Wednesday, August 03, 2016

CATS (Part 2)

“CATS” IS BACK on Broadway.

Previous posts about cats on this blog include:

6-24-16   “Patricia Nell Warren’s “Gentle Being”
5-18-16   “Steve Jobs and the Cat”  (not really about cats at all) 
12-15-15  “The Counterclockwise Cat”
10-10-15   “Cat Begats”
6-2-14       “Spring Shadows”
11-11-14    “Two Degrees above Zero and Sinking”
8-4-14       “Community Cats: A Tribe of its Own”

GrannieMamacat, Smudge, the Skeezix

What I want to look at now is quite different from the stories above, which were mostly descriptive and about domestic cats, both feral and actually domesticated — that is, affectionate and dependent.  Now I want to look at cats as a species in terms of today’s households, current agricultural practices, ecologies around the world, economics, emotional dynamics, children, and as much other stuff as I can think up.  But first I need to tie off the narratives.

Let’s review the story of Patches, the Granniemomcat.  She’s been surviving on this street for many years.  I’d catch a glimpse of her now and then and always talk to her.  I thought she belonged to Old Dave, who lived across the street.  When Old Dave died, another woman also saw the cat, now called Patches by me, go in and out his pet door and tried to catch it to find a new owner.  No luck.  “It’s a crazy cat,” she declared.

Another year or so after that, Patches came marching into the yard with a little following of half-grown kittens.  That story is the 9-4-14 post.  The kittens gradually disappeared, some to bad ends (the yard dogs across the alley kill cats) but possibly some slid into homes.  None allowed a person to touch them.

Smudge had her kittens in fall and since I reduced them to one, thinking that it would keep her from coming back into heat right away and ease her milk reduction process, she took that one under a big pile of windfall sticks in the back building.  But kittens are meant to be several-in-a-pile, who occupy a nest and warm each other.  This kitten barely survived and didn’t develop properly.  


I called her the Dust Bunny, as she was exceptionally fuzzy rather than furry, and a blue sort of gray.  Then, like other emotionally damaged teens, she fell madly in love with a stranger, the Weirdo/Hop/the Striped Terror/Finnegan — long-legged lover of heights.  At first he tolerated the Bunny.  He wasn’t much more than a kitten himself.  But as time went on, she was too clingy and he began to hide.  If he napped hidden under the comforter, the Bunny simply slept up against the lump he made.  If he were outside, she went through the house calling, and then went out to search, still calling.

Continuing the human-like story, which suggests something about how much the adventures of teen girls are functions of hormones rather than intelligence, the Bunny was soon pregnant and then deserted.  Finnegan disappeared over Homesteader Days, as suddenly as he had appeared in the first place.  Maybe he jumped into someone’s pickup.  Maybe he was ground under by the massive farm machines that line up in front of my house for the parade.  Bunny searched and searched and got fatter and fatter, until she could no longer jump to the high shelves where they used to hang out.  She will not cuddle with me: she is imprinted with Finnegan.


Because her snout is underdeveloped and small with a tiny tongue, I thought maybe her pelvis would prevent her from giving birth.  In the end she had four kittens in bed with me, just off the plastic and towels I had spread when she began the process.  I reduced the babies to two and installed them in a soft box in the dark closet, which meant that my laundry baskets had no home.  But Bunny moved those last two kittens down into the dirt space under the house and installed them between two floor joists near the place where the floor furnace hangs down.  These kittens will not be cold.  I can tell they’ve been nursing by checking Bunny’s nips, but I can’t see or hear them.  They will have trouble coming upstairs by themselves.

In the meantime another adventure was unfolding.  Granniemamacat had her kittens somewhere else — I suspected under the red house down the street, but I didn’t go looking.  She came to eat, then left.  Big thunderstorms have been coming through, and one was exceptionally powerful, both cold rain and slush.  The fields nearby were pounded flat.  

