When we lost Willow, one of our sibling pair of two-year old cats, earlier this year, her brother Xander was devastated – as indeed we were.
Always the more needy of the pair, he became even more attached to us, vocalising more than usual, and several times while curled up he would suddenly begin to chase his own tail, whirling in frantic circles. His usually throaty double-purr seemed thin, and he took to hiding under a kitchen cupboard whenever the doorbell rang, as he used to as a young kitten.
Since we both work full-time, we had originally chosen a pair of cats so that they could keep each other company. Xander and Willow were from the same litter and had never been separated before; while they would often roam independently, they still played together, groomed each other, and curled up in a slumbering heap of blissful fur at the end of almost every day. Her sudden absence was hard for her brother, and it seemed as though however much attention we gave him, it could never compare to a real grooming/sparring/sleeping partner.
While our grief eased and the holes in everyday life, rent by the death of a beloved pet, began to slowly fill in for us, we still worried about Xander, and over the weeks began to contemplate finding him a new companion. We could never replace his sister, nor would try to, but perhaps another accomplice was just what he needed; this sad kitty who had never been alone before.
Some weeks later, we visited the rescue centre where Willow and Xander spent the first months of their lives. We were considering a female cat younger than Xander, so as not to appear much of a threat to him, but at least six months old. There were bundles of mischievous kittens tumbling and chasing everywhere, but we steeled ourselves to their kittenish charms, and fell instead for a young nursing mum, barely more than a kitten herself at only about 8 or 9 months old, whose litter were soon to be rehomed. She had been rescued from a notorious area of a nearby town, presumably last year’s Christmas kitten, kicked out once the novelty had worn off and left to fend for herself in a large community of abandoned cats and roaming toms, with obvious consequences.
Just over a month ago, with her kittens weaned and rehomed, Faith came to live with us. A sweet, friendly cat, she proved to be full of confidence and curiosity, quickly pushing the boundaries and settling in easily, with one slight exception: Xander.
Introducing a new pet to an existing one was a new experience for us, and has proven to be rather more stressful than we hoped. This was partly due to the initial logistics of trying to contain one eager-to-explore cat indoors to settle in, while the other retained freedom to come and go, and supervising interactions to keep both cats calm. Faith’s previous bad experiences (her early behaviour suggested that she was used to being kicked, though she already appears to trust moving feet and legs more!) have left her evidently very wary of other cats. Xander also proved to be more shaken up by the arrival of another cat than we’d expected, with copious sulks and plaintive complaints initially, but over the weeks, with lots of reassurance, his confidence has returned.
We have followed a gentle path from exchanging scents on bedding to gradual introductions, though it has been harder than we imagined, and for a few days Xander seemed so stressed, and Faith so inflexible towards him, that we almost considered returning her and giving up the idea entirely, but little by little progress is being made. She still hisses at him on four encounters out of every five, sometimes with a swipe of her paw, but he has stopped responding in fear now, instead appearing to ‘raise an eyebrow’ at her histrionics and carry on, with both cats continuing to show more and more interest in the other.
So we have faith, so to speak, that things will continue to improve between these two, and they may yet end up better friends than we might have hoped. She is rediscovering the delights of being a kitten, albeit a big one, and is playful and happy; she accompanies us out into the garden every time we open the door then races back to the house before us. I think she is going to be another good gardening cat…
In the past week, as things have begun to settle, Xander even seems to have regained something of his former self, despite Faith’s over-zealous defence systems still kicking in: the distraction, it seems, is working. Now if only she would stop waking us up each night in the small hours, calling for attention downstairs…