And by lions’ den, I mean our kitchen. Four times a day, when the cats decide that it is time for first breakfast, second breakfast, afternoon snack, and dinner.
One of the common arguments for having cats instead of dogs (or babies) is that they are low maintenance. You decide to go out for happy hour after work? No worries about rushing home to let the cat out so she doesn’t poop on the carpet. Want to go away for the weekend? No need to arrange for a pet sitter- just leave an extra large bowl of dry food out. Because cats, according to some sources, are able to self-regulate their eating.
Feeding was complicated enough when we just had Bailey. From 5am to midnight, his mission in life is to con you into feeding him, regardless of how many times he has already been fed. I got into the habit of breaking his daily serving of dry food into two (or three) smaller servings to try to get him to pace himself throughout the day. I also was amazed at how quickly he inhaled his canned food.
Until we got Matilda, that is. Because she manages to eat her food in about a quarter of the time that it takes Bailey to finish his. When we first brought her home, they quickly picked up a system of getting halfway through eating and then switching bowls. Like some couple at a restaurant who trade entrees halfway through a meal so they can each sample both dishes.* The problem is that Matilda just graduated to big girl cat food while Bailey, at the age of 7, now qualifies for the cat version of AARP and moved onto old man cat food (aka “senior formula”). We started locking Matilda in the bathroom during meal times until they were both finished. But inevitably one of us would have to pee before Bailey was finished and Matilda would run out and grab the rest of his food.
She is a vulture.
Like any good parents, we felt that it was important for everyone to eat together. (After all, I’m sure that if you ask the American Family Association they will tell you that kids who eat dinner with their families do better in school and are twenty times less likely to grow up to be a disappointment, e.g., a drug dealer, murderer, or democrat.) The first time I tried to feed Matilda in the kitchen, she grabbed the entire chunk of wet food and carried it into the bathroom. So we began a process of gradually moving her bowl closer to the kitchen. I sat in between as a buffer to steer her away if she tried to sneak over to Bailey’s bowl. But that little ball of fur and cuteness is fast. She managed to get by me one day, grab B’s entire chunk of food and go hide under a chair with it. And get this- she growled at me. Granted, it was a cute little growl, but still unacceptable.
It was time for serious cat discipline- I bought a spray bottle. (To my friends with kids- don’t you wish disciplining your children was so easy? Or do you have a spray bottle, too?)
So now, twice a day, I spend about 10 minutes sitting on a stool in our kitchen, armed with a spray bottle, waiting for Bailey to finish eating. Nick had a brilliant idea to slow Matilda down. Her plate is in the shape of a cat head so instead of just plopping a quarter of a can of food in one chunk on the plate, he started mashing it down and spreading it over the entire surface. Including in the little ear crevices of the cat head plate. (Which adds another 1-2 minutes onto the feeding ritual, by the way). It does slow her down, and the first few times Nick tried this, they actually finished eating at the same time.
But not only is that monster fast, she is also smart. Somehow she figured out how to navigate the mashed-down food in the most efficient way so that she still finishes first. Just when I thought we had this worked out I turned around to see her jamming the entire contents of Bailey’s plate into her mouth. Which meant that I then had to jam my finger into her mouth to remove said contents. (Not pleasant.)
The good news is that the spray bottle works. Bailey, with his extra-thick Maine Coon coat of (furry) armor, is immune to water- if you spray his side, I don’t think he would feel it unless you used a pressure washer. He also intentionally sticks his head under running water when drinking from their fountain. But Matilda, fortunately, behaves like a real cat and freaks out if she gets wet. She runs off momentarily to groom herself, leaving her brother to finish his food in peace.
But she is always lurking nearby. Which makes me think I’ll be keeping Bailey company during meals for quite some time.
*I saw this in a tv show or a movie a long time ago. So long ago that I don’t remember where I saw it.** But it made an impression on me, apparently. Either because I thought it was romantic or because I thought it was horrifying. I’m a little territorial when it comes to food.
**I think it might have been on Party of Five for some reason.***
***I just realized Scott Wolf’s character of Party of Five was named Bailey. We have come full circle.