Kitty Blackadder

A Scottish blog about making art, too much eyeshadow and becoming a grown up.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Taking your pet with you when you fly the nest?

I'm aware that this post is probably only has interest or relevance to a small amount of people and for that reason, I really debated whether or not to write it. But, having recently been in the position of making this decision myself I know how hard it was and really wish I could have found more personal experiences to read and gain insight from. So this post is about cats and specifically moving your cat into your 'first flat' - but the points to consider along the way can be adapted to pets pretty universally. So here we go, my thoughts on this decision making experience.

Someone was not ready for her close up this morning!

1. Don't rush
There were eight months between me moving out and Meeko, my 14 year old cat, coming to join me. Looking back now, I want to cry when I think about all that 'wasted' time that she could have been up here, cuddling into me every night. Of course they say hindsight is 20/20 and that's definitely true in this case - if I knew then what I know now, she'd have come up months sooner. So why did I hesitate? A lot of it was fear; what if she gets sick or hurt (and there isn't a 'grown up' here to help me deal with it)? What if she runs out the front door, and gets hit by a car (she's only ever lived in cul-de-sacs, she doesn't know about traffic)? What if she's scared or unhappy here? Some fears were more rational than others, but I know I lay awake a lot of nights going over all of them in my mind. Some I simply had to push to the side, and some I had to actually take steps to manage - for example, worrying about her running out the door of the flat was a worry founded on years of experience of Meeko darting past me out of doors at Mum's house. Now, at Mum's house it didn't matter - she ran out and was in the garden, no problem. But here at the flat she would need to be an indoor cat and she might not realise that. I had to take enough time to make sure that I was going to be OK with always taking time to secure the cat before opening the door - but also to ask Kenny and make sure he would be too, he'd never lived with a cat after all. We did 'dry runs' for a month or so before to get ourselves used to not swinging the door open when we came home and things like that - it sounds silly, but it was something to get used to and I'm glad we took the time to do it before Meeko was here!

There were also other factors to consider in the bigger timeline. We moved out in November 2014, and clearly for the first month or so we couldn't bring her up as things were in disarray. Then, it seemed silly to bring her up before Christmas as I'd be going down to Mum's for a week or so anyway, and then, in January I started a new job and was suddenly out the house a lot - would it still be fair to bring her up? I won't list every factor I considered, but you get the idea. One slightly random one that I'm glad I thought of was that I wanted to wait until we had painted the living room as I knew that all the upheaval would stress Meeko out - even though that added on an extra month, I still think it was the right decision. She'd have been very upset with having to spend the day somewhere other than the couch!

2. Try and see the bigger picture
 So, once you get passed the day to day worries I've mentioned above, I would advise thinking of exactly how having a cat in your home will impact your life on a bigger scale. For example, our flat is a lot smaller than the houses Meeko grew up in, this means there's a much higher chance of her becoming stressed if there are lots of people round, or loud music on, simply because there wouldn't be anywhere she could go that she couldn't hear loud people/noise. Again, this was something I had to discuss with Kenny - he's a student, would he be OK with not being able to have 'parties' or group hang outs here because of Meeko? 

And then there's the biggie that's coming in to play now - what about going away for a few nights? Now, some cats of course travel fine and you can just take them home for a few days with you if you like. Meeko does not. She is 14 and has only ever been in the car to go to the vets, the cattery or now to move here. Not exactly fun for her - there is no way I would ever get her to travel non-essentially. So - what about Christmas? Well for the first time ever in my life, I won't be spending Christmas Eve or Boxing Day with my mum and sister because I can't leave Meeko overnight. Now, don't get me wrong, I love having Meeko here and am happy to make the sacrifice - but it is a big sacrifice (my family take Christmas seriously!!). You definitely need to consider how big a tie your cat will be for you, and whether you're willing or able to adjust where necessary.

3. Understand that you can't see into the future
It's funny, some of the things I worried about most have never been an issue with Meeko; I was concerned about traffic and street noise from outside - remember she's only lived in village cul-de-sacs - but she hardly ever even bats an eyelid about it. I was worried about her missing going outside, but she's never once indicated she's stressed out or agitated - we just make a lot of effort to play with her so she exercises, and have things set up so she can sit on the windowsill and watch the world go by.

