10 Kitten Adoption Do’s & Don’ts

With the current rash of kittens, summer break on the horizon, and the pandemic easing, kitten adoption may be in your future. But there’s more to kitten adoption than bringing home your baby cat. Maybe you’ll want to foster a needy kitten (tips here). Learn about what to do–and what NOT to do–in this kitten adoption guide.

kitten adoption

KITTEN ADOPTION 101

It’s kitten season! Is a new fur-kid in your future? You’d think kitten care would be easy–just love ’em and feed ’em and listen to ’em purr, right? But more goes into proper care than plopping food in a bowl and setting up a litter box.

Adopting kittens too early often means kittens bite and claw more than those who have been kitty-corrected by Mom and siblings. They also may be fearful or less tolerant of other cats. They don’t understand all the proper feline etiquette of the social structure.

KITTEN ADOPTION & KITTEN SOCIALIZATION?

Dog people know about the socialization of puppies, but kittens also benefit from socialization–except it comes WAY EARLIER in cat babies. The prime kitten socialization period falls between 2-7 weeks (yikes!) which means rescuers, shelter personnel and breeders are vital to the future well-being of cats and how they look at their world. Socialization teaches kittens what’s safe (other cats, dogs, VETERINARIANS, carriers, cars) and a positive normal part of their lives. It also teaches what kittens should fear.

Proper socialization not only includes interaction with other cats (and also dogs, if you have both–get intro tips here!) but positive handling by different people during this critical period. That ensures the baby becomes well adjusted, confident, and emotionally healthy. I’ve got all the kitten must-knows in my COMPLETE KITTEN CARE, but you don’t need the book to get started. Before you adopt, review these 10 do’s and don’ts to ensure your kitten love lasts a lifetime.

adopting kittens

Image courtesy of DepositPhotos.com

10 DO’s & DON’Ts OF KITTEN ADOPTION

1. Don’t adopt kittens too early.

Adopting kittens too young bite and claw more than those corrected by Mom and siblings. They also may be fearful or less tolerant of other cats because they don’t understand proper feline etiquette. Cat babies should stay with siblings and Mom for at least 12 to 16 weeks. Learn more about kitten development here. That’s not always possible, though, and if you find yourself in that situation, it means you must be “cat-mom” and teach Junior claw, potty and other manners. It can help enormously to adopt two kittens at once, so they teach each other bite limits and target each other in play instead of biting your ankles.

2. Do see a vet ASAP.

Kittens seem indestructible but get sick easily. A vet’s early diagnosis improves the chances of a speedy recovery especially after you first adopt kittens. Screening tests and preventive care — vaccinations, flea prevention, worm medications — save lives and ensure your kitten grows to healthy adulthood. Learn more about FIP and cats here.

3. Don’t bathe a kitten until it is at least 4 weeks old (12 to 16 weeks is better).

Very young kittens can’t regulate body temperature and can become chilled from a bath. When you do bathe the kitten, use only kitten-safe products — adult cat or dog products can be toxic. Introduce combs and brushes immediately to longhair kittens to prevent grooming problems later on.

4. Do “fix” kittens.

Spaying and neutering prevent pregnancy, urine spraying and health issues such as breast cancer. Female kittens can get pregnant as early as 4 months old, so don’t delay. Many shelters and professional breeders spay or neuter kittens at 8 to 12 weeks old (or once they weigh 2 lbs.) because babies recover more quickly than older cats.

5. Don’t rush kitten introductions.

Tiny kittens get lost or find trouble if not confined to a kitten-safe room. When you adopt kittens, let the new baby get used to one room so he knows the location of his litter box, bed, scratch objects, food bowl, and toys. When you can’t watch him, confine him in his safe room. Even healthy-looking kittens could be contagious and the vet may recommend quarantine for up to 30 days. Resident pets accept new ones more quickly when only part of the house has been “invaded.” They can meet with sniffs and paw pats under the door until it’s safe for a nose-to-nose greeting. Learn how to introduce kittens to other cats here, and how to read kitten tail talk to stay ahead of your furry wonder.

