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Rehoming Nelson

Nov 28 Update: Thank you to L&D for adopting Nelson as a new member of their family. I am sure he will be very happy in his new home.

It is time for our sweet boy Nelson to find a new home. He was our very first foster and adoption but, after two years, we have to admit we are the wrong home for him.

We took the Seattle Animal Shelter foster parent class then went down to visit with the cats needing foster. Nelson reached out through the cage and latched onto Marie’s sweater so we took him home. Pretty soon he was sleeping on my desk while I worked, in bed with us, and chirping for attention. He purred loudly when we pet him and we soon fell in love with him.


Nelson waiting by the door for us.

Nelson sleeping on the chair in my office.

The sweet boy sleeping on my desk while I worked.

And so, we adopted him. A short while later we brought home a new foster cat, Luna. It took a while for Nelson and Luna to co-habitate peacefully. Nelson would follow and chase Luna. Even after months he would attack her now and then. But most of the time they seemed to like each other. There was some contention over beds, but we resolved that.

Luna was a sweetheart and we decided to adopt her too.

Nelson and Luna getting to know each other.

Looks like they could be friends.

Yes, they like each other.


Nelson would at times become quite manic and we thought he wanted a more playful buddy than Luna. We took Jojo as a foster transfer with the idea he may be a good buddy for Nelson. Soon the two were playing together and all three settled in together so we adopted Jojo.

Nelson and Jojo sleeping together.

All three cats together.

Not long after that, Nelson and Jojo started to fight. We tried many different things to get them back together but to no avail. We eventually re-homed Jojo. Along the way we introduced Nelson to several foster kittens and he generally got along with them.

Nelson and Maxwell

Nelson and Winnie

Nelson was sometimes a little rough but Winnie adored Nelson

Cleaning the Put-n-Take

As time passed, Nelson seemed less able to tolerate the presence of any other cats or kittens. We eventually moved all our cat rescue activity to the garage. We talked to several different vets to see if there was a medical issue that would cause his strange behavior and we even hired a cat psychologist. We tried Prozac and all kinds of behavior therapy but nothing seemed to truly help. Ultimately, he did not seem happy with us. To understand why, we took him to cat communicator Polly Klein. Through her, Nelson told us that other cats make him nervous and he does not want to live with other cats. We asked if he could be kind to Luna and tolerate other cats so we could help them like we helped him. Polly said his anxiety was too high.

Luna being friends with Nelson

Nelson loves his peeps

We love Nelson dearly. He is a great cat to live with. He is very interactive – hopping up on tables for pets and attention, sleeping with us, and seeking out lap time. But all the foster cats make him too nervous so it is time to re-home him. He is now at All The Best pet store on Queen Anne, where the amazing staff watch over him and will help him find the perfect home. Parting was more painful than we could imagine, but even at the strange pet store, with no other cats around, we could see him relax and start to settle into his new space. Our house is much more relaxed now and we’ve already taken on six additional foster cats and kittens to help with overcrowding at the shelter. We sense that Luna misses Nelson and we may eventually find her a much more cat-tolerant permanent companion. For now, we look forward to helping as many cats as we can without fear of upsetting our dear, dear Nelson.

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Jojo was our third cat, and he surprised us.  To explain how I have to tell his story.

We got Jojo as a foster transfer.  Another Seattle Animal Shelter foster family was asking for someone to take Jojo as he was harassing their elder cat.  We were looking for a buddy for Nelson and thought that could be Jojo so we took him in as a foster.

Right off he intimidated us.  He growled at our other cats through the door and growled at us.  Physically he is a robust cat and we were wary of him.   We thought he might eat little Nelson for lunch.  Jojo does not weigh more than one pound more than Nelson, but he just looks bigger.

The introduction to Luna and Nelson was slow but eventually they were all together.  Soon Nelson and Jojo were play buddies.

Nelson and Jojo playing

All Three Together

We saw an edge of aggression in Nelson’s play with Jojo but we figured that Jojo could stand up to that and otherwise things looked good so we adopted Jojo.  We now had three cats.

