Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Living with a Savage

A few months ago, someone told me he thought he had observed that the stupidest cats were the best hunters. Or maybe it was that the best hunters were the stupidest cats. I suppose it doesn't make much difference which way around it is formulated if it is "stupidest if and only if best hunter," but I've been hoping that my cat could be a good hunter and not stupid. He has been making it very hard for me to sustain that hope.

I'm not really qualified to rate my cat on hunting skills, but I think he is pretty good. I haven't kept cats for the past twenty years until the past three years, which limits my experience. I don't know what a "normal", a below-average hunter, or a good hunter is to be expected to catch around here. There are plenty of gardens, vegetable gardens, and the railroad tracks, with lots of overgrown weedy slopes are not far, so there should be a fair amount of game. I give him extra points for catching moles, since I understand they are quite hard to catch; he has killed at least five six, including a pretty big one (photos available on request). I deduct some points for letting a mouse live inside the stove for a few days, stealing cat kibble to eat (and requiring me to spend hours dismantling the stove to clean and get rid of the smell). Friends and acquaintances tell me about the huge rats and rabbits and things their cats kill. I've found a few (not very big) dead rats in the yard, and suppose he killed them, although other cats from the vicinity do come through our yard; I've even seen one cat crouched behind him watching him hunt.

He has another "performance" I find harder to rate: he captures prey and brings it in alive. Questions of skill aside, this can be a good thing. At least a couple of sparrows and lizards he's brought me have managed to hide under low furniture until he lost interest, and then I've gotten them out of the house alive. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure the mouse in the stove was one he dropped in the hallway and then "lost". I've been awakened at least twice to find him playing with a live mouse on my bed; one he killed, one he "lost." Yesterday he brought me one, dropped it at my feet as I sat at the computer, and rubbed my legs and purred with pride and contentment as it scampered squeeking under the couch and through a crack in the floor. Then looked to me for help, saw that it was gone out of reach, and headed back outside to find a new one! I shut him in the room for a couple of hours to watch for it, but it is still missing.

I'm very nice to him when he brings me something dead; I'm not so nice when he brings me live mice. And yet he recidivates. My conditioning isn't strong enough? Maybe he is stupid enough to be a great hunter.

The problem remains, if he can't learn to always kill mice, or at least to leave live prey outdoors, if he just never "gets" that I don't want to play with the mice he is kind enough to bring me, what can I do to defend my indoors? The options seem to be pretty limited:
  • keep him indoors. This seems to me too extreme a change in his circumstances. He'd drive me crazy making a fuss to be let out, and he'd bolt whenever someone opened a door or window.
  • lock the cat door, and control his egress and ingress. In other words, personally open the door or window for him whenever he needs (or wants) to go out or come in. I suppose that this is the "traditional" protocol, the way it was before cat doors were invented. After a period (how long) of not reacting to the fuss he'd make at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., this could be viable. It would also prevent other cats from coming in to feed during the night (we don't have one of those fancy RFID-controlled doors--yet). But it would also mean he stays locked in whenever I'm away, be it for a few hours, or a day or two. To consider.
  • set the cat door to "exit only", control his entry (to see what is in his jaws). This would avoid the "let me out before dawn" fuss, and also the other cats coming in. But he would be locked out whenever I'm unavailable, even if he just wanted to go out for a few minutes, and wouldn't do when I'm away for more than a few hours.
  • put a muzzle on him (and tell him he's a pit bull?). Probably a really bad idea. It would indeed hamper his hunting (no fangs, just claws) and prevent him from bringing any prey, dead or alive, indoors. But he might get bitten by rodents if he continued to hunt with claws alone, become the victim of bully cats (around here, even the neutered ones get in fights), get caught on branches. Plus I'd spend a lot of time putting it on and taking it off so he could eat, drink, lick himself, and so on.
  • learn to kill anything he brings in live, myself. Ewww, yuck!
  • have him treated by a cat psychotherapist. This seems like the most modern and enlightened solution. But is there a cat psychotherapist available nearby? How much would it cost? Can he be "cured"? Is it worth it just to avoid an occasional mouse in the house?
Ideas, anyone?

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