Integrating Renee: Chapter 2: Outgrowing Her Space
Updated: Jan 12
Written by Stephanie Meador
Now that everyone has gotten used to each other smells, and the random socks that were strewn about the house were finally getting put back in their lonesome sock bin - where they will eternally wait for the re-appearance of their partners - it was time to move to the next phase of introduction, called “Group Scent.” This step is pretty similar to the previous one, but you’ll need less laundry laying randomly around. Unless, of course, you want to keep that up and bait your company by saying that the socks are there for your cats. See how long they give you the side-eye before asking you, “Why?”
The idea of group scent is pretty self-explanatory. You get all the cat's smells mixed together, and voila, you have a “group scent.” It’s the secret handshake that gets you into the club. The “Yeah, you smell like the rest of us. You’re cool.” kind of idea.
For this step, you probably already have the one tool that you’ll need on hand. A cat brush. Preferably a soft one. And we do just as we did with the sock, but now we’re brushing rather than petting. Sticking to the head and face areas for the first few days and eventually progressing to the upper torso (not lower quarters). And just like in that song about Bangkok from the ’80s, remember to “get your brushes (instead of kicks) above the waistline, sunshine.” (If you’re old enough to remember that song, then you get extra points.)
So, we get one cat brushed a bit on the head and face and move to cat number two. We let them smell the brush, let them inspect the other cat odors, and if (and ONLY if) they’re okay with this smell, you brush cat number two on the face and head too, then on to cat number three, and then back around like a square dance to re-start the whole process with cat number one. Now, you may be asking yourself, “How am I supposed to know if my cat is okay with the smell?” Hopefully, you know your cat's body language enough by now to have a general idea if things are going well or not. If they recoil a little, or the ears go back, that they’re not comfortable just yet with this step. In this case, just give them the time they need to smell the brush and try again tomorrow. If, however, they rub their face on it before you even try to brush, that’s a big ol’ green light. Just use your best judgment, and don’t be in a hurry.
Once I had our two original cats scents on the brush, I took it to Renee and let her smell it. I wasn’t expecting much at this point, but to my surprise, she starts rubbing up on it! Who knew? And once again, with her smell now on it, we go back to cats 1 and 2. You can do this later in the day or the next day, it doesn’t have to be immediate. I had been expecting our grumpy old curmudgeon Sophie to not be game for this, and Binx to be the one who did just fine. They surprised me though. Sophie was fine right off the bat. Binx took a few more days to get comfortable enough to rub up on the brush. Once this became a normal daily routine and all the cats were completely fine with smelling the brush and then getting brushed with it, we had ourselves one more success to count. This was starting to seem too easy, and I was getting a little too sure of myself. But then...
Scratchy, scratchy, scratchy, scratchy, scratchy.
Scratchy, scratchy, scratchy, scratchy, scratchy.
This was the sound that would wake us up at night and keep us from getting any sleep.
We’d had Renee at this point in her room for about two weeks. And while we did visit with her, play, snuggle, and just hang out with her in her room, she had had enough of being locked in there. She made this abundantly clear by scratching at the door, all...night...long. This was obviously not going to work anymore. We needed a new plan.
We still had to keep the cats separated if we were going to do the slow introduction right. Not to say that the cats weren’t aware of each other by now. Despite having rolled up towels at the bottom of the door into her room, with pheromone spray on both sides of the door, and two vacuums strategically placed outside the door in hopes of deterring our cats from getting too close to Renee’s door, they still caught glimpses of each other occasionally as we entered and exited the room.
We decided that we’d have to tweak our plans a bit and not go by the book on this one. I ordered the cheapest, low-quality baby gate I could find – this was only going to be a temporary situation after all – and deployed it at the top of the bottom set of stairs. With Renee in the downstairs of the house, where my husband worked from home, and we spent time in the evenings, and Binx, Sophie, and myself upstairs in the daytime, it would be perfect. No one gets neglected. I proceeded in using the box that the baby gate came in to block off the top of the upper stairs as to keep our cats in the upstairs area. I was hoping to save money this way, but it was a long shot, and I knew it. The cardboard soon proved to be insufficient for our curious little ones, and we wound up splurging on another baby gate. However, this time we got one that mounted to the wall and actually stayed put and even had a swinging door we could go through. This has worked out much better, despite our bank account quickly dwindling. (We’d had funerary costs, moving trucks, etc., rapidly eating away at our meager savings.) That was one point that I’d noticed about the cat behavior book I’d read. Her plans are great...until you realize that you have limited space, limited money, limited time, and limited patience.
To start with, I would round up Sophie and Binx – a chore in itself, as Sophie does NOT like being told what to do – and put them each in separate bedrooms and close the doors to keep them in. Then go into Renee’s room, pick her up (and she is quite the little butterball after living with my dad who provided her with way too many treats) and put her downstairs, then get the cheap baby gate in place, with little bungee cords to hold it in place, and come back upstairs through the other baby gate and let Sophie and Binx out of the bedrooms. I’d do it all again at the end of the day to put Renee back in her room. I had thought that Renee would be more comfortable at night in her little bedroom with all of the things that smelled like her. She didn’t take long to let us know that she didn’t like this plan. Not only did she not like it, but it was also stressing out Binx and Sophie, being moved around so much every day. The worst part for me was picking up these heavy cats (Binx is also a chonk) with a bad back. I’d had two surgeries on my lumbar spine several years back, and this was causing me even more pain than I normally deal with each day. Once again, we had to re-think the plan. We were all under too much stress, and my patience was wearing thin.
Our solution was to keep Renee in the downstairs area full time until we were ready to progress more. For the next week or so, we had our house neatly divided into upstairs with our original cats and downstairs with Renee. With the two baby gates in place, our cats and Renee couldn’t see each other (which Binx actually found a way around and got to peek once in a while). It was a big improvement to the original plan. After a few days of this, things were going really well again. Renee got more room to run around and play and a big sliding glass door which she could watch “Bird TV” all day long. Things were back on track, and we could finally sleep again! Juggling obese cats and baby gates with back pain and no sleep is no way to live.
Next up: Chapter 3: Stairway to Haven