Jojo and a toy

However, neither Marie or I felt a strong bond to Jojo.  He seemed primarily interested in play with toys and other cats.  He did not display much affection toward us.  But, he needed a home, he was difficult to adopt, and he fit in with our other cats.  We could give him a good home.

We continued fostering and took in kittens Maxwell, Sabine, and Blanca.  Sometime during this the relationship between our residents soured.  Nelson started attacking Jojo and became less happy in general.  Jojo, in turn, got more play aggressive with Luna.  Soon we were isolating Jojo from Luna and Nelson.  To keep Jojo company we kept Maxwell with them – they were good buddies.  But they would spend most of the day in Marie’s office.  Nights we gave them run of the downstairs.  Max, however, would usually slip past the side of our barrier to join us upstairs, leaving Jojo by himself.

We thought that Max could be the cause of Nelson’s aggression so in August we redoubled our efforts and soon found a good home.  It did not solve the problem. Worse, Jojo was by himself most of the time.  Out of sympathy, Marie or I would sleep in the downstairs bedroom to keep him company.  

This is when he surprised us:  he turned out to be great company.  Jojo is a really sweet cat.  He likes to be with us and is interested in what we are doing, loves head rubs and play time, and sometimes crawls into our laps.  He is not exceedingly affectionate but very interested, interactive, and self-reliant.  A great companion.

Helping us clean the bookshelf

Meditating with me

Snuggled into my lap for a nap

We both came to feel a much stronger connection with Jojo so we increased our efforts to re-introduce him and Nelson.  In September We hired a can behaviorist who offered a lot of good suggestions.  Her program was to give Nelson a reason to like Jojo through positive association with food, treats, and play time.  When that alone did not work we gave Nelson kitty prozac.  When that did not work in January 2011 we added another anti anxiety drug.

Jojo and a foster kitten

By the end of January we admitted that it was not going to work and it was time to find Jojo a new home.  I made a web page [link], a listing, and kept Craig’s list postings up to date.  After a week a nice couple from Everett contacted us.  They seemed cat savvy and willing to have patience with Jojo’s slow adaptation to new situations.  They didn’t have any cats but did have a little dog.  Jojo and dogs were a complete unknown.

We wanted to give Jojo a good home but could not. We could at least feed him the best food we knew and keep him company as best as we were able but once we adopt him out we would give up control of that. I would like to explain all this to Jojo – why his whole world is about to change – but can’t. This is a time of feeling my limits but still trying to do the best for Jojo.

When we met the couple we liked them.  They appreciated both cats and dogs and the different type of companionship each provides.  They liked who Jojo was.  Jojo seemed to like them.  The only question was would Jojo like the dog, Teddy.

Jojo’s standard response to a new cat is to hiss, growl, and run away or swat at them.  We have introduced him to a lot of kittens and this has been his initial reaction to all of them, even Button, Ambassador to Cats.  Jojo gets over it but it takes about 2 weeks.  I thought if we got a similar reaction to the dog that was a good sign.  Back up, tail fat, full attack mode would be a contra indication.  Well, Jojo walked right up and sniffed Teddy’s nose.  No growl, no hiss.  He did lift his paw as if he was thinking of batting Teddy but then set it back down.  He was interested and calm.  Somehow dogs are in a different category – somewhere between cats and people. We all thought it could be a good match.

So we got their carrier, said last good byes, and away Jojo went.

Jojo and the dog Teddy

Jojo about to got to his new home

I find myself wondering:  how is he doing?  Is he scared?  Is he interested?  What is he experiencing?  Why don’t he write?  That is just it.  I would love to hear from Jojo himself – but I never will.

After a couple days we got this report:

Jojo is fitting in well.  We kept him in the bedroom the first night so hecould get used to his surrounding and our smell without the dog botheringhim.  When we let him out he looked around a bit and came right back tothe bedroom.  He sits in the window during the days and lays in bed withus at night.
We are glad to have a new companion and teddy seems happy to have a new friend.

