Unlike the dog, which through process of domestication has lost the power to fend for itself, the cat, even the pedigree, cut off from home comforts, will revert to the wild and become what is known as a feral cat (a domestic cat that has gone wild), hunting for food and rearing its young in the great outdoors. Redevelopment areas often produce such unhappy feral families; their human owners having been rehoused in flats where they are precluded from pet-keeping. Rather than seek the help of the Cats’ Protection League or asking a vet to put their pet painlessly to sleep, they abandon it to take its chance with others. How often have you seen an old lady with a string bag of goodies feeding feral cats in the grounds of some old churchyard or derelict railway siding, the pretty kittens, which one longs to stroke, as fierce as tigers in miniature?
The dog, in its wild state, is a pack animal and retains this instinct to the extent that, where a number of males are kept, one dog will emerge as the leader, with a second in order of precedence; similarly a stallion will lead and protect its equine herd. The cat, on the other hand, is a solitary animal which will avoid other cats if it can and, when faced with an unavoidable encounter, will step aside to let a younger, and stronger cat, pass. This way he may avoid the fight a head-on meeting could entail.
Cats living in the same household will generally develop a relationship, the kittens playing tirelessly together and grooming each other assiduously in later years.
Intrusion by a new cat into a household is resented, but there are exceptions. Some years ago, we inherited, when we bought a country house, an honest-to-goodness tabby cat called Vicky, born at a nearby farm. We had her spayed, welcomed her to the fireside, and expected her to be a long-term companion. At that time we had a Chihuahua pup, with whom she showed much tolerance, and we certainly had no intention of buying another cat until we found ourselves visiting kennels on business; the proprietors bred Siamese, and my husband, a lifelong devotee, was entranced. We came home with Samson, our lilac-point. Vicky growled at first, then decided to tolerate the young newcomer … as long as he kept a respectful distance.
Slowly the situation improved until, to my surprise, I noticed that Vicky was schooling our kitten in the manner of a queen with her family; teaching Samson, among other things, the trick of skilfully walking backwards along the window sill to find the open pane.
One day, on going upstairs to our bedroom, I found Vicky sitting serenely on the bed, Samson beside her. They both looked so content I could not disturb them. Next morning, Vicky, the cat we had not sought, but thought would be with us for years, was run over. I have wondered often if Vicky had some uncanny forewarning that she would be leaving us, and groomed Samson, in advance, to take her place.