Patricia Craig Johnson --- Searching for My Ancestors --- Sharing My Life Stories

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Mulberry Street Peace Accord 2003 - A Fun Story

Buster Johnson -- "How can this be happening? They bring another cat here to live? In all of my fifteen years it's the last thing I thought they would have the NERVE to try!"
Kitty Girl Johnston – "Three hours of riding in that blue cage, and crying all the way, and this is what I came to see? A huge gray tabby with a macho and mean disposition?"

Thus began the "Mulberry Street Peace Accord of 2003". The principals are two cats of very different temperaments and cultures, rather like the Arabs and the Jews, but not quite so stubborn, and two people in the middle, trying to act as peace negotiators. This is the story of our very interesting and enlightening experience.

After a grueling ride of three hours from Gering, Nebraska to Fort Collins, Colorado, we arrived to find Buster sleeping contentedly on his chair. Not concerned in the least, about anything, because he was pretty sure that things in his house would NEVER change. He has his two people trained and now that he is in his "golden years" he is enjoying retirement to the fullest. This was September 13, 2003 and this was the day we went to Gering to pick up Kitty Girl Johnston. Lee is going to be moving to the Veteran's Home soon and he can't take her with him, so we asked to take her into our home. We have known Kitty Girl for a little over a year, when she first appeared at 505 M Street and adopted my stepfather, Lee Johnston and my mother in June 2002.

Kitty Girl was in shock when I picked her up and stuffed her into our blue cat carrier. It was very unnerving to hear her cry so pathetically as we pulled out of Lee's driveway. Surely she would get tired and quiet down, right? Wrong! She cried mournfully all of the way from Gering to Fort Collins. We were both going crazy by the time we got home.

The strategy was well planned, let Buster out the west door and bring the cat carrier in the east door. Buster happily bounced out the door, totally unaware that his life and his home would never be the same. I put the cat carrier in the livingroom and slowly opened the door. Kitty Girl was quiet for the first time in three hours and came out of the carrier very cautiously. She looked around, spotted the cat food and sauntered over and had a snack. She looked at us as if to say, "This isn't too bad from what I can see right now."

Finally we had to face the music and let Buster back in. He came bouncing back in the house and suddenly stopped short — he couldn't believe his eyes — another cat in HIS house? This was a total surprise and he was having no part of being a gracious host. They spit and growled and hissed and both were in shock and disbelief.

We set up Kitty Girl's quarters in our bedroom and kept him out of there. She retreated under the bed and would not come out. We both went in periodically to try to pet her but she stayed in the center where she was beyond reach. She wanted to come out but was so afraid, she just couldn't do it. We kept the bedroom door shut so she would start to feel safe from Buster. During that first night I heard her come out and eat some of her food and use her litter box, then immediately back where she felt safe. Of course, Buster was feeling left out, sleeping on the couch, so I went out and laid on the couch for awhile to reassure him that he still was our BusterB. None of the four of us got much sleep that night.

Monday was Kitty Girl's first real day in her new home. She did brave it enough to come out from under the bed and eat. I fixed her a "Baby Blanket Bed" beside my side of the bed. The blanket was the one she used at her old home and we thought it would be somewhat of a comfort to her. It was a cozy little bed, and before long she discovered it and curled up in it when no one was in the bedroom. She also had a "Window Seat Bed" where she could look out the back window. So far she had not ventured out into the rest of the house. I did put a leash on her and took her out on the grass. She was absolutely terrified, so we came right back in. At this point I decided I wouldn't mind if she became an inside cat and never went outside. Buster was curious, but seemed to know that the bedroom was off limits to him. For fifteen years he slept on the bed with us, but now he was banned. It was a lot for him to try to understand.

Tuesday she became noticeably braver. She ventured out of the bedroom and came into the computer room long enough to "poop" in Buster's litter box, then she hightailed it back into the bedroom. She has her own litter box, but there seemed to be a special attraction to his, for this particular purpose. She gets us up at 5am sharp. She has her own way, by walking on us, even on our heads, purring as loud as a tank, and rubbing and butting us with her head. It is quite a ritual, and we aren't used to it. So we all have to learn new things around here. She is so lovable, it is hard to be stern with her.

Wednesday I fixed a bed on the couch called the "Trump Suite". It was named that because it became very valuable kitty property, sort of like Donald Trump's penthouse apartment at Jersey City, New Jersey. Buster would lay in it, and then when he went out, I would let her out of the bedroom and she would hop right up there until he came in. I would take her back to her bedroom and he would jump in. It was like they were playing King of the Mountain and the Trump Suite was the mountain. We had quite a few laughs just watching these two different personalities try to out maneuver each other. She can come out when he is outside then has to go back in where it is safe. We sure had hopes that things would get better and we could all be in the same room at the same time. I just didn't want him to attack her and scare her anymore than she already was.

Thursday was more of the same, but we were in hopes that we would be able to open the bedroom door during the day. She is getting very comfortable in her room. She loves the "window seat" and stares at the roses in back. Buster seems to be settling down, also, maybe we are making progress at last.

