photo by Dennis Jarvis
Once upon a time, a little girl spied a gray cat prowling her family’s backyard deck.
“Hello,” said the little girl, whose name was Ali and who was about 6 years old (she had the same name and was the same age as my younger daughter). “You are outside in that wide world with no food and no mom nearby. You must be hungry.”
“I could eat,” the cat replied. “I can always eat.”
“I’ll get you some milk,” Ali told the cat.
“That’s a misconception, young lady,” said the cat. “Kittens consume milk. I am a full-grown feline, a creature of the wild, a predator. I am the space-saving version of the cheetah, the puma, the ocelot. I may not be king of the jungle, but I rule the duchy of the backyard. In other words: I eat meat.”
So Ali rummaged through her family’s refrigerator and found some freshly sliced roast beef from the local deli. She pulled out a generous portion and brought it outside, setting it on the deck for her new friend. “Much obliged,” the cat told her.
The cat became a regular visitor to Ali’s deck. So did many of the cat’s friends and relations. After finishing her own after-school snack, Ali would set out some deli meat. She thought her mother did not notice. Like mothers everywhere, Ali’s mom knew everything, but chose to mention only some things.
Ali eventually found other things to do after school, such as sports and homework. The feeding of the cats slowed and eventually stopped. The cats did not seem to mind. They were not really hungry anyway. They kept coming to Ali’s deck, year after year, generation after generation. Ali’s parents would see them lounging on the furniture or digging in the flower pots. At night, Ali’s mom and dad would hear the cats carousing in the backyard.
Many creatures congregated in that yard. Ali’s father planted a cherry tree, which grew tall and produced many cherries. The family never got to eat any, however, because each summer, just as the cherries began to ripen, flocks of birds descended on the little yard. Blue jays, robins, cardinals and sparrows feasted on the family’s cherries, unmolested by any cats.
Meanwhile, the blueberry bushes Ali’s father cherished simply disappeared, as the ravenous local deer ate first the berries, then the bushes. At dawn, raccoons would empty the family’s trash cans all over the driveway and share the contents with the crows who watched from nearby oak trees. Skunks were also frequent visitors. Everyone gave the skunks a wide berth.
Ali grew up and moved to Manhattan. Her father spent a lot of time in Florida, where he was surprised to discover that cat-lovers and bird-lovers were at war in the statehouse in Tallahassee.
It seems the cat-lovers want to provide legal protection to “community cats,” like the ones who still congregate on Ali’s old back deck. They want to make certain nobody in Florida can be prosecuted for sheltering or spaying a wild cat, and then returning it to a park or other public place. This might be considered animal abuse or neglect, but as Ali learned long ago, cats who are given an occasional free meal are happy to accept it, and do not consider themselves abused or neglected.
Bird-lovers squawked at the legislation. It would lead to public “hoarding” of animals, they said. Furthermore, wild cats kill billions of birds, they said. They ought to be de-clawed, brought indoors and offered foods that are loaded with cholesterol.
Ali’s father shook his head knowingly. Community cats don’t kill birds, at least not in places where little girls willingly offer fresh roast beef instead.
If birds are dying, it is probably from overconsumption of stolen cherries.