Getting Acquainted: Starlight and Melissa
Learning the Rules and Establishing Roles
When Melissa came to live here last fall, I had several ideas about where the challenges might be.
Melissa is a dominant cat. At 6 months of age and even younger, according to Kim, her breeder, Melissa tried to dominate all the adults at the cattery.
So introducing Melissa here meant keeping a watchful eye on each of my other cats.
Kim brought Melissa for a “play date” – something rarely done in the cat world. Cats are not like dogs. It can take cats a long time to become acquainted.
I was happy to do this, however, because I knew that Starlight was sensitive to energies and would get a good feel for Melissa if they had time together, even just an hour or two.
Kim and her daughter both came for visit. All 3 humans sat on the floor in a small room with Melissa and Starlight.
Starlight basically wants to be friends with everyone, so she was excited to meet Melissa.
Melissa basically wants to be dominant over everyone, so the first thing she did was growl at Starlight.
Starlight had never been growled at. She was familiar with hissing, but growling upped the ante beyond her experience. She was surprised, and quickly pulled back from the nose-to-nose “let me sniff you” greeting posture.
Melissa then took over the hassock cat bed, placed herself down on it, curled her front paws underneath her, and surveyed her new domain.
Starlight was fascinated as she sat cautiously under my sewing machine table at the far end of the room.
There were more subtle interactions going on, but neither cat came physically close to the other again that day.
After the “play date” was over, I asked Starlight how she felt about Melissa coming here to live.
I really like her. I want her to come. I think she’ll be fun and teach me things.
I was very pleased to hear this, as I really wanted Melissa to come.
I had told all 3 of my cats that everyone had to agree, but that it was especially important that Starlight wanted Melissa to be here, as she would be alone with Melissa after Violet (16 years) and Sakhara (19 years) left the physical realm.
After checking in with Violet and Sakhara, who had taken quick looks at Melissa from a distance and then rapidly exited, it was clear that everyone was in agreement. Melissa could come live here if she wanted to come.
INTEGRATING WITH STARLIGHT
Starlight is Echo (my horse) reincarnated.
Echo was always the low horse on the totem pole in any herd, even when there were just 2 horses.
When Starlight arrived, she showed total deference to both Violet and Sakhara, and Violet’s word on anything and everything was accepted as LAW.
When Violet and Sakhara announced that it was up to Starlight to “bring up” her new younger sister, I was a bit concerned.
How was Starlight going to respond to a kitten who saw herself as dominant?
I could feel Starlight’s uncertainty. I told her,
Let’s talk about this, OK? You can ask me questions, and I’ll answer them as best I can. You and I can discuss what the rules will be and we’ll agree on them and then you can tell Melissa. I’ll back you up 100%
Starlight was clearly relieved. Here were some of the things we discussed.
- Do not allow Melissa to take over your favorite spots. They are YOUR spots. It’s OK to share them with her, but don’t let her take them over.
At first, Starlight would just let Melissa do whatever she wanted and tell me, “It’s OK” and walk away.
Maybe it was “OK” for now, but I sensed that very soon it wouldn’t feel that way.
While Starlight is very generous and loving and compassionate and giving, at some point she was probably going to feel pushed aside.
This was especially true because Violet had told Starlight that she was not to jump in or sit in my lap in the living room. Starlight had made a place for herself in my office, and now Melissa was moving in on Starlight’s spot.
- You’re bigger and stronger than Melissa. You can stand up for yourself without hurting her. Melissa needs to learn about boundaries, and you’re the perfect one to teach her about them. I promise to back you up every time.
Starlight was very unsure about this at first. For one thing, Starlight doesn’t much like boundaries, either. I saw this as an opportunity for Starlight to learn more about setting and maintaining boundaries.
- I’d like you to help me teach Melissa what is and what is not acceptable in our home. You know what the rules are here for good behavior. I’ll be teaching her as well, so we can do it together.
This one is particularly interesting, as Starlight was always so cooperative. If I asked something of her, such as “please stay off the counters” it only ever took twice and she “got it” and cooperated.
Melissa, on the other hand, didn’t listen, didn’t want to hear about any rules, and proceeded to ignore them consistently. She was a “typical teenager” from the get go at 6 months of age. I could ask her to do or not do something 100 times and she’d continue to ignore me.
- Remember — your rules about your relationship with Melissa don’t have to be the same as the rules Violet gave you. Make rules that feel right to you for your relationship with Melissa.
I promised to work with her as a team. I could feel that Starlight felt supported in her new role as “big sister.”
This approach worked very well. When Starlight was uncertain about how to handling things, she’d ask me. Whenever I saw her standing up for herself, I praised her highly.
If Melissa needed additional confirmation about doing what Starlight asked of her, I gave it, and Melissa quickly learned that I wouldn’t allow her to dominate Starlight.
Soon Starlight was able to get Melissa out of her bed if she didn’t want Melissa to sleep with her or if Melissa was biting her trying to play when Starlight wanted to sleep.
One day, I noticed the two of them curled up together. Melissa started to bite Starlight, who took a paw and firmly placed it down on Melissa’s head. The biting stopped immediately.
I also made sure there was another bed available close by that Melissa liked and could call her own.
I reassured both cats that I loved them and that I supported Starlight’s right to be the older sibling and to teach Melissa, and that each cat would get her needs met.
Here’s a video I made of the two playing while Melissa was in recovery from spaying. Choose full screen to read all the comments.