We may get one more update but likely won’t know how the rest of Jojo’s life goes.  As the Buddha said:

From meeting comes parting
From birth comes death

This is inevitable and we are ultimately unable to protect others or ourselves from these experiences.

4/28/11 Update: We got an update!

hello tom!

Sorry for the lack of email we have been out of internet for a while.
JoJo is doing great. He loves playing with teddy and loves sleeping in
bed with us. I have not managed to catch a picture of him and teddy
together yet, they always stop playing as soon as I grab the camera. JoJo
even get along well with the two year old up stairs.

He spends alot of free time looking out the slider door where there is
squirrels and I think some frogs. As well as plenty of time in our
bathroom keeping an eye on our guinue pigs and hamster.

Im not sure what time you fed him at night but we have been wanting to
feed him and teddy both when we eat at 5 . However he is insistent that we
feed him at 3. So of course the pets now all eat at 3.

He still seems wary of coming out of the bedroom, but he also seems
content in there so we do not push it.


Jojo's original adoption blurb (from the shelter)

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Because our cats have been fractious we have been keeping them isolated. To make this easier we built a door for the top of the stairs to our second floor. The evening we put it up Luna jumped it.

Luna and Nelson - New Door

The door is about 5′ high from above and about 5’8″ from below (it is at a step) and there is little to grab onto. She probably stood on the bench to the left so it was not such a tall jump but the door is only 1/4″ thick so there is precious little for her to grab onto or stand on top of. Marie heard a kerfufel, a thump, and momentarily Luna came strolling into the room.

Before this door we were using the introduction barrier to block the upstairs:

Nelson and Jojo - Introduction Screen

I built this when we picked up Luna as a foster and wanted to introduce her to Nelson. It just slides into place and rests against the door frame. Originally it was about 5′ high and luna quickly learned to climb over that. I extended it to 6′ with some wood that didn’t quite fit edge to edge and Luna learned to get around that. The final solution was to add some plexi-glass to over 6′, full width. The clear glass lets us see through.

Problem is that it is awkward to move. Slipping through it while keeping a cat from slipping out is a skill. Doing this with even a cup of tea in hand it difficult. So it creates a barrier for both the cats and ourselves. Having it up for the one or two weeks of a successful introduction is tolerable. Having to keep it up for months of this slow re-introduction has been an on-going frustration. Using it at the stop of a flight of stairs (even with a small landing) presented an on-going risk of falling down the stairs so we are both glad to have

Meanwhile, the introduction barrier is set up at the door to Jojo’s room. Nelson seems to be upset when there are places he can not go and cats he can not, um, dominate? We are hoping that letting them watch each other will help them relax with each other.

We have also built a door on the basement stairs

Basement Cat Door

Basement Cat Door

For now we are keeping foster cats in the basement, isolated from our residents. Problem is, once the fosters have explored the basement they are ready to see the rest of the house. Their presence at the door increased resident cat stress and makes it very difficult for us to get downstairs with out the fosters slipping upstairs. We still need to fill some holes around this door, but hope that it will keep the fosters away from the actual basement door and make it easier to have them in our house.

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In late December we went back to the shelter, officially adopted Nelson, and then asked who else needs our help. This is a difficult question to answer. There are lots of cats who need our help – more than we can help. The shelter officers are not much help either, through no fault of their own. When we ask who needs help they often bounce the question back to us: who do you want to take. But it is not about who I want to take – it is about who needs help. Well, that and who I feel enough connection with to want to help. This question comes up every time we go to choose our next foster cat. Answering it has become a little easier as I rely more on the officers to tell me who they most want to see taken to foster.

On this day we saw several cute cats who had not been adopted for a while for one reason or another. Then we saw Lucky. She had licked the fur off her belly and flanks. There was a large bald patch on her left front leg. Her tail was strangely flat. And she would not come out of her cage. When removed she just jumped back in. She did not look appealing to me – I did not want to snuggle her or take her home – and these traits are exactly what made her a great foster candidate. But we knew we would have to change her name as she appeared to be anything but Lucky.

