Saturday, August 13, 2016


Animals are produced by habitat.  I don’t mean that mice are created by dirty old rags in the corner as once was thought, but that rags are such a nice little cuddle-down for mice that they slip in and use it, leaving their mouseberries and nibbling the cloth into bedding.  One way to get rid of mice, is to get rid of their habitat.

Last night at the town council meeting, the mayor’s wife expressed disapproval of her neighbor who feeds “feral” cats, creating a habitat for them.  (Cats, chickens and dust are the markers of degeneration to certain housekeepers.)  But it’s an interesting question to ask what habitat that Valier-dwelling cat-feeder is attracted to and why feeding cats is part of her life.  Is it comforting her somehow?  Is she remembering ranch life?  Does she miss children?  Does she simply enjoy watching them?

At the moment there is an adult cat in my house: Bunny.  She had four kittens, I edited it to two, she figured that out and since the trapdoor to the crawl space was open, moved the other two down between the floor joists where I had no way to get to them.  They emerged only a few days ago: one a little tuxedo-wearing fellow and the other the image of Bunny, gray with gold smudges.  They’re doing pretty well, considering that they were raised in the dark, which means they do a lot of staring.

In the garage is the GrannyMamaCat, a white-based cat with calico patches, thus called “Patches.”  She’s been feral along this street for years and I’ve told the story of her descendants.  Since I also “edit” her kittens, she gives birth in some secret place away from here (five this time) and then was raising them undetected in the rosebush border until a storm drenched and chilled them.  Then she moved them into the garage, which is good because she is so fierce that she keeps all other cats out.

I confess that I feed these two sets of cats, but I actively run others off the premises.  Ancient Caspar, who lives across the street, comes tottering over on hot days to sleep in the “cat jungle.”  That’s real habitat, a tangle of tall growth of honeysuckle, suckers from the dead plum tree, grass, and cottonwood self-planting.  This cottonwood and the poplars want this yard to be a forest.  They attack my house as an intruder.  I had intended to cut the jungle down to the ground this summer.

Two tomcats show up seasonally:  the “bull” tomcat who is stocky, white with black ears and tail, and an all black cat.  Both appear to be owned.  The “dark” calico and her kittens (now half-grown) are not welcome but occupy (off and on) the back workshop/shed.  My goal for this summer was to empty and harden that structure, but my neighbors have occupied so much space that I haven’t felt comfortable even being in the yard.  

I’m conflicted about that workshop because it was trucked down from Swift Dam, the 1965 rebuild.  I also have the watchman’s shack.  They’re not really historic — maybe just nostalgic, possibly only this side of debris.  They were since occupied by a ceramic kiln workshop and a gunsmith workbench.  There are no foundations.  The floors are plywood.  The roofs — minimal from the beginning — leak and some of it has fallen through.  

At one time it was a bat roost, but Squibbie killed them all.  I stash junk there, which is handy but creates excellent cat habitat.  I find evidence of people smoking or huffing — I assume kids.  It would be interesting to see whether I could sell the building either in situ or to be moved.

Neighbors are an important part of habitat.  I am not a good neighbor.  All I do is sit and write all day.  I do NOT chitchat, which is very bad form here.  On the other hand, I don’t keep a barking dog and I haven’t put up a high bad-neighbor fence, which was one of my original neighbor’s fears.  

This post is NOT about how to get rid of feral cats.  It is about how to get rid of the habitat of feral cats, which includes people who like and feed them.  One dynamic is that aging people who can’t afford maintenance will let disintegration create access to shelter, however minimal.  Cats are good burrowers, as good as foxes.  Another is human lonesomeness and powerlessness: one can at least be useful to stray cats.   But people who don’t like cats, esp. in numbers, will easily transfer their resentment to the person who feeds cats — who then feels persecuted, unjustly stigmatized — which gives rise to resentment and even stronger identification with the cats.  

Often the person who objects to cats is the more recent occupant while the (possibly elderly) neighbor has been there a long time, so that the feeling of being invaded collides with the expectations of the newcomer.  A newer dynamic is a young woman with a baby but no husband, who is herself dependent on charity.

It is a recurrent problem that much of the thought about such problems as cats (and a lot of others involving animals) is done by urban apartment dwellers with a minimum of owned and constantly vet-monitored cats.  Some of the philosophers of the feline are so abstract that they are hardly intelligible.  Abused or simply damaged cats and esp. cute kittens saved from fires or crashed cars, are great money-raising issues for the major humane societies.  “Send five dollars or I’ll let this kitten die.”  

People in rural environments can only wish they had five dollars for every dead kitten they’ve seen.  After a harsh winter I’ve found a “flat cat” (kitten-sized) — little more than fluff and few bones — in my back shed.  When I pulled all the bedding out of the dog house I put out there to add a little shelter, the husk of a kitten was under it all, hollowed by insects.  Several have been killed by the fenced dogs across the alley — the kittens were trespassing.  Mostly, kittens have an impulse to leave when they approach adulthood, and they do.  The town owl occasionally swipes one.  They say the coyotes that occasionally trot down the night streets will nail cats, but no bears care anything about cats.

Habitat is a complex of society, objects, satellite animals, interstitial insects and rodents, and things like weather or economics.  Habitat is a holon, wheels within wheels that add up to grinding down or lifting up, making space or blocking out.  Unless one considers the whole process, complex as that might be, the individual examples just keep coming back, whether they are unruly kids, old ladies who feed cats, or buildings that are falling down. 

Some of us moved here thinking this was a tolerant, low-cost, semi-rural village where we could live quietly.  In the last decade we’ve been joined by people who want a kind of suburbia without any obligation to serve the town infrastructure of volunteers or to pay for services.  They're often arrogant and demanding in a way that people out West are not. 

Coming next in the campaign is to get rid of abandoned cars, defined as cars that don’t run.  Good luck with that.  It’s sort of the older male version of feeding cats.

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