We have two cats. You’ve already been introduced to our resident evil mastermind, Snowbell.
It’s a suitable name for her really. She’s a diminutive, blue-eyed girl with an almost lilac coat who was, I suspect, the runt of her litter. She, therefore, has an obsession with her food dish being full at all times. She compulsively checks it throughout the day just to make certain that she cannot, under any circumstances, see the bottom of the dish. If her dish is full but the bottom of the dish is visible, then Snowbell behaves in one of two ways. She might choose the Sicilian Mobster approach wherein she will find me and make threats upon my mortal body. This involves staring at me in a sinister way from a corner of the room, creeping quietly under furniture unbeknownst to me, and then launching attacks upon my ankles in a Moray Eel like fashion or simply launching herself at my head and upper body while I’m sitting. Or, she will utilize the Chinese Water Torture strategy. This is always used between 3 and 4:30 am. This involves making annoying scratching sounds on a piece of maple furniture in my bedroom. She always begins with a light, more polite sort of scratching. If my husband or I do not respond, then she makes a more annoying scratching sound. If we still ignore her, she’ll move on to the mattress and give it a nice, long S-C-R-A-T-C-H! Historically, my husband has reached down and grabbed her little, insolent scruff and tossed her out into hallway, thus, locking her out of our room. Snowbell has made adjustments to her strategy now so she scratches and runs. My husband can no longer catch her. If we still ignore her, she moves on to our bodies. She always goes for my husband. She usually scratches his face and runs off immediately. She’s a damn smart cat. My husband usually sits up in bed, thoroughly pissed off at the cat and yells something absurd like, “What the hell was that for? Get your damn ass off my bed or I’ll cut your tail off and wear it to work!” Snowbell’s personality and total obsession with having an abundantly full food dish dictates that she will not give up until someone gets up and fills her dish.
My husband was away on business not too long ago, and I knew that Snowbell and I were going to be in for a stand off in the night. I want my sleep. She wants a full dish. Obviously, we both can’t have what we want, and I am not going to lose this battle to a house cat.
She started scratching around 4 am. Unlike my husband, I am not of a reactionary disposition, and I am also very tenacious. I was convinced that I could outlast Snowbell. I waited in a groggy state for her to begin her annoying scratching which she did. I waited for the mattress hit and run. She is predictable. I then watched her jump on the bed. She quietly approached my husband’s side of the bed. She began looking for him. Aha! He wasn’t there. No man face to maul. What would she do? I watched her consider her options. In our house, my husband is the beta where the animals are concerned. I am the alpha. When we had our Australian Shepherd, I was her shepherd. She loved my husband, but that dog followed me everywhere. My husband would issue her a command, and she would ponder obeying. If I even looked at her funny, her behind hit the floor. It’s much like that with our cats. If they are up to no good, my husband can give his command in his best executive voice, and they do listen. All I have to do is show up. So, when Snowbell turned her head and gazed at my face, stalked toward me, and lifted up her paw, I opened my eyes widely and stared directly into hers. She froze. “Don’t you even think about scratching my face, Snowbell, or I will turn you into a hat!”
Now, people say that animals don’t understand spoken language. They understand tone. I’m not entirely sure what animals understand because upon the utterance of my words, Snowbell backed up her feline body, slinked to the foot of my bed, let out a defeated yowl, and fell over as if she had just died.
Victory was mine.
I, of course, told my husband of this great triumph, but he didn’t feel the same pleasure as I. He has never defeated our tenacious house cat. He doesn’t know Victory’s sweet taste as I do.
Our other cat is Snowbell’s sister, and they do behave as such. Ginger (she came with that name) is opposite in size and disposition to Snowbell. She is very large and quite fat. While Snowbell seems to be utterly feline in her nature, Ginger is almost canine. She likes everyone–even dogs. She greets everyone at the door upon their arrival, strangers and friends alike. Snowbell also sits by the door when people arrive, but this doesn’t seem to be motivated by friendliness. She acts more like a bouncer at an exclusive club. People have commented that they feel judged by Snowbell. She actually causes people to feel uncomfortable! It’s her cold stares, I suspect. Like there’s an old misanthropic judge residing in her body determining the content of the character of all my guests. Ginger, on the other hand, just wants to love everyone. Her size reminds us of a large teddy bear. Ginger will let my children hold her, drag her around, and cuddle her. If she is bothered, she doesn’t say. She will even let them wrestle her on the floor–gently, of course.
