Pheromones

During the time that R. was in Washington — the most recent time, that is, the last ten months he spent on active duty there — we had a running gag over the phone and via email in which I would tell him, among other things, that “those kitties is too sad if you don’t come home.” You have to hear that said in an appropriately goofy, within-a-couple-only voice, the kind that’s endlessly amusing to the couple involved, but that’s utterly unfunny, and in fact pretty embarrassing, when used with anyone outside the pair. The upshot of the gag was, basically, don’t come home on my account — I would never be so selfish as to ask you to do something like that — but the cats really need you here.

The funny thing about it now is that I thought I was kidding. I was miserable with R. gone, that I knew. But the cats — well, the cats were traumatized for a whole variety of reasons — the move to the new condo, the new-construction smells of the new condo, the location of the new condo near the railroad tracks and the noises that produces, the intrusion into the new condo of various construction people, bringing all kinds of smells and noises in with them. After all, they say that cats are much more place-centered than they are people-centered, and so any behavioral disruptions seemed to me to be pegged to their new home. And behavioral disruptions there were: little Alice has been even more skittish than usual, and super-needy, and Henry has taken on this whole alpha-male routine, hissing and swatting at anyone new who comes in, aggressively defending his territory from all intruders.

It had gotten to a pretty upsetting point of late; I took the cats to the vet for check-ups and dental work, and the veterinary assistant was ashen when she returned them to me, saying that the two of them had had a “bit of a tiff” when she put them back in the carrier, and that Henry had been “a little mean” to most of the people in the office. Despairing a bit, I asked her advice, and she steered me toward some kitty pheromones that might help soothe any anxiety he was feeling, as that anxiety might be the root of the aggression. I said I’d give it a shot.

Less than 24 hours later, R. came home. In the car on the way from the airport, I told him about the vet, and about Henry’s anxiousness and aggression, basically trying to prepare him in case he was on the receiving end of this behavior. The two of them had had several go-rounds when R. first moved in, and it took weeks of R. being the sole provider of food and treats for Henry to begin to figure out which side his bread was buttered on.

We walked in the door, however, and Henry walked slowly up to R. — not the speedy, nervous, checking-out of the intruder I’ve seen for the last several months — and when R. bent down and offered Henry his hand, he sniffed it in a friendly fashion. Within an hour, R. was petting Henry, and their relationship was right back where it had been back in October. Most amazingly, two of my former students came over yesterday, and while Henry was a little nervous with them around, he was very well-behaved, on the whole. And Alice — Alice is always sweet, but she’s often been frantic with a need to be petted over the last several months. For the last several days, she’s been calm, too.

It could well be the kitty pheromones. But I’m pretty convinced that it’s R., that those kitties really were too sad if he didn’t come home.

Which is to say nothing of me. Everything’s been positively rosy and glowing in Claremont since his return. And we’re heading to Hawaii tomorrow morning, so the forecast for the next ten days looks great.

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