I’ve had house cats, barn cats, fluffy cats, sleek cats, friendly cats, aloof cats, bold cats, and shy cats. But never, until now, have I had a cat who was a stone-cold killer.
The first time I saw Phoebe was in a text photo received from Shannon, a woman who works in my husband’s medical office. The image of a scrawny little black kitten with patchy fur and bloated belly was not especially appealing. I was told that she was rescued from under a front porch and had been passed along to a few kind-hearted folks, who ultimately wanted to continue passing her along. So, as these things go, she became ours.
The kitten, about four weeks old, was sweet and a little scared. Her most prominent feature was not her scraggly appearance, but her terrible smell. I swear that she smelled like poo and chocolate. I know that sounds weird, but in my google search to determine if there was a remedy, I read other accounts of feline chocolate/poo aroma. Eventually, with a little love, a lot of care, and a good diet, Phoebe, our smelly cat, was transformed into a beautiful, strong, sweet-smelling, shiny-coated feline.
Likely a product of feral parentage, Phoebe, now a year old, remains a bit wild. She bites my feet and ankles when she wants to be fed, bats at the dog’s head and tail, and loudly demands to go outdoors to chase squirrels and climb trees. In some ways, her cunning wildness is admirable, but, to my utter dismay, our wild kitty hunts and kills birds.
Phoebe presented her very first victim to me one day this spring, on what has become her stage: our covered back porch. That day, I was late to the show, so all that was left of the poor bird was a pile of feathers. Other backyard birds have made it to Phoebe’s little theater in various stages of demise, some still flapping and squeaking, but beyond saving. Phoebe flings them into the air, as cats, seemingly cruelly, will do. One morning in July, she found two baby birds and brought them into the house to eat. I was depressed all day.
Knowing, finally, that this was not a fluke or phase, I consulted the internet about how to stop cats from killing birds. I tried shiny collars, bells, limiting her time out during peak bird hours, and feeding her before she went out, but to no avail. The victims were piling up. Feeling desperate, I found a site that sold what looked like clown collars, gathered neck garlands made of colorful fabric, advertised to alert visually-sensitive birds to the cat’s presence.
Phoebe looked adorable in her polka dot red ruffle. We remained hopeful. Two days later, on a beautiful August afternoon, our kitty once again mounted the stage. There she stood on our back porch, this time in full costume, proudly presenting a very dead chickadee.
It’s been a few weeks since her last kill. I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, she will somehow mature into the lazy, sofa-loving feline to which I have become so accustomed. I suspect, though, that Phoebe is closer than most cats to her wild ancestors, that her raison d’être is not comfort, but survival. So as her guardian, I will continue to take steps to minimize the possibility of cat+bird=(dead bird)+(pleased cat). And that while still loving Phoebe’s wildness and spirit, I will, with hope (perhaps beyond reason), diligently and gently work to un-wild my wild kitten.