Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The longest post I never thought I'd have to write

Kitters is moving out tomorrow. When we adopted him from our neighbor seven years ago, I assumed it was for good. I've never been very comfortable with the idea of getting rid of pets once they've been brought into the family (actually, I'm still not that comfortable with it).

We've had many, many good times. I really feel like when he moved in, MB and I became a family and not just a couple. Obviously having a cat is not equivalent to having a kid, but his presence made our apartment feel more like a home, and for a long time, he drew us together. We played with him, spoiled him, and laughed a lot. Looking back, I think the first two years were the best. We lived in our first shared apartment, a tiny one-bedroom, second-floor unit where Kitters liked to sit in the living room window and watch traffic and steadfastly ignored the yearly winter epidemic of mice. He was 18 months old when we got him and already had some bad habits. The neighbor who had raised him from kittenhood let him bite during play and out of spite, excusing it as just something that barn cats do. We were able to break him of the play biting habit, but the spite biting would eventually become a problem.

When we moved into our last apartment in May of 2004, it seemed like a great change for Kitters at first. He loved sitting in front of our ground-level sliding glass door, to the point where we called it the Kitty Big Screen. He liked roaming around the two big bedrooms and sleeping in front of the living room heat vent. Even when he was happy, though, he was always nippy. We positioned our couch in such a way that it created a "hall" from the front door to the mini-hall that led to the bathroom and the two bedrooms. There was a light switch for the lights above the "hall" area near the front door, and a second switch down by the bathroom. Every night when I went to bed, I had to make sure I turned the lights on, walked down the hall, and then shut them off just before I went into our bedroom. Otherwise, Kitters would chase me down the hall, batting at my pajama pants and nipping at my ankles. I never realized how used to it I was until he stopped doing it over a year later and I stopped having to dart down the hall and jump inside our doorway to avoid getting pinched by his teeth. Looking back, that is not normal. That is not the way a pet should behave, nor the way a pet owner should behave.

Over the time we lived there, his behavior steadily grew worse. If he asked to be fed and I refused because it wasn't time or I had something else I needed to do first, he would often follow me and bite me. On more than one occasion, he trailed me around for more than ten minutes, watching for an opportunity to bite me. If he got in the way and I pushed him off the bed, he'd sometimes come back five or ten minutes later and leap up onto the bed to bite my arm. I remember purposely putting my arm closer to the edge of the bed, so that if he did decide to bite me, he wouldn't bite my face (he never did that, to be fair). We still had a lot of good times and a lot of fun with him, but clearly the biting was not a good situation. And then, it got much worse.

Kitters hates other cats. Watching out his window, he saw lots of stray cats hunting in the grassy lot behind our building, and every time he did, it just ratcheted up his tension and anxiety. One day, He got into a hissing match through the glass with an orange tomcat that I had nicknamed The Nemesis because Kitters hated him so much. I stupidly opened the door a crack to try to chase the stray away, and Kitters went flying out into the small fenced-in yard. The other cat ran away and Kitters didn't seem interested in going over the fence, but I panicked. We lived at the corner of a busy street and the highway, and I was terrified that he'd jump the fence and take off and either be lost forever or be killed by a car. I picked him up to take him back inside, and he lashed out and bit me on the arm. At the time (and still, to a point), I excused it by saying that it was mostly my fault. I'd grabbed him from above without getting his attention first. He probably thought I was the other cat coming in to attack.

Unfortunately after that, the anxiety and redirected aggression became a serious issue. Something would set him off and he'd go into a weird trance state. His eyes would dilate until they were almost black, he'd make low growling noises, and he would stalk any human who made the mistake of coming into the area. The only thing that would snap him out of it was having something thrown toward him (not actually at him, but close). Once he bit MB on the thigh and then was circling back to attack again. Shouting didn't do anything, moving away didn't do anything. I threw a pillow at him, and finally grabbed a jar candle that was sitting on the end table and tossed it onto the carpet at his feet, finally waking him up.

And then, there was what I suppose was the last straw, an unprovoked attack on me in the summer of 2007. We tried Feliway, and it seemed to work for a little while, but that didn't last. I bought white tissue paper and covered the sliding glass door so that Kitters couldn't see out. We got him a prescription of kitty Prozac and endured teasing and eye-rolling from family. I doubt anyone really understood why we kept him, but he was our pet. I loved him, and I had committed to providing him a home.