When it had passed, I heard what I thought was bird-calls.  Then it sounded like kittens.  I went out to see what was happening and it was clear that Grannymamacat had been nesting in the wild rose border against the house under my computer window.  They are thick and thorny cover, but no match for the storm.  She was against the foundation, soaked to the skin, and sort of stunned.  Soaked and shaking kittens were struggling in every direction, beeping like the warnings of backing-up trucks.  

It took me a while and a few stabbings to echolocate them and pitch them back on their mother.  Then I went for a lawn chair, a box with padding, and a section of plastic to make a tent over the chair.  When I got back to the nest, the mother had left, but I made my improvements (there were FIVE kittens) and went back inside.  What was I thinking?  This was my chance to do postnatal intervention, but their eyes were open and they were struggling to survive.

When I checked in a hour the kittens were gone.  I’ve been putting out kibble in the garage twice a day.  Next time I could hear the kittens and located them behind an old tin cupboard but didn’t interfere.  They’ve had their headquarters there ever since and now they come out to play and to eat.  Granniemamacat is nursing them in plain sight on the carpet.  She has claimed the garage and is not tolerating any other cats except Bunny, who is her granddaughter.


This is very nice.  The cat I called the Dark Calico Mamacat appeared in June with kittens and wanted to move them in.  She’s been eating here.  Now she’s not allowed.  In fact, she seems to have left with her half-grown kits.  Also the two main toms are kept out.  The Grannymamacat runs them both off, though they are formidable cats: the Bull Tomcat, stocky and short-legged, and a lovely sleek all-black Tom.  These two cats are pets.  They only come around at the bidding of hormones.  I could probably trap them, but at the risk of enraging owners.

These matters are not usually discussed.  Those who are former ranch wives are sympathetic to the pathos but consider it necessary.  Some old men who love birds are sorry to miss an opportunity to kill their enemies.  Those who are single laborers away from their families or just here because they have to be somewhere, don’t even notice.  Little kids hunt for kittens and catch them if they can.  After that, it’s mixed.

Printer cats

The “common wisdom” is that a kitten that isn’t handled by humans by the time it’s twelve weeks old will not be tameable.  What I’m seeing is that there is enormous variability.  Some of the Grannymamacat’s kittens will tolerate being picked up and cuddled; others will spit and struggle.  The old cat attacks me, making her "snakehead" (all fangs, no ears) and jump at me, spitting and slapping my legs with claws.  I can’t put a hand on her, but if I did I would draw it back shredded.

In the animal control days, we could catch fugitive animals (both cats and dogs) by putting the equivalent of “roofies” in the food.  That’s not possible now because of drug laws.  I heard about making chloroform, but it takes more skill and equipment than I have, including a box like the one we used to employ to kill skunks: a two compartment box, one airtight and dark space for the skunk, and one communicating through a screen with a lid for putting in cloth saturated with chloroform.  

It’s easier to catch a skunk than a feral cat, but the consequences of scaring a skunk are not good.  Anyway, killing skunks is only because of them carrying rabies and, curiously, everyone has become very blasé about rabies.  Rabid dogs go crazy and run around biting.  Rabid cats tend to go hide until they are dead.  It is a brain virus.  There is a vaccine.  I should read up on which parts of the brain and all that, assuming someone took the risk of studying it.


Much has changed over the years.  No longer do people have cows so they can squirt milk in cats’ mouths.  No longer do they cook at home, and packaging doesn't allow for scraps.  Fishermen clean their catch at a provided sink/bench by the lake. I’m shocked when I see how much chemical fallow is used.  It’s bound to have consequences, one of which is eliminating the vegetation where rodents and ground birds used to live.  When driving cross-country, there always used to be cats in barrow pits or crouching on porches.  No more.  No longer are there crushed ground squirrels on the highways to attract hawks.

A rural small town is no longer friendly to unwanted cats.  Cats are among the most resourceful of animals, but even their rural habitat is contracting.  In Portland this time of year we used to take in hundreds of unwanted cats every day, but there are more niches for cats in cities.


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