I’m not an authority on cats — I just love them. I wish we had one, but my human has allergies and says I’m a menagerie all by myself. She loves cats, though, and has many friends with felines, which means that I get to visit them…

Cats are different. Most dogs come when you call them by name; cats are said to have answering services. They purr to a different drummer, so to speak, and they are — like many of their furry contemporaries — creatures of habit.

Did you get a puppy or kitten or adopt a rescue during the Season to be Jolly? If you did, how’s it going? If you didn’t, now might be a really good time to consider adopting. Here are some guidelines to make introducing a new pet into your home and lifestyle a bit easier.

Older cats, especially those who have been with one person or one family since kittenhood, are going to be traumatized by relocation to a new home. It’s a major shock to the feline system. A friend of ours recently took in two 12-year-old cats after they had been with their human since they were weaned, but marriage changed everything after the birth of her first baby, who was violently allergic to cats. They tried keeping the cats and the infant separated, but once he started toddling, he was everywhere. Even confining the cats to a part of the house where the toddler couldn’t go didn’t help as cat hair and dander tend to waft around a house no matter how clean you keep it.

The solution to re-home her senior kitty citizens broke the young mom’s heart, but a good friend took in the cats. Having taken in rescued feral cats over the years, she knew they would be traumatized and set up a cat-condo in her basement, complete with food, water, cat beds, kitty litters and privacy. She visits them daily and opens a can of food, splitting it between two dishes. She has petted them, but they’re not keen on socializing. She knows she’s going to have to capture them and confine them to a smaller area. The spacious basement isn’t full of stuff so it has plenty of open space, but also hiding places – too many to get the cats accustomed to a new human.

There are two ideal situations to ease older or feral cats into a new home: when your garage connects directly with the house via a door where a cat flap can be installed or a room within the house that has no furniture except kitty beds, litters, food, and water — may be a cardboard box or two to appease the feline’s natural inclination to see but not be seen… The connecting garage needs kitty litters, food up higher than curious dogs if you have dogs, and that little door within the people door so the cat can come into the house to get hydrated, which is part of the socializing process.

That said, the room with little or no furniture and limited hidey-holes might be your best shot as it’s more convenient for you to spend time with your new feline(s).

Why go to all this trouble? Visit the Middleburg Humane Foundation’s website and read about the rescues, canine and feline. It’s an ongoing labor of love and dedication that’s never really finished. The numbers are mind-boggling.

Cats might take months to come around, but once they do, you’ll be their BFF (best friend forever) and find yourself accompanied by a professional purring machine.

Feral cats, even young ones, are going to be even more suspicious than older domesticated cats. There’s no telling how long it will take them, but the younger a cat is, the sooner they come around. Kittens are easy — they want to be cuddled and coddled. They will use you, your legs, your furniture, curtains, whatever’s available that they can reach, as jungle gyms. Their tiny claws are lethal hooks so be prepared for upholstery to spill some stuffing.

What cats need to feel welcome in your household is different from dogs. Cats want their food, water and scratch boxes (kitty litter), but you can go away, Your arrival to open a can of lovely-smelling cat food won’t necessarily bring them out of hiding. That means you’re going to have to look for signs of life: the kibble’s gone, the water level is down, and the litter boxes are being used.

Remember when we remarked that cats have answering machines? No matter what tasty tidbits you bring, elderly felines in cultural shock from re-homing aren’t going to come out of hiding until they’re darn good and ready. It may take months, but when they do acknowledge your existence, that’s when cat magic takes place. They will cozy up to you and possibly even twine around your neck like a living feathered boa. Young ones especially will treat your pants leg or pantyhose as if it’s their Mount Everest — yes, it hurts! Forewarned is forearmed.

Dogs like company, for the most part, although there are some “only child” types out there. Be prepared to reinforce proper potty training by taking your new dog or puppy outside on a leash for the first week or so to get them familiar with where preferred potty zones are. Opening the door to the yard is inviting them to pee or poo on the porch or very close to the patio, especially when the weather is lousy — very cold, rainy, sleeting, icy, snowy. Living in an apartment building or condo requires a regular schedule of leash walks and poo bags for disposal of solid wastes. It’s either plastic bags and walks or regular poop-scooping to clean up your yard.   

BeeZee speaks up: I’ve been really good, letting my human rattle on, but let me tell you, dogs are sometimes a bit attention deficit. If I detect a whiff of fox or deer, I forget all about doing my business because I’m trying to figure out where that critter is. Teaching your dog with consistent verbal cues can be very handy. I know what it means when she says: “Go pee!” I also know she ain’t joking when she says “Quickly!” When she starts calling, “Pop a squat and pee! Pop, pop, pop,” I know she really means business about me doing my business. Everyone’s different, but I have noticed that my beagle cousins now know exactly what “go pee!” means and they also get it when she shouts “Not on the porch!”

When it comes to your animals, especially getting to know new ones, if you’re in doubt or have questions, consult your local animal rescue shelter. Middleburg Humane Foundation has a certified pet trainer who works with their animals and also teaches classes. www.middleburghumane.org

It’s very important to be patient with new animals. They may be feeling insecure and quite frightened by the major change in their circumstances. Time and patience will win them around, along with high-quality food, whether it’s kibble, canned, raw or dehydrated, and the occasional tasty treat.

Oh, and love…

Happy New Year woofs, purrs, tweets and chirps!

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