Meet Mookah, a striped Tabby cat with a famously prickly disposition, who has just demonstrated to myself, the dog, and herself as well, that it is never too late to make a change for the better.
As cats go, Mookah is thirteen years old and therefore “getting up in years.” I suppose you could say that she and I (rapidly approaching Medicare eligibility) and Lucky, my ten year old dog, are all in the same boat. We have long-standing habits, routines, and ways of doing things. Mookah has lived most of her life proving her reputation as being difficult, unfriendly, aloof, standoffish, prickly, thoroughly hostile to other cats, and generally very tightly wound.
You get the picture. She is also beautiful, with feral grey and brown and cream stripes, gorgeous green eyes, and a delicate, elegant figure. But her looks were never what anybody took away from a casual encounter. Bloody scratches, perhaps, or maybe a tooth mark if she took exception to how long you tentatively stroked her forehead in an effort to make friends.
Technically, Mookah has been my younger daughter’s cat since she was a wee kitten rescued from a shelter. However, as has been true with a few other family felines, there have been times that Mookah has moved into my house as a temporary arrangement.
The transitions have never been smooth or easy. Ferocious cat fights were common, and blood was occasionally spilled. She caused so much disruption while my house was for sale a few years ago that I finally “rehomed” her to a perky college student who was quite happy to pamper Mookah and worship her as an “only cat.”
The large empty nest eventually sold, and I moved to my present, smaller digs. And then, a year after I had weepily handed Mookah over to her new owner and driven away with tears streaming down my face, the college student reached out to me in a panic. She had moved to a new apartment, and only after moving discovered that her landlord would not allow a cat on the premises. Could I possibly take Mookah back?
What’s a “cat grandmother” to do? I said “yes,” of course. However, she was not going to be an “only cat” at my house. Not only was there another cat on board—Smokey who was friendlier, cuddlier, more relaxed, constantly seeking physical contact and thoroughly adapted to lap sitting and tummy rubs—I still had my large dog, Lucky.
If I had thought that navigating several pet egos and tamping down bloodshed was difficult in a five-bedroom house with two floors, it was only going to get harder in a tiny duplex!!
The prevailing New World Order required that the house was effectively partitioned into two zones, with Lucky appointing himself as the “cat police” to enforce compliance. Smokey got the living room and my bedroom, where he curled up beside my pillow every night and purred. Mookah got the smaller bedroom where my daughter stayed when she was in town, and the small den at the back of the house.
Lucky kept a constant eye on the living room, enforcing the new rules. Mookah dared not take a step into the living room without being greeted at the doorway by a large canine staring her down as if to say “you shall not pass!”
Lucky is part Border Collie, by the way. He may not have a flock of sheep to boss around, but “herding cats” became second nature to him.
And so the uneasy peace was maintained, even though I occasionally woke to the sound of brief but furious fighting down the hall between gentle Smokey and Mookah, the hellion.
And then, unexpectedly, my beloved Smokey took ill and then died. I was bereft, shattered, in deep mourning for the loss of this pet who—while I had juggled crushing physical and emotional stress due to family emergencies—had embodied affection, love, patience, and serenity. It just wasn’t fair, I thought. Why couldn’t it have been Mookah who was taken instead?
Weeks passed, then months, and now it has been a year. I continued all the traditional ways I could think of and had long been doing to “make friends” with this prickly feline, and none seemed to be working. Despite the gourmet treats, the bursts of lavender-scented pheromone “calming” spray, the fluffy blankets and flannel on the bed to make her comfortable, she seemed as emotionally distant and guarded and selectively unfriendly as ever.
And Lucky, ever vigilant, continued his duties of keeping her confined to “her” half of the house, and barred her from the living room even though peace no longer demanded it. We lived very separate lives.
And then, during yet another of Mookah’s furtive, cautious attempts to expand her boundaries and enter the living room, I caught Lucky’s attention and motioned him with a stern look to stay just where he was. Mookah cautiously walked in a few feet more. Lucky looked from the cat back to me, and once again I told him not to move.
He sank to the floor reluctantly as Mookah tentatively crossed the room entirely and found a hiding place behind an overstuffed chair.
“Good boy!!” I told Lucky. And at last, unexpectedly, a truce had been born. Again and again in the coming days, Mookah would walk more confidently into the living room, and again and again I praised Lucky to the hilt for staying put instead of springing into “cat police” mode. It is our “new normal.”
This has been nothing short of transformational for us all.
Mookah now strides through the living room with confidence, arching and stretching on the large “cat tree” that had gone unused since Smokey’s passing. No longer threatened and challenged by Lucky’s constant vigilance, she spends hours curled up on the edge of the sofa, basking in the afternoon sunlight as it pours through the large window and regarding a world of birds, squirrels and other critters she had not been able to view before this.
Curled up in a warm ball on my daughter’s bed, she unfurls herself when I enter the room and presents her tummy for some scratching. Instead of swatting away my hand in irritation and causing me to reach for the antibiotic ointment if I scratch her ears too long, she now leans into the caress and purrs.
As for Lucky, well, it seems you can teach an old dog a new trick!
And as for me, I am awash in wonderment at both the change in Mookah’s temperament and what an intangible, small change it took to accomplish it.
A little patience, a little personal space, a little kindness. A magical lesson that makes me think that no matter what our age, there are still “new tricks” to be learned, if you just keep your mind and heart wide open.