6. Do kitten proof the house.

Kittens explore with paw pats, licking and biting. Chomping or clawing electrical cords or poisonous plants, swallowing string toys or hiding inside the clothes dryer can be deadly. Invest in knee pads and crawl around on your hands and knees for a kitten’s-eye view of potential dangers.

7. Don’t feed kittens milk, as it can cause diarrhea.

Queen-replacement milk is available, but most babies eat solid food by 4 weeks old. Tiny tummies can’t eat enough to sustain in one meal, so feed three or four small meals daily until the kitten is 6 months old and twice daily thereafter. Monitor your kitten for a healthy appetite.

8. Do train your kitten.

Routinely handle her ears, paws, and mouth so she learns it’s not scary from you or the veterinarian. Make carriers fun playpens by tossing toys inside or turn them into napping spots so she’ll accept being in the carrier for visits to the vet or grandma’s. Listen to your kitten to choose a name–looks and/or behavior offer hints.  Learn how to stop loud mouth kittens from meowing too much.

9. Don’t declaw kittens.

Instead, train from the beginning with lots of legal scratch objects. Catch her in the act of scratching the right objects and reward with praise, treats or toys. Start trimming claws when you first get your kitten — one nail a day with your own clippers is fine — so she knows this is normal. That way if she forgets claw-training, she won’t damage property or skin with blunt claws.

10. Don’t let kittens outside…

until they’ve received all preventive vaccinations, microchip identification and parasite treatments — and you have a safe outdoor sanctuary. It’s nearly impossible to kitten proof the great outdoors. Instead, leash-train your kitten to keep her safe and/or make the indoors so interesting with toys, cat trees, and your love that the kitten never misses going out.

(Bonus) 11. Do let the kitten pick YOU!

My Facebook friend Eliyahu offered this great comment and gave me permission to add to the list:

Don’t pick out the kitten. Let it pick you. It’s easy to be attracted to the one you think is the cutest or the prettiest, but that may not be the right one for you. I’ve always gone to the shelter with a couple of hours free time when getting a kitten or cat. Our shelter back in Washington had a big cat room with all the cats together. I’d sit in a chair and let the kittens come to me, then see how each interacted with me and which one wanted the most to be with me.

Here, there isn’t a cat room, so I had the worker bring kittens one at a time and played with them. The prettiest one turned out to be skittish around people, another just sat in the corner and stared. Finally, about eight kittens later, she brought one in that walked up, sniffed at me, climbed up on my lap and made it clear to us that she’d chosen me to be her human. A year later, Cenerentola still spends much of her time climbing on my lap and shoulders or sleeping by my feet when she’s not playing with the other cat.

What else have I missed? Are there other DO’s and DON’Ts that are important to include when planning your new kitten’s gotcha day? Please share!

NEW-KITTEN-COVER-lorez

All the Kitten Must-Knows!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Kitten Litter Box Training: How to Potty Train Cats

Kitten litter box training tops the list for frequently asked questions from new kitten owners. Planning ahead can save cat lovers lots of heartache by preventing litter box problems before they happen.

Cats are very smart. They usually teach US rather than the other way around. Here’s how to trick train your tabby.

Whenever new kittens come to your home, it’s important to figure out what they know, plus help them learn the new rules of the house. When you have other cats (after proper cat introductions, of course!) the older felines can help teach the youngsters the rules. How to train cats to the litter box usually comes naturally, but these tips can help with potty training your cat.

potty train cats

How to Potty Train Cats with Kitten Litter Box Training

Congratulations on your new kitten adoption! Most cats come pre-programmed to use the potty but you’ll need help if the baby is very young. Felines are great imitators and simply “copy cat” their mother’s behavior when they watch and follow her to the litter box. Most kittens and cats will already know what a litter box is for and how to use it by the time you adopt them.

