I am lucky enough to be able to help cats in my own home through fostering programs as well as in clients’ homes. Because I have space, I can invite rescue cats who need medical attention, behavioral assistance or both to stay with me. While temporary feline guests are asked to live in either the guest bedroom or guest bathroom, Pergo and Colonel Lint have the run of the rest of the house.
I am always intrigued to discover how Pergo and Lint will welcome a new guest. As each foster cat is introduced slowly via smell and sound behind a closed door, the fluffy brothers have the chance to decide how they want to establish their dominance in the household. Usually, they take the traditional route of hissing under the door. This is a classic communication that the foster cats immediately understand to mean that if and when they are allowed to explore the house, these other cats are dominant and should be treated as such.
Kittens tend to understand this perfectly. My favorite example was a kitten named Fred who came to my house to be quarantined for Calicivirus. Since vaccinated cats are safe from this virus, there was no danger that Fred would infect my big boys. But he needed to be separated from other babies, especially his own little sister, until he was healthy again.
After 10 days, Fred was recovered and acting like the rambunctious kitten he was born to be. At the same time, the hissing under the door had subsided. So, I let Fred out for a supervised exploration of the house. He was running full speed through rooms and down hallways until he saw Pergo. We can’t know exactly what Fred was thinking at this moment. But I imagine that there was an immediate recognition because both Fred and Pergo are orange tabbies. I also know that Fred’s mom is a calico and his only sister has Siamese markings. So, we can imagine that Fred was seeing a cat that looked like him – granted almost 10 times his size – for the first time.
Fred proceeded to follow Pergo around the house for the next few days. Anything Pergo did, Fred wanted to do, too, even if it meant clumsily climbing into one of the big cat litter boxes or struggling to pull himself up an inch at a time onto the six-foot cat tree. Fred was determined to do what Pergo the big cat did. He was learning from him and being mentored by him.
While Pergo is usually a laid back fluffy fellow without a care in the world beyond his food, toys and hanging out with his brother, he took on the responsibility of watching out for Fred with a maturity I’d never seen in him before. While he did act irritated because the little guy was always at his heels, he made room for Fred on the window sill and he stepped aside if Fred wanted to eat out of the same bowl or play with the same toy.
After Fred was virus free for about a week, it was time for him to go to the adoption center. His healthy sister had already been adopted, so he was put into a large condo with a different litter of kittens. I’ll never forget how he ran around jumping on them trying to get them to play with the type of energy he was used to from Pergo. But this litter of kittens was a lazy bunch and didn’t respond to Fred’s insistent pushing and mewing.
But not to worry… Fred was adopted by a kind young recent college graduate within a day and a half. The young guy and the baby boy kitten went off to start their new life together as best friends full of purring and playing.
But Pergo didn’t know what had happened to Fred. Back at the house, he walked around the calling out to Fred and looking for him everywhere. I tried to explain that Fred went to his new forever home and that he would be very happy. But, of course, Pergo doesn’t speak English. So, he responded by spending an afternoon sleeping in the sink in the guest bathroom that had been Fred’s temporary digs.
We have had many foster cats and kittens at the house before and since. But I don’t think there’s any question that Pergo liked Fred the best… even if he acted irritated while he was followed around by his little shadow, he sure did notice when he wasn’t there anymore.