Look at that face. Isn’t he sweet? That’s the look he gives me when I’m eating, or trying to eat, in his grace’s presence. It’s not that he was lacking food. He always had a bowl full of dry food, and he would get a teaspoon of wet food in the morning, and another in the early evening.
When I first started pet-sitting Oscar, he would keep his distance from me when I ate. As time went by, and he became more familiar and comfortable with me, his curiosity and appetite got the better of him. He would come closer and closer to me. Then he started tentatively reaching his paw toward my plate. I would push him away and say, “No.” That worked for a while.
Emboldened by his taste buds, he became more insistent. He was never aggressive or overly pushy about it. He was almost polite in his quest for my food. First, he would come near me and walk around, emitting the occasional meow. Then he would get closer. Eventually, he would sit within paw’s reach of my plate.
I usually had my stuff piled on and around the small kitchen table. There was also a towel on the table that Oscar liked to lay on, so I always ate sitting on the couch. It was the perfect location for feline food filching. Sometimes he was just bold. He would sit on the couch beside me and alternate his stare between the food on my plate and me.
Other times, he was so quiet. Perhaps sneaky is a better description of his behavior. I would watch television or read research articles while eating. He waited until my attention was focused, and then he crept. Truth be told, I have no idea of how he moved toward me. I didn’t see him do it. That was probably the point of his plan.
First, he would respectfully let me know he was present by appearing out of nowhere, to sit or stand on the ottoman. I was fine with that, as long as he didn’t block my view if I was watching the television. Next was his casual walk from the ottoman onto the couch cushion beside me. The ottoman was against the couch, so this was a smooth transition for him.
He would sit or lie near me, watching the movement of the fork from the plate to my mouth. His interest was keen. Sometimes, I’d move the fork around in the air, just to watch his eyes lock on to it like a heat-seeking missile. He was no fool. As soon as he realized it was empty, his gaze would snap back to the food on the plate.
When he thought he’d lulled me into submission with his cuteness, he would tentatively reach a paw toward the plate. I’d move the plate just out of his reach and push his paw away. He would not be deterred. This continued throughout the meal. The insistence of his behavior was dependent on the protein part. If it was meat or shrimp, especially shrimp, he increased and accelerated his attempts to snag a morsel from the plate.
In my forty-one years as a martial artist, Oscar is the only animal I’ve sparred with. His balance was perfect. He was fast, and he used strategy. He put combinations together. Jab, jab, jab, meow (that was his distraction technique), jab. He was a feisty and formidable foe. The worst was when his claws came out and got stuck in the sleeve of the arm I was using to block him with. If he couldn’t extricate them himself, I had to gently do it while keeping the plate of food out of his reach. It’s a wonder I didn’t starve.
One morning, I was eating my breakfast of granola, fruit, and yogurt. Oscar wasn’t putting much effort into food snatching. He seemed more interested in discovering what was in the bowl. My curiosity got the better of me. (I’m born in the year of the tiger in the Chinese horoscope system. Maybe that’s why Oscar likes me so much. He thinks I’m kin.) I saved some of the yogurt at the end of my meal. I moved the bowl towards Oscar. He reached his paw in and mashed it down into the yogurt. Then he pulled it out and started shaking it. I don’t think he expected that consistency. Then he licked his paw and breakfast was done.
I washed up the dishes and packed my bag to go to the university library to do some research. When I got to the library, I opened my laptop and stared at the keyboard for a few seconds. I was trying to figure out what was on the surface. It was a white substance in a weird pattern. And then I realized what it was. I didn’t know that blueberry yogurt turned white when it dried on a black surface, in the shape of cat paw prints.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.