But if you hand-raise an orphan or adopt a kitten younger than 8 to 10 weeks, you’ll need to do the job of the mother cat. Transitioning outdoor cats to an indoor lifestyle also may mean re-training bathroom etiquette from “going” among the flowers to aiming for the litter box. Check out the Ask Amy video below, and you’ll find more of the basics here.

Kitten Litter Box Training Preparation

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Felines are naturally clean creatures and dislike eliminating where they sleep or eat. They also appreciate privacy when (ahem) doing their duty. Build allegiance to the litter box by positioning it correctly, in a low-traffic area away from the cat’s bed and food bowls. Also remember that kittens may not have the physical capacity to “hold it” long enough to run clear across the house or down the stairs. Provide a box on each end of the house, or one per floor.

SIZE MATTERS. A regular size box may be too large for new kittens to climb in and out. A disposable cookie sheet works until he’s bigger. Average size adult cats do well with standard commercial litter pans, but jumbo-size cats (Maine Coon kitties come to mind!) may need larger toilets or risk hanging over the sides when they pose. Translucent plastic storage bins with a cat-size hole cut in one side may be ideal.

FILLER ‘ER UP WITH…WHAT? A variety of cat box fillers are available, from plain clay to pine pellets and recycled wheat or corn crumbles. The ideal material absorbs moisture, contains waste and odor, and most important of all, suits the cat. Fine textures such as the “clumping” clay litters seem to be the feline favorite. Fill the box an inch or so deep with the filler. Learn about the history of litter here.

If you’re transitioning an outdoor cat to an indoor box, do a bit of research and follow him to find out his preferred substrate. Changing litter too fast can prompt hit or miss potty behavior. Dusting a bit of plain garden dirt, or a layer of grass or leaves over top of the commercial litter may help give him the idea of what you have in mind. Give your cat what he wants and kitten litter box training will be a breeze! And if you already have other pets, you may want to invest in a pet gate or pet door to control the space in your house.

itter box training

Kitten Litter Box Training: How to Potty Train Cats

Get all the MUST KNOWS for your new kitten in the book!

Kittens and cats new to your home won’t know where the box is, even if they know what it’s for. Place the kitty on top of the clean litter and scratch around with your fingers to prompt imitation. Even if the cat doesn’t need to “go,” a pristine box often tempts them to dig a bit, which may lead to the first deposit.

When he’s creative in the box, reward your cat with verbal praise, a toy, or even a tasty treat reserved only for training. Don’t pick your new kitty up out of the box. Let him make his own way out of the box and the room, so he’ll better remember how to get back there the next time nature calls.

For tiny kittens, leave one recent deposit in the box after he’s been productive. The scent is a reminder of where the box is, and what he’s supposed to do once he’s there. But remember to keep the box clean or the cat will avoid the dirty toilet and find a better spot—such as under your bed.

Remember, very young kittens won’t have the capacity to “hold it” for very long. Refer to this post on kitten development stages for more information. Remember that spaying or neutering your baby cat greatly reduces the chance they’ll spray urine in the future.

Create a Cat Potty Training Schedule

Until you’re sure the kitty consistently uses the box, make a point of scheduling potty times. Kittens need to eliminate more frequently than adults do. Take the baby for a pit stop after each nap, meal, and play period. Playtime is fun for kittens–and you! Learn more about how pets play here.

Teaching basic bathroom allegiance from the beginning ensures your kitten gets off on the right paw—and saves your carpet. You’ll find even more of kitten “must knows” in the book Complete Kitten Care.  Have you ever had problems training kittens to “go” in the right spot? How did you manage?

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Kitten Season! Must-Knows About Newborn Kitten Development

Every year when Spring rolls around we celebrate kitten season! And it’s been a long time since Karma-Kat arrived. If a new baby is in your plans, here’s some updated kitten care info. If you love kittens, learning about newborn kitten development helps you know what to expect, and help the baby along the way. Even if it’s not yet kitten season, it’s helpful to figure out the best age to adopt kittens, and the cat behavior of a three-week-old baby compared to one six weeks old.

