Stumbling into the kitchen one morning I found my Manx, Tweety, hunched down and peering intently beneath the stove. It was early, I was in need of coffee, and I was barefoot.
As I watched Tweety occasionally sniffing the crack, I immediately thought of The Creature Under the Fridge, a chapter in fellow Cat Writers’ Association member Dena Harris’ book Lessons in Stalking.
Well, actually, I immediately thought of the tiny furry creature who surely must be under my large, unmovable kitchen appliance. Of course it could have been a favorite toy that Tweety had just lost and was hoping I’d retrieve for her, but I had my doubts. The frequent sniffing, tense body, and dilated eyes were telltale clues.
My sleepy morning shuffle to the kitchen always includes a cursory check of the floor along the way as I carefully look for hairballs, hopefully left on wood or tile rather than carpet. Stepping on one of those nasty things results in loud swearing and hopping to the nearest bathroom on one foot. This is followed by an immediate foot washing and spot-scrubbing of the floor. By then, the whole morning schedule has been thrown off and the cats are loudly telling me that breakfast is LATE.
Occasionally, instead of a hairball, I find incriminating evidence of “playthings of another kind” left around the house by some mighty nighttime huntress. Truth be told, I’d much rather find a hairball or skid marks than bits of fur.
Although my cats are indoors only, they do have 24/7 access (unless it storms) to the large catio I built for them. The hunters amongst them manage to hone their superb stalking skills by snatching unsuspecting critters that unfortunately wander too close or come within the fencing. These have included several mice and two live gophers released by the cats inside in the middle of the night and a couple of lizards and a few birds during the day. The lucky ones are still alive when I find them, and they are taken back outside for release whenever possible.
Tweety, Nemo, and Barney were born feral, perhaps causing them to be better hunters than my one shelter cat, Spencer “The Nebbish.” He seems to have no interest or skill in catching his dinner, preferring to watch the others or wait for the sound of clinking dishes in the kitchen that announces mealtime. The only “kill” he’s first in line for is evening treats, which he grabs greedily out of my hand. I have the snagged fingers to prove it.
But back to THIS hunt, with Tweety staring under the stove.
Since I did not know what Tweety had brought inside to “play” with this time, I was rather nervous about getting too close with my bare feet, since whatever surely hid beneath the stove was obviously still very much alive. I grabbed a flashlight and a long wooden dowel and gingerly knelt down for a look.
Tweety became very excited when I picked up the “long stick.” She knew what that meant, because I use the dowel to retrieve lost toys from under the piano and couches. On those occasions, at least one cat is at my side to claim first dibs on whatever is pulled forth.
I kneeled in front of the stove; no beady eyes shown back at me as I aimed the flashlight into the crack. I did, however, see a plethora of toys plus two pens mixed into the billowing clouds of cat hair.
I really should vacuum more thoroughly, but with four cats — three of them long-haired — and a dog in the house, it’s a losing battle. God help the person allergic to felines should they cross my threshold. I have a (sort of) warning sign posted at my front door. In fact, I have several cat-related signs in my front yard, along with a bed box and feeding dishes on the porch, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that there might be cats inside.
Now on my hands and knees, I scooped the mess out from beneath the stove, peering under with the flashlight after each pass with the stick. Tweety kept excitedly pushing me out of the way every time the dowel dragged something forth. I literally felt like a pawn in the deadly game of cat and mouse. I had mixed feelings about whether or not I should be trying to dislodge the poor frightened creature surely tucked into some deep dark corner.
After several unsuccessful attempts, I gave up and went about making coffee and filling feeding dishes for the furry ones milling about my feet. Normally the cats love their breakfast, but this morning they were more interested in whatever had taken refuge under the stove. Tweety and Nemo abandoned their plates after two sniffs and a lick, running back to continue peering and sniffing at the crack. Barney and Spencer also left their meals and took up places to watch from a few feet away.
Maggie, my Scottish Terrier, quickly gobbled up their breakfasts while the cats were otherwise occupied and my back was turned. Shoot, now she was going to get the runs!
For two days, the cats took watch-and-sniff shifts by the stove, even napping on the kitchen rug rather than in one of the many cozy beds scattered throughout the house. I didn’t enter the room barefoot during that time. Just the thought of tiny feet scurrying over my toes makes me shutter.
During those long days of waiting, I frequently and unsuccessfully tried flashlight- and dowel-probing in an attempt to flush whatever it was out into the open — even if that meant into the claws of the waiting cat constantly in attendance. I mean, really, the poor thing must have been getting hungry and thirsty, and I didn’t want it dying under my stove where I couldn’t get at it.
The odor of something decomposing does not belong in a kitchen, and who knew how long the smell would last. Can you imagine a dinner guest arriving and walking into a kitchen smelling of dead mouse?
On day three of Tweety’s great adventure, it was finally over. I awoke to find a very large mouse (small rat?) floating in the kitchen water bowl and four hungry felines demanding breakfast loudly. Seriously? You didn’t eat it and NOW you want canned food?
So, the moral of this story is, trust your cat’s instincts when you see her crouching, peering, and hanging around a particular spot for days. Your kitty always knows.
Have your cats ever cornered an animal in your house? Let us know in the comments!
All photos taken by the author.
Read more by Marci Kladnik:
About the author: Marci Kladnik, her four rescue cats, and one rescue dog live in a small town with no stoplights or mail delivery. A retired graphic designer and technical writer, she turned her talents to championing feral cats in 2007. Involved in TNR and feral rescue, she sat on the board of directors of Catalyst for Cats from 2007-2013 while trapping and fostering local feral cats and kittens. Her award-winning biweekly cat column ran for seven years in three newspapers. She is an award-winning photographer, and president of the Cat Writers’ Association. Past columns appear on www.catalystforcats.org.