Loss of a dear, loved cat, and getting new cat (or 2). Non-cat people, skip this one.
June 11, 2008 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Loss of a dear, loved cat, and getting new cat (or rather, 2). Non-cat people, skip this one.

I've just lost my cat, Scarlet O'Hara, to CRF on Monday. I'm still hurting a lot, I really loved her. She was my feline mini-me, this cat's personality mirrored mine in so many ways it's not even funny.

I know I have to allow myself to grieve her loss, but I've very quickly realized there is a cat-shaped hole in my life than only another cat can fill. I'm not trying to replace her, I really know that's impossible, which is why I'd like your input on a few questions:

1. I know grieving time is different for each person, but is there a healthy minimum? I certainly don't want to bring a new cat home and feel miserable because oh-well-Scarlet-didn't-do-that or whatever. It wouldn't be fair on either of us. New cats often need time to adjust, and I know the first few weeks might be tricky. I want to be all there.

2. I live in a one-bedroom apartment (about 85m2/915ft2) and I want to adopt two cats. I've always wanted two, but Scarlet was too dominant and hence agressive towards other cats, so I never added to the family. This is enough space, right?

3. The new cats. I want to adopt adult cats from a shelter, because a) they have a harder time being adopted and b) I want mellow, cuddly cats and while it is sometimes hard to see their true nature at the shelter, it's still a better shot than adopting kittens that really can grow up either way. I'm thinking of getting two FIV+ cats, as they'll be indoors always except for a small terrace. But I can't deal with the idea of loosing another cat friend to illness... Please tell me I'm being an idiot. I want to do something really nice for kitties that usually don't stand a chance at a shelter. Scarlet would be proud.

4. My mother also has a cat, who's the kindest soul ever and gets along with other cats. Whenever she's away on holiday I bring him to my place (hasn't happened yet, he's a new addition), and vice-versa. He's FIV-. How bad would it be, with 2 FIV+ cats who would only see the other cat a couple of times a year? Is this enough to make me not adopt FIV+ kitties?

5. Are there any tips to recognize the type of cat I want at a shelter? I don't care about looks, as I find all felines beautiful, but I really want ones who want to cuddle and sit on my lap and all that mushy stuff (that said, Scarlet looooved her cuddles and her lap and she still managed to keep one heck of a personality, so I know there are no absolutes here.)

Thank you for reading all of this. Please keep in mind that even though I have more questions regarding the adoption process, I'm still very concerned about the grieving process and not rushing things...
posted by neblina_matinal to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1. Different people grieve different ways. One person might need a new project to occupy their time while they grieve, another wouldn't be able to handle it for a while. You know yourself better than anybody here. How do you usually deal with tough situations? Are you being honest with yourself? To get real help with this one, you need to talk to people who know you.

2. That's plenty of space for two cats who enjoy each other's company. Getting siblings can make it more likely to work out.

3. 100% of cats die. An indoor cat is unlikely to die of injury, so it's almost certainly going to be illness. Hopefully not for a long time yet.

5. At the Toronto Humane Society, at least, the cats are regularly groomed by volunteers (probably more for the human contact than because they need the beauty treatment) and the each time, the volunteer writes a report which includes comments on the cat's behaviour and personality. Reading through these gives a good idea of whether the cat is cuddly or independent, quiet or frisky, etc. I don't know if other shelters do this.
posted by winston at 8:09 AM on June 11, 2008

All my kitties and doggies have pretty much been shelter babies. These are my suggestions:
1. Each and every cat is going to their own individual, I know it sounds silly, but you need to remind your self of that and learn to love them for what they are rather than how they compare.

2. Spend more than one day at the shelter looking and interactng with the cats. Its hard to tell if they are depressed from a cursory look. Try to engage them with a toy or your fingers or voice and see how they respond. Look for inquisitive, lively kitties if that's what you want, look for the cat who pushes up against the cage and purrs if you want a snuggle button.

