Smoke alarms and an angry cat

I’ve previously posted about the hostile attitude that one of my cats, Shadow, has towards strangers. This has me worried again.

Once a year, someone comes to our apartment complex to inspect the smoke alarms. Accompanied by the superintendent, they push the test button on each one to make sure it works.

When people visit my apartment, my cats’ normal reaction is to retreat into the bedroom and hide under the bed. This suits everyone concerned: my friends don’t have to deal with Shadow’s attitude, and my cats are in what they feel is "safe" space.

The smoke-alarm inspector has to walk into my bedroom to test the alarm over my bed. From Shadow’s perspective, he’s invading the safe space — and making a loud sound to boot.

Last year, when the inspector visited my bedroom, Shadow yowled at him. My superintendent laughed about it as he told me the story: the guy jumped into the air, then bolted out the door. To my super, it was like something out of a slapstick comedy.

I didn’t laugh. That particular inspector was willing to let the incident go. What if he’d been one of those PITA (as opposed to PETA) folks who wanted to issue a complaint about my having a "dangerous" animal? I resolved that the next time an inspection was scheduled, I would take the day off from work so that I could be there and moderate Shadow’s behavior.

I’m going away for about a week to the Free Spirit Gathering in Maryland. The smoke-alarm inspection for this year has been scheduled for my apartment complex. It’s on Thursday, June 18, right in the middle of the trip.  Not only will there be strangers coming into the "safe" space and making loud noises, but it will be after I’ve been gone for two days, so Shadow will be crankier than usual. Shadow has attacked people’s feet in the past; what if he does it this time?

I am concerned. I am seriously considering shortening or canceling my trip to FSG. I have this nightmare vision of coming back to find out that a hypothetically PITA fire inspector has complained loudly enough that animal services would be brought in to take Shadow away.

I’m a presenter at FSG, with workshops on Wednesday and Thursday. On the one hand, there’s the "show must go on." On the other, there’s a commitment I made to a small black kitten that I’d watch over him for his entire life. (As I said before, I didn’t know that the tiny kitten would grown into a small furious panther, but that doesn’t change the commitment.)

I’m probably fantasizing and worrying about nothing. These inspectors enter into apartments all the time and see all kinds of strange stuff. A yowling cat is probably nowhere near the top of the list.

Even so, my current plan is to tell the superintendent:

  • Please encourage the inspector not to dilly-dally in my apartment. Walk in, push the buttons, walk out. Make the notes after you’ve left.
  • I’ll make darn sure that the two smoke detectors and CO2 monitor have fresh batteries and are working before I leave.
  • If Shadow displays any kind of attitude, just leave. I’ll gladly pay the fine for the inspector to come back and check the alarms at a time when I can be there.

Does anyone out there know how to teach a cat to love strangers? For that matter, is there anyone who knows how to teach a cat anything?

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  1. holzman

    says: Unless Shadow wounds someone badly enough to require stitches, it is very unlikely that anyone is going to declare him dangerous. Yowling and growling doesn’t cut it, even from a big dog.

    For the safety of other people, you should keep the cat’s claws well trimmed.

    Training: When the cat voluntarily exposes himself to strangers, use positive reinforcement. Alot. Petting, treats, affection. Also, begin to expose him to strangers. First, ask friends for worn items of clothing; put them where Shadow hides. Pet him when he goes near them. Have a person come into the bedroom and stay as far away from the cat as possible, speaking in a soft tone, moving alone, gracefully moving. Again, use positive reinforcement when this is happening. Same techniques for introducing one cat to another.

    There are anti-anxiety and calming products on the market. Pheremone diffusers, thing to put in water, things for direct administration. This will be trial and observation to see what works best.

  2. ibonewits

    Can i help?

    Bill, I can come over that day if you think it would be of any help. I’d even be willing to lean over the bed and push the button for the inspector. I’ll wear my high boots. 🙂

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