Monday, May 17, 2010

In Which I Sort The Kitties Into Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Personalities In Addition To Hogwarts Houses

Disclaimer: this post is completely un-scientific and not even remotely meant to suggest ANY of my cats (or any cats, period) can be easily summed up by placement in a simplistic categorization system. This sort of thing, to me, is just for fun -- along the lines of, say, trying to sort your siblings into Hogwarts houses, or in a likewise manner, attempting to determine what the D&D alignments of various characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be. (Yes, I've actually done this.)

Ahem. Anyway. Where was I?

Ah yes. Cats!

I recently read an article describing three types of cat personalities, nominally Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. Which, in this parlance, do not imply hierarcical designations (such as would be the case in wolf or dog packs), have nothing to do with fraternities, and do not in any way refer to the dysfunctional socio-eugenics structuring as described in Huxley's Brave New World.

Rather, the article describes the three cat types thusly:

Alpha cats are the mad scientists of the cat world.

They want to manipulate their environment to suit them. Their lack of thumbs is the only factor keeping them from World Domination. That, and those naps.

Alphas are marvelous cats, but they are not for everyone. As kittens, they are the reason china cabinets have doors and kitchen cabinets have baby locks. If something can be opened, unfastened, switched, rearranged, or button pressed, it was an Alpha who did it. Their boundless curiosity and free running intelligence is fastened on their reason for being; experimentation. If a thing does interesting stuff when dumped in the water dish, it will be dumped in the water dish.(...)

Beta cats see us [humans] as the way to get their environment the way they want it. So they are great talkers, or if not, big on the "Lassie Move" where they catch your attention and try to get you to follow them to the object of interest...

...Betas love companionship, whether it be respectful dogs or properly coached children. They are the most likely cat to meet strangers [note: not true in Shadow's case, but I can see it becoming true as he gets older and more confident], especially if the guests are sensible enough to admire them. If your business needs a "greeter cat," look for a Beta. This outgoing quality makes them especially easy to care for, because if the food dish is getting low or the litter box isn't being kept up, you will know about it right away. Always be swift to correct problems, and Betas will shower you with love and attention in return.

Gamma cats are sweet and mellow. They are somewhat shy, but once their trust is won, they love affection and have winning little ways.

They always have time for you. The challenge of the Gamma is not immediately apparent. You must make time for them.

Gammas are teddy bears, so deferential and unassuming that they will not assert themselves except in an emergency. It's up to you, as a responsible Gamma owner, to keep tabs on them, making sure the water bowl is fresh, and the food keeps coming.

(Note: I've only quoted partially from each section in the linked article -- hopefully this puts things here in accordance with copyright etiquette).

So, while there are aspects of these descriptions that certainly do not apply to my kitties, roughly, when reading the article I found myself figuring Nikki and Shadow to be Betas, Coraline to be an Alpha, and Brodie to be a Gamma. (And when I later described the article to Matt, he agreed with my sorting results).

It is interesting to think about the felines-in-residence in this way in part because these Alpha-Beta-Gamma designations, frivolous and unscientific as they may be, do sort of bring out patterns I might not have noticed otherwise. I actually nearly laughed out loud this morning when I was preparing breakfast for the feline lot, whilst noting that:

- Cora had jumped up onto the counter and was trying to get the food straight out of the can, before I'd even had the chance to distribute it onto individual dishes,

- Brodie was sitting over on the kitchen cat-platform thing, looking proper-as-you-please and waiting quietly,

- Shadow was weaving around my legs, looking up at me periodically, and meowing, and

- Nikki was likewise yelling at me from the patio (as she could see what was going on re. the can of food I had open in the kitchen)

Hee. So yeah. Again, totally silly, frivolous, unscientific, but interesting and funny nonetheless. E.g., Shadow and Nikki are very different people; they have unique demeanors, interests, priorities, and so on.

In Hogwarts terms, for instance, Nikki would almost certainly be a (non-evil!) Slytherin.

She has a certain air of ruthlessness about her (though is definitely not "mean"). She gives off a tremendous impression of having a whole lot of terribly important work to do (and I do actually believe she does, in cat terms, which are not terms to be taken lightly!). Hence she has no patience whatsoever for time-wasting frivolousness, unnecessary noise, etc. If she were human my guess would be she'd be the type people would accuse of having "no sense of humor", when really, it's just that her wit is so dry (and often dark) that people miss it even when she's being totally obvious about it.

Whereas Shadow, on the other hand, is Captain Hufflepuff all the way.

Loyal to those he trusts, presumes all other cats want to (or should want to) be his friend. Unflappable in the face of swats, hisses, and so on. Stands his ground no matter what. Energetic, easily entertained and prone to being altogether silly. If he were human he seems like he'd be sort of this very gung-ho, earnest boy-scout sort of guy (think Russell from the film 'Up').

Nevertheless, both these very different kitties definitely share the whole "Come quick! Timmy's fallen in the well! quality that is apparently a "Beta" thing.