3. You should have plenty of space for two cats in your apartment, they don't need a lot of roaming space, but see if you can have them both out of the cage at one time to see if they get along. I have two girls now and they get along famously.

4. If you want a more sedate cat, try shelters where the cats are fostered so you get a better description of the cat's personality. Often you will see descriptions of where an old lady had to go to the nursing home and this was her baby, that sounds like a cat you would like. They are often given up in pairs, so you could get a brother and sister team who grew up together, that would really be doing good by these kitties. It always makes me sad when I see that they have been seperated.

5. I can't speak much to the FIV+ question. It in my mind would depend how devesated your mom would be if her cat got infected. Some of these cats live just as long and rich lives, its not a particular death sentence, plus there are vaccinations. So it her cat got vaccinated and your adopted cat aren't fighters, it might be ok. I would check with your mom and see how she feels about all this.

6. You will lose another cat. That is just how it is. Whether to illness, accident, or old age, your pets will probably not outlive you. I know right now it seems like you couldn't bear to lose another pet, but its about making their and your lives better now, you can't focus on what it would be like to lose them.

Good luck with your adoption!
posted by stormygrey at 8:18 AM on June 11, 2008

I'm sorry for you loss. I lost my cat of 17 years a month ago. At first I had the urge to go run out and get another one right away, just so I had something to fill the hole. Then I realized that wouldn't work. I would have ended up crying everytime the new kitten did something cute that reminded me of my old cat. (Thumper used to spash in his water bowl, too!!! WAAAAAAHHHH!!!) But maybe you would deal with it better. I'm pretty sure a few days is too soon to tell how you really feel, give it a little while, and let the numbness wear off.

As far as getting FIV+ kitties, well, they need love, too. And yes, all cats die eventually. As George Carlin says, unless you're in your 80s, and getting a tortoise, when you get a pet, you're purchasing a small tragedy. I think it's worth it, anyhow.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:22 AM on June 11, 2008

In finding just the right cat, you need time and good senses. It's no use in rushing the process because everything happens in it's due time. In finding my babies, I spaced the process out - from one to two and then the 3rd that would be the perfect balance for the other 2. And each cat had different characteristics that I took into consideration when opening up our home to another. I kept my sensors open to their energy - what kind of personalities they had and what kind of match they'd be to me, my needs and the needs of the others. I let them choose me as much as I chose them.

Sometimes I had to go from shelter to shelter, simply because the energy was off and it just wasn't *it*. Then it was *it* and I knew. You just know - it's a sense of connection of the heart and familiarity and you can't force it either. It is very natural and happens by some kind of Universe turn where hearts, minds and souls connect in love. It will be a remembering on your part, or a sense that your heart is skipping a beat or there is a quickening. You might feel excited or it may effect you in that you are very relaxed and have a feeling of *coming home* with the animal. Just let it happen. Trust your heart - even if the *logistics* sometimes are slightly off. If it's a match made in heaven you will find a way to overcome any obstacles that present themselves.
posted by watercarrier at 8:28 AM on June 11, 2008

I am sorr for your loss.

Chiming in on #3 - I once had a sweet, cuddly kitten grow up to be a high-strung, violent cat who attacked my guests. She has her evil charms, but since then I've only adopted adult cats - friendly ones!

If you want to get a better idea of their personalities, try going through a rescue instead of a shelter, or a shelter that fosters out its cats. That way you can visit the cats in their foster home and get an idea of their personalities without the stress of a shelter cage. Check Petfinder and your craigslist, too - a lot of rescues post on there, and people sometimes need to rehome their well-socialized adult cats due to allergies or deployment or whatnot.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 8:30 AM on June 11, 2008

Many sympathies for your loss. It's amazing how cats can be such integral parts of our lives, and their deaths cause more pain than one would think possible.

I've had a couple of cats pass, in one way or another (my early childhood cat just didn't come home one day - my later childhood cat died of kidney failure just a few years ago), and the question of how to deal with it has always been a tough one. While part of me wanted another cat, the bigger part of me just wanted my old cat back, and I never did figure out how to reconcile those two desires any way other than just giving it time.

