Thursday 11 November 2010

Live and Let Live

Or: What we can learn from cats!

When our last cat died, a little old black cat from the neighbourhood smelled the vacancy and moved in. On getting in contact with the previous owner it turned out that he was around 10 years old and with her all his life. A slash in the ear and a missing thumb were strong indicators that he knew how to stand his ground, but now that he was getting older he didn’t like the lifestyle change his lady had taken upon her. So when he stumbled over our compost pile with mice, the conservatory with the aviary, and a door with a cat flap, he quickly made up his mind. We called him Vinny.

To his dismay a short time later a stray moved in. At first we thought our Vinny was a mad eater until we saw the white hair that was clinging to the armchair. And then we saw him; a big black and white tomcat. We called him Moritz.

He was a bit pushy, but Vinny didn’t seem to mind too much… plenty of space, plenty of resources to share and every opportunity to stay out of ones way. Or so he thought!

Once Moritz had established that he owned us things got worse. He wanted it all! There must have been a huge fight between the two. Although no visible injuries, Vinny all of a sudden fell into a depression, only ate very little, slept all day, didn’t want to go out anymore and was very grumpy; only wanting to be touched occasionally, but not indicating when this occasion might be. I still have several scars from his attacks.

Cats are not as un-social as one might think. They are even known to live in big cat communities and they have an elaborate system of codes which even work between different species. But Vinny didn’t make any contact for a long time.

So I took drastic action. The house got divided: Upstairs lives Vinny, with night time access to the garden via window, while Moritz lives downstairs with day time access to the garden via cat flap. After giving Vinny a lot of attention and care he recovered and is a lovely cuddle today, although he is still horrified to see Moritz. He usually leaves the house by the front door, strolls around a bit and comes back via his window, with a weird noise that sounds like a dove. Just to tell that he is around again.

The moral of the story?

Vinny had a bad experience and is happy to be back. He enjoys his little territory and when I show him his former kingdom he gets nervous and wants to get back to his castle. So he came out of this mess a little happy cat.

Moritz could have had it all; he could have had a whole house except one tiny spot of the size of a towel where a black little cat would sleep almost all the day. And he could have had it for free, but he didn’t even try. To feel safe he needed the whole territory, and the only way he knew to get it was to fight. Now he only has half a house and the nagging feeling that he missed out on something (he tries to sneak upstairs whenever possible).

I observe the same in people. There are the ones who easily share and often get in return more than they had before. And there are the ones who defend every single bit they have; and for a while they might get away with it; until they meet their master.

It’s the way resources are fought for in companies, the environment is exploited and actually – why wars break loose.

I sometimes ask myself how one can fight the territorial bullies without becoming one. Now I learned that there is hope!

We recently got a third player into the game. He is a funny little character. I just can’t find another word for his behaviour than: Persistent ignorance. A fluffy, white and black, placid chap with a collar and a bell. We call him Bimmel (it’s the German word for Jingle). He has only one interest: Food!

He is doing everything for food, especially the brand of dry food we have; even bracing himself and opposing Moritz. At first he ran whenever he saw him, but coming back quickly to see if there were food left. Now he is not even running far anymore. As Moritz refuses dry food he only guards it without eating, and is wondering why this guy is lurking around in safe distance only hissing from time to time, but otherwise being rather bored.

Vinny knows Bimmel as he is breaking in through Vinnie’s window at night, and these two are getting along very well. And out of this constellation I observed something interesting:

Late evening, Vinny sitting on top of the stairs to be let out. Unfortunately Moritz had decided for a stroll and was in front of the door. Usually Vinny would back off instantly and hide under the bed, but this time he heard Bimmel jingling along and somehow confused the two.

Moritz, totally confused whether to charge upstairs to get Vinny, well knowing that this would mean being told off by me, and having Bimmel standing in his back, not knowing whether or not if this one would give him a beating once he moved.

Bimmel came closer and closer as he had seen me, and I’m basically the same thing as food to him. However, I couldn’t move as I was trapped between the other two. One could tell that Moritz became shorter and shorter to cover his rear. When I opened the living room door for him to get onto his home turf, he very, very slowly edged himself in, visibly relieved that Bimmel didn’t attack.

It must have been the first time in his life that he shared a space with two other cats – and nothing bad had happened. I fed him first and cuddled and praised him, and one could hear the rock falling from his heart.

Vinny: He watched stunned! The first time he saw Moritz backing off, and he definitely found that very interesting.

And Bimmel? Sweet little Bimmel! In his innocent greedy fearlessness he showed the bully where the limits are. And he showed Vinny that there are methods to keep bullies at bay without becoming one. He eventually got his well deserved food - if just this silly jingle wouldn’t wake me every night!

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