I gave up one of my cats. (UPDATE: I couldn't bear it and Cotton's back!)

UPDATE: Thank you all for your kind words, suggestions, and encouragement! Cotton is back. So many of you opened my eyes to solutions I hadn't tried... and encouraged me to give other solutions a bit more time. Others of you let me know that sometimes two cats just need to be separated longer, long term, or even permanently. I researched more solutions and I've resolved to keep them separate for longer (or permanently) if they need to be. 

But it comes down to this happiness: Cotton is back. Dahlia's not going anywhere. My heart is big enough for both of them. My optimism is big enough to try other solutions. And my apartment is fortunately big enough that if they need to live in their own spaces, it's not a big deal.

Cotton's happy to be home. Dahlia's doesn't care as long as she gets her own space. And my bf and I are soooo happy to be putting up with Cotton's antics again. 

I miss this face. So much.

On New Year's Eve, I adopted two lovely felines and welcomed them into my cozy little apartment. Cotton, a fluffy white darling of a cat, who also happened to be deaf. And Dahlia, a sleek black sweetie, who had mothered two litters. I love them both immensely. This past Sunday, I gave one up. And I don't know if I'll ever forgive myself.

This is a long story, but I need to pour my heart out. I need to purge and process my feelings. I don't need to hear that I did the wrong thing or the right thing. I did both. I don't need to hear that I had good intentions or selfish intentions. I had both. I don't know what I need to hear to feel better, to move on, or to one day forgive myself. I just know I need to tell the story and hope for a happy ending.

Once upon a time, Cotton and Dahlia didn't mind each other.

Quick disclaimer: Yes, dealing with my cats has been part of the reason I've fallen off the face of The Lovely Side. And yes, I apologize for the sad story upon finally returning. And I promise, there are some great posts coming up this week, including DIY projects, decorating progress in my apartment, and a giveaway. 

Back to Cotton and Dahlia...

Things started out fairly normal. At first, Dahlia was very confident while Cotton hid most of the time. They didn't play or cuddle with each other, but they tolerated each other. They could be on the couch or bed at the same time. Dahlia appeared to be the dominant one, but Cotton didn't really pay her any mind. Over the course of weeks, their personalities and attitudes toward each other changed. 

Within a couple weeks of adopting them, I found them like this.

Cotton became much more comfortable, confidant, and dominant. She'd run up to Dahlia, wanting to play. Dahlia, not being very playful, would hiss and growl to say "no!" However, her objects quite literally fell on deaf ears. This would result in a spat of hissing and swatting – nothing too aggressive or violent, but still jarring to Dahlia. Dahlia became more skittish and afraid. She'd spend most of her time hiding from Cotton. When Cotton approached her, she'd run away instead of standing her ground. To Cotton, the running away appeared to be an invitation to play, to chase, to engage. This was traumatizing to Dahlia, who hid away more and more. Her confident, happy personality dwindled away as she became a fraidy-cat who would look both ways three times before entering a room, approaching her food bowl, or going to the litter box.

Cotton never meant any harm. I really believe that her personality was just more assertive and more playful than Dahlia could handle. Dahlia just wanted to be left alone to do her own thing without being chased. There were never any physical problems – no biting or anything like that. But once Cotton ran up to Dahlia while she was eating. Dahlia was so startled and frightened that she hid under my dresser for about thirty minutes, half choking / half acting like she was going to throw up. Another time, Dahlia was so afraid to go to one of the litter boxes (for fear of being seen and chased by Cotton) that she peed on a pair of pants. Cotton would often sit in doorways or the middle of the room, patrolling it and preventing Dahlia from freely roaming the apartment.

As long as Cotton respected Dahlia's space, they could even hang out on the couch.

As Cotton's playfulness escalated, Dahlia's personality deteriorated. I tried exhausting Cotton by engaging in play with lasers and toys that fulfilled her desire to chase. But even after an hour of play, even when lying lazily in a chair, she'd open her eyes from a nap, spot Dahlia, and launch toward her. Dahlia only emerged from her hiding places when she was absolutely sure Cotton was fast asleep – and even then, she'd sit in the doorway for a long time and stare at Cotton to be absolutely sure. 

