It starts with the stare at close distance. He knows the alarm usually goes off at 7 a.m. so he assembles the troops in the bedroom at 6:45 and begins the daily ritual. The other two cats watch with anticipation.
Will we need to take action or will he get up now so we can eat? That is the big question. Freddie has taken on the role of reconnaissance cat, something he is well suited for. This role requires a cat that is undaunted when he is picked up and tossed or brushed aside. He returns again and again until he gets what he wants because he knows that he always gets what he wants.
I don't understand why the cats just don't wait in the kitchen at 7 a.m. for the cans to be opened. They know that is always going to happen, yet they seem driven to torment me into getting up a few minutes early because they just might get lucky and eat an early breakfast.
An early breakfast may have happened once or twice and they seem to have a memory as good as elephants. Maybe today will be the day he gets up early and feeds us before the alarm goes off. Maybe Freddie won't have to go through his daily routine.
Freddie's routine is as predictable as it is annoying. He stares for a short time and if I happen to open my eyes he knows he has me, and that it is just a matter of a very short time before the food is doled out.
I have learned to try to slowly open my eyes when Freddie is on the bed but it never works, and he is always watching me. That means that I have to tell him I am going back to sleep and that it is not time to eat yet. Good luck with that one.
Once he knows I am even partially awake he moves into the next phase. First he will walk across my head a few times. I usually grab him and gently toss him onto the floor. He is back in a flash ready to walk across my chest.
He does not stop with the body walking until I get out of bed, no matter how many times I grab and toss. The other two cats just sit at the bedroom doorway and watch the spectacle, often looking bored because they know exactly what will happen next in the series of persistent early morning pestering.
After a few tosses Freddie will back off a little and simply pace all around the bed and keep off my body. One big mistake I have learned not to make is to roll onto my back during any of this pre-breakfast harassment. If I do, Freddie climbs on board and stretches out knowing that he doesn't have to keep moving. At that point he knows he's got me and that it is only a matter of a minute or two before I hop out of bed and feed the crew.
Thankfully, the cat alarm is not operational every morning and there are actually days when I am awakened by the old fashioned human-created alarm clock. Those days are rare and I wish I could figure out if there is any reason why the cats do not harass on those particular mornings.
I have heard similar stories from other cat owners describing the morning pestering by their beloved pets. The tactics may vary a little, but the overall level of persistence and eye on the prize type behavioral tends to be nearly universal.
In the past, when I have found a particular cat behavior to be annoying I have resorted to tactics to change that behavior. One of the more successful behavior control methods, other than nasty-voiced yelling, is the use of the squirt gun. It is a very effective behavior modification tool.
I could probably sleep with a squirt gun next to my bed and use it a few mornings in an attempt to extinguish the feline alarm clock override behavior. But I doubt I will ever do that. I suspect that I actually enjoy the early morning battle of the alarm clock and if I ever stopped the cats from their morning ritual I might feel a sense of loss and a lack of closeness that this perverse form of bonding creates.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and long-time health care advocate. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.