84: The Art of Hunting

84: The Art of Hunting

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

The Art of Hunting

Fun fact: Tasmania established a program in 1997 to eradicate feral cats from Macquarie Island because they were decimating endangered seabirds. After removing 2,500 cats, the island was declared cat-free in 2003.

As far back as I can recall, my daughter has had a special connection with animals. I remember a visit to a local zoo when I told Emily, “Look at the monkey.” From her three-year-old vantage point, she observed, “That’s no monkey, Dad. That’s a lemur.” Or the time at a farm when a bull rushed the fence and everyone stumbled backwards, except for Emily, who reached out to touch it. She has always had a love for all creatures, just like her mother.

Needless to say, we’ve had more than our share of pets over the years, everything from mice to turtles to mangy dogs. We had a cat named Kitty who lived with us for more than twenty years. When Kitty died of old age, our family was heartbroken.

A short time later, Emily found a black cat in the hills behind our home. It was a female, skinny and starving, that apparently belonged to no one. Emily brought the cat home, nursed her back to health, and named her Blackjack.

Our new cat got the full treatment — a visit to the vet, a pillow to sack out on, water and food bowls beside her bed, and a daily ration of affection. In return, Blackjack began to supply us with gifts of her own. Sometimes, it was gophers or moles. Other times, it was frogs, chipmunks or bats. We usually ended up chasing them around the house in order to release them back to nature.

One day, Blackjack popped in through an open window next to my computer desk and dropped a green snake onto the keyboard. It coiled, ready to strike. After I peeled myself off the ceiling, I placed the snake in a bag, took it outside and set it free.

Once, in the middle of the night, I got up to go to the bathroom and stepped on something cold, wet and slimy. It was a fish Blackjack had snatched up from a nearby creek. Another time, I came home to find a live shrew scampering around the kitchen table.

I slowly came to appreciate Blackjack’s unique gifts and often chuckled to myself over the wide variety of wildlife she caught. There were cicadas and salamanders and centipedes and sparrows, and once even a live woodpecker — so many critters that I started to think she was knocking off pet stores. Happily, most of the animals she brought us were still alive. Blackjack and I became a top-notch catch-and-release team.

For a while, her favorite prey was live moths. Blackjack would step into the house, open her mouth, and out they would fly. It was a sight to behold.

One morning, on the way to school, Emily’s younger brother, Tyler, was pulling on his shoes when he shouted so loudly it nearly caused me to careen off the road. In the bottom of one shoe was a lizard — a skink.

We kept Blackjack’s food bowl full, but that didn’t stop her. Hunting was hard-wired into that cat’s brain.

One Thanksgiving, her gift was more traditional. Our family was seated around the table when she came in the pet door, dragging something between her front legs. It was a dead rabbit. The scene immediately put me in mind of a cheetah on the African savannah with its fresh kill, and the loud scream coming from my wife verified that.

Blackjack dropped the rabbit beside my chair and stared at me, as if to say, “I didn’t want to show up for dinner without bringing something.”

A week later, she trapped one of my neighbor’s geese under our house. The goose was big, but Blackjack was a strong cat. I heard all the commotion — thumping, wings flapping, hissing, quacking, yowling — coming from beneath the floorboards. Then total silence. I rushed outside just in time to see the goose waddle away, unharmed. A minute later, Blackjack appeared, shaking her head and looking baffled. She had met her match. Our cat never chased waterfowl again.

After that, there was a dry spell. Blackjack took a hunting hiatus. A full month passed. Then one morning she jumped up on the bed with an exciting new gift.

“What’s that in Blackjack’s mouth?” my wife asked, half-asleep. At that moment, a large rat plopped down onto the sheets and scampered beneath the covers.

We both leaped up, screaming like terrorized citizens in a Japanese monster film. It was, as they say, a pants-wetting experience.

Blackjack had a look on her face like “I think I made a mistake.” She pawed around, fished the rat out of our bed and dashed outside with it. I was in Emily’s room in seconds, explaining what had happened.

“That’s a sign of affection,” she replied. “Blackjack thought she was dropping a sack of money on your bed, not a rat.”

Cats are known for delivering freshly caught gifts to their human companions. Some people believe it’s a form of nurturing, much as other mammals and birds bring food to their offspring. Others say it’s because they consider us part of their “pride” and want our approval. Some experts in feline behavior speculate that cats bring us gifts in order to train us. They want to “educate” their owners in the art of hunting.

While those explanations make sense, I’m convinced that Blackjack’s motivation was different. I think she brought our family gifts because she wanted to repay us for saving her life.

~Timothy Martin

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