When you have a multi-cat household, like we do, hierarchy is a force to be contended with, and it’s really hard to figure out.
Valarie and I got our first cat, Sammy, back when we were still housemates. We were living in Chicago and there was some sort of humane society location directly across the street from the First Comics offices. One day after work we took a walk over and walked out with Sam. This was maybe sixteen or so years ago.
When he died earlier this year, after leading a fairly adventurous life, Sam had been joined in our household by Tiger, Jack, Ozzy, Dusty, Yoshi and Blackie—all males and there was never a lick of fighting between them. They are all indoor cats and seem to like it that way.
Sammy was Valarie’s cat, plain and simple. He liked me a lot, but he slept on Val’s lap when she was on the couch and slept on her pillow when she was in bed. Sammy tolerated the newcomers into his household. He’d clean one of them on occasion or allow one to snuggle next to him for a nap, but mostly he was above them and tolerated them like a grandfather tolerates a load of grandkids who have come to visit.
When Sam got sick and eventually died, the others spent a couple of weeks wandering around, wondering what had happened. Jack stepped up to the plate and became Val’s new lap cat. Tiger, who had been spending most of his nights downstairs, took to sleeping between our heads, up against the headboard. This was sometimes a little dangerous; because of all the cats in the house Tiger is the wildest and will sometimes bite or seriously scratch for no apparent reason. He loves getting attention and being stroked and cuddled, but then out of nowhere he’ll get a wild hair up his butt and go into attack mode. During the waking hours it’s easy enough to tell when he’s about to flip, but when you’re tossing and turning in your sleep there’s no warning system. It was sort of like sleeping with a ticking bomb next to your head.
Then, out of the blue, he stopped coming upstairs. He stayed on his little pillow on the end table next to Val’s side of the couch. Either he decided he didn’t feel like sleeping on the bed anymore, or somehow he was scared off. Jack and Dusty became the new regulars on our bed during the day and the night. Ozzy has always preferred sleeping beneath the bed, except when he gets cold and then he’ll burrow under the blankets and sleep down by our feet. When Yoshi and Blackie came into the house this year as Val’s Mother’s Day present, they traveled freely upstairs and down.
Things were going along fine after the two new boys arrived. I added a new litter box and stepped up the scooping schedule and all was well, until for some reason, Dusty declared war on Tiger.
The attacks began in the middle of the night. I think part of it hinged on Dusty taking every opportunity to climb onto what had become Tiger’s pillow on the end table. He seemed to me to be doing it at times just to spite Tiger.
We would wake in the middle of the night to the sweet sound of two cats screaming their heads off at each other. Then there would be a crash that usually meant that the battle had moved up to the kitchen counter top and Val’s collection of antique bottles and salt and pepper shakers had taken a major hit. By the time we stumbled downstairs the fight was over.
We tried to keep the peace between them, but no solution worked. After a while Tiger totally gave up on his favorite pillow on the end table, because Dusty had taken to sneaking under it and attacking from behind. Since Dusty and Jack had always been thick as thieves, Jack would be drawn into the attacks. Tiger sought out resting places where he could have his back to the wall. For a while he took refuge in the downstairs bathtub, but that turned sour for him and he finally settled into the corner of the kitchen counter, next to the sink. There was no way a sneak attack could be launched. We took to putting a bowl of food and water up there for him, because every time he would jump down to eat where we keep the food and water in front of the dishwasher, Dusty or Jack would race into the kitchen and jump him. So he pretty much camped out there. A couple of times a day I’d pick him up and carry him to the litter boxes. I’d have to close the door and wait for him to do his business, and then I’d carry him back. Sometimes he cooperated, other times he added to the scar collection on my hand and wrists.
Weeks passed and all efforts to bring peace to the situation were futile. Tiger likes me a lot. Even though he’s a killing machine, he greatly enjoys climbing up on my chest for attention and a short nap. As much as he likes me, he adores Dakota a thousand times more. He will follow here all around the house for hours, and he’s in a special state of bliss when she lets him in her room. He will burrow into her pillows or perch onto one of her chairs and spend hours keeping her company while she draws or watches television. He loves sleeping with her, but in the middle of the night he’s prone to waking her up for attention. Plus, he’s always done this thing where he’ll be sleeping right next to you, then he’ll yawn and stretch and just slightly pop his claws out enough to give you a little jolt.
So for a while I would rotate Tiger from the kitchen counter to Dakota’s room to the cat’s bathroom. Dakota was a champ about it, but he has a real knack for wanting attention when she’s in the middle of lightboxing something, or writing a story on the computer. When Dakota is on the computer Tiger insists on stretching out between the keyboard and monitor.
The nighttime attacks were happening again, with Dusty or Jack climbing up on the counter and invading Tiger’s corner, so I have taken to locking him up in the downstairs bedroom that Valarie and I use for an office. It has two nice windows to look out of and I gave him his own litterbox and food and water. So now he rotates between the office and Dakota’s room.
We were wondering for a while if Tiger was sick or something, and Dusty and Jack could smell it and decided to prey on him. He seems pretty healthy. The worst thing of all is that this whole affair has made him horribly skittish. He used to walk around the house like a king, but now he scoots between bedrooms with his tail between his legs. I’ve tried a variety of things to right the situation, but with no luck. I can let Yoshi and Blackie into the office to hand with Tiger and there isn’t a hint of trouble, but if Tiger is making one of his rare public appearances, racing around like a scared rabbit, the two boys see this as a game and chase after him. It’s become one of those vicious circles you always hear about. The attacks have made him weak and now his weakness are cause for attacks (even if they’re innocent playful attacks, like from Yoshi and Blackie).
As I type these words Tiger is roaming around the desk, giving me headbuts in an effort to get some love. He’s a great little guy but I’m running out of options. What’s a fella to do?