Several steps forward and several other steps back

I’ve debated about the title of this. Should it be two steps forward, three steps back? Three steps forward, two steps back? Two steps forward, two steps back? I think the ratio of steps has changed over the two weeks I’ve been writing this … we’re moving forwards again 🙂

As many of you know, we’re a tiny rescue with just two rescue rooms. The story since just before Christmas described very simply is: Oliver moved in, Hamish moved in, Oliver moved out, Timtam & Tiktok moved in, Hamish moved out, Albie moved in, Albie moved out. Timtam and Tiktok weren’t getting on so moved into separate rooms. Room turnarounds have been pretty much like a hotel so out at lunch time, cleaning done and new occupants in at tea time.

If you’ve read our previous blog you’ll know that Tiktok and Timtam had been progressing with their confidence slowly but surely. Once we were able to separate them, Timtam’s confidence took many steps forward. Timtam had my office, so had more contact time and after a few days of holding her bladder and appetite during my entire working day, began to venture out of her hidey holes. Firstly she had to be enticed out with a toy, but soon she was coming out of her own accord and was happy to sit at a safe distance, snoozing and making squeezy eyes at me. Tiktok spent some time in his own bedroom to give the rest of us a break from his boisterous antics, but also was invited into the office to attend selected zoom meetings, have cuddles and see his sister. We were (still are) carefully observing their interactions as part of the difficult decision as to whether to home them separately or together.

A further step forward came when little Rowan befriended Tiktok and began to introduce him to the other residents and the rest of the house. It meant Timtam & I could have more time alone in the office and Tiktok could play with the other youngsters downstairs.

It was all going so well, then we had a message from Hamish’s family to say that one of the children was really allergic to him, They’d tried a few things to manage it but it wasn’t improving and he had to come back to us. We were devastated for him. He’d found a lovely home and settled so well into it. For a cat who was only about a year old he’d had so much upheaval. We’re assuming he was born in one home and given/sold to another home as a kitten. He was then found as a stray by someone who ascertained that he’d been abandoned by the previous owner when they moved house. That person took him in and he lived there a little while before they decided they couldn’t keep him permanently. That’s when he first came to us. He was very withdrawn when he arrived here but gradually came out of his shell and started to trust people. He went off to his new home very confidently and settled well. It was heartbreaking that he had to go through another change.

Hamish in new home

It was a major step back for us too. It’s part of all our adoption agreements that we will take cats back if they’re unable to stay in their adoptive homes for any reason, and naturally we wanted to be there for Ham at a difficult time, but essentially we were having to fit him back into a space that didn’t exist. Those of you who know us know that we have two rescue rooms, one of which (since covid) doubles as my office. Let’s call them A & B .. B is the one that’s slightly bigger and is my office. Tiktok had A, Timtam had B. The seven resident cats have the rest of the house. I laid awake for two nights (not for the first time in rescue experience) trying to work out where to find a room we hadn’t got, turning over the following considerations:

  1. Hamish cannot share with Timtam or Tiktok, or indeed any of the other cats as he doesn’t like them.
  2. Tiktok & Timtam ideally need to be separate because he bullies her and they fight in the night … I did should mention that my bedroom … let’s call it C .. is between A and B … and ideally in the night (when I’m not trying to work out who to put where) I need to sleep rather than listen to feline arguments.
  3. Hamish is going to come back stressed and need support so may be better in B where he has more contact time.
  4. If we put Hamish in B then Timtam and Tiktok end up sharing the smaller room A which doesn’t seem fair.
  5. Timtam needs more contact to grow her confidence so may be better in B.
  6. Timtam and Hamish can’t both have B!
  7. We could separate Timtam and Tiktok by putting one of them in a large dog crate in the same room. Timtam would be better having more freedom but Tiktok will make more noise if confined. But it’s not fair to confine Timtam simply because she protests less.
  8. Perhaps whoever is in the crate woud be better in a different part of the house. Would they get enough attention? How would the resident cats feel if they were in their part of the house? How would the crate resident feel about having resident cats observing them like they were in a zoo? And where would the crate resident be able to exercise?
  9. How/what do we prioritise? The most needy? The one we can rehome most quickly in order to get back to something more manageable?
  10. Are were going to try to rehome Tiktok and Timtam together or separately? That dilemma pre-dates the return of Hamish, but is relevant to choices now.
  11. Would it be possible to build on Tiktok’s friendship with Rowan and move Tiktok downstairs with the other residents? But Rowan is only one of seven residents and experience suggests that not all of them are as keen to play as Rowan. It’s also true that Rowan bullies his sister Rolo in the same way that Tik bullies Tim … so how would that pan out if Rolo has to deal with both of them bullying her?
  12. What if I add C to the equation and put one of them in my bedroom and move downstairs to sleep on the sofa? It’s certainly something we’ve done many times in the past but as I get older my bones grumble more. And who would the bedroom occupant be? And how would the resident cats feel about another cat in their bedroom? And might they start peeing on the bed when they get back in there? I try to protect them from that kind of disruption … this is their home after all.

It rolled round and round my head. How do we get everyone in a space they feel safe, that they have enough contact time to keep making progress and enough room to be able to exercise. How do I ensure I get enough sleep to be able to function in the day job?

In the end we opted to put Hamish in the smaller room and Tiktok & Timtam in my office. We moved most of the office furniture into my bedroom so that there was room to put in a large dog crate in the office. The plan .. and it’s kind of worked … was for Timtam to spend some time safe in her crate, some time free in the room with Tiktok and some time free in the room whilst Tiktok is out playing with Rowan et al. What we’d not quite bargained for is Tiktok wanting to go back into the smaller room because that’s what he’s been used to, and Rowan knocking on that door … mistakenly … loooking to see if Tiktok is playing out.

Hamish gutted to be back in rescue

The other big step back that we’d not anticipated is how stressed and distressed Hamish was on his return. I’d (stupidly with hindsight) anticipated that he might need lots of cuddles and comfort on his return. What I hadn’t anticipated was that he’d spend 48 hours hissing and growling at me, and lashing out if I tried to touch him. I’m fairly certain that apart from the general stress of change, the main issue is that he can smell Tiktok and Timtam in the room.

Should we have put T&T in A and given Hamish the office space? Should we do this now? Will it help settle things or just cause more traumatic disruption.

It’s been more difficult for Hamish than we expected, but the plan seems to have worked better than expected for T&T. Tiktok has built on his friendship with Rowan and managed if not to be best buddies, at least not sworn enemies with the other residents. He’s played a lot downstairs with the others, learned how to use the cat flap and enjoyed chasing around the garden with the other youngsters. He’s confident now with being scooped up and hugged.

Timtam has got braver by the day. Small but noticeable steps. This week has seen the first time she’s run to the food bowl at meal times rather than hiding away and the first time she’s ventured out of her room. She plays more confidently, sits watching me work, still scuttles away when I approach her but when I’m actually touching her she purrs and squirms around really enjoying a snuggle.

Timtam watching me work

It took a week or so before Hamish started to seem like himself again, and he’s not quite there yet, but he’s getting there. Almost exactly a week after he arrived back here he conducted some interviews for new staff on Zoom and has appointed someone/s who he feels will be suitable. Their contract will commence shortly … and we’ll be able to get back to ‘normal’.

Hamish feeling better … and hopeful
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