Summer, my pretty Somali cat, thinks she is a fearsome and impressive hunter. The truth is that she has terrible hunting skills. She made this all too clear one night a couple of weeks ago, at one in the morning.
As I walked past my bathroom on the way to bed, I saw her playing around the shampoo bottles of my step-down shower. I went over to see what she was up to, and she had corned a young rat. It chattered angrily at her as she circled it, her eyes brimming with excitement. She looked up at me proudly – and strutted up and gave me a headbutt, expecting praise.
That’s right. She walked away from her still-living, completely uninjured prey to brag. I happened to be holding my iPhone so I even shot a video of her gaffe.
Fortunately the rat was too scared to run away at the easy opportunity and Summer went back to circling it and occasionally giving it a poke that was meant to be dangerous and intimidating but in reality was more like a gentle tap. The game gave me an opportunity to grab a plastic container. With a little encouragement, Summer chased it into the container and I was able to take the critter far, far away from my house and release it.
There are too many people who believe that if you just send a cat outside, she will fend for herself and do all right, but this isn’t true. Yes, cats are hardwired to stalk and hunt prey, but it doesn’t mean they are any good at it. Like any other skill, it takes training. It doesn’t come naturally to most cats, especially those born in homes.
In the wild, a mom cat starts weaning her kittens by bringing them dead prey. She eats the prey herself and eventually her youngsters join in. When they get the idea that eating prey is a good thing, she brings it home only partly dead and teaches them to kill it. When the kittens get good enough at this, they go out on hunts and learn to catch the prey on their own. Cats born and raised inside don’t get this thorough instruction, so while they may become adept at killing a toy mousie, chances are they won’t do as well with catching a real one.
Summer may have been proud of her find the other night, but she definitely would not be able to fend for herself out in the wild. It took me to catch her prey for her. And even cats that did have the kitten training from mom don’t get any guarantees. If prey is scarce, they are out of luck. Abandoning any cat and believing she will be able to hunt enough prey to feed herself – while not becoming prey to a larger predator – is unspeakably cruel.
As I write this, Summer is busy chasing flies, or as she prefers to think of them, “sky raisins.” She is good at catching, and eating, those guys … but they don’t make a meal.