Practical Cats

We used to have two lovely cats, we scored them at Pets Unlimited back in 1993. Like the Eygptians, who first domesticated the feline 5,000 years ago, we had rodent issues: we co-resided our warehouse on Harrison St with a host of ridiculously bold mice. First we went to the SPCA and chose a nice short-haired kitten but we were identified from our hastily filled- out adoption forms as unsuitable caretakers. We were called into a small undecorated room where we sat one side of a table whilst an animal welfare expert explained why we were unfit to adopt a cat. The worker went straight to our stated reason for adoption: ‘pet & mouse-catcher’ I had honestly scrawled, she shook her head and looked at us with a mixture of disbelief and horror.

“We don’t adopt cats if they are going to be worked, we are very strict about that, we only let them go to loving homes.” I tried to explain that  we were going to love the cat and that there just happened to be mice at our place that I considered a cat would love to catch. The operative would not budge, she had identified us as cat-exploiters, and I suspected that in her zeal we would be put on the SPCA blacklist.

So onto Pets Unlimited, we had our story straight for this attempt at adoption; we were careful to make no mention of mice or any expectations of feline usefulness, we were just interested in fur to love. We’d only planned on getting one cat but when we saw a black and white boy and a tabby girl together and read their rather poignant sign, “Samy and Nigel would like to stay together,”  we empathized. The Pets Unlim worker had a way different vibe than the SPCA woman, he was so delighted that we’d take the two mogs together he gave us a two for one deal and didn’t even ask if we planned on making them work for their kibbles.

The mere presence of Samy and Nigel caused an immediate mass exodus of the genus rodentus from our apartment, a few days after the cats moved in I discovered a nest of dead baby mice in a bag of rye flour, Mama, I surmised, hadn’t been able to make it back.

Samy and Nigel accompanied us on our next seventeen years: they moved with us to the rat-infested wilds of West Marin, back to Sausalito and then here to Mount Davidson where they both now rest under the apple tree, enriching the back garden soil.  Samy died first: she stayed away one night and came back a day later looking pretty wretched, I made her a bed in the basement and she declined over the next couple of days, unable to drink or eat, I found her dead on the back stairs after the boys and I came home from supper at a neighbor’s house. I remember it was a full moon and I wrapped her up in an old blue baby blanket. One front leg was outstretched and impossible to reposition.  I knew the boys would want to see her so I arranged the blanket shawl-like and cradled her in my arms,

“She is smiling and waving goodbye!” said my littlest guy, and sure enough Samy’s slightly open mouth was not downturned and that rigor mortised leg was pretty gestural.

We’d always thought plump, neutered Samy was the dummy of the pair but after her demise we realized that she was the huntress. Nigel, always a bit of a misery, went into a decline, pissing indiscriminately and dozily watching mice eating his dry food from his vantage point in an African basket where he’d taken up residence. His kidneys were failing but as I had no spare cash for a euthanizing trip to a vet and couldn’t take up my Irish friend’s offer to kill him with a brick (like they used to on the farm) It was a long smelly death.

Unlike most cats, Nigel did not want to die alone, he spent a week on a pillow in an old laundry basket in the kitchen, mewling intermittently and didn’t seem happy to leave. Finally, I turned down the lights, lit candles, burned incense and chanted until he mewled his last.

Out of respect for the dead we didn’t want to replace these family members immediately and after the protracted unpleasantness of Nigel’s passing we were all happy to be a dog-only household for a while.

The incursionist  mice are barely held back by the ultra-sonic devices and they are scornful of any peanut butter bearing death device. I know not to say “mouser” at the shelter but now I have other ethical issues to work through: firstly, I don’t agree with micro-chipping. Not for cats or dogs, its just too Orwellian for me. I know many chipped critters and ostensibly they seem fine, but this is not a development that I want to endorse. I think a collar with a name and a phone number is sufficient identification for a house pet. My friends, particularly my cat lady pals, don’t understand my fears around the implants, but basically I imagine that humans will be next. Tracking devices for your children, tracking devices for felons and paedophiles, tracking devices for spouses?  Also this Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is relatively new and the studies on mice and rats have proved that the chips can stimulate tumors in surrounding tissue ( McGrath Jane, ‘How Pet Microchipping Works’ 2009)

I have spoken to all the major shelters in our area and have yet to find a shelter which doesn’t chip, in fact it’s the law for dogs in Oaktown!  The guy I spoke to on the phone at Pets Unlim last week was very surprised to hear my aversion to the chip, I felt like the last hippy in San Francisco when he said, “Nobody has ever asked me for an un-chipped cat, everybody loves the extra protection!” He wasn’t mean though, just incredulous, he emailed me a list of other shelters for me to try in search of a chip-less pet. No luck yet.

My online research has enlightened me to a lot of other relevant stuff about cats that is largely disquieting.

Take for example, the horrific statistics about the decimation of bird populations by felines. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that 150 million free-ranging cats (domesticated outdoor cats & feral) kill around 500 million birds a year.

An article in Aubudon Magazine by Ted Williams almost had me in tears at the hopelessness of controlling feral communities: the Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) policy which maintains that feral communities can monitored and maintained is actually leading to “hyperpredation” where  well-fed feral kitties are hunting  already depressed mammal, bird and amphibian populations which is leading quickly to extinction of  various species. The cat lobby has so much more support that the bird-lovers that the writing is on the wall.

So outdoor cats are not PC, but any incoming cat, indoors or outdoors, is going to have issues with both Akira , our huge mutt, and feisty Leon, our  sausage-dog house-guest.  And then there is the cat litter to endure all over again. I don’t see myself following PETA’s advice to take a cat outside on a leash but I have to let go of my happy imaginings of  cats once again lounging in the long grass of the back yard or sunning themselves on our picnic table.

Leon spends a good half hour a day whimpering and growling in front of the oven and for now that’s gonna have to do.

–Billee Sharp

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6 Responses to Practical Cats

  1. shobhan says:

    I really enjoyed reading that Billee. Sorry to hear of the cat’s demise…………well maybe not Samy – I was never very fond of him, but I did like Nigel.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post, which I discovered as a “suggested related post” to my own blog! (I just posted a story about adopting my first cat in 15 years, a major decision after having gone through the long decline of an elderly cat as well.)

    My Billy came microchipped; the rescue organization said they always do that now, after having lost one kitty who escaped in transit. I’ve never understood people’s objections to it; if we could microchip those unfortunate elderly souls suffering from Alzheimer’s who have a tendency to wander off, it would cut down on the pathetic “missing” posters that periodically appear around our neighborhood. I never thought about the possibility of its stimulating tumors; guess that’s something to bring up at the next vet visit.

    I’m not sure where you live, but If you really want an un-chipped cat, Craigslist seems to have people looking to “rehome” cats now and then, and there might be signs up at the local pet supply store. There must be some confident feline who’d be up to sharing a home with your two dogs!

  3. felicia says:

    hey Jane, I want to read your blog post too – how will I find that?
    I agree & fully appreciate the upside of the chip technology but still not delighted about augmenting phyisiology this way. Th ve concern about tumors near the chip site is not too damning, the percentages are small even in mice & rats but I do feel we beta test technology on living subjects and we should recognize that! The weiner dog seems to be worrisome to the mice but yes, a confident feline is what I need.
    Please post or link your article here-
    best, billee

  4. Thanks, Felicia … I think if you just click on my name, you’ll go straight to it.

  5. Or are you Billee rather than Felicia? My cat is Billy!

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