A vice is nothing more than a virtue taken too far.
Everyone knows about this relationship between vice and virtue but few agree where the line should be drawn and it raises some important questions:
When does thrift become avarice?
Or love become lust?
Or belief become delusion?
But most important of all, when does empathy become a yard full of stray cats?
It is something my wife and I argue about. Her definition of where too many cats begins and my definition of where empathy should end is an annual squabble.
This is farm country. A region where grain bins punctuate the horizon and legions of semi-feral cats give chase to hosts of rodents.
Both cats and rodents proliferate during the warm days of summer but every autumn, sensing the onset of bitter weather, they venture forth in search of better quarters.
And my wife feeds any cat who shows up.
First came Twiggy. She was a calico cat who arrived so thin that the name came to mind and I say she, because all calico cats are female. Being the first to show up, she came when empathy was in full bloom.
Then Elvis turned up.
Then came the horde of nameless cats who scamper at the edge of our vision like shadows in the night. We only know they are there by the measure of cat food that sifts through the big metal feeder on our deck.
But then came Tux.
He was too fat, too sleek, too friendly for a barn cat. He was a city cat, who somebody tossed into a ditch. It happens all the time.
So he joined the scrum on the deck.
It is not where he felt he belonged though. He spent his days pressing his nose against the screen door and mournfully peering inside at our three house cats, who are nowhere near as generous as we are.
We could have taken him to the animal shelter but those good people have grown weary of us. One of these days they will lock their doors when they spot our truck – but they haven’t yet. I gave them a break this time – so I guess we are all learning the boundaries of empathy.
But as the seasons turn, a curious thing happens: the number of cats in our backyard dwindles.
Some are snatched by coyotes.
Others fall prey to disease.
A few simply return to their original homes.
In the fall, new opportunities appear in old familiar places. There is a natural mortality of cats on the farm. Grain trucks rumble to and fro, machinery shifts about – and all this takes a toll on cats.
It is something our strays are remarkably attuned to. When a spot in the hierarchy opens up, even miles away, they will know and scamper off to claim it. So by the first snow, we will be back down to our normal quota of yard cats.
It is just part of rural life.
It is an environment that is harshest on the city cats. Though we keep the feeder full and put down straw in sheltered places – few city cats have what it takes to make it through a Minnesota winter.
“Have you seen Tux lately?” my wife asked one morning.
“No,” I told her.
She looked out the living room window to check on the cat feeder. “I thought I saw him last night,” she said.
“I doubt you did,” I told her.
“I am sure I did,” she said.
So that night when I heard the rustle of frozen leaves and the scratch of claws on the feeder, I glanced out the window.
“It isn’t Tux,” I told her.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“It is black and white alright,” I said, “but the white goes from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail.”
I took care of it.
I know how to live trap skunks without getting sprayed and when I got him, I took the virtue of generosity to the point where it could be considered a vice. I gave the skunk a car ride.
I figure if town people can share their pets with us, I can share our wildlife with them.
39 thoughts on “My Stray Cats”
Where I live cats are viewed as sort of demons – eating the wildlife, proliferating furiously, growing to monster size…that said, I’d find it really hard to kill one. But I think sometimes the snakes and goannas aren’t so empathetic.
All our animals are dump off pets or rescues or last resorters. I get it. We’re the only farm left where suburbia surrounded us. It’s like the city circled the wagons and all the deer and critters are wedged in here with nowhere else to go. And why should they. We have a pond and woods and back up to a park with a pond and woods all in the middle of civilization. Our garden was the first casualty of all those deer which are our version of your feral cats. We have feral deer. And they love to eat. Everything. The beaver who stayed for awhile did some work on the trees around the pond, built himself a cabin, repaired the leak in our dam/spillway from pond to creek and said, “My work is done here. On to other jobs.” Our cats are inside-dwellers thanks to the hawks and owls that inhabit the trees. A coyote visits now and then just to check out the animal situation. I appreciate your cat tales. Though brutal endings some are, I thank you for leaving the shelter out of it. I know some kill, some don’t. We have a humane society in addition to the shelter which just held a free adoption day on Black Friday. That was an interesting way to shop for a real bargain. Sorry I went on so long. May have a piece of a post here. Ha
I had 5 dogs once in a condo. Two were mine, two were an ex-boyfriends (he wasn’t ex at the time) and the only dog in my life that I haven’t liked was #5. He was our friends’ dog and they asked us to dog-sit while they were on vacation. Then they wouldn’t take him back. They all lived long lives and are in heaven now. But, because dogs can be curmudgeons, just as people can, the stubborn dog I couldn’t bring myself to love, lived the longest. My comment started out being funny and somehow ended up sad. Sorry. I guess I’m trying to relate to your wife with adopting stray animals. 🙂
That’s okay, sad works too. Just think of the irony of the dog you never got along with lasting the longest, as a editorial from Mother Nature. She does things like that…. all the time.
And the annoying dog was a product of being alone in a cage for the better part of the day and not socialized before coming to us.. It was not her fault. My son used to bring his friends over to watch the dog hump every pillow and cushion we had. Like all day, lol. And she was a spayed female. So annoying, but she was happy as could be.
Good! I think someone who dumps their unwanted pets in the country are a special kind of coward!
