Saturday, October 15, 2005

Cat Chess and Other Gamesmanship

It's proverbial that whenever you get two Greeks together, you have three political parties. I don't know if that's true, but it's certainly true that whenever you get two or more cats together, you have some sort of contention for dominance. Cat Chess, a careful mix of positioning and staring, was first described in Terry Pratchett's The Unadulterated Cat, and Diane Duane gave accounts of a few games in her fantasy novels The Book of Night with Moon and To Visit the Queen (UK title: On Her Majesty's Wizardly Service). The rules are even available online.

When the cats actually live together, it can get complicated--and hairy, in every sense of the word. When I first went to stay with my friends next door, there were five cats in residence: Jo's cats--Ewas, a tiny, elderly, disabled Cornish Rex female; and Jasper, a magnificent male Bengal in his prime. Hilde and Bruce's cats--Tia and Gremlin; Kay's cat: Shadow-cat, The Most Dangerous Cat in Glendale (so called by me for his talent for blending into shadows and dark carpets and tripping one up at night; he is a dark charcoal gray).

At the time Ewas was the undisputed queen of the household. Jasper was her courtier and champion--not her mate, but her devoted attendant. He was very people-averse, and the only reason he later became attached to me was that Ewas sat on me all the time (the only available lap) and he hung around her. Jasper was the dominant male. Gremlin was a young male attempting to assert his dominance; Shadow was just emerging from catolescence; and Tia was of course a wimp.

Gremlin was the cause of most of the uproar, as he kept challenging the others (except Ewas; he wouldn't dare). He would tackle Tia whenever she emerged from her closet, whereupon she would hide under the nearest piece of furniture that had room for her, with her usual distressed-damsel cries of "Help! They're tying me to the railroad track again!" When he tackled Shadow, they'd usually roll around on the carpet for a while, with the battle ending in a draw.

Sometimes he'd jump Jasper. If Jasper felt like playing, they'd roll around until he tired of the game. But if he didn't feel like playing, he'd just stand there, with Gremlin trying ineffectually to wrestle him to the ground. But Jasper was too big, and too stable.

Jasper was a rather weird cat, but I liked him best of all of them. Sometimes when he felt like asserting dominance, he'd mount Shadow, who would just lie there with a disgusted look on his face until Jasper walked away. Then Shadow would do something to assert his machismo, like jumping up onto a forbidden counter.

Jasper would also wander around the house wailing for most of the night for some unknown reason. And he had an endearing habit of sleeping on his back in the middle of the living room rug, with his paws curled in the sea-otter position.

Things have changed next door. Jo has moved out, taking Ewas and Jasper with her. Ewas has had to be put to sleep. Bastet, sister to my lovely lost Lilith, has been added to the mix and is now top cat, rivaled only by Cassie, Kay's new cat. Her kitten Jakk was a member of the family briefly but has now found a new home of his own. (Cassie got into contention for top cat when she first arrived, even though she is small and younger than the rest, because at the time she was the only one not yet declawed. Also, she had been living feral for a while and was a pretty tough cookie with other cats, though loving and gentle with people.)

The next installment will deal with my two.


KathyK said...

With my two cats, it's pretty simple. Sinbad has claws, Sasha doesn't. But Sasha is fatter and has a ferocious yellow stare. They cuddle together and they fight but they never really hurt one another. And sometimes when one is locked in a room, the other will cry piteously to alert the stupid bipeds that one is missing.

marcy said...

Aren't they fascinaing??