A Tale of Cats and Bullying: Rosco the Terror and Poncho the Not-So-Bold


"Poncho the Bold" might be a misnomer. For any cat, really. But particularly for the decorative puffball who arrived at our house in 2006 ÔÇö chubby, soft, and reluctant to leave his cat carrier. He’d been banished from my sister’s flat temperate environs of Pasadena and granted political asylum in my parents’ large, two-story suburban house in Albany, California, where he’d presumably be safe from predators.

To be more specific, Poncho had been whisked up north to escape Rosco, an indulged older stepbrother. I don’t live with either of them ÔÇô- I actually live in a catless apartment about three miles away. But I visit often enough to know that Rosco is the feline equivalent of a kid who stuffs other kids in lockers or steals their lunch money. His meow sounds more like a snarl. He’s sleek and muscular, and could probably be a very powerful cat, were he not also insufferable.

Poncho has a much easier time finding favor, because he’s a quiet, fussy, high-class, sedentary lap cat. He prefers organic cat food with special vitamin additives. I think he’s Hollywood good-looking, and somewhat resembles the stars of old Fancy Feast commercials. (Admittedly, as his de facto stepmother, I’m biased.) But unlike his namesake, the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, he’s also a frightened, trembling husk of a cat ÔÇö so scared of new settings that when he first arrived to Albany, he crawled into a small hole in the wall of my sister’s old bedroom, and wouldn’t emerge for days.

Rosco was declawed by a previous owner for decimating an entire living room’s worth of furniture, so he’s had to resort to smaller but equally invidious ways of claiming turf. He’s the kind of cat who would seek revenge not just by pooping in your laundry basket, but by burying the evidence in such a way that it touched every single shirt. Poncho isn’t a large cat, but he’s definitely calculating and menacing. And when you put him in close quarters with Poncho, whose body weight is more fur than brawn, and who also doesn’t have claws (unfortunately, onychectomy is a pretty standard procedure for cat owners in Southern California), there’s really no contest.

That was readily apparent when the two lived together in Pasadena, where Rosco blithely ate Poncho’s dinner every night. It wasn’t supposed to be a problem once Poncho moved four hundred miles away and got a room of his own. And for a while, things were good. Once we finally coaxed Poncho out of the hole in the wall, he started adapting, endeared himself to his new Baby Boomer parents, and learned the lay of the land. He figured out how to crawl onto my mother’s head at 6:30 every morning to demand an early breakfast. Within a few months, he was running the place.

Five years passed, and a horrible thing happened. Horrible for Poncho, that is.

Rosco’s owner ÔÇö aka my sister, Emma ÔÇö graduated from USC medical school, found herself wallowing in debt, and had to move back home so that she could mooch off her parents for a while. And Rosco had to come with her. There was just no protesting or negotiating. In June, the bully cat was packed into a car, alongside several clothing boxes and a desktop computer. He rode up the I-5 for five hot, sticky hours, until the car pulled into a suburban driveway in Albany, California, at which point he was brought upstairs, plopped into a small guest room that already smelled like another cat’s domain, and set free. He was none too happy about it.

It might be useful, at this point, to note that Rosco’s new owners ÔÇö aka my mom and dad ÔÇö had survived more than one domestic reign of terror. They’d cared for smelly pet rodents, school iguanas that required summer vacation homes, two insufferable bed-wetters (I’m the older of the two), and a similarly malevolent feline ÔÇö now resting in an urn atop the fireplace ÔÇö who actually did have serviceable claws, and who scratched all of our skin to the point of scarring. You’d think that would adequately prepare them for a cat who stole other cats’ food and used poop as a biological weapon. But it didn’t.

In the first few months of his new existence, Rosco reasserted his superiority by eating Poncho’s food all over again. He also defecated on every hard-to-launder surface in the house, from duvets to bathmats. Worst of all, he made a habit of jumping Poncho from behind, which was probably the only way for a clawless cat to physically restrain another cat. Evidently, it worked. Poncho’s previous safety zone had been closed and spackled, so his new escape was the great outdoors ÔÇö and he’d sometimes leave for days at a time. Once he left for 28 days, just long enough for his owners to plaster "Missing Cat" fliers on telephone poles throughout the neighborhood. When he finally turned up, at a house in nearby Kensington, we decided we’d had enough.

Rosco is currently under house arrest. That’s not quite as bad as it sounds ÔÇö mostly, it means he takes meals in an upstairs bedroom, and he’s prohibited from romping around outside. He also gets sprayed with water every time he tries to pounce on Poncho, which seems to be an effective form of Pavlovian conditioning. At one point we started looking into his psychological health, assuming there must be some kind of deep-seated inferiority complex that compels a cat to beat up other cats. We considered talk therapy. My mother asked him about his childhood. He stared back at her blankly, and meowed ÔÇö which seemed like an appropriate response, in retrospect.

Poncho, meanwhile, has regained some confidence, though not quite enough to make good on his name.

Catster readers: Do you have a feline bully in your household?

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