The following column is reprinted with permission from an article by Mordecai Siegal, which appeared in the beautiful “Cat Fanciers’ Association Inc. 2007 CFA Yearbook.” It can be purchased online at : http://www.cfainc.org/catalog/yearbook.html#2007.
Cat Breeders are not usually shy, especially when it comes to talking to someone who wants to buy one of their precious babies. Most of those that I have met have a thick set of Xerox instruction papers stapled together ready to put in the nervous hands of the first-time kitten owner. Many of these home-grown volumes are pretty extensive and can be thick enough to publish. The information they provide ranges from descriptions of their cattery to meeting your new kitten’s needs. There is usually a great deal of important, practical information guiding the newbie. With the press of time constraints and possible tension that may spring from either the new owner or the breeder a lot of basic questions come up that are not covered in the breeder’s instruction manual.
The first-time kitten owner is usually nervous, awkward and afraid to offend. What he or she doesn’t know is that the breeder may also be going through some emotional turmoil as well. No matter how many litters a breeder may have brought into the world and found suitable homes for, handing over a beautiful kitten to a stranger is fraught with emotional conflicts.
On the one hand, it is really necessary to find the right person for the end result of years of selective breeding. There are the issues of upkeep, available space, the demands of an ongoing breeding program, and the time and energy needed for all the kittens. Running a proper cattery is hard work. This means that they must find new homes in a timely way. On the other hand, giving up a very young sweetheart to whom the breeder has become attached can be hard on the system. I have seen that moment a number of times, the moment of letting go, and it is usually poignant and touching. Tears are pinched back with squinting eyes and throats go dry. Of course, it is usually that very moment when the newbie asks a barrage of questions that may or may not be covered in the stapled instruction sheets.
“Will this kitten go after disgusting mice and lay them at my feet, like I heard?”
“How do I get her to love me?”
“Is it okay for the kitten to sleep with me?”
“What are the special health needs for this breed?”
And so on and so forth. Timing, they say, is everything. Saying goodbye to a special kitten is the wrong time for the breeder to have to come up with the right answers to difficult, sometimes silly, questions. That is when it is handy to have a more general set of instructions to hand to the new kitten owner. Here are some suggested things you can offer:
Cats get bad press when it comes to love, dependency, and expressions of affection. Don’t believe it. The typical house puss is a devoted tenderfoot when it comes to his own family. A domestic cat only seems to be independent and aloof. He is the great pretender. It is simply a matter of style. A cat is a needful creature and is no different from his colleague, the dog, in this respect. The similarity between cats and dogs lies in their exalted position as companions and friends.
There is nothing more demanding than a kitten looking up at his human family, wanting to be held and petted. Yes, kittens and most adult cats crave loving affection in some physical form just as dogs do.
You do not have to be a behavioral scientist to understand that if a kitten is taken from its mother and its litter mates too soon, is denied physical contact with others, is isolated, or lives in a state of fear, it will probably have severe behavioral problems throughout its life. At the very least it will be a very unhappy cat. It will either be too shy or too aggressive or too something. Behavior researchers have established this predictable pattern. Most parents have known this for generations with regard to their own children.
The ideal cat grows from a kitten that is adaptive, social, curious, playful, and unafraid of new experiences and people (within limits). As with most mammals, especially domestic animals and humans, early experiences in infancy and childhood have a profound influence on the individual kitten’s temperament and behavior.
Although all wild and domestic cats and kittens share a common set of basic behaviors and instincts there are a number of ways in which various cats express their own unique, instinctive actions and responses. These can easily be divided into temperament categories, useful for evaluating a kitten or adult cat. Do not be surprised, though, if a given cat shows more than one of the following temperament traits. There is always one aspect of a cat’s traits that is more dominant than the others; that aspect is what determines its temperament category.
Assertive Type. Cats with assertive temperaments are characterized by their lack of self-doubt. Assertive cats and kittens are not the least bit frightened of any new person or situation.
