Have you ever noticed how, in a multi-cat household, some very deep bonds of friendship are forged by the most unlikely of pairings?

Timmy and Garfield - always together - December 2004Cats are solitary creatures and unlike dogs, who live in packs and consider family members as part of their pack, cats rarely give thought to their human housemates or to their fellow companions. That they live with us is a miracle indeed because they are such independent and free spirits that at times, the human house is much like a hotel or boarding house for felines. They come and go when they feel like it, taking their meals on the run. Thankfully, there is little laundry to see to, and only occasionally, will there be any babysitting to do.

They love us in their own way of course but that love is very much dependent on what flavour cat food we’re giving them that day. Cats are very fickle creatures and what tasted good this morning is definitely unacceptable later that same afternoon. 

But despite this capriciousness, cats are capable of forming very loving bonds with their owners, but even more strangely, with one another. Although I have six cats, they seem to co-exist with one another quite happily and often, four or five of them will all be sleeping on my bed or one of the sofas without any problems. Occasionally, there are mild spats where Ollie chases Sam (who is twice his size) or Billy smacks Ricky for no real reason, and Ricky bops Ollie because he feels like it, but for the most part, everyone gets on with everyone else.

Since Garfield’s 18th birthday last March (2004), and his periods of ill health, I’ve noticed that Timmy, who's 8½, has begun caring for Garfield. He rarely leaves his side, laying very close to him for most of the day. He often presents his head to Garfield just prior to settling down alongside him, and Garfield obligingly licks it three or four times while Timmy purrs with satisfaction.

Back in December when Garfield had a diabetic fit Timmy showed great concern and looked to me for comfort.  He kept making little yapping noises and looking at his friend with worry etched on his little face. The vet came out to the house and took Garfield back to the surgery for some tests and Timmy kept going to the window to see if he could see Garfield on his way back home.

Once the vet brought him back home, Timmy rushed up to Garfield and rubbed his head all around Garfield and making different sounds almost as if to ask if he was all right now. Even the vet remarked about Timmy’s behaviour.

This happened while I was still on bed rest after major surgery and during that time a friend came over to visit me and to cook our dinner.  After the meal, I was lying back on the sofa with Garfield and Timmy lying nearby when I said in a normal voice: ‘Timmy, give Garfield a kiss.’ Timmy then rubbed his head all around Garfield’s face and both of them were purring fit to burst. My friend was astonished and asked me how long it had taken me to train Timmy to kiss Garfield. He was even more surprised when I told him that was the first time I had ever asked Timmy to do that. He couldn’t believe that Timmy knew what I was saying. (To be frank, I was surprised myself that Timmy responded as well, but it was immediate, with no hesitation so he did know what I was saying!)

The other morning when I got up I had that heart stopping moment when I couldn’t see Garfield anywhere in the dining room. Normally he will be in his bed, Timmy will be next to him and most of the other cats will all be in their little beds. Depending on the weather, Ricky and Ollie are usually out when I get up but I know they’ll be back home as soon as their stomachs tell them that it’s breakfast time. 

But for Garfield to not be there frightened me for a moment until I could see Timmy waiting by the catflap, his face right up against it, as if he was keeping an eye on Garfield while he went out to the toilet. 

Normally, once I’m up, Garfield makes his way to the front room where he drinks out of a bowl of water left on the hearth. Then he’ll climb up on the sofa where he waits for me while I prepare his breakfast, and then I come back to get him. Timmy always waits alongside him, nudging up against him and will always let Garfield have his breakfast first before he worries about getting his own.

Being an older cat, Garfield often calls out to me during the day. He does this for a variety of reasons. Sometimes he just wants a reassuring cuddle. Sometimes he wants to get down off my bed and wants me to help him. Sometimes he wants something to eat and I’ve learned to distinguish what he does want when he calls me. Often Timmy is nearby when Garfield calls to me so that when I go to wherever he is, Timmy is hovering as if to say ‘I don’t know what to do because he wants you’. I always thank Timmy and tell him he’s a good boy before picking Garfield up. Timmy will sit next to us while we have our cuddle and I include him as much as I can, or he’ll follow us downstairs if I’m giving Garfield something to eat and he’ll take advantage of the fact that there’s some spare food being passed around.

Of all the cats, I’m enchanted by Timmy’s devotion to Garfield and by Garfield’s apparent concern if his friend isn’t nearby. Occasionally, like all carers, Timmy needs a break, but despite the fact that he may go off for a walk around the neighbourhood to blow the cobwebs away, he’ll arrange temporary cover for Garfield. Billy is often to be found lying near to Garfield with Ollie, Ricky and even Sam – all on the same bed, or sofa. It says a lot that it takes 4 other felines to do the job that Timmy does with such love and devotion all by himself! 

© Pauline Dewberry 2005

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