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A Singular Cat

Monday, October 13, 2008


Those of you who know me know that I am not often found singing the praises of cats. In almost three years of blogging, five days a week, this is my first post about cats. That's understandable. Because we run a serious bird sanctuary here on Indigo Hill, cats who show up are personae non gratae. Chet Baker is more than happy to give them the bum's rush, and he is very good at his job. Not many hang around after he has shown them the door. The very mention of the word "cat" puts Baker's pricked ears on full alert.

But every now and then I come across a cat that deeply impresses me with its beauty and personality, and I realize that, were I to give myself a chance to get to know them, I could become a cat fan. Cats remind me of the vampires in the slightly embarrassing escapist novels Phoebe has given me to read...perfectly lovely, but for that unfortunate bloodthirsty habit. They can't help it, but there it is, and the only workaround is to keep them indoors and well away from the things they like to annihilate.With all the selective breeding going on, don't you think someone could develop a strain, even a breed, of cats that don't care to kill birds and small animals? But then, would they still be cats? And then, what would you call them? Un-cats? Safe cats? Benign felines?

Near Berkeley Springs, WV, I met a cat that riveted my attention with its regal bearing and beauty. It strode out into the middle of our birding group and I forgot all about birds. "I've never seen a cat that color! It looks like a little brown bear!" I exclaimed, and its proud owners smiled and said, "That's what we call him: 'Bear.'"Bear set about cleaning his beautiful brown paws while I hunkered nearby, clicking away.He reminded me of nothing so much as a small Alaskan brown bear, or perhaps a jaguarundi, especially in this shot, with narrowed eyes. I marveled at his beauty and self-possessed personality.

If a cat knows anything, he knows when he's being beautiful.

Golden-eyed, gorgeous Bear has that down. Sigh. What a guy.

25 comments:

Beautiful cat pictures! Dogs have been selectively bred for much longer than cats and their hunting instinct is still intact too. It is that instinct we utilize to hunt, herd, and protect. Dogs should not be let out to run either. A dog at home perfectly docile will become down right dangerous in a pack. I lived in a place that domestic pet dog packs attacked and serious hurt a child and cornered adults (they also killed other pets). They can kill livestock and run wildlife and deplete energy reserves or out and out kill them. Your cat brings home proof of its activities-a present for you. Your dog brings home a sly look of innocence-don't always believe it.

i have grown to appreciate cats, there are some extraordinary ones ....bear is certainly one of them, a beauty

(Warning: fightin' words ahead:) I love cats, and usually find those who don't either have had limited contact with them, or else had a single bad experience in childhood with one. Besides their beauty and grace, they exhibit more interesting, diverse, and subtle personalities than all the various breeds of dogs. And unlike dogs, they maintain a certain level of aloofness/independence from we humans, which tells me they're more intelligent as well ;-))

Whoa. It seems the Dog Vs. Cat Wars have been quietly brewing, waiting for a cat-alyst. Y'all have at it. A careful read of my post will reveal that it's not cats' personality or intrinsic worth I'm talking about, nor is it whether cats are inferior or superior to dogs. I wasn't talking about dogs at all, in fact. I was talking about cats, and I referred to what they do--which is to kill hundreds of millions of birds and small mammals yearly, when allowed to roam free and do their thing. Check out Stan Temple's U. of Wisconsin study, or the British studies which asked cat owners to bag their pets' kills, freeze them, and turn them in. Researchers have documented absolutely staggering per-cat numbers of birds and small mammals killed yearly by well-fed domestic pets. Please see this quick summary of a controlled study of Wisconsin cats by Stan Temple:

http://www.wnrmag.com/stories/1996/dec96/cats.htm

His most conservative estimate of birds killed yearly by Wisconsin cats is 7.8 million. Per year. His upper-end estimate? 219 million birds killed in the state of Wisconsin alone, yearly, by domestic cats. The actual figure is somewhere in between.

Cats are fine, cats are intelligent, cats are lovely, cats are complex, cats are wonderful companions, and I have known cats that I adored,even had one (Rory) as a child. I acknowledge Pam's good points about free-running dogs--she's on the money, but the majority of cats, unlike the majority of dogs, are hugely destructive to small wildlife when allowed to do their thing outdoors. They're simply better-equipped to kill birds in particular.