Every year at Christmas time, I receive inquiries about adopting a cute kitten for the holidays. It’s more likely for kittens to become available in the spring, though. So whatever time of year, prepare now with all your kitten questions so you’re ready when the purr-fect cat or kitten becomes available.

kitten development stages

Mother cats take good care of kittens.

Kitten Season Brings Roaming Cats

Cats are considered kittens until about one year of age. Before that, though, the girl kitties can become pregnant. It’s not unusual for the unwanted youngsters to roam, looking for someplace safe. That’s how we found Karma-Kat. He showed up in late January, just before an ice storm hit. At age 8 months or so, his “cute” had worn off, and somebody lost him either accidentally or on purpose. Their loss, and our gain.

kitten development

Newborn Kittens are blind and deaf, and use cries to call for mom and help.

Cat & Kitten Development

In the Northern hemisphere, intact girl kitties begin to go into heat in February, and can become pregnant as early as four or five months of age. Within about 63 days, new furry babies make their appearance so brace yourselves for a bumper crop of cute-icity.

Kittens gain two to four ounces a week from birth to five to six months of age. The kitten immune system is also fully developed by six to eight weeks of age, while the immune protection he gained from Mom begins to fade.

kitten development

Kitten play can be relentless.

Kitten Development & Nonstop Kitten Play

Play and interaction with others takes over during weeks five to seven. Social play with Mom and siblings begins now, and includes running, rolling, biting, wrestling, climbing, and jumping. Mom-cat and siblings let the baby know if he bites or claws too hard and they’ll hiss at him or put an end to the game. If you want to avoid kittens chasing your feet, adopt a pair together! Learn more about fostering kittens with socialization tips here.

Orphan Kitten & kitten development

Handraised newborn kittes need to be fed every 4 hours or so with an appropriate kitten milk replacement.

Kitten Development & Ideal Adoption Age

When kittens are adopted too early, or are orphaned and hand raised, you’ll have extra challenges to bringing up baby. By watching mom, kittens learn to use the litter box, for example. What’s cute in a tiny kitten becomes aggravating or even dangerous when he gets older and can tip playtime into play aggression.

Adopting a pair of kittens can be a good option, so the babies wrestle and play with each other rather than targeting your ankles. If you also have dogs, read about introducing your cat to dogs here. Learn more about cat-to-cat introductions here. If you are the “mother figure” it’s up to you to teach Baby about the litter box, playing “nice” and eating grown-up food. Learn more about kitten adoption do’s and don’ts here.

Kitten Socialization For A Lifetime of Love

NEW-KITTEN-COVER-lorez

All your kitten must-knows — discounted Ebook here!

Puppies get more attention when it comes to socialization and puppy developmental stages are a bit different. But socialization is equally important in kittens. The problem is–prime kitten socialization takes place between two-to-seven weeks of age! Oh, the baby will learn after that, but his is the best time to pre-program a cat for success. When you adopt a kitten at this age, it’s up to you to expose him to a wide range of situations so he’ll be willing to accept them as he ages. That’s called “socialization” and can mean the difference between living with a well-adjusted and loving feline, or dealing with a scared or aggressive cat. 

Good experiences with people and other pets during this time ensure they’ll be well-adjusted adult cats. It’s ideal for kittens to stay with their littermates and mother until twelve weeks of age so they learn best how to get along with other cats, and learn all the important “cat rules” of the world. But very often, shelters need the space and adopt out babies earlier–or the kitten is alone in the world anyway, and benefits from being adopted earlier.

It’s important to have handy all the important kitten info. So if you’ve read this far, here’s an EBOOK deal for you–a discounted copy of COMPLETE KITTEN CARE by clicking here.

TEACH KITTENS NOW TO ACCEPT…

Handling and grooming by you and strangers teaches him to accept such things, so the veterinarian won’t have to fight him for an examination. This is the best age to train him to accept the cat carrier and leash. That allows him to travel with you when necessary, either to the vet or groomers or across town to visit Grandma. And if you think another pet (dog or cat), or a child might be in your future, introduce him to positive experiences at this age. That way, he’ll accept them as a normal part of his world and you’ll prevent behavior problems down the road.

