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Possumhaw: Indoor cats save wildlife


Shannon Bardwell



Jack sat quietly at the porch rail overlooking the bird feeders. I imagined him recalling the day he would crouch under the fading irises and wait to spring on a cardinal, an indigo bunting, a Prothonotary warbler, perhaps a hummingbird. 


When not staring at the bird feeders, Jack, 16-year-old cat, fixates on his food bowl or sleeps on the couch next to Sam. Occasionally, when he's tired of waiting for someone to notice his needs, he lets out an unearthly howl that surely can be heard for miles. That's Jack, not Sam.  


Jack watched a squirrel at the birdfeeder help himself to seed droppings. My new squirrel-proof birdfeeder has saved a bundle on birdseed. Although once, the squirrels figured out how to yank the bottom of the feeder out so that all the seed piled on the ground like pinata prizes.  


Some squirrel has already absconded with an entire suet feeder. We never saw the suet or the feeder again. I bought another, only to have them open a difficult latch that I can barely open. Sam bought a fastener with a screw closure; we'll see how that works. 


In his lifetime Jack has tangled with a squirrel or two. He's certainly caught his share of birds, but he seemed to have a penchant for small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. It's unnerving to have a snake left at your front door, or a frog missing a leg, or the innards of something undefinable.  


Once, I had a wild frog for a friend. At first the frog would jump from the rock to the water. As I came out day after day, sitting quietly, he stayed. I thought it amazing I had made friends with a frog. Then the day came when I went to the pond and there was my frog, dismembered. I was disgusted with Jack. Jack's never been one to share his attention. Ever since I got the rabbits he's been tearing his hair out. Sam goes about the house pointing out spitballs of cat hair. "Here's some more," he says, holding spitballs in the air.  


"We could get a cat psychiatrist," I suggest, "but Jack couldn't hear them." Jack's been deaf since birth. 


Since he retired from his usual activities and we have no other watchful pets, Jack has become an indoor cat. The American Bird Conservancy recommends keeping cats indoors. They have an ulterior motive of protecting birds, but it does protect the cat as well. 


According to the Conservancy, domestic cats were introduced into North America by early Europeans and are not adapted to life in the wild, and thus they seek populated areas. It's estimated they kill hundreds of millions of birds each year. "Their [cats] dramatic rise in population in such a short time has been devastating to native wildlife." 


So, in an effort to protect our native wildlife, I suggested to Sam that Jack should stay inside.  



Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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