ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q: My mother-in-law is living in a nursing home/hospice. We are seeing her Miss Pearl twice a day for feeding and social time. We would love to move Pearl across the dirt road to our home. She loves our pair of Goldies, but loathes our calico with ululating passion. We are considering bringing her over to the yard (1 acre orchard) and letting her play with dogs and accept the scent of our cat. Will successive approximations of approach break down the barrier? Rehoming is not an option for the shy, 11-year-old Pearl. She was a rescue from the wild and has always lived here.
Dr. Nichol: Convincing Miss Pearl to move in with your cat may be a non-starter. Members of this species, especially the seniors, really hate change. Pearl loves and trusts you folks but she is highly bonded to her territory. You could try moving her food gradually closer to your house but her ululating passion and enmity toward your calico, the evil alien across the road, are a cause for serious concern.
Kitties who live a communal life with others of their ilk get bonded to their colonies. This might sound like an “alternative lifestyle” but it’s innate for feral, au natural cats. They regard the others in their group as part of “self.” Your own cat, on the other hand, is a foreigner to Miss Pearl, an undesirable alien who must be driven off or, at the very least, avoided at all costs.
There may also be an element of fear in Pearl’s hostile reactions. Attempting to teach her to accept your calico’s right to exist would be a repetitive, tedious process. Deeply ingrained natural feline behaviors are hard-wired. You would be almost certain to fail. Sorry for the sad prognosis. This endeavor would be quite different if you were uniting cats under age one year.
You are already doing the right thing. With your own kitty safely ensconced inside, with shades drawn, continue to allow Miss Pearl to visit your yard and enjoy your good dogs. If these cats never have to see each other they will live long and prosper.
Dr. Jeff Nichol provides pet behavior consultations in-person and virtually by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post pet questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.