Integrating Renee: Chapter 1: Questionable Beginnings
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Written by Stephanie Meador
It had started when my father passed away. We already had two cats, and were now inheriting a third. Renee had already been in a shelter. We were determined to not let that happen again. She was family, “Ohana” if you will. But how on earth could we get all three cats living together without it turning into a WWF event?
Before I go further, let me share a bit of back story. Renee had been some family’s cat. When the family got a new kitten, Renee was understandably upset. Someone had taken over her turf. So she did what many cats do and fought with the new kitty. The family decided this was too much, and surrendered Renee to the local animal shelter. Now, I don’t know the whole story, or history of the family, so I can’t say as to if she was given up in haste, or if they had tried to get them both used to each other. What I do know is that despite her unfortunate situation, she was a godsend for my dad, and I believe vice versa. In his own way he had felt abandoned and cast aside too. He had been living alone, getting depressed, and his doctor suggested he get a companion animal. Enter Renee. (In the midst of Covid the shelter wasn’t allowing people in, and he was in a wheelchair, so they brought her to his place to meet.) The two of them immediately hit it off and he opted to adopt her right then and there.
Meanwhile, in our house, we already had two adopted shelter cats. Sophie, aged 12, who is a love-bug, but only on her terms, and otherwise might have you thinking that if she had thumbs, she’d be wielding a switchblade. Binx on the other hand was a younger 6-year-old, who is a total goofball and was in constant need of attention. These two were adopted separately, and frankly, we felt like it was a miracle that they had managed to work out their hierarchy and not throw down any time one walked past the other. What would adding a third cat into the mix make of our (mostly) peaceful home?
So here we are, back at our house that’s been packed with boxes of Dad's belongings, and cat number three. As luck would have it, I had recently started cat sitting with Whiskers at
Home, and had just read a book on cat behavior by Mieshelle Nagelschneider called “The Cat Whisperer: Why Cats Do What They Do, and How to Get Them to Do What You Want”, which I would highly recommend. However, if you are a highly sensitive person (like myself), do yourself a favor and just skip right on over that story about declawing. Just know that it’s a horrible thing to do to any animal.
So, armed with our new knowledge from this book, and not much else, we set up Renee in a spare bedroom in our house. We went all out (within our means) to make her comfortable. We put her cat tree in there that we’d brought from my dads place, her blanket, carrier, shirt that smelled like my dad, feliway plug in, new litter box, food and water bowls, toys, and even a radio, as dad used to have one on in the background all the time. Despite her being familiar with us already, I was worried she’d hide. However, once we let her out of her carrier she started snooping out the room. Granted she had been given Gabapentin in a pill pack to ease her anxiety on the two-hour trip (including a ferry boat ride) back to our house, so she was still a bit wobbly when we arrived. But she didn’t hide. I counted that as victory number 1, with many to come that I was not so certain about.
After a week of letting Renee get acclimated to her new space, we started the “scent sharing” technique. This is to let the cats get to smell each other and hopefully get used to each other's scents, and the idea of other cats being around, without the stress of actually meeting just yet. I dug into my hoard of single socks (which I still somehow think I’ll magically find the match to someday) and got to work. I assigned each cat their own sock. A brown, a black, and a gray, to match the colors of the cats they’re associated with. Now, the color code is not necessary, but it certainly helps out when you need to remember which sock is supposed to smell like who. So the strategy here is to pet one cat with one sock, and get the scents from their face and head (and later upper body) on the sock. Seems pretty simple, but our cats weren’t so sure why this change to petting was taking place. They let me do it but were obviously suspicious that I was suffering from sort of mental melt-down as I was now rubbing their faces with something that despite being clean, still surely smelled (to them anyway) like my feet. I can just hear it now. “I knew this would happen someday. Mom’s finally lost it!”
Anyway, putting aside the humorous idea of being psychologically profiled by my cats, we finished the job by putting the socks that smelled like our original cats in the room with Renee, and vice versa. Making sure not to get the socks too close to their food, water, beds, etc, because we don’t want any turf wars, even if one party is physically absent. This gives each cat the opportunity (at their own leisure, of course) to smell the other cats in the house and get used to their scents until they become familiar with them. Every few days or so, we’d re-scent the socks, making sure to use the same sock on the same cat as before. This was a fairly easy step, and it didn’t take them long to get used to the smells and seem comfortable with the other cats' smells around. We’ll count that as a win!
Next up: Chapter 2: Outgrowing Her Space
About Stephanie: Stephanie has always had cats as part of the family. Their companionship has got her through many of life’s trying times. She and her husband currently have 3 cats: Sophie, the snarky 12-year-old who wants you to get off her lawn, Binx the 6-year-old goofball who always wants to play, and now Renee who was her late father's cat, who is a big love-bug. Stephanie is part of the Whiskers At Home team cat sitting team.