By now I’ve sent a few shelter cats home with friends of mine. It always makes me a little nervous—what if the cat turns out to be a total nightmare and then I’m the one who helped put it in a home where it’s not working out. But luckily, things have mostly worked out so far.
For instance, last year, I saw a group of kittens at the shelter, including one small gray kitten, and immediately texted his photo to my friend Sonja. She and her (now) husband had one cat, Zola, who they adopted several years ago at the age of about 4 months from a shelter in Arlington, Virginia. Sonja had been wistfully suggesting she wanted a second cat for months, and Sam had finally started agreeing with her. But I was the one who texted that photo to alert Sonja of a new litter of kittens to the Animal Rescue League of Boston. A couple days later, she walked home with Milo, a tabby from the same litter as the gray kitten.
Most people think of cats as solitary creatures. But any cat owner with more than one feline knows that cats can be just as social as dogs— in fact, most cats thrive with a companion or two of the same species.
Kittens use their littermates to learn appropriate behaviors, such as how hard they should bite and how rough is too rough during playtime and which social cues (like a hiss, or a meow) mean what. Kittens that are separated from their littermates too young often turn into cats that bite, unless their owner knows how to teach those things, which takes a lot of effort.
Really, it’s all about what your kitten is exposed to (and the positive experiences associated with it). Kittens who live with other cats or kittens are generally going to like other cats, unless of course the cats they lived with terrorized them. Kittens who live with respectful dogs are going to like dogs. I’m half convinced that my own cat Smirnoff must have lived with a dog at a very young age, because he seems to like them, despite the fact I’ve never owned a dog (I sometimes bring my sister’s dog over). Bacardi, on the other hand, I know grew up with his sister and he generally likes any cat he meets. But he’s afraid of dogs, probably because he had never seen one before my sister’s.
For any cat that comes into the shelter and hates other cats, it’s not because the animal instinctively hates other cats. It’s that he/she has never been around other cats from a young age or has only had bad experiences with other cats.
But even if your cat has spent several years as an only animal, it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy living with another cat. Especially if you adopted your feline—it may have lived with other cats or a dog before it came to live with you, and those early experiences make a huge difference.
And very often, having a second cat around makes a huge difference for cats with behavioral issues (Smirnoff included).
Now Zola, Sonja’s first cat, had a habit of peeing on things when she was “mad.” (Note: a cat is not going to do anything out of revenge or anger—those are purely human notions—but let’s say that sometimes Zola would get stressed and show her stress by urinating on things she wasn’t supposed to.) Zola had also hissed at other cats she could see outside the apartment window, so it was with some hesitation that Sonja and I (and her husband) set out to introduce Milo to the group.
There was some hissing, sure. But that’s normal. In a surprisingly short amount of a time for a female cat with some “attitude,” Zola was allowing Milo to run around the apartment—under her careful supervision, of course.
And now, well…
Zola has lost so much weight (such a good thing) since we got him, she no longer is upset with us when we come home from trips, and for better or worse, she’s trained milo to wake me up when SHE’s hungry…he’s basically her minion…
Also it’s just super entertaining to watch them play and have two kitties to love on.
And Zola seems to have stopped urinating on things, despite now having to share litterboxes with another cat.
For a moment, imagine yourself living in a home with complete strangers who speak a language you can’t understand and have trouble learning. After a while, you start to get used to the strangers—you may even come to like them and be able to communicate a bit. But then, your best friend from home comes to visit. Your best friend who knows exactly what you’re thinking before you even say it. And suddenly, you’re so much more relaxed having someone who speaks your language. Someone who understands you without you having to constantly try to translate your wants and needs to them.
That’s what it’s like for a cat (and, I imagine, any other domesticated animal as well). Having another cat around that speaks the feline language is not only reassuring, it’s more fun.
That’s not to say that all cats will love each other. I lucked out with Smirnoff and Bacardi, who will even share the same litterbox at the same time. Sonja lucked out as well. I’ve heard plenty of other people at the shelter talk about how their own cats merely coexist with each other. But it’s always worth a try.
And I’ll always suggest to my friends to add another feline to their lives.