Will the Real Alpha Male Please Stand Up?
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Will the Real Alpha Male Please Stand Up?

by Vicky Chapman, NSW, Australia


When alone, Shmoggleberry and Joel get along just fine. I have even come home to see them snuggled up together on the lounge. Joel has even bought that expensive cat milk for Shmoggleberry.

When I'm alone Shmoggleberry, he tends to want to occupy my lap a lot, which I think is very sweet. I don't get a lot of time to spend by myself, and when I do, I prefer to read a book, listen to classical music, have a cat on my lap and have my aromatherapy smells going rather than watching TV or doing anything noisy or frenetic.

When Joel and I are together alone, we are often times out and about, doing something. If we haven't booked out our heady social schedule, you'll mostly likely find us curled up together on the lounge, watching a trashy action movie, Hong Kong action movies being a mutual favourite.

Everyone seems to enjoy all their time together with just one other critter, which I find pleasing. However, when I'm at home with both Joel and Shmoggleberry, I seem to have some strange effect on the both of them. They both vie for my attention play pranks on each other and behave like spoilt two year olds.

Shmoggleberry will claim my lap with some ferociousness, biting Joel out the way. There would be nothing more pleasing for me to have all my family wrapped around each other in a group snuggle, but its not to be. As soon as Shmoggleberry has landed upon me, Joel must find a way to remove the interloper, which usually means the whole comfortable construction is unceremoniously toppled.

If the cat meows for my attention, and gets it, Joel will try to hug me. If I'm brushing Shmoggleberry, and sending him into that kitty-trance-of-pleasure state, Joel will pull the cat's tail. If Joel and I are getting affectionate, the cat will either run around the flat at lightening speed or stare at Joel intently. There is a constant war going for the "spot next to Vicky" on the Sofa.

I certainly can't just sit there quietly and ignore the both of them, oh, no. No, if they are both there, I am the Referee in the competition of "Who wins the most attention", and who is "the dominant male".

Last night the ultimate competition happened, in Shmoggleberry's terms at least. While a sighted human's main sense is vision, a cat's dominant sense is smell, so a cat relates to their world, and its place in it, by smell. Cat's mark their territory with their scent so as to distinguish their turf from everyone else, and they also use it to determine "good to eat" stuff from everything else. Although seen as affectionate, when a cat rubs his or her cheeks onto you, he or she is really marking you as his or her property.

Naturally, Shmoggleberry has marked everything he considers important in this flat as his. Us humans are a little trickier because we do silly things like stand under running water and rub ourselves with that magic scent-removing brick, but a cat perseveres, and marks us often enough to keep tabs on us. We don't notice the subtle differences in the world of smell, and so we don't really care one way or another whether we smell of our cat by another cat's nose.

Shmoggleberry is very insistent in his cat duty, and regularly re-marks me, and occasionally tries it on Joel. Joel generally has no truck with this, but Shmoggleberry being a cunning creature has figured that marking Joel's clothes before he wears them is close enough. So at least Shmoggleberry (in his mind) is winning the scent wars, if not the attention-of-Vicky wars.

But Joel has sneakers. Icky, old, well worn, not usually allowed in the house because of the pong, sneakers. Sneakers that stink. Sneakers that would probably get about quite happily by themselves given half a chance. They have that typical old sneaker smell, and they truly reek of Joel's feet. Shmoggleberry hadn't met them before, as they are usually left at the front door. Joel would have been in trouble for bringing them in, but he was let off because of Shmoggleberry.

Shmoggleberry was doing his regular after-dinner inspection of the place. You know, making sure everything was still his, and reinforcing his "this is Shmoggleberry's" mark on those items whose scent was weakening. It was a pretty ordinary sort of scout as we hadn't got up to much that day, and Shmogg was pretty casual about the whole affair.

Until he encountered two items that were exceptionally well owned by Joel. Joel's scent was exceptionally strong on the sneakers, it was a glaring affront to his ownership, a red flag to his mighty kitty ego. Since Shmoggleberry had yet to dominate Joel psychologically, darn it, he would do it via scent! That would show that pesky upstart! Ha! He didn't care how long it would take to put his smell over the Joel smell on those sneakers, but gordammit, he'd do it. That would show Mummy who was the real alpha male!

First, he grabbed a sneaker in his two front paws and gave it a good rabbit-kicking to cower the sneaker into submission. He then chewed on the sole a bit, just to make absolutely the sneaker knew where it stood. After the cat and the sneaker had "come to an understanding" the domination technique came out in full force. With both arms wrapped completely around the shoe, Shmoggleberry started marking the outside of the shoe with grim determination. Every so often he'd stop to check his work, find that Joel Smell was still there, and carry on a little more haste. Eventually, after about 20 minutes of solid marking, the outer shoe had been claimed! Then came the real challenge: to oust the Joel Smell from the inner shoe. Of course this would take a bit of strategy and tactical maneuverings, so Shmogg had a bit of a groom while trying to think about the best way to claim Joel as his own.

The essential ablutions completed, after all, there is no excuse not to look ones finest in battle, Shmoggleberry attempted to do the inside of the shoe. This of course meant that he had to get his head down there. One paw gingerly extended, he examined this ingenious device for traps and snares. After a good shaking, the mines appeared to be cleared and Shmoggleberry proceeded into the battle of his life. Head was thrust down into the shoe with no remorse. Again and again he thrust, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. He occasionally stopped with a quick grooming to reconsider his position. A paw was brought into help, to no avail. Back paws were brought in to teach the Joel Smell a firm lesson, but it did no good. The Joel Smell would not cease and desist, it would not lie down, it would not surrender, even when Shmoggleberry thought it abundantly clear that it was in the presence of Superior Scent Glands.

Shmoggleberry was clearly defeated, even if he wouldn't admit it. Which teaches me two things: one is that Joel's foot odour is stronger than any force it has so far encountered, including a most miffed cat, and the second one is that even in defeat, a cat will retain all dignity possible. Joel's right sneaker has now got two small holes, approximately the size and shape consistent with a felines' jaw shape, smack on the toe end of the shoe.

The war is still waging as each new battle brings as different aspect to the cat vs human conflict. I, being the eventual judge, am yet to be impressed enough with either side to declare an outright victor. Why should I? I'm having way too much fun laughing at the both of them.


Editor's note:

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