Monday, February 24, 2014

What Happens to the Males in the Social Cat Family?

(Reclaimed from Bubblews, where someone commented that she liked reading cat stories "if they are successful." I honestly don't know whether this story describes something "successful.")

Here's the picture that shows why Heather's and Irene's brother's name was Little Mo. For foreign readers: Morris is the name of the big, old orange cat in the Nine Lives cat food commercials, and Little Mo is the name of the kitten who appeared with Morris in commercials that added the message of "Adopt a new kitten to go with your elderly cat." When Little Mo moved to his new home I suggested that his new humans could call him Morris when he grew bigger and older, but at the Cat Sanctuary "Morris" is a human name. So we've just simplified his name to "Mo."

Mo is a social cat; in the absence of cat companions he set about training and socializing a puppy. But it occurred to me, reading Lowley 's discussion of the social structure of typical lion prides, that I don't really know how gender would affect an extended family of social cats whose humans were willing to keep male cats.

As some long-term readers (like Carolroach ) may recall, the member of the Patchnose Family who first tried to train a human to supply his family with food was the male kitten Mackerel. Mac was the first member of the family who was brought to the Cat Sanctuary, where he began to bond with me literally overnight. He and I spent the rest of the summer persuading his feral mother, brother, and sister to become friendly too. His brother eventually became semi-tame, even affectionate, although he never really had a name. Unfortunately, when they reached puberty their play-fighting became rough--or rather the little brother's did. Mac wouldn't really hurt his brother, but only slap him down, even when his brother had really hurt Mac. After taking Mac to the vet to have a serious wound from repeated bites dressed, I sent his brother away.

Mac and his sister Polly were a real team, though. They hunted together, and when their mother died just after beginning to wean a second litter of kittens they reared those kittens. I seriously considered keeping the male kitten, Pell, because he had such cute, clever ways of showing that he didn't want to be adopted. Mac seemed fond of Pell, too, until Polly had kittens of her own. Pell seemed to want to be a good uncle, at first, but then Mac started slapping and yelling at Pell, telling me that Pell was interested in the two definitely female kittens in the wrong way. So Pell also left the Cat Sanctuary.

Mac seemed fond of Polly's male kitten, Steelgray, until the little fellow reached puberty. Then his attitude changed. By this time Mac had become a big, tough tomcat who chased possums, raccoons, even big dogs. He was gentle and protective with smaller cats. He didn't hurt Steelgray, either--but he started growling, snarling, slapping him, and generally nonverbally telling me that he wanted Steelgray to be adopted too. So that happened.

Actually, Steelgray was almost as good at understanding human words as Mac was, and I was very fond of him. The original deal was that an elderly friend would take advantage of a senior discount program, get Steelgray neutered, and bring him back. For the first week or two Steelgray wanted to come home, and said so in no uncertain terms. Then it seemed as if he figured out that the price of coming home was being neutered, and the price of being unaltered was learning to get along with an older cat who was not naturally social...and he chose the older cat.

Some other male kittens born into the family didn't stay long enough to be given names. One batch of three brothers I sent away when they were exactly thirteen weeks old were "Ginger and brothers." I have tried to make it absolutely clear to my cats that I don't want to put up with tomcat odor around the house. Mo had one cousin, Mitch, who stayed at the Cat Sanctuary until he was a full year old.

But what happened to Mac? The Patchnose Family don't inbreed successfully. Although Polly and one of her daughters definitely tried, all the kittens looked like other males, none like Mac. After he was about a year old, although he continued to hunt with Polly and bring in squirrels and rabbits for his young relatives, Mac started spending a lot of time with other females whose kittens looked like him. Then, on the occasion of his second annual rabies shot, I told him that cooperating with rabies shots was the price of living with the rest of us...and from that day, although he continued to come home for half-hour visits for another three years, Mac didn't live with the rest of us. He became a very friendly feral cat. I worried about predators. Mac was fearless, and up to a point he had reasons to be...but he was eventually hit by a truck.

Could multiple males live at the Cat Sanctuary as part of the family? I don't know; in theory they could if both were as nice as Mac, or if one or both had been neutered at an early age.

I do know, however, that the resident cats have consistently let me know which outsiders they were willing to add to the family, and have been able to communicate with all but one of the normal cats who've visited the Cat Sanctuary, such that anybody might have mistaken them for social cats. The females don't always agree about the social status of visiting males. Sometimes resident females who aren't in season tolerate other females' mates, sometimes they tell the other females' visitors to go away. There was, however, a solid consensus that Graybeau (the father of Polly's kittens) should stay at the Cat Sanctuary after his human died, and currently there's an equally solid consensus that the very friendly neutered male from down the road can move in any time as far as my cats are concerned.