Donerail Farm
        Alvin, TX
 
(scroll down for story - this page has a hiccup!) 

As you can see, Bubba is a "full-figured" cat. ;)

Bubba and the Automatic Food Dish

Cats are known for being low maintenance, right? I mean, just toss some Cat
Chow in a bowl every day and they feed themselves from the ‘buffet’ when
they get hungry.

 

Meet my house cat, Bubba. Bubba is not one of those cats who can have
the 'all you can eat buffet' . Bubba definitely abuses the 'all you can eat 
buffet' concept, as evidenced by his 16 lbs. and rather large "Buddha" belly. 

Therefore, Bubba eats Science Diet Lite Hairball formula dry cat food –
at thirty bucks a bag. The little morsels are shaped like pyramids and
I measure them so scrupulously for his twice-a-day fix, I might as well count 
each individual kibble. I am sure Bubba does.

However…the problem with having a cat who has to be actually be fed meals at 
certain intervals is that the cat  develops...expectations. Expectations of being fed
promptly at
5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.  each and every day.  I admit I loved seeing
that cute little face just staring out the glass front door, eagerly awaiting my arrival
home  every weekday evening. My husband, Mike,  says Bubba parks himself 
there around
4:30 every afternoon and just waits for my arrival. I was Bubba's sun,
his moon, his stars. Ok, I knew he was really waiting for his dinner, but still....

However, the dinner feeding was not the problem. It was breakfast.

Like a junkie, a cat's expectations gradually start shifting....slowly but surely, they
want their “fix” earlier…   At first it's cute...the soft 'pat pat pat' of an impossibly
furry paw on one's sleeping face is certainly a better way to greet the day than the 
blaring alarm clock. So you humor him - you were getting up in five minutes
anyway - and you feed him at
5:25 a.m. Except soon, the soft "pat pat pat" arrives
at
5:00 a.m. 

After a few days of this ever-earlier routine, it's no longer cute.  Attempts to
dissuade the large, furry alarm clock don't work. For one thing, shoving a 16-lb.
animal with claws off a bed is not always easy - especially when you are only half
awake and the said feline is completely awake.

And determined.

And you are wearing very sheer nightclothes.

Locking him out of the bedroom provokes frantic thrusting of paws scrambling 
under the door and piteous, mournful meowing no more conducive to sleep than
the soft but determined 'pat pat pat.' 

Over time, the Cat Servant becomes noticeably grumpy and starts to get dark
circles under her eyes.

And might I point out that there are no 'weekends' in a cat's world?

But the Cat Servant is a modern gal and a firm believer in harnessing technology to
solve problems! So she searched the Internet and found  an automatic cat food 
dispenser.

The secret - she tells herself - is to disassociate the human being (that would be
herself, the Cat Servant) with the cat – that would be Bubba - getting fed.

The automatic food dispenser is a simple plastic gizmo. Battery operated, it has
two food trays that are covered with lids. You simply load with kibble, close the
lids, and twirl the timer dial to the number of hours in the future you want to give
the pet access to food. At the appointed time, the lid will pop up and breakfast
(or dinner!) is served!

When I filled the futuristic-looking square white plastic trays the first time, I made
sure Bubba was there to watch. I loaded them up, set one tray for 8 hours in the
future (
5 a.m.) and the other 20 hours in the future (5 p.m.) and set it on the floor
next to his water dish in our master bathroom.

He knew there was food in there.  He sniffed it. He patted it gently on the lid. He 
nudged it with his nose.  In fact, he did all the things to it that he did to me every
morning! Then he sat back and just stared at it as if kinetic energy alone could
make the plastic lids fly open and free the aromatic contents.

The first couple days went great. I felt very smug when I stopped getting that
‘pat pat pat’ on the face at dark-thirty. On about day three, I woke up at
4 a.m. to
a strange sound – sure that there must be an intruder in the house.

