Saturday, February 23, 2013

Top Cat

When the kittens finally figured out that they could jump to the top of our Mission-style bookcases — where they are eye-to-eye with us on the highest perch in the apartment — they were excited and went up there constantly. I often find Toffee napping there when I come home.

But their discovery left Possum in a quandary. As Top Cat, he has certain rights and privileges, but he also has to prove he's worthy of his title. The Top Cat must claim the best perches to show he's the boss. He can share them with the others if he's gracious (and Possum is, very). But he has to own them first.

Uneasy lies the cat that wears the crown.

So, after more than three years of ignoring this premium, high-altitude territory, Possum finally heaved his pudgy carcass from the sofa to the top of the bookcases. He made a point of going up there several nights in a row. Getting up there wasn't such a big deal, it turned out. Then he'd walk (or strut) the length of the shelf a few times, checking it out and making enough little comments to ensure that everyone saw and heard him. But then he had to figure out how to get down.

I sympathized with his situation. When we heave our own carcasses up some modestly challenging mountain trail in Acadia National Park, I'm usually okay going up. (I complain all the way, of course; complaining is the chief pleasure of hiking, isn't it? You also see some views...) But heading back down the trail is often a lot tougher. And you have to do it. You can't spend the rest of your life on some granite ledge. Or a bookcase.

The kittens (and our previous Top Cats, Snicky and then Snalbert) figured out that any of the sofa cushions are stable enough to provide a safe, soft landing, even if they seem precarious. But Possum didn't trust them. He paced back and forth, hesitating, experimentally sliding his paws down the sides of the bookcase doors hoping to soften his landing. I kept gesturing toward the sofa cushions, patting them and encouraging him to jump there. He ignored me and jumped straight to the floor, and stumped away on sore feet. I was horrified. A 16-pound cat jumping almost 5 feet to a wooden floor makes a hard, noisy landing; it's not far enough for him to twist around and do all that cool stuff you see in slow-motion films of cats falling long distances. And those cats are usually slim and fit. Possum is hardly aerodynamic.

The second night, I kept a closer eye on him. When he began fussing about getting down, I made big, sweeping gestures between him and the sofa cushions and put myself right in his path whenever it looked like he was going to jump to the floor again. We made a lot of eye contact and I spoke encouragingly. But he didn't trust me; he's never seen me jump off the bookcases, after all. So he'd settle down again and stay put. But he was nervous. This went on for about 20 minutes. He finally understood that I wasn't going to let him jump to the floor and made a messy but painless dive onto the sofa.

On the third night, he jumped to the floor again and I lectured him as he hobbled away. By now he'd seen the kittens taking off and landing via the sofa, so he didn't have to take my word for it. Unlike Wendy, Possum learns from watching other cats. (Feral Wendy won't completely trust us even after years of watching other cats enjoying the attention and treats they get from us.)

On the fourth night, I was sleeping soundly on the sofa, cozy underneath my throw and a boring paperback, when a series of exclamations awoke me. I looked up to see Possum talking to me from the bookcase, eager to get down. I was blocking his landing pad. I obediently withdrew and he leaped unathletically to my spot. Then he stalked off to check on his kittens.

Possum is definitely Top Cat.

Resting on his, er, laurels.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo Possum for reclaiming your top cat spot. I love that you show off your beautiful, fluffy and oh so snuggleable looking tummy. Don't let those little pushy kittens get the best of you.

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