Forty One—Sulky Head Pet
The barn kitten is a curious creature. It growls while it eats. It also, while it eats, will take large mouthfuls of food and chew furiously—crumbs and shards of food fly everywhere! After it is done eating, it will sit there—with food all over its face–and gaze lovingly at whomever is in proximity. That is when the purring begins.
Everyone seemed to find Onyx’s eating habits downright adorable and endearing. I, by contrast, was a little mortified by the uncouthness of it all. After all, copious facial grooming is kind of a trademark thing amongst cats—or at least I thought it was. Perhaps barn cats were different. Either way, I seemed to be the only one taken aback.
Bailey, most of all, loved it when Onyx ate. She would sit and wait as patiently as she could. Her skinny little tail would wag furiously—so much so at times she had trouble keeping her bottom on the floor. Then, as soon as Onyx would walk away from his food dish, Bailey would charge in and clean up all the crumbs and splatters. After that, she would then approach Onyx and groom him from whiskers to tail tip. Sometimes she would get so intense with the grooming that little Onyx would have difficulty keeping all four paws on the floor.
Onyx didn’t seem to mind being groomed via slobbery dog kisses. In fact, I am pretty sure he enjoyed it. His little toes would start to flex as if he were kneading his mom’s tummy, and he would start purring a gravelly purr. Throughout all this rig-a-ma-row Grandma Brown and Lolly would chuckle at the “sweetness” of it all. They praised Bailey for being such a good little “mama”. It was enough to give a grown cat hairballs!
As Onyx got used to his new home with us, I gave him space. I hung out on my condo and kept watch. I know that as head pet, I probably should have been more ‘paws on’ with everything, but I have to admit I was feeling a little left out of everything. After all, the decision to adopt Onyx was made without me and I was the last one to meet little Onyx. Moreover, my Lolly seemed to all but forget about me whenever Onyx was around. The whole thing made me feel a little cranky.
Grandma Brown was the only one who seemed to notice. One afternoon, while Lolly was at school, and while Bailey and Onyx were napping, Grandma Brown invited me to cuddle while she was enjoying a cup’o’tea. It felt good to have someone pay attention to me, and to scrub my ears. It had been so long since anyone had done that that I very nearly forgotten what my purr sounded like—in fact it startled me a little.
“Oh! There’s my orange-boy’s motor! I was concerned you’d lost it somehow!” Grandma Brown cooed as she scrubbed under my chin. “Come now Oscar, what is making you so sad? Haven’t you found room in that big heart of yours for our little Onyx? The little scruff needs a fine wise cat like yourself to teach him how to be a cat. Bailey is a good little mama, but really, if you don’t step in soon, that poor little Onyx will grow up thinking he is some kind of puppy!”
I don’t know if it was all the love, or her kind words of wisdom, but I was reminded of my duties as a head pet. Grandma Brown was right, I had been remiss in my duties, and that needed to change. She was also right about my feelings. I could not find it in my heart to dislike anyone my girl and pup loved so dearly. I had to get over my cranky self and start mentoring our little Onyx. However, technically, it would be unwise to interrupt a kitten’s nap time, so I resolved to change my ways just as soon as I was done enjoying the love and attention of Grandma Brown.
I discovered that when one pet mentors another pet, they both learn. Helping Onyx learn the ways of a cat turned out to be as much of a growth and learning experience for me as it was for Onyx. First off, I seemed to be the only one who really learned about Onyx’s birth family. Onyx was the 13th kitten of a litter of 13 cats. He was also the runt of the litter, which means if Lolly hadn’t adopted him, he might have been killed by his biological father, or even a coyote. Life amongst the barn cats was every bit as tough as life among the street ferals. Onyx’s mom barely had time to litter train him before she was expecting her next litter of kittens. Little wonder Onyx appreciated Bailey’s love and attention to grooming—she was likely the first one ever to give Onyx such care!
As I taught Onyx the ways of the house cat, his appearance began to change. He still let Bailey clean him up after eating, but then after she was done, he began to groom himself. His grooming efforts resulted in a new sleek sheen to his coat, and a clearness in his eyes. He also gained a certain kind of confidence and began playing with Bailey and me in times when Lolly was away. Despite my best coaching, Onyx never could master the art of taking moderate mouthfuls of food. I guess there were some things a cat doesn’t grow out of. All things considered, it wasn’t a huge deal, and it gave Bailey something to do with her time and hunger.
The greatest thing I was learning as I mentored Onyx was the nature of love. I began to understand that the more I loved, the more I was loved. Grandma Brown, Lolly, and even Bailey took notice of my efforts with Onyx, and they praised me for it. Bailey started to change how she was with Onyx so that she too could help him learn. Grandma Brown and Lolly would often pick me up and give me extra hugs for helping little Onyx grow up into a fine cat. Onyx, being still so young, was the most loving of all. I learned that babies of all species need lots of love and attention—especially while they slept. It was not long before Onyx would snuggle up to me and let me purr him to sleep. Next to cuddling up to my girl, that was the bestest feeling in the whole wide world!