How old was your cat when you adopted him? Have you ever needed to hand-raise a kitten? What do you think is the best age to adopt–and why? Please share!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

How to Love Your Cat for World Cat Day

Today is WORLD CAT DAY and it’s the purr-fect time to celebrate our cat love. Maybe you wonder “why does my cat … ” do all sorts of things, or “how do I make my cat love me?” Here are my top 6 ideas how to love your cat every day of the year, so your cat loves you back–not just on World Cat Day.

WHY CAT LOVE MEANS WORLD CAT DAY

Valentine's Pet Safety

Cats are great actors and try to convince pet parents they’re already purr-fectly healthy and happy. With cats, it’s Valentine’s Day every day and a good time to think “outside the litter box” and find special ways to love your cat.

It’s fun to celebrate World Cat Day with special treats and bonus snuggles. It’s even more important to show cat love every day of the year, and your cat won’t care if it costs fifty million dollars or fifty cents. In fact, fifty minutes spent with Kitty probably makes him think he won the cat lottery!

TOP 7 WAYS HOW TO LOVE YOUR CAT

Give Comfort. Cat comfort is an important issue for you cat love. Every cat is an individual, so while one cat wants to swing from the drapes and meet new people, strangers could be a horror movie for other cats. A lot of that has to do with your cat’s socialization and parentage. Cat love means we accept each cat as an individual and adjust expectations to each special cat. Here are six ways you can share cat love and increase your cat’s purrs.

Schedule Play to Love Your Cat

Not every cat enjoys play and mostly the youngsters under a year go nuts for interactive play. Cat teasers like fishing pole lures offer a great aerobic workout for cats. It gets them off their tubby tails to help slim them down. Play increases the bond you share with your cat and can boost the confidence of shy felines and burn off the energy of bully cats that pick on others. Cats play in short bursts so schedule 10 minutes a couple times a day to play with your cats. Learn more about cat play here.

Your fur kids are more interested in playtime and fun activities, and these do help keep kitties both emotionally healthy and happy. Figure out what makes your cat purr delight. Depending on the cat, the emotional connection with their pet parents is top of the list. That’s not to say that all cats are cuddle-bugs or touchy-feely felines. For some cats, simply spending time in the same room and gazing with adoration is the ultimate in cat love.

cat safe chrismas tree

Create Cat Love Entertainment

You wouldn’t think cats get bored but they evolved as hunting machines. Sleeping all day stores up enormous energy and indoor cats look for entertainment outlets. Set up bird houses and bird baths near windows for your cat’s viewing pleasure, as a sort of “kitty TV.”

Love Cats with Hiding Ops

Cats love hiding spots. You can offer an empty box or shopping bag to satisfy many cats. Cat tunnels work great in multiple pet households to reduce feline stress, too. Cats don’t like other pets to stare at them, so a cat tunnel lets kitty travel “under the radar” to reach important locations such as the litter box. Cat tunnels can reduce the hissy behavior between cats since they don’t have to face each other.

Learn more about soothing cat angst in the ComPETability: Cat book available in print and all Ebook platforms. You can get the audio book FREE with a trial subscription to Audible by clicking this link.

Offer Scratch Places Cats Love

Cats scratch to exercise, mark territory and relieve stress. Offering your cat legal scratching outlets makes her happy and keeps her physically healthy as well. Some cats won’t want to share their favorite scratch post so be sure you have at least one for each kitty.

Cats Love Cat Naps–Offer A Snuggly Bed

Cozy fuzzy beds make cats purr with delight. Set a bed under a lamp and you’ll be your feline’s favorite buddy ever! Older cats especially appreciate soft spots to lounge, especially since cats spend up to 16 hours a day napping.

Love Kittens with Understanding

I’m sure you’re already a savvy kitty “parent” but purr-haps you know someone who’d like extra help. You can also get COMPLETE KITTEN CARE for free in an Audible trial by clicking this link.

