Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mother and Child Reunion

As a breeder of Maine Coon cats, I have the opportunity to witness first-hand the family relationships between my cats. Like human families, many get along, some love each other, and others irritate the hell out of each other. If I keep a female kitten to use in my breeding program, the mother cat may not be happy when her daughter starts to mature and will bully the younger cat. On the kitty totem pole, mothers are at the top, pregnant cats next, and maiden queens are like dirty litter boxes.

When a previous kitten buyer who owns "Dexter", a kitten I sold her in the summer of 2008 out of Amy and Bugger, called me a couple of months ago to ask if I could board her cat for a few months, I hesitated. Bringing an adult cat back into the fold when I really don't have the room to keep him isolated from the others, presents conflicts and stress among the newcomer and the existing cats. The owner, Tasmin, was desperate and didn't have anyone else to turn to she could trust. Her husband is a military doctor and is being transferred to New Zealand. The family, which also includes 3 incredible children, is being uprooted this month. Although originally from the UK and prepared to someday move back (which they planned on doing all along with their cat), New Zealand presented other challenges as they didn't have much notice.

The big islands like Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Hawaii that don't have any rabies have extremely strict rules about importing animals in order to maintain their rabies-free status. A titer measuring the level of resistance to rabies from his vaccination has to be done six months prior to the move and again within a month of leaving the US. Once in New Zealand, the cat has to be kept in their quarantine facility for an additional 30 days before being allowed to live with his owners. It's tough and very expensive to move with your pet.

Dexter's family is determined to bring him even though it costs thousands of dollars. They contracted with Jet-a-Pet, a company that specializes in transporting animals to Australia and New Zealand to take care of the paperwork and delivering Dexter from my door all the way to his new home. I agreed to keep him until the end of June and have all his tests done so that he can join his family later.

I started Dexter out in my kitten/computer room, where I am right now. I wanted to keep him isolated until he felt comfortable and then gradually introduce him to the rest of household. Dexter is very adaptable, immediately looking out the windows, purring and rubbing up against legs. I wondered if he remembered this room where he used to live almost 2 years ago. My other cats didn't understand why they suddenly couldn't go into the computer room and kept rushing the door everytime it was opened. A couple of cats slipped in and both my cat and Dexter reacted predictably, hissing and growling at the unknown cat. I put my cats back out repeatedly. Dexter needed more time before taking them on.

Then Amy slipped in the room. Amy is Dexter's mother, his "mum" I guess since he probably speaks with a British accent now. I held my breath and watched. Instead of growling, Dexter approached his mother and started trilling and chirping to her. He remembered! To Amy, Dexter looks and smells very different from how she would remember him as a kitten, but to Dexter, his mother hasn't changed. Amy licked her son's forehead. She wasn't as excited to see him as he was to see her, but she accepted him. I wish I had videotaped the reaction. If it were a movie, it would be shown in slow motion. The recognition, Dexter's obvious happiness at seeing his mother; I still get goosebumps. After that, it became a lot easier on Dexter. He knows where he is now and is gradually learning to fit in. He has a lot more transitions to make in the next several months, but for now, Dexter is home.


Dexter's mum, Amy.


  1. I wish you did have a video. I cannot imagine knowing how a cat feels, but apparently you do! Really, a touching story.

  2. I agree with Joel ... brought tears to my eyes. A lovely warm story, beautifully written. Kudos to you, Sharon.

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  4. You know if Tyler comes home from a day at the university and starts trilling and chirping to you, you should definitely lick his forehead in honor of Amy and Dexter.

  5. Howard, I can always count on you to turn a beautiful story into something absurd.