Friday morning I opened the bedroom door and Buster was sitting on the other side waiting for breakfast, and Kitty Girl was wanting to get out. They spotted each other through the crack in the door and there was a "saving face" sort of a maneuver, a little hissing and spitting, but not too lethal sounding. I felt encouraged by that. It is going to take quite a bit of patience to get through this "life changing experience".

By Sunday, we were able to leave the bedroom door open. Kitty Girl came sauntering out and Buster was in "Trump Suite", she spotted him and they stared for a long time. No one moved, not me, not John, not Kitty Girl, not Buster. We waited to see what would happen. This was the first time we were all in the same room at the same time. Our first real "family hour". Then Buster broke the trance and wanted out. He was careful to make sure his body language didn't evoke messages of retreat, rather that he was leaving the battlefield voluntarily, not in defeat. We have really come to appreciate the ego of cats. They certainly have big egos.

We felt the progress in a week was marvelous. Kitty Girl still hides under the bed when she is unsure of what is happening, but it is less and less. Buster has decided she is going to live here and the best he can do is ignore her – unless she gets too close. He definitely doesn't want any close contact with her. We have learned to watch their eyes, they tell all about the mood of the cat. The pupils especially are all telling. If the pupils are narrow and closed they are relaxed and feel at ease. If the pupils are wide open, they are assessing something quite seriously. I don't know who will win the battle of wits, but we felt that the first week had produced amazing results. We are hopeful that both camps are listening to the "terms" of the peace accord.

By the end of the second week Kitty Girl has been outside and investigated her property. She went all around the perimeter, smelling everything. She was memorizing the territory. She loves crawling under the rose bushes, the same ones she could only look out at a week ago. She knows where to come, to get back in, and I don't think there is any problem with her coming home. I don't think she goes very far. Buster didn't like seeing her outside on his property. He gets a little aggressive and tries to bully her from certain parts of the yard.

She sleeps in the bedroom with the door open at night. Buster even has gotten up on the bed, and Kitty Girl is only a few feet away in her "Baby Blanket Bed". That bed is ONLY for night time sleeping. There are plenty of other beds for daytime use. The "Trump Suite" the "Shaggy Bed" the "East Window Seat Bed" the "North Window Seat Bed" the "Computer Room Bed". Where do John and I live? In what ever space we can carve out of this very exclusive kitty resort.

The third week seems almost "normal". Kitty Girl goes outside and back in just fine, Buster seems to have come to terms with her. They both know their boundaries and what is going to be necessary to live in peace.

I admit, that when we started this negotiation, I was doubtful of the outcome. It certainly took a lot of patience and understanding to come as far as we have. It has been worth it though. We enjoy both of these cats so much. Kitty Girl is such a mellow and well tempered cat and BusterB is his usual macho self. It would be pretty dull around here without them.

I wonder if knowing of this experience could help the peace negotiations in the Middle East? No — on second thought we don't want to go there. We pray that someday those adversaries realize as successful a "Peace Accord" as we have accomplished on Mulberry Street.

Peace Accord Addendum

As we near the end of 2003, I want to update you on the progress that has been made so far. Buster and Kitty Girl are living side by side quite harmoniously. They eat with their dishes not more than six inches apart. On rare occasions they are both up on our bed at the same time, although Buster has proprietary rights for sleeping next to "mom". Kitty Girl isn't a mushy type girl anyway, so she doesn't mind. She is not one to be cuddled or made over unless it is of her choosing. They have "Twin Window Seats" in the livingroom now. When there was just one window seat, it became a divisive thing and was causing trouble, so we moved a bit of furniture and they each have a front row seat to the outside.

There are three areas that are a little touchy. One is the bathroom. For some reason our cats like to come in the bathroom when we humans are in there. For a long time it was a very touchy situation if both wanted in at the same time. It has become less of a problem as they have negotiated some sort of hierarchy about possession. Another is the front door. If one is outside and wants in, at the same time as the other one wants out, the "human door keeper" has to become the central figure so one can go left while the other one goes right. It works out all right once we all learned our proper "places". Of course, the last touchy place is our bedroom. This has been Buster's personal domain for over fifteen years, and sharing it is not in his plans. He barely lets US share it. Usually things are nice and calm, but once in awhile his mood changes and he simply won't let her in. That is all there is to it! She patiently waits until the mood passes and then does as she pleases about it after all.

Kitty Girl has been to the Dr. and survived it. She buried her head in my arms while he checked her out and gave her shots. Sort of like she was saying "I can't stand to watch!!" Of course she cried all the way over and all the way back, but it's only about a mile away, so not too hard to endure — not compared to three hours when we brought her to Colorado in September.

Buster is almost sixteen years old, so we know he won't be with us much longer. It does seem as if Kitty Girl has made him a bit more lively. We know they communicate, and wonder what they are saying. Not understanding "Cattish" we, as poor mortals, can only wonder. All in all, we have enjoyed our trip into the "mysterious world of the cat".

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