As anyone who follows our ForPaws facebook page may know, it’s not been the easiest of times for the pets in our household recently...
When we moved in May 2012, from our flat in Guildford to a lovely house in Godalming, we took with us our two gorgeous Maine Coon cats, Cobey and Lilo. Cobey was almost 4 at the time, we had gotten him as a 12 week old kitten in September 2008. Cobey put us through quite a lot of trauma, he contracted Giardia within the first few days of living with us and we thought we were going to lose him. Thankfully kittens bounce back fast, and a good dose of antibiotics and lots of sensitive food helped! We felt bad leaving our gorgeous cheeky boy alone in the flat all day whilst we went to work and so 3 months later, we bought home his half sister, Lilo. In those first couple of days we thought we’d made a huge mistake! Cobey hated Lilo and would growl, hiss and smack her at every opportunity he got.
I panicked, but had to go back to work. Pete took an extra day off and in typical Pete style, he ‘let them get on with it’ (in behaviour terms this is known as flooding) and by the time I got back from work that day, they were actually getting on quite well! Cobey grew into quite a grumpy older cat, who ignored us quite a lot. He and Lilo would have the odd play session (which always looked a bit too rough for Lilo to me) but other than that he would be happy with a good ‘mummy cuddle’ every now and again, then he’d ignore us. It wasn’t until we sent Lilo off to stud a year later that we saw a hint of the old Cobey emerge, he was suddenly playful with us, hyper cuddley, insistent on attention and generally a bit more awake and happy. So he was pretty grouchy when he realised his time as a lone cat was temporary when Lilo came back from stud! Fast forward 9 weeks and Cobey got a whole load more grouchy when 4 little kitten slugs arrived into our lives! Thankfully flooding triumphed once again (note, there are only a few times I will ever say this - flooding appears to be terrible in most situations involving dogs!) and the kittens rather loved being around grumpy Uncle Cobey until they went to their new homes when they were 12 weeks old. Incidentally it amazed me, when they left, Lilo spent all of 10 minutes searching for them before plonking herself down and cleaning herself like all was right again in the world! I think she was glad to be shot of them!
Fast forward again to May 2012 and our poor cats lives were turned upside down. We moved and 4 days later we brought home a bouncing puppy - our Lexie! Now I should explain that there are probably some times in life when it would be a good time to introduce a puppy into your life. We weren’t really in that time when we got our puppy! We were still unpacking and getting settled in, my business was still in that terrifying fledgling stage where it took all of my concentration to try to push it to be a success, and we were both dealing with quite a lot of residual stress from the move, which was pretty horrendous. Oh, and we were planning our wedding for 5 months later. But hey, hindsight is 20/20! Lexie sadly developed a bladder infection which set back toilet training rather badly (more stress!) and in our frazzled state, we failed to see the big picture, we didn’t try to force the greetings between Lexie and the cats. Not that I feel that forcing is exactly the right word, but more that the cats needed to go through the same level of exposure that they had to each other when they were introduced (flooding) and if we had at least done this we could have started to train Lexie around the cats whilst she was small and a bit less terrifying and energetic.
So things didn’t really get off to the best start. And unfortunately they weren’t improving any time soon. Poor Lilo was looking quite miserable, she missed cuddling up to us on the sofa at night - she couldn’t be in the downstairs living room at the same time as Lexie, who would chase her. Cobey would dare to come in and sleep on his very high Tigga Towers bed at certain points and seemed to be a bit more confident around her, but he wasn’t exactly enjoying things either.
A year after our move, we had a bit of a fright that bought things to a head. We hadn’t realised, but enticed by the door to our garden being open, Lilo had snuck out into the garden. She hadn’t seen Lexie, but Lexie saw her and ran towards her, Lilo bolted, petrified, back to the baby gate that separates the upstairs and downstairs, but she was so scared she couldn’t make it through the cat flap and so she curled up into a terrified ball. Lexie almost collided with her and was bouncing forwards and backwards in a play bow trying to get Lilo to play. Being human, Pete and I completely lost all our ‘training sense’ shouting at Lexie to go away and hauling Lilo out of the room. At that point, we both said, enough is enough, it was time to make the tough decision about rehoming.
The problem was, Lexie saw the cats as fun toys. We knew she wouldn’t intentionally hurt them, but she’s a big dog and she wants to play in ways that the cats can’t and won’t tolerate and which could cause injury to the cats. Attempting to train Lexie to ‘Leave’ the cats would never work when we had two such different cats. One that would flee (great fun for Lexie!) and one that would ‘stand his ground’ and be quite aggressive (running the risk of Lexie responding in kind). As any trainer knows, in order to ‘proof’ a behaviour in your dog, you need to control the variables around the behaviour and increase the difficulty slowly. This is nigh on impossible when you have 2 terrified and uncontrollable cats. Ethically too, attempting to train Lexie around one cat that was so scared, was not fair on the cat, you are putting one animal in a situation in which they are terrified, to train another. This seemed wrong to me. Whichever way we looked at it, we were stuck. We both hated the idea of rehoming one of our animals because they didn’t get on with the other - we had wanted a dog and had selected a breed not exactly well known for getting on with other small pets - the mess was entirely of our own making. If is was just us that had the stress of dealing with the situation, then we’d have continued and kept all the animals in separate areas at home. But because our cats were so clearly unhappy with things and because my job makes it only more likely that at some point in the future we will have more dogs in the home, we felt the cats deserved a chance to be happy elsewhere, somewhere without dogs! So we decided to rehome the cats, if (and only if) we could find a home in which we felt they’d be more happy than if they stayed with us.
After a couple of nights sleeping on it, we had a slightly change of heart. Lilo was clearly the most unhappy with things. She was missing her social interaction with us and seemed depressed, scared and lonely, even when we were in the same room with her, without Lexie being present. Cobey, on the other hand, had shown some positive signs. He was not constantly fearful or nervous, he was showing some signs of learning how he could do what he wanted to do and avoid Lexie safely. And, our past experiences had shown that he was happier without Lilo, so we figured we’d trial rehoming Lilo first and see how it went with Cobey and Lexie after that.
We advertised online and I was inundated with calls (some good, some awful) and finally I spoke to a lovely lady called Jane, who came to visit with her husband. They were perfect - we knew that Lilo would have a wonderful life with them and so a week later, we tearfully bid goodbye to our gorgeous and sweet natured Lilo. Within days we knew it was definitely the right decision, Lilo and Jane’s other cat had become firm friends and she was loving being around people to make a fuss of her again. She loves their garden and even likes their chickens!
Amazingly, with Lilo gone, Cobey’s affectionate nature once again returned! In fact Cobey is like a different cat, very happy, very cuddley (with us) and generally much more relaxed. He now goes outside the front of our house to nose around our little cul-de-sac and loves it. He and Lexie are making slow progress - Lexie will ‘leave’ him if he’s somewhere relatively safe, we need to work on generalising it to different areas of the house. She is rewarded for ignoring him, or making the decision to walk away from him. She is making vast improvements now we have just 1 very consistent cat for her to be around. Strangely enough though, because Cobey is now happier and he can go outside without fear of Lexie chasing him and because he will rarely ever venture anywhere close to Lexie to cause a problem, we have finally acheived our happy truce. It’s not perfect, I don’t think I’ll ever see the day Cobey will curl up against Lexie and snooze, but it’s good enough for us and the pets.
So all is well that ends well. We still miss our little Lilo every day, but we know she is happy and that’s the main thing. We’ll keep you posted on the progress between Cobey and Lexie...