Have you considered volunteering at a local shelter for a while? That may be a good way to temporarily fill the cat-shaped hole in your life, while not committing yourself just yet to one (or two) cat(s). It would give you the time to grieve Scarlet while also letting you take care of another pet in a less-complicated fashion. Also, by the time you feel you're certainly ready to adopt again, you may have already bonded with a cat at the shelter that you'd like to adopt - making the transition for both of you that much easier.

Regardless, everyone handles this differently. Just do what feels right. And best of luck to you.
posted by AthenaPolias at 8:32 AM on June 11, 2008

I can't speak to the loss/grieving aspect, as this is different for everyone. Perhaps try hanging out or volunteering at a shelter, to spend some time around cats and see how you react to them? It might help you figure out when is the right time to bring some new friends home.

Unless a cat is very dominant/possessive, they often do better with a buddy than alone; they keep each other company when you're not around and alleviate the guilt of leaving your kitty friend all by its lonesome all day (I'm assuming you don't work from home). Even in a 1BR apt, if cats are accustomed to being indoor cats it shouldn't be an unmanageable space for them; some cats even prefer having less territory to "monitor". Like as not, if you adopt from a shelter, with a bit of patience you'll find a couple of cats who are already familiar with one another and would prefer to get adopted together. I used to volunteer at a shelter and saw this happen a couple of times (elderly kitty steward dies; the pair needs a new home, that sort of thing).

Kudos to you for considering adopting FIV+ kitties; there aren't nearly enough homes for these guys. While I don't have much direct experience with them, I do know that FIV isn't nearly as dangerous as FeLV, and often FIV+ cats who are kept indoors in a controlled environment with minimal exposure to illness-causing things can live full-length, healthy lives, without ever appearing sick. My mom took in a stray who was FIV+, and then adopted another one from a shelter; she's had them both for about three years, and they're both hale and hearty and in every way "normal".

(I'm, oddly, in something of the reverse situation with you; my mom has two FIV+ kitties, and when I left the country for a time I had no choice but to either give my FIV- kitty up for adoption or leave her with my mom. After some research and consideration about the kitty's happiness, I chose to leave her with my mother; she's shown no signs of illness after more than a year of living with FIV+ kitties.)

According to vets and shelters, there is little chance of an FIV+ cat transmitting the illness to a healthy cat. Usually it only happens through deep bites and scratches, so if the cats get along there shouldn't be too much to worry about. I believe there are injections the healthy animals can get that serve as some measure of prophylaxis against the virus, but your bigger concern would probably be whether mom's kitty would bring something into the house that could have a deleterious effect on immunocompromised kitties. If hers is 100% indoors also, and there aren't any other animals in her house, this seems like a small chance.

(My mom adopted her second FIV+ kitty from Tree House in Chicago; they've got some information about the virus, and also have a weekly "ask the vet" section where you can post questions.)
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 8:38 AM on June 11, 2008

Often you will see descriptions of where an old lady had to go to the nursing home and this was her baby, that sounds like a cat you would like. They are often given up in pairs, so you could get a brother and sister team who grew up together, that would really be doing good by these kitties.

Stormygrey ftw. Best answer.

What you can do is get in touch with a local shelter/rescue/whatever (check Petfinder.com), and let them know of your interest in two cats from the same household. So often, rescued animals come in, and in the hubbub of the rescuing and vetting process, they get separated. If the staff knows ahead of time that they have someone looking for a pair, they may be able to keep the next pair that comes in together until you can check them out.

Without a doubt, if you are willing to adopt a special needs animal, you could have a houseful tomorrow. For every healthy cat waiting to be adopted, there are hundreds more who have been put down because of a health issue or lack of space or resources. The ones you see in a shelter are the cream of the crop. Definitely alert your shelter contact of your willingness, because (depending on their capacity/resources, etc.) they may not even try to rescue a FIV+ cat if they don't already have an adoptive home already lined up.