It's really the same thing that I was trying to say about pit bulls. Lovely animals, but like all pets, they need to be intelligently managed, with consideration for the other animals they may meet, and an eye to their capability for destructive behavior.

When Mr. Geek and I met, he was a cat person and I was a dog person. We have met in the middle, and have both cats and dogs, and I would like to think that both of us are now "cat and dog" people. But even though we live out in the country, our cats are indoor-only, since I just can't take the death toll of small critters.

Cats: I used to be a cat lady and had three at one time. They're entertaining, irritating, loving, independent, intelligent, yes, yes yes. I'd still own cats if my husband didn't develop allergic asthma in his late thirties after bringing home a 5 week old kitten from a jobsite. Ralphie lived for 15 years and for fifteen years, my husband wheezed and carried an inhaler. Sounds ridiculous, I know.

There are two problem cats that roam freely (pets) in my neighborhood. It seems their owners think leash laws only pertain to dog owners but they're dead wrong. Nothing is more disgusting than to smell cat urine against my house and seeing holes dug in my gardens... I take a broom after them and wouldn't hesitate to talk with the owners if I knew who they were and show them a nest of mockingbirds that didn't make it...

Then there are dog owners who forget to carry a plastic bag when walking the dog. "Ummm, excuse me, looks like you need a baggie. Wait right there, I'll get you one." Yes, I've said that.

Bear is a beauty and he knows it ;O)

Study after study bears out (sorry, "Bear)Julie's thesis that house cats are efficient predators of native wildlife at a highly significant level. It doesn't matter whether the cat is well-fed or hungry, and warning devices like bells are ineffective. And habitat fragmentation is exacerbating the problem, since cats are most likely to venture into edge habitat.

It is really a simple issue of responsible pet ownership. Indoor cats don't get hit by cars, don't suffer horrific injuries from fights with other cats and raccoons, and are far less likely to contract potentially fatal illnesses like FIV. Given appropriate opportunities for stimulation, indooor house cats can be perfectly happy in even a small room with a window that presents viewing opportunities.

I agree with all points made here about cats and dogs (and I love 'em both). I live in NYC and while dogs must be leashed except within certain times in Central Park and owners must clean up after them. I see people violating these laws all the time and it's frustrating.

I have 2 cats and had I did not lived in an apartment, they would still be strictly indoor pets. Cats do not belong outside. Even though they still have that hunter instinct, they are fine not indulging in it. Years ago, when I was a kid and we got our first kittens, they were allowed outside because that's what people did with their cats. I think that mindset still exists. A bonus for cats living indoors is they typiclaly live longer as they're less likely to pick up diseases.

Wow, Bear is indeed gorgeous! I have never seen anything like him. Interesting comments from the dog and cat and 'dog and cat' camps. I'm one of those irresponsible cat owners - our cats growing up just always were outdoor cats and mine still is. I know this doesn't make me popular, but that's the truth.
I was glad to see someone bring up the question of domestic dogs creating trouble in the outdoors as I'd always wondered about that side of the coin and it doesn't seem to get as much attention as the cat issue.
Having outed myself as one of 'those people', I'll let you know that my thoughts about the effects my cat is having have certainly changed since reading here and becoming more in tune with the birds around me. Our next cat will be an indoor pet right from the start. Hopefully there will be a dog in the picture at that point, too. So, we'll have a dog who is allowed to go outside and cat who is not. That will be a tough adjustment for me - but it seems that the real problem in this picture is the humans, and not the animals!
I think there's room in our house for cats and dogs both. There's a great family joke that always makes me laugh about how my Dad thought all cats were girls and all dogs were boys until he was in high school:)

What a guy, indeed!
He looks to be of good size, too?

We've had cats all my life--the diverse personalities endear those of us who don't sneeze and wheeze!

And of ours, the bigger the animal, the more sedate the behavior--even when it came to play (or hunting).
Which makes me wonder if it's more than hunger and instinct that makes the hunt. Could disposition factor into it?

For the last 5 years, ours have been exclusively INDOOR animals, prompted by too many broken-hearts from finding "Fluffy" struck on the road. They're perfectly content to watch from the window, and get their share of play from toys.

