A change in our cat’s hunting habits has left us puzzled
Almost four years ago, on a dark though not stormy night, as Stew, Félix and I were coming back from town, we noticed two small fur balls tentatively walking along, one on each side of the road. We stopped, Félix got off and promptly returned with two kittens, each small enough to fit on the palm of his hand. And so we came to adopt two more cats, who later became Fred and Franny.
Though we assume they came from the same litter, they have grown into two quite different animals. Franny, is a delicate Siamese-type cat with long silky hair and blue eyes that is as affectionate and beautiful as she is clueless.
Her sibling Fred, a standard-issue orange tabby, grew slightly bigger, thin, sleek and long-tailed, and walks with a determined, cheetah-like gait. He is the smarter one of the two, by far. Both cats have been sterilized, with no appreciable effect on their behavior.
When it’s lights-out at night, Franny, and Fifo, our much older cat, climb on the bed to sleep. Fred, however, will pick up any small pieces of cheese or other bedtime handouts he can hustle—and head out for his nightly hunt.
Yet beginning several weeks ago, even before the rains began, Fred lost his interest in hunting. Whatever the reason, I’m sure that the birds, mice, lizards and other ranch critters lower in the predator hierarchy are much relieved.
Contrary to cartoons that depict cats as addled creatures who can’t catch their own tails—think Sylvester and Tweety Bird—in real life cats are consummate land predators, with agile, flexible bodies, and large, night-vision eyes. They can jump five or six times their height. A recent Netflix documentary described cats as “wild animals living in your house.”
Cats are direct descendants of felines in the wild and have been in and out of favor as domestic animals for thousands of years. Egyptians idolized them and the Catholic Church in the middle ages demonized them as accessories to witchcraft. Today, Poland hunts down cats as an invasive species, while in Rome and Istanbul thousands roam the streets and thrive on food left on doorsteps. Sit down for coffee at an Istanbul Starbucks, and you’ll have an anonymous cat on your lap before your latte arrives.
Our Fred, like many domestic cats, developed a dual, vampire-like personality. During the day, after he punctually returns from his nightly rounds and eats, he’ll curl up in his bed and placidly purr the day away and accept any belly-rubbing or ear-scratching that comes his way. The perfect pet cat.
But at night, Fred will go outside, to catch and sometimes kill, all manner of smaller animals. Then he will ceremonially bring in the catch and deposit it on the rugs on either side of our bed, there for Stew and I to often step on barefoot as we stumble toward the bathroom during the night.
As Fred’s hunting ways continued over the years, we’ve tried to keep him in at night, but to no avail. He will caterwaul, scratch, bang on doors or jump on someone’s head until gets to go out. In a spectacularly counterproductive move, we installed a cat door which, naturally, only facilitated Fred’s nightly escapades and morning returns with his catch.
Humane societies in the U.S., citing the slaughter of millions of birds by cats, encourage owners to keep them inside, and so about 80 percent of the domestic cats never go outside. But in Denmark, only 17 percent of the cats are kept inside. And in Britain, even the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds blames farming, climate change and pollution for any decline in the bird population, rather than free-roaming cats. In Mexico, I don’t think anyone cares either way, and stray dogs far outnumber any street cats.
Perhaps the most philosophical take on the inside- or outside-cat debate came from Félix, our former gardener. He observed that in nature birds eat worms, cats eat birds, and coyotes eat cats. In effect, in nature it’s comida time, all the time. That’s the way it works.
Mercifully, during the past couple of months there has been a marked change in Fred’s behavior. He doesn’t crave going outside for hunting, and instead lies around all day long like his fourteen-year-old feline compadre, Fifo, whose outings consist of slowly circling the house in the morning once, perhaps twice, and then returning inside for an eight-hour nap before the evening feeding. Franny is the most elusive of the three. She disappears in the morning and returns in the early evening for food. We don’t know where she spends her days.
Why would Fred give up his nighttime routines? Maybe he’s getting older or had a bad experience with a would-be prey that snapped back at him, maybe a snake. Or maybe his new collar with a bell scares away his potential victims.
It’s futile to speculate what goes on in the mind of a cat, but we hope this is a permanent change in his hunting habits— or that at least he stops bringing us nightly gifts.
3 thoughts on “Has Fred lost his hunting mojo?”
I’ve lived for many years with cats. Sadly, none since my last two died in 2014/15. Blessedly they’ve not been hunters, or at least not givers. I’m perfectly OK with them catching and eating birds, mice, whatever. But I draw the line at generosity and sharing.
By the way, while there are lots of folks who talk about the massive avian slaughter by housecats. But what about the massive populations of such birds, augmented by tons of urban bird feeders too? If I had to guess, I’d say it all balances out. Moreover, housecats don’t attack condors, eagles, or other threatened species.
Where the birds wolf-whistle.
Actually, one of the biggest killers of birds are skyscrapers, particularly during the migrating season, followed by wind turbines, which look kinda of pokey from the distance but up close the blades are moving 50 mph.
That makes sense. As a former skyscraper dweller (at least during working hours), the occasional bird crash into a window was not an unknown phenomenon.