Jim Zumbo - Everything Outdoors
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Me and My Cat
Once upon a time I was an official card-carrying member of the Cat Haters Club of America. It didn’t matter what kind of cat — housebound cat that never goes outside, house cat that goes outside and kills stuff, or a feral ( wild) cat. My dislike for cats was based on their prey favorites, not mice and rodents, which is acceptable, but songbirds and baby rabbits, squirrels, and the young and adults of upland game. Then too, I never appreciated a cat’s personality. Independent bastards, totally disloyal, (in my experience), don't give a damn attitude, and unresponsive to commands, unless you say, “here kitty, kitty,” while holding some catnip or other treat, and then it may still give you the finger. I base this behavior on the few cats in a former life that I never bonded with. I figured bonding was not possible when it came to the cat-human relationship, at least with me.
So one day a cat shows up on the lawn. It’s fall, and I’m throwing out a few suet bird-treats, which the cat pilfers. It’s a wild- looking cat, long hair, and elusive to the point that if it sees one of us in the window it instantly disappears. I had a couple opportunities to cause its demise with a .22 bullet, as may have occurred in the past with other uninvited cats, feral, I believed, but for some reason I opted to allow this feline to carry on with life.
As autumn progressed, cold weather set in. I saw the cat irregularly in the brush and high grass next to the lawn. I was sure he wasn’t owned by a neighbor because he spent too much time around our place, and, in fact, I had no responses to my efforts in lost and found notices.
After a successful rabbit hunt where I zapped 8 bunnies, all head-shot with a .22, I fielddressed and skinned them, and put the carcasses in a clean cardboard box in the back of my truck, which had a topper. I planned on quartering, packaging and freezing the rabbits the next morning, and left them in the truck. The air temps were in the mid-30’s and the rabbits would be fine. My topper had a side window busted out. The next morning I set about the task of dealing with the bunnies. I noted there were only seven. I was sure there were eight. I then commanded my brain to recall where each rabbit parted company with planet earth. As hard as I tried, I could only come up with six, but I stubbornly convinced myself there were eight. I was nonetheless a tad confused. There were seven in the truck and I was positive there were eight.
A week later I killed a plump white-tailed jackrabbit. Yes, most people consider them vermin and unfit for human consumption, but I’m a bit of a renegade in that regard. I love an epicurean challenge, and will attempt to cook and eat most anything wild — except for members of the dog family, as in coyotes and foxes. My grandfather, born and raised in Italy, who ate anything he could shoot or trap, including sparrows, starlings and blackbirds, told me to never mess with canine types when it comes to table fare. I admired him, and went along with his wishes.
I put the dressed and skinned jackrabbit in the back of the truck, topper window still busted out, and planned on packaging it in the morning. When I retrieved it the next day, I noted with great disappointment that a hindquarter was missing, neatly chewed off. That explained the missing bunny from the week previous. I happened to look at the side of my truck under the open window and saw little cat tracks where the feline had jumped up to gain purchase and leap into the bed.
Case solved, and I was seriously pissed off. After calming down, I thought about this cat and realized he had survived for several weeks on his own. I’d quit putting out bird treats, so he was catching his own grub and nabbing stuff from us when he could. He disappeared for awhile, and one day Madonna spotted him dashing under the front porch at the only place there was an opening. Evidently he’d found a home. One morning I heard meowing sounds and I saw the cat sitting next to the porch opening. He immediately panicked and disappeared under the porch when it spotted me. Madonna started leaving cat food in a dish next to the porch hideaway. He secretly ate it. One night the temperature plummeted to 24 below zero, and I was happy to see the cat had survived. Wait, I think I was happy.
After a couple weeks he opted to be a bit more friendly and approached the sliding door to the back deck where Madonna started placing cat food on a regular basis. Now he’d approach within a few feet when she put the dish out.
“I think I can catch that cat,” she said. She put a small kennel near the door in anticipation of catching it. I had just left the house one morning to go on a trip when she called excitedly on my cell phone. “I got the cat,” she said. “It’s in the kennel.” I was just a couple miles from the house and turned back to check it out. She explained that she coaxed it close with food, reached out quickly, grabbed it by the ruff and dropped it in the kennel.
The cat was unhappy. We figured it was semi-wild and a pregnant female because it was big and fat. Madonna took it to the veterinary office where she worked. Interesting discovery. Not only was it a male— it was neutered! The vet identified it as a Maine coon cat.
We decided to add the cat to our dog family and offer it a forever home. The dogs didn’t much like that idea, so Madonna made a bed on top of a freezer where the dogs couldn’t harass it. Little by little, over a period of a few weeks, the dogs finally accepted it. I called him Mr Cool.
He was barely adopted when he brought his first mouse to the door. He kept bringing mice, and I decided to put a little chart on the fridge to count the number of mice he brought home. After two months his score was 100. I quit keeping score. Mr. Cool obviously is a show off, a grandstander, a narcissist cat. He wants to be recognized for his successful hunts. He meows loudly at the door, day or night, until we look out and praise him for his catch. Then he proceeds to eat it. Because we don’t want him messing with songbirds, he’s grounded during the day and is allowed out at night.
It’s not humorous when he meows at the back door after prowling and I let him in, only to see that he has a mouse in his mouth. It’s difficult to note that little detail in the dark. This is wrong. He’s supposed to eliminate mice in the house, which he does (we haven’t seen a mouse in the house since he took up residency), and NOT bring them in. I suppose this is acceptable, but it’s totally unwelcome. What really IS unacceptable is when the captive mouse is alive, and Mr. Cool bats it around on the floor, and the mouse tries to scurry under something, like an appliance or the sofa, and the cat nabs it just before it escapes, and starts the game over again. This might seem cruel, but as a college professor taught us in wildlife class, “Mother Nature is a b!T@H.”
Once, the mouse, who was injured pretty good, escaped under a heavy dresser, and though Mr. Cool waited patiently for it to appear and continue the pursuit game, the rodent stayed in place. Fearing that the mouse succumbed to its wounds, I moved the dresser with a great deal of effort while the cat paced and ran about, hoping to nail it again. Sure enough, the rodent was expired. Not good.
On two occasions, when the cat brought in mice and I saw that they were alive, I grabbed a broom and started swatting at the thing. It was difficult to score when the mouse dashed around under the table legs and chairs, especially since the cat totally disregarded the slapping broom, trying to get the mouse before I did. Mind you, this activity, which always occurred in the middle of the night, awakened not only the lady of the house, but the three dogs, all of which barked and whined mightily.
So I was directed rather forcefully by said lady to keep a flashlight handy and inspect Mr. Cool every time he announced his presence in the dark. Though there’s a porch light, it’s difficult to see a motionless mouse just outside the door.
Now, a half dozen years later, Mr. Cool is very much a part of the family. I hardly lie down for a nap when he jumps up on my chest, purrs, and licks the back of my hand with his little sandpaper tongue. He often licks the dog’s ears.
Every now and then I’ll watch him hunt. This is one of the reasons I like this guy so much. He’ll belly crawl across the lawn, attention totally riveted on something, remain still as a statue for several minutes with only the tip of the tail occasionally twitching, and then suddenly launch into a vicious pounce, flailing away in a sagebrush brush, and ultimately emerging with a mouse. It’s a thing of beauty.
This guy is a serious hunter. And he’s one shrewd dude. With a neighborhood full of apex predators such as grizzlies, black bears, wolves, mountain lions, bobcats, and great horned owls, he prowls all night. And he returns home unscathed.
Love live Mr. Cool.Last modified on