When we moved into our house, he seemed to calm down. I think not having a ground-level window helped a lot. I also feel like he might've worked himself into such a constant state of anxiety that moving to a new home was truly the only way to break the cycle. His behavior has drastically improved in the last year and a half. Even though he still doesn't like the dog, he never has attacked him. He hasn't launched a full-out attack on MB or on me since moving here. I do admit, "does not tear pieces out of my legs anymore" is not exactly a ringing endorsement for a pet, but after what we went through with him in the past, we've been pretty pleased. The truth is, though, he's not really "cured" of his bad behavior. He stopped willingly taking his Prozac shortly after we moved, so I decided to let things ride. If he flipped out on us again, that would be his third strike. If he didn't, great. So far, he hasn't.

But some of his old crabby behavior has resurfaced recently. A few months ago, he demanded dinner when I got home from yoga class. Since MB had already fed him, I told him no and went to sit on the couch. He followed me and bit me on the knee. Then just a few mornings ago, he was biting and swatting at my iPhone cord on the bed, so I pushed him off onto the floor. Once I'd fallen back to sleep, he came back to jump up and bite my hand. There have been a few other minor bites as well. In a way, it doesn't really matter. MB had told me before we started trying to get pregnant that he wanted Kitters out of the house before we brought a baby into it. To him, the trust had been broken and nothing was going to fix it. I didn't necessarily feel the same way, but I did understand. And of course any baby we had would be his child as much as mine, and he had the right to refuse to let a potentially dangerous animal near his baby, right?

I spent several months pretty distraught over the prospect of having to get rid of Kitters. None of my friends would've been willing to take him, even if all the cat people didn't already have cats. They were all afraid of him. My parents might've been convinceable, but they have a cat and two dogs. I couldn't pass him on to a stranger with no warning of his behavior problems, but who would take him knowing what he's capable of? I was not willing to take him to a shelter, to sit miserable in a cage in a room full of cats until his time ran out and then be euthanized by strangers on a cold table. A shelter would be the easy way out for me, but would be horrible for him. I owe him a hell of a lot more than that. In my heart, I knew that if we couldn't find him a home, the only right thing to do would be to take him to the vet to be put to sleep. I didn't think about it too much, to be honest, because I couldn't bear it.

There's a happy ending, though. BoMB agreed to take him. BoMB persevered through months and months of Kitters hating him for no reason, finally winning him over. Then, when we lost power for a week last winter, BoMB took Kitters to live at his apartment until our electricity came back on. Ever since then, they've been buddies. When BoMB comes over, Kitters wants to sit on his lap and hang out with him. BoMB can brush him at least twice as long as I can. We really could not have asked for a better solution, and I will always, always be grateful.

I know the cat is a cantankerous, crusty pain in the ass, but dammit, he's my cantankerous, crusty pain in the ass and I love him. But I also know we're doing the right and responsible thing. We can't keep an unpredictable, sometimes-violent, 16-pound cat in a home with a tiny infant, not without isolating him. But my God, I'm going to miss him. I'm going to miss him so much.


  1. I'm glad you found a good home for him, and that you'll still be able to visit him. I know how much you love Kitters.

  2. It sounds like you did the right thing for all concerned. Best wishes.

  3. Oh, that's so hard. I'm glad you were able to find a home for him. Pets are family and I hate the idea of re-homing them, but sometimes it's the best thing for all involved.

  4. I can't imagine what a tough decision that had to be. It sounds like everything is going to work out perfectly, though. I'm glad Kitters found a new buddy and that you guys won't have to worry about the baby.

    Will you get to visit Kitters often?

  5. I'm a little teared up here.
    I also have a "biter" but my kids were older when we adopted him, so I kept him. I was the one who mostly got bitten anyway.

    If I was expecting a baby, I would have made the same decision you did. It would just make you too nervous to think about a potential bite to the baby.

    Even my other, mellow cat was a little freaked out by infants.

    Good decision, Mama.

  6. Thanks for all the support, ladies...I really appreciate it <3

    Rumor has it he's doing just fine so far at his new home, so I'm feeling hopeful!

  7. good to hear he's adjusting to the new environment.