When I was picking the name for my platform two years ago I desperately wished for Mother of Dogs, but it had already been taken. I settled for the Mother of Rescues instead, but I always kind of felt the need to specifically explain that I only have dogs. In fact, I never even considered having cats because I am such a dog person. I figured that cats are far too independent for me, so I would worry about them roaming around too much. Besides, everyone told me they have a very snarky personality and aren’t as affectionate as dogs. I really believed that to be true, so I never considered having cats at all.
A little over a month ago, right on the day of the Scorpio Full Moon, I was sitting on my balcony when a stray cat climbed up on it. She looked to be in a really bad shape. Because I was already feeding another stray cat at the time, I luckily had cat food in the pantry so I went and got it. The cat trusted me immediately and as she came closer to eat I could see that she was really roughed up. She had a bunch of hair missing, a tiny wound on her neck, a stitch hanging out of her belly and the top of her left ear cut off - both of which was an indication that she had been spayed not long ago. She was very hungry. It seemed like she can’t get enough of food. After she’s been fed, I tried to slowly touch her, fully thinking that this feral cat is not going to let me do it. Well, she did! Not only that, she immediately lied on her back and exposed her belly to me, asking for cuddles. The bond was there instantly - just like that.
After that, she never left. She was always either on our balcony or our roof. She tried to get into the house multiple times through the open windows and one time even got stuck on a half-open window. The dogs barked at her if they saw her, but she really didn’t seem to mind - or run away. I took her to the vet a few days in, because her stitch didn’t look good. They took the stitch out, gave her an antibiotic for an infection she had and informed me that she had overcome microsporia before I found her. That’s why her hair was missing and why she was used to humans and the house - she must have been recovering for a while before they spayed and returned her to the streets. Her behavior at the vet stunned me. She was absolutely calm and not panicky at all. I expected to come away from the examination completely scratched - I wore long sleeves on purpose. But little cat did absolutely nothing, she just patiently underwent the examination - because she had been through all of this before, of course. After we got a clear bill of health and the vet logged her into the system, we headed home.
It was clear to me, at that time already, that this little soul belongs with us.
I named her Shadow, which may seem an odd choice for a name but it really fits her. First, it was the whole Scorpio Moon thing. I’m really big on astrology and Scorpio is a sign that rules the shadows. It’s a sign that is inviting us into the unknown. Her arrival pushed me into complete unknown and made me face a lot of my misconceptions and prejudices. The second reason is that I couldn't go anywhere without this cat following me like a true shadow. We have windows all around the home (we live in a big attic apartment), which means she can comfortably see into the house from the roof. If I was in the kitchen, she was at the kitchen window. When I went into the bedroom, she went to the bedroom window. So little shadow earned her name; Shadow.🖤
I realized really quickly that Shadow doesn’t want to be an outside cat. She loves being outside and has all the freedom in the world, sure, but she prefers spending most of her time inside with us. Once that became clear (basically on day three), I knew I had to socialize the dogs to this cat. We have two Irish Setters who genuinely don’t care about cats, so they weren’t too much of a challenge. I’m still a little panicky if Ruby is in the same space as her and off the leash, simply because she is such a giant dog and Shadow is so small, but there truly haven’t been any incidents, so we’re doing great!
Then there are my dogs. I’ll start with Bailey - my reactive little treasure. I truly thought she’s going to be the toughest cookie because she has an insane prey drive. At the beginning, I was right. I tried to do counter-conditioning but she was so over the threshold it was impossible. So I took a different approach - I put her on the leash and we just walked past the cat (who was safely in a transporter) from a certain distance and kept these sessions super short. I reinforced her for keeping her focus on me at first, but gradually moved to reinforcing her for looking at the cat and staying calm. Eventually we could do a circle around Shadow and then I just kept them in the same space (outside), each of them behind a boundary, so they got used to each other’s presence and practiced calmness. I’m actually surprised by how quickly it clicked in Bailey’s head that this cat is not prey but a family member. I can now have Shadow in my lap and Bailey just comes up to us, sniffs her and then leaves. She’s still a little afraid of her, because Bailey always needs a certain amount of time to start trusting a new animal, but I’m okay with that. I’m outstandingly proud!
Chilly on the other hand was immediately okay with the cat (he has zero prey instinct) and we had a couple of beautiful counter-conditioning sessions. They were textbook perfect. But he does have a shortcoming: he is very playful and his border collie nature makes him a little too fast and often too rough when he is playing. This has never been a problem before because both of my dogs are VERY high-energy. One of the reasons I wanted a BC was because I needed someone who can keep up with Bailey - and despite Chilly being so fast and energetic, he is still not a match for her speed! ;) When they play, they are absolutely insane; but their dynamic is beautiful to watch. If Chilly gets a little too raunchy, Bailey lets him know. However, I can’t really expect him to have this dynamic with Shadow. When she is still, all is well. But when she moves, he wants to jump at her and bark at her to play, but she runs away as an instinct. We only had one incident when I didn't see her come into our yard but Chilly did. He was after her before I could even get a chance to react. He was trying to herd her - that’s his instinct. Shadow seemed to know it wasn’t life and death because she wasn’t even really running away or trying to defend herself, she just looked mildly annoyed that he was in her space. Nobody got hurt but I did have a minor heart-attack.
I’ve never been one of those owners that put the responsibility of harmonious cohabitation on their animals, rather than carry it themselves. (You know the ones … “Oh you just need to let them hash it out themselves. They need to figure it out on their own.” Yeah, NOPE!)
I’m overseeing every single interaction very carefully. I am afraid that Chilly might unintentionally hurt her or that Shadow will snap at him and hurt him. I want both of them to feel safe and calm around each other. So as of now, they are only together when we are in the house, where they are both calm and still. Mutual time in the yard so far is off the limits. The next step in our training will be that I have Chilly on the leash in the yard with Shadow present. He is the smartest boy in the universe and I know that he will soon learn that she is simply not his playmate or herding buddy. If he knew it with chickens, he’ll know it with the cat!
The last furry baby that is trying to adjust to our new reality is Ringo. He has only been with us since September last year and came to us with a big and unmanaged prey drive. He’s had the toughest time adjusting to Shadow’s presence, but is making progress each and every day! My sister is very committed to his training and I am truly proud of both of them. As of now, Ringo doesn’t bark anymore when he hears her meowing at the window or when he sees her in my lap as I carry her past him. This is already a huge success!
As you can see, we have all hands on deck socializing our five dogs to this little feline creature.
She is absolutely unaffected by the presence of the dogs. She doesn’t care about them whatsoever and shows no fear around them, to the point where I wonder if she even has survival instinct, haha. She is also the most gentle animal I have ever held. She loves to cuddle all day long, she falls asleep in my arms, she just wants to be near me no matter what I’m doing. Has everybody lied to me about the nature of cats? Have I been pranked by the world? She does roam around during the day, but not as much as I thought she would. She spends the majority of the day with us. Needless to say, I am absolutely smitten with her. I am completely in love. She is such a cuddle bug and just what my soul needed at this point in my life.
I never thought I’d ever have a cat but the universe had different plans - and I finally understand why the name Mother of Rescues was always, always meant to be.❤️
This is a story about Shadow and her five canine family members. What is your kitty story? Do you have dog and cat babies living together as well? Please share your experience in the comments! I would love to hear some tips and tricks on how you are balancing both! :)