Saturday, March 17, 2012

Meet Aiko, our Ides of March Baby

Thursday was the day that we brought home a new little baby to fill the void in our hearts left by Nicky's passing.  Once I finally decided that I was ready to go out and find our new baby, I was so excited!  The 20 minute drive to the local cat shelter felt like it took forever but it was worth it.  Meet Aiko, our newest baby.

Aiko means "little loved one" in Japanese.  All my life -- as long as I can remember, certainly long before I became a teenager who thought about having her own family and then an adult who decided her only children would be of the furry kind -- I have wanted to name a baby Aiko, but that name never before fit.  If you've been a consistent reader of this blog, you know that I am a bit woo-woo.  I do believe that animals listen and understand and that if you ask what their name is, you'll know.  This is the Aiko I've been waiting for my whole life.

Aiko's shelter name was Kit Kat, part of "the candy bar litter" brought to the shelter last May when they were a few days old.  This litter was found in a sawdust bin in a mill a couple hours away and they were lucky enough to be spotted by someone who knew to take them to a good shelter.  This particular shelter is in an old house and has, I'm sure, well over 100 cats -- and it's not even kitten season.  This is probably why the shelter is trying a program to get as many cats spayed/neutered as possible -- to end the cat overpopulation problem.  At this shelter, one can see the overpopulation problem first-hand.  Aiko shared a room with 20 or 25 other adolescent cats between six and twelve months old, all very loving, all with a clean bill of health, all needing homes.

It makes me very upset when people don't have their animals fixed, especially when most humane societies and other rescue organizations offer vet partnerships so that the cost is low and it can be done as soon as pets hit a certain weight (for cats it's two pounds, or about eight weeks old).  There are times when a pet legitimately cannot be fixed and so that I understand.  For example, a friend of mine has a kitten she found abandoned at a very young age.  The kitten can't be fixed, though, because she has a heart murmur and the anesthesia could kill her.  She'll be an indoor kitty her whole life and she won't contribute to the overpopulation problem.

But back to my story.

Every time I get ready to welcome a new pet into the house, I get a little apprehensive.  What if she doesn't fit in? What if she turns out to be crazy? What if I choose the wrong one?  All of these questions swirl around in my mind even though the more sane part of me knows that I have had incredible success choosing pets and if I just listen to my own intuition I am fine.

Listening to my own intuition is one of the reasons I spend a lot of time waiting and looking and thinking before making a decision.  To the untrained eye, it might look like I was spontaneous on Thursday -- my meeting was canceled, so I hopped in the car and drove to the shelter.  But to those in the know, Thursday was the result of weeks of planning and preparation.  My intuition told me that it was finally the day.

I have a system for bringing pets into the house.  Part of it involves preparing the current pets for a new addition, much like parents prepare a child for a new baby.  The other part involves looking for signs or talking to the prospective new baby.  It may sound strange, but it works.

On the drive to the shelter, I said, "Little one, when you see me, I want you to run up, cuddle, and start purring."  This is not always the determining factor when choosing a pet, but I knew that for this one I wanted a cat who was very lovey.  Over the past few weeks I set purpose statements around what I wanted -- some people might call this praying because it's very similar.  In these statements, I was clear that I wanted a black cat (although I was open to a tabby, too, because they tend to be my favorites), one that was a little lover, and one that was curious enough to stand up to the other pets as they reacted to a newbie.  I wasn't sure if I was going to get a boy or girl (although aside from Nicky we've generally had a "no male pets" rule in the house), but I thought that it would probably answer to one of three names.

When I arrived at the shelter, I told the woman working there that I was looking to bring a little one home to a house with three other cats and a dog.  I wanted a loving cat under a year old.  When I first got in the car, I thought I'd ask to see the new litter of kittens, but that's not what came out of my mouth at the shelter and so the woman took me to the crowded room of adolescent cats saying, "They are all so loving, they'll mob you."

That is exactly what happened. A giant cloud of fur headed my way, but one cat in particular responded to my message.  She took a flying leap from across the room, crawled up to my shoulder, curled up and started purring. I stood.  This was the one.  Immediately, the mob of cats dissipated.  The woman said, "They must know you've already chosen. I've never seen them do that before."  We talked for a few more minutes in the room.  I crouched back down and called a few over to give them love while I was there and then sat my kitty down so I could exit and fill out paperwork.  She followed me, trying to get out of the gate that kept her trapped in the room and my heart melted.

Paperwork and flea check complete, I loaded the kitty into the carrier and took her to the car where Lotus was waiting.  This was test number one: see how a cat who's never seen a dog before reacts to Lotus.  I opened the lid to the carrier so that Lotus could sniff and said, "Lotus, meet Aiko," the name rolling off my tongue so quickly and easily that I knew it was her name.  Lotus sniffed, Aiko looked, and then they went about their own business.  Aiko never meowed on the drive -- she knew she was going home.

Honey pulled into the driveway right as I did, which was perfect timing.  When we bring pets home I have certain "rules" about the amount of time the rest of the family should be home to help the new one adjust.  This was perfect.

Now "experts" say that cats should be introduced slowly, over the course of days or a week, and that during this time the new one should be kept in a separate room away from the others.  Perhaps this is necessary if one has mean pets or a tiny house, but I say it's hogwash and only serves to prolong the transition.  (Now of course there are exceptions if you are concerned that one pet might be sick -- like Nick and Nora were when we took them home -- and so quarantine is important so that the sickness doesn't spread.)

Aiko explored her surroundings and her new family.  Canvas and Lotus both had the same reaction: "Oh, okay Mom, you brought home another one.  Whatever." and they went about their daily routine.  Bunny is our welcome kitty. She still hisses a few times, but she follows babies around, shows them where things are, and only hisses when they put a face in her face.  Nora is the most standoffish right now.  After 24 hours she was to the point of only hissing when Aiko was within a foot of her, but she is making her displeasure known through her glares.  All of the cats hang out at the same time in the same room, though, so it's just a matter of time before Nora warms up to Aiko.  (It could partially be due to the smell -- I've been giving Aiko cloth baths because she smells like a stinky shelter. That should fix itself in a day or two.)

Did I get what I wanted?  Absolutely!  Aiko has responded to her name from the moment she heard it.  She comes running whenever we call.  She follows me around the house and loves to be held.  I don't think she's stopped purring since she got home!

I needed to be able to do things today, so we tried the kitty sling for the first time and she loved it.  She can now be close to Mommy and I can have my hands free!

We are so happy to have another furry baby to fill the hole in this family.  And Aiko truly lives up to her name -- she is loving and well-loved!

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