As a general matter the Coop Mistress tries not to be too emotional about the, er, messier aspects of nature. Everyone and everything has to eat, and if one is an obligate carnivore, one is obliged to eat meat. That’s just how it is, and generally we all have our place in this cycle. It is hard not to be angry, however, when the cycle gets out of whack because a creature who does not belong in a particular part of the cycle gets swept up in it thanks to human negligence and selfishness. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord; I shall repay — but it isn’t fair when the sins of the humans are visited upon their animals.
The level of nocturnal — and even diurnal — coyote activity in the woods around here was easily five times what it usually is this summer, as it was last summer too. There are enough coyotes — and enough natural prey — around to sustain a breeding population; last summer, Cookies noticed and showed me a mother coyote trotting along a stone wall at the back of our property, carrying a puppy in her mouth. A few weeks later the ruckus started, and the usual three or four coyote voices were joined by at least four or five more squeaky-sounding ones. The same happened this year in mid August, and my theory is that the young ones were large enough to learn to hunt and be socialized into the pack. (Coyotes around here are actually hybrids with wolves and are therefore not solitary, like they are out west.) The demand for prey for these growing mouths therefore quadrupled, and the pack worked hard day and night to feed itself.
In the midst of this, our neighbors’ cats Fluffy and Blackie went missing. As was mentioned in a previous post, Fluffy, her friend Butterscotch, Blackie, and a few other cats were refugees from a feral cat colony centered around a now-empty house on our street. The people in this house had their share of trouble — one of the reasons the house now stands empty — but their (presumably good?) intentions in taking care of feral cats spiraled out of control when they left three years ago. The colony grew to approximately 20 cats and counting, and at last Animal Control was called in to round up what cats they could. Fluffy, Butterscotch, Blackie, et al. escaped the dragnet and ended up being cared for by our neighbors who couldn’t stand to watch them starve. These neighbors called in a Trap, Spay & Neuter group who took several away for adoption and fixed the remaining ones. Our neighbors are unable to bring cats inside their house for various reasons but looked after them daily and built a special shelter for them, which has stood them in good stead during the past few brutal winters.
Now, the extent to which all members of the colony were truly feral is debatable. Blackie, a little black, cross-eyed kitty, was incredibly skittish and would not let anyone near him. Butterscotch is shy but friendly and will happily come over for rubs and a chat. Fluffy, however, was probably much more of a house cat than a feral. She loved her tummy rubs and always had lots to say with little, kitten-like mews and many head bunts. With short legs and a pudgy tummy, she did not seem like much of a hunter; Blackie, with his eye condition, probably wasn’t much of one either. As long as they stayed close to the neighbors’ house and yard they were fine, but Darwinism certainly was not in their favor if they happened to venture too far into the woods and meet the megapack.
This is apparently what happened. Fluffy, who never missed a meal, suddenly disappeared soon after the coyote ruckuses started, and never returned. Blackie disappeared a few weeks later, as did a cat belonging to another neighbor. Since neither had previously been prone to wandering off on jaunts and have not resurfaced, they are presumed eaten. Thankfully Butterscotch camouflages well and seems to be more athletic and aware of her surroundings than those two, and I truly hope for her sake that it’s not just a matter of time, that the megapack has now broken up as this year’s pups matured.
Having rescued two amazing cats from this environment, I know it doesn’t have to be this way for them. For folks who say, “Oh, cats love to be outside; they need to roam, hunt, etc.,” I say BS. At least here where we are on the margins of suburbia, in an area that can support a decent-sized coyote population, this life is nasty, brutish and short. To cast them out because of negligence, ignorance, or downright idiocy is incredibly cruel. Fluffy, Blackie, and Butterscotch were so much detritus in one family’s meltdown — not that they seemed to be caring for their feral colony very well anyway — and now two of them died completely unnecessary deaths as unlucky outsiders in the food chain for opportunistic predators. Animals are not disposable — cats in particular, who tend to have more opportunities to breed than most dogs in this area and tend to be dumped or “set free” when they are no longer wanted because they are perceived as being able to take care of themselves.
R.I.P., Fluffy and Blackie. You deserved better. Butterscotch, please hang in there. Hopefully we’ll be able to help your situation soon.