Defending the felines

Johan van Zyl, Gordon’s Bay

Following a spate of readers’ letters decrying the habit of domestic cats who prowl the empty streets at night, busying themselves with activities that do not sit well with these and certain other homeowners, I decided to enter the fray.

I’m not writing primarily to oppose the various writers who have voiced criticism or offered solutions, but rather also to rise to the camouflaged challenge offered in the letter in Bolander of December 5, in which the closing paragraph reads, “The cat keepers are silent”.

May I be supported later by all the caring people who find it in their hearts to put in a good word in this column for our felines, those little beauties who fastidiously live out their lives according to the way they have been wired.

Coincidentally, I read an article in the ‘By’-supplement to Die Burger of December 8, discussing the problem of baboons invading villages and pestering townsfolk with their pillaging. It’s really bad news when a big baboon enters your home and defecates in your fruit bowl.

Now the baboon problem and the cat problem might seem synonymous, but in fact they are not.

Baboons come down from their traditional stamping grounds and enter human living areas, whereas cats of the domesticated kind have no such ‘wilds’ to call their own.

A dog will poop on your lawn if its owner looks the other way, and a cat will do likewise. They are animals, for goodness sake.

At least the cat is one up on the dog in this way: cats instinctively cover their ‘dumplings’ with sand, but in our concrete jungles, stretches of good, clean sand just does not come up too often.

Cats and dogs do as humans do – when they have to go, well, that’s it. For a cat, the little bit of mulchy soil in your favourite flowerpot will suffice, thank you. Dogs don’t care a hoot either way.

The anti-cat proponents reading over my shoulder as I write this, will say I have not provided proof that they are wrong in putting the blame on cat owners for allowing their pets to roam unfettered.

So it will probably surprise them when I now concede that they, sadly, do have a point.

Owners should erect some kind of enclosure to restrict their cats to their own premises.

This is a sad symptom of the times we live in. The human populations in our urban and suburban areas are close to bursting at the seams; this is bound to affect the way we live.

As time goes by, we are forced to live in progressively crowded neighbourhoods. We tend to become more competitive towards each other; attitudes harden; social circumstances become complicated; our tolerances toward one another take a dive.

Don’t drive through the streets with your radio blaring. Late partying with boom-boom music is a no-no.

Keep your dog on a leash when strolling. And now: erect a big wire-mesh enclosure for your pet cat.

That’s bad news for kitty. Archaeological evidence suggests that domestication of the wildcat Felis silvestris began as far back as
7 000 to 8 000 BC.

Wildcats started to associate with humans, offering them a service by preying on rodents that infest grain stores. Wildcat blood runs strongly in their veins to this day.

In this way, once more, cats are different to dogs. Dogs are subservient to their owners, whereas cats treat humans as extremely large members of their own kind.

My personal take is that a cat is a lion in miniature.

When I observe lions in the wild, I see them engage in antics of the kind I also see in the cats that visit me (I am not a ‘keeper’).

They both use their faces and body language to show what they are feeling.

When they feel threatened, they show off their sharp teeth and claws and try to make themselves look as big as possible by standing on their tiptoes and hunching their backs.

To show they are happy and relaxed, both lions and cats will gnaw softly at each other.

Lions are predators; so are cats. The lithe body of the tabby that lies curled up on your lap, houses both form and function of a killing machine par excellence, ready to swoop on a bird at a moment’s notice and tear the hapless prey to shreds.

I write this not in opposition to cats or cat ‘keepers’, but rather more in absolute awe of our feline friends.

My wife and I have been blessed with the continuing visits by neighbours’ cats through the entertaining companionship they have given us, even though we never feed them.

It makes up for the deposits of dreck I sometimes have to clean up, and always have to watch out for.

Gatos para Siempre

Thanks Johan, like you, I am a great lover of cats; they shall always share my habitat, as do many others creatures, from great to small – Ed