A hunter at heart

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It’s hard to believe such a cute creature can harbour such a killer instinct. (The cat, not the teddy bear.) Both dogs and cats are naturally predatory animals, but domesticated cats retain much more of that instinct than most dogs do. If you’ve ever seen a cat perk up its ears at the sound of a fly buzzing in a window pane or jump up from where it’s curled up on the couch upon spotting a moth fluttering at a lamp, you’ll know what I mean. That hunting instinct is always present, even in the fattest, laziest of cats. Never take a cat for granted. If it doesn’t chase that fly, it’s not because it’s not a hunter, but rather that it simply chooses not to expend the energy at that moment (a cat’s urge to sleep is about on par with its urge to hunt).

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I am a firm believer of an indoor-cat philosophy. Keep cats indoors. The outdoors is a dangerous place for cats. There is the risk of being hit by cars, or being caught by a predator bigger than it (coyotes and fishers are particularly fond of cat). There is the risk of it getting into fights, with racoons or wild animals, or other neighbourhood cats, and developing infection or suffering more serious injuries. The cat is also dangerous to the outdoors. If it’s smaller than the cat, it’s a target. Chipmunks, mice, birds, all favourites. Even a well-fed cat cannot resist the allure of a scurrying mouse.

Oliver looooves the outdoors. It’s fascinating, so many places to roam, so many things to see. He’d taken to scooting out through our feet as we came in the door, and had even learned how to open the door itself (it was one of those sorts without a latch), as he’s doing in the photo above. Finally, we gave in, and decided he would be okay on supervised walks where we were always outside with him.

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He quickly asserted himself as a hunter. He would chase the crickets and meadowhawks in the lawn, with a fairly good success rate. Since meadowhawks are a dime a dozen around here, and the cat was just being a cat, we let him tackle those. When he startled up a snake and then pounced on its tail end (I was surprised it didn’t turn around and bite him), I took him inside. But aside from the meadowhawks, the arrangement seemed to be working fine.

CHSP-cat

Then yesterday Ollie disappeared on us while I was distracted setting up my moth sheet at one side of the lawn. Into the garden? The long grass beyond? I wasn’t sure. He hadn’t been far away while I was working, but then when I turned around next he was gone. I searched for him initially, but couldn’t find him. I needed to get started on dinner, so sent Dan out to resume the search. He found Ollie – perched on this guy, a Chipping Sparrow that Dan at first thought was dead. It wasn’t, although the poor thing didn’t make it, bruised and probably scared to death.

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That’s it for Ollie. No more outdoors, supervised or otherwise. We’d let our guard down, lulled into thinking (consciously or not) that his focus was on the meadowhawks and he’d be no problem. I feel terrible for the little sparrow. It’s so easy to forget that every cat is a hunter at heart.

Last fall I wrote a post on keeping cats indoors. I strongly encourage cat owners to keep your cat indoors, no matter how pitifully he looks at you with those big, round eyes. It’s for his own good as much as it is the birds outside that you keep him indoors. If you just can’t resist, buy him a harness and tie-out lead to keep him away from problem areas where small animals or birds might frequent (eg., gardens, bird baths) and to keep him from wandering off. We learned our lesson the hard way.

Audubon Magazine recently did an excellent article on the problem of cats outdoors, brought to my attention by Clare of The House and other Arctic musings. It’s definitely worth a read.