Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Strategy of Cats

Ever Alert

Since Hedge came to live with us very nearly two years ago, he has gradually become more and more social, at least as far as humans are concerned. He couldn’t help but have some sort of interaction with Quint, who thinks of himself as Alpha Cat. Hedge’s strategy in dealing with Quint has been to be non-confrontatory, submissive you might think. I thought so too at first, and perhaps he was submissive when he first arrived. As time has gone by and he has grown up into the handsome fellow he is today, I’ve seen Hedge emerge from the shadow of Quint as his mentor and dominator to become a clever, crafty and personable (catable?) member of the family.

It has been fascinating, and quite rewarding, to watch Hedge slowly figure out how to overcome his fearsome and humble origins and establish for himself a definite role in the group. He is still as cautious as ever when it comes to new people and situations, but with each encounter, he observes, he retreats, he thinks, he decides and he establishes protocols to help him deal with the situation as he sees it. Instead of submission as standard operating procedure, he will now stand up for himself so as to get what he needs and wants. He’s very considered in his choices of importances. For example, at breakfast and supper times, we feed a small quantity of canned cat food in two different bowls, the same food and quantity in each. Quint considers it his right to sample the contents of both bowls and lick up whatever juice or gravy there might be in each. He will then eat a bit of the food from each bowl and leave the rest. Hedge allows this, unless the proffered food is especially to his liking, in which instance he will pick a bowl, stand his ground and consume his share, gravy and all. Most of the time, Hedge is indifferent to canned cat food, so he lets Quint have his way, but Hedge is more than capable to moving in and taking his share. Hedge has taken his time, studied the situation and evolved a policy for getting his share of his favorite foods.

Recently, Quint has taken to kicking Hedge out of whatever bed or space that he has chosen for his afternoon nap. If Hedge wanted to nap in the bed under the window in the northwest corner of the living room, Quint would go over and kick him out of the bed and take that space for his nap. Hedge would then have to find some other less-preferable spot. Today, I noticed that Hedge has formulated a workable strategy for dealing with this most annoying problem. Instead of starting his afternoon nap in the spot that he would prefer, he lays down somewhere else. Quint, of course, kicks him out of that space and Hedge then happily moves into his preferred space and has his nap. Quint has no idea that he has just been outmaneuvered and is content to believe he has won. If it didn’t know better, I’d suspect that Hedge has been reading my copy of The Art of War.

Hedge has also observed that Quint is able to get our attention by vocalizing and then leading us to where he wants us to go. If Quint wants to go for a ride in his cat stroller, he will meow at us and then herd us over to the stroller. Hedge seeing this, decides that he, too, can “talk” us into something he wants us to do, that being petting him. Thus, he now squeaks at us whenever he wants to be petted and only stops when he is satisfied with the result.

It’s quite interesting to watch these two distinct cat personalities interact, adapt and cooperate in their efforts to get their needs met by the two distinct human personalities that they live with. It’s a daily dance with the four of us coming together in constantly changing patterns, leaping and whirling and pausing and touching. There is dialog and silence; there is laughter and contemplation; there is conflict and cooperation. What binds it all together is the love, respect and communication which we share. That’s what makes us a family.

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