When a pet you’ve had for a long time passes away and you get another of the same type of pet, there are, shall we say, expectations. You might be anticipating bedtime snuggles with your new cat or bringing your new dog on weekend camping trips. After all, that’s how the previous pet behaved or what they enjoyed, and how different can two members of the same species be?
Very different, it turns out.
It’s been a little more than two years since Cleo, our longtime family cat, passed away at the ripe old age of 22 and a little more than a year since we adopted Boots. Or, more accurately, since Boots adopted us. As mentioned in a previous column, she showed up in our yard one day (having first foraged through our garbage for leftovers) and adamantly expressed her intentions to become part of the family. Who were we to say no?
At first, we chalked up the differences in Boots’ and Cleo’s personalities to the fact that Boots had been on her own outdoors for goodness knows how long. We knew it would take some time for her to adjust to having a home and being around people. As such, we weren’t surprised when she was initially non-vocal.
Cats meow to communicate with people and use other types of sounds to communicate with their fellow felines. Given that Boots was coming from an environment without any people or other cats and where the slightest peep could cause her dinner to flee or announce her presence to a predator, it made sense that she was silent.
Cleo was always very vocal, meowing not only to express her basic needs – feed me, pet me, clean my box, open the door – but simply to have a conversation. If you spoke to her, she would respond with a sound of some sort, and you could go back and forth. Her favorite topics tended to be that cheeky squirrel in the front yard, the weather and politics. Asking Cleo who she planned to vote for in an upcoming election was a surefire way to unleash a lengthy feline rant.
It took a few months for Boots to vocalize in any form, meowing or otherwise. While she’s become a bit more of a conversationalist, she directs the majority of her communication toward filling her most important need: getting us to open the door so she can go outside.
And she’s very good at it. The crying, the wailing, the piteous meows – she makes it clear that if she doesn’t get to go outside, her little kitty heart will break due to the cruelty and injustice of this cold, cold world and it will be all our fault.
Interestingly, Boots only does this when she wants to go out. When she wants to come in, she’ll sit quietly on the other side of the door until someone happens to open it. If she’s hungry and there isn’t any food in her dish, she’ll go take a nap and check back later. Apart from her burning desire to spend a significant portion of her day outside, she’s largely undemanding.
Cleo, on the other hand, used to stick her claws in the molding around the door and shake the door when she wanted to come inside, all the while muttering like a person who’s misplaced their keys. Empty food dishes would be brought to our attention immediately – and repeatedly, until the situation was rectified.
As Boots became more comfortable with us, we began to realize how very different she was from Cleo. Boots is a committed hunter and has systematically eliminated all of the moles, mice and chipmunks from our yard. Anything she doesn’t present to us as a gift, she eats.
Cleo hunted for sport in her younger years but got more creative as she got older. On one occasion, we had a cookout with friends and extended family, and Cleo wanted to impress our company. To show everyone what a good hunter she was, she brought us a dead bird she found in the woods that was already partially decomposed and acted as though she had killed it herself.
In keeping with Cleo’s lackadaisical attitude toward hunting, her interest in toys tended to be rather limited. She would wrestle with a catnip mouse for a moment or two, and that would be about it.
Boots treats toys as prey and completely obliterates them. I once bought her a catnip snake to play with, thinking it might be large enough to withstand her assaults. A day or so later, the living room floor was covered in catnip, stuffing and scraps of fabric, with a bored-looking cat snoozing in a nearby chair.
Parenting experts say that you shouldn’t compare your children, and I’m learning that the same is true regarding pets. Even when you’re dealing with members of the same species, the only similarities you can count on are matters of biology. Personalities, temperament, food preferences (Cleo liked seafood, Boots prefers beef) – there is room for infinite variety. Each pet brings their own unique qualities to the household they join.
I must admit, however, that I certainly wouldn’t mind if Boots stopped bringing some of her “unique qualities” to our household and leaving them on the garage floor.
– Teresa Santoski
Originally published Sept. 1, 2016