenever Birdie comes downstairs or goes back up, Bonkers hangs back and just watches. Up until now, he’s ALWAYS chased her – this is another first. He’s definitely acting way more cautious of her, and she’s acting way less afraid of him.
We no longer use the baby gate to keep Bonkers downstairs.