Back in the days when we didn’t have children, we talked about our cats. Friends would come for dinner and tell us cute stories about their kids, which we would counter with: “Oh yes, Fat Cat does the exact same thing!” I’d like to say we were making some ironic comment on parents not being able to talk about anything other than their progeny, but really it was just that we were crazy about our cats and viewed them rather like children. We didn’t think our friends were boring – we thought we were joining in the conversation by sharing cat-anecdotes. Yes, we were those people.
Anyway, soon after getting our cats we observed that there was a very definite hierarchy in the house, evident from the cats’ perception of who the food belonged to. We had been warned before they came to live with us that our new cats should see us eat first, so that they knew who was boss. This was sound advice, I’m sure, but could not be combined with all the other instructions we got from the Cattery about keeping them locked in one room on their own to begin with so they could acclimatise. It was thus that the pecking order was established.
Fat Cat – unsurprisingly – established himself as Alpha Cat. He made sure he ate first, and if Thin Cat tried to eat from the same bowl he got nudged out of the way. If Fat Cat finished before Thin Cat, he would nudge him away from the second bowl too and clean that one as well. Was Thin Cat second in command? By no means. Although Fat Cat quite happily jumped up onto the dining table to steal our food, Thin Cat would cower in a corner and watch. Thus we discovered that this was how the cats saw our family hierarchy:
Alpha: Fat Cat
Delta: Thin Cat
When I got pregnant, we joked that our new arrival would end up being Epsilon Cat, because Fat Cat would not think he was much of a threat.
We were wrong.
Our son went straight to the top of the tree – everyone else’s dinner had to wait while he was fed. There were interesting milky smells, but the cats were not allowed near. The baby’s needs always superseded the cats’ and he monopolised our laps. Our son was Alpha Cat. He ate first. And everyone moved down, demoting poor Thin Cat to Epsilon status.
Now that the Toddler eats like normal people, he has moved down to his proper place at the bottom of the pile. He is the sucker that will fill up the cats’ bowls to overflowing at random times of the day, because he just loves watching them eat. I think the cats now see him as their personal slave. Fat Cat does not hesitate to jump up and try to take over his dinner, oblivious to his stern remonstrations of “No, naughty Pike, S food.”
What happened when the Baby was born, you ask? The cats don’t seem to have the same kind of reverence for her that they had for our firstborn. They’ve got babies pegged now: they just turn into big humans and so become your willing food-dispensing slaves. They look at her and wait. One day she will be able to reach the bag of cat biscuits, and when she does, they will be right there.
So the pecking order has gone back to normal, with Fat Cat at the top, the humans in the middle in descending order of height, and Thin Cat dead last, now Zeta Cat.
Or is he? The other day he was up on the table licking the pate off my toast while my back was turned. We’d better keep an eye on him – he may be staging a coup…