March 11, 2019
You know those pictures of pets of different species doing adorable things together? Like when dogs and cats get all snuggled up, or cats and birds set aside their differences so the bird can perch atop the cat’s head, or a fox mother adopts a bunny baby? Don’t those pictures just make you feel all warm and fuzzy and altruistic towards all living things? Here, try these on for size:
We got an adorable kitten a little over a year ago, and we were admittedly a smidge concerned about how things would fare between her and the two parakeets we already owned. However, with photos like these finding their way into hearts and memes everywhere, I found myself daydreaming that perhaps our three pets would put aside their circle-of-life differences and instead develop a sweet and abiding bond of friendship.
What’s developed instead is exactly what any sane person would expect — our cat tries to eat our birds on the regular. Ever since Percy (aka Ave Purrsephone Jingle Bells Christmas Miracle Watson) came to our home, she has been a source of frequent terror for the birds, whose names are Cheeky (stats: female/green/sneaky/painful bite) and Icy (stats: male/blue/gentle/boring).
In the beginning, when she was too little to make the leap up onto the table that holds the birdcage, Percy would sit and watch them intently, tail flicking back and forth (which is the universal cat-code for “I think I would enjoy eating you”). When she was big enough to reach the cage, we would frequently find her clinging to it, limbs stretched out in every direction, nose pressed between the bars, eyes scanning the cage for a possible way in. This being a rather aggressive thing to do, we responded by aggressively spraying her with water (which is the universal human-code for “Cat, stop it”).
She eventually gave this up and resorted instead to “napping” right next to the cage, with one, half-open eye fixed at all times on the nervous birds. It was cute and it fooled nobody.
At a certain point, she seemed to be losing interest. If it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, she was well on her way to becoming an expert in the very frustrating art of watching the things she’d prefer to be eating. You know the feeling. And so to spare herself this frustration, she began to ignore the tiny birds who hop and flutter and strut their meaty little selves around their maddeningly inaccessible cage. She would yawn and look away as she walked on by…but her tail was still twitching.
Thankful for what seemed to be Percy’s newfound indifference, I’ll admit I became a little careless. I long ago gave up hopes of our birds ever getting piggy-back rides from our cat, but I became too trusting all the same. I started to leave their cage door open when I got their food and water, and now and then I’d even turn my back for a few seconds.
One such time, during the few moments my back was turned, Cheeky the bright green parakeet sneaked out of the cage and carefully worked her way around to the back side of it, where she sneakily remained when I returned and closed the cage door. Somehow, through the multiple layers of cage bars, my eyes failed to notice that Cheeky was not actually on the inside but the outside of the cage (and with no way to get back in).
None of the humans in the house realized that there was anything amiss. But there was someone else in the house who did sense a bird on the loose, and that someone was Ave Purrsephone Jingle Bells Christmas Miracle Watson.
I don’t know at what point Percy spotted Cheeky, but several minutes later I was across the house in one of my boys’ rooms when I suddenly heard a commotion. Todd was yelling at the top of his lungs, yelling frantically, yelling louder than I’ve ever heard him yell in the entirety of the time I’ve known him. I frowned. The yelling got closer and I could make out words. Well, to be more precise, I could make out one word, and that word was: Percy. But in all caps. With lots and lots of exclamation points.
I ran to the doorway just in time to see a brightly colored splotch of green whizz by with Percy hot on its tail and Todd hot on hers. At that moment, the bird flew into the bathroom at the end of the hall, Todd reached out and slammed the bathroom door shut, and Percy crashed into the door and went running sheepishly away.
And then Todd, my loving and trusting husband who always thinks the best of me, looked at me with a stricken expression upon his face and said “Are you letting her do this?!”
Yes, that’s the question he asked me. It would seem that, of all the possible conclusions he could have drawn, the one that made the most sense to him in that particular moment was that I had started a Pet Fight Club.
I stared blankly at him. I asked how I could possibly be “letting” the cat do this, since I had literally no idea what was even going on. He stared blankly back, and then we set about returning Cheeky safely to her cage.
Later I asked him what it was about the situation that had made him so uncharacteristically frantic (and accusatory), and he explained the carnage he had envisioned (the carnage, I might add, that he suspected me of orchestrating). He said that he had imagined our boys standing around and watching horror-struck while our cat devoured our bird, ripping it violently to pieces, tropical feathers and blood flying everywhere. And to this, I responded the way one would expect a gentle, loving, reasonable person to respond — with hysterical laughter.
Now, just to be clear, I never thought such a thing would actually be funny. I’m not a monster. I laughed because of the absurdity of it all. It was horrific but it was also (thankfully) hypothetical, and it seemed like one of those crazy stories we’d tell our grandkids one day while playing Yahtzee, and they’d give each other sideways glances and shrug because they’d think maybe we were nutty and/or lying.
Anyway, after all that excitement, I assumed that Cheeky would not attempt another jail-break, but it turns out that birds aren’t so smart. (Turns out I’m not so smart either.) And several days later, when I offered a spinach leaf to that SAME ridiculous bird, the spinach leaf terrified her into sudden flight and she escaped. Again. And Percy went into full huntress mode. Again. And this time it was ME that was chasing her around the house and yelling at the top of my lungs and having visions of our sweet little pet bird (she’s not really that sweet) being slaughtered in front of our eyes, annnnnd it didn’t make me laugh.
But once again, Cheeky the cheeky parakeety cheekily escaped death, and we still own three pets, and I don’t know, this is happening regularly enough that maybe Pet Fight Club IS my new thing. (Kidding! Not a monster.)
The thing about this situation is that we brought a natural-born predator into a house that already contained two natural-born prey, and we expected the predator to not act like a predator. And we’ve complicated it more by sending the poor cat very mixed signals, because she has killed three scorpions and a number of other bugs in our house and we have praised her and hugged her and given her treats and said encouraging things like “Yes, Percy! Kill!” but then when she tries to kill our birds (who probably just look like really big bugs to her) we shout and panic and lose our minds.
In our family, we don’t treat our pets like humans. I don’t call myself their mommy, and my boys are not their brothers. You will never, ever hear me call Percy my fur-baby. But we do love our pets and take good care of them (when we’re not inadvertently turning our home into the set of the next season of Planet Earth) and I strive to create an environment that is safe and comfortable and happy for them. And the (hopefully obvious) answer to Todd’s question — am I letting her do this — AM I LETTING OUR CAT HUNT OUR BIRDS — is a big fat resounding NO. No, I do not want our cat to eat our birds. What I WANT is for our cat to let our birds ride on her back, but since that ain’t happening, I’m just crossing my fingers that, at the very least, we’ll someday reach the point where if the birds sneak out again, Percy will be so full of cat food and bugs and love that she won’t feel any need to eat the birds and instead will just yawn and stroll on by.
That’s my version of a cute pet picture: Percy with a dead scorpion at her feet, yawningly ignoring one green parakeet and one blue parakeet, both of whom have no idea how delicious they are.
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