Sunday, December 10, 2006
My dad used to say that every dog needs a job. Some more than others, but I think it's true. And if we just stop and think about it, we can harness a dog's natural energy and eagerness to please and turn it to our advantage. I'm not talking about parlor tricks, but about Useful Work.
When you're trying to create and maintain a bird sanctuary, one part of the picture that doesn't fit is free-roaming cats. They're almost always unneutered toms who saunter into our yard, spray where the last tom sprayed (on the outside wall, right under the master bedroom window), then set about killing the birds that we work so hard to attract to our feeders. Around here, we rarely say the word "cat" without an expletive in front of it. Not the cat's fault: he's just being a cat. And cats in their place are wonderful, whimsical, loving creatures. But the only place cats truly belong, in my opinion, is sitting on the inside of a windowsill, looking out.
And so Chet has a Real Job. His job is to make sure these tomcats know they are not welcome on his property. He is Very Good at his job. Whereas before, spotting a cat in the yard made me swear and go get a can of tuna to put in the livetrap so I could trap the dratted animal and take it to the Humane Society, losing a $20 donation in the process, now I smile and go get Chet. Today, when a big black and white tom came strutting under the feeders, I tiptoed into the living room and whispered in Chet's ear, "There's a CAT in the yard." With that simple phrase, he transformed from a semi-liquid blob, lying in a puddle of sun, into a tense, trembling vigilante. He raced into the studio, took note of the cat's position, then tore to the back patio door with me. Exiting there, he could race up to the cat silently, without alerting it.
And race he did--he was going so fast he overshot it and had to double back. The cat fuzzed out to twice its size and lit out for the woods, Chet hard on its tail.
When Chet didn't come back after about fifteen minutes, I called him. He still didn't come. But there was a very large black fuzzball treed in a small sassafras, and I knew Baker was at its base. He let loose a few excited barks. This is Big Game for Baker. The Ultimate Quarry.
The cat was not amused. When I drew near, it scrabbled back down the tree, thinking that Baker was probably a lesser evil than I. Baker was delighted, and gave chase once again. This time, the cat chose a huge double tulip tree, and gained an amazing height in a single rush.
Chet circled the base, gazing up. So photogenic.
The temperature never got out of the 20's today. It was COLD. Baker had been out almost a half-hour. "Baker, aren't you getting cold?" He looked at me and his hind legs trembled violently. The cat was much better equipped for temperatures like these. And we hadn't had time to don a fashion sweater.
"Come on, Bake. Let's go back inside."
And Chet cast two final glances at the cat, and trotted a straight line home.
Good boy, Baker. Good job. Trader Joe's Chicken Strip for you. When you're done, PICK UP YOUR TOYS.
Better check. It might come back.
Posted by Julie Zickefoose at 4:25 PM