The story popped up in my Facebook feed one day. It told of a dog that loved his food dearly, always wolfing it down in one go. Then the dog’s family noticed that he wasn’t finishing his food; he always left a little bit, no matter how much they coaxed him to eat it. One night, they spied a cat slipping in the kitchen window and finishing off the dog’s food. The dog had been leaving the extra food for the stray cat. The family adopted the cat, which was pregnant, and the dog took care of the kittens and the mother as if they were his very own.
Like you, I thought, Aww, and I looked down to where my big cat Charlie was sitting beneath my desk. Charlie also loves his food dearly, but he’d walk over the heads of blind nuns to get to his food and make sure no one else touched it.
It’s not just a general cat thing. Other cats we’ve had have been much more laid back about food. Our second cat, Ashes, usually prefers to run around the house and rub against our legs than eat.
For Charlie, it’s always Thought Number 1, and it borders on the pathological.
He can’t read a clock, but he has a good sense of when it’s his mealtime. At our old apartment, the first morning bus rumbled past each morning about 20 minutes before I got up, so he was always ready on weekdays; weekends he would sleep in a bit longer, because the bus drove past later.
I haven’t figured out how he tells time in our new location, where the bus schedule is quite different. It might be a neighbor’s dog barking after it’s let outside first thing in the morning, or perhaps someone else in the building gets up at the same time to shower, and he can hear the water in the pipes.
However Charlie does it, he does it, and he is very serious about this thing called Eating. At his meal times, 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., he will employ every one of the many cat languages he knows, from meowing to chirping to squeaking. If I am sitting reading, he will occasionally rise up and stick his head and front paws on the chair’s arms; his planning has gone no further than that, because if I don’t get up to feed him and just stare at him, he looks confused and goes back to prowling around the room, squeaking and meowing and purring loudly. Five minutes later, his head and paws appear on the chair’s arms again. Repeat that cycle four or five times, and it becomes obvious to the most dedicated reader that they won’t be able to concentrate until they satisfy the cat’s demands.
You would think he would have built up just a little bit of trust in us over the past decade. He has been in our house and family for almost exactly 10 years, and not once in that time have we failed to feed him twice a day. Never. And he gets (healthful) treats in between meals. But he’s on dinner lookout before mealtime, and he puts all of his energy into ensuring that we don’t forget it’s time to feed him. As if it’s a novel idea.
When I started running again in the mornings, it slightly changed my routine with Charlie. I get up a little earlier, start warming up his food, head to the bathroom on the first floor to wash up, and I go back to the kitchen to finish preparing and then serve his food. But when I have to break the routine by going upstairs to get my asthma medicine from the second-floor bathroom, Charlie runs up the stairs after me, with a look of panic in his eyes as if he doesn’t know how to convince me I have broken our agreement. I can’t read his mind, and I can’t translate his meows, but he definitely doesn’t like breaking the food routine.
One night, after going to bed, I was awakened by a loud bang and a scattering sound, as if someone had emptied a jar of nuts and bolts on the floor. I rushed into the kitchen to find that Charlie had knocked from a counter onto the floor a big canister containing dry cat food. When it hit the floor, the top had popped off and the entire kitchen floor was covered with a layer of food pellets. There, in the middle, was Charlie, crouched on the floor contentedly eating away at the sea of food before him. He was also purring loudly, and I needed no translation for that. I knew he was saying “Best. Day. Ever.”