How do you love your cat? Are there special toys or activities that your felines particularly enjoy? Do tell!

Watch out for these 8 ways we can HISS OFF our cats!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I recommend nothing unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Remembering Seren with Holiday Sparkles, A Cat-Mas Story

Remembering Seren

Seren arrived at a time we’d been pet-less for many years. A friend called to tell me she’d found a kitten–and could I help? The wannabe Siamese baby climbed up my leg, wrapped her chocolate paws around my neck, and purred her way into my heart. It was, indeed, Serendipity that we found each other.

That was more than two decades ago. She inspired my cat writing, hated and finally tolerated “that !@#$%!!!-dawg” when Magic arrived (and outweighed her even as a pup!). And Seren tolerated and ultimately loved her pesky cat brother, Karma. Seren’s tiny frame packed a powerful presence for over 21 years, and now the house echoes with her absence. We mourn, oh how we mourn . . .

Pet Loss–Again

We’ve been through pet grief already this year when we lost Magic. The tears just won’t stop. And now I’ve added more verses to Magic’s song:

A thousand tears I shed each night
Since Seren left that bitter day,
She took away a special light
And turned my world to gray.

If we could, you know we’d fight
To keep her near just one more day.
But clinging love can’t make it right
We let her go, she couldn’t stay.

Swift sweet joy, condensed delight,
Great love is magnified that way.
The years sped by, we couldn’t fight
The deal we made, we had no say.

In time the tears I shed each night
Will shimmer bright, I pray.
For all who mourn love out of sight
Sweet memory holds sway.

For those also hurting, here’s a post on dealing with pet loss that may help.   

And in honor of my tiny girl’s beginning with us, it seemed appropriate to once again share this story about her early days with us.

HOLIDAY SPARKLES: A CAT-MAS STORY

SerenCrash-galumph-galumph-skiiiiiiid-thump!

“Amy! Will you please get your cat before she tears up the house?”

I sighed, and pushed away from the computer. My husband grew up cat-less. Mahmoud neither understood nor appreciated kitten antics, especially while he watched television sports.

Crash-galumph-galumph-skiiiiiiid-thump!

“Ameeeeeeee!”

By the sound of it, the eight-month-old delinquent had donned virtual racing stripes. She ran laps that traversed the carpeted living room and family room, slid across the oak floor entry, bumped down steps to the dining room, then finished with a claw-scrabbling turn around the slate-tiled kitchen.

Thumpa-thumpata-thumpa-THUMP!

Aha, a new path discovered . . . The sound grew louder as she raced toward me up the stairs and flew down the hallway to land tippy-toed on the guest bed across the hall from my office. I peeked inside.

Seren(dipity) stared back with blue-jean-colored eyes. Then she self-inflated in mock terror and began trampoline calisthenics (boing-boing-boing) on the mattress.

I quickly shut the door, confining the demon seed–my husband’s name for her–to my upstairs domain.

Back in June, a friend discovered the dumped kitten napping in an empty flowerpot on the back porch and called me, her pet-writer buddy, for help. I had been pet-less for longer than I cared to admit. E-mail, phone and fax lines kept me connected to my clients and colleagues, but I figured the kitten would brighten the long, sometimes lonely workdays. Besides, as a pet writer I needed a pet. So it was Amy-to-the-rescue, and love at first sight.

My husband wasn’t so easily smitten. He still missed our elderly and sedate German shepherd but cherished the freedom of being pet-less. I convinced him a lap-snuggling kitten would be no trouble. Besides, the cream-color carpet he’d chosen matched the color of Seren’s fur. It had to be an omen.

The cat gods have a wicked sense of humor. They made me pay for that fib.

The Siamese wannabe had no off-switch. She talked nonstop and demanded the last word. She opened drawers and explored kitchen cabinets. She answered my office phone but never took messages. And she left legions of sparkle ball toys everywhere.

sparkle 001

The colorful toys polka-dotted the stairs. You’d think a peacock threw up. The toys floated in the kitten’s water bowl, swirled in the toilet, and bobbed in my coffee cup. And Seren hid sparkle balls everywhere to later stalk and paw-capture them from beneath household appliances.

