Since the main reason that The Crescent City Cat Club exists is to adopt out homeless animals, I thought I would devote my first column to addressing how to introduce your new BFF to your home, and any entrenched animals that might already be in residence.
First of all, try to make the trip from his or her previous home, be it a shelter or someone else’s home, as comfortable as possible. If possible, try to use a carrier that allows the cat to see you. We frequently have to use disposable cardboard carriers due to the practicalities of the situation, but these do not allow the animal to see, and usually require that the animal be “stuffed” into the carrier without much care for their comfort. I think that this is a bad way to start the trip to their new home. My preferred carrier is one with a wire door that can be opened and closed; that allows the cat to feel secure; for you to be able to make eye contact, soothing noises and to touch him or her; and for the cat to see what is going on, and what is making the noises that s/he hears during his or her journey. Don’t you find that the noises of things happening in the dark, that you can’t see, are scarier than those you can see and identify? I do.
Make the trip as short as possible to reduce anxiety for both of you. No errands on the way.
Once the cat has arrived at his or her new home, the best scenario is that you have a prepared small space that s/he can live in by themselves for a few days, such as a bathroom or small bedroom, or even a well-lit closet. Into this room you would have placed a litter box, some food (preferably the one they have been eating) and water, the carrier you have brought them in (assuming it’s one like I have described, so they can stay in it until they feel safe enough to venture out), some toys, and a towel or blanket or cat bed they can snuggle into.
Once the cat has been installed in this room, go into the space frequently, using your best soothing voice, and bringing treats. Spend some time in the space with the cat, petting it and generally trying to make him or her comfortable. It may only take a few hours for the cat to acclimate, depending on how confident s/he is. Or it may take several days before s/he is ready for the next step. Each cat is different and you need to go as slowly as YOUR cat indicates you should
If you don’t have the luxury of dedicating a space to this process, I REALLY recommend the use of the kind of carrier that the cat can see out of. Once in the new home, find the quietest part of the house and let the cat hang out in the carrier for some time, while s/he gets used to the sounds and smells of the new house. If you have other animals in the home, keep them out of the area where you have placed the carrier by shutting the door to the room, or putting the preexisting pet in another part of the house; it’s only for a little while, and gives the new animal some space.
Eventually, depending on how frightened vs. curious the new cat appears, you can open the carrier, but leave it in place for the newbie to retreat to. Let your new BFF explore at his or her own pace, and if possible, let him or her have this space for up to 12 hours. Then, if there is a second animal, let them smell each other under the door, if there is a door. If nothing else, put the newbie in the bathroom, let it get accustomed to that room (if s/he hasn’t been being kept there up until this point), and then allow the two cats to sniff each other under the door. Give them both lots of treats during this process
If you brush your cat, try grooming him or her, then the new cat, then your first-there again. This way they will get used to each other’s smell. Then try putting the first animal in the new-pet space, and the new kitty in the rest of the house, so they can further adjust to each others’ smells. Then put them back to their original places. Do this for a day or two.
At this point, they are probably trying to see and/or get to each other. Under close supervision, you can allow the two animals to be in the same space, preferably a neutral area, that “belongs” to neither one of them. Try not to favor one over the other. If the newbie is a kitten, interact with your older cat at least as much as the kitten, to avoid jealousy. Again, give them both treats during this process.
Hopefully they will adjust to sharing the space, and you and your family members, with each other. That doesn’t mean there won’t be flare-ups. As long as they are short-lived, and don’t seem to be serious, let them work it out between themselves. If it seems that they are going to hurt each other, step in and intercede. DO NOT PUT YOUR HANDS OR FACE BETWEEN THEM. Insert a foot, or shoo one to another space with a broom, and give them a time out. Soon they will learn the rules and come to coexist in the home together. In most cases, they will want to hang out together, for the company, and may even come to love each other. Good luck with this process. Most animals are happier and healthier with an animal companion as well as two-legged ones in their lives, than without. If you take it slowly and gently, there is no reason why your animals can’t share you, too!