Cool Type. The cool cat is almost always calm and laid back. It is not lazy or bored. It is simply at peace with its environment and usually uninterested in running around.
Energetic Type. Such cats and kittens pace about like fidgety tigers and then suddenly race across the room like hunters in hot pursuit of their prey. Energetic types are rarely afraid of anything, are usually quite friendly, and move like lightning.
Demonstrative Type. Most typical of this type is the Siamese. Cats of this type can be very demanding, following you around like a persistent dog, all the while “talking” to you in an endless stream of demands, pleas, and complaints. Demonstrative types are extroverts and do not censor or modify the expression of their feelings, their needs, or their desires.
Timid Type. The timid type reacts with some degree of fear to unfamiliar people, dogs, other cats, or new situations. It will disappear under a bed, into a closet, or behind a couch until the “threat” has gone. However, a timid cat is usually comfortable with its own family and in its own home. Although this behavior is uncharacteristic of any breed or nonbreed it does appear within some individual cats and kittens.
Aggressive Type. Some kittens display aggressive behavior that may or may not develop further in its adult life. Aggressive behavior in a cat can be very unpleasant but most aggressive kittens settle down as they mature.
Many years ago I wrote a short, easy to read book called “I Just Got A Puppy. What Do I Do?” with TV personality, Matthew Margolis. It is a very successful book and still very much in print. Many puppy breeders have personally told me that they use this book as an important give-away to their first-time puppy buyers with the hope that they will follow the advice and information about puppies and dogs. They further informed me that they purchase the book by the carton so that it is always available for their newbies.
Years later, with that in mind, I was inspired to write I Just Got A Kitten. What Do I Do? (Simon & Schuster/Fireside) with the hope that it will be just as useful for breeders of pedigree kittens. It was written especially for the first-time kitten owner with everything (I hope) he or she needs to live successfully and at ease with a new kitten. Here is what is on the very first page:
Do not panic. Remember, new kittens are a joy, especially if you are a mature, capable cat owner and you treat your new kitten with love and respect.” I Just Got a Kitten” can help you with all the questions that will arise now and in the next year. Here is an immediate, handy list of what you will need for your new feline.
- If possible, prepare in advance the various essentials and comforts for your new kitten: food, water, litter, a litter pan, and a soft cat bed or blanket. See Chapter Four for details.
- Make friends. Handle your kitten affectionately. Create a loving relationship. See Chapter Five.
- Feed your kitten. He’s probably hungry. See Chapter Eight.
- Show him where his litter pan is and teach him how to use it. See Chapter Nine.
- If he scratches, if he does things you want him to stop doing " such as climbing up the curtains " learn how to address these issues from the very start. See Chapter Ten.
- Calm down. Put the kitten to bed and go to sleep. Tomorrow will be an exciting day with more to do. Try to remember this is fun!
“I Just Got a Kitten. What Do I Do?”(Simon & Schuster/Fireside) is Mordecai Siegal’s latest book and is available wherever books are sold. He is also the author of “The Cat Fanciers’ Association COMPLETE CAT BOOK. The Official Publication of the CFA,” (HarperCollins), comparable to the AKC’s Complete Dog Book; “The Good Life: Your Dog’s First Year” (Simon and Schuster). His most durable books are “Good Dog, Bad Dog” (Henry Holt); “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things” (Little, Brown); the 10th Anniversary Revised Edition of “I Just Got A Puppy. What Do I Do?” (Simon & Schuster/Fireside); “The Cornell Book of Cats” (Villard); “The Davis Book of Dogs” (HarperCollins); and “The Davis Book of Horses” (HarperCollins). He is President Emeritus of the Dog Writers Association of America and a founding member of The Cat Writers’ Association. Mordecai resides in New York City.
The next Mordecai Siegal book is “Dog Spelled Backwards. Soulful Writing by Literary Dog Lovers” published in August, 2007 by St. Martin’s Press.