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Un-wilding My Wild Kitten

Un-wilding my Wild Kitten

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.

This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. Thanks for this wonderful story, and… good luck! I saw a National Geographic special on “Cats” that made it clear these “housecats” are really lions and tigers at heart — genetically, irretrievably so. If they were bigger, they’d be hunting (and eating) us. That they consent to co-exist — and even cuddle! — is an inexplicable condescension that, at least in our case, felt like a blessing.
    Yesterday we put down our nearly twenty-year-old black cat, Sinatra Pywacket, “Natra” (or just “Kitty”) for short. She has left a horrible hole in our hearts that feels bottomless, and I wonder how she did that; slowly, cunningly, effortlessly, she took over. There’s no getting over her, I’m afraid.

    1. Thank you, Cindy. And I’m sorry about you losing your kitty. Twenty years is a long time to love a cat, making it hard to take when they are suddenly gone. I remember after our 19+ year-old kitty died, for months I would see her fleeting image from the corner of my eye. She was our first, and perhaps, most beloved family pet.

  2. Loved this story! My sister-in-law’s cat brings birds, mice and voles through the cat door almost every day at camp. I tread carefully while there, as dying or dead animals can be part of the decor.

  3. That is not a cat. I have met it and stared into its eyes. It is definitely a small panther. Fortunately, it does seem to be discovering the delicious and easily retrieved food items from the dinner table and kitchen counter so you are probably safe for a while. Not so sure about the birds, however.

  4. Great story about your huntress kitty. My 2-year old black cat, Boo, doesn’t hunt birds but has fun with bunnies and mice. Not sure why but Boo likes to decapitate these cute animals and leave them for me on his stage (my front porch). I haven’t tried the clown collar or a bell but think it would take a cone of shame to keep him from his ‘work.’ The worst was this summer when we found the baby bunnies missing most of their bodies. I wonder if he plays with them first or flings them in the air. On second thought, I don’t want to know! Will just keep my hunter inside as much as possible!

  5. My sister brought me a ginger cat from wild rural Georgia – with a mother and a litter mate. The litter mate is huge and soft and fat and never hunts. The ginger cat, Leo, hunted everything from bears to birds, with foxes and mice in between. The neighborhood loved him; he had four houses that claimed him as part of their households. They hated that he caught birds, though.

    He disappeared the week my Mom died last year. We figure a coyote or an owl got him. He was mighty. And all cat. They are all tigers at heart if they are true cats.

    I love your story – and your online magazine.

    P. S. Have you read Kipling’s “The Cat Who Walked by Himself”? It explains everything.

    1. Leo sounds like a gem (other than the bird hunting)! So sad he’s not still around. Thank you for your comments about the story and the site. In a way, it has helped me get through this godawful year. I will definitely check out the Kipling cat story. Thanks for the tip!

  6. Thanks for your story-particularly,I suspect,for those of us who have shared our homes with felines for years. We recently had to say goodbye to our 19 year old ginger named Leo, the perfect cat. We now have a “murderess” whom we have renamed Gato Malo exactly for the bad habit she shares with your cat. She prefers mice however. She may be getting a pretty collar soon!

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Cyd Chartier-Cohn

Cyd Chartier-Cohn

Cyd Chartier-Cohn is founder, publisher, and contributing editor for American Voice Media. She produces and directs documentaries, including the award winning 2010 feature, Return. She is currently finishing the documentary, Middle of Somewhere, a slice-of-life film shot during the opening weekend of pheasant hunting season in Western Kansas. Cyd lives in Colorado Springs with her husband, Elliot Cohn. They have two adult sons, a West Highland terrier, and wild black kitten.

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