Sunday, January 31, 2010

HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED



Yes, I am talking about the big C. Here’s a hint: Wiley C--- If you care for a colony of cats in just about any rural or sub-rural area in North America—even if that spot is within close proximity to an urban center (try 8 million people in the greater NY area!)—then you know the one of which I speak. The truth is I love coyotes. Until I began caring for feral cat colonies, I got excited every time I spotted one loping across a roadside field. I have owned rough collies throughout my life, and the collie’s relative genetic proximity to the northern timber wolf has always made me a huge fan of both wolves and coyotes. Well, that is until now… Although I have never seen a coyote at the colony, I know they have been spotted as little as a half mile away. I also know that I have frequent other visitors such as raccoon, wood chuck, and fox. Adult cats and raccoons usually maintain an uneasy alliance with one another. This may also be true for fox. Fox and raccoons generally do not want to mess with clawing and biting cats. An adult cat is a feisty predator that can inflict a lot of damage. Colony caregivers often report cats and raccoons eating kibble side by side. Aged, sick, or young cats and kittens may be a different story. Kittens especially are easily nabbed by fox.


So what to do about coyotes? Unfortunately, other than feeding when most other predators are having their siesta—say, between the hours of 9AM and 3PM—as well as being certain that the food is completely gone by dusk there are few other precautions typically available. Some caregivers place the food on platforms that cats can jump onto. Raccoons are climbers but they can’t jump, and this also provides the cats a degree of safety while eating, as they have better visibility of what may be stalking them. I have also heard of feeders fencing off eating and sleeping areas that are accessible to cats but not larger animals. Obviously, this is not an option if the property owner is not amenable or the finances for fencing are not available.


The good news is that cats are quite adept at tuning into the slightest deviation in their environment. I am always amused by neighborhood cats that spot my dogs approaching at fifty yards, but if the dogs are upwind of the cats, they remain oblivious to the feline’s presence, even when she is only a few feet away. It is my personal opinion that cats readily observe and decipher other animals’ reactions to the environment. I am amazed at how the Stone Ledge cats will eat while birds fly and chatter in the woods around them, but will abruptly leave the feeding station and scatter at a sudden change in bird flight or bird call. Wile the birds activity seems random to me it appears to be anything but that to the cats. There are days when I swear the cats speak “bird.”

So, I hold my breath and pray that “he who shall not be named” stays far, far away. Like the cats, I watch for signs and try to read the woods. I examine feeding dishes for teeth marks, I check for shed fur on a bush or tree trunk, and carefully search for dog-like tracks in the mud or snow.



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