I got up to investigate and found Bubba was pounding on the auto cat dish and, 
he had, in fact, flipped the whole thing upside down in an attempt to get to the 
prize inside – those little pyramid-shaped kibbles.

Finally I had to move the auto feeder from our bathroom to a spare bedroom 
because Bubba’s insistent and noisy tries at prying the thing open were keeping
me up!

Fast forward a year later. I was no longer getting up earlier than planned by soft
and insistent face patting, but do occasionally hear Bubba wrestling with the cat
dish.

The plastic lid is permanently etched with claw and bite marks. The thing has 
become more battle-scarred than an Apollo capsule after rocketing to earth during
re-entry. Twice he’s managed to rip the lid off one of the trays, but it snapped right 
back together. I have learned, after filling it, to set it in the middle of the room. 
Otherwise, Bubba makes a huge racket by bumping it against walls.

Not only is it a convenient feeder, but it’s also an exercise machine! Bubba has
never worked this hard for his food in his entire life! Strangely, though, about a 
year and a half into the great ‘automatic pet feeder’ experiment – Bubba was no
longer wrestling with the feeder. He seemed to accept his fate of waiting patiently
for it to tick-tick away until each lid popped open on its own.

Then, a few weekends ago I realized when walking by the spare bedroom, that the 
pet feeder’s lid was open…and it was only 2:30 – several hours earlier than his
pre-determined dinner time. Hum. A malfunction?

Then I seemed to notice that Bubba’s food dish seemed to be opening early on
a regular basis.

My husband, Mike, the uber engineer, swore Bubba was opening it. I said no, 
I would hear him if he were wrestling with it in the middle of the night.

Mike said, “He’s turning the dial to open it.”  I laughed at him. “Oh yea, and next
he’s going to learn to drive to the store to buy his own food,” I retorted.

So Mike, in typical anal-retentive MIT Ph.D fashion, conducted almost a week of 
experiments on the feeder to see what was wrong. What he found was….absolutely
nothing. When he sat it on the counter in the middle of the day and set the timer 
for 4 hours….it opened in 4 hours. 

“It’s the carpet,” I suggested. “The batteries are in an open chamber beneath it. 
Maybe the carpet is doing something to the batteries.” 

So Mike tested the feeder in the carpeted spare bedroom, but shut the bedroom 
door during “testing” so Bubba couldn't interfere with the “test results.”

It worked just fine on the carpet when Mike tested it. Over several days.

And then, one night I could not fall asleep. Around midnight I heard an odd
‘tic tic tic’ sound. It was coming from the spare bedroom where we kept Bubba’s
automatic feeder.

I turned on the light and saw an amazing sight.

There sat Bubba, crouched over the plastic feeder, holding it steady in place with
his left front leg and paw. His right paw – that impossibly big, furry paw – was 
covering the timer dial and slowly TURNING IT. It made a small ‘click’ for every
hour he advanced the dial forward. If he were crouching just a little closer to it he
would be pressing his right ear to the dial in a perfect feline impersonation of a 
very talented safe cracker. Or, one might say, a CAT burglar!

He saw me and froze for a moment…and then continued to inch that plastic dial
forward – toward his own personal treasure – 
those little pyramid-shaped kibbles.

I was incredulous. If I had not seen this with my own eyes I never would have
believed it. I laughed out loud at this highly comical sight. Bubba just kept working
at inching that dial closer to the time it was set to open!

I never dreamed Bubba – or any cat – could be so clever. And then I had to think…
Bubba was born in our barn and over the years, finagled his way into a “promotion”
to housecat, patrolling our large house at will and sleeping wherever he chose to 
sleep. And he has his own personal Cat Servant who buys him gourmet food and
serves it to him daily.  

Just who is the smart one here?? ;)

His most treasured possession has ALWAYS been his food – so how fitting that we
obligingly put it in his own personal “safe” every day – for him to open with his 
own special ‘combination’ -- whenever he wants! (but just not as MUCH as he 
wants!)