02 March 2008

The Neighbors' Cats

These footprints could be seen heading up our driveway this morning.

Not only did they go across the driveway, but they also go around the house, the woodpile, the yard, and back and forth across the street.

No, these aren’t the prints of some wild, Maine critter; these are the prints from the cats that belong to our neighbors across the road. Why, you may ask, would I bother to put up a photo of uninteresting cat prints? Because, of course, I have a story that goes with them.

A couple of years ago, our neighbors acquired a stray cat, which they named, Maggie. Maggie was an outdoor cat, and as anyone knows, outdoor cats don’t prefer their own yards; rather, they prefer the neighbors’ yards for hunting, lounging, using the sand box, and just basically hanging out.

Well, unbeknownst to any of us at the time, Maggie was expecting. A month or so after she arrived on the scene, three little kittens were born. It was a thrilling time for my kids, who got to be there and see the kitties just hours after they came into the world. What fun it all was, and we all sighed a bit when we thought about the fact that the three kitties would be given away one day.

Or so we thought.

Not long after they were born, the three kitties were given names: Bob, Bebe, and Butch. It was at this point that I became a bit concerned about the future of these cats. Not their futures, so much, but the futures of the chipmunks, birds, and squirrels that live in my yard.

Sure enough, our neighbors, who love cats and have hearts of gold, decided to keep ALL the kittens. Within a few months, the kittens became outdoor cats like their mama, and within the year, they all had taken up residence IN OUR YARD.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love cats. I have two of my own. But my cats are indoor cats. The only time they go outside is with me, in our fenced-in back yard, and they can’t do much then, because they are both de-clawed.

It quickly became annoying that the neighbors' four cats were always in our yard, but the real problem came when they began taking away our chipmunks.

My daughters have grown up watching the chipmunk family that lives under our front steps. A few years ago, we could tell that one of the chipmunks was pregnant and nesting. Not long after, we were privileged to actually see the mother bring her five babies out from under the step for the very first time. All summer, they ate out of our hands and were quite unafraid. My girls would often do their school work out on the sunny steps while the chipmunks ate from a bowl of birdseed we left out for them each day.

But then…

One day we all were horrified to glance out the door and see one of the neighbors' cats trotting away with a chipmunk in his mouth. We hurried out to try to save it, but the cat just ran away into the woods. The next day, we found two of the cats stalking our bowl of seeds, lying in wait for any chipmunk that might be looking for a snack.

I told our neighbors about the problem. They were very apologetic, but short of keeping their cats indoors, there was nothing they could do. I suggested they keep the cats in, but the cats were already outdoor cats and it became clear that the circumstances weren’t going to change. The neighbors suggested we spray the cats with water.

We tried that. We sprayed them, we let our dogs chase them away, we even threw sticks at them. But they always came back. Understand that I really do like these four cats. We take care of them when the neighbors are away, and they are really nice, friendly cats. But when they came into my yard and started taking MY chipmunks, they became the enemy.

Soon, we removed the bowl of seeds, as we felt we were feeding the cats, rather than the chipmunks, if you know what I mean. The chipmunks sat out on the front steps for a few weeks, looking around, looking up at the door, and wondering where their magical food supply had gone. We watched in horror as many of them were plucked away, one by one. Finally, either they all went away, or they were all eaten. We weren't sure.

Today, we still have chipmunks, but now we feed them in the back yard, inside the fence. They’ve figured it out and they scurry under the fence to fill their little cheeks with seeds, before trotting back under the fence into enemy territory. Once or twice I’ve seen the neighbors’ cats inside the fence, but our dog usually takes care of that problem.

There was a time when I was very angry with these neighbors. I wanted to make an issue of it. I wanted to call the police or animal control or somebody who might do something about these nuisance cats. I’ve even heard other neighbors complain about them. But in the end, I thought about the big picture. I love these neighbors. They are one of the sweetest, kindest families I’ve ever known. They would do anything for us and the other neighbors and they’d do it with a smile. Nobody is perfect and I suppose if the worst thing about my neighbors is their silly cats, then I should thank my lucky stars.

So there you go. Now when I see the footprints, I no longer get angry. I still chase the cats out of the yard, but more importantly, I’ve taken away their steady food source. Now they have to go home for meals.

And in the spirit of NaBloPoMo, and my 31 days of lists, here is a list of things that these wonderful neighbors have done for us and others on our road (kind of puts in perspective the whole thing about the cats).

1. They cried with us when our dog died.
2. They invite us to go square dancing with them – regularly.
3. They’ve helped me plow our driveway when hubby was away.
4. They’ve loaned us their trailer so we could haul away dead trees.
5. They visited our mutual neighbor in the hospital when he was getting chemo.
6. They ALWAYS wave and ALWAYS smile when we see them.

So there you go. The value of the people trumps the annoyance of the cats. And what the heck – the little kitty footprints in the snow ARE kind of cute.

Copyright © 2008 - Paulla Estes

1 comment:

Tom said...

Dump the cats.. keep the neighbors.. 'nuff said.. :)