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The Vine: January 6, 2016

Submitted by on January 6, 2016 – 11:20 AM12 Comments


I adopted 3 littermates very recently. I've known them since they were 5 weeks old; they are now about 5 months old, and since day one with me have been settling into their furever home.

It's a good space, we have a sunny balcony, stairs, nooks & crannies, a lovesac, an enclosed backyard with grass for supervised play, and I work from home so they get lots of contact, play and love. They are very bonded, and the reason I took the 3 is because I couldn't bear to separate them, so they keep each other amused a lot as well. As I type this, they are all sleeping on the floor in the dappled sunlight less than 4 feet from me.

These cats want for nothing. I've learned a lot from years of reading cat-related Vines, and I had a cat who lived to the age of 19 who passed away 2 years ago.

I moved house just prior to getting them a couple of months ago (believe it or not, I househunted for an appropriate place to adopt them into!) and just yesterday my Roland electric piano was delivered to me. I plugged it in and started tinkering on some classical music, then some chords, and my well-adjusted cats FREAKED OUT!

One cat is more okay with it, his brother is the one that runs off. It seems the lower octaves are more unsettling.

I want to be able to do some jamming with other musicians without upsetting my cats. So I'm just doing gradual exposures. When the cats are chilling in the living room, I open the piano, turn it on, leave it at a low volume, watch their responses and play a single middle C, then the C above that, maybe a chord, then a C a couple of octaves below that. Apparently the bottom octave is below the range of frequencies that they can hear, but I understand they can probably feel the vibration even if they can't hear it.

Today I did my 3rd 30-second "exposure" for them. Krusty runs from the room when the lower notes are played, he doesn't cry or scratch or poop or anything, his face just goes all alert when I start playing notes and he leaves when the low notes are played. (The first time I played the piano though, he ran and hid in a place I don't want him to get into, in fact I didn't know that particular cranny existed in the house but I don't want him getting stuck there.)

Is the gradual exposure technique both kind and effective, do you think? Will they learn to live with the sound of music playing, in particular my piano? There was always radio playing when they were tiny babies in their foster home.

Thanks in advance!

Devoted Cat Mama

Dear Mama,

Yeah, why not keep going with it. They'll get used to it or they won't, but if they're not responding in a destructive fashion…you know. You're the food source. They'll just have to cope.

Some cats just do not feature music in their lives; a friend of mine who used to cat-sit for me on occasion was also a vocalist, and would use the time at my apartment to do some practicing, since my building was converted from a hotel in the '80s and had nice thick walls. There was one "swoop" exercise in particular she used to do that apparently Little Joe haaaaaaated. The friendliest, most doglike butterball in felinedom would puff up like a fugu, hiss, and squeeze angrily under the bed, where he spent the rest of her practice sessions "grumbling." The minute she stopped, he'd come out and hang out with her, but something about it — the timbre, the pitch, who knows — he was not having.

But he didn't pee on anything in protest, or shred her bag. He just didn't like it. Krusty doesn't have to like it, and he's probably never going to, and that's okay. It's not abusive for you to keep playing. But just in case he decides to escalate his displeasure to DefCon Pee, you might as well see how gradual exposure goes, versus springing a five-man band on him on the weekend and then spending the next two days laundering your life with Nature's Miracle.

In any case: forgive yourself. He has a good life. This won't kill him.

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  • Karen says:

    My cats haaate it when I play the flute, so I either go in a room and shut the door so they can't come in and try to knock me and my music stand over, or I put them up in the bedroom while I'm practicing. They just meow in protest the entire time I'm playing, but I gotta practice sometime and I'm not going elsewhere to do it. They've never peed on anything/wrecked stuff while I'm playing in the 10+ years that I've had them. Like Sarah said, they might not like it, but it's certainly not going to really do them any harm.

  • Kim says:

    When I was a teen, we had one cat that detested the sound of weeping. If you were getting your adolescent bawl on, Mandy would run into the room and jump up on your lap; for a split second it seemed she was attempting to comfort and console, but then she'd very pointedly paw at your mouth, all "Shut it." It usually worked, after a fashion. She was pretty awesome. Hee.

  • Cat_slave says:

    Cats react very strongly to some sound waves, apparently. I had to stop playing a certain kind of music on the stereo because our last pair of cats went bonkers every time, and tried to scratch the loudspeakers. Finally I figured that I'm not a teen any more and I can do without The Doors ;-)

    @Kim That´s somehow funny and annoying at the same time. Our other cat always meow very pointedly when I sneeze. Which I unfortunately do a lot. She is not amused.

  • Jen S. 2.0 says:

    HAAAAAA @ "DefCon Pee."

    Agree with the commenterati — they don't have to like it. It's not abusive, it's 90 minutes of their lives, and they will get over it. You're not doing anything terrible or being a bad cat owner.

    There will be a number of things that they don't love but that they'll have to suck up. My cat scratched me to bloody ribbons the first time I tried to clip his nails as a novice cat owner, and now, 16 years later, he still hates it and acts like I'm trying to kill him; I mean, oy with the kitty drama. The only reason I no longer get scratched to ribbons is that I learned it's a 2-person job. No amount of getting him used to it made him like it. And are you ever planning to bathe them? Good luck making THAT an enjoyable experience…but they will meow piteously and give you dirty looks as they lick themselves dry, and then their furry little lives will go on.