Keeping them safely indoors seems to be a win-win situation.

I dislike cats.

But I loved this post.

The only thing wrong with those lovely pictures of Bear is -- he's outside. I love nature, and cats, so I keep mine indoors. They're happier, and healthier, than outdoor cats, and inside life does contribute to their longevity; my childhood cat, Izzy, made it to 22, and Wiggy, my first girl cat, was 18 when she was put down a year ago this week.

I'm not sure how the "independent" and "aloof" labels got stuck to Felis Domesticus, though. I can't go anywhere in this house without an escort, and at times, an entourage.

hmmm.. a cat that doesn't want to kill small critters? A dog that doesn't want to chase (and kill, if it can get them) small .. or sometimes large.. animals?

Since felids and canids are predators, such creatures would be something different entirely. (of course, there are individuals within the domesticated versions that aren't interested in chasing/killing)

What we need to do as a society is understand, ACCEPT and yes, manage our predatory pets, not make them into some PETA-mythical vegetarians.

A dog that wants to kill a rat or a cat is NOT therefore dangerous to people (If it's dangerous to people, that's for other reasons).

How come no one ever says "GASP, that cat killed a bird, it's going to go after a child next"???????

I don't know why we wait for a catalyst to comment, yet here I am...

I'm a cat person, or so others would define me. I have seven felines who share my life and home. I don't call them pets any more than I would expect someone with children to call their offspring pets. I just don't see it that way.

I grew up with dogs as much as cats (along with ducks, hamsters, guinea pigs, cows, pigs, rabbits, birds of many feathers, various fish, seahorses and so on). I love my canine friends as much as I love my feline children.

One of my cats, al-Zill, was attacked by a large dog before I rescued him, and he suffered neurological damage because of it. He can't always run or play without suffering uncontrolled attacks that render his body unresponsive to his mind's commands, and he can't always tend to his toilet duties without losing control (that's assuming he even knows he needs to go to the bathroom). But do I hate dogs because of it? Absolutely not!

My parents have two dogs, two wonderful creatures I love to death and with whom I play endlessly when I visit the family farm. My best friend has a dog who I care for when I house- and dog-sit. In fact, I bring him home with me when I can since he loves cats and knows how to act around them (although, I'll add, not all of my cats love the poor dog, something the occasional bloody snout can attest to).

Truth be told, our attempts to domesticate these animals (one by choice, the other by force) have done little to curtail their natural instincts. We as people need to realize that and act accordingly. My cats are inside-only creatures, and the dogs I love and respect are maintained with leashes when appropriate (outside the yard, for example).

No matter which one you gravitate toward, both deserve respect and affection. We can't take the wolf out of the canine any more than we can take the wildcat out of the feline. We're responsible for what they do with those instincts; being humane in either case seems the best answer, at least so far as my experience goes.

Jason, what a lovely letter. I have to say: each one of you who have written on this topic have written so eloquently, so thoughtfully, that I am humbled and amazed. I believe it's a measure of the extent to which our pets, whether feline, canine, or none of the above, wrap themselves around our hearts and psyches. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You open my eyes.

That's truly an unusually colored cat. I have never seen an all brown one like that either.

Here's a thought that I didn't see in the prior comments--breeding the kill instinct out of a cat would be as difficult as humans losing the kill instinct.
No doubt, mammals are hard wired to garner their food in whatever way necessary. I know cats who are fed still kill--so the solution is keep them indoors.
We have dear friends with whom I have a major disagreement--they have two cats who they allow to roam outdoors. We have two cats that we keep indoors.

Bear is beautiful. I wonder if he is always outdoors, or just happened to be outside when you came by him. He looks like he is well cared for. We have both dogs and cats and take responsibility very seriously for each of them. The dogs (both huskies) need to stay outdoors. They are in a 10 x 10 kennel at night, and spend the day on the patio. Our cats are strictly indoor cats and they enjoy the entertainment I provide them with bird feeders just outside our windows.

Lurkers a plenty coming out of the woodwork! :)

Cats are wonderful...I've had as many as 5 at a time. I have 4 dogs and 2 cats now, and I love them all.

