Cat and Squirrel
My husband spotted her first. He’d just finished allergy treatments. So when the stray cat wandered up and meowed, he decided to pet her as a test. Then he rubbed his eyes. No allergic reaction. The treatment had worked.
I saw the cat a few days later. I thought she was a half grown kitten because she was so tiny. She was friendly and cute, a ball of fluff that looked hungry. So I fed her. Suddenly she became a daily visitor. Funny how that works.
We weren’t sure we wanted a pet. She convinced us that we did. But we didn’t know if she belonged to someone else. We didn’t want to steal a neighbor’s cat. So we compromised.
The house was off limits, but the sun room was not. We named her Snoopy, because she was so curious, and got an old towel for her. We folded it into a soft pad for her to sleep on, with a water bowl beside it. I bought some dry kitten food that I put into a second bowl. I filled both each morning before I went to work. I also give her fresh meat or cream in the evenings, when I saw her. She appreciated my gifts.
She decided to return the favor.
She started to bring me her kills.
She was a good hunter. She’d had to be. She’d been on her own for a while, and, as we later learned, she’d raised kittens. If she hadn’t been able to kill, she’d have starved.
I understood all of that. Didn’t make it any easier for me to deal with the dead squirrels and mice. Birds were the hardest. I love songbirds. Who doesn’t? But I also love squirrels. I know that some electricians think of them as vermin, since they can destroy power lines. I think the little mammals are charming, so playful and quick.
When Snoopy brought me dead squirrels, I tried not to recoil in horror. After all, to her, these were gifts of love. I tried to praise her as she rubbed against me, her body language showing her pride. Then I would ask my husband to dispose of the bodies. I couldn’t bear to get too close.
Summer became fall. My husband and I knew we had to make a decision. It would be cold soon. Would Snoopy become part of our family? Of course we had no choice. We welcomed her into our home.
We took her to the vet. To our surprise, he told us she hadn’t been a kitten when we found her, she was already several years old. She’d been so tiny because she was malnourished. The vet also told us she’d already had at least one litter of kittens. We imagined Snoopy starving, yet working hard to feed her family. No wonder she was such a good hunter.
We had her spayed and vaccinated. We bought her a scratching post and toys. We switched her to adult cat food. We got a litter box and a warm cat bed.
We still let her come and go as she pleased. After all, Snoopy had lived in that neighborhood for years. She knew her way around. She climbed the tallest trees and looked down at us from the canopy. She ran along the tops of the fences. We dubbed these the feline L, short for elevated highway.
Then one day, while working in my garden, I saw something astonishing.
I saw Snoopy chase a squirrel along the L across from me. The squirrel was several feet ahead at first, but Snoopy caught up. Then, when she was just 2 feet away, Snoopy stopped. She waited. She let the squirrel get ahead. Then she started to run again. Snoopy was playing.
A few weeks later I saw something even more astonishing.
It was a warm winter day and Snoopy was sleeping on the flagstones in the back, under a large tree. A squirrel came down the trunk, and stopped a few feet from Snoopy. It chattered at her. Snoopy didn’t move. The squirrel ran back up, then came down again. It jumped to the ground and stopped near the sleeping cat. It chattered again. Snoopy lifted her head and looked at it. It stood on its hind legs and waited. She slowly got up. The squirrel was off in a flash, up the tree. Snoopy chased him. The squirrel was playing too.
I never had to worry about dead squirrels after that.
When we gave Snoopy a home, we gave her security. She no longer worried about her next meal. Instead of hunting squirrels, she played with them. And they played back.