As much as I love you (more than any pet I’ve ever had), and am thrilled by your affection and antics, and how you’ve grown over the years to be such an integral family member, sharing dinner, car travel, my lap, bird watching … which brings me to the point of this letter. While enjoying a reconnoitre around the yard last week, something caught my eye.
You probably know of what I speak. Yes, a pile, and I mean pile, of small feathers, which set off the alarm in my brain. I immediately thought of you. As I examined this crime scene, I was shocked to find nothing left but a small head, two wings and a clump of intact but mutilated tail feathers.
Amazingly, in spite of the litter of feathers, I identified it as a dove (are they really as slow-witted as they seem?) and began wondering if in fact it could have met its demise via some other marauder. I thought of the feline wanderers we see: the fluffy tan bruiser (just the other night you corralled him on the back porch) or Whitey (who hasn’t been seen for awhile), or some unknown interloper? I tried to retrace in my mind your in/out activity that day but it offered no alibi.
As much as I admire your incredible reflexes, honed partially under my tutelage with strings, old neckties, rolled paper (and sometimes my not-fast-enough fingers), it is a feeling of grief that accompanies my discovery of these crime scenes over the years. Last winter I found a frozen cardinal head in a melting snow bank – that was the worst, a dreadful loss to birddom.
Of course, if confronted I’m sure you would put on your implacable poker face and stare through me as if I were an oaf who still doesn’t understand the dark side of catness.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I know this aggression is justified, like the time two summers ago when I saw you watching the goldfinches at the feeder. That is what I had hoped you could limit your birding to – just watching, like me.
That day, however, I saw a goldfinch rather cavalierly buzz you in what may have been a warning. It was quite amusing. But what happened next took my breath away. The goldfinch returned from the opposite direction as if to buzz/taunt/warn you again, but in one liquid motion you grabbed him out of midair. Quite impressive. And even though it was a magnificent goldfinch, I had a modicum of sympathy for you as I ran out and tried to save the doomed fighter pilot. Too late. He lay limp and lifeless in my hand. I looked at you forlornly, and you seemed to be grinning.
When I think of the things you might say in your defence, I’m sure that instinct comes up first. You are hardwired to hunt birds and drive off other cats from your territory. You may even think you are acting on behalf of your “family.” Touching. I know you will say there are too many birds and that they far outnumber cats, or perhaps that they have been put there for your amusement. I know that I shun you after you kill a bird but we always seem to recover – or I always seem to recover and carry on where we left off. I trust that you need no recovery time and perhaps my aloofness puzzles you.
Now with mice it is different. As sad as it is to see their little bodies littering the porch or lying around the yard in plain view, presumably for us to applaud, these are pests, and we do quietly applaud your great reflexes and hunting instincts. However, on the occasions when we’ve seen you catch one, torment it, flip it in the air, lose interest until it shows signs of life and then torment it again until it succumbs, we’ve been disgusted.
I don’t really expect you to change after seeing how committed you are to what must be your instinct-driven catness, so why am I writing this letter? I guess it is for me rather than you. It is one of the principles of life that everything must have its dark side. And there are good qualities to your catness: playfulness, measured affection (we have to qualify for it), devotion, constancy.
For more than 13 years you have always returned home, even after driving us crazy with worry over where you might be: sleeping in a neighbor’s garage or, worst of all, flattened in a nearby street. We are always thrilled to see you on the back porch, beating your trademark tattoo on the glass with your hind foot. This may be how I remember you.
So, my special buddy, I guess I will have to adapt to your catness as you seem to have so well adapted to my humanness … and humaneness I might add, as I am fond of reminding you how we rescued you from that tree in the summer of 1995, when you were starving, flea-infested, crying and sopping wet.
I am reminded of a New Yorker cartoon years ago of a cat eating from its bowl, the “master” bending over him looking a bit frazzled. The caption read: “I think the words you are searching for are thank you.”
So I say to you as a representative of all cats like you: You are welcome, in the truest sense of those words. But is bird watching completely out of the question?
Dennis Niedbala lives in Windsor, Ont.