    Think about how much stuff you don't love that you just have to tolerate, and are not really the worse for it. (The dentist, lady exams, public transportation, chatty seatmates on planes, writing thank-you notes, staff meetings, shaving your legs, eating broccoli, washing dishes, bad dates, scrubbing the bathtub, doing your taxes, un-decorating the Christmas tree, cutting the grass, performance reviews, shoveling snow. For starters.) You just grit your teeth and deal with it until it's over.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    I absolutely love what an amazing cat mama you are. That being said, I think the other posters are right – the kitties will be fine. They'll adapt, or they'll remove themselves from the scene if need be until you're done. (I would block off that cranny you're worried about, though, just to be safe. You know how cats always want to do exactly what you don't want them to do.)

    @Jen S.2.0 – I get the same reaction from my boys when I try to clip their claws – snarls, hisses, slaps, and stalking off in a huff. And baths? NO. LOL I want to live.

    I love the stories here; particularly Sars': "the friendliest, most doglike butterball in felinedom would puff up like a fugu, hiss, and squeeze angrily under the bed, where he spent the rest of her practice sessions "grumbling.""

    I always did enjoy the stories about Hobey and Little Joe. They were what led me to adopt (and keep adopting, although sadly I'm down to two now).

  • Meri says:

    My husband and I tell the cats "You get a vote when you pay rent or do chores." So long as they're just grumpy and not terrified (which is the situation from your description), you're not a bad person.

  • Karen S says:

    I had the a similar experience with a cat of mine. One day, when she was still a stray, and squatting at our house, I opened up the piano for a practice. She shot up out of a dead nap and out the door. That response eventually modified to a stern stink-eye followed by a pointed exit. She never did like any music – live or on the stereo. She always left the room. Although, she would sleep through reggae…

  • cinderkeys says:

    Huh. My bandmate has cats. One of them prefers to be in another room when we rehearse, the other wants to hang out with us because PEOPLE. I'm glad none of them have freaked out. Renting rehearsal space is expensive.

  • Robin Barbour says:

    I agree with the other posts, block up the taboo cranny and let the cats be annoyed for the music time you need. I'm an old cat lady, and many years ago I had 1 paricular cat who would not tolerate the recorder. That's the flute type, not the tape deck type. When I would start to play, she would jump in my lap and BITE my cheek! So, just leaving the room to sulk isn't so bad.

    Also, THANK YOU for adopting all three. Makes me feel a little less crazy. Last time I was left catless, about 13 years ago, I went to tge shelter to adopt a boy or two. There was an adorable pair that were just what I wanted, the catch was that they had a sister. I couldn't brake up the set. To the amazement of the shelter staff, I took all 3. Of all my Bad Barn Cats, the little girl has turned out to be the most loving and cuddly cat I ever had. Some people still think I was insane to adopt so many, but I wouldn't dream of giving up any of them.

  • frogprof says:

    The Stink absolutely HATES it when I whistle, which I do unconsciously. Because I'm a 70-yr-old man. Her ears go back, she squinches her eyes, and she oh-so-delicately starts clenching the toes that are resting on my thigh. Which awakens me to my crime and I stop, so she stops. However, being an eeeeeevil kitteh momma, I have to admit to tootling the occasional DELIBERATE whistle just to get up her nose. You know, to pay her back for HER bitchiness.

    As all the others have said, you're not hurting them and they'll either get used to it or get used to moving their lazy backsides to another room until the "torture" is over.

    Also, ditto on Robin Barbour's "thank you" for adopting all three. Wish I could do the same, but … apartments.

  • Devoted Cat Mama says:

    Hi OP here!

    Well Krusty has learned to live with it. He doesn't hang around but at the same time doesn't freak, so I've been able to learn some new tunes and enjoy myself on the keys.

    I really should learn songs like "Everything I do I do it for you" because that's the way the cats kind of rule me. I'm really led by them, from the abandonment of the litter kwitter (couldn't get consistency when they were going in the garden, then the cleverest one (!) fell in to the toilet), to going without a Xmas tree, to having to catproof and further catproof the outdoor spaces as their parkour skills improve.

    Love the commenters who are also on the 3 cat team! It is the best! They are all so individual with their different personalities.

    I'm lucky – they let me clip their claws (I sneak up on them when they're sleeping and do one or 2 at a time) and they are very curious when I'm in the bath and aren't strangers to falling in.

    God bless the little buggers.

  • Ginny says:

    I discovered several years ago that if I whistle the tune from the beginning of the old Lassie show – you know the one with Timmy and June Lockhart? (I'm dating myself, here) – my male cat will come RUNNING — he cannot resist something about that pitch change — he will respond lukewarmly to other whistles, but the "Lassie" theme will pull him from wherever he may be – even if he doesn't WANT to come out of the closet — This also worked with one of my former boy-cats – but seems to have no effect on my girl. I speculate that maybe something about that pitch is reminiscent of a female in heat :)

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