I’ll admit that taking care of cats is a somewhat new thing for me. We didn’t have a cat when I was growing up, and I don’t recall any of my neighborhood friends having family cats either.
My parents weren’t big fans of cats and even relegated our "Heinz 57" dog, Bandit, to the backyard, because my dad was a Kentucky farm boy with 12 siblings and thought animals should work for their food. Bandit was my dog, and he didn’t have to work at all for the love and food I gave him. I think dad just tolerated Bandit being around because, thankfully, my mom was in my corner about having a dog — and she ruled the roost.
My junior high school sweetheart at the time, Kim, who is now my wife, had a beautiful purebred sealpoint Siamese named Little Bit. She was a nice enough cat, keeping to herself until she wanted food or catnip. All I knew was that she made me sneeze whenever I went over to visit. This was in the days before allergy tests and Claritin.
It wasn’t until years later when I began working with clients that I came to appreciate just how smart and brilliant cats are. Also, when I decided to take care of the many feral cats that frequent my home, I gained a lot of experience in just how set in their routines cats can be when it comes to being fed and where they sleep. I’ve sadly come to accept that their preferred sleeping location is usually on the roof of my freshly washed car in the garage, but the kitty pawprints up and down my windshield always make me smile.
The one thing I haven’t become accustomed to is their need to hunt small critters and leave the remnants (affectionately known as "presents") for me to discover. Sometimes they choose to devour the prize and then regurgitate the remains next to my garden shoes.
There is no doubt that I am a critter lover. We have fish, birds, a turtle, a rabbit, a dog, and, of course, many feral cats as part of our family. I provide many birdhouses for the bluebirds, chickadees, and finches that frequent my garden. There’s also a squirrel-proof (if there is such a thing) bird feeder for all the birds to enjoy. I put out sunflower seeds and cracked corn in the winter for the chipmunks and occasional garden mouse.
Of course, I know by feeding the outside critters, I’m creating easy pickings for my feral cats. However, they don’t see it as challenging enough and instead choose to hunt in the surrounding fields and woods. Besides, it’s much more fun for them to bring the critter back alive, play with it for a while, and finally, when they’re bored, finish it off.
If I am fortunate (or, should I say, if the critter is fortunate), I will catch the cats in the act of stalking and I can avert the otherwise inevitable outcome. One such occasion was when I caught Cole pawing at some of the stacked stone that borders the fence separating our backyard from our neighbor’s. As I moved closer to investigate, I got Cole’s attention for a brief moment, and he took his eye off the prize.
A small chipmunk darted out and attempted to climb a three-foot wall to escape. Why he didn’t just keep running, I will never know. Cole caught on and decided to continue his pursuit. Realizing that I was the only thing preventing Cole from catching the helpless chipmunk, I became relentless about not letting the chipmunk be caught.
Here I was, running interference in the cat vs. chipmunk game. My moves were quick, with legs and feet going in one direction and arms and hands in the other. I was playing better defense than Michael Jordan ever did with the Chicago Bulls. If they were handing out "Defensive Cat Player of the Year" honors, I would be at the top of the list.
This went on for several minutes — which seemed like hours based on how I was breathing. Finally, Cole sat down on the grass and looked at me, clearly thinking, "What in the world is this crazy man doing?" Of course, amidst all the action, the chipmunk had found an escape route.
On another occasion, we had a guest over to visit our house for the first time. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we had prepared the back screened-in porch, making sure the outdoor carpet and deck floor were swept and fluffing the pillows on the wicker furniture. All of our indoor furry, finned, feathered, and scaled family members were resting peacefully in the house. All the feral kitties were off exploring the surrounding neighborhood — or so we thought.
Our guest was a critter lover, too, so we naturally spent most of our time talking about our respective family animals.
We said our goodbyes and walked her to her car. As she approached, she noticed something lying in the driveway. She turned to me and smiled and said, "I think one of your kitties left me a welcome present." Sure enough, there was an eight-inch-long field rat lying dead in our driveway. UGH!
I’m getting much better at accepting this behavior. I am hopeful that maybe the cats will forego this activity altogether as they get older. But I’m not holding my breath. I’ll just try my best to feel honored that I have received another gift from one of my loving kitties — and then reach for the dustpan and broom to whisk it away to the nearest trashcan.
What “gifts” has your cat brought you, and how did you deal with them? Let us know in the comments!