The domestic cat as predator


RECENTLY there appeared in the newspaper a disturbing article that said cats are now more popular than dogs as household pets.

According to this article, there are at least 60 million cats in this country, a statistic that speaks volumes about the gullibility of the American people.

Several dubious reasons were advanced for the increasing popularity of cats.

Cats require less space than dogs. They are less expensive to feed. And they are relatively self-sufficient. Whereas a dog would go absolutely insane if left on his own for a couple of days, a cat can be left outside with food and water and be perfectly content to stalk school children or torture innocent squirrels until his owner's return.

What was alarming about the article, however, was the glaring amount of information left out.

Nowhere, for instance, was the uneven (some would say psychotic) personality of cats mentioned.

One minute a cat will be purring contentedly in your lap, the next minute he'll be lunging at your aorta with his claws while emitting a horrible screeching sound that, if translated into human language, would no doubt be the equivalent of: "DIE! DIE! DIE!"

The article also failed to mention anything about a cat's well-documented aloofness.

Unlike dogs, which are dull and amiable creatures who are always happy to see a visitor, a cat will just stare at you with his evil little cat eyes.

After a few minutes of this treatment, most people become highly agitated, sensing that the cat is merely waiting for them to fall asleep before launching a full-scale attack on both corneas.

Much of what I know about cats comes from observing the cat that has haunted my house for some time now.

The cat is a stray that appeared on our rear deck one day. I was doing some yard work when suddenly I heard the single most annoying sound on Earth, which is, of course, a cat meowing.

In addition to meowing, the cat was scratching the drainpipe, no doubt sharpening his claws for the next time the sliding glass door opened and he could have a go at slashing the drapes.

Even though a domestic cat could probably chase down a water buffalo and strip its carcass in a matter of seconds, this cat was apparently unused to fending for itself.

He appeared to be hungry. But instead of fending the beast off with a large tree branch and dialing 911, as any rational person would do, my wife borrowed a can of cat food from the neighbors and fed him.

This proved to be a huge mistake.

Because the next day the cat was back. And this time he might as well have been carrying a suitcase, as it was clear he planned to stay for a while.

Day after day, he sits perched on the rear deck, impassively eyeing all who pass by while communicating this unspoken message: "Bring me food, stupid."

Occasionally he slinks off into the woods behind our home and creates a furious racket in the bushes.

"What does he do back there?" my wife wondered.

"If there were a sheep ranch nearby, I'd say he was dragging a lamb off into the underbrush," I said. "I recommend you keep an eye on the children."

Did I mention I have always mistrusted cats? I should mention that. Although given the frightening events of the other day, it's mistrust well placed.

What happened was, I was cooking some hamburgers on the grill. The cat was in his usual perch on the railing, sizing me up for that moment when, shielded by the smoke swirling from the grill, he could get a clear shot at my throat.

Anyway, lost in thought over the burgers, I let down my guard.

I rested my hand on the railing.

And with that, the cat charged. In an instant, he had built up a full head of steam. (Like his cousin, the cheetah, this cat seems capable of speeds up to 70 mph.)

I managed to pull my hand out of harm's way at the last second, which sent the cat skidding by me like something out of a Road Runner cartoon. Reversing his field, he charged again, but by this time I was waving a spatula in the air and the cat knew better than to attack again, retiring instead to his perch.

My wife, who might as well head up the national cat lobby now, if there is such a thing, said the cat was only playing.

Right. Only playing. That's what I would have told the doctors as they sewed those 15 stitches in my forearm.

The cat was only playing.

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