Both of these cats are half-Siamese which means they have a bit of that breed’s temperament. Siamese cats are very social cats as well as a needy breed. They do not tolerate being alone often. They remind me a bit of dogs in their need for attention and companionship. This probably explains Ginger’s disposition. So, why write about my cats? Well, there is something extraordinary about them.
Ginger has a special sense that I’ve not encountered in any of my other pets. Ginger knows when anyone in the family needs emotional help. She has become the Therapy Cat. I didn’t realize that she was like this during the first year of owning her, but I have watched it evolve. When Grace was going through her diagnosis process last year and enduring so much suffering, Ginger followed Grace everywhere, chirping, meowing, and yowling as Siamese cats do. Ginger possesses that Siamese voice and all its quirky vocal characteristics. She is extremely talkative and will engage us in very long conversations. Grace became annoyed by Ginger’s constant attention, but Ginger would not leave her side. Ginger insisted upon being carried around like a sack of potatoes. She slept on top of Grace like a weighted blanket. She groomed Grace’s hair. She sat next to Grace on the couch. Grace came to rely on Ginger, and Ginger clearly loved Grace.
Eadaoin, however, began to tell me how much time Ginger was spending with her. How is this possible, I wondered. Ginger is always with Grace. Well, Eadaoin was hypomanic and up very late. Grace went to bed at 8 pm. Eadaoin was just getting her second wind when Grace fell asleep. So, Ginger would apparently wait for Grace to fall asleep and then spend the evening and midnight hours with Eadaoin. Eadaoin would tell me that she and Ginger talked, played, and cuddled. She began to call Ginger by a nickname after a cartoon that she loved: ‘Pusheen’. Pusheen looked just like Ginger. Ginger will now answer to Pusheen if Eadaoin calls her that. At that same time, Milly told me how she was waking up with Ginger. She would wake up in the night feeling unable to sleep, and Ginger would appear. They would snuggle together. Ginger would let Milly hold her tightly like a teddy bear. Milly would fall asleep holding Ginger like this. I was amazed! I started observing Ginger. Sure enough, this cat would go from child to child checking on them in the night, being for each child what she could to ease them. If she sensed that one child needed prompting to engage her, she would chase her. She would yowl and carry on until that child finally sat down and played with her.
Cats are territorial. So, Snowbell and Ginger will play ‘king of the mountain’ in our living room over one of the chairs. It’s Ginger’s chair, and Snowbell wants it. Snowbell has claimed my bedroom. Ginger is rarely allowed in there these days, but I have watched something odd happen. Ginger gave up her living room chair three days in a row this week. Snowbell began sitting on it on Tuesday. This NEVER happens! I wondered what dynamic changed in their relationship to allow such a power shift. Well, I have been enduring some things in my personal life that have been causing me some pain. I haven’t openly displayed that, but animals know things. I don’t know if animals can smell stress hormones or if they are simply sensitive to our tone of voice. Nonetheless, animals are far more sensitive to the life of humans than we are to them. So, for the three days that Snowbell lounged on Ginger’s living room chair, Ginger quietly crept into our bedroom after I went to bed and curled up by my side as I fell asleep. Snowbell did not come to sleep on the foot of the bed as she always does. She slept on the chair…so that Ginger could sleep with me. Ginger was being my therapy cat. I don’t know how long she stayed. She’s gone in the morning, but, if you met this cat, you would know that there is something special about her. She’s got an intense nurturing drive. She just wants to make it better–for everyone. Even if she doesn’t know you. I find that to be extraordinary.
As much as I’ve made Snowbell out to be a nefarious little thing, I’ve not told you one of her most amazing characteristics. Snowbell is the protector, and she will beat up anyone or anything that hurts Ginger or, well, any of us. Our Aussie, who died last year, didn’t like cats very much, but she knew better than to openly go after Snowbell. She would, therefore, go after Ginger from time to time. Snowbell would hear these run-ins and run from wherever she was in the house and attack the dog. She would stand in between her sister and an Australian Shepherd bristling and ready for a brawl. Snowbell is still like this today. If anyone is heard to be crying, Snowbell runs from wherever she might be in the house to check on the sniffling person, ever ready to take on the offending party.
Animals are a blessing to the world. They are like people. Some are ornery. Some are sweet. Some are a bit mean. Some are energetic and joyful. Some just want to be left alone. Some are overflowing with empathy and compassion. Some just want a full dish of food and a nice pat.
I know a lot of people who think that cats are just independent creatures who want to eat and sleep. I’m the first to disagree with them and say, “Well, you haven’t met my cats then…”