We were lying on the sofa – me reading my book, Target lying next to me – when the phone rang.
I sat up and my furry friend instantly flashed over and stole my seat.
He lay there, all four paws up in the air, eyes shut, purring like a well-oiled engine, and making his demands clear: it would take a belly rub to get shares in the best spot.
When you serve cats, having your seat stolen is standard procedure. All cats are place thieves, and Target is king of the lot.
It’s particularly bad in the office. If I half stand up, Target slides off the desk and is rolling in the batik throw that covers my chair before you can say meow.
Now, cats are tough but not indestructible. I’m so paranoid that I might smush him, that I sit down in stages, carefully looking behind me as I hover before settling.
It would be much better if he would stop nicking my space, but cats are notoriously hard to convince.
Not that I haven’t tried! I lectured Target, but he just yawned and scratched his ear in a pointedly dismissive way. I tried pretending not to see him but even hovering an inch above his furry tummy didn’t bother him. Target can spot an empty threat when he sees it.
The question is, why does he do it?
Target is not being difficult or teasing, in fact, his behaviour is rooted in love. Cats are very social animals, just like us human beings, and they love contact.
Kittens cuddle up together in the nest from the moment they’re born. As they grow up, they curl up with their family. In our kitchen cat community, sisters, aunts and cousins all pile up in a giant furry heap after meals.
I’m Target’s family and therefore he snuggles up whenever he can. And if I move, he slides into my spot because my scent is there and he wants to be close to me.
Scent is a big thing for cats. While they have tiny noses, these are lined with twice the number of scent-sensitive cells we have. Also, they have an extra advantage over us: cats have a Jacob-son’s organ, a special structure devoted to smelling, in the roof of their mouths.
This is why when a pet is sniffing something, like the cushion you lean against, they sniff and then open their mouths a little. This gape allows the scent to flow over the Jacob’s organ.
Quite how powerful a cat’s olfactory senses are is unclear. However, given the way they’re built, it’s probably a lot better than ours.
Because smell matters, your pet aims straight for the place that is yours on the sofa, your office chair, and the pile of tees you put on the bed. Anything that has even a whiff of your signature scent, is sweet to your pet.
Another reason that just-vacated spot says “steal me” has to do with lingering body heat. In cool climates, cats are furry heat-seeking missiles. They lie in sunspots, in warming cupboards and in book cases that trap warmth.
We live in the tropics but even so, pets enjoy the extra warmth that comes from lying on top of you, and Target is no exception. He lies next to me on the sofa, pressed up against me, and steps on to me for extra snuggles when he’s feeling cuddly.
At night, he sleeps on my pillow. There’s a lot of heat that escapes through the head but there’s an extra attraction: by commanding pillow space, Target is certain to avoid being rolled on to or kicked. He loves me but he’s also practical; my kitty does not want to be squished.
The average pillow can hold a kitten and a human but it can’t accommodate a grown-up fluff. As such, we have our own mega-sized pillow. It’s made from batik and is large enough for Target to stretch out and for me to have my own space.
We love our pillow but it’s a funny thing; although it’s huge, I still find my snuggle cat rolling around in the centre of it, taking up much more than his fair share. And, as you might guess, he presents his tummy in a very pointed and meaningful way.
Because apart from the comfort of closeness, Target is well aware of another maxim: belly rubs are pawsome.