Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Wild Cat Safaris and All That


     Every morning I get up and look out of the window to see something like this.

     I feel truly blessed to have this view in various guises. Sometimes it's as beautiful and sunny as this. Other times it may be grizzly and raining. On odd occasions there's a magical celtic mist and when it's really cold there's always the chance of a winter wonderland.

     Beneath all this romantic fluff there's a harsh reality to living in the country. I'm surrounded by farmers who cheerfully tell me that the bulls are off to be castrated. I follow lads with dogs who are about to wreak havoc on the local rabbit population. And, naturally, there is an abundance of wild mice (or mouses, I have been reliably informed is the current collective noun by Nerissa) for the rural cat to capture, torment and eventually cause the demise of.

     Every so often there comes a point where I am required to intervene. Today I will describe some of this process and how I tame Pusia's urge to kill.

I See the Signs

     When I say 'rural cat' I am, of course, referring to my cute little Pusia. To look at her you'd say butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. In fact, as I write this she is curled up on a cushion next to my table and snickering ever so gently with each furry little breath!

     When, however, I hear her delighted screeches from the garden I am most likely to look through the window upon a sight something like this.

     Cats are well known for their inclination to chase inanimate objects such as a leaf blowing in the wind. I have to say, after much consideration, I think this is probably simply because nothing animate has offered itself to the cat and the cat simply has to chase something or go bonkers. I observed as much when Pusia first came to live with me. To save the majority of my furniture and a good deal of my skin I ended up tying a cork to a long piece of string and attempting to exhaust Pusia by dragging it up and down the stairs.

     Pusia was more perplexed by my efforts to amuse her than entertained by the wriggling mouse type object bouncing past her on what she obviously knew, her look told me, was a piece of string!

     No fluttering leaves for my Pusia, oh no! It's got to be the real thing. When I see her ferreting out something in the grass like this it can only mean one thing. It's a live one. A mouse!

Not Just a Dustpan

          On such occasions I have to become gamekeeper and hunter all in one: gamekeeper to protect the wild mouse livestock and hunter to recapture the mice that escape Pusia's clutches. I'm afraid that whilst I am Buddhist and can accept that the cat has been born at a certain level of existence where killing is in her nature, yadder, yadder, yadder, and I can tolerate Pusia bringing in the odd mouse corpse she's dispatched somewhere privately, I cannot stand by and idly watch while she kills a mouse in front of me.

     No. That would be very bad Karma indeed.

     The first thing I have to investigate is whether I am, indeed, the cavalry charging to the rescue at the eleventh hour. By the time I get to hear that Pusia has caught or even detected a mouse it may very well be too late already. In which case I am no longer the saviour of said mouse but must assume the role of undertaker.

     To most normal people this will be known as a 'dustpan and brush.' I have to tell you, to any rural cat owner it is significantly more important than that. To any rural mouse it is simply bad news.

     If I have to reach for the 'rodent retriever' as this essential bit of kit is known then it inevitably means that I am too late. I will have observed that the mouse has stopped moving. In all probability the mouse has stopped breathing - wouldn't you with a cat looming over you?

     On most of these occasions I will simply shoo Pusia away, giving her due praise for her conquest, and brush the little victim onto the tray.

     Sometimes, and this is when I truly rejoice, the mouse will spring to life. Hey, its sudden animation cries, you thought I was a goner but look at me, I've still got life in me yet!

Not Just an Ice Cream Tub

     At this point life becomes decidedly more complicated. Pusia, who has been wallowing in the praise and strokes I've been lavishing on her, suddenly realizes that there's a new game afoot and a new player, me, to boot!

     My task now is to extract the mouse from a deadly situation whilst continuing to stay on the good side of Pusia. My priority must be to keep the mouse alive at all costs. It's not good trying to distract Pusia. Not yet, anyway. If you've ever seen a cat that even suspects there's a mouse in the vicinity then you'll know what I'm talking about. It's time for the 'bamboozling box!'

