Monday, February 27, 2017

Eddie's Story, or How I Failed as a Cat Mom

If anyone had asked me yesterday morning how I felt about cat adoption, I would have told them that cat adoption is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I took my responsibility to love a cat forever seriously. I would never, ever consider getting rid of my cats.

Two hours later, my husband and I found ourselves trapped in our bedroom, talking to police, with our own cat trying to kill us on the other side of the door.

Four years ago, we adopted two sibling cats, Eddie and Annie, from a local shelter when they were twelve weeks old. We brought them into our home and our hearts, nursed them out of shelter flu, and made sure they never wanted for anything. I researched cat foods numerous times, and we fed them the highest quality food we could afford (Orijen). I hand-made toys for them in addition to purchasing dozens of cat stimulation toys. They chased laser pointers, got stoned on catnip, and lounged endlessly on microfiber couches, plush cat tree perches, or on our laps all day long. If any cats could have a better life, I’d like to see it.

We took them to their vet regularly, and they were always up-to-date on their shots and other medications. At their second annual visit, however, we saw the first signs of what we later learned was nonrecognition aggression. Since they smelled differently after being handled by strangers, they refused to get in a crate with each other. We had to keep them separated for a few days and slowly reintroduce them to each other. It was a hassle, but it worked, and they got along well.

A few months later, Eddie developed a little stink. We had him assessed at the vet, and they did not find anything wrong with him. I decided that he could use some help grooming himself and promptly gave each of them a bath. This new smell caused the same nonrecognition aggression. I recognized it quickly and separated them. Later that night, I accidentally cornered Eddie, and without warning, he turned on me. I was the first to experience redirected aggression. Eddie charged at me, hissing and howling. He swatted and tried to bite. I backed up slowly, defending myself from his lunges. I tried to close the bedroom door to protect myself, but he squeezed through and came at me again. He raked my right forearm with his entire set of claws, and the eight-inch-long gashes began to ooze as I screamed for my husband. I shut myself into the bathroom while Eddie continued to assail the door. The Man quarantined a very agitated and aggressive Eddie in a bathroom where he howled for almost a full day. The Man and I patched up my arm—wounds that would take months to finally heal. Though we tried to reunite our cats dozens of times after this fateful night, we were unable to move past the point of very short meetings on either side of baby gates.

In order to keep our cats separated permanently, we lived in a sort of cat prison. We bought two extra tall baby gates and set them up at the top of our stairs. The bottom gate was fitted as usual, but the top gate was placed upside down. This meant that our cats would have to really struggle to get over them (only Annie could do it successfully, and only rarely attempted it), but it also meant that when both doors were open, we could walk through easily. The trick was learning to pull up on the bottom gate and push down on the top gate with one hand, swing them both open, hold the doors, and get whatever items you wanted to carry through the door quickly before the spring hinges would close the doors again. The gates were frustrating for us, but they allowed us to have a sort of sally port for our cats in case one of them escaped a bathroom. We tried using cat pheromones to calm them for several months, but the pheromones did nothing. We tried changing their food, but that never helped a bit. We did more scent swapping than anyone can imagine, and they were fine with each other’s blanket smells, but every gradual reintroduction ended in a massive fight and Eddie howling and crying for days.

Once we realized our cats weren’t going to get along, we used a rotating system of bathrooms to allow one to be with us downstairs and have the other in the upstairs bathroom. At night, the downstairs cat went into a bathroom, and the upstairs cat got to sleep with us. We rotated the cats every day up and down so that they each got 50% of our time awake and asleep. This system, however cumbersome and frustrating, worked for everyone. We were all healthy, happy, and loved.

Except Eddie wasn’t happy. When he was in normal Eddie mode, he was unquestionably the sweetest cat alive. He was a total lovebug. He purred louder than any cat I’ve heard, and he loved to sleep right on top of his humans. His problem was with overstimulation, but it was impossible to know what might overstimulate him. I set him off by putting food down once. I set him off by petting him. The Man set him off by ignoring him when he was demanding an ear scratching. Over the last two years, Eddie became increasingly aggressive and would snap without warning. Two months ago, my sister was petting him when he lost it. He scratched her and then began attacking anyone that wanted to help him. He could not be calmed. He was still agitated two days later, and we walked on eggshells for a week.

Lately, he’d been biting The Man if The Man tried to pet him. He’d demand attention and then turn without warning. Having been cat owners for a long time, we were both used to the usual signs of aggression (ears back, tail low and flat or high and puffy, slinking posture, etc.), and Eddie didn’t show any signs of aggression before morphing into a demon.

Yesterday afternoon was his last incident for us. I was in our bedroom gently brushing him with a new brush, and he was loving it. His motor was going, his tail was calm, and he was relaxed on the floor as usual. When I stood up, he went insane. I saw him go from my sweet Eddie to The Hulk in five seconds. I immediately withdrew to our master bathroom, and The Man bore the brunt of Eddie’s wrath. Eddie lunged, swatted, spat, and hissed. He clawed and tried to bite The Man repeatedly. The Man grabbed a pillow to deflect some of the fury, and he was able to get Eddie into the hallway outside our bedroom just before closing the door to protect both of us.

The Man limped into the bathroom and pulled up his pant leg to expose the damage. Eddie had sunk his razor sharp claws into his calf in two places before dragging them a good inch. Due to his jeans, the damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The Man was shaken from the ordeal, and I cleaned and dressed his leg while he—and I—calmed down. We both saw the damage the pillow took, and we’re thankful Eddie attacked that instead of a human: it has fang and claw marks all over it!

For whatever reason, The Man had his phone on him while upstairs in our bedroom. We researched our options and decided to call our vet for advice on how to deal with the monster that was flinging himself at our bedroom door. They suggested trying to throw a heavy blanket on Eddie and wrapping him up before trying to stuff him into a crate. Eddie, now almost fourteen pounds of insane rage, would not have been an easy target to hit with a heavy blanket through a crack in the door. They suggested calling animal control. We got off the phone and weighed our options (while Eddie continued to assail our ears with his howling and growling and our door with whatever energy he could hammer into it). We didn’t want to be those people, the cat owners that can’t manage their own cats. Annie was safely stowed in a bathroom, so she was safe, but we needed to get out of our bedroom. Eddie wasn’t calming down. We were desperate. We called our local police department’s non-emergency line. They happened to have an animal control unit working on a Sunday, and that person agreed we needed her help. She had The Man suit up in whatever thick clothing he could find in our closet to protect himself, and he ventured out with a huge pillow to defend himself while I continued to hide in our bathroom. The Man walked quickly past Eddie and went downstairs and out into our garage without drawing fire, though Eddie was obviously still unhinged. Perhaps the sight of his human covered in winter clothes and hiding behind a pillow was so shocking that he didn’t know what to think. Police arrived, and then the animal control officer arrived, and they were able to get Eddie into a crate after several minutes of struggling. From the bathroom, I could hear the ruckus in the hallway. They are brave, kind people to do that for us—for Eddie.

Eddie hated us. He had been violent to both of us previously, and this was our final straw. Keeping him, waiting for the next outburst of aggression, wondering how badly we’d have to be injured to continue loving him was no longer an option. The Man and I both looked at each other and knew this was it.

We called the shelter where he lived before we adopted him, and they said they’d take him back. His crate was too small for a litter box, so we had to act immediately. Eddie never uttered a single cry the whole drive up (I was a miserable wreck). We filled out his paperwork, handed the shelter his food for a week to transition him to their (crappy) food, put his favorite fleece blanket and handmade frog toy I made for him as a kitten in his new crate, and we said goodbye to our little kitty. He did not know that he’d never see us again. But, as we walked outside, our hearts broke. We held each other through the most difficult moment of our lives and cried.

We failed him. We weren’t able to love away his anger. We tried to be perfect cat parents, always anticipating their needs and providing everything a cat could want. We spent days and days combing websites and message boards looking for tips on how to fix redirected aggression. Medication doesn’t seem to help such violent and random outbursts, and Thundershirts aren’t realistic for a cat to wear constantly. The best treatment is space and his own territory, neither of which our home could provide with any quality of life. Our other cat, Annie, was living half of her life in a bathroom as well, and we were constantly held hostage by baby gates and the worry of Eddie snapping each time we turned around.

Twenty-four hours later, I am still a mess. I have so much guilt feeling like I gave up on Eddie. I blame myself for not trying harder to figure out why he had psychotic breaks. I know he was never abused, never hit or kicked, never even restrained. Despite our very best care and attention to making sure he lived in a quiet, stress-free home (we have no children—yet), he still was having trouble with something.

I want to drive up to see Eddie and tell him I’m sorry, so intensely and incredibly sorry, and that we love him still. But I can’t. I know I need to let him go. Hopefully he will be adopted soon to a quiet home where there are no other pets or children to set him off. I pray with all my heart that he gets to live in peace with a good little family that will let him snuggle on their flannel sheets while they sleep.

Eddie was tough to love, but we did love him. The Man and I will wear scars for the rest of our lives as a reminder of the terror he could inflict, and we will hold dear the memories of a cat we loved from the first moment we met him.

It unequivocally destroys me to type this: Eddie, given his original name of “Bruce,” is now available for adoption at Salem Friends of Felines in Salem, Oregon.

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