Tic Tac is sitting on her cat tree by the window, waiting for Swooner and Target to come home for lunch. With her pristine white fur, long sleek lines and huge blue eyes, she looks angelic. She’s also purring. But our little sweetheart is up to no good.
Tic Tac is a little lady in a household of boy cats but there is no doubt that she rules the roost. Frankly, we should have seen it coming. All I can say is that we were totally taken in.
When Tic Tac joined our family a year ago, she was a tiny kitten. She was in a sad state of health as well, hungry and neglected. Recognising her fragility, we were careful when we introduced her.
In cat families where the females live in groups and there are only one or two males about, kittens and cubs can be vulnerable. With lions, for example, a big new dominant male will sometimes kill cubs they haven’t parented. In feral cat communities, this can happen too.
While Target and Swooner are pampered pets, and also neutered, instincts are deep-seated. So, we presented our little girl carefully and watched for trouble.
There was none. Right from the start, both the boys treated their new sister with unbelievable sweetness. They wash her face, clean her ears, and play with her.
Swooner goes out on the roof with her every morning, and Target has taught her hide-and-seek, ping pong and paper-shredding games.
They indulged her shamelessly and as a result, our Tic Tac is brazenly naughty.
When Target is asleep on my desk, she creeps up on him and pulls his tail. As for Swooner, every time he walks in the front door, Tic Tac jumps out from behind, squealing, “Geronimo!” in Cat.
They get the games and love them, but Tic Tac is also a greedy little madam who plays dirty when it comes to tuna.
Cats tend to be territorial about food, so at dinner time, everyone has their own bowl. However, the boys do swapsies. Because the stuff in the other dish is always better.
Tic Tac has gamed the system.
When the bowls hit the floor, she gobbles hers up. Then she slides over to one of the boys and elbows him. Thinking it’s swapsies, he moves over – only to find an empty bowl.
Treat time is another one. I squeeze those creamy tubes on to spoon rests and hand them over. As the cats are usually bunched tightly at my feet, I set the rests down next to each of them.
Swooner and Target lick theirs up industriously and then check to see if the other has accidentally overlooked a bit.
But Tic Tac has discovered that if she stands sideways, she can lap hers up while blocking the other two spoon rests with her tummy.
While our Tic Tac is a clever puss, she’s not unique. In the past, the boys have had the same bright ideas. As it has always been settled with a hearty round of whappy paws, we thought she’d get a clip around her pretty ear.
When she was still small and hungry, we just topped up bowls and made sure everyone got their share. As she began to grow, we waited and waited, thinking that any day the boys would assert some cat discipline.
But Tic Tac just kept getting away with it. Maybe it’s the big blue innocent eyes or perhaps it’s the sweet squeaky meow but neither Target nor Swooner raised their paw to her. Thanks to this, Tic Tac has become a shameless thief.
When she bounces up, ready to raid, our boys act like gentlemen. As a principle, this is admirable. But it is spotty in terms of success.
Their first move is to leverage inertia. Target and Swooner are slow to give up their bowls for swapsies and at treat time; they use body blocks to stake their claim.
Although she looks like a pushover, Tic Tac channels her inner Alun Wyn Jones when necessary, shoving and elbowing with the skill of a professional rugby union player.
When she’s successful in commandeering a bowl, Swooner will lick the top of her head, a gentle passive-aggressive approach. Target takes the direct approach – he puts a paw on her head and pushes.
But Swooner has discovered that Tic Tac is totally shameless and Target has realised that Tic Tac is an inch taller than him.
The blue eyes and kitten squeak work on us too. She always has a taste of my roti canai before I do and when Tom opens the fridge, she’s right there with him, checking for leftovers.
Now she’s at the window, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how she’s thinking. The boys are out for a pre-prandial stroll because it’s Sunday and there’s roast chicken for lunch.
Our pearl princess is planning her moves. And from the loud purring, Tic Tac knows she’s a winner.
In the wild, cats are protective about food because they compete for survival. Mother cats will feed their offspring but other cats will work on the "me first" principle.
Group culture is also important. When the cats are all related, and when there is plenty to go around, you are likely to see adult cats allowing juniors to take food from them.
However, generally speaking, cats are wired to be competitive about food. Therefore, it’s important that every pet has their own bowl.
Some pets grow up in a share culture, and you will see swapsies. Others don’t want to share but are bullied out of having what they want by dominant or cheeky cats.
If cats feel threatened, they may eat too quickly, and then vomit. Or you may get a fight.
As a guardian, it’s important to know when to police the situation.
When you bring in a new cat, it’s usually best to feed them separately, at least to start with.
Also, if you have pets with special or different needs, separating them at dinner time can also help you maintain portion sizes and special diets.
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