     You may be saying, right now, hang on a minute Jools (as I'm known in friendlier circles) that's just an ice cream tub! In certain incarnations (a previous one, to be sure) it may have been an ice cream tub. To the mouse, right now, it's salvation and the only way it's going to get out of this situation alive.

     Admittedly the mouse has by this point probably escaped Pusia's grasp and usually run past me into the house. This situation is fraught with all kinds of further difficulties. For a start there is all manner of furniture under which said mouse can hide. Secondly, Pusia is inclined to charge around the place doing what she thinks, I assume, is working with me as a team.

     Often we will actually recreate something of a team effort to flush the mouse out into the open. When the mouse appears it's only a matter of chance whether it ends up in my clutches of back in Pusia's jaws. She won't kill it under these circumstances as the situation seems to provide her with way too much excitement.

How to Distract the Cat

     A mouse is a clever thing, I have learned. I can't even begin to think how many times I have seen a mouse play dead since I moved to the country. The really funny thing is that a cat will fall for it every time.

     The unfortunate mouse will dangle for a moment and then suddenly simply go limp. This seems to be the inter species signal for surrender. It certainly has the effect of lulling the cat into a state of lacklustre disinterest. The cat will simply drop the mouse and stare at it. If, after a few moments, the mouse is wise enough remain stock still then the cat almost invariably loses interest and wanders off. Occasionally Pusia will actually eat the mouse which somewhat confounds the whole playing dead thing.

   But, if the mouse is fortunate enough to be in my presence when Pusia loses interest then the bamboozling box is down on top of it in a shot. The mouse then usually and unwisely springs to life, wondering what new hazard has now beset its miserable existence and quite utterly unaware of how lucky it actually is. Quite apart from being imprisoned in a transparent prison, the mouse has found itself in its very own panic room, safe and secure from Pusia's lethal aspirations.

     Pusia will immediately regain her focus, however, and fixate on the little creature now trapped in the bamboozling box. It's no good just slipping the lid under the box, picking the creature up and walking outside with it. The cat will simply follow me and start the whole game up anew.

     In a stroke of genius I'll give Pusia the moment of glory she wants. Having wedged the bamboozling box firmly shut with a suitable heavy object (experience has taught me that a mouse jumps with incredible energy - enough energy to blow the lid off a bamboozling box) I'll rain down strokes, positive praise and direct a few suitably gruff comments towards the mouse. This all serves to convince Pusia that we've completed a good job. Now all I have to do is make the switch.

     If there's one thing that Pusia loves more than the odd mouse for a snack then it's these cat treat things you get in pouches. They're probably full of some addictive substance that makes cats go wild for them but in the interest of saving a mouse and restoring my Karma I'm not that concerned at this stage.

     The fact is that Pusia will recognize the merest rustle of the bag and immediately become transfixed by the contents. In her experience they're tasty, crunchy, more-ish and well worth spending time sniffing out.

     While the mouse considers its fate in the relative safety of the bamboozling box I chuck a handful of treats in the opposite direction. Pusia thinks this is great fun and will dash off to locate the treats. Cats don't have terribly good vision. At least they're not very good with near sightedness. They also can't use their whiskers to detect the snacks so confusing Pusia with the treats is a good way of occupying her for at least 10 minutes.

A Happy Cat

     In so doing I avoid the reproachful stares she used to give me when I would lock her in a room whilst I released the mouse back into the wild. She's no longer frustrated at having her prey snatched from under her nose and she no longer feels that we're acting in opposition to one another.

     More often than not I'll slip outside with the mouse in the box while she's otherwise engaged and simply remove the lid. The startled mouse will sit there for a moment, no doubt still wondering what more could possibly go wrong today, and then realizing its opportunity to escape it will scamper away into the hedge.

     By the time I get back to the house, Pusia has eaten all the snacks and the mouse isn't even a distant memory.

     She will simply glance at me and wonder idly where I've been. All in all I can tell that she's content with the situation. Purring happily with treats in her tummy I expect the thing that is by this point uppermost in her mind is just how long the next nap should be.