I also have bluebird houses, hummingbird feeders and seed feeders. I would no more let my cats outdoors than I would throw myself in front of a bus. Domestic cats belong indoors. They live WAY longer, healthier lives, and so do their potential prey. People do a cat a great disservice if it "gets" to roam. It will live about 3 years to the indoor cats' 15+ lifespan.

Granted, I know we need mousers in barns, and there are plenty of feral cats, at least where I live, but domestic cat owners who have them for pets should keep them indoors.

Just my 2cents. Bear is a beauty, and the photos are great.

Oooops...I didn't mean to start dog vs cat wars with my dog comments! I hope I am not making it worse but... I was just taking the opportunity to say that dogs can be problematic too. Most people can't totally defend Fluffy when he deposits a dead creature at his owner's feet. But people believe their dogs don't do harm-they have no evidence. Feral dog populations aren't as apparent-they hide, but cats are pretty much in your face AND therefore easier to study. There aren't as many dog predation studies out there, they are more difficult to study (feral dog packs can range over areas that are greater than 100km sq.) I was very aware of cat studies, but it never occurred to me that dogs could be as destructive until they became a problem in my back yard and I started researching it. (Here is a number I recall-there are population densities of 232 loose/free range dog per square kilometer in Baltimore-wow and I suspect Baltimore has leash laws!) ALL our domestic animals (pets and livestock) can cause habitat destruction, be reservoirs of disease that devastate wildlife,adversely affect native canid and felid populations by hybridization, and indirectly or directly cause wildlife death. Dogs have a special place in the human heart and we are blind to what they do-I include myself in that generalization. Things dogs do you would think are harmless aren't. Such as in S CA. wintering plovers have been adversely impacted by dogs exercising on the beaches off leash when they run through and harass the flocks. Dogs off leash on nature trails chasing rabbits, squirrels and digging people don't think twice about. The hibernating chipmunk that they chase off by digging or the hibernating turtle a dog dig up is good as dead even though the dog didn't directly kill it. Feral dogs on some of the Galapagos islands are seriously impacting the giant tortoises. As Jason said-WE are responsible for our domestic animals. Both well fed cats and dogs participate in a displaced instinctual hunt behavior, but instead of hunting to survive they seem to kill or maim in a vicious sort of play. But when it come down to brass tacks it is the face in the mirror whose species is the one responsible for the current mass extinction. May be our cats and dogs should keep us on leashes! I apologize in advance if I have now just fanned the flames more and not cooled embers. I hope I am cooling the embers and just giving people pause for thought.

Pam, you can start something here any time you want. There are blogs that get double-digit comments every day. This one gets thoughtful, information-packed comments, and that makes for a real discussion. Thank you!

We have indoor cats. Actually one gets to go outside on a leash.
Strict laws up here, eh?

I did forget one thing.. just remember - dogs have owners, cats have staff.

This short audio clip was on NPR yesterday and relaters perfectly to this discussion - give a listen. I love the last word...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95653237

I have 7 indoor only cats. I used to have 13 indoor only cats, but time has taken it's toll.

How'd we get all these cats? They were all stray/ferals in our neighborhood. We trapped them, had them vaccinated, spayed and neutered(TNR: trap, neuter, release). Released them. Then decided we liked them so we re-trapped them. Since we took them in for the final time 7 years ago..I now have chipmunks and voles in my yard. Cats are very efficient killers of small wildlife, and dogs allowed to roam and pack up are very efficient killers of larger wildlife, and in some cases, human beings. Happened on the south side of Chicago a few years ago. A pack of stray/feral dogs killed two people who were jogging.

People need to realise that cats (and dogs) don't need to roam to be happy. I'll only anthropomorphise so far....Fluffy doesn't NEED to go outside, even if she was born there. And since I am the boss of my cats, I say Fluffy doesn't need to be outside, ever. Domestic cats and dogs aren't native wildlife...they don't belong in the ecosystem AT ALL.

My former feral/strays are very happy, they're well loved, well vetted, and have plenty of toys and each other to stalk and play with....they will live 10X longer than if they had stayed outside(the average life of an outdoor cat is 2 years)...and I now have chipmunks and voles and all sorts of birds at my feeders. The only critter the birds at my feeders have to worry about is the sharp-shinned hawk who hangs out around here.

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