Kitty Wars

Written March 30, 2004

It was Friday, February 13, 2004, and Wendi was looking at the newspaper classified ads. “Here is somebody that has an eight-month-old kitten to give away,” she announced. Over the months we had taken turns wanting another cat to go with the two we already had. Now it was Wendi’s turn. “Can we get another cat for my birthday?” she asked. Her birthday was only two days away.

Wendi phoned the people who had the kitten. Yes, we could come over tonight. So after dinner, we drove out to their house, which was located in a mobile home park west of the city. There we met an elderly couple with two cats: the black eight-month-old male and a tiny grey, part Persian female which they said was a year and a half.

The lady tried unsuccessfully to catch the black kitten, whose name was B.B. Finally she called her husband to catch him. “He’s more his cat then mine,” she explained. “He always snuggles up to him.”

The elderly gentleman called the cat: “Come here, B.B.” The cat hid under a bed. The gentleman tried to coax him out, but to no avail. Finally he got down on the floor, reached under the bed, and pulled B.B. out by the scruff. The cat immediately hissed at him and began making disgruntled meowing noises.

A moment later, when they tried to put him into his carrier, he kicked and scratched the gentleman’s hand and arm. The gentleman retreated to the kitchen to clean up the wounds. Finally they got B.B. into the carrier, and all was well.

“If he turns out to be too wild for you,” the lady assured us, “you can just bring him back.” Did she know something we didn’t? we thought.

We put the cat, now inside his carrier (which they gave us with the cat), into our car and drove home. B.B. was quiet for the whole trip. We arrived home at 8:45 p.m. on Friday the 13th with a black cat!

We knew that cats are territorial and will usually hiss and growl at strange cats, so we were prepared for the worst when we brought B.B. into the house. What we didn’t know is that the ruckus doesn’t always start right away. The cats seemed to get along at first. B.B. uttered a sweet little meow; then Joe took him upstairs and showed him his room. Soon B.B. was purring. All was well until he met up with Shadow. Then there was a mild exchange of hisses.

Back in the dining room, the real hissing began, with all three cats exchanging hisses at intervals. B.B. and Sunny had some nasty verbal exchanges. At one point, I picked up B.B. and tried to settle him down, but both cats continued their hissing.

“Hiss back at him,” Wendi told me.

Sure, why not? I thought. “Khhhhh,” I hissed.

KHHHHHHH!” B.B.’s head whirled around instantly, and he gave me the loudest hiss I had ever heard from a cat. Then as soon as he could catch his breath (which was only a split second), he began screaming and flailing all four paws wildly. My only sane choice was to let him drop to the floor. As soon as he hit the floor, he calmed down.

Soon they will adjust, we thought, and all will be well. The next day would prove us sadly wrong.

On Saturday I had to work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. so I was not home during that time. Wendi and Joe told me later that the hissing had escalated into fighting. B.B., who was neither neutered nor declawed, attacked Shadow at one point and managed to slash her with one claw, near her nose. There was more hissing and a lot of eerie growling. Finally B.B. hid under the love seat from 10 a.m. on. He refused to come out.

When I phoned Wendi after work, she told me, “We have to take him back. He hurt Shadow, and now he refuses to come out from under the sofa!” I phoned the elderly couple and explained that he and the other cats were not getting along, and they said it was okay to take him back. We left the house with him (in full view of the other cats) at 4:45 p.m. Again, B.B. was quiet during the ride. As soon as he heard his real owner’s voice, he meowed sweetly. It was 5:03 p.m.

The trouble was not over at the House of Oo. Sunny and Shadow were now turned against each other; we think that Sunny, at seven months, was just reaching maturity, and that B.B. had awakened him to the concept of male domination. Now Shadow was petrified of Sunny, and she demonstrated this with unearthly, raspy growls: “Gr-r-r-O-O-W-W-W-l.” Joe noted that it sounded something like Summoned Skull from Yu-Gi-Oh. “Neither man nor beast can make sounds like Shadow can,” he remarked.

Whenever Shadow and Sunny got near each other, the hissing began. Khhhhhh. Khhhhhh. Khhhhhh. Gr-r-r-O-O-W-W-W-l. First Shadow, then Sunny in a bit higher voice: Gr-r-r-O-O-W-W-W-l! After a while, they would start fighting, then one of them would back away, or one of us would break them up. At least Shadow is declawed, and Sunny’s claws are trimmed, we thought. But the tension was mounting.

The commotion continued into Sunday. Late Sunday morning, Shadow was hiding under Joe’s bed, and by now the growls had given way to siren wails. It was quite scary.

Late Sunday afternoon, Wendi held Sunny, I held Shadow, and as we controlled their positions to avoid injury, we let them go at each other for about a minute, screaming and flailing wildly. Finally they stopped for a second and Wendi said, “That’s enough.” The worst was now over.

By Monday morning (the day of Sunny’s surgery) things were almost back to normal, other than a lingering hiss or two. When we took Sunny away to the vet, Shadow looked sad and meowed for him. After Sunny’s recovery, the two were good friends once again.

About the spelling of “khhhhh”

The sound of a hissing cat is quite easy to imitate. You just open your mouth wide and move your tongue near the roof of your mouth as if holding out the “i” in “kiss”—then exhale rapidly: Khhhhhhh! Voila! You just hissed.

I searched Google to see how others were spelling the hissing sound online. Most didn’t try to spell it out at all but only used the word “hiss.” A weblog entry I read used the spelling “khhhhhhh” and an entry on a message board used “meow… khhhhhhhhhh [hissing sound that doesn’t come off well in typing]”. Other sites used similar spellings to denote the heavy breathing of Darth Vader in Star Wars, among other things.