Pet Connection: Often, an adult cat's the right addition

03/05/2013 12:00 AM

03/04/2013 5:01 PM

Even though my pets, from dogs to goats to horses, generally get along with others not of their kind, I believe most animals like having a companion of their own species.

That's why I keep at least two of almost every type of pet I have, and why, three months ago, I added a cat.

Not a kitten – a cat. I thought my middle-aged indoor cat, Ilario, seemed lonely after my other cat died. And while kittens are always appealing, I knew that many wonderful adult cats need homes.

I had one opening and wanted to fill it with a middle-aged cat.

Enter Mariposa.

Within a month, I knew I'd made the right decision in adopting her. An adult cat can slide quickly into your life. You know pretty well what you're getting with a grown cat – activity level, sociability, health, etc. Given time in a loving environment, a grown cat forms just as tight a bond with its new people as any kitten can.

If you're thinking of adopting a kitten, I encourage you to think adult cat instead. (Or better yet: one of each!) Because adult cats are generally more reserved than kittens, you need to cut them some slack in the adoption process. Then give them plenty of time to adjust to their new home.

Mariposa spent the first two weeks alone in a closed spare bedroom, secluded away from Ilario and the dogs to give her time to adjust to the upheaval. When I went in to feed or clean the litter box, I sat quietly on the bed, letting her choose how much she cared to interact.

For the first few days, all I saw of her was the flash of her tail as she slid under the bed. When she started greeting me by purring and jumping up beside me to be petted, I moved to the next stage, putting a baby gate across the open doorway.

After a few days and some hissy interactions, the two cats were happily sharing the sunny spot in the spare bedroom. But while Ilario came and went over the baby gate, Mariposa did not. She felt safer with the dogs on the other side of the gate, and I didn't push it.

Another couple weeks went by before she felt brave enough to explore a little more.

My dogs are not cat- aggressive. If they were, I'd never risk having a cat in the home. But they are naturally curious, so I kept a close eye on interactions. After a few sniffs and one aborted chase that ended with Mariposa flying over the baby gate to safety – my dogs know the "leave it" command very well – everyone decided to get along. Each week they seem to get along better.

I made it easy, of course, with three litter boxes (experts advise one per cat, plus one) and separate feedings for everyone. Two cat trees at opposite ends of the house offer places for togetherness or quiet time alone. Not that either cat is often alone: As I'd guessed he would, Ilario loves having another cat in the home.

My biggest challenge now? Finding space on the bed. With two cats and two dogs, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of room left. Mariposa, for her part, sleeps on top of me. That's going to be uncomfortable in the summer, but on these cold evenings I have to admit: It makes me even happier for adopting her than I ever would have dreamed possible.

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