They're both very vocal, and lately it's been the two of them howling at my bedroom door (which is a "no kitty zone" at night, per Matt's desire not to have his sensitive bits pounced on by 30-plus pounds of crepuscular athletics-team) at 5 in the morning. They both share the habit of following me from room to room when they want something (and sitting outside the door yelling at me when I'm in the bathroom).

They are also both highly adept at figuring out how to communicate with the ape contingent -- as in, if their first attempt doesn't visibly get my attention, they will amp up the volume, and if that doesn't work, they will move on to physical reminders (Nikki will jump up onto my shoulder, Shadow will attempt to climb up my pants leg!). And so on.

Overall, while again you'd never mistake one for the other character-wise (Shadow is about as silly as Nikki is serious, for one thing), I definitely see significant aspects of both of them in the "beta" description.

As for Coraline, she is so Alpha (and a Ravenclaw, all the way).

Ever since she was a tiny kitten, she's given off this incredible sense of what I would call "gears turning constantly in her head". She plans things. If she were a cartoon character, she'd be the one always saying, "According to my calculations...".

She's always been patient and careful (yet bold at the same time), and highly attuned to how she might employ objects in her environment to her advantage (or in the service of her entertainment). She's not so much into persuading humans to do her bidding so much as getting things done herself (though she can certainly be very persuasive when it suits her!).

In other words, Cora (as a baby) was the one escaping from the kitten-pen, hiding in the bookshelves, climbing part-way up the chimney (I kid you not), working her way through every cardboard-and-tape assembly I employed to keep the kittens out from under the bed (when they were teeny and feral I had to give them medication for their coccidia parasite infections, and it was this ridiculous ordeal to catch them if they got under the bed -- but eventually I just gave up and dealt with the ridiculous ordeal because, short of sealing up the space with concrete, I could not figure out an adequate barrier design), and tearing individual paper towels off the roll to make herself neat little sleeping-mats under the bed.

She has since "graduated" to such feats as jumping at door handles (she knows exactly what they are for and how they work -- it seems to be only a lack of opposable thumbs that thwarts her in using them), scaling every vertical structure in the house (and getting to places I never expected to see a cat, such as the top of the stove's fume hood!), caching favorite toys under the rug, pulling my sweaters off their hangers and into the laundry basket (which she has claimed as a DIY cat-bed) and so on. So yeah. I would honestly only be half surprised to come home and find her using my computer to order "supplies" (fish, explosives, jet-packs, etc.) via the Internet.

And then there's Brodie.

While he looks nothing like any of the "Gamma-associated" breeds (Persian, Birman, etc.) listed in the aforementioned article -- if anything, as a feral-born mutt, he resembles a short-haired variant of Maine Coon crossed with an Oriental Shorthair -- his overall bearing is very much along the lines of what I'd definitely term "sweet" (though I don't mean that in a patronizing or infantilizing sense at all).

He also has this quality of seeming to sort of...fade into the background, for lack of a better phrase. It's not like I ever forget he's there, it's just that he generally isn't making a point of announcing his presence constantly. He reminds me a little bit of my brother Paul (I actually have four younger siblings; Paul is closest in age to me), who has a similarly "unobtrusive" character about him. If Brodie were a child attending school, he would be one of the quiet kids in the back of the class who just sort of did his work and was described as "no trouble" -- despite being perfectly capable of the occasional bit of mischief! He also has the (apparently) "Gamma" trait of being initially shy, but extremely affectionate once he knows and trusts you.

Oh, and the bit in the article about how you (meaning you, human) need to be the one to make time for [GammaKitty] is definitely true in Brodie's case. He is quite content to nap off in a corner somewhere for hours (the unobtrusiveness thing again), but if I go find him, pet him a bit, and then walk off somewhere else and sit down, he will more than likely come find me in a matter of minutes, mew at me, jump up, and settle into my lap and purr for as long as I'm willing to sit there.

(Hogwarts-wise he'd be a Gryffindor of the Neville Longbottom variety, in the sense that a lot of people might wonder what he's doing there at first, but then when it really comes down to taking a stand, he astounds people.), yeah, I definitely live with a very interesting mix of feline characters here. I know I am very lucky that they all get along reasonably well, as it's always such a crap-shoot (thankfully not a literal one in our case -- everyone here is great about litterbox use) bringing a group of small carnivores together under one roof. And I also feel privileged to have this opportunity to watch a very particular group of individuals each seeing, feeling, and generally experiencing life and reality in his or her own way, thus helping do justice to an amazing universe containing far too much for any one person to possibly perceive, let alone comprehend.


  1. My orange tabby Simba is definitely an Alpha.He and Coraline would be great partners in crime. Just today he managed to acquire some very well-hidden catnip through careful planning and acrobatics.

  2. meep: hee, with two Alpha-kitties who knows what they would get into! Do you have any pictures of Simba?


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