I don’t know if I’ve been effected by the spirit of Joe Brown, but I’m a total sucker for animals. Living in his home, people often share with Marty and I stories about the animals that Joe Brown let reside with him in this cavernous abode.
There are tiny chips along the edge of the porcelain bathtub, surely remnants of duck nibbles. The grooves along several window sills? Probably dogs. There’s goat horn rubbings on the basement doors and in the attic we found a large, wooden crate with old, nasty straw. We assume it was a whelping box for momma goats. This house has seen its share of wildlife.
As of late, our menagerie includes just two indoor cats, one indoor/outdoor dog and one indoor guinea pig. Outside, we have a herd of uppity farm cats amenable to petting only when their food bowls are empty.
This is the most stable our family has been in quite a while. In the nine years since we moved here, we’ve gone through about as many dogs, a hedge hog, many farm cats and two indoor cats.
And it’s the indoor cat situation that remains an issue. Ever since Jan. 2 when our matriarchal alpha cat Turbo died, the younger two have battled for dominance. And these battles are so passive-aggressive it’s ridiculous.
There’s the older, stately Fluffy vs the sassy teeneager, Stashy. Without the calming presence of a Boss, these two will go through periods of destruction that explain why we have only area rugs in our home and yet still own our own carpet shampooer.
Earlier this year, you may remember we fostered a ginormous male ginger cat, “Carrots.” He was a wonderful addition to the brood, but after getting stuck in the rafters of our attic over Easter weekend (being rescued only after Marty opened a rafter with a buzz saw), he then snuck outside the following day and has never been seen or heard from again!
The disappearance of Carrots was so sad! He was a lovely, low key cat, but we fear he was too freaked out when we hosted Marty’s entire family that weekend. We later learned he had a tendency to go on “walkabout.”
For the next several months, we tried to live with the chaos that is Fluffy and Stashy. When they avoided each other, things were fine. But when they’d “rediscover” the other on their turf? Ugh. We knew we needed an alpha.
In late August, a Facebook post from the Quad City Animal Welfare Center in Milan shared a picture of “Clyde,” a tiger-striped male who had been brought to the shelter with his sister, “Bonnie,” when they were about 9 months old.
They’d been found behind a dumpster and were semi-feral. While Bonnie had been adopted, Clyde remained at the shelter for the next 18 months, living in the Cat Room with 20+ other felines. Needless to say, this guy had emotional baggage.
So why would we want him? Excellent question considering the issues Fluffy and Stashy had already brought to the table.
I reasoned that our current situation with Fluffy and Stashy couldn’t get any worse and that helping Clyde may be the best thing for all three. We formulated a plan for bringing Clyde into our family, starting with where he’d live.
Our house is rather large and the idea of letting loose a semi-feral cat who’s known nothing but a single room filled with cages and cats for the majority of his life did not sound like the greatest approach.
After several visits to the shelter, when I brought him home, we placed Clyde in the “Sunroom” off Marty and my bedroom. He’s what’s considered a “bush dweller,” staying low to the ground, hiding behind things and burrowing under blankets. The Sunroom offered both low and high spots for him, sanctuary from other animals as well as peace and quiet.
He was easy to find and easy to pet, though I still bear the evidence of my one and only attempt to pick him up.
After two weeks in the Sunroom, I opened the door to our bedroom, allowing him access to now two rooms. A week later, I opened our door to the hallway. A few days after that, we opened the door to the stairs, thus granting him full roaming privileges. He’s yet to venture downstairs and when we’re upstairs, rarely comes out from under our bed.
But as I sit downstairs, working on this column, Fluffy and Stashy sleeping on the couch, Nova the Guinea Pig rattling his cage in the kitchen, Clyde is galloping around upstairs, paws thundering along the floor like horses hooves.
And what a fabulous ruckus it is! He sounds playful and free! But we still have far to go.
I’ve started folding laundry upstairs to acclimate him to our presence and our voices. He rarely peeks out. In fact, it’s become standard practice for all four of us to flip up the bedskirt and peer under to say “Hello.”
But in the moments when he thinks he’s alone, I’ll see him slink from under the bed to the Sunroom and his food, water and litter box. In a calm voice, I greet him. He used to skitter back under the bed, but will now look back at us. If we stay still, he’ll proceed to eat or drink or sniff around.
This is progress. I’ve seen him jump onto window ledges for a look-see and I’ve found him venturing into other bedrooms. We’ve even watched him walk past us and not scramble away.
I’m not sure he’ll ever be a lap cat, but I’m growing a bit more hopeful he may one day let us pet him.
As for his effect on Fluffy and Stashy? While Fluffy can hardly be bothered to inquire, Stashy is a jerk. Sneaking into the Sunroom and eating his food, drinking his water. I’m waiting for one unsheathed claw to put Stashy in her place.
Originally published 11 Oct 2014 in The Observer.