Yeah, but the world is full of people like that.
Only seems fair…
You’re a good man, Charlie Brown. I always knew you had a generous heart.
You need to tell that to my cats, I’ll send them down…. 🙂
There you go, that wonderful surprise ending that is signature of your stories.
The skunk drop-off reminds me of the time my husband caught a man releasing rabbits in the city park abutting our property. The nerve. No wonder we have so many rabbits in our yard.
In the old days, convicts would be sentenced to “transportation”. It is how many of our ancestors got to America. After 1776, the brits could no longer dump their pickpockets and dissidents here, so they sent them to Australia.
And so it goes…
We have a coyote surfeit and cat shortage. The coyotes are kind of lovable from a distance, but no one leaves food out anymore.
Nature made some beautiful things but I don’t quite know what she was thinking when she made coyotes. I’ll bet she was having a bad day.
I have apparently boundless empathy for stray cats, but a budget that’s sufficiently bounded to keep my impulses in check. Besides, even here in the suburbs — maybe especially in the suburbs — a dish of cat food left outdoors is an open invitation to every raccoon, possum, and who knows what else to show up in the buffet line.
It is interesting to watch nature do the balancing act, though. For a while, the feral cat population will grow. Then, someone will see a coyote here or there. Pretty soon, the coyotes are marching down the middle of the parking lots, and the cats have mysteriously disappeared. So it goes.
We put the feeder on the deck, well within the aura of our house. This offers some sanctuary from the coyotes, who know well the price of closing with shotgun range.
They like to hide in the tall ragweed of the Mosquito Refuge, then swarm anything that ventures beyond the protective halo of our yard light.
Poor Tex. Was doomed by the selfish, no good humans in the city.I can never understand how people can dump an animal and think it will be okay. I give Opossums the same ride.
If I were a possum, I’d be pretty pissed at mother nature for her cruelty in the “handing out looks” department.
Only a mother opossum could love.
How kind and generous of you to feed the feral cats. How did you transport that skunk? Did you put a sleeping pill in his food?
You keep the cage covered. It is not 100% fool-proof but if there is an “accident”, the skunk gets the worst of it.
Nice of you to take care of strays, I know the smaller shelters can get overwhelmed. The one I volunteer at is bigger – we actually import kittens from other shelters to met demand. I don’t know if that would be the case for country strays, they might be too old or too wild – those are harder to adopt out and may not take to being house cats anyway.
I am curious how you manage to trap a skunk and give him a car ride without getting an odiferous reply.
I wouldn’t put a feral cat up for adoption. They are wild animals and behave accordingly. As for the skunk, I keep the cage covered.
I loved where you were going with the first 90% of the story,
and laughed out loud at the 10% twist. Once again a true delight!
It’s why I rarely write non-fiction, I struggle to complete a page without veering into humor and “truthiness”.
There’s a lot of magicical gray area within creative non-fiction…
I’m trying to decide if I love this post, lust after it, or am deluded by it. Either way, sucks to be a city folk right about now.
Mark, you know me and my attitude toward verifiable facts, I believe more in truthiness, so it is probably best to go with deluded. 🙂
Oh, that’s a hard one! Helping stray animals can quickly spiral out-of-control, especially if you let them inside your house. But ignoring their plight is painful, and not something I could do either. I understand the country cats, as that’s just part of rural life, but I have to admit I do a slow burn when I see idiots dumping their city pets in the country, thinking they’ll be fine. I hope lots of city folks read your post and realize that’s not how it works.
Thanks for feeding them, as that’s more than lots of people would do. As for your relationship with the animal shelter, I don’t think you should feel badly about taking cats there. It’s their job. But you may have to borrow a neighbor’s truck to take the next batch there, so they won’t see you coming.
The resources of our animal shelter and adoption programs is stretched well beyond capacity. The odds of a cat escaping euthanasia are pretty slim, so we give them a chance and let nature handle what she will. Their life may be short – but they at least will have their freedom. It doesn’t work out too well for the birds, bunnies and mice though….
That’s a good point. The shelter where I volunteer is larger, and has the capacity to place many or most of its animals, and I forgot that that isn’t always the case. You’re right about letting them have the better chance at a life, even a short one, on your property. And cats don’t do well in shelter cages.
I drop off stray dogs. Many of them meet the same fate as cats but they don’t fare so well in the wild and when they run, they can be a danger to livestock and children. You don’t want to have your child waiting for a school bus at the end of a long driveway when there are wild dogs about.
Even for those that are euthanized, I honestly believe that a quick death in the shelter is much more humane than the slow death through starvation, sickness etc. that stray dogs experience. And packs of strays are certainly a danger to children and livestock. In the end, we all just do the best we can…..
We have a great capture neuter program for feral cats. We deworm and neuter all we can.
That’s great!!! And is a huge help!
We have a great capture neuter program for feral cats. We deworm and neuter all we can.
Turnabout is fair play. Now I know where those skunks are coming from. Tux, would have had a home with us. Our first cat, Oreo, was a black and white kitten that someone dropped in the small river by my cabinet shop. Fortunately, we don’t get many strays. By the way, I think love becomes lust after just before the restraining order arrives.
I try to keep my lust well short of court orders. 🙂 🙂
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