My cats used to love me. They would take turns sitting in my lap, just letting me pet them, while casting the occasional adoring look up at me. Life was good; indeed, life was wonderful.
Then everything changed.
I stopped feeding them. I failed to put food in a bowl at their whim. I refused to be cowed by their stares, by their plaintive whines and pushy demands that I obey them and give them food in a bowl. The cats grew to hate me.
As a servant, I was terrible. The four of them would take turns giving me the evil eye (you know the one - the one that all cats inherently know how to use against humans). Two took turns howling in the kitchen, begging me to return to my appointed task; two took turns sitting on me and brushing my lips with their paws, trying to convince me of how hungry they were.
But I ignored it all.
I had, after all, provided them with a source of food. They just didn't like that source because that source forces them to do the work. How dare I expect them to *work* for food?
I switched the cats from getting freely available food in a bowl to having to get their food from 'foraging balls'. The balls are blue plastic, roughly the size of a baseball, with holes in them that release food when knocked around.
It took my oldest, Bug, exactly two seconds to figure out this new food delivery system. He was fine with it. I attribute this to the fact that he, most likely, was a street kitten for his first three months and then lived in a small steel cage for six months. He knows what hardship is; what he has in my house? It ain't hardship.
The youngest, Kohana, watched Bug get his own food from the balls. She would wait for him to spill a few kibbles out then, while he scarfed one, she'd nose in and take the rest. She's since come around to pushing the balls around to get her own dinner.
The thinnest of them all, Timon, didn't get it at first. He's generally a recluse, though, and it seems he thought he was just missing out on the feeding times. Once he saw Bug and Kohana getting kibble from the feeder balls, though, he was all over it. Well... sort of. He'd move the ball then look at me; move the ball a little more then come hop into my lap and paw my face. Eventually, he did finally understand that I wasn't going to feed him - he'd have to do it himself.
Pumbaa, however, was another matter. Pumbaa lives up to his name: he's a hog. A big fat hog. He's the reason the cats lost their free-feeding ways.
Why? Because I have two prejudices: one is against stupidity; the other is against... of all things, obesity. I'm obese and I can't stand it. My cat is obese and it drives me nuts. Since I can't put the obese cat on a diet without punishing the others, I decided to make them work for their food.
Pumbaa... lovely, fat, dumb Pumbaa. *sigh* I adore him, but... seriously, he could cause bladder damage with the way he pounces into my lap - front two feet held together, pinpointing the exact place where my bladder is weakest, he leaps into my lap and focuses all eighteen of his fat-laden pounds right *there*. Oi. Sometimes, just to avoid any issues with ...wetness... I'll stop him before he pounces, go pee, then come back and let him pounce.
But Pumbaa has had the most traumatic transition from free-feeding via bowls to self-feeding via foraging. He'd watch Bug, Kohana and his brother, Timon, as they happily pushed the balls around and got food in return. But he didn't seem to get it. He'd go over, smell the food inside the balls, and just sort of stare at the balls, as if that alone would convince the balls to fork over the kibble. He would then look at me, as if demanding that I make the balls produce kibble.
Every time I went into the kitchen, he'd run in and put his head in the food bowl (cruelly, I've left the food bowl on the floor; it isn't just a tease: every once in a while, I'll drop bits of raw meat or fish in there, usually when none of the cats are in the kitchen. It's like the magic raw food fairy comes to visit them). When Pumbaa finds no kibble in the bowl (he doesn't eat the raw food... I'm guessing it's 'too healthy' for him), he watches me as I move around the kitchen, doing whatever it is I'm doing. If I take up a position where he can't see my face, he'll do one of two things: either station himself directly behind me, where he'll be certain to trip me if I move; or stretch up and pat my elbow with his paws. Neither one works to get him any food; the first one has only succeeded in having me nearly break his tail by stepping on it. That was a scary day.
The big boy didn't seem to understand the concept of the foraging balls until, one random day, I saw him playing - actually actively playing! - with one of the empty balls. He was dancing around it, batting it a foot then chasing after it. Oh! He understood, I thought! I quickly filled the ball with food which, suddenly, seemed to confuse Pumbaa. He tapped the ball a couple of times but it didn't really move; it just rocked in place. His taps got a little harder and a few pieces of kibble sprang forth. Poor Pumbaa actually jumped back, as if the appearance of food was highly unexpected. From there, though, he's gotten more comfortable with the idea and more proficient at making the feeder balls produce food.
Now his only use for me is as a soft spot to pounce upon and nap.