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May 2, 2008


I am in the front yard, monkeying around with my dirt bike. Putting on a leather toolbag. Relocating the 2009 OHV registration sticker. Loading my little toolbag with a Lilliputian set of wrenches.

And now, here is the cat. Standing beneath the birdbath, chest out, head high. A bird gripped firmly in her mouth. She could not be more proud. She looks, for all the world, like a fine Andalusian, posing in a golden meadow flooded with sunshine.

She begins to walk, although prance would be a more accurate description. High-stepping like a fine Tennessee Walking horse. Not one they trained in Shelbyville with chains and blocks, but one that was born with a perfect, natural gait.

She's parading back and forth before me, with this bird in her mouth and I'm thinking....where on Earth did she get that?

I've shot a few birds this year. I'm not above shooting birds that attack my house. And I've shot a few already this Spring, mostly in self defense. But I didn't leave any lying around where she could get at them. I'm wondering if she found this bird dead in the yard.

As if to allay my fears, almost on queue, kitty walks up onto the patio and gently releases the bird. No sooner does the bird spill onto the concrete, than it leaps into the air and tries to fly away. Kitty will have none of it, and she jumps into the air and bats the bird to the ground again and lunges for it.

And I'm thinking - well that answers that question. She didn't find it dead. She obviously caught it, and it's not a baby either. It's a mature bird eminently capable of flight, and how she caught it I have no idea.

And as the cat struggles to regain control of her prey, my mind drifts back to the first time she ever went outdoors. It wasn't so long ago. Maybe it was in March, I think.

I'm certain that kitty had never been outside, because she would look outside through the windows, and her jaw would snap and pop when she watched the birds on the feeder. She's run like mad through the house and cry for no reason at all.

But when the door was open, she wanted none of it. Finally, I picked her up and carried her outside, across the threshold into the wild unknown, and sat with her on the front patio one sunny day.

The cat was terrified. Absolutely petrified. By instinct, she froze up. Rigid as a board.

When she did move, she moved in a jerky, abrupt fashion. Every sound sent adrenaline coursing through her little body. Gusts of wind. The call of a crow. The neighbor's minivan.

Predators look for motion, and prey moves in brief, discrete spasms to avoid ending up in the intestines of another animals. This is hard-wired into their brains over the eons.

Every sound to her was like a new siren that she'd never heard before and had no clue how to interpret. Wisely, she saw threats everywhere she looked, which means that she has good instincts. And she would draw up. Hunker down. And scan for threats.

That she was hiding behind me gave her some comfort, no doubt. But she obviously was way out of her element. Uncomfortable. Paralyzed with fear.

But that was a few months ago, and look at her now. Proudly displaying her first kill, proud as a peacock.

I'm happy that kitty finally caught a bird. Lord knows she's invested enough time stalking them. But I worry that she's losing her natural fear of the unknown. I don't know if kitty understands that she is not at the top of the food chain up here. There are mountain lions and foxes and coyotes up here.

Some cats make it up here. But some don't. Lots of cats get eaten. The nanny-state tree-huggers down the hill made us promise we wouldn't let kitty outside or we couldn't adopt her. So, I agreed to whatever I had to agree to so we could get the cat out the door, but it's our cat now. We take good care of her.

But the cat gets bored inside the house. She loves to be outside. Now that the snow has melted and the ground doesn't make her feet cold and wet, she loves to be outside, stalking the birdbath.

And when I see how happy she is outdoors, it occurs to me that the nanny-state tree-huggers don't care if she's happier outside. They just want her to live longer. Like so many people, they're focused on quantity of life, not quality of life. It's not the years in your life, I think - it's the life in your years.

So, even though I know there is some inherent risk in allowing the cat outside, I see that she's happier outdoors. And if she doesn't make it, then so be it.

