Interaction is as important in the animal world as it is for humans.
In many cases, shelters have moved away from housing animals in isolation cages into communal rooms or areas.
While a communal set up may have some disadvantages, the pros far outnumber the cons.
Animals who can find companionship with other animals tend to adjust better to a life in a shelter. Isolation tends to increase stress which makes the animal more susceptible to disease and depression. Even cats, who are known to be very territorial, are social animals that prefer to live in groups.
Katie’s Place was set up with this in mind.
While we have individual isolation cages, these are placed inside the communal rooms where the isolated animal can see and smell the other cats in the room. When the time comes to release the cat into the communal space, they have already had exposure to their new roommates.
In most cases, this eases the stress of coming into a new group. Because of our set-up, we have had the pleasure of watching new friendships develop between cats. It really is interesting to observe two feline strangers slowly become friends and eventually end up as a bonded pair. This is also why you will often find animals for adoption listed as “bonded pair, must be adopted together.”
Some animals, of course, come into the shelter as a bonded pair. They spend their entire lives in a home together, learn to love each other, bond to one another, and when they come into the shelter, that bond remains, and they will often be seen together in the communal area.
Bourbon and Merlot are such a pair. They are both ancient Siamese cats who came into the shelter some time ago. We are not 100 per cent sure if they are siblings, but they live in the hallway, as they are far too senior to put up with all the cats in the communal rooms and they are rarely apart.
In fact, all the volunteers were quite astonished to find Merlot snuggled up with another hallway boy, Lancelot, one day.
Poor Bourbon was quite out of sorts and was standing nearby, watching over them.
Merlot doesn’t stray far from Bourbon too often, and when she does, he is always eager to take her back. When they sleep together they look like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Roi came to us when he was found living on a rooftop. He adapted well to the shelter life but he developed a specific interest in a female cat that lived in the communal room next to him. The volunteers often saw them sitting on shelves in the outside enclosure flirting. Roi and his friend Carole would head-butt and rub through the fence and make little chirpy noises at each other. It got to the point where we simply had to put them in the same pen because their adoration for one another was so obvious.
Another sweet couple is Melody and Corfu. These two shy cats came from different places and met at the shelter. Because they are both on the shy side, they weren’t too eager for human attention. But when they found each other it was love at first sight. Now the two are inseparable. You can find them snuggled up together whenever you come into the shelter. They also watch out for one another, and if Melody seems uncomfortable, Corfu is right by her side to make her feel better. He is her guardian, her friend, and her constant pillow.
Separating this amazing pair is not an option, and although trying to find a home for two cats is always harder, we will simply have to wait for the perfect home that can take them both.
Communal living is not always ideal. There will be fights and there will be colds that are passed around. There will be the bully cats who will try to boss everyone and there will be scratches.
But when you look at these amazing friendships that form between these animals, you have to agree that keeping them isolated from each other is not an option. These friendships give them the warmth and love they crave, and the interaction that helps them through the days, months, and even years that they may spend in a shelter.
Magdalena Romanow is a volunteer at Katie’s Place animal shelter.