When we were first talking about getting a cat (back in 2010), my former roommate Cassandra said it couldn’t be her cat because if it loved one of us (Alyssa or I) more than her, she’d be mad. She wouldn’t be able to handle less than its complete devotion. I, on the other hand, just wanted a cat so I said it would be mine and didn’t care so much who it liked most as long as it liked me at all. So I adopted Smirnoff. He loved Cassandra.
Smirnoff would wait for Cassandra to open her bedroom door in the morning and run in, jump on her bed, and paw at the air. He made tiny squeaks, begging for any attention he’d give her, and then would purr like a motor until she put him down to get ready for work. He was always trying to get into her room, and because he also had a habit of knocking everything over, would often be shut out. But he’d always be excited to see her… unlike how he was with me.
Not that Smirnoff was ever not excited to see me. But our relationship was always much different. Especially after I adopted Bacardi. He didn’t forgive me for that for over a month and a cold cat shoulder is practically glacial. But Smirnoff did eventually forgive me for bringing a new cat into the apartment (and of course now Bacardi is his best friend). However, he hardly ever purrs for me. And when he does, it’s very quiet. He shows contentment when I pet him and comes meowing when he wants food or playtime or sometimes snuggle time. But he doesn’t purr.
Still, it never bothered me much. I reasoned it out. I was the only one who did horrible things like take Smirnoff to the vet, or try to trim his nails, and that made our relationship automatically different. I am his owner/mother. It was okay if he didn’t see me as his best human friend as well. If Cassandra was his favorite, so be it.
Then Cassandra moved out. The person who took her room—Emily—lived similarly to Cassandra in that she only let the cats in her room sometimes. She liked them but didn’t pay too much attention to them. So of course Smirnoff became smitten. He would purr for her and meow for her and any attention she gave him was golden. He loved her boyfriend even more. When Dave arrived, Smirnoff would melt and immediately curl up in his lap just begging to be pet. I wondered if Smirnoff was going to be like that with everyone he met—except me.
When Cassandra came back for a visit (she had only moved down the road), she expected Smirnoff to come running into her open arms, so happy to see her. He let her pick him up, and just sat there. Content, but no purring. I don’t think he had forgotten who she was, but his feelings had certainly changed.
“Why don’t you love me?” Cassandra asked him.
This sudden switch was fairly easy to understand. Cassandra was no longer Smirnoff’s roommate, and her things, her smells, her territory no longer existed. Smirnoff has always been a very territorial cat (which is why I think he hates all cats except for the very submissive, come good wrestling partner, Bacardi). He didn’t need to seduce Cassandra anymore for a nap on her bed. But having that solid proof, honestly, I was a little relieved.
Smirnoff (and I) have been through nine roommates and subletters since I adopted him nearly three years ago and he’s loved every one of them, usually the ones who pay the least attention to him (or are home the least) the most. He doesn’t discriminate. He will charm his way into a bed, a chair, a lap, without any hesitation. But he knows he doesn’t need to do that with me; everything is his already.
When Emily and Dave came to visit me at my new apartment a few months ago, they had the same experience as Cassandra: they expected Smirnoff to come running to his best pals, and instead he merely greeted them as he would any other visitor and allowed them to pet him….
This is part of why cat behavior is so interesting to me. Cats always do things for a reason. Smirnoff is one of the smartest cats I’ve ever come across and he has his human manipulation down to a science. Yet he always crawls into bed to sleep across my legs, wakes me up first for breakfast, and when no one else is around, climbs into my lap for a good snooze as if to say, “Oh yeah, I like you, too.”
And I give him some pets and say, “Yeah, I love you too, Bubba.”