My New Cat Has Torn My World Asunder
She's perfect! But she brought a LOT of problems with her.
Three months ago my husband and I got a third cat, and since then she has torn our peaceful world asunder.
To be clear, there is nothing actually wrong with Anya (that’s her name). I find her precious and perfect, from her ability to climb on our shoulders and purr near instantaneously, down to her nickname (Onion, for which there are many cute variations — “stinky Onion,” “spicy Onion,” “sweet Onion,” etc!), which makes this conundrum all the more heartbreaking!
At the time of her adoption she was two months old — a teeny, scrappy black-brown-gray tabby with anxious grey holes for eyes floating under faint brows, and a straight line for a mouth, who was quietly terrified of me and Christian during our first meeting. I had to slide her out from under the couch in the office space of her foster home, her teeny daggers and newborn front legs straining in vain. But once we sat her on the couch, and Christian bowed to her several times (in a bid to honor her or get her to smell his head, I can’t say), she gingerly sat in his lap before curling up in the crook of his arm and falling asleep. She stayed like that for half an hour while her other litter siblings crawled all over us, but we knew she was ours.
It was always our intention to get a third cat, though I’m not quite sure why. Indeed, the reasons to have not gotten a third cat certainly outweighed the reasons to get one. First of all, our so-called nuclear cat family was already complete. We had two cats, a pair of murderous and chubby orange adult tabbies who are a year apart. Secondly, Christian and I live in an apartment just shy of 1,200 feet — not a closet, but perhaps not quite enough space for two people, three cats, and the recommended four litter boxes they allegedly require. And thirdly, perhaps most embarrassingly, we’re both very allergic to cats.
I know it sounds irrational, to own not just one cat, but multiple cats, when they cause you great physical distress. But if you’ve ever had a mild food allergy to something you really enjoy eating, you understand this conundrum.
It may help to understand that I acquired both of these cats very unintentionally. In 2017, my sibling had found Biscuit as a six-month-old kitten in the local Walmart parking lot in Houston, and I offered to take him in, not because I liked cats (my feelings at the time were neutral at best), but because I was lonely living on my own. The following year my best friend got Tangie, and when she was no longer able to keep her, Tangie became mine. Four years later, Christian and I deeply love them both, and have come to learn just how amazing and special cats are (and, more importantly, how much we were brainwashed by anti-cat propaganda funded by Big Dog).
Alas, as special as cats are, that level of allergen tolerance required years of constant dander exposure and daily Zyrtec to cultivate, a process that starts over again with each new cat. Despite all these reasons to stay a two-cat household, a third cat was always in the plans, maybe because I had never actually “picked out” any of the cats we have, and maybe because Christian never had the opportunity to raise a kitten himself.
Even then, we thought we’d adopt a third cat much further off in the future, not within our first year of marriage. But after months of sending videos of cats being precious back and forth on Twitter and TikTok, and one particularly difficult week in May, we began looking through the local no-kill shelter website on a whim. We found Anya’s profile (then, Venus), sent an email to her foster family, and brought her home a week later.
Anya had a case of ringworm when we adopted her (which the shelter disclaimed). It was difficult to treat, but allowed us to introduce her to Biscuit and Tangie slowly since she had to be kept in isolation until her culture samples came back negative. So for the first two months after her adoption, she lived in our guest bathroom, with a doggie gate installed in front of the door to keep the cats from pawing at each other even with the door closed.
It sucked to physically separate Anya from the rest of our home, but it gave the adult cats an opportunity to smell and catch glimpses of her and get used to her scent before having to physically be around her. After the first month, Biscuit and Tangie began sitting near the bathroom door, tending to her whining, or trying to crowd around her door during meals. Eventually we let them see each other for longer periods of time with the door wide open, them observing Anya as I played with her, the doggie gate maintaining their physical distance.
I won’t even get into all the cleaning and clothing and bathing and disinfecting that Christian and I did while she was quarantined. It was all hard, but when she was finally cleared to explore the rest of the apartment, we agreed it was worth it. We thought that would be the worst of our problems with Anya — that as soon as she was cleared she could join us and the two cats in our nice cozy bed. Alas our problems had only just begun.
I think about the warning that my friend Jazz heeded me earlier this summer — cats are social creatures, and your relationships with two cats is independent from the relationship they have with each other, just like our relationships with other people. At the time, I thought I knew what they were talking about, but until Anya could finally be around Biscuit and Tangie, I had absolutely no clue what her inclusion would do to the dynamic of our nuclear cat family.
I thought that the two months of doorway meet and greets had been enough to get Biscuit and Tangie to warm up to their sibling, but they were ice cold from the start. For the first few nights post-isolation, the adult cats refused to enter our bedroom, preferring to sleep on their living room furniture, avoiding a rambunctious Anya who opted to tackle whichever cat crossed her sight.
Then, I thought it was promising that Biscuit took to play fighting with Anya, laying around on his back and lazily snapping his jaws in her direction like a good older brother. But I miscalculated, watching Tangie, who up until that point was Biscuit’s only antagonist, watch them from across the room as Anya bonded with her best friend. And though she tried to play with Anya, the fact that they were both hunters instead of huntees made Anya shy away from Tangie’s presence. When Tangie would nibble on Anya while trying to groom her, Anya would freak out, hissing at her attempt at affection.
Things got worse. There were more frequent fights between Tangie and Biscuit, as if Tangie could feel herself being rejected by this new Anya-Biscuit unit and effectively replaced. Not play fights, but cat fights, where Tangie is screaming, screeching at the top of her lungs like someone coming undone, and hiding atop a rack of shoes or behind a coffee table.
Oftentimes I rush into whatever room the screaming is coming from (maybe the living room, maybe a dark bathroom) to find Biscuit cornering Tangie, and Anya watching fearfully from afar. I’ll break them up, but will find myself trying to mitigate fights as if I’m a middle school lunchroom monitor and could get to the bottom of who bit who first in a bid to stop their fighting altogether.
It’s not all bad, though. Sometimes we’ll catch the three of them being each other’s accomplices, which is the bond I hoped they’d eventually have. For just a moment it’s like they’re three musketeers, or Alvin and the Chipmunks. We’ll wake up to Tangie having opened our bathroom door over night (she’s the smartest of the three, I’m convinced) and find the three of them hanging around like it’s NBD, standing in the bathtub, toying with a towel hanging to dry, loafing on a bath mat, ignoring my annoyed pleas for them to scatter. It’s a glimpse into a future that I think we aimed to have when we got a third cat — that they’d all be best friends and clean and pillow on one another — but each time, it’s brief.
It is, optimistically, getting better. A little over a month into this living arrangement, Anya now tolerates a few of Tangie’s licks and nibbles before slinking away. It does remind me of how Biscuit eventually took to Tangie when she first joined the household, but it’s still far from the three-cat dream we envisioned for ourselves. That’s on us, really, having this totally idealistic vision of how a third cat would improve our lives, instead of thinking about them as individuals with their own personalities and needs, and how they might get along with our adult cats, or not.
Alas, I wrote too soon. Just minutes after typing this sentence, I’ve been interrupted by another fight, this time between Tangie and Anya. I opened the office door amid a cacophony of screaming and hissing just in time to see Tangie in full aggression-tail mode, springing toward Anya like a small bull, who was cowering under a cat tree, hissing in defense. I fed them right afterwards, and they immediately calmed down. I’m beginning to wonder if this is part of their scam against Christian and I, to get us to feed them earlier in the day. The simpler answer, however, is that they hate each other. We’ve irreparably tipped the cat scales in the Glover-Grasso household, and now our cats hate each other, and it’s all our fault.