I Feed My Feral Cat Gophers


It was just after midnight and I was drifting off to sleep. "There! What was that noise? Damn cats, what are they doing now?" I muttered in my head as I jerked awake. Hauling myself erect and grabbing a robe, I stumbled out of the darkened bedroom. Turning on glaring lights, I headed in the direction of the living room.

I found three of my rescue cats huddled in a clowder staring intently at a couch in the corner. Not knowing what I would find, I approached the piece of furniture and gingerly looked over the back.

Sucking in a startled breath, I shrieked. There was my Manx, Tweety, face-to-face with a live gopher!

How could this thing be in my house? My cats are indoors-only, or outside under strict supervision, although never at night. They do have 24/7 access to an enclosed patio through a cat door in my bedroom, though. Rewinding my brain, I replayed the sounds leading up to my awakening.

There … a rattle of something against the kennel fencing of the cattery … silence … weird noises coming from the living room …

Aha! Tweety must have snagged the rodent as it came to eat the fallen birdseed under the feeder outside the fence. SHE MUST HAVE CARRIED IT THROUGH MY BEDROOM! ACK!

Grateful that the cat was savvy enough not to put down her prey in a place that had as many small hiding places in it as my boudoir did, I paused a moment to collect my thoughts and come up with a plan to deal with nature’s little gift, which was now staring death in the face.

The moment was over quickly, as Tweety pounced and the gopher ran under the couch around my feet and across the room. I was only dimly conscious of the fact that I was screaming, "Get it! Get it!" to the full assemblage of felines in the room.

Only Tweety was in active pursuit, so I gathered it was her snag. M.I.C.E. (Mousers’ Immutable Code of Ethics), by which the others were bound, must clearly state, "To the catcher goes the caught," so they could not join in the chase.

M.I.C.E. did not apply to my Scottish Terrier, however, and Maggie knew exactly what, "Get it! Get it!" meant. She came blasting out of her kennel in the bedroom and immediately took charge of the situation.

Squaring off with the gopher in the middle of the room, my brave (have you seen the teeth on those things?) dog danced around the prey, trying to get a clear shot at a neck bite.

It was over quickly, much to the four feline onlookers’ disappointment. To their further dismay, I gingerly picked the dead gopher up by its tail and headed out of the room.

I had a disposal plan …

At the time of this midnight caper, I was fostering a feral mom and her litter of five kittens in my garage. A couple of weeks earlier I had presented a still-warm-from-the-trap gopher to Momma as an experiment. I was hoping that I would earn a lot of points with her and she might forgive me just a little bit for keeping her locked up in a cage, even though it measures six feet by 30 inches by 24 inches.

Maggie had again played an integral part in the capture and subsequent demise of that gopher, as she had alerted me to its presence in the garden and indicated optimum trap placement. When I pulled the trap out a short time later, in front of a neighbor’s gardener who was over borrowing a shovel, there was a still very much alive rodent caught on the tines. As the gardener shrank back (in fear? disgust? awe?), I whacked the gopher with the shovel several times. "It’s still alive!" I moaned.

"Not for long," said the gardener, still shrinking away from me and the shovel.

I cannot fathom what my neighbors must think of me, as this was not the first time I had played out this scenario, although I usually shouted, "Die! Would you just die?!" as I bludgeoned the gophers to death.

Lest you get the wrong idea about me, I don’t enjoy these slayings. Even though gophers have taken out any number of valuable plants and dug so many tunnels in my backyard the ground is actually collapsing. I respect the sanctity of life and would prefer that they migrate back under the fence to the empty lot. I also fear for my fingers and have no safe way of releasing a live gopher from a trap. Even Maggie has been nipped more than once, trying to do the job for me. I ask again, have you seen the teeth on those things?

That was the first gopher I presented to the feral momma and kittens. I hated the thought of its death being wasted, were I to toss it in the trash. It was also the first time I had ever offered fresh kill to any foster. I was very curious to see what would happen.

The kittens were four weeks old at the time, and were not all that interested in the yummy canned food I presented four times a day. Even momma couldn’t get more than two of them to taste it, and it was time for the weaning process to begin. I deposited my offering of fresh gopher in the cage and stood back to watch. Momma’s nose started working double time. She didn’t move but her eyes fixated on my present.

I went into the house to get my camera and returned to the garage a few minutes later. The gopher was nowhere in sight, and momma was in the kitty carrier bed box, presumably with it. I left again to give her some privacy, and because I couldn’t see anything, anyway. Half an hour later, I found momma outside the box and three of the kittens gnawing away at the gutted gopher as if they had always eaten rodent. Score one for Marci!

If only the cat food companies could package gopher and mice, to be served warm of course, I don’t think there would be any more talk of finicky eaters. I would gladly open my backyard to their vermin hunters.

That was the first gopher. Now I had an equally fresh one to offer up, compliments of Tweety and Maggie. This time I didn’t hang around to take pictures. My warm bed was calling.

In the morning there was nothing left of the gopher except its snout, including those teeth. Cats are so tidy.

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