As I remember, it used to begin about 5:15 or 5:30 each morning, the sensation of tiny weights moving slowly across my chest. By the time I attained consciousness — which I usually prefer not to grapple with until I have consumed between six and nine shots of espresso — I knew that Jack was at it again.
I’d lived with cats most of my life, yet never before had this problem. Feeding time was whenever I got up. Hank, Tom, Curry, and various other cats certainly liked to eat, but I don’t remember any of them sauntering across my outstretched body just so I’d wake up and feed them. Although Puss ’n’ Boots, my family’s very first cat, shared his name with a popular brand of canned food, even he had the good sense not to wake me unnecessarily.
Jack was different. A lean cat, he hasn’t ever weighed much, and isn’t remotely obsessed with food. Once my wife or I feed him his small morning ration, he’ll eat a couple bites, trade bowls with his “sister,” eat a couple more bites, then leave the rest half-eaten and amble slowly to the living room to prepare for a hard day of napping. In truth, he couldn’t seem less concerned with food.
Yet Jack wanted me to know that even though I filled the bowl, HE set the schedule. He was determined to walk all over me — both figuratively AND literally — until I woke up, walked downstairs, and filled his bowl. Once his dominance had been established anew, Jack was happy to let me crawl back upstairs and return to sleep. It was your basic feline power trip. I’d seen variations of this from all my cats, and thought I’d made my peace with it. But it hadn’t ever before cost me this much sleep.
My wife is much more tolerant than I — which generally works to my advantage. Although she also was annoyed by Jack, she probably would have been endured his behavior forever. As far as she is concerned, it’s never the animal’s fault. Me, I’m more critical than that. Jack was ruining our sleep, and it had to stop.
But what to do? I tried feeding Jack a late dinner, in the hope that he wouldn’t get hungry again until mid-morning. That accomplished nothing. I tried feeding him larger portions. But Jack never seemed to change his food intake, and Curry, his slightly overweight brother, was more than happy to take up the slack. That negated the whole reason that we adopted Jack back in 2004, which was to see if a younger brother could help Curry lose weight by chasing him around the house on occasion.
Eventually, I devised a solution. And more than a decade later, our sleep deprivation is now but a distant memory. Jack and his younger sister Katniss wait patiently each morning for their appointed feeding time. Jack is every bit as eager for the start of breakfast as he ever was, and Katniss is perhaps the most food-obsessed cat that I’ve ever lived with. But their hunger does not cost us any sleep. Breakfast is at 8 a.m. each day, and they wait patiently for their meal without the slightest bit of lobbying.
Starting about 7:45, as I sip my coffee and read my news, Jack will jump up next to me on the arm of the sofa and hover in anticipation. Katniss will affectionately brush my leg whenever I go to the kitchen to refill my coffee. But there’s no acting out, no drama, and absolutely no interruption of our sleep. How did we accomplish this?
I taught my cats to tell time. You can, too.
Next month in Kitty Corner: How to teach your cat to tell time. Stephen Buel is publisher of Bay Woof. His Chinese zodiac is the dog.
Main article photo by: Photo by Stephen Buel