My wife and I are cat people, which shouldn’t be taken to mean that we don’t like dogs.
Despite the fact that dogs smell, can’t keep themselves clean, poo all over our footpaths and other public places, are noisy and may at any time maul you, we tolerate them.
We’re more tolerant of them when we don’t have to tolerate them, if you know what I mean.
Pinch-faced, domineering people have an irrational hatred of cats, and you may have noticed, too, that a dog unfortunate enough to be owned by these people is so dominated it no longer rejoices in being a dog.
As you will know cats cannot be dominated, which may go a long way to explaining the hatred.
When it despairs of its relationship with one of these miserable people the cat simply goes elsewhere. It jumps one or 50 fences, climbs a few trees and hangs discreetly around a succession of back doors until it finds a mutually appreciative relationship. Cats never see themselves as being owned.
The fact that cats are free to jump fences brings me to Alicia Grumont, who appeared in this paper’s Topics column with Damon Cronshaw just over a week ago arguing that cats should be allowed out for excursions and adventures only while supervised.
A photo of Alicia’s Bengal cat, Alfie, at the beach illustrated Alicia’s argument.
Alfie was unleashed, and Alicia explained that she trained Alfie using a program known as positive operant conditioning, which is praising the good behaviour and ignoring the bad and which Alicia says she’s used successfully as a manager at Telstra.
Connect with your cat with love, Alicia says. Yes, all cat owners are inclined to be mushy but we do fall short of allowing cats to slobber over our face.
Now, some people do believe that cats should be kept inside or at the least confined to the owner’s property, and mywonderful neighbours on both sides are among them. They believe that the three cats belonging to their not-so-wonderful neighbour should not be free to poo in their gardens, and I concede that finding cat poo neatly buried in your vegie garden is worse than dog poo piled on the nature strip.
Over the years I’ve urged our neighbours to address the issue with the cats’ owner, my wife, and perhaps because of her fearsome nature they haven’t done that yet.
The law doesn’t require cats to be confined to a yard or leashed beyond the yard, as is and should be the case with dogs, and if it did the first difficulty would be that cats do not recognise man-made borders.
The second difficulty is that they can jump and climb. The third difficulty is that cat owners would vote against a government that made such a law.
The only way of confining a cat is to lock it inside or cage it outside, both cruel for the cat and the owner. Or, I suppose, use Alicia Grumont’s positive operant conditioning to train your cat, which might be difficult for those who haven’t been able to practise on Telstra workers.
The less extreme campaign against cats is for an overnight curfew, and for cat owners this is much more acceptable and achievable.
Many, even most, cat owners already confine their cats overnight to keep them safe. The campaigners’ stated reason for a curfew is to protect wildlife, and in bushy areas a curfew is probably a good thing.
Often accompanying an argument for confining cats is an account of the impact on fauna of feral cats, and it is a terrible impact. But just as there are feral cats there are feral horses, feral camels, feral donkeys, feral deer and feral dogs, and laws confining dogs have not rid us of the feral dogs that create so much carnage in rural areas.
The fact is that a pet cat will not become a feral cat unless it is abandoned, and it is only in country areas that a cat could become what is known as a feral cat anyway.
In cities and other urban areasit would be merely a stray cat.
Apart from a dove years ago, and more recently a ringtail possum we think had been injured already, the only wildlife my wife’s cats kill are rats and mice.
Approaching 100 in the past seven or eight years, all delivered to the back door in whole or part, and one summer night’s tally was five!
Our neighbour has seen our cats jumping fences with a rat on their way home, and it’s been years since I’ve seen any sign of rats or mice on our property despite the fact that we store grain for our chooks.
I leave the doors of our sheds ajar to allow regular feline inspection, and my theory is that rodents detect the presence of cats and move to cat-free premises.
This means that my wife’s cats have to jump one or two fences to find the rats that they leave at the back door as proof they’re meeting their side of the bargain.
I like to send our neighbours photos of the biggest rats. It seems to keep them happy briefly.