We sequestered her in the brown room and would spend time visiting with her. I built a barrier so that she and Nelson could see each other but not get into a fight. And we changed her name to Luna.

Marie and I are particularly sensitive to the suffering of loneliness. To ease her loneliness we would, at times sleep in the brown room with her. Mostly she would hide under the bed but at times she would come out, lay on my chest, accept very gentle pets, and purr. Then she lay in the chair next to me and fell asleep.

Luna behind the Introduction Barrier

Looking looking at me

Nelson and Luna Sniffing

Nelson and Luna Sleeping Near Each Other

Luna in Bed, Nelson Near

Nelson in Bed, Luna Kicked Out


Soon we could not imagine giving Luna to anyone else. She was a delicate flower and we did not want to trust her care to anyone else. By February, we had adopted her.

Being a two-time foster failure, the house was starting to feel full and we decided to get serious about the fostering part of being foster parents. Once again, we went back to the shelter and asked who needs help. This time we were sent home with Precious – a sweet young girl who had crawled into an engine compartment for warmth and was injured when someone started the engine. We cared for her for a couple weeks, keeping her well away from our other cats so she could heal from her injuries. She started to need company and our cats were too much for her state. At the same time, there were foster parents with a cat much too playful for their older kitties. An exchange was made and we said goodbye to Precious and hello to Jojo a playful boy cat who we thought might make a good playmate for Nelson.


Jojo and his toy mouse

Jojo is large and is intimidating when he’s scared. He growled at our other cats (through the closed door) and at us. We were both a little intimidated to go into his room. Introduction took a while but eventually he integrated with Nelson and Luna. And, Jojo and Nelson did become good play buddies. They spent several hours each morning – much to our sleep detriment – thundering around our bedroom. 90% of the play was mutual but perhaps 10% of the time Nelson would take it too far, would play too aggressively. Still, Jojo was big enough to handle Nelson and mostly they seemed to enjoy each other.

Our cat shelves

Maxwell, Sabine, and Blanca

Beginning of June we decided to adopt Jojo. At the same time Marie picked up a scared 7-week old semi-feral kitten, she named Maxwell, who had been found in an alley off Lake City Way. He was a darling ball of energy and quickly picked up the nickname “little peep”. Since he was semi-feral he needed socializing to humans and other cats. Marie slept on the floor of her office (where Max lived) for two weeks, and I made a point to spend time with him every day. After a couple of weeks, we picked up two more kittens, Sabine and Blanca, rescued from a hoarder and each around 6 weeks old, to socialize Maxwell to the company of other kittens. Their story is the topic for another post. In late June the girls got adopted to a nice family in our neighborhood.

Maxwell sprawled on Lap

Blanca and Sabine in cardboard cubby

In July we integrated Maxwell in with our residents and this caused a big upset.

Fractious Residents

Very playful Jojo soon realized that Maxwell was really, really fun and never got too aggressive. Soon Nelson was cut out of the play. Nelson became more aggressive toward Jojo. Jojo, in turn, became more aggressive toward Luna. Seemed like the only cat that could get along with every one was Maxwell. Soon we were separating Jojo and Max in one part of the house, Luna and Nelson in another.

By August, we redoubled our efforts to adopt out Maxwell and soon he went went to his new home on Capitol Hill to live with Dan and his resident cat Scraps.

(About this time the Seattle Animal Shelter sent out a desperate request for foster parents to take some cats from their overfull ISO unit so I picked up Whiskers and Kinka followed by Feather and Juliet. We housed them in the basement while their health improved and never integrated them with our residents, all a story for a later post.)

Present Day

This brings us to the present day. We have our resident cats, Nelson, Luna, and Jojo, who don’t quite get along. We have consulted with a behavior specialist and a natural veterinarian (and gotten good help from both). We are on a program of behavior modification to encourage the cats to re-integrate. Jojo has turned out to be a sweet heart, event spending some time in our laps. Luna is our darling girl. Nelson. Well Nelson, when he’s not pouting or playing king, is a real lover.

Luna has become subtly more confident. Confident enough to climb to the top of the scratching post.

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