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Good for you for taking in Alex and very glad you saved Dusty from an abusive situation!

I believe you're right that this isn't aggressive or dominant behavior. Some cats like to cuddle up together and some do not. I think Dusty is trying to get close to Alex so they can cuddle, and Alex is just saying no!

My Kate is a people-person. She tolerates other cats but could certainly do without them. Coco loves everybody, but every time she tried to get close to Kate, she got the hiss&swat routine too. It took 2 years before Kate let Coco curl up with her. There's no way of knowing what Alex and Dusty will end up doing, but as long as nobody's getting hurt, I'd let them work this out for themselves.

Both people and pets take a while to adjust to a new environment and routine, so when you do go your separate ways, just give it some time to settle in and see how you and your sister feel about adopting another cat.
 

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Yes, I think your theory is exactly right. We don't always know our cat's backgrounds when we adopt them, but it does sound like Dusty was used to cuddling and is confused about Alex's reaction. And we always feel terrible when our cats are not happy! Just hang in there and see how you feel when your situation changes, and we'll be here to try to help with the transition if need be.
 
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