It’s hard out here for a (new) cat

Photo by Todd Leopold.
Every week or so, I volunteer at PAWS Atlanta, a local animal shelter. I spend some time with the cats, showing them a friendly human face and giving them some care and attention.

Inevitably, I fall in love with one of them, though I’ve resisted the urge to take it home to meet my other guys.

Until last week.

Meet Mulligan, the latest member of the clan. (Mulligan continues my wife’s suggestions for jazz-inspired names, after Thelonious [RIP], Gillespie and Oscar. Mulligan is for Gerry, of course.) He’s 3 years old, a long-haired mix of … well, something. (Probably a little Persian or Himalayan.) He’s also a sweetheart, with a purr that sounds like a well-tuned sports car and a willingness to cuddle in exchange for ear scratches, though he’ll leave your lap full of orange fur.

Cats being cats, however, the other guys haven’t been as friendly to Mulligan as Mulligan would like to be to them.

Oscar hisses and hides under the bed. Gillespie bogarts his food and chases him when he leaves the guest room, where I’ve set up a temporary pair of bowls and a litter box. I’ve probably intimidated him myself, since I have to give him those cat eardrops first thing in the morning for whatever schmutz he picked up from his travels. He’s not a fan and probably resents that I’ve been interrupting his morning meal for this medication, though I always try to give him some treats afterwards.

So he’s been spending most of his time behind the futon we keep in the guest room. About the only time he’s come out on his own is 2 a.m., which I know because I’m awakened by books falling to the floor, followed by more hissing.

I know it takes time. Oscar, whom I adopted during my year in Ann Arbor, was taken aback when he came to Atlanta and had to share a house with two other cats. He spent the first month under the bed. Gillespie, too, was harassed when he was a young ‘un, 16 years ago. The books say to give it a couple weeks, at least, and much more before things are normal — or “normal.”

Yet I worry that Mulligan, who seems like a sensitive soul (oh, how I anthropomorphize these creatures!), will be scarred somehow. I worry that I’ve tampered with the friendly and playful atmosphere we had with just Gillespie and Oscar. I want everyone to be pals.

I tell myself it’s been easier (so far) than when I brought Oscar home. At one point Oscar got in a fight with Gillespie and slashed Gillespie’s tail, a portion of which had to be amputated when Gillespie wouldn’t leave it alone. At that time I also had Queenie, the first cat I ever adopted, who was an alpha all the way and barely tolerated Gillespie, much less Oscar.

So time it is. I’ll put out the food and hand out the treats and try to scratch Oscar’s belly and pet Gillespie’s ears, along as give quality time to Mulligan. Eventually, the new guy will be, simply, one of the guys. And then I’ll just have to worry about vacuuming rugs and paying vet bills.


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