I'm really sorry about the loss of your feline friend. As mentioned above, volunteering for a while at a shelter or humane society may scratch that itch a little, without causing too much heartache. (Although working with homeless animals is its own kind of heartache, I guess.)

You are an angel for considering a rescued animal. Good luck to you.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:04 AM on June 11, 2008

About the FIV...the first cat I adopted was FIV+. He died last year at the age of ten. When he died it was because of a heart condition, not because of anything related to the FIV. He also lived with other FIV negative cats and it was never an issue. I'll always be glad that I adopted an FIV+ cat, and I'm sure you will be too.
posted by christinetheslp at 10:15 AM on June 11, 2008

My landlord replaced his beloved dog practically the next week. The dogs are named
Name #1, Name #2... This one is Name #6. It's not that he doesn't love each one, or recognize that they're separate, or anything else terribly unhealthy. I'm not sure why he does it this way. I just think he always wants a dog, and that to him, in a way, they're all Name. Your instincts seem similar (a cat-shaped hole) -- I wouldn't worry about healthy minimums once you feel like you're able to embrace the new cat for who s/he is.
posted by salvia at 10:17 AM on June 11, 2008

#1 - I lost 4 cats in 5 years to CRF. When I got down to just one kitty left, she was very lonely and it put extra stress on her. I got her a kitten within a week of losing her last companion, and it was very good for both of us.

In the next couple of years, my last CRF kitty died, and the kitten I got for her was now all alone. Again, within a couple of weeks I got him a kitten and we all felt much better for it.

I don't think there's any amount of time you have to wait other than what feels right to you. Of course you're not replacing your beloved friend, but there is a cat-shaped hole in your life and even if the new kitty doesn't fit in all the same ways, she or he may still help.

#3 - I had a FIV+ cat several years ago (over 20) and don't know if treatment is different now, but it was very hard to see him deteriorate. We had to put him to sleep by the time he was 5 or so.
posted by Addlepated at 10:27 AM on June 11, 2008

I am so sorry for your loss.
To answer your space question, I think you have enough room. My apartment is almost the exact same size and I just recently (within the past 2 months) adopted two adult cats. One is a year old, the other two years old. The space is just fine.
As for how to look. Well, we just knew. We saw the two girls and just knew they were our kitties. Now we did NOT know if they would get along or not... and the process took up until about a week ago, now they can be in the same room with each other without fur and spit flying. You might want to ask when you go in if they have a pair that they are trying to adopt.
Good luck!
posted by ForeverDcember at 11:19 AM on June 11, 2008

One of my cats died last August from complications caused by diabetes. I definitely needed time to heal before getting a new kitty. I waited about 3 months, thinking that the time was right for me. In retrospect, I really think I should have given it more time. I know the new cat is not the old one, but I still find myself feeling disappointed that she doesn't behave/have the same personality traits as the old one.
posted by All.star at 11:36 AM on June 11, 2008

1. I think the healthy minimum is different for everyone.

2. Your apartment will very likely be big enough, unless you are adopting lynx or something ridiculous.

I can't speak to questions 3-4.

5. Definitely ask to see and touch the kitties, and ask the volunteers about their personalities. Note that cats often act differently at home than they do at a shelter. At a shelter, many cats are so scared and stressed out of their gourds their personalities are completely different. If you are adopting from a place that fosters their cats, so the cats are not in cages and in one home for a while, you may get a better idea of their true personalities.

But really, in my experience, provided the animal you've adopted is not openly aggressive at the shelter you probably won't have any trouble. All the animals I've taken in have been tremendously sweet--I think they are just happy to get out of the cages and into a real house.
posted by Anonymous at 11:37 AM on June 11, 2008

My cousin (currently in vet school) adopted a FIV+ kitty several years ago. El Gato gets along fine with her beloved (FIV-) Momma Cat; she says El Gato hasn't had any major health issues. She keeps an eye on him, but he's been a good kitty for her. Based on her experience, I wouldn't be afraid to bring home a FIV+ cat.

