78: Jupiter, My Not-So-Vegetarian Cat

78: Jupiter, My Not-So-Vegetarian Cat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Cat

Jupiter, My Not-So-Vegetarian Cat

Fun fact: Even if kittens lose their mothers, who are normally their hunting teachers, they still have a natural instinct to chase and catch fast-moving small items.

I’d never wanted a pet. I worried I’d make a dog unhappy by leaving it locked inside our house alone, or that I’d lose a cat to a coyote. And then I moved to the country. Everyone in our rural neighbourhood had cats or dogs (or both). And all of them seemed to be living a happy, free-range life.

My sons were desperate for a pet of their own — preferably a cat. My excuses for turning them down were endless. How were we going to give attention to a pet when we could barely look after ourselves? What would happen when we went on holiday? Who was going to deal with the litter box?

But the biggest issue was this: How could we feed it meat when we didn’t eat it ourselves?

The tipping point came a year after we moved in, the day I pulled a mouse out of my running shoe thinking it was a crumpled-up sock. We’d been overrun with rodents — and their droppings — since the moment we’d arrived in our new home. I’d tried my best to claim our space with a humane trap: a catch-and-release contraption that didn’t work at all. I’d actually watched a mouse stroll into it, lap up the peanut butter bait, and then saunter back out smacking its lips.

The mice were winning the battle. We needed an animal on our side. It was either a cat or a hinge trap that would snap the invaders in half. If we were going to stay in the house (moving wasn’t really an option), mice were going to have to die. And with relentless logic, my family convinced me it might as well happen as part of the circle of life.

We strapped ourselves into the car and headed for the SPCA, the wide grins on my boys’ faces never wavering despite my constant reminders that “I wasn’t making any promises.” The scene that greeted us was overwhelming — so many creatures cramped into a tiny space that reeked of cat pee and kibble. I had no idea how to care for a pet or what to look for in a cat. But I knew we weren’t leaving without one. I had to give one of these animals a home.

“That one’s gotta be a good mouser.” The SPCA volunteer pointed to a fat tomcat that looked like he could inhale me in one bite. All I could think about was the amount of food — all containing meat, something I hadn’t eaten since I’d witnessed the slaughter of my favourite rooster at the age of twelve — he was likely to consume.

“We’ll take that one.” I motioned toward a petite orange Tabby that was squirming on his back, already delighted to roughhouse with my boys.

“James,” the volunteer confirmed over the expressions of delight that exploded from my children’s mouths. The cat purred loudly in response to their jubilant hugs.

I fed James — who was promptly renamed “Jupiter James” and then simply “Jupiter” — dry cat food containing free-range chicken. At my children’s urging, I got him a few treats as well, but not the stuff Jupiter no doubt wanted most. I could not handle the wet, slimy, fishy-smelling concoctions that came in a tin. I considered vegetarian cat food, but in the end decided against it.

Cats are carnivores. And Jupiter had been welcomed into our home, in part, for his skills as a hunter. Naively, I hoped that just having a cat would keep the mice away — no death necessary.

For the first few weeks, we kept Jupiter — a former stray — inside so he could get to know his new home before he started wandering around our acreage. I referred to him as the kids’ pet and encouraged him to sleep in their beds because I wanted them to bond. Plus, I didn’t really want to bond with him myself. My excuses — even still — were endless. How could I possibly find time to groom and care for a cat? Why attach myself to a solitary creature that often seemed indifferent to us? Who was going to do all the extra laundry that resulted from a single petting session that left my black pants coated in beige fur?

But my real concern was this: What if something happened to Jupiter when we finally let him loose?

Because the truth was, this little fur ball had already purred his way into my heart. I looked forward to the feel of his whiskers against my bare leg in the morning. I loved the weight of his warm body curled up in my lap as I read. And when he tilted his head in response to my rambling? It was like he was really listening (unlike my human family members).

By the time he was ready to go outside, I’d also convinced myself that my cat was vegetarian. He liked cuddling, not hunting. And he didn’t seem too crazy about the chicken. Maybe he really could be satisfied with quinoa and kale (like the rest of my family members). Because really, how could a cute, affectionate cat like Jupiter also be a killer?

It only took two days for him to prove me wrong. That’s when the first dead mouse appeared on the doorstep.

With a shudder, I ordered my husband to remove it. And I did not praise Jupiter for the kill, even though I couldn’t help feeling flattered. He’d given us a Thanksgiving present. How was he supposed to know that our turkey was made of tofu? The way I saw it (or chose to see it), he’d saved the mouse from the torture of sneaking into our house, discovering its comforts (a warm bed in my box of spare toilet paper; a yummy dinner in my cereal bin), only to be crucified by a snap trap.

After the mouse came the decapitated bird. Then the bunny. Once, Jupiter even took out a baby gopher. Every time he leaves a prize at the door, I know it’s there before I even see it. I can tell by the toothy grin on my kitty’s face.

By now, I’ve lost track of Jupiter’s gifts. I continue to feed him the chicken — processed beyond recognition — and my husband continues to pick up the carcasses at the back door. I can’t say that I’m used to it, but I will say this: I’ve accepted our differences.

He’s a cat. He likes to hunt. And he keeps the mice out of the house, in the woods where they belong. (I try not to think too much about the ones that trespass on his territory — with deadly consequences.)

I’m a vegetarian. But I’m in love with a carnivore, and I can’t imagine my life without him. Jupiter: my not-so-vegetarian cat.

~Yolanda Ridge

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