There were a few bright moments where both cats would end up on the couch or bed with me. But it would often end with Cotton making a sudden movement and Dahlia taking off... or Dahlia getting nervous and taking off, then Cotton chasing after her. It was exhausting. Not just for me, but for both cats. For Cotton who had to get squirted with water or a blanket thrown over her or picked up and taken to another room. And for Dahlia, who was becoming a nervous, skittish shadow of her former self.

I tried so many things alone and in combination with each other. Calming collars. Pheromone sprays and plug-in diffusers. Bully remedy spirit essence for Cotton. Speaking in a positive happy tone rather than a scolding one – since Dahlia can hear scoldings but Cotton can't, I wanted to ease Dahlia with my voice and not make her associate Cotton with a scary-sounding voice. I'd close of parts of my apartments, giving each cat her own space of two rooms during the day. I'd switch them back and forth (along with blankets and toys) to acclimate them to each other's smell. I'd take turns with sleeping with each of them, until I decided to sleep cat-free and get a better sleep myself. I'd give them alone time in their separate spaces and supervised together time. 

Here, they both wanted to be near me so bad, that they shared my lap.

But giving them free reign of the apartment ended up in me constantly shooing Cotton away from or distracting her from Dahlia. And keeping my apartment closed off meant that I could only spend time with one cat at a time. And after being away at work for eight or nine hours of the day, my evenings were fleeting. When I spent time with Cotton, I'd feel guilty for poor little Dahlia all alone in the next room – letting out the occasional sad little meow. And when I'd go and spend time with Dahlia, Cotton would meow (no, wail) over the fact that there was a closed door between us. 

It just wasn't working. I was constantly in touch with the woman who helps run the shelter I adopted them from – she also happened to be Cotton's former foster mom. I was always asking for advice. She was so generous in providing her insight and possible solutions. It was just so hard for me to be consistent in all of those solutions. Sure, I can plug in pheromone diffusers and spray Feliway everywhere and put calming collars on the cats, but I couldn't keep a reliable schedule with separate-time and supervised together-time. When I had work, blogging, or projects to do, I couldn't focus on the task at hand because Cotton would either be meowing for my attention on the other side of the door, or she'd be torturing Dahlia if I let her in. There were a few blissful times where they both fell asleep in my office. 

I got through the weekdays by trying to stick to a routine: Hanging out with Cotton while I ate supper and caught up on a tv show, then going into the office to give Dahlia some cuddles and let her happily purr next to me while I wrote on the computer. Both of them got used to me shutting them out of the bedroom for the night. And eventually Cotton stopped wailing through the night. Her 5 AM meowing eventually became 6 AM and even 7 AM meowing. So that improved. But her relationship with Dahlia did not.

The weekends were worse, probably because weekends are unpredictable and had no routine. My boyfriend G visits on the weekends since he lives out of town. Or occasionally, I go visit him. When I visited him, I shortened my stay so that the cats wouldn't be left alone too long. I closed off the apartment down the middle – giving Cotton the living room and her favorite kitchen window, giving Dahlia the office and front room with her favorite cat beds. While Dahlia seemed fine after me coming, Cotton would be desperate for attention and especially eager to chase Dahlia once she could get through the door. 

Cotton always had to be right in the middle of whatever G and I were up to.

Weekends when G visited weren't altogether better. Cotton adored Greg – we joked that he was her favorite human and I came second. So when he disappeared in to the bedroom with me at night, she was much more likely to cry through the night or start in early in the morning. If I had to run an errand or go somewhere and left G with the cats, she'd take advantage of my absence. One recent Saturday, I left to shop with my mom and sisters. Over the course of a few hours, G had to constantly stop Cotton from chasing and cornering an increasingly anxious Dahlia. If a friend stays overnight, Cotton cries all night regardless if I let her into the bedroom or not. And Cotton especially liked to try to "get" Dahlia if there were guests around. I think she knew I was more distracted and less likely to get her with the spray bottle.