My wife's old cat was 18 when she died. Happened just after Thanksgiving. In January we were asked whether we wanted a kitten. I said "of course". Kittens weren't even born yet, but I wanted to give one a good home. They arrived in February, and by 6 weeks old we brought them home - they ended up with one more kitten than they had promised to find a home for, so we adopted two kitties. Our boys have lived with us for seven years now. For sure get two cats (and two litterboxes too!). Two are not much more trouble than one, and they also keep each other company when you are not home (occasional cat fights notwithstanding).

It was really, really hard for my wife to lose her old kitty. Claws was a good cat, she was my wife's baby (heck, they'd been together since my wife was in third grade!). She still keeps photos of Claws around, and on occasion will be reminded of her by something our cat boys do. But it's reminded in a good way - she had time to heal, and enough time between losing Claws and adopting Toby and Petey that she was sure she was not trying to replace her old kitty. Adopting boy cats helped in some respects; because they were boys, she expected them to be different. Neither of us had ever had boy cats before. We're pretty convinced that we want boy cats in the future. They seem to be more mellow than female cats, more tolerant of other animals (cat or otherwise, so long as the animal in question isn't snack-sized) and are relatively well-behaved.

Our boys are littermates. Because they've been together their whole lives, we have made our families promise that if anything were to happen to us our cats would stay together (my cousin has agreed to adopt them, if it comes to it, because we know she will treat them the same way we would). If it is at all possible, it would be awesome if you could do the same for another set of deserving cat-siblings. Moving to a new home can be scary, but if your brother or sister is there as well, that's at least one thing that is familiar.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:43 AM on June 11, 2008

so sorry to hear about your loss! i, too, just lost one of my post-katrina street cats. this one was fiv+, which may or may not have had anything to do with his demise. it helps that i already have 2 others, but i couldn't believe how difficult it was to lose him. i'd known since shortly after he arrived about the fiv, and debated (briefly) about keeping him because of it (both other cats are negative). in the final analysis, i like to think i made his last 2 years a little easier/happier and i know he certainly brightened up some of my days.

pets are a quandry. you can't help buy love them, even when you know they're going to break your heart in the end. your best timetable is your heart, which is probably bigger from having had pets.
posted by msconduct at 12:37 PM on June 11, 2008

2. I live in a one-bedroom apartment (about 85m2/915ft2) and I want to adopt two cats. I've always wanted two, but Scarlet was too dominant and hence agressive towards other cats, so I never added to the family. This is enough space, right?

I live in a one bedroom (not sure of exact size). I have three cats. It works out just fine. Just make sure you have enough space for separate litterboxes/food dishes/etc. But that's more layout than size, I think.
Multiple cats are good. They keep each other company, and watching them interact with each other is always fun to watch.

I volunteered for a while at a shelter, until my work hours and commute, etc. made it impossible. I did the socializing bit, petting cats and talking to them and making sure they got some 'out of cage' time every day. It really let me see a ton of personalities, and get to know some of the longer-term residents. Doing that might help fill that 'hole' until you feel really ready for another cat (or two). It might also help you find the right cat(s) for you. I know there were a couple I would have taken if it weren't for the three-cats one-bedroom space issue. I have some limits. :) If you can't volunteer yourself, definately talk to the staff, especially any volunteers who spend time socializing with them.
posted by sandraregina at 12:39 PM on June 11, 2008

1. There is no one right way to grive, or right time to grieve. If you're feeling lonely, what about volunteering at a local shelter for a while? After whatever period of time feels right for you, maybe move towards bringing another cat into your life. I know you feel lonely now, but try to give youself a little time before you take the next step. Maybe you can pet-sit for friends who are going out of town? That way you can fill that cat-sized hole in your life without a permenant commitment - obviously your friends will want their cat back! I don't know where in the world you live but if you're in the Bay area, I'd be happy to share some cat lovin' if you're in need.

