Saturday, February 4, 2012

It's Not You, It's Me: My Kitty Julie Goes Solo

We've had our kitty Julie for almost nine years now.  (We also have many friends named Julie, which makes for some awkward conversational moments:  "Julie was crawling onto my lap yesterday, and….the cat!  Not your wife!")  

Julie on her perch, looking disgruntled

Years ago, we acquired Julie fairly randomly.  My parents have a farm, and in the barn, they have cats.  A litter of kittens had appeared, and one of the kittens was a beautiful long-haired grey cat with smokey silver tips on its fur.  We decided to abscond with this lovely beast while visiting one day, as long as the kitten was a girl.  We were fixed on having an all girl household, so we wouldn't have to deal with marking behaviors.

We checked the silver grey kitty, and it was a he.  And his next best-looking sibling was also a he.  Finally, we checked our last option, a little black kitty with white patches and a little black Hitler mustache.  Female.  Well, okay, we thought.  We loaded her into the truck and started home.  She snuggled with me for the long drive.  Sequestered in the bathroom at home, she immediately played with anyone who came in to use the facilities and purred her little heart out.  

Stretchy Kitty
Each time we moved, Julie's first hiding place was always in the bathroom, behind the toilet.  I think her earliest experience caused her to imprint on the bathroom as the safest room of the house!

Camille and Fidget were already established in our household.  Camille was a rescue from a bad household, Fidget was a rescue from a breeder who kept her in a cage.  Fidget was supposed to be a companion to Camille, but was very stand-offish, and ended up ruling the household from wherever she perched.  

Once released into the wilds of our apartment, Julie immediately endeared herself to Camille by playing with her all the time.  Julie's playful spirit brought out the inner kitten in Camille, who had never been able to be a kitten in her previous life of scrounging food and trying to survive.  These two, though mismatched in size, were constant companions.  Over the years, they have slowed down, but they can still be seen occasionally jumping around each other and swatting a bit.

Julie, in a rare moment of solidarity with Fidget
Julie's superpower is hiding.  She's mostly black, so she blends in to any dark corner, and she's really tiny for a full-grown cat, so she can fit in places that most kitties can't.  In one of our apartments, she managed to burrow under a huge sideboard with a decorative edging around the bottom of the wood.  Seeing her under there scared me senseless!  We found some pieces of scrap wood and placed them all around the sideboard so that she couldn't do that again.

But no matter what, she found a good hiding place.  I would wander around the house calling her name, and eventually I'd turn a corner yet again, and see her sitting there, blinking, right where I had already looked four times.  She seemed to have the disappearing trick down pat.  
Were you looking for me?  I was right here the whole time.
A few years back, we rescued two more kitties, Toby and Heather.  These are large cats, and when they came on the scene, our three established kitties were not thrilled at all.  Over the years, Camille and Fidget grew tolerant of them, and Julie learned to hang back and wait to see what would happen.  Toby always wants to play with everyone, so without meaning to, he's really upset Julie more than once, just by trying to play.  

This is Toby, when he was younger and smaller.  I put the yardstick in the pic for SCALE.
In the last few weeks, the change inherent in 2012 has manifested in our cats.  The play scuffles have gotten worse, and Julie has gotten more fearful than ever before.  Heather has decided to police the litter boxes and keep Julie (only Julie for some reason!) from using the litter boxes.  Julie has been peeing on dirty laundry in the utility room, bath mats in the kitchen, and on our area rugs.  We have never had a litter box problem like this before, and it was really clear that Julie was not having a good time.

On the advice of a really brilliant friend of mine, we decided that Julie needed her own room, at least for a while.  James' room is usually closed off anyway, so we cleaned up the stacks of magazines and books, and made a little room for Julie.  We put her food and water bowls on the floor, laid her favorite blanket on a bench, set up a litter box with towels all around it, and lay a little towel on the windowsill so she could lay there and watch the birds and squirrels outside.  She's got a nightlight and a closet to hide in, and there's a chair with a blanket so I can sit with her every day.  

I was getting very upset while we were setting up this room.  I was angry and crying and very sad.  But when I thought about it, I was sad for me.  I felt like a bad mom.  I felt that if we had to do something so drastic as to separate Julie from the rest of the kitties, I must be doing something wrong.  I also felt horrible for Julie, to be all alone in the room, separated from everybody else, and away from everything that was going on.

But this wasn't about me.  It was about Julie.  

Julie has been very happy since she got her own room, only 24 hours ago.  She has used the litter box correctly more than once already, she smells the kitties who are trying to swat under her doorway and swats back at them (!), she eats her food and bounces around the room, and she lays on the towel in the windowsill and is very very cute.  She even found a few extra hiding places under the desk (so sneaky).  

Julie being silly
In short, she's more herself than before.  I didn't realize how scared and constrained she must have been feeling, to be so quiet and hidden and sad.  She was okay, she just didn't feel safe enough to be all of herself, all the time.  Now that she has her room, she can revisit her old self, and be happy going forward.

We all feel that way sometimes.  But this is a reminder that we don't have to.  We just have to find our own room, recharge, and face the world as our true selves once again.