And then there's things I never thought of that are, well not 'issues', but a thing anyway. Night time. Meeko has always slept on my bed since she was a tiny kitten - when I was older and Kenny stayed at Mum's she would still sleep on the bed - after thoroughly terrorising Kenny in his sleep of course. So I just assumed she would do the same here. Nope. For some reason I still can't figure out - she won't sleep on the bed here. What this means though is that she sleeps on the sofa but, a couple of times each night gets hungry/bored/lonely and comes through to waken me so I have to get up and give her cuddles. Now I know, this is a bad habit to start - but what's the alternative? She makes so much noise that we can't sleep through it otherwise!

4. Who is it really for?
A harsh question, but one that needs to be asked. I missed Meeko so, so, so much when I lived apart from her and never doubted for a second that I wanted her up here with me. I knew what sacrifices I'd need to make, and I was happy to make them - but what about what I was asking Meeko to sacrifice? Was moving her up best for her, or just for me?

Meeko has always been able to go outside - when she was younger she was out a lot, but as she's gotten older she would nip out for about 5 minutes most days, probably longer on nice summer days. Still, moving her here would mean she would never go outside again. Ever. I feel upset just writing that - it seems like such a big decision to make on behalf of another creature. In the end it came down to a 'lesser of two evils' situation. Meeko was lonely at Mum's without me, Mum works long hours and is often out evenings and weekends too - Meeko really likes company (though she'll never admit it!!). She also missed 'me' specifically, she's my cat (or I'm her human, depending how you look at it), she's never been close with anyone else and so she spent a lot of time looking for me and crying in my room after I left. All I could do was try and decide what was better for her: being in a nice big, much warmer house she knew, where she could go outside, and her sister was there too but where she wouldn't have me, or much company at all, or, moving to a strange new flat at 14, where it's noisy and draughty sometimes and where she'd have me but no outside access- she's never got on with her sister really, so I tried not to stress about that one too much!

It's a really tough question to answer, I don't think I've ever wished more that I could have a proper conversation with Meeko and just ask her what she wanted to do! 

4. Being Practical
 As well as all the emotional decisions to be made, there are practical aspects to consider too. How much will it cost to keep a cat? Food? Cat litter? Toys? Medication? Putting the heating on a little more in winter 'cos you worry they'll be cold? Definitely take time to sit and budget it out and see what impact that will have on your monthly finances. 

Space is another practical consideration. Do you have somewhere to put a litter tray that the cat will feel comfortable using it and it won't be horrific if they decide to use it while you're in the middle of dinner, or have a friend round for coffee? What about food bowls? Bedding? A scratching post? Have they got somewhere to hide? Somewhere to climb? Cats are pretty small, but all the stuff they need, and places they like mean you will have to set aside more space than you might think in order to keep them happy.

5. Nobody can make the decision for you
I cannot stress this point enough. Like I said, it took eight months for me to bring Meeko here and in that time people close to me, with only the best intentions, kept urging me to just bring her up. She misses you. She'll adjust fine. You'll stop being scared once you have her in the flat. As it turns out all these things were true, but I didn't know that at the time, and had a hard time being sure that I was making the right decisions for Meeko and wasn't just being selfish. As much as it pains me to say it, I think I made the right decision in waiting as long as I did; I needed time to settle in (and I need more time than most, thanks to my anxiety), I needed time to prepare for her coming and I needed to be sure that she missed me more than she would miss space or freedom. I had days, weeks, maybe even months where I had decided not to bring her at all - it was too big a change at her age - I really did swing back and forward on it all. It was a tough decision to make and ultimately, despite the best intentions of those around me, only I could make it.

So those are my thoughts surrounding the choice I made to bring Meeko to live with me - definitely one of the hardest decisions I've had to make. For anyone else making the decision, I wish you the best of luck - only you know yourself and your furry friend well enough to know what's best - just remember that. I'll be back soon with some practical tips on actually bringing your cat to live with you!

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