I tried it all. Well, I tried everything within reason, within my budget, and within my schedule. It was suggested that I consider an anxiety medication for Dahlia. But honestly, medicating her is not something I'm completely comfortable with – or likely able to afford. The Bully Remedy worked a bit on Cotton. I'd rub it around her ears and face and she'd care much less about what Dahlia was up to. She'd still walk up to and around Dahlia. And Dahlia would run. But Cotton would be much less likely to chase. I considered trying other spirit essences to boost Dahlia's confidence, but I found that the Bully Remedy wore off Cotton within a few hours. And since I can't be around to reapply that every few hours, I'd still have to separate them during the day. And it didn't always work. Cotton would still often wake up from her nap, see Dahlia, and launch toward her. And chaos would ensue.

This was just a couple weeks ago. So much progress!

Two weeks ago, there was one moment where Cotton and Dahlia sat within four feet of each other in my office. A few weeks before that, they both lied in bed with me. And when I first got them, they'd each sit on G or I's lap on the couch together. Those are the few rare bright moments amid four months of turmoil and stress for everyone involved. Despite the office moment a couple weeks ago, Dahlia has been even more withdrawn – afraid to eat or use one of the litter boxes. That's something I can't have starting. Renting an apartment with one-hundred year old original hardwood floors, if the cat(s) start peeing on them, my landlord's wonderful pet policy would be reconsidered. 

I tried for four months. In those four months, I lost a lot of sleep, felt a lot of stress, tried a lot of solutions. I also fell in love with both cats. I spent more time with Cotton (she was more demanding of attention), which made me feel guilty toward Dahlia. Cotton was really my sidekick. She was the one that greeted me when she felt my footsteps on the floor when I got home from work each day. She purred and rubbed up against me every morning when I flipped the light on. She cuddled me, slept on me, played with me, watched me do everything from the dishes to getting around to cleaning. She was so sweet and affectionate and playful. Meanwhile, Dahlia was usually hiding in the cat bed in the office or under the bed or behind the couch, wanting attention, too, but afraid to attract Cotton's attention in the process.

I fell in love with Cotton's drama queen tendencies, the way she suckled at the air when I rubbed that spot in front of her tail, her adorable sounds when she sat in an open window and talked to the birds, how she'd fling herself at the wall to catch the laser, and how chased miniature tumbleweeds of her own white fur as they rolled across the hardwood floor when the heat kicked on. I fell in love with Dahlia's sweet personality, how she stretches out one arm and spreads her paw open to gently touch my face, her fondness for sitting behind me on the couch and gently biting at my hair, her other gentle love-bites, how she refused to let me read a book, the little bruises she accidentally left with her strong kneading, and her absolute love of having her belly rubbed or brushed. 

Cotton and her favorite human, my boyfriend. (The girl has good taste.)

Four months. I wanted to give myself enough time to really try to help the two cats tolerate each other. I accepted that they wouldn't play together or like each other or cuddle with each other. But I really just wanted them to coexist with all the doors open – without fear or anxiety or loneliness or being starved for attention. But in waiting to see and try and find solutions, I spent four months becoming so attached to both of them.

That's why the decision to give one up was so absolutely heart-wrenching. I'd avoided the idea since their clashing behaviors began. I really truly believed that I had adopted them both for life, that giving one up wasn't an option, that I would be their "forever home" no matter what. And I know that sometimes it can take longer for two cats to warm up to each other or accept each other. In this case, I unfortunately don't think that would have happened. I happened to somehow choose two cats with completely different personalities: the assertive Cotton who wants to play and the mellow Dahlia who wants to do her own thing all alone. I couldn't have known how they'd react to each other. Cotton's foster mom couldn't have predicted how Cotton would blossom into such assertiveness and playfulness after coming into my home. The people at the shelter couldn't have predicted that Dahlia (who got along with other cats there) wouldn't get along with Cotton.

