Make it green: The intelligence of backyard critter

Several years ago, when I started writing this column, I wrote a piece about our raccoons here at Peace and Plenty (PP). The little critters were making a huge mess of the attic and the garden, and it turned out that it was entirely my own fault because I was leaving cat food outside.

We left food because, as it turns out, every feral cat is on a mission to find us. Fine. Our place in the universe involves taking care of these little spirits. Could be worse.

Over the years, six cats have started to call PP home. My sister in Colorado wonders who has the job of cleaning the cat boxes — a practical girl, my sister — but actually, it’s not like that. Only a few of them are in the house full time, the others being in and out. Feral habits are hard to break, although sometimes a feral will figure that a warm lap and a full belly are recipes for heaven.

Our last arrival is a very small little gray kitty we have named Squirt. Suzie saw her in the garden, obviously hungry and dehydrated (the kitty, I mean). I put out the Havahart trap the next day, and we got her. She was all of a few weeks old, same age as Yoda when we picked her up on Ridge Drive, similarly hungry and dehydrated and very likely hawk or raccoon food.

Squirt was extremely skittish and fearful, hiding under furniture for more than a month. Ferals are almost always more afraid of me than Suzie — I’m much bigger, after all. When your eyes are just a few inches off the floor, everything looks big. And the floor smells dusty, I suppose.

Over the course of time, Squirt started to settle a bit, allowing Suzie to pet her, and at last me, haltingly. Progress is in slow steps.

And she has really bonded with Suzie. All of the cats respond to being called by their names, but Squirt only responds to Suzie. Even over the Internet. Suzie, too, has taken this little creature to heart.

Saturday afternoon

Well, a few weekends ago, Suzie was away, and Squirt got out. It wasn’t an escape. Something frightened her, and the door was left open. By me.

I saw her run into a huge bed of macho fern, and scared to death, I imagine. I tried everything. Food. Hose on the ferns. No dice.

And then, a bright idea! The trap! Worked the first time, right? So, I set the trap with her favorite food with peanut butter and went to bed.

Next morning, I caught me some possum.

Now, we have had a cordial relationship with Ms. Possum for years, ever since I saw her frantically trying to get one of her babies out of the pond, and I helped out, putting the little critter on mommy’s back. The family resides now under the deck, happily eating bugs.

Here’s the thing about possums: They are about as dumb as a post. When I opened the business end of the trap I figured she would fly out. No. Two hours later, possum still there. I turned the hose on, thinking I might need to spray her a bit, but as soon as she heard the water…well, ever seen a possum run? It’s an unnatural sight in some ways. Run she did, though. Under the deck.

Sunday afternoon

What to do next? Spend hours trying to call kitty? That wasn’t working out. And Suzie? She’s in LA, and about the last thing I wanted was to make her frantic about this, ruining her trip. Besides, she would make me crazy with phone calls. Every five minutes firing up the iPhone: “Is she home yet?”

A man can only go so far.

The day goes by. Roller — another feral — has historically been a darn good bloodhound (for a cat). He staked out the Macho Ferns. Now realize that there is a Kitty Reality not comprehensible to humans — I don’t know what they call it because they have never told us. They talk while we at work, or are sleeping, comparing notes: “Hey! You got extra treats yesterday! Nice moves! You da man!”

So, thinking that Roller was probably right and that Squirt was in the same spot, I set the trap again.

Next morning, I caught me some coon.

Oh, my. Raccoons are entirely different critters which, when cornered, are reliably crabby. Opening the trap requires opening the door just so. Those guys want OUT and they want a clear shot and NOW.

So, I did, and he ran. Right into the macho ferns.

Monday afternoon

Suzie came home late afternoon Monday. She walked out to the ferns and called Squirt, who came running right away.

Go figure.

Note: Please remember my Adult Ed classes starting the first week of November at Barron Collier High School. More information at www.msadesign.com, including a syllabus for each course. Contact me via my website: www.msadesign.com

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