Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang


We have two daughters who have very different personalities. One is way above average in the outgoing department. The other tends to try to disappear whenever she is confronted with new people. When we recently went to pick out two kittens, it was unclear if the girls chose their cats or the cats chose them. A grey striped cat bounded up to our older daughter Fiona, the outgoing one. The shy girl, Harper sat on the floor, and carefully picked up the black and white kitten that had gotten within her grasp. Once in her lap the kitten settled in and warily watched the rest of the room.

yin yang bw

They were about 3 months old when we took them home last week. The shy one immediately ran behind the washer dryer set, but they both settled in pretty quickly. It’s not clear if they are sisters, but they shared a little shelf at the animal shelter so they are close nonetheless. We were told that they were litter trained, but the shy one has a bit of a harder time getting used to our house. It took us a few days to realize that she was going behind the piano in our living room. It was a stressful weekend as we tried to figure out how to deal with the situation. I watched her like a hawk and caught her in the act a couple of times. I gently brought her to the litter box to try to teach her what to do. We also got a second litter box to see if that would help her get more comfortable. We were excited when she went to the bathroom in it. The next morning though she went under the couch. That felt like a big setback.

About 20 years ago my wife and I got our first cats. They were brother and sister and got along well. I never had pets growing up but my wife had cats and knew what to do. When we took them to the vet for the first time he told us that the male cat had a heart murmur and scheduled an echocardiogram. We were reluctant to do it, but we gave in. The expensive procedure confirmed what he thought and he had us feed the cat pills to thin its blood. Of course the cat hated it, and began to hate us as well. The pills also thinned his blood so much that he would sometimes faint when he sneezed. The first time it happened we thought he had died. After about a year we stopped giving him the pills, but the damage was done. He was a mess. A couple of years after that he started to spray. Someone would be sitting on the couch and he would turn around, raise his tail, and let it fly. Eventually we had to give him to the cat man on the Pratt campus.

Having both the cats, and later a dog, helped us to prepare to be parents. It at least made it seem possible.  Having kids has helped prepare us to be better pet owners.   We’ve tried hard, made a lot of mistakes, and I’d like to think we have slowly improved.  Our dog passed away 7 years ago, and our second cat followed 2 years later. We have been petless since then. Having kids is hard enough. However, all of us have been thinking about it for the last few months. We started to visit the pound to try out the idea. We walked a few dogs, because that’s what I wanted, and eventually settled on cats because the responsibility level is so much lower.  I still kind of want a dog, but already having cats is proving to be more difficult than I expected.

I have been working very hard to be calmer and more empathetic with my kids, and I have been a lot less stressed about things. However, I found myself becoming increasingly agitated by the litter box situation.  I kept thinking about how awful it was to live with a cat who sprayed.  It made me feel helpless and I had a lot of  anxiety about the idea that we might be walking into a similar situation.  Then I became frustrated that I was anxious about it.

Yesterday we kept her in the back hallway and every couple of hours I put her in the box and pet her. Our younger daughter did the same thing as well.  Just as we are slowly learning to do with our kids, we focused on being supportive rather than punitive.  Finally she went to the bathroom in the box and I praised her. Then this morning she jumped over the half doorway that kept her in the back hall. My wife scooped her up and walked her to the litter box. She went without much problem. She did the same thing this afternoon. I think we may be out of the woods.

The cats are very much yin and yang. The tabby has an aggressive energy. The white and black one is quiet. They mix well together.  It has been awesome to be at home and have them run around playing with each other.  It’s also been a reminder about how easily anxiety can creep back in.  It takes a lot of focus and attention to change our deeply unconscious behaviors.  The cats are already working to keep me honest.


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