Published in the Rains County Leader on June 4, 2019:
Kitty came to live with us four years ago this month. If you’ve followed my column for any length of time, you know that her assimilation into our family has not always been smooth. However, through the months and years, we’ve worked out routines that work for all of us. Some of them have even become rituals.
Kitty makes no secret of the fact that David is her favorite, but since I’m the first one up after a long, lonely night, she’s usually glad to see me. When I come into the kitchen, she stands by her feeding station and looks at me pitifully. While I scoop kibble into her bowl, she runs around the island counter clockwise, stops in front of her bowl, and looks up again. This time she has a more demanding look, asking without words why I’m not petting her.
In the beginning, any time I touched her became “bite and scratch” play time, so now when she wants me to pet her, I obediently comply. She sometimes wants to be scratched, and she walks around making sure I hit just the right spots. Occasionally, she even pushes her head against my hand so I can scratch behind her ears. When hunger gets the best of her, she begins to nibble her food and finally crouches down and begins to eat seriously. When she’s had all the petting she wants, she makes a pretend lunge at my hand to let me know I’m free to go about my own morning routine.
David’s morning usually includes some time at his laptop which is set up on one side of the dining table. When Kitty sees him heading in that direction, she jumps into his chair and waits expectantly. He bumps her gently with his hand and tells her to move over. If she doesn’t comply immediately, he sits on the edge of the chair and scoots over slowly until she jumps to the chair beside him. Then she proceeds to bump his elbow with her head until he pets her. When she’s had enough petting, she settles down for a nap, and he gets on with his morning.
She sleeps most of the day, but she varies her napping spots, maybe to throw off any predators who might slip into the house. Her most obvious places are her cat condo, the sofa, or our bed – either on it or under it. She has other places we have yet to discover where she disappears from time-to-time, just to keep us on our toes. But in the evening, she reverts to being more predictable.
Her favorite toy is a stuffed fish attached to a stick with an elastic string. Once we’ve settled down in front of the TV after dinner, we hear the sound of the stick being dragged across the ceramic tile in the kitchen and we know she’s bringing her fish from the bedroom to drop at David’s feet. Then she ignores the fish and jumps up onto the couch and settles down for another nap, either very close to him or at the other end. Later, when he settles down in bed to read for a bit before turning out the light, we hear the stick on tile again, and she deposits the fish between his feet.
Her final ritual of the day involves more food. In an effort to make Kitty more of a lap cat, I began offering her treats at bedtime. The catch is, she has to sit in my lap and allow me to pet her in order to get them. This has become a contest of wills, and she sometimes sits in my lap but more often sits beside me. She does like her treats though, and wants to be sure I don’t forget them. While I brush my teeth, she sits on the edge of the tub and stares at me. When I’m finished, she follows me into the kitchen and stares at me while I get the treats. Then, she rushes into the bedroom and jumps onto the bed to wait for me. It’s a routine that works for both of us, but I think I enjoy it more than she does. As soon as the last treat is gone, she jumps off the bed and disappears until morning when the rituals begin again.
We’re house and dog sitting this week, and I was surprised to find that Kitty is not the only animal that likes rituals. It seems that Spike has developed a routine of his own. When it came time to feed him the first night, I was surprised to find his bowl in the tub in the garage where the food is kept. In addition, there was a rather comfy-looking chair next to it. Just to see what happened, I put food in the bowl and placed it on the floor by the food tub. I called Spike, and he ambled in like he knew what to expect. He didn’t begin eating immediately but stood giving me a look that resembled the one Kitty gives me in the mornings.
“Do you want some petting?” I asked, and based on his reaction, he did. He still didn’t eat, so I asked if I was supposed to sit in the chair. Again, his actions indicated that I was right.
It seems that pets, like people, find comfort in rituals. It makes me wonder how Kitty gets along when we leave her for several days at a time. Maybe that’s why she’s so mad at us when we get home.
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