Can't fight animals' sense of balance

THE RILKOFF FILES

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 09:50 20/10/2012

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Something wasn't right. My balance was off. At least it was different. I could tell that much even from my bed. I got up knowing in a few seconds I would find one of two things. Either the pressure had dropped significantly over night and the toilet water would have all but disappeared, or one of the cats had caught something.

There was no need for even a cursory glance into the bathroom. The answer was right there in the hall, at my feet, staring up at me, drunk on its own satisfaction. Molly the cat had a bird in its mouth.

It doesn't pay to expect much of cats and from Molly I expect even less. Were she a child she would be the one eating play dough for lunch, even at high school. But that doesn't mean she can't hunt. She is a killer of frightening efficiency.

In just 18 months I had seen her progress from tracking and dispatching wetas to taking out dim-witted moths to torturing hapless mice and munching on much maligned rats. When bored she'll chase down a spider or snack on a fly and this is all acceptable enough. But lately she's been getting a taste for birds and that's something I'm none too pleased with.

It's not that I worry about cats preying on innocent native birds and hastening their demise, because I know they also prey on rats and mice and so achieve some sort of ghastly equilibrium.

It's more that birds are freedom and cats the slaves of domesticity and the former should never be bested by the latter.

So I grabbed Molly by the neck, took the sparrow from her mouth and set it free, despite knowing that messing with a cat's nature can have unintended consequences.

It was therefore no surprise when I stood on a dead yellow-headed bird in the hall the next morning and found an equally unwelcome present in my herb garden. Molly had restored her balance.

Something wasn't right. My balance was irritated enough to wake me from a pleasant dream about chicken nuggets. I turned on the light, waited the 60 seconds it took for my prosperity-guilt eco- bulbs to heat up, and took measure of the situation. Fleas. A dozen at least in a dozy state around my other cat Arthur, who had obviously leapt onto my bed as soon as I was asleep.

Some of the fleas had made their dopey way to my pillow where I easily caught them and popped them between my thumb and forefinger. That didn't stop the itching. Hasn't even now.

It was my own fault. After months of neglect I had finally given Arthur a $14 dose of flea and worm treatment. She hadn't liked it one bit but her grotesque obesity and a hateful laziness prevented her from doing anything about it at the time.

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After the shot I shooed her outside for the afternoon and expected the fleas to take this opportunity to jump off and find a new home. Even at 3am I had the mental capacity to realise my assumption was ultimately idiotic. Arthur's fur is of such disgusting density even a super flea would need five or six hours to find its way out. Regular fleas would take double that.

Because Arthur is a cat and cats, while cuddly and cute at times, are generally evil I knew she had reached this conclusion hours before. As I scratched at a hundred different phantom itches I knew this for sure. Arthur had restored her balance.

It was the way they clucked. I could tell the balance was off and I knew straight away the reasons. First, the night before I had shut the gate on their expansive chicken run. After a series of shoe soiling incidents I could no longer condone their free run of the section.

Secondly, from their panicked hen crows and the way the wind was whistling through my blinds, it was a sure thing their feeder had tipped over, sealing their food in its coffin-like box.

Chickens have limited reasoning and so they would have quickly assumed they would soon starve to death.

Their anxiety was a cacophony I didn't want to deal with at 6.30 in the morning, but with neighbours to think of, I had to take action. Dashing out, I opened their gate, fixed their food and was back in bed in minutes.

By the time I got up for good the wind had stopped and two piles of chicken poo were deposited in proud heaps on the deck outside my bedroom. The culprits, meanwhile, had installed themselves in the luxurious dust beneath the feijoa tree and were contentedly preening themselves. It was a postcard of domestic bliss.

So as I wiped the sleep from my eyes and curled my lip in disgust at the muck oozing up between my naked toes I knew it was always going to end this way. Equilibrium is impossible to fight. Balance will always be found.

- Taranaki Daily News

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