Mahmoud quickly learned to check his shoes each morning before putting them on. He was not amused. I knew better than to suggest he should be grateful Seren only stuffed his shoes with sparkle balls and not–ahem–other items.

I’d managed to buffer the cat-shock-effect over the past months by keeping her in my office during the day and wearing Seren out with lots of games before Mahmoud came home from work. Weekends proved a challenge. By Monday morning, my husband reached his kitty threshold and welcomed a return to the cat-free-zone at work.

But now the holidays loomed. Mahmoud looked forward to two weeks at home, two weeks of relaxation, two weeks of napping on the couch in front of the TV.

Two weeks sharing the house with “the devil.”

It would indeed be a Christmas miracle if we survived with sense of humor intact.

In the past we’d often visited my folks over the holidays where we enjoyed a traditional snowy Indiana Christmas morning, stocking stuffers, decorated tree, lots of relatives, and a sumptuous turkey dinner. This year we planned a quiet celebration at home in Texas, so snow wasn’t an option. But I wanted to decorate with lots of holiday sparkles to make the season as festive as possible.

“A Christmas tree? Don’t cats climb trees?” Mahmoud’s you-must-be-insane expression spoke volumes. He’d already blamed Seren for dumping his coffee on the cream-colored carpet. Maybe matching fur color wasn’t such a great omen after all.

But ‘tis the season of peace on earth, and I wanted to keep the peace–and the cat. So I agreed. No tree.

Mahmoud didn’t particularly care if we decorated at all since Christmas isn’t a part of his cultural or religious tradition. But he knew I treasured everything about the holidays. So we compromised.

Gold garland with red velvet poinsettias festooned the curving staircase, wrapping around and around the banisters and handrail. Gold beads draped the fireplace mantel, with greeting cards propped above. A red cloth adorned the dining room table, while in the living room, the candelabra with twelve scented candles flickered brightly from inside the fireplace. Other candles in festive holders decorated the several end tables, countertops and the piano.

The centerpiece of Christmas décor was the large glass-top coffee table placed midway between the fireplace, TV and the leather sofa. The wooden table base carried puppy teeth marks, silent reminders of the dog Mahmoud and I still mourned. Since we had no tree, the table served to display brightly wrapped packages that fit underneath out of the way. And on top of the table I placed Grandma’s lovely three-piece china nativity of Mary, Joseph and the Baby in the manger.

Grandma died several years before, right after the holidays. Each family member was encouraged to request something of hers to keep as a special remembrance, and I treasured Grandma’s nativity. The simple figurines represented not only the Holy Family but evoked the very essence of Grandma and every happy family holiday memory.

Of course, Seren created her own memories and put her paw into everything. It became her purpose in life to un-festoon the house. She “disappeared” three of the faux poinsettias, risked singed whiskers by sniffing candles, and stole bows off packages.

She decided the red tablecloth set off her feline beauty. She lounged in the middle of the table beneath the Tiffany-style shade that doubled as a heat lamp, shedding tiny hairs onto the fabric. As every cat lover eventually learns, fur is a condiment. But Mahmoud had not yet joined the cat-lover ranks and was not amused.

“Off! Get off the table. Amy, she’ll break your glass lampshade.”

Crash-galumph-galumph-skiiiiiiid-thump!

Mahmoud had no sooner resettled onto the sofa to watch the TV when the whirling dervish hit again. The twinkling gold beads dangling from the mantel caught her predatory attention. Seren stalked them from below, quickly realized she couldn’t leap that high, and settled for pouncing onto the top of the TV. From there, only a short hop separated her from the ferocious mantel quarry she’d targetted.

“Off! Get off the TV. Amy, will you come get your cat?”

Crash-galumph-galumph-skiiiiiiid-thump!