She hasn't been declawed, and she has excellent coloration. Almost perfect camouflage - odd patches of black, brown, white, and gray. I've seen her running outdoors. Stretching her legs, bounding across the yard. The kind of exercise she could never get indoors. I've seen her sprint across the yard and climb a tree, so that makes me feel like she is capable of escaping from a threat, should something go after her. She clearly is working on her plan of escape. And that gives me some reassurance.

But now, the cat is toying with this live bird on the patio. One might think that the bird made a mistake or miscalculation by not killing the bird before releasing it. But I know better. I've seen the cat do the same thing with spiders and flies.

As the cat sees it, there are two ways to end the thrill of playing with her prey. Releasing it and killing it. Either one means that she can no longer toy with her victim. Each one is equally tragic. She didn't kill the bird because she didn't want to kill the bird. At least not right away. She wanted to release it and bat it around, but I think it surprised her when it flew away.

When she was sure that it had escape, unequivocally, she came to me and just cried and complained, as though somehow I were at fault for the bird's escape. As though, somehow, I could return the bird to her. I just laughed.

"It was your fault, cat. You should have killed it when you had the chance. Tough luck."

And kitty went off in the direction the bird flew, but I'm sure she never caught it again and I continued on with my tinkering.

By nightfall, I'd installed two cat doors in the house. One into the garage, and one leading from the garage to the outside. The doors have different settings, so that the cat can either come in, or out, or both, or neither. They're fairly tricky little cat doors, and I was glad that I'd finally gotten them installed so the cat could quit using her litter box and stop crying for me to let her our twenty-seven times a day.

And I got the doors put in but before I even had a chance to train the cat to use them, she bolted out the door into the darkness and disappeared.

I waited and waited for to return but she didn't. I shined the two million candle power spotlight into the woods to no avail. I whistled for her, and always she comes when I whistle but this time no. Not this time.

It's freezing outside and I'm standing outside in my sweats, whistling for the cat and she never comes and finally I give up and go and take a shower. I hate that she's out there in the dark. There are really too many predators up here and I know that she caught that one bird and it went straight to her head and now she thinks she's Marlin Perkins or something.

She's never seen a mountain lion or a fox or a coyote. Probably, by now, she's convinced herself that she's invincible and sits at the zenith of the food chain up here in the mountains and she's wrong. Way wrong.

I walk around the house in the freezing darkness, painting the woods with thick beams of light, and now the light finds the some glowing eyes. What animal do these eyes serve? The cat? A fox? I wave the light around, and now I see a sea of eyes. Lots of glowing red eyes, staring back at me. Animals still as statues. Nothing moves.

I've found a small herd of mule deer. Maybe 15 in all. Unmoving. Great plumes of steam escape from their nostrils. Betraying their fear. Deer, but no cat. No cat. Here kitty kitty kitty. The deer slowly wander off. Still no cat.
Damn that cat.

I think about the neighbor's cat. She disappeared and all they ever found of her was her hind-quarters.

I think about how sad Jennifer will be when I tell her I lost the cat. I think about how odd it is that, on the night that I finally installed cat doors, the cat runs off and gets devoured by some animal. I envision myself filling in the cat doors with a sheetrock patch kit from home depot, like we did in college when the parties got out of hand.

I pray that some dog doesn't drag up the cat's hindquarters onto our patio for Jennifer to find when she opens the door to let Allie in to watch cartoons. Not that. Not like that.

I'm angry at the cat for being so foolish... for underestimating the dangers of the dark mountain forests. She catches one bird and it goes straight to her head. Suddenly she thinks she's the great white hunter, when in reality, she's like a like a furry hors d'Ĺ“uvre, prancing through the treeline at night.

But after an hour or two, kitty comes up to the house, like it was all no big deal and but it's very cold and she's ready to come in now and I let the silly cat in the house and I see that this is all just a dry run for Jennifer.

If I'm this concerned about a cat, I can only imagine what in store for me when Jennifer begins to want to go outside and explore.

Posted by Rob Kiser on May 2, 2008 at 11:10 PM



Posted by: sl on May 3, 2008 at 6:18 PM

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