87: The One That Got Away

87: The One That Got Away

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

The One That Got Away

Fun fact: When it hunts, a cat’s most highly refined sense is its vision.

Dawn had barely broken when sudden thumping noises, followed by shrill chirping, woke me from a deep sleep. Instinctively, my critter-radar engaged. I knew some creature that shouldn’t be inside my house was huddled on the floor just beyond my husband’s side of the bed. But early-rising Chuck had already left for work, leaving me to face the interloper on my own.

Gradually, as sporadic thumps and squeaks continued, my foggy brain detected the soft jingle of our male cat’s bell-studded collar. After rescuing Hector from a farm as a kitten, we quickly discovered his hunting skills were top-notch. And, just as quickly, we invested in colorful, snap-on, jingle-bell collars to give the woodland varmints and birds a fighting chance.

“He’s a herder,” our neighbor informed me when I complained of Hector’s propensity for nudging an animal long distances before taking its life. Our neighbor promptly nicknamed him Killer. Much as I detested Hector’s pastime, I grudgingly admitted that the moniker fit.

Over time, our savvy kitten learned to stalk his prey in silent, snakelike fashion. But that particular morning in my bedroom, Hector’s enthusiasm for the game obviously overrode his desire for stealth. Although I couldn’t identify the victim by its chirp, its unnervingly high-pitched squeal led me to suspect the critter was very small. Peering over the edge of the bed, I tried to see what it was. But the room was dark, my vision was blurry, and my glasses were downstairs on a kitchen windowsill. Squinting, I barely made out a tiny glob on the rug. A baby mouse, perhaps? A giant bug?

Groaning, I rolled back in bed to consider my options. I knew how this game played out. At the moment, Hector was reveling in the fact that he was worrying the critter right under my nose. But the minute I made a move to rescue it, he’d clamp down hard and run away, ending its fragile life in an instant. I was surprised the creature wasn’t history already. With deep regret, I decided to let nature take its course. The poor little guy was probably half-dead. Surely the chirping would soon cease.

It did not.

Finally, I took another tack. Rolling off my side of the mattress, I grabbed a book from the nightstand and warily crept around the bed toward my cat and his prey. Hector, of course, knew exactly what was going down, having seen this ridiculous maneuver countless times in the past. But this time, in his cockiness, he delayed a split second too long before lunging for his prey. And in that split second, I threw the book at his flank, successfully knocking him a few steps sideways, and affording me just enough time to come between him and his quarry. Miffed at his game’s interruption, Hector glowered at me from the doorway as I surveyed the tiny brown spot lying, unmoving, on the carpet.

“I should probably just end your suffering,” I murmured sadly.

Much as I hated the thought of smooshing it, I also hated the thought of it scurrying off to die somewhere secluded indoors. I’d had enough mice expire in the walls of a prior home to realize that even tiny critters, once defunct, emit a powerful stench.

Still bleary-eyed, I crouched down and retrieved my book. But having never heard this particular kind of chirp before, I was curious to see the strange creature up close before eradicating it. Book in hand, I edged steadily nearer, prepared to strike if it made a run for it. Inches from my target, my eyeballs finally adjusted — and recognition dawned.

“HECTOR HOBDAY HAUGH!” I shrieked, jumping to my feet and chasing my cat down the hall. “BAD BOY!”

As Killer frantically dove for the stairs, I flew back to my bedroom, flicked on the overhead light, and emitted an exasperated wail. There at my feet lay not a tiny mouse or a giant bug, but one of my son’s $2,000 hearing aids.

Apparently, Josh had forgotten to turn his pricey micro-machine off at bedtime. As a result, it sat on a shelf all night, emitting just enough of an intermittent high-pitched squeal to attract the interest of our farm-bred feline. Knocking the hearing aid to the floor, Hector herded it as he would any small animal the full length of the hallway connecting our two bedrooms, eager to show off his latest acquisition.

Although the hearing aid was damaged and required repair, I found it hard to hold a grudge. Hector was just doing what he’d been born to do. Besides, he wasn’t the only seasoned hunter on the prowl that morning. Between my cat’s sharp ears and my own dull vision, we’d both come dangerously close to destroying the device. Fortunately, the same innate curiosity that drove Hector to stalk that chirp in the first place ultimately compelled me to take an up-close look at the tiny thing before smashing it with my book.

~Wendy Hobday Haugh

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