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Do You Have a Guard Cat?

Chester's behavior fooled me; his gentle nature obscures a need to preserve order in his home.

Catherine Holm  |  Dec 29th 2014


My orange cat Chester may be more complicated than he first appears. I adopted Chester from an animal shelter where I once volunteered. I have a fondness for orange male tabbies, and Chester had caught my eye. I liked his gentle nature and his fat-cheeked orange face. The Humane Society had rescued him as a stray and recently neutered him. The index card with the information about him had the note, “He has done well here.”

I continued to observe and interact with Chester before I made the leap to adopt him. At first, the shelter had him in a cage by himself. As time went on, shelter staff discovered that Chester did quite well in a multi-cat room. He seemed to have the ability to get along with everyone. I also had the sense, as I watched him, that he was acting as kind of a congenial “manager” cat in that cat room. No one else seemed to mind.

We’d lost an orange tom a few years ago, with a much more street-smart persona than Chester. I finally made the commitment and brought Chester home. The day that I chose him and adopted him, it was as if he knew. He followed me out of the cat room with an assured air that seemed to say, “I’m ready for the next step in my life.”

I didn’t realize it then, but I think Chester’s congenial and assured persona had another side — a side that suggested that the managerial Chester loved order in his home.

The guard cat emerges

We had few visitors at the place where we used to live, so a car pulling into the driveway was cause for notice. This was a place where few cars traveled the secondary road. I was working in the living room at one time and Chester was sitting on the sofa next to me. He, for what seemed like no reason at all, gave a low, throaty, and sustained growl. I realized that an unfamiliar car had pulled into the driveway, and Chester was perhaps alerting me to its presence. I’d never seen a cat do this before.

This has happened on several occasions, but it is not consistent. It seems to happen when Chester is relaxed, and next to me, and when it’s quiet enough outside to hear a strange new vehicle approach. I thought nothing of this behavior until the other day, when Chester showed his steely side again.

Chester backs a dog into a corner

We recently had the opportunity to watch a friend’s dog for the weekend. We wanted to start with a trial introduction to make sure that this endeavor would work. The dog loves cats, but our cats had not had a dog inside the house for years. In the short, half-hour trial introduction, I was amazed to see mild mannered Chester stare down the dog. He didn’t growl or act threatening — he simply stared at her. Then, he began slowly coming closer to the dog. We watched in amazement as he backed this sweet (and big) female German Shepherd into a corner. She was so uneasy about Chester’s behavior that she actually stood up partway on the couch to try and continue to put distance between her body and Chester.

I think it was at that moment that I realized that Chester’s collegial, managerial personality had another side. He really likes order in his home and has a quiet but effective way of acting so that order is maintained.

Always a caretaker

Even though Chester has his growl-y and his steely side, he is a sweet and subtle cat at heart. Chester was the one who took care of Kali and Karma in their final months. Chester groomed Kali when no one else would get near her, when she was ill. Chester grieved when Karma passed on. I love him dearly and I need to make sure that he gets the attention and the reassurance that he needs. I think that Chester really cares about his surroundings — and apparently he feels strongly about defending his home.

Do you have a guard cat? Tell us about it in the comments!

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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.