Dante: Feral Kitten to “Evil Genius”

Instagram 3/30/21

A few posts back, I wrote about silver linings, mentioning our kittens. Those two are such sweethearts. Dante and Ritz have such distinct personalities, there’s never a dull moment around the house.

In the Beginning

Dante, especially, is a unique little fruitloop. He started life as an unnamed feral kitten with 3 brothers fed by half the neighborhood. Jim, however, was one of their two primary benefactors, and decided to name them Angus, an all-black kitty; Boo, a grey tabby; Ritz, our posh tuxedo boy; and Sparky, the fancy, multicolor tabby (later Dante).

From foreground to background: Boo, Ritz, Sparky/Dante (left), Angus, and Mama Moon.

At the time, we had no intention of adopting them. The plan was to take them to King Street Cats (KSC) — where we’d adopted Bumbledore — so they would get adopted into good homes. However, Boo, unfortunately, succumbed to perils of feral life (please forgive me for not going into details, it’s still depressing for me).

Angus made it to KSC and was adopted within a month, without even making it onto the KSC website. He was adopted with another all-black kitty, and we hope he’s living his best life.

A New Life

Ritz and Sparky proved harder to catch. Jim managed to nab Ritz on July 31, 2020, and Sparky the next day. But, as August 1 was a Sunday, we had to wait an extra day before they could go to the KSC volunteer who would foster them. So, we decided to let them out of the cage so they could stretch a bit. They were clearly terrified, so, of course, we had to hold them to offer comfort, and the little buggers started to fall asleep on us. Total heart sploosh moment.

As I like to say, they kittens used “cute” and Jim and I rolled ones on our saving throws. We made the decision to keep them shortly thereafter.

Sparky kept his original name for several weeks, but he wouldn’t react to it. We made the assumption, based on that, that he was… erm… not the brightest bulb. He seemed to have moments where he’d just space out, staring off into the distance with a glazed stare.

We were so convinced that he was dumb as a post that we based his new name on it.

Dante it is Then

I don’t remember, now, why we decided to try a new name. But, with that decision made, Jim and I spent a few hours making suggestions that the other vetoed.

Eventually, we agreed on Dante, after this guy from Coco.

The Xoloitzcuintli (Xolo) dog, Dante, from Pixar’s Coco once he’s show his true Alebrije colors.

As I explained to our by, they’re both colorful, have tons of patterns and markings, and are rays of sunshine. What I did not mention to our Dante is that they’re both dumb as a post.

Our Dante seemed to actually respond to his new name after we explained the reasoning. Rather than completely ignoring us, he’d turn, or, at least, his ear would twitch in acknowledgement. In retrospect, that was our first clue that all was not as it seemed.

Something’s Not Quite Right

Dante seemed to learn his new name incredibly fast. With Ritz’s recent example to compare to, the fact that Dante was responding to his name in just a couple of hours got me thinking. What if he’s actually an evil genius?

Suddenly, several of his behaviors took on very different connotations for me. We’d assumed that he was just completely clueless to others’ feelings and eager to show everyone he loved them. He’d head and body bonk everyone. Sometimes, in the process, he’d shove them to the side. Again, we’d assumed that was a sign of his lack of intelligence and awareness.

However, if he is actually brilliant, there’s another possible explanation: he knows that being cute gets attention. So, by showing love/affectionate behaviors, he was getting attention AND showing others out of the way to get food/attention first.

On top of that, he has a tendency to rub against the other cats (especially Sandy) and circle them, dragging his tail against them. It was silly and cute when we thought he was clueless. It’s a bit sinister if, as I now believe, he knows exactly what he’s doing — and how the other cats feel — and does it anyway. It’s like he’s taunting them.

Close up of Dante.
What’s he plotting?

Admittedly, I could be ascribing human feelings and attitudes where they aren’t actually occurring, but it’s certainly a possibility.

Convincing Jim

At that point, Jim wasn’t convinced that Dante is brilliant. But then, I decided to teach, or start teaching, the kittenses tricks.

We already knew they love food. What growing teenage-ish boy doesn’t, right? But we learned they LOVE bread. Dante, especially, will do almost anything for bread. He learned “sit” and “up” in a day. Then “lie down” and “roll over” each only took two days!

I feel like Dante knows that if he does the stupid thing the human asks for, he’ll get a treat much faster than refusing and waiting for me to give up.In the war between keeping up his charade and getting more food, food won.

He’s now learned sit, up, lie down, roll over, shake, high five, come’ere (come here), and we’re working on speak. He understands that speak is a command to do something, but he doesn’t vocalize enough to have figured out what speak means.

The speedy learning was enough to convince Jim that Dante was a belly-motivated genius. He still, however, doesn’t buy the evil part.

What I find interesting is that Dante started showing a marked preference for Jim after I called him an evil genius the first time. Recently, I talked to Dante while he was sitting with Jim and told him I don’t mind that he’s an evil genius. Rather, I think it’s cute and funny. In the past few days since then, he’s been avoiding me less. We’ll see if that continues.

So Where Do Things Stand?

Sandy still doesn’t love Dante, mainly because the latter still likes to push his buttons. I doubt they’ll ever be best buds.

I expect Dante will learn “speak” soon. Keep an eye on my Instagram to find out. I’m sure to post a video of it.

And, despite our initial reasons for choosing his name, I think Dante’s name still suits him well. One can also argue that Dante from Coco is only playing dumb. After all, didn’t he protect Miguel and lead him straight to his family? Perhaps he’s as much a genius in disguise as our fuzzy boy.

Update!

In the roughly 1 month since I first wrote (not published) this post, Dantissimo (he needs a fancy name, after all) has, indeed been more affectionate with me. He’s been letting me pet him more, and has even actively sought me out. Just the other day he jumped up onto my chair behind me, then crawled into my lap when I turned to pet him. It’s been great having more affection from him, and I think this proves the genius bit, and perhaps the evil bit as well.

Dante sitting on my lap.
Such a handsome boy, enjoying mom’s warm lap-pillow.

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