Adventures in Fostering, Part Three

Onyx peered through the top of her carrier. Andy and I had brought her with us on our weekly visit to his parents. She was in a strange new place, surrounded by new people, new noises, new smells. But suddenly familiar hands were reaching for her. When I picked Onyx up, she snuggled into my soft pink sweater. “Do you need to use the litter box?” I asked her. I carried her to the bathroom, closed the door behind me, and placed her into a portable litter box. Nervous in the unfamiliar environment, Onyx lost no time in hiding behind the toilet. I retrieved her, held her close, and then returned to the dining room. Andy’s parents both took turns saying hello to Onyx and gently stroking her head. She stared at them with wide yellow eyes and continued to cling to me. I returned her to her carrier until after dinner, at which point Andy and I took turns holding her while the family played cards. Onyx grew more relaxed, laying on our laps and purring while we played When it was time for dessert, Andy gave Onyx to his mom to hold. Onyx didn’t object. Instead she settled in for a snooze, remaining on Andy’s mom’s lap until our game ended and it was time to leave.

Kittens need to be socialized. The main socialization window is from four to fourteen weeks. During this time, a cat is most receptive to new experiences. Kittens that are properly socialized are more likely to display confidence, seek attention from people, relax when held, and recover quickly from unexpected situations. Because Onyx had been underweight and contagious throughout November, Andy and I have just recently started introducing her to other people. When friends visit, we introduce them to Onyx. Each time, Onyx has allowed our friends to hold her, but has then happily returned to our arms. We’ve been taking Onyx for regular visits to Andy’s parents too. On the second visit, I placed Onyx on the table and Andy’s dad called for her. She cautiously walked towards him and, upon reaching him, immediately huddled into him. Later when cookies were being handed out, Andy’s dad offered her a nibble. She didn’t show much interest, but must have enjoyed the experience. Next thing we knew, Onyx was strutting across the table seeking food from Andy’s mom, then Andy, and finally me. We had a curious kitten on our hands!

Hiss! One at a time our three cats entered the living room to check out the crate and its occupant. Inside the crate, Onyx lay curled on a beige pet bed. She stared demurely at the cats, who each took their turn stalking about her crate and hissing before defiantly leaving the room. Two of our cats elected to return when we had dinner. From the safe distance of the recliner, they watched Onyx. And she watched them. Our third cat snuck behind our recliner, used the litter box, and returned the way she had come–just to keep as far away from Onyx as possible. When we finished eating, the other two cats fled too. I opened the crate and placed Onyx on my lap while Andy and I watched television. Curiosity eventually drew our cats back to the living room. Cinder, our tortoiseshell and oldest, sought refuge in her cave. Bootsie, our former feral and second adopted, didn’t return that night. This left Rainy, our brown-patched and youngest, to welcome Onyx. She bravely jumped onto our recliner, even ventured a sniff of Onyx’s tail, and then curled at my feet with her back to me. 

It has been easiest to introduce Onyx to our dog Barnaby, as Barnaby is indifferent to all animals. Here, Onyx checks to see if the gray lump is alive.

Introducing a new kitten to an older cat should be done slowly and carefully. After all, the resident cat (or cats) will have established territory, and the introduction of another may not be well received. This is one reason that Andy and I initially kept Onyx separate from our other cats. They could no doubt smell her food and litter box, but only through the safety of a closed door. This gave everyone plenty of time to adjust. Once our cats stopped hissing at the guest room door, I swapped some of their bedding. Onyx received a couple of their beds and our cats got some of Onyx’s blankets. Our cats showed little interest in the new blankets, but Onyx spent several minutes sniffing the beds. During this time, Andy and I were also often bringing Onyx out into the living room, but limiting her to our laps. The above steps aren’t new to us; we followed them when Bootsie and then Rainy joined our family. But our three cats are now bonded as sisters; I feel trepidation about how to introduce Onyx into the mix.

The two cats stared at each other from either side of the guest bed. I sat next to Rainy with treats and toys in my hands, while Andy sat near Onyx with treats and squirt bottle handy. Rainy leaned forward and glared at Onyx, who lay alert on her black blanket, but otherwise neither cat moved. Rainy straightened up and glanced at me. I rewarded her calm demeanor with a treat. After she gobbled the treat, I tossed several more in front of her. Andy and I wanted our cats to view the introduction of Onyx as a positive. If anything were to endear Rainy to Onyx, food would be it! I let Rainy stuff herself, especially because this encouraged her to move freely about the room and closer to Onyx, while Andy sat ready to squirt water if a fight ensued. No squirting was necessary. I brought out the toys. Onyx sprang after a wand toy while Rainy watched. Andy and I declared the evening a success.

Later that week, Andy and I introduced Cinder to Onyx with mixed results. Like Rainy, Cinder was content to stare at Onyx from a safe distance. The difference is that treats are more problematic for Cinder. She has the mentality of a shelter cat that has needed to compete for food. As such, Cinder growls protectively over her food if any living being is nearby. While Cinder did accept a few treats, she soon ducked under the bed to hide. From there, she kept a close eye on what was the happening in the room and repositioned herself more than once. But again, no fights ensued. We don’t intend to give Bootsie a turn, as she doesn’t like to be corralled into a room. Instead our next step will be to allow Onyx free run of the living room, with the other cats having access too. And Andy will keep the squirt bottle handy. After that, we’ll simply continue to socialize Onyx, preparing her for the day she’s adopted.

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