The issue came down to Cotton's deafness. It was a communication issue. Dahlia couldn't say no because Cotton couldn't hear it. That was the root of their issue and as Dahlia continued to say no, Cotton continued to not hear it, Dahlia's fear increased while Cotton tried harder to play. 

After months of trying to help them coexist and denying the notion that they never would, I woke up after a particularly rough weekend of Cotton cornering Dahlia, Dahlia hiding for hours and hours, and Cotton meowing all night long for attention... and I knew in my heart that while I was the best thing that had happened to both of them so far in their lives, they were the worst thing to happen to each other. Cotton would never have the playmate she wanted. Dahlia would never flourish as her independent, confident self. And worst of all, they'd both miss out on the attention they needed and deserved from me as I'd have to divide them, divide my apartment, and divide my attention and affection.

I can't fathom how I chose. Both had hard lives. Cotton had spent three years in a foster home; Dahlia had been in the shelter for three years. Both had really lucked out in my home: a big space to run around, lots of windows to watch birds out of, and a human who genuine wanted to be their forever home. Both stole big pieces of my heart. 

One night, Dahlia even stood her ground when she wanted to be on my bed without Cotton.

I went with my gut when I made the call and said I had to give up Cotton. The woman who helps run the shelter (and who also happened to be Cotton's foster mom) did not scorn me as I expected. I expected to be scolded and judged for giving up after only four months. I expected to be shunned for breaking my commitment to the shelter, for breaking my promise to these two wonderful cats I'd come to love and cherish so much. But she did nothing of the sort. She simply came and got Cotton in the afternoon. Tears streamed down my face. My heart twisted in my chest. My stomach felt sick. I'll never forget how Cotton seemed so quiet in those hours before her foster mom came. I had to coax her from behind the couch. I held her on my lap, petting her and snuggling her as I had nearly every night for the last four months. She ran from G as he tried to catch her and put her in the carrier. She was quiet and looked sad in the carrier as I filled out the paper work, my vision blurred by tears.

I sobbed all night, even as Dahlia immediately improved. I cried when Dahlia jumped up in bed, remembering how Cotton had been so silly about needing to sleep right between G and I, hogging all the cover. I cried in the morning, waking to a strangely quiet apartment without Cotton's meows to "wake up! It's morning!" I cried as I got dressed and put on my makeup without Cotton at my feet or on the toilet watching. I cried when I came home to my apartment, finding all the doors open and no Cotton sitting in the window or sleeping on her end of the couch. None of her sudden realization that I was home, since she couldn't hear me come home. None of her usual cuddles or begging to be picked up and carried if only for a minute or two. I cried as I ate and didn't have to gently push her face away from my food. I cried as I washed dishes and didn't have her sitting in the kitchen window above me, watching and trying to play in the water. I cried and cried and cried my heart out.

Dahlia's first time enjoying an open window without fear of Cotton.

Dahlia is doing amazing. She's got her confidence back for the first time since January. When I opened windows before, she was too afraid to jump up into the sill for fear of Cotton cornering her there. The other day, she sat in an open window for the first time – enjoying the fresh air, chattering at the birds, and even meowing back and forth with a few neighborhood cats. She walks around the apartment without fear, eats without fear, uses her litter box without fear. She exudes gratefulness. She cuddles and snuggles, and then goes off to do her own thing. She's actually been playing with toys. And when a friend visited last night, instead of running away and hiding, she walked right up to her to be petted and rub against her legs. It's a complete 180 and I'm thrilled and thankful to see her doing so well.

Without Cotton, Dahlia is one confident, happy, grateful cat. ...But I'm a sad girl.

