Friday, February 24, 2017

Cats Marching to a Different Drummer

My senior cat Sinead, 10 this year, and I are fostering another cat named Priss, 6 or so, who belongs to the lady whose house I plan to move into next month. (The lady herself is in an assisted-living facility.) And boy, am I noticing some things about Priss, a.k.a. Prissy, a.k.a. Priscilla, that are unlike my experiences with Sinead and the late, lamented Tyrone and Lionel, my original duo of cats. This cat definitely marches to a different drummer.

For example, I've noticed a more marked tendency of the clumps in the litter box to adhere to the sides of the tub, especially at the short ends, and to be buried down at the bottom of the tub as well. I'm pretty sure this is the new cat's doing. It drives me crazy, for two reasons. For one, this tendency to stick to the sides, and down into the bottom corner, makes the daily cleaning of the litter boxes extra difficult. For another, the stream of cat pee occasionally hits the rim of the tub, or misses it entirely, resulting in a smelly puddle that I have to clean up. Yuck!

On a more touchy-feely, cuddly level, Priss shows affection differently than all my cats until now. Lionel did occasionally climb up on the back of a chair I was sitting in, or even the back of my seat in the U-haul van in which we moved together from Arizona to Missouri in 2005, but his goal was to cuddle against my shoulders or the back of my neck. All of my cats, including Lionel, mostly approached me for cuddling by climbing onto my torso while I was reclining in bed or reading on the couch. Apparently there was a pecking-order for doing this, too, because Tyrone rarely cuddled this way until after Lionel died in 2007; and while Sinead has always been an in-your-face cuddler, she mostly did so when Tyrone was out of the room, until he started to decline last year and she became the dominant cat. Since Tyrone has been gone, she's been extremely adorable, often lying on her side on my chest with her face inches from mine.

Priss, meantime, prefers to climb atop the pillow behind my head and lie purring against the crown of my head. Or, noticing a feline vacancy on my chest, she will sometimes step down over my shoulder and lie against my cheek, facing the foot of the couch or bed, rather than face-to-face with me. Only a couple times in the just-under-a-month we've lived together has she taken the face-to-face cuddling position.

She also purrs and vocalizes in a different way from any of my own cats. I'm still trying to figure out what she means by "Meow," whereas that always seemed fairly obvious with Lionel, Sinead, and especially Tyrone. Priss also has an extremely loud, somewhat abrasive purr - the kind I have read described as a "demanding" purr, or a "manipulative" one, and whose absence from my household has always seemed a blessing. Luckily, she mostly uses the purr to signal, "Pet me, dammit." It just gets confusing when I start to do so, and she meows in a way that I can't help thinking means something like, "Not like that, idiot," or maybe, "I'm not in the mood right now." And then continues purring. For the life of me, I can't make out what signal she's trying to send me.

Sadly, the signal the cats are sending each other comes through loud and clear. After just a bit short of a month, they are still hissing, spitting, yowling, growling, and (when they come with in reach of each other) swinging at one another. It makes those moments when Sinead is hiked up on my chest, close enough for her whiskers to tickle my face, and Priss is pressed against the crown of my head, purring like a boat motor, rather tense. I keep making calming, shushing noises and trying to pet whichever cat seems a little uneasy, and hoping I don't get disemboweled when they go into fight-or-flight mode. All this feline brinkmanship makes it hard for me to enjoy doing what I generally settle on the couch to do - read a book. Which hand do I hold the book in while I'm trying to soothe two neurotic cats who are ticking like emotional time-bombs?

I'm not sure which cat is really to blame for this ongoing hostility. They're both old enough to be set in their ways. I wonder, though, which way the balance will tip once we move into the house where Priss reigned unchallenged until I took her in at the beginning of the month. I hope the house will be big enough for the three of us!

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