Saturday, June 4, 2011

Blended Families - When Fur Flies

We're on the home stretch of our House Sitting gig now, looking after Monty and Nurse B's house and their dog, Jimmy and cat, Njaro. When we head off to Europe NEXT WEEK (!) our dog, Toby and cat, Izzy will stay behind for a 4 month holiday with Uncle Monty and Aunty Nurse B.

Introducing the animals has not been easy. None of them are difficult animals individually. Toby is a big softy, a border collie who is a quick learner but also extremely ditzy. He does have a jealous streak occasionally but generally he is very well behaved. Jimmy is the sweetest boy. He's a bit of a rebel but you can't stay mad at his big brown eyes. Every now and then he will slowly, gently, climb onto your knee for a cuddle. He's by no means small but he seems to think he's doing it without you noticing!

Izzy is an adventurer. He loves exploring and he is normally outside a lot of the time. He plays with Toby constantly but when he's tired, he is the cuddliest (fluffiest) cat you'll ever meet. Njaro is a short haired white kitten who loves as much attention as he can possibly get and makes up for it by being quite possibly the softest animal I've ever patted.

Toby and Jimmy had met plenty of times before and they're good mates. It was a bit of a different story to have them eat together though. Toby is used to being the man of the house and it took a bit of control training to get him to realise both bowls weren't his to call dibs on. He's now at a point where he goes straight to his own bowl and the only time he gets grumpy is if Jimmy gets too close to his morning biscuits, which is rare because he eats so fast.

Izzy and Njaro got on well quite quickly. Njaro is just a kitten and he was very keen to meet Izzy (who is 2) as soon as possible. The first few days Njaro was let into our bedroom with a segregated Izzy several times. Occasionally there was hissing but never a fight, and very quickly they were playmates. Although it took a few attempts before they were happy with the idea of a full night in the same bedroom together, they now sleep next to each other on the bed with us every night. Njaro refuses to eat from his own food bowl and even if he is out in the rest of the house he will often choose to be in the bedroom with a still-segregated Izzy at the first opportunity.
Cat versus dog introductions proved a whole other story. Toby and Njaro are alright now. Toby had seen Njaro several times before we moved in and had a careful sniff and moved on. The day after we moved in however, there was a scrap when Njaro went to eat his own food near Toby's bowl. Since then Njaro has made his animosity toward Toby quite clear. A few weeks later, they're now generally OK and are happy to be in the same room together. If Njaro runs off, a quiet 'uh-uh' to Toby reminds him not to chase and play and otherwise they're all good.

Izzy and Jimmy have been a whole other story.

One week to go and we're no closer to having Izzy running around the house freely. Basically the routine is thus - Izzy and Njaro sleep in our room, Toby and Jimmy sleep in the lounge. In the mornings, the dogs eat their biscuits, Jimmy on the front door mat and Toby outside (because Jimmy eats slowly and Toby will steal them otherwise) while I start getting ready. I put one scoop of biscuits in Izzy's cat food feeder and that feeds both cats for the day - because of course Njaro won't eat out of his own bowl.

Once Jimmy has finished eating, both dogs are shut outside so the cats can come out of the room and go to the toilet. The litter tray was in our room but of course this is far from ideal and I've been moving it closer and closer to the laundry each day so that hopefully by the time Monty and Nurse B get back the cats are only using Njaro's original litter tray in there. Same with the biscuit feeder, so that even if they won't eat out of Njaro's own bowl they can eat in the laundry.

We go to work and leave the cats inside to roam around the whole house and the dogs go in their kennel. When we get home from work the dogs stay outside for a minute while we go in and shut the cats back in our room. They're normally out in the lounge somewhere. We don't make Njaro go back in our room, but whatever Izzy is doing, Njaro wants to do. Once the cats are shut back in, the dogs come inside.

When everyone has settled down, I usually take Jimmy into our room, holding his collar, to let him and Izzy have a sniff of each other. Izzy has stopped caring (read: hissing) and Jimmy will be very well behaved for a few minutes, nose to nose with Izzy, sniffing, occasionally licking, and mostly just looking - and then he lunges. He's not nasty about it, he's trying to play but it means we cant leave the bedroom door open without us keeping a very careful eye/hand on him cause he goes under the bed and then a fight starts when Izzy gets a fright from the sudden movement.

Holding on to Jimmy we pull him away and then he goes back out into the rest of the house and Izzy (and usually Njaro by his own choice) stays shut in the bedroom to chill out for a bit. We feed the dogs and let them have run of the house for awhile. later on we will usually shut them out for half an hour or so, so that the cats can have a run around with us there and go to the toilet. Izzy comes out of the room about half the time.

After awhile we shut the cats back up and the dogs come inside for the night. We have a good little routine going, I just have no idea how to get Jimmy and Izzy over this hump. Everyone else is fine, but we cant leave the bedroom door open unattended. Nurse B has suggested bringing Izzy into the lounge while Jimmy is quiet or sleeping and getting them used to each other in a different environment. I'm definitely going to try it! Thankfully there's a long weekend coming up.

Any tips my lovely readers? I think the main issue is the cramped space, but if we leave the door open for Izzy to wander out, he won't have a chance before Jimmy is under the bed. Maybe I open the bedroom door and call Jimmy onto the couch for a cuddle, I think that will work. Any ideas are very much appreciated, I haven't done this since Izzy was a tiny little fuzzball!