79: Introducing a Second Cat

79: Introducing a Second Cat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

Introducing a Second Cat

One cat just leads to another.

~Ernest Hemingway

I’m not sure what possessed me to get another cat. With three boys, a bouncy Golden Retriever, and the resident cat, Reuben, the house was full. But I decided Reuben needed a feline companion.

He’d become a completely indoor cat after the deaths of two neighbors’ cats; one from poisoning and another from an unleashed dog. I didn’t want Reuben’s life to end like that. So I kept him inside and he sat at the patio door, staring out at freedom, telling me how unfair it was.

“Reuben wants a friend,” I announced.

“I don’t think he’ll like another cat in the house,” warned my brother-in-law, a veterinarian. “He’s a dominant cat, and he won’t want to share his territory. Besides, you can’t afford another animal.”

He was right. As a single mom, I was always stretching my paycheck to make ends meet. But somehow it worked, and I figured one more cat wouldn’t cost that much.

And our household was evolving. My sons had entered the skulls and zombies era. Bizarre music came from their rooms. Black became the color of choice. I helped make the house creepier by leaving the summer plants in their pots long after frost arrived. I felt like Morticia Addams as I passed the stiff, dead flower stalks and entered my somewhat Goth home. But it was missing something.

“Our house needs a black cat,” I told my boys.

“Reuben won’t like it,” said my eldest.

“Sure he will,” I insisted. “Reuben likes everybody.”

“He used to hiss at the cats outside.”

Actually, he used to get into scrapes with the neighbor’s cat, but I ignored that and kept searching the SPCA adoption pages. There was one cat whose picture stayed up long after other black ones appeared and were adopted. For months she was on the page every time I checked. Finally I decided to go to the shelter — just to look, of course.

As soon as I said I was interested in a black cat, the staff person led me to an oversized cage in the cat section. A huge mass of black huddled in the back. Two yellow-green eyes stared at me from the darkness. “She’s very sweet,” said the young man, “and she has a wonderful purr.”

I followed him to the shelter’s visiting room and he set her down. She looked like an overstuffed sausage with four short sticks supporting her. She staggered slowly around the room, rolling from side to side on stiff legs. I’d never seen a cat move like that.

“Why is she so fat?”

“She’s been in a cage for five months. She’ll shape up as soon as she’s out of here.”

The cat lumbered over to me and pushed her face against my hand. Then she started purring. A long, loud trill. I was instantly captivated.

They had to give me a dog carrier to take her home because the cat crate was too small.

My sons were less than pleased when I arrived home. “She’s gonna make Reuben spray again.”

“No, she won’t. He’ll like her.”

But I wasn’t so sure when I saw our orange tabby stalk toward the dog carrier with huge, staring pupils and a bottle-brush tail. A loud hiss came from inside the crate.

“I’ll just take her up to my room,” I said. “We’re supposed to keep them separated for a little while anyway.”

A little while turned into over a month. Reuben camped outside my bedroom door, waiting for a chance to slip in and deal with the intruder. The new cat spent most of her time on my bed, not losing any weight. Occasionally she lowered herself down, landed on the floor with a loud thud, and watched with interest Reuben’s paw, which appeared from underneath the bedroom door, swiping at her.

This was not the sleek, panther-like animal I had envisioned.

But she would lie by my shoulder at night, trilling me to sleep, and it was heavenly. When I woke up she was still there, waiting to greet me. The man at the shelter had been right; she was a very sweet cat.

I named her Belladonna after the deadly nightshade plant, an apt name for a black feline. And I was sure she and Reuben would eventually become friends.

After six weeks I put a child gate up in the doorway so they could see each other but still be separated. Reuben puffed up like an orange marshmallow and hissed. Bella retreated under my bed. A week later I decided they had to work it out. I removed the gate and she ventured downstairs.

The idea of Bella appearing on his turf had obviously never occurred to Reuben. As soon as he saw her, his eyes got huge, his fur fluffed out, and he chased her back upstairs under my bed.

I figured the exercise would help her with weight loss.

And it did eventually, but not until one corner of my mattress was in shreds from Reuben’s claws.

To my amazement, Bella kept coming downstairs. Then one day I saw them sitting next to each other, looking out the window. Did Reuben realize she was there? I tiptoed past, afraid to disturb the miracle.

Reuben’s tolerance grew. He allowed the usurper downstairs more often. And if she wasn’t around, he’d search for her — acting as if he didn’t care once he found her.

Now Bella comes down every day. Reuben still chases her when he’s feeling cranky, and the corner of my mattress is still in shreds. But they eat side by side, sleep next to each other on the sofa, and stare out the patio door together.

And she still jumps on my bed at night, not panther-like, but a bit more gracefully than when she first arrived, and trills me to sleep. And it’s heavenly.

~Joan Friday McKechnie

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