Clyde the Cat adjusts to domesticity


Sullen Boy remains a pouty force about the house. Some of this I attribute to hormones, a little might be connected to the weather, but I’m beginning to suspect he thinks it’s funny to act so moody. But it’s when he’s with Clyde that his guard drops and the ooey-gooey sweetness of this 11-year-old boy is revealed.

Recently he told me he thought readers would be interested in an update on our semi-feral housecat. In October, I shared about adopting Clyde from the Quad City Animal Welfare Center in Milan, Ill., after reading his story on Facebook.

clyde gutHe’d been brought into the shelter in January 2013. He was roughly 6 months old at the time and was rescued from the streets of Rock Island. He had a few “issues” that had made him not the most sought-after cat. Mainly, he wanted to hide and stay hidden for the rest of his life.

It broke our hearts to think of this somewhat mentally-effected cat craving solitude among 20 or more other felines in the shelter’s cat room, so we threw our own sanity out the window and adopted him. This was in early September and when I wrote in October, he was still a solitary being, sticking mainly to Marty and my bedroom, specifically under our bed.

In the three months since I wrote that, Clyde’s personality has morphed from fraidy cat to crazy cat. It’s been a daily journey watching his confidence build and his personality change. He’s no longer the scared, untrusting cat we brought home in early September.

Because he does not venture downstairs, he continues to live a bit of a solitary life and likely why he’s made friends with the guinea pig, Nova. The pig’s cage is on the floor in one of the upstairs rooms and has an open top. It’s not uncommon to find Clyde in the cage with Nova, nose to nose.

This is one example of his continued “odd” nature. On the one hand, he’s wary of any other living thing, yet on the other, he absolutely craves connection with any living thing. And in this craving, it appears he’s “imprinted” on me.

I’m the first one he approached, I’m the first one he let pet him, I’m the only one he lets pick him up. When he was still sleeping under our bed, I remember talking to him (yes, in the house, we talk to our animals) and telling him he’d probably be more comfortable on our bed.

I’m not sure how soon after that, but it wasn’t long before he found his way up. I’d sense a presence at our feet in the middle of the night, but by morning, he’d be gone. Soon after this started his bravery grew. In the minutes I read before turning out the light, Clyde would emerge from under the bed and meow at me. I’d coax him up and he’d stay at my feet. If I moved toward him, he’d bolt.

But eventually, he inched his way toward me and nightly nestles in against my chest, my hand stroking his soft fur, his purr lulling us to sleep.

Now when I go upstairs he doesn’t charge out of sight. In fact, when I’m gone, he usually wrestles back the covers on my side of the bed, kneads himself a nest and wriggles in for a long winter’s nap . . . every day. His sanctuary is no longer under the bed or behind furniture!

And when I show up on his turf, he merely yawns and stretches, waiting to be pet. While he remains skittish with both kids and Marty, Sullen Boy is developing a bond with this weird cat. Sullen Boy has figured out that Clyde loves to watch his fish tanks, especially at night.

We realized this after waking suddenly to Clyde galloping from the hallway into our room, leaping across our bed, stabbing a claw into the palm of unconscious, slumbering Marty and leaping back to the floor, charging back to the hallway and skidding to a stop before the closed bedroom door of Sullen Boy.

We assume the whole performance was his way of saying, “I’d like to watch some fish. Now.”

And apparently Sullen Boy has a softer approach than either KidGirl or Marty. He talks low and softly, approaches slowly, and he’s often rewarded with a rubbing of Clyde’s generous gut. Clyde has thusly taken over Sullen Boy’s room, chilling out under his bunk beds, stationing himself before the fish tanks or snoozing on a pile of clothes in a wide swath of sunshine.

KidGirl, on the other hand, with a personality more joyful and cheery, continues to foster a relationship with Clyde. Her glee being her biggest hurdle. She approaches Clyde with laughter and smiling while Clyde remains wary and easily rattled. But they’re working on it.

Marty? As Clyde grows more comfortable, so does Marty. When Clyde isn’t sleeping against me, he’s usually at our heads, wriggled in between our pillows. Marty’s an animal lover, through and through, but he was never 100 percent on board with Clyde’s adoption. Yet he’d readily admit that rescuing Clyde from the cat room at the shelter was a good thing.

But his punctured palm did not win Clyde any points.


Originally published 17 January 2015 in The Observer.

Our uphill journey adopting a semi-feral cat


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.

early clydeAs 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.