Friday, December 22, 2006

Whereupon I Express Affection for a Feline

It was long regarded in my household as a cold fact of nature that cats are evil. Witches' familiars, persnickety, untrustworthy even. Rather, we subscribed entirely to puppy love. Loyalty, love, protection, helpfulness -- a dog, even a dumb one, is rather like living with a Boy Scout.

My distaste for cats was the result of a lifetime of disappointing encounters, most particularly with my grandmother's huge calico, who seemed to go from contented purrer to vicious scratcher without so much as a tail twitch of warning. Dogs, on the other hand, I could read intuitively. Knew when to stay away, when to pet, when to play with them. If you misread one, it gave you a snap or a growl and then would usually just walk away. Ah, the beauty of canine communication.
Despite my lack of interest in them as pets, I always held the hunting abilities of cats in high esteem. Our local feral colony kept the rodent population low, or did so until our goody two-shoes neighbors started to trap and neuter them. Between their much reduced numbers and some mild winters, the rodent population began to soar about a year ago. We suffered as a result.

In August of 2005 I saw a mouse run across the kitchen floor. Not unusual, as we do live near the woods and typically in the early fall would catch a few and then be troubled no more. Not this time. We caught one, but then I saw another, during dinner, propping his front legs over the frying pan on the stove and looking up at me with a truly cute, mousey face as if to say "don't dime me out!" My elderly mother immediately suggested turning the gas up under him, but we demurred both because the critter was so adorable and because of the smell. I came to rue not listening to her. A few weeks later I got up in the middle of the night for a drink of water and found two mice cavorting near the stove top. The next day (after cleaning up the turds) we set out two guillotine traps, one on either side of the stove, using bacon, a favorite mouse treat, as bait. The next morning the bacon was gone, the traps unsprung, and mouse turds on the counter.

Matters progressed from bad to worse. We tried peanut butter bait, with the same result (bait gone, trap unsprung). We tried glue traps next to the spring traps and tied down the bacon. We found they had moved the glue traps out of the way, chewed through the string, stole the bacon and then crapped on the burners. This was getting serious. We tried poison, which they seemed to eat for a while, but mouse sign did not abate. When I found a mouse in the parakeet cage (much to the distress of the birds) at 3:00 AM, and watched my husband run around in his boxers with a hammer trying to kill the mouse, I decided professional intervention was necessary.

The exterminators came, plugged some holes, set out covered bait boxes and left more spring traps. From these guys I learned that one female mouse can have 35 babies in one year. With moveable skull plates and not much of a skeletal structure, they can squeeze through spaces .25 inches wide. In other words, an established colony can have hundreds of participants and they can get everywhere. The exterminators came once every two weeks to harvest corpses. They got 9 or 10 the first time, and less on subsequent visits. The pantry was still infested, and I watched a mouse literally run around the baseboards in order to avoid the 3 traps planted there. After a few months of dwindling returns, we gave up on the exterminators and went back to our own poison and trapping methods, hopeful that the colony had largely been defeated and only clean-up was necessary. Still, the turds appeared on the granite and furry visitors would show up in the kitchen, on the stovetop.

I explained to my husband that it was time for God's exterminator. He suggested a rat terrier. As we have an elderly Samoyed with serious arthritis, I refused, thinking it would be much harder on her. He wanted to see if a parrot loose in the house would do it. I refuse to have as a pet anything that lives 30 years. He suggested a black snake, a descented skunk, anything but a cat. After I investigated all other options and/or outright refused them, he at last agreed we could get a kitten.

Eventually, I found a suitable one at our vet's, which often nurses rescued feral kittens. A young male, your basic orange tabby, whoe settled immediately into my arms and my daughter's without so much as a blink. He came home with us and was introduced to the dog whom he appeared to love instantly. Our Sammy, for her part, was thrilled to have a little friend. She licked him from top to bottom his first day out of the carrier and promptly stuck her nose up his butt. He didn't seem to mind. By day 3, he was drinking from her water dish. By day 5, she'd let him have a snack out of her bowl, as long as it wasn't her food.

He proved to be unusually human-friendly too. Open with everyone, curling up in laps and around ankles, purring away. Play scratching and biting only, he suffers being held for long period of time, will gladly sit for having his nails cut, eats anything and was already litter-trained.

Most importantly: mouse sign diminished within 36 hours of his arrival. It disappeared after a few more days. We have an occassional sign, but we have, for the first time made some serious inroads, and he's only five months old. He stalks the stove regularly and undoubtedly has or will catch the stragglers.

As a result of all this, I now understand the whole Egyptian cat-worship thing. A real rodent infestation is as disgusting a thing as you can imagine, and to have an organic solution that is actually a credit to the household is simply marvelous. Today I took him to "Dr. Mouse" for neutering. I hope he doesn't view us too harshly as a result. But if he does, I'll give him a little extra mouse-stalking time. My husband, who so opposed a cat, frequently can be seen sneaking him a little milk, or holding him like a baby. We love our killer.

Merry Christmas, Copper, you are a fabulous gift.


catnapping said...

Cats have always been my favorite people. They aren't into group think, and they have such lovely feet.

rundeep said...

Thanks for stopping by, cn. They do have lovely feet. I never noticed before.

twiffer said...

cats are cool. don't get me wrong, i like dogs. far more fun to play with. dogs are sort of like kids though, whereas cats are more akin to roommates.

few things though, are more graceful than a cat. and i know of nothing more capable of acheiving pure, blissful comfort than a cat, curled.

topazz said...

As long as you don't start posting pictures of your cat, or include it in your family portraits for crissakes, we'll overlook this indiscretion and pretend like we don't know about it.

rundeep said...

Bad news topazz. That is a picture of my cat. I don't do family portraits anyway, except for the pictures of my daughter (with pets, true) we send out for Christmas.

Lecturis said...

There has never been a self-respecting barn without a "barn cat." When the sometimes unsanitary critters that often try to inhabit barns attempt to inhabit your house, then you select the appropriate tool for the job. Cats are efficient little predators.