You Should See the Other Guy

Either