Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 3
January 17 - 23, 2002
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That Darned Cat

Before the problem of the creative writer, analysis
must lay down its arms.

— Sigmund Freud: “Dostoevsky and Patricide,” 1928.

Well, Sigmund, this creative writer (?) has a problem, the appropriate (or legal) solution of which is neither laying down arms nor taking up arms. Though at times the latter is a tempting option.

I know I can’t call on wise old Adlai Stevenson, who twice was an unsuccessful presidential candidate, for advice. Not only did he depart this world in 1965, but if he were still with us he wouldn’t touch my problem with the proverbial pole of 10 feet.

I knew Stevenson. I covered his first campaign aboard his whistle stop train in New England and New York as a young political reporter in the early ’50s, and I admired his wisdom and warmth. But he had already gone on record relative to my current problem.

Several years before he challenged Ike for the presidency, as governor of Illinois he made the following statement in vetoing a controversial bird-protection bill:

The problem of cat versus bird is as old as time. But if we attempt to resolve it by legislation who knows but what we may be called upon to take sides as well in the age-old problem of dog versus cat, bird versus bird and even bird versus worm. … The state of Illinois and its governing bodies already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency.

Feline Delinquency
You see my problem is feline delinquency: cat versus not bird, but many birds. Cat versus squirrels. Cat versus rabbits. And not least of all, cat versus 2-E, my white longhair feline that is driven to distraction by the cat that is the object of my dilemma.

So you might say the bottom line is cat versus Burton. Thus far, ever-elusive Cat (let’s call him/her just that for lack of accurate ID) is ahead of the game.

Cat is a beautiful, well-groomed marmalade with bright orange fur, obviously well fed and well cared for with license and/or ID tags around the neck. Cat has an absentee owner and spends most of the time amidst the ornamental shrubbery at the front of the Burton household at Riviera Beach on the shore of Stoney Creek in North County.

Not infrequently, Cat’s meandering takes it to the shrubbery at the screened-in porch where 2-E likes to lounge, and Cat’s presence thereabouts is more than annoying to 2-E. It’s worse when 2-E is indoors as Cat leaves the jungle of bushes to start meowing loud and long below the bay window of the living room, which is 2-E’s favorite daytime place for napping when things are quiet. Now, too often they’re not.

2-E’s woes are not of matters of life and death, but for the wildlife that frequent the lawn, Cat is indeed that serious. For Cat, like all cats, likes to hunt, and the toll has been growing among the songbirds, squirrels and rabbits that frequent the profusion of feeders on the east lawn.

At last count, 15 birds, three rabbits and two squirrels appear to have been claimed by Cat in the past year — and those are only the ones whose remains I observed in my rounds of filling more than a dozen hanging feeders. Things have gotten so bad that I have thought of discontinuing my food kitchen for wildlife. But the birds and animals have come to pretty much depend on my handouts.

Also, I enjoy bird, squirrel and rabbit watching, as does 2-E from within the confines of porch and living room.

To Catch a Cat
Though brazen, testy and sometimes downright defiant, Cat is elusive.

Time after time, I’ve tried sneaking up on Cat, who momentarily holds his/her ground, sometimes hissing at me but always dashing off as I get close. Cat is a blur; all I see is the orange fur and the bright silver tag on the collar as Cat bounds for the nearby woods.

This cat-and-mouse chase has been going on for a couple of years. Meanwhile, attempts to identify Cat’s owner haven’t turned up a clue: No one admits ownership. So last week when another patch of strewn feathers appeared on the lawn, I knew the time had come for 2-E and me to play hardball.

We don’t want to hurt Cat, just be rid of Cat, so we appealed to Tahira Thomas, administrator of Animal Control for Anne Arundel County, who incidentally currently owns no cats but has two dogs. She said our problem is not unusual. Though it’s illegal, many owners allow their cats to roam free.

Nor is the solution unusual: Trap the cat, turn it over to Animal Control, and they will do the rest, which I’m sure the owner won’t appreciate.

The tab will be at least $80: an impoundment fee of $25, a $50 fine for allowing a cat to roam and a five-buck-a-day boarding fee. Should there be a repeat, the fine alone goes to $150 in addition to the other charges. Further infractions can bring a fine of up to $500.

To capture Cat, animal control will loan a humane box-type trap, supplying everything but the tin of tuna to be used for bait. Ms. Thomas just about guarantees the tuna will make Cat vulnerable.

Impounded in Style
Being one who is a fancier of cats (not Cat), I found it incredible when Thomas told me that of 2,000 to 4,000 cats impounded a year, only 100 to 200 are redeemed by their owners, who must still pay the fine. About 500 of those impounded are adopted each year.

The cats, along with dogs and a myriad of other pets picked up, are housed in new and spacious 20,000-square-foot quarters off Veterans Highway in Millersville. Things are bright and cheerful there, much more so than at the previous pound in Glen Burnie, Thomas assured me.

Cages — of which there are 48 for cats and 84 for dogs — are spacious. There is a clinic for neutering and spaying, a recovery room, also other facilities; even special accommodations for exotic species. If need, be about twice the planned capacity can be accommodated for short term.

Cat will get good temporary care, guaranteed Thomas, who has had household cats of her own in the past but turned to dogs because they pose no litter box-cleaning chores. “When my dogs do something they shouldn’t, I tell them I’m going back to cats,” she said.

She really didn’t have to tell me not to blame Cat for the problems of 2-E and me. It’s the owners who turn cats out to roam free that are the culprits. Cats only do what comes naturally — and to them hunting is a natural instinct.

Curiously, though all cats of more than four months must legally have shots and licenses, there are only about 8,000 licensed (and not licensed to hunt) cats in Anne Arundel County, where there are 450,000 citizens. Either Anne Arundel Countians don’t like cats or don’t like licensing — and it doesn’t take much figuring to come up with the answer for that.

The Hunt Is On
So one day soon, with 2-E’s blessing I’m heading to Animal Control to borrow a trap, stopping at the market on the way home for the best can of chunky tuna. I’ll set up shop amidst the shrubs with the intent of adding one more feline to the population at Millersville where, if you face the same woes, the phone number is 410/222-8900.

We’ll let you know how things go with 2-E, me and Cat. Stay tuned …

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly