Catnip Hill: Kitty Hotel

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Big St. Germain Lake, Saint Germain, WI

Every August, we rent a cabin up north where we water ski, fish, dive into the deep center of the lake, then wake up sunburned to the high-pitched bickering of bald eagles and do it all over again. This year, that meant our two bickering house guests would have to share a room at a cat-boarding facility for an entire week. We’ve never boarded before, relying on a nearly endless stream of neighborhood kids to give Sly food, water, and love when we were gone. But Lady and Trouble don’t always behave–and we wanted our neighbors to still like us a little when we returned–so we decided Catnip Hill’s very reasonable prices were well worth the investment.

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Catnip Hill, catnip-hill.com

Christine, owner of Catnip Hill is a bona fide cat whisperer who assured me our two house guests would be fine once on neutral turf. Christine has been running Catnip Hill for over ten years, having picked up the idea while living in the United Kingdom where, as she put it, they don’t have a culture of handing keys over to neighbors when they go on holiday. Since so many U.S. boarding facilities are designed for dogs, she thought a cats-only boarding house might be well-received. Judging by how quickly her rooms fill up, she was right.

I was still worried. Lady and Trouble don’t play at fighting; they fight. And since we want to return the two cats to our two kids unscathed, we have abandoned our intensive program to help them make friends. They have been leading separate lives, like roommates with a line drawn down the center of the room.

But Christine has so much experience, that when she told us all would be well, we believed that not only would they make it through the week, but they would be returned to us grooming each other and sleeping in each other’s arms the way I’ve always dreamed it would be if only I owned two cats.

The day we took them to the Kitty Hotel, the cats were not as optimistic. It was a forty-minute drive. Lady glared at us from her carrier the entire time while Trouble threw himself into a Houdini-like escape plan, which involved turning his mesh-and-fabric carrier inside out while he was still inside.

Still, as soon as we turned up the driveway and drove past the rolling fields surrounding Catnip Hill, we knew it was perfect. Inside, 20150809_084143each of the twelve rooms had a window, a chair, and three long perches. There was room enough for Terry and I to move freely as we unloaded cats and sacks. We put Lady’s favorite blanket on the highest perch so she’d feel comfortable, but she didn’t appreciate the kindness and let me know we were no longer on speaking terms. Meanwhile, Trouble was up and down the perches and chairs, checking out every corner. He kept jumping from the window to the door and back and didn’t even notice when we left.

20150809_084840 (2)For the first few days at the cabin, we watched our phone, waiting for Christine’s call…but it never came. When we picked the two of them up at the end of the week, not only were they both out of their carriers and enjoying the window sort of almost together from two different perches, they even interacted in cat “smalltalk.” It would be a stretch to say the conversation was pleasant. Still, no death threats were involved.

20150809_08454420150809_085152We packed them up and headed home, foolish enough to think the fact they were wailing in harmony was a good sign. What could be better after a week at a cat spa than a common enemy?

But once home, it took less time than the drive for Trouble to charge Lady and wind up locked in his room yet again.

Do you think Christine hires out?

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Bad Blood

Things are not going well. According to the experts, we have been doing everything right, but things are not going well.

We took Lady for booster shots this morning. The Vet’s assistant told me her mother introduced a feral cat to a genuinely mean tom and by the end of six weeks they were cuddling like the stunt doubles on my home page. Tomorrow marks the end of week five, and we’ve still got haters in the house.

We have tried keeping them separate; we have tried putting them together. We have tried supervising interactions; we have tried walking away. We have rubbed them down with towels, swapped towels, and rubbed them again until they hate every towel in the house and Terry and I are the only ones getting used to their smell. We have given them treats together then used treats to lure them as far apart as possible–all while pumping sixty-dollar kitty pheromones through the house.

They hate each other.
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As Trouble gets more comfortable here, he has become more territorial. He spends a large part of his day rolling around like a kitten in catnip to mark every inch of the house with saliva–and he is constantly on guard. Lady can’t even come into the house without him giving chasing.20150701_192124 (2)

Soon, they’ll be sharing a room at Catnip Hill, where all the cats in all the pictures are happy and above average. We’ve never boarded before, but with Lady’s penchant for shredding and Trouble’s reputation for peeing, we don’t have much choice.

Our first instinct was to drop them off without a word about their behavior and drive fast enough to outrun our cellphone reception, but we decided the kitty hotel deserved a heads-up.

On the phone, the owner told me that she’s been at this for ten years and has only separated cats three times. She assured me she was well-equipped to help Lady and Trouble get along and that we would not get called back from vacation. She also gave us advice to step back and let them sort things out, “They’re just cats being cats.”

Listening to her calm, confident voice, I wanted to believe all would be well.

For one glorious week, we embraced her advice. We didn’t follow cats around the house or jump up from dinner when we heard growling. Most importantly, I got to tell Terry he was right all along, which made him very happy.

Then, a week ago, the annoying swats and growls turned into an all-out, rolling, caterwauling, giant-ball-of-fur fight three whole feet from the kitty pheromones! (Pfft!) and just like that, Trouble is locked in his room again unless Lady is out chasing bunnies.

In eight days they will be in a 5×6 room together for an entire week. We can’t imagine what it will be like, but we are hoping the Catnip Hill cat-whisperers can negotiate a lasting peace.

Meanwhile, Lady is free to inhabit as many bags and boxes as she likes untroubled..

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Trouble Arrives!

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The first thing I noticed about Trouble when he got here last Friday is that he’s a BIG cat! He’s twice Lady’s size, and although twelve pounds is average for domestics, it’s the largest cat we’ve ever had in the house. When he jumps from perch to perch on the second floor, it sounds as though an adolescent oak has been felled.

Trouble also assumes everything exists for his enjoyment. While Lady tip-toed into our house, creeping around the edges and hiding in the basement, Trouble was eating Lady’s food and stretching out in “her” window in no time.

He arrived while Lady was outside, so he could check out the house in peace for awhile. But Lady wasn’t gone long, and when she came back, it turned out she remembered him from Christmas.

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Within seconds, Trouble was locked in a bedroom so Lady could adjust to his scent. Neither of them was happy. They held these positions for hours.

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Trouble reaching out from underneath a bedroom door.

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Lady on guard at the other end of the hallway.

Months earlier, before we even knew Cat Boarding Houses existed, much less that we would become one, Terry had given his blessing to a mother/daughter getaway on Father’s Day weekend. So while we were enjoying the American Players Theatre‘s productions of Pride and Prejudice and Streetcar NameWisconsin River, near Arena, 6.19.15d Desire, Terry was struggling to get two angry cats into two separate rooms. While we were paddling the Wisconsin (thank you, Wisconsin Canoe Company) Terry and Trouble were watching out the front window in horror as Lady taught them the sound a distressed baby bunny makes. Happy Father’s Day!

Gruesome as it was, it would be wise for Trouble to pay attention to Lady’s demonstration of strength.  She’s a killer–a fact some of my neighbors celebrate while others…well…more on that later.

But Lady is also half Trouble’s size and has gone back to hiding in the basement. When we got home, I found her there when I went to do laundry. She demanded to be picked up, then sat in my arms for a far-and-away record of fifteen minutes before I had to put her down and get back to work.

It’s true that she does most of the hissing and growling and swiping in the house…but I’ve seen Trouble hide gleefully around a corner when he heard her tags jingling up the stairs. Little angel. Pfft!

Trouble Napping

So here we are. Terry and I have only recently learned to embrace empty-nesting and have a long list of things we want to explore together, but we’ve already canceled one trip. Our town’s 4th of July fireworks go off outside our front window and we’d like to make sure no animals are harmed in the making of that particular weekend.

Sigh.

So where are my cat-loving, semi-feral children while we’re watching Trouble and Lady? More on that next time!