Still, I'm torn up with guilt for giving up Cotton. Even though I truly loved them equally, I was simply more attached to Cotton. I spent more time with her because I had to, because if I didn't she would meow all night. I'll admit, I also spent more time with her because I wanted to. Dahlia was always hiding, and I wanted to be cuddled and to play. Cotton would cuddle and play. Cotton was my sidekick, my little white shadow, and it's incredibly hard to adjust to life with her. Had I given up Dahlia, it may not have been so hard. I hardly saw her most of the time anyway. I don't know why I chose to give up Cotton or why I chose to keep Dahlia. It just happened. In the moment of clarity that the two would be better off without each other, I kept Dahlia.

I can't shake the feeling that I chose the wrong cat. Maybe I wasn't supposed to choose at all. Maybe Cotton chose me. Dahlia definitely chose me. That day at the shelter, I was just supposed to meet Cotton and apply to adopt her. I wondered into another cat room and met Dahlia, who I'd seen online months ago but didn't know was still available. She immediately rolled over to have her belly rubbed, and stole my heart. I discussed it with the shelter workers. Would they get along? Were their personalities suited for each other? Both seemed to be laid back, adult lap cats. It seemed to them that they'd get along – they encouraged me to adopt them together. ...But they couldn't have known how they'd really get along, or how either cat's personality would be once Cotton was out of her foster home or once Dahlia wasn't the top cat among a room full of kittens she could better assert her dominance on.

I can't shake the feeling that I didn't try hard enough or give it enough time... even though all of us (myself and the cats) tried our best. 

I'll always wonder if I chose the right cat. I'll always wonder if I didn't try hard enough, spend enough money, give enough time. I'll always wonder if they might have accepted each other a week later, a month later, a year later. I'll always wonder if I broke Cotton's heart, if I was supposed to be her hero, if Dahlia would have adjusted more easily to leaving a stressful situation rather than Cotton being kicked out of a home she'd really made her own.

I'll be honest: I hate myself for this. I feel selfish. I feel like a failure. I feel like a terrible, terrible person. I can't get over this decision. I can't skim through my instagram and see Cotton's loving little face looking up at me with such trust and joy, feeling so happy and secure in her new home with me, her second favorite human – it makes me bawl. I can't watch and pet and appreciate Dahlia's blossoming without feeling the expensive cost of emotion and heartbreak that it took to make her feel at home.

I miss this day, when Cotton cared more about drowning her catnip hedgehog than chasing Dahlia.

Every minute, I fight the urge to ask for Cotton back.

So many people have been so supportive, so encouraging. I did the right thing for the cats, they say. My gut feeling to go with Dahlia was okay, they say. Cotton will find a loving home, they say. 

But what if I didn't? What if it wasn't? What if she doesn't?

What if I'd waited a little longer, tried a little harder, spent a little more time and energy and money? What if I should have kept Cotton in her secure home and let Dahlia leave a stressful situation? What if it takes another three years (or longer) for Cotton to find a loving forever home? What if it would have taken Dahlia another three years, too? What if, what if, what if?

What if?

It breaks my heart to come home and not find Cotton curled up right here.

I'll never know.

I'm just trying to take it day by day. Four months. I never imagined that it could take four months to love a fluffy little white cat so very much. I never imagined it would hurt this much to come home to a home without her. I never imagined I'd cry so much or that I'd feel emotional pain that hurts physically – something that up until now I've only felt after a breakup or death of a loved one. 

I'm just trying to get used to life without my little white shadow. 

I'm just trying to trust that her foster mom, who cares great for her, is the second best place for her right now. 

I'm just trying to trust that some wonderful family or person will adopt Cotton – that they'll care gently for her deafness and not sneak up on her too much, that she'll be a beloved only-cat or have a cat that will chase her and be chased by her, that she'll end up in a house with even more windows to sit in and talk to the birds from. 

I'm just trying to appreciate the great strides Dahlia is making in such a short amount of time now that she's free from fear and anxiety. 

I'm just trying to move on from feeling so absolutely miserable, guilty, and sad.

I hope I don't regret this forever, but something tells me I will. 

Have any of you been through this or something similar?

Would I be crazy to ask for Cotton back? To try again? To try harder?

