Monday, August 22, 2011

Fitting In

There are two kinds of ‘fitting in’. One is physical, the other is communal. The former is easier to illustrate, so I’ve included pictures of that aspect in this article. The text, however, concerns the latter definition.

Many people think of cats as loners. It’s a reason so many are allowed to wander outside and unhindered, eventually becoming lost and uncared for. It’s thought that they are naturally independent and do well alone. In the wild, some species of cats (such as lions) band together, while others associate in family groups (eg. tigers) and some travel by themselves (eg. leopards).

I don’t believe domesticated cats are naturally loners. They are social animals. It’s true, as I’ve written in these articles, that some prefer not to accompany other cats. Josie is a good example. But that doesn’t mean that she isn’t social; she likes humans more than she does cats. Any visitor to my house can testify to that.

But when one or more cats live together, they form a society, whether they want to or not, just as humans in a town are a community; some may prefer not to be part of it, but they are nonetheless, simply by virtue of living where they do. So it is with cats. And with the formation of that society comes the problem of fitting in.

Tungsten had no trouble fitting in. She was my first cat, so all other cats had to conform to her demands. Tungsten taught me that social animals don’t necessarily follow the strongest. The orange one commands through force of personality. This was clear when the one cat who would not bend to her personality tried to usurp her authority. Wixie, a foster cat, wanted to be the queen of our little kingdom, but instead was adopted with her friend, Mystery (who had been content to live by Tungsten’s rules.) That episode ended gladly for all concerned, but demonstrated that Tungsten, tiny and relatively weak, does not reign through physical power.

I wondered then if all social animals were like that: wolves in their packs, horses in their herds, lions in their prides. Advanced intelligence must surely bring recognition of the benefits of that advancement. A whale that can physically defeat all comers is good; better yet is a whale that can show the others in the pod where food is plentiful. Bodily strength and moral courage are important, but sheer character seems to mean a lot, too.

The other cats in the house acknowledge the orange one’s strong will and dominant spirit, despite being bigger than she. Josie, who came second to our group, did not take Tungsten’s initial dislike of her sitting down. As I’ve mentioned before, there were fights, there was bloodletting. As with Wixie later on, I think Tungsten received the worse of the punishment. And yet, Tungsten emerged the top-cat. Josie, my easy-going pacifist, my gentle Chubs, was pleased to have a nice home, uncrowded and comfortable. That was enough for her. Let someone else be the queen. Except at the food-bowl. Even Tungsten bows to Josie’s wishes there. But that’s another story.

Renn was afraid of everything when he first came to live with me as a foster-cat. It’s no surprise, then, that he willingly acknowledged Tungsten’s supremacy. The orange one didn’t like my big boy’s arrival, but she accepted it quite quickly because he didn’t resist her tremendous will. Now, the two of them are as close to being friends as any of my cats are.

Finally, Tucker. The roly poly one is having a tough time fitting in. It’s not that he is troublesome or rebellious. He doesn’t challenge Tungsten, nor does he fight. He is a timid sausage of a cat who just wants to be liked. When he first came, as passive as he is, he at first asserted himself with Renn. My big boy gave in and took fourth place in the hierarchy. The interesting thing is that this situation did not last.

Renn has since re-taken third place and whereas Tucker used to hiss and swipe at the big boy, now Renn does that. Tucker still tries to grab and pounce from time to time, but these are nothing more than desperate attempts at play. Watching the two boys on neighbouring perches by the bedroom window is a lesson in cat dynamics. The rare times that they are there together, Tucker is as far as he can be from Renn without falling off the platform, looking away, like a peasant confronted by his angry lord. Renn, for his part, whines and growls at Tucker. Just this weekend, however, I noticed that my big boy had allowed Tucker to sit and peer out the window with him. It was a unique event.

I feel sorry for the roly poly one. He wants to be friends, he wants a chum to play with. He asks for attention from me quite often and I feel bad if I don’t give him some, because he is unliked by the other cats. He and Josie do chase each other - playfully - from time to time, but that’s infrequent.

Why hasn’t Tucker been able to fit in? What is it about him that the others don’t like? Is he too eager? Too shy? Too tubular? Too flat of face? Sometimes in a group there will be outsiders who want in, but who can’t find a door. I will keep encouraging the others to give Tucker a chance, and in the meanwhile make sure he knows he’s fitting in with me. After all, if someone wants a friend, he should have one, even if he’s from a different species.


  1. Poor Tucker. I always feel sorry for the one that's shunned, the outcast. Perhaps because I was one, too, growing up!

    -"Mom" Kim from Fuzzy Tales

  2. Wow, those are deep thoughts! No one wanted to play with me either when I was a little kitty. Eventually I got my own pet kitty who I play with. Our top cat (Julie) hates all other cats, but especially my pet kitty. She bit her and my kitty almost died from it. We have to keep them separated and more than a year later they still try to kill each other from under the door every day. The rest of us can at least walk safely around Julie.

  3. Awww, sweet Tucker! I fell in love with him right away ~ you can see his devoted nature in his face. I'm glad he has you to give him lots of affection and attention.

    Our two kitties are still living separate after two years. Garret is NOT going to accept his brother, no way. He's too jealous. Mondo loves to be attached to me all the time, and Garret can't handle sharing his mommy. We make it work. I have to be very conscious of how much time I spend in each cat's space, but I couldn't live without either one of my boys. :)