I arrived in time to see her complete a second Mario Andretti lap. I swear she grinned at us as she skidded past. With the next drive-by Seren stopped long enough to grab my ankle, execute a ten-second feline headstand while bunny-kicking my calves, then resumed her mad dash around the house.

Mahmoud glared. “I thought you said cats sleep sixteen hours a day.”

I shrugged and hid a smile. Seren had already learned what buttons to push. Rattling the wooden window blinds worked extremely well, but now she need only eye the decorations to garner all the attention she craved.

Cute kitty. Smart kitty. Mahmoud wasn’t amused, but I was.

She raced into the living room, leaped onto the glass top table, and belly-flopped alongside my treasured Holy Family . . .

“Off! Get off.” Mahmoud shooed the kitten out of the danger zone before I could react in shock. This time, I was not amused.

Mahmoud knew what Grandma’s nativity meant to me. “Decorating was your idea. Don’t blame me if the devil breaks something,” he warned.

Before he could suggest it, I caught the miscreant and gave her a time out in the laundry room to cool her jets. We’d relegated Seren’s potty, food bowls and bed to this room and routinely confined her at night or when away. Otherwise, she set off motion detectors and the house alarm–or dismantled the house while we slept. Besides, Mahmoud complained Seren’s purring kept him awake at night.

I used a wooden yardstick to fish toys from beneath the washer/dryer to provide necessary feline entertainment during the incarceration. Several dozen sparkle balls–red, orange, yellow, green, blue, pink, purple–and the three missing faux poinsettias emerged, along with an assortment of dust bunnies and dryer lint.

I sighed. The kitten’s age meant several more months of madcap activity and I wasn’t sure how much more Mahmoud could take. He only saw Seren at full throttle. He also suffered from “Saint Spot Syndrome” which meant he recalled only the happy memories of our beloved dog, and overlooked potty accidents, chewed shoes and other normal canine misbehaviors of the past.

Seren suffered mightily in the comparison.

I felt exhausted after the first week of running vacation interference between my husband and the kitten. Whenever possible I kept Seren confined with me in my upstairs office but that backfired. She slept in my office, but once downstairs she turned into a dynamo intent on pick-pick-picking at Mahmoud especially when he ignored her.

The second week began, and as Christmas drew near I found more and more errands that required my attention outside of the house. Mahmoud came with me for some, but other times he preferred TV.

“Just lock up the devil before you leave so she doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I don’t want to watch her.”

It made me nervous to leave them alone together in the house. I worried that Seren might commit some last straw infraction and I’d be unable to salvage any potential relationship. I loved her, heaven help me; she’d hooked her claws deep into my heart. And I loved Mahmoud. I wanted my two loves to at least put up with each other.

But as I prepared to leave I couldn’t find her. At less than five pounds, Seren could hide in the tiniest spaces. One time I found her inside the box springs of the guest bed, but that day–December 23rd–she disappeared and refused to come out of hiding.

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I think she planned it. Maybe the spirit of the holidays inspired her. Or perhaps some other loving canine (or grandmotherly) influence worked its Christmas magic. Whatever the motivation, when I returned home that rainy December evening, my unspoken holiday wish had been granted.

I found my husband napping on the sofa. On the glass top table beside him the Holy Family nested in a radiance of sparkle balls–an inspired feline gift of toys for a very special Child.

And atop Mahmoud’s chest, quiet at last, rested a very happy kitten.

Mahmoud roused enough to open one eye. “Fafnir–I mean Seren still purrs too loud,” he grumbled.

Fafnir had been the name of our dog.

With a nod toward the overcast day Mahmoud added, “At least our cat won’t need to be walked in the rain.”

Seren blinked blue-jean-colored eyes and purred louder.

Note: The story first appeared in a short story collection titled Christmas Cats: A Literary Companion (Chamberlain Bros. Publishing). May your Christmas be joyous, bright, and filled with loving woofs and purrs of those still with you, and those who live on in your heart.

You may also enjoy my annual Christmas Eve story of Why Tabby Cats Wear an “M”

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