Trooper's Absence: Cat Dynamics
Updated: Apr 12
I think my audience of cat lovers will like this post.
I was thinking today about how family dynamics change when a parent—specifically a mother—dies. I've seen this play out in both my own family and in Isaias'. Losing our mothers changed things...a lot.
Our moms were generally the center of our get-togethers and when they respectively passed, I know it surprised me both times just how much the family dynamic changed. So it should not have surprised me how much things have changed in our cat family when Trooper, the matriarch, died.
While Blondie was the only biological cat Trooper had in our household, she very much acted a mother to both Chappy (to whom Trooper was a biological great-grandmother) and Grizzabella. Her passing has changed the dynamic in our household rather dramatically.
First off, Blondie has started taking on some of Trooper's characteristics. When we adopted Grizzabella two years ago, Blondie, who had previously slept in our bed with Trooper and us, stopped sleeping up there due to Grizzy being in there (Blondie is not a Grizzabella fan).
Almost immediately after Trooper died, Blondie started coming back up and now she sleeps up there regularly. This has also surprised me because even though Blondie still dislikes Grizzabella, they will often sleep near each other, although Blondie likes there to be a barrier between them.
Another thing Blondie does that Trooper did all the time and which Blondie never previously did is get on the table when we're eating and try to eat our food. This is a cat that has never shown any interest in table food at all except for the occasional corn chip or dollop of whipped cream. Now all of a sudden it's like the spirit of Trooper has possessed her.
Blondie has also become very needy and assertive in a way she never was before. I think part of it is her impulses to take over as Alpha Cat, a role which Grizzabella also seems to be vying for. Blondie is super talkative now and even aggressive with both Grizzabella and Chaplin in ways she wasn't before. Trooper always kind of kept everybody else in line, and now that she's gone, it feels like it's every cat for themselves these days.
Chaplin especially has gotten rather aggressive and even mean. Chaplin has always kind of been our "problem" cat, but she also has been a rather timid and fearful one. These days, I've caught her on more than one occasion trying to attack Grizzy. She even went after Isaias the other day, which is very unusual. Even up to her last days, Trooper was always good at stepping in and breaking up the fights.
On the flip side, I have also noticed Grizzabella being purposely antagonistic to both Chappy and Blondie. Again, I think she's auditioning to be Alpha Cat. There is certainly a Game of Thrones-like power struggle going on between Blondie and Grizzabella. Grizzabella is a sweet cat, but she definitely has a side to her that seems cunning and no-nonsense. It's like she's purposely provoking the other two. She knows neither of them like her, but now that Trooper isn't here to reign her in, Grizzy seems to relish in pushing the other cats' buttons.
Meanwhile, we've got Franki, who still stays largely confined to his room, often by his own choice, while we slowly try to integrate him with the girls. He's a immensely sweet cat who seems entirely motivated by food. He loves having his tummy rubbed and is very affectionate.
But he also is the stereotype of a "scaredy-cat." Whereas I was afraid that as an outdoor cat he might be aggressive toward the girls, he is in fact more likely to cower under a bed or chair to get away from them.
We've tried several experiments with him:
Bringing him downstairs or in our room with the girls present. He hid under the sofa and bed, respectively.
Leaving his door open to let him explore sort of on his own. He went in the hallway, used one of the girls' litter boxes, and proceeded to scurry in fear back into his room.
Then we just tried to see if he and Grizzy could get to know one another since they seem the most likely match as far as a possible friendship. We have conducted this experiment in both his room and ours. Surprisingly, he seems the most likely to come around first. They have both sniffed around each other's areas, but it is clear Grizzy is not impressed with this new addition. She's clearly jealous, and he is still clearly wary and unsure.
If looks could kill, Franki and I would both be no more. As I pet Franki to calm him, I could feel her saying to him, "I will take you down in your sleep and they will never find your body."
I am trying to give both of them positive reinforcement when they are together, petting them both, trying to get them close to each other in nonthreatening ways, and especially giving Franki food when these interactions occur. I think Franki will come around soon. Grizzy may take some time. She is not pleased with this arrangement at all.
Blondie and Chappy will be another story. I'm afraid if we start bringing Franki into our room, Blondie will retreat downstairs again, although to her credit, she stayed the other day when Franki was in our room. Chappy will flat out hate having yet another cat here. That's the integration I am most worried about. After two years, she still can't stand Grizzabella, so Franki might send her off the edge.
I have confidence we can make this work, though. I still can't believe we can't find Franki's family. He seems young, and I think his being a stray is recent. But no one is actively searching for him that we can find.
We found a list of possible names for black cats and kept calling him different ones to see if he would respond to any of them. Nada. Although one of the names we came across was "Boo," so now he has the nickname "Franki Boo" because we thought it was funny. It's sticking. Wish us luck. We love this little guy and are getting attached to him, but we need to create a cohesive household. What about you cat lovers and cat owners out there? How do you go about successfully integrating a new cat into the home? Share your thoughts in the comments below.