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Sense and Nonsense: Cat's quirky eating habits lead to intense rivalry

September 17, 2012

By Lynda Hollenbeck

Most kids go through a stage in which they refuse food. That's when parents/grandparents turn creative.
"Here comes the motorboat," sputters the feeder, holding a spoon laden with something designed to tempt the defiant one.
Of course this is done with appropriate boat sounds. And the one doing the feeding hopes like everything the kid won't spit the whole spoonful back at said feeder.
Then there's the airplane zooming over with another delivery of nutrition, again accompanied by original parental sound track.
Sometimes you need props for this activity, like silly hats and such. The ability to make funny faces also helps.
Through the years I've gone to great lengths to persuade kids and grandkids to eat, but there was one time that I became a slave to a cat with an eating disorder.
It's no secret that I love animals and vice versa. I've had pets all my life and have doctored the sick and the dying, the old and the too-young-to-take-away-from-Mamma-but-there's-no-Mamma-so-you're-stuck-with-me variety.
Been there, done all that. Was glad to do it, especially when the result was success. But what I did with this cat was astounding even to me.
Tufts was a large black male cat who in his first five years wasn't a whole lot of trouble.
We actually started out with six adorable black kittens, all of which were rejected by their feral mother. That left me and Ed to step up to the plate to try to save them.
Two succumbed to an unseen disease when they turned about four weeks old, homes were found for two and we kept the remaining two.
The two siblings — the other was named Blackie — grew into huge, gorgeous, extremely affectionate cats. The main difference in the Black Brothers (my collective name for the pair) were their eyes. Blackie's were big, round and gold; Tufts' were smaller, green and sleepy-looking. And Blackie's head was also slightly larger.
Tufts was the heavier of the two. So heavy, in fact, that he could hardly jump from one piece of furniture to the next without sending objects flying.
Big and clumsy was a good description for him. But all of a sudden, things changed. Blackie started to feel heavier and Tufts quit jumping. In fact, he began spending a lot of time under the bed.
Examination revealed Blackie had indeed gained weight while Tufts had gone in the other direction. The veterinarian who checked him out could determine no physiological cause for there to be less of one cat. He concluded the weight loss was more than likely psychosomatic in origin.
Actually, it didn't surprise me to hear someone suggest we might have a neurotic cat. To tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we have several, but none of the others ever became food-shy.
We went on the assumption that one of Tufts' residential cousins or friends spooked him or may have called him a nasty old fat cat, hurting his feelings and turning him into a social outcast.
The vet gave him an injection to boost his appetite and this helped a little. But he still didn't greet his food bowl with enthusiasm. I tried tempting him with all manner of feline delight, but got no where until I sequestered him in the bathroom with only me around as the food temptress.
This is one of those good news-bad news stories.
After a few days, Tufts began eating better and actually began gaining back some of the lost weight. That was the good news.
The bad news? He liked the special attention way too much.
At first I'd have to hunt him down and call him, even plead with him, to go into the bathroom to partake of his special din-din.
He got to where he would sit in there waiting for me, sometimes in the middle of the night at which time even I would balk at dispensing snacks. Regardless of the hour, he wouldn't take a bite until he was convinced I was staying with him. The moment I started to leave, mealtime would come to a screeching halt. He would raise his head from the dish, looks at me accusingly and flop on the floor. Then he'd cast a longing look toward the food, as if to say "I'm so-o-o hungry, but now you're going away and I can eat no more."
Talk about dispensing guilt ... This cat could have put 10 Jewish mothers to shame.
To get him to eat the whole can, I had to call on my powers of ingenuity. Remember how your parents used to reproach you for not wanting to eat something, telling you about all the starving kids in China who would give anything to have your food?
Well, I came up with a feline variation.
"Oh, you're such a pretty boy. Now you'd better eat all your food or that big, old ugly yellow cat's gonna get it ... "
He would nibble a little more while I would continue to coo and chirp some of the most ridiculous stuff that ever passed my lips.
"Ooh, you're such a good boy, and look how handsome you're getting now that you're eating again. Why, you're gonna be bigger than that old white cat and you're so much better-looking ... "
He would swallow and purr. This would go on for at least 15 minutes — if things were going well. It would take longer if something distracted him and he'd suddenly cow again.
Of course, the other cats were furious about the preferential treatment being given to one of their peers. They would line up on the other side of the door and some of them would even jump on top of a chest of drawers positioned on a wall adjacent to the bathroom door.
The bedlam was incredible. I would hear thumping, bumping and scratching against the door. And then the paws would start sliding in and out underneath the door.
Anyone versed in catdom knows a cat always wants on the other side of a door, but this situation went way beyond that.
The vocal commotion was nothing short of amazing. You've never heard such meowing, yowling and caterwauling that would occur. It could have been used as a sound track for a Disney movie.
And I have the perfect title: "Too Tufts to Handle."
This is why I keep my day job.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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