She freaked out in the trap! Hardcore. Again, not knowing then what I do now, Jake and I were freaked out too. She thrashed around in the trap, bloodied her nose, we were afraid to open it because she was like a wild animal. But we couldn’t possible leave her in that trap all night, or could we? No. So we let her out in a bathroom, instinctually I have always been super paranoid about disease and fleas, etc. (perhaps a precursor sign that I was born to work in feline medicine!) She bolted around in there, but calmed down considerably quickly. Insanely, I gave her a bath, because that seemed like a swell idea at the time! We made an appointment at what was soon to be my future employer and brought her up to be tested for the communicable feline disease, treated for fleas, spayed etc.
Zinnia is the reason I am here, or Z, as we have affectionately called her for years. She started it all. Sure, I had cats before Zinnia came along, but she is what gave me my start. She presented challenges that forced me to learn more about cats and their behavior; she provided circumstances I had never dealt with before, she got me my job at my first feline veterinary practice, she was the first face of Fundamentally Feline and here is her story.
We were still living in our apartment at the time we started seeing her outside our window. All too commonly people move and just leave their cats behind. It was always dark when we would see her and we were novices, so we though she was huge, likely male and maybe even a long hair. I called the vet practice where we already took our 4 cats and they allowed us to borrow a humane trap. They taught us how to use it, suggested what to bait it with, and emphasized patience, that apparently some cats are “trap smart” and it could take weeks to catch her. Well, turns out she was pretty hungry because we laid a trail of canned food and had her in 15minutes!
I got the call that she was all done, got through surgery fine and was ready for pick up. When I go to pick up I was informed that she was pregnant but not too far along, so they spayed her anyway. Given my beliefs and the homeless pet population, I was fine with this. I was surprised at how very routine it was to do so, and how nonchalant everyone was about it though. I later learned how commonplace pregnant spays were and how necessary.
As I was returning the trap, discussing post op protocols and her follow up vaccines visit, the office manager turns to me and says, “you want a job?” I said, “are you kidding I have wanted to work here for years!” I had no experience and was about to graduate from art school, and here I am considering a job as a vet tech. So, we set up an observation day so I could see what I was getting myself into and I guess the rest is history! (I met cat #6 on my observation day, but that is another story!)
So then it was integration time. We had 4 male cats already, two pairs of brothers. So Zinnia was the “odd man out”. She was pretty “pissy” but all and all the intro went ok. Knowing what I know now I feel certain that Zinnia was likely someone’s only kitten, and was what we call poorly socialized. She likely grew up isolated from her our species and did not understand all of the social cues that most kittens learn from their litter mates in the first few formative weeks of life. I have always been a believer in adopting in pairs, just because it seemed like the right thing to do, but Z confirmed this! So she coped.
Then we moved. Shortly after Zinnia settled in we bought our first house, our only house thus far, and the house that has landed us on Animal Planet and in magazines for the feline accommodations we have made for it. It was good at first, more space for successful avoidance with the boys. When #6 came along that wasn’t so bad either, that was Peaches and she loved everyone. But by now I had started my job at the clinic; in fact, I started there the day after we moved into the house. The influx of stray and down on their luck cats in need of homes, blew me away. I set out to save the world, and well, adopted way too many cats too quickly.
So, within two months we went from 4 cats to 5, to 6 to eleven! In came Mamma and her babies. Our first foster failures and Zinnia was pissed. I do not know if there was any psychological impact on her having recently aborted her kittens, or if I just had a few too many bitchy females. Regardless, I had two females that hated each other (Mammas and Z) and some males that were happy to join in the fun, and some kittens who were about to grow up to be little hoodlums! Well, actually, they were amazing, but Zinnia never did take too kindly to them. The trouble shooting began.
As time passed by I somehow thought it was a good idea to have even more cats. And, well, it was! In fact, it was the best experience of our lives, except for poor Zinnia. You see, she was really the only one that wasn’t having a good time. It became imperative that food, water, litter, vertical space was provided in every room of the house, but most especially in Z’s favorite places. Everyone would come to use everything, but it had to be right for her. You see, successful avoidance became the goal. I didn’t need her to be cuddled up on an armchair grooming one of the kittens, but I needed her to be able to get to all of her basic needs without being attacked in the litter box, kicked off the top of a cat condo, etc. I think that is the big take home message. When you have cats that do not love each other, why do we make it so hard for them? They should not have to share a food dish in the kitchen or one hooded litter box in the laundry room, through a cat flap! It is ridiculous the obstacles we humans make these cats cope with and then we get upset when they don’t comply!
Zinnia, taught me about what I now call Tarzan syndrome or only child syndrome. Cats learn the majority of their social skills with other cats by 9-12 weeks of age and if not around other cats during that formative time, they tend to be aggressive with their own species. Zinnia was defensively aggressive towards the other cats and often provoked the fights she was in due to her lack of confidence around them. She taught me that sometimes you have to adopt cats for your cats and not cats just because YOU want them. She taught me about providing an environment of plenty so we make successful avoidance feasible. Z is extremely senior now and my number one priority. No other animals will come into this house to stress her out. I am rooting for her to outlive just as many as she can so she can enjoy herself. She is a happy cat, but I think she could have been happier had I known then what I know now. Hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it? I am better for it now and better equipped to help others with cats just like Zinnia who have found themselves in this situation. Thank you Z.
I quickly had to take a much deeper interest into how to properly meet the needs of a multi-cat household. This wasn’t about filling the food bowls and scooping boxes anymore. Thanks to Zinnia’s poor feline socialization skills and my overzealous need to save every cat on earth I developed a profound interest in environmental enrichment. This wasn’t really what I was hearing it be called at the time. Life became all about increasing the vertical space in our home to increase square footage and giving the cats lots of cool stuff to do. I later learned that was all called EE or Environmental enrichment!