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Unknown said...

Wow I am so sorry you had to go through this heartbreaking situation. It is such a shame because I'm sure you really had great intentions by adopting these two beautiful and unique cats and it's like you are being punished for it. I don't think there is any "perfect" solution to this problem, but I think you made the best decision that you could possibly make at the time and you have to trust yourself with that. You're right, it is crazy how quickly we can become attached to these creatures. Within about 4 months of adopting my second kitten he became very sick with an incurable disease called FIP. I could not afford the medications that would (maybe, sorta) prolong his life and it also didn't seem right to drag things out when I knew he wouldn't make it anyways. After 5 long days of syringe feeding my baby and being worried sick about him I decided to put our very sick and weak little Oscar to sleep. And now I miss him like hell. I constantly wonder if I acted too soon or didn't give him enough of a chance. I feel like I gave up on him and it's a terrible feeling. But regardless I know I showed him all the love I had in his short time with me. And I am sure the same goes for your Cotton. She may not understand why she had to leave you so soon, but I am sure she knows how much you loved her and want the best for her. You are not a bad person. You were just in a bad situation and did the best you could. Now go enjoy your time with Dahlia :)

Anonymous said...

I honestly think it's worth it to get her back and try harder. Try getting a Feliway diffuser to try to calm them down. It's only been a few months...they can adjust to each other. I'm not trying to make you feel bad, but I really think there's a lot more options to making it work if you really miss her a lot and want her back. I don't think you made the wrong choice, but I worry that you'll question this choice for a very long time because it sounds like you truly loved her. Also, if they're not indoor outdoor, try letting them be. Oh, and cats know each other's body language. Your cat being deaf is 100% irrelevant to them not getting along.

Shelby said...

I understand your troubles - we have two rabbits and the first time we put them out together, I found out what an attack rabbit looks like! It's a challenge, doing everything twice and keeping them separately happy but it is worth it for the pets you love.

Wishing Cotton and Dahlia the best!

Jessica • The Lovely Side said...

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, Rachel! (Looking back, I realize what a whopper in size it is!)

I ended up taking Cotton back because I absolutely hated the decision I made. I do believe that while it was an okay decision, the best place for them is with me... just separated.

I'm soooo sorry to hear about Oscar. How heartbreaking. :( It's hard to be in a position where medication is so expensive, but I'm sure you gave him so much love and made his little life happier and brighter for that short time.

Both Cotton and Dahlia are doing well in their separate spaces. Dahlia is her happy, independent self as long as she can't be "gotten by Cotton." And Cotton, well, she figures out other things to entertain herself. :)

Again, thank you for your kind words and encouragement. <3

Jessica • The Lovely Side said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I completely agree and I actually welcomed Cotton back into my home (for good) last Friday. They're both staying... just in separate spaces.

I've been using Feliway diffusers and sprays. They seem to make both cats feel better around human guests, but not more comfortable with each other.

Hopefully, down the line they'll be able to coexist without barriers. But for now, they're quite happy in their own spaces.

Thank you again! It's people who told me things like this that gave me the strength and hope to take Cotton back. :)

Jessica • The Lovely Side said...

How horrible, Shelby! Sorry you're going through animal issues, too. I had no idea that rabbits could have trouble getting along... they seem so docile, but then... I have zero experience with rabbits.

Good luck with your attack rabbit!

Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. :)

Unknown said...

Reading this post really broke my heart: you went through so much and put all of your heart into helping these two cats. I am so glad you are giving it one more try...I think you will be a lot happier now! I had to let my cats stay out of the same room for closer to a month since my kitten was aggressive. At first the older male was upset and stopped being as playful but eventually most cats warm up to each other. Have you ever watched My Cat From Hell? Its on Netflix and helped me with a few problems. Best of luck!!

Tielbirdy said...

And were you ever able to remove the cat barrier? We got a second cat a month ago and our resident cat is not happy. I'm thinking of hiring an animal behaviorist if things don't start to calm down in another month!

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