A gray and cool Sunday here. Leaves almost all on the ground now. The younger cats and the short-haired cats still not quite sure about this cold weather. (Little Sara has finally decided to sleep in the tool shed where I’ve set her up in a little insulated cabana bed with a warming pad inside. I saw her jump out the shed’s cat door this morning when I called her for her morning meal. So now I know she’s warm at night.)

Most of the time, they run out the back door all thrilled to be outside and five minutes later run right back in again. “It’s cold, mom!”

Got home from church and grocery shopping this morning and unloaded most of the groceries when my dog, Midgie insisted it was time for a nice long walk.

Grabbed a cup of coffee and off we went with Halie, Parker and AlysAnne. It was a nice leisurely walk down the dirt road and through the woods. It smells so fresh and clean this time of year and the walk was invigorating. When we got back to the house I unloaded the last of the groceries from the SUV and went inside where I built a nice fire.

Not long afterwards, every other cat that had dashed out when I came home wanted in. It’s cold, it’s windy and all were happy to play with their toys in the house or curl up by the fire for a nap.

As I read and then watched a movie, it was soon nap time for all of us.

Long about 5:30p, it was already dark when I decided to feed everyone. As I lined up the bowls on the kitchen counter and called them for dinner I noticed Summer wasn’t front and center as is her habit.

There are three who are the first in the kitchen for feeding time: Zoe, Summer, and Baby. Well Zoe was there and so was Baby. No Summer.

“Summer, time to eat.” No SumSum.

I scoured the house for her and realized that she must not have come in with everyone hours earlier.

Now I’m panicking…the neighbors dogs have been barking on and off all afternoon and Summer never came to the back door to be let in. My first thought, it’s dark…they got her.. and I’ll never find her.

I throw on my jacket, grab my flashlight and run out the door. Get as far as my car when something tells me to look inside…remembering I had left the back hatch open when Midgie and I went for our walk this morning and closed it after I brought in the last of the groceries.

There she is. Curled up in the front seat. ..shivering..more from fear than cold I think. I grabbed her, held her close and rushed her inside.

After lots of hugs and kisses from a relieved mommy, she stopped shaking. Then she was clearly miffed at me and wanted down.

All the cats came up and greeted her with a nose touch and a body rub. Rosie, our resident mama cat (now spayed) washed her on the forehead and inspected her bottom. It’s a momma cat thing, I think.

Summer is still the youngest and the youngest cat in a multi-cat household that was brought in as a kitten, knows it’s the youngest and expects to be fawned over.

I’ve observed this behavior for years.

Each time I bring a kitten into a home with my adults, the adults will inspect it and either hiss or immediately “adopt” it by washing it thoroughly and babysitting its every move.

This behavior lets the kitten know it’s been accepted into the family and it’s the adults way of saying, “you’re still a kid, kid and we know it. You play by our rules, but you’re in.”

For the kitten’s part, it quickly realizes it’s the center of attention and comes to expect certain things.

simon-and-sadie.jpgFor example, the morning grooming. Rosie and Rusty, along with AlysAnn, Parker and LilyBean (it’s a big bed – I get one sliver on the end) sleep on the bed with me. Summer usually finds somewhere else to sleep but in the morning, she jumps on the bed and makes her rounds. ..going from Rosie to Rusty to LilyBean. Parker growls at her so she leaves her alone.

Once she picks a target, Summer will lay down in front of them and wait. If that doesn’t prompt the face washing she’s asking for, she will put her head in their face…even if it means waking them up. Most of the time, she gets what she’s after.

Each kitten I’ve ever brought in that knew it was the youngest, did that, from the time they were very young until an adult. Until a younger kitten is brought into the family.

And there’s another behavior I’ve observed these 30 years of owning cats.

A kitten knows when it’s been “replaced” by a baby brother or sister kitten. ..and they don’t like it. Most adjust and get over it. Some never do.

It’s very much the same as when human parents bring home a new baby and the two year old suddenly realizes they’re not the center of attention anymore, baby sibling is.

The existing kitten may get over it but often they never bond with the new kitten unless they’re very close in age – like a week apart.

sundaydinner1.jpgAnother “youngest behavior” is the assumption on the kitten’s part that what’s yours is mine..especially if it’s food.

Every kitten I’ve ever had, at feeding time, will eat its own food out of its own bowl, then go from one adult’s bowl to the other… pushing its way in to eat of the adult’s bowl. The cats who have accepted the kitten will allow it. The ones who haven’t will growl and the kitten soon learns who they can sweet talk out of their supper and who they can’t.

Summer is 7 months old now and she still does this. Rusty does it and he’s three. No one else does it…However the adults will wait until another adult is finished and go see if they’ve left anything in their dish and eat it.

Among the adults, it’s like watching musical food bowls. They go from one to the other, trading and looking and getting the last bits from someone else’s dish until everyone has inspected everyone else’s dish and had a sampling.

Now Simon who did not grow up in a household wasn’t keen on this behavior in the beginning. He wouldn’t growl at Summer or another adult, he would simply pull his bowl closer so they couldn’t get anything. If the other cat keeps trying, he back up, pulls his bowl with him until the other cat gets the message. ..but he never gets angry or spats. Summer has learned not to bother him and she waits until he walks away.

Well, that’s today’s lesson in cat behavior… for me and my readers. For me, to make sure I count heads when everyone comes in. For my readers, on the joys of multi-cat household. There’ll be a quiz on Friday.