by Chris Bodenner
A reader writes:
A bell on a cat will scare away the birds? Not. I grew up with a castrated and de-clawed basic gray cat who wore a collar with a jingly-jangly bell, and he still killed a seagull. A smallish, year-old seagull, but a seagull none the less. I'm not sure the cat weighed as much as the seagull. We watched with anticipation of something absolutely hysterical happening as he stalked the bird, and to all our horror, he killed it in about three seconds.
Another tops that:
Despite being deaf, declawed, and wearing a bell, our cat still killed mice, rabbits, and probably birds; we don't know how many. After being affronted that my dad "wasted" a good baby rabbit by burying it in the back yard, she gave up on bringing us her kills and at some point learned to eat them herself from a feral cat that spent a summer in the neighborhood. She also figured out that drinking from a guppy bowl would entice the poor dumb things to come check out her tongue. Mom caught her at it one day after wondering where the guppies disappeared to.
I’ve been reading the posts on cats’ killing instincts with bewilderment. That’s because I regard my cat as a working animal whom I expect to go outside and kill all sorts of vermin.
I live in the country in an early 19th century farm-house w ith a rubble foundation that allows mice and other critters to easily invade my house. I’m also a gardener, so I view rabbits, chipmunks and such not as cute little critters but damaging nuisances. Thus, I love it when I open the door in the morning to find my cat’s, "gifts" to me of dead mice, moles, voles or other creatures that regularly invade my house, tear up my gardens or ravage my vegetable plot. To me, that’s the whole point of owning a cat, and why I typically adopt "barn cats," that have been shown how to hunt by their mothers.
After all, the very reason why cats were domesticated in the first place was due to their propensity to kill. Cats kept the vermin in check that otherwise ransacked food supplies and carried nasty things like the plague. Even now, by killing vermin my cat helps to keep in check the mice that carry Lyme in my area.
Having grown up in the Texas hill country, with wildlife all around, my parents kept several cats around the house. Now, my dad really didn't like cats, but soon after we moved into our house he realized that, one, we had a mouse problem, and two, there were a lot of rattlesnakes around. With two small children in the house, he decided the best way to deal with these problems was to keep some cats, and he promptly went to the animal shelter and picked up a couple kittens.
And the strategy worked marvelously. After the first few months, the mice disappeared completely. And over the years of my youth the cats killed at least four rattlers, one of which was caught and killed right in front of me in our large garden, seconds before I was headed in there to pick tomatoes and cucumbers.
Of course cats are killers. That this is so surprising to people indicates to me that some city folk need to get out more.
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My cat's retired now – if he's killing, he's not bringing them home often anymore. But he used to bring home kills, and artistically gut them, laid on their backs, belly splayed-out, guts neatly placed to the side. Sometimes he'd leave just hands, feet, and tail. One time, a rabbit-head. One time, on the welcome-mat, square with the edges, he lined up, all neat and parallel: a lizard, a hummingbird, a fish, and a rat. All in one night. (The fish was the neighbor's koi – he's brought us at least 3 … I think they just gave up restocking.) He's tried to train our younger cat, but she can't even succeed with moths. She tries so hard, bless her heart.
(Photo from the site What Jeff Killed)