While wandering around the house the other night, I heard a far-off, high-pitched yell that sounded like an angry baby. After a second or two I realized what it was–an interloping neighborhood cat was insulting one of my pets.

I jogged from the living room to the back porch. The motion-detector light switched on and I saw the interloper slink out of the beam, unwilling to confront one of the larger primates in the animal kingdom.

My cats, though big on heart, are not successful fighters–not usually, anyway. Crash, 12, has a heart murmur and kidney failure. Emmy, 9, has short legs and a firm, egg-shaped body, which, when she sits on her hind legs, pours onto the hardwood floor.

After the intruder retreated, I called to Emmy to come out from under the porch, expecting to see the small cut on her chin she usually gets after one of these confrontations. After she failed to respond, I turned to go back in the house and found her sitting at my feet. I opened the door and she scampered inside. Wondering whether Crash had been under attack as well, I looked around and saw that he was lying on his side on the front porch. I cracked open the screen door so he could come in, too.

Crash sauntered up to Emmy, sniffed her, then licked her face. Emmy, ears back, allowed only a little of this before she flicked her sharp claws into Crash’s long white coat. Clumps of white fur floated through the air and settled slowly on the carpet.

Crash stood still for a few seconds, then backed up and walked around Emmy to go into the kitchen. Emmy came over to my chair. I held out my hand and she rubbed her short muzzle against it. She meowed, arched her back, then sprawled out at my feet–victorious.