September 20, 2010

Food is a Feline Issue

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People always comment on how huge my cats are.  They are rescue cats, mutts, hefty survivors.  Since I work at home, they know how to work me for food and I am the first to admit that I am intimidated by them.  While my cats may be the size of farm animals, there’s a hint of jungle law in our domestic arrangements.

Freud chooses the menu. He has a urinary tract situation and needs special food; so in order to avoid fatal ingestions, everyone eats the same PH balanced, low magnesium food.   Freud sits at his bowl and looks piteous while his classic meow gets more insistent.  “I am ravenous.  How can you starve me like this?”  He asks.  I remember how he almost died from a blocked urethra, I look at his sweet face, and I give him a few more bites.

Winston, whose whine is loud and demanding, eats most of the food.  For the first eight weeks of his life, he was interested in only two things: nursing and sleeping.  He was the first of his litter to find Mom’s food dish and help himself. His little kitten stomach was so tight he could hardly toddle to bed where he fell over like, Liberty, the wooden dog.  Neutering didn’t help with these proclivities.  I mean, really, what else does a neutered male have? Winston still spends his life sleeping, eating, and instead of watching football, he watches for food.

Artemis, whose little “freep” sound becomes a scream any time her will is crossed, determines the nosebag schedule in the household.  Freud and Winston are fierce and fast eaters, well able to guard their bowls from each other.  But Artemis won’t eat with Neanderthals at her back, inching closer, hoping to score from her bowl.  She runs away and leaves them to it.

Artemis is a grazer.  She likes a little bit now, a little bit later.  Her food bowl travels around the house with me all day so it’s close to hand whenever she wants a nosh.  When I read in the morning, the bowl hides underneath a book where the other two can’t smell it if I leave my post for a minute.  There’s an eating station on the floor next to the computer.  There’s another next to my chair at the piano.  At 3:30, daily, Artemis appears next to the piano when I am teaching.

“You have a customer.”  One of my students said one day.  There was Artemis, her eyes boring through me, daring me to ignore her.

Sometimes I feel those eyes boring through walls.  I can be sitting quietly, minding my own business, when I feel unaccountably uncomfortable; feel something gnaw at me.  A small reconnaissance through the house will reveal Artemis sitting reproachfully where at this time yesterday, I gave her something to eat.  She says, “What the hell? Do we have to keep going over this?”

She likes to go outside after her late afternoon nibble and not come in until my bedtime.  Then she wants to eat.  She rattles the kibble as she extracts one piece after another, crunching them.  I put a pillow over my ears and then fall sleep before she finishes.   Winston and Freud are both onto the fact that there’s often food to be had on the east side of the bed.  Sometimes in the morning Artemis seems suspiciously hungry and Winston not hungry enough.

I go to elaborate lengths to make sure Artemis gets enough to eat.  She knows the drill: I close myself into the bathroom, turn on the fan, run some water, and flush the toilet.  Undercover of all the noise, I pop open a can of food.  (If you aren’t a cat owner, you might not know that cats can hear from two blocks away a can being opened in their kitchen.) When I emerge from the bathroom, she nails me with eyes that do not thank me for going to such great lengths on her behalf.  “I’ll eat that now,” she says. “But I would have liked it earlier.”

I worried about how another person would negotiate the politics of the family when I traveled for six weeks one summer.   I was two weeks into the trip, and checking my e-mail at Sterling Memorial Library on the Yale University Campus, right under a Research Only sign, when I read an e-mail from Barb, the live-in cat sitter.  “All is well,” she re-assured me.  “But the cats certainly seem to be hungry all the time.”

I sat back, laughing and relieved. “They aren’t hungry.”  I wrote back.  “They’ve gotten comfortable with, and are now ruthlessly exploiting you.”  I scarcely thought about the cats for the rest of the trip.  When I got home, they looked at me and said, “You’re home.  What’s there to eat?”

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