2. As long as they're cats that work well together, it should be big enough.

3. My kitty (who would be happy to have you visit) is a boisterous tom with FIV. I adopted him last October and he has been in swaggering good health ever since. I have friends who have adopted FIV cats over and over and had very good experiences. One FIV cat I know of lived to be 18 years old. Sadly, another died at 12 of cancer. Keeping FIV cats COMPLETELY indoors and separate from other cats is vital for their quality of health - my vet says that my cat shouldn't ever go outdoors just because his fragile immune system might be exposed to bad scary stuff. He doesn't take meds and doesn't act like a sick cat. He is a formerly feral part Maine Coon and part mutt (mostly coon, I think - smart as a whip and weighs 21 lbs, which the vet says is a little low for his body)

4. Sorry, I don't think you should do this. You say your Mom's cat is very gentle - but he may be the carrier of all sorts of diseases that don't bug him, as a non-immunosuppressed cat, but will be deadly for your FIV cats. Think of your prospective FIV cats as immunosuppressed creatures who are essentially living in a "clean room" in your house. Bringing a new cat in is violating the clean room. Moreover, it doesn't matter if your Mom's cat is gentle - the question is whether any of your new cats will bite HIM. FIV is passed through deep scratches or bites to non-infected cats, so he is at risk even in play. Bad idea, IMO. If you do this, isolate him from the other cats. Don't ever let them play even if they really really want to.

5. Many shelters now have play rooms where you can bring cats to hang out with. Obviously they're going to be stressed no matter what you do, but this gives you an opportunity to see what they'll do with toys, catnip, available laps, and a little bit of peace and quiet. If you're in the Bay area I can make some other suggestions in terms of private shelters that often seem a little less frenetic where you can hang out with the cats, or foster situations. I adopted my FIV cat from a private fosterer.

Good luck!
posted by arnicae at 1:04 PM on June 11, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you for the good ideas. I'll be going to the shelter this Saturday to look at all the cats, pet them, talk to them. A bit of volunteering with second intentions, sorta, and take it from there.

I have been interacting with cats and I don't find it hurtful. I understand each cat is a different individual, with its own personality. That's why I love cats, and that's one reason why I actually *don't* want a cat who looks like Scarlet (they have one there, I checked the website) because I know that'd hurt too much. I want different kitties, as there was only one Scarlet. I miss her. Putting her photo as wallpaper has helped, and I'm printing out a huge picture and hanging it on the wall. It makes me feel better to look at her.

As for the FIV+ cat, I'll have to see about that. Dealing with Scarlet's CRF I've discovered vets aren't for the most part as competent as they should be. I was educating them (and fighting them for it) every step of the way. It was hard and tiresome, and I'm not sure I can go for another round quite just yet. But if the perfect cats turn out to be FIV+, well, then they will be. They have a FIV+ separate pound, by the way, and I'll visit for sure.

Asking for pairs is good too, and I'll do just that. If I can keep a famility together, that's wonderful.

As for when the adoption will happen, I don't know. But it will, I'm now certain of that. In the words of Sartre, "a house without a cat is like a fishbowl without a fish".
posted by neblina_matinal at 1:31 PM on June 11, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, and I forgot to say: Mom's cat is a strictly indoor cat, and has all his shots. I understand they couldn't fight *ever*, but I want loving purr-boxes anyway (and again, I know this is no absolute guaranty.) But yes, Mom would have to agree and I haven't discussed it with her (and something tells me she's not gonna think it's such a magnificent idea.)

arnicae: thanks for the very kind kitty love offer, and whilst I'd love to accept, I'm in Lisbon, Portugal :)
posted by neblina_matinal at 1:40 PM on June 11, 2008

Our cat passed away in February last year, and we're just thinking about getting another two now. Our house is 112m2, and we have no hesitations about this being large enough for an indoorsy breed (we're thinking about ragdolls). Cats think in terms of volume, not floor space anyway.

If you want to do something nice for a shelter and the cats who live there, but you're not sure you can commit to FIV cats for whatever reason, why not make a donation each year on Scarlet's birthday?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:52 AM on June 12, 2008

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