Friday, November 18, 2011

Why I Kept My Difficult Cat

I think of all the decisions I've made that confound friends and family the most, it was my decision to keep our cat Schnapps.

We adopted Schnapps from a local no-kill shelter. I saw him sitting alone in his cage and my heart immediately went out to him. My original intention was to adopt an older cat, but we couldn't find "the one." This little guy was sitting quietly in his cage and I thought (wrongly) that meant he would be a calm kitten. 

In another mistake on my part, I kept Schnapps locked alone in a small room in our house with his litter box and cat toys. This tactic works fine if you've adopted a cat who was raised by its mother and thus was properly attached and stimulated. Schnapps was found in a bag with his brother, floating in a pond, an obvious attempt at drowning them. Just like humans, cats need to bond with their mothers as youngsters, or they develop attachment and aggression issues. Instead of keeping him isolated, I should have kept him in our room so that we could cuddle and attach the way he had missed out on as a kitty.

Schnapps was fine for the first week, and then the crazy cat came out. He was aggressive. A cat mitten toy I would wear was no match for full-on claws attack, and underneath the mitten there would appear fresh scratches. Once, at a physician's office, I was asked if I was self-harming. No, I had to reply. I just have an insane cat.

One day I was holding Schnapps while friends were leaving the house so that he wouldn't try to run out the door. His response was to attempt to scalp me (said friends are still a little afraid of Schnapps, and I'm certain Schnapps is the reason the husband is not keen on getting a cat for his wife).

Another time, Schnapps gave my husband a lip piercing. At night he'd come up to cuddle, but if we talked, laughed or moved he'd attack.

We also had to travel with him because living in a college town around the holidays, there wasn't anyone to pet sit. So we took him to my in-laws, where tensions were high because he was absolutely terrified of my 4 year old sister in law, and I was terrified of what he might attack/scratch/hurt. 

The straw that broke the camel's back was when Schnapps almost scratched out my eye. My husband and I loaded him in the crate, and I was heartbroken, thinking that maybe he simply wasn't fit for ownership, and that we'd have to put him down.

At the vet's office it was suggested that we put him on an anti-depressant. They also encouraged us to get Schnapps a buddy, but because we were renting at that time we could only do one pet. At this point we knew Schnapps needed to be able to go outside and to have other cats to interact with, but those were things we couldn't provide.

He was put on the anti-depressant, and things improved. People thought we were absolutely ridiculous for doing this, and I had to come to terms with something: I take pet ownership way more seriously than a majority of the population. Schnapps isn't just a pet, he's a companion, and when I said I'd adopt him, I meant ADOPT, not give it a try and then give up on him. He was family--an insane, aggressive member of our family--but family nonetheless.

They didn't get 100% better, but it was manageable. When we traveled to my Dad's for Chistmas and my sister brought her cats, Schnapps was like a new cat. He had tons of space to roam the 2500 sq ft house. He had buddies. He was snuggly and affectionate. He stopped attacking our ankles every time we walked by.

We knew that we needed space and other cats. Finally, we moved. And Schnapps had a yard and a new cat to play (fight) with.

Schnapps is still not the cuddle bug I was hoping for, but now he is a good cat whose only behavioral problem is spats with Cider (pictured above) and the occasional ripping of the carpet. He has freedom, and a neighbor's orange cat that comes over for visits and play time, and they go exploring together in our yard and the wood behind the house.

If I had listened to people who said, "Seriously, just get rid of him," I wouldn't have had the chance to see him become the cat he was meant to be. I wouldn't have tried to help him get better, I would have just kicked him to the curb.

Sometimes people do need to get rid of their animals, because they have needs the owners can't provide (friends who adopted a hyper dog had to rehome her in a place with land and constant attention that they couldn't give themselves).

Because we knew eventually we'd be in a place where Schnapps would be happy, we stuck it out with him. And now my heart melts when he snuggles with us at night and I know he's not going to attack, ever. And when he comes trotting in the door with his orange tabby friend playfully batting at his heels.

And I'm relieved that I don't have to try to shove a food-covered pill down his throat once a day. 


  1. Gina this was wonderful. Our adopted kitty is allergic to herself, is diabetic, and at one point had an actual psychotic break. Even apart from all of that, For the longest time if you surprised her, she would attack, and Andria and I both have scars. She's had surgeries and we have to give her insulin shots and everyone agreed we should put her down, but she is our kitty. Eventually we found an all natural homeopathic diet for her that has transformed her and she too has become the cat she was meant to be. I'm so glad schnaaps and our Luna were given the chance. This made my heart happy to read about!

  2. Thank you Liz! I'm so happy for Luna. Where did you find out about homeopathic diets for a cat? I've attempted a few natural cures with my kitties (the vitamin C meat cubes were not a success) so I'm interested to hear about something that worked.


    It was seriously like magic. It is a little weird for andria and I to buy meat at the grocery store (she usually does it), but we figure now we can get it organic and humanely certified as opposed to the slaughter house stuff that's normally in pet food.

  4. I found it by googling "My Diabetic Cat won't stop crying, I don't want her to die" or something like that and then followed some forums and over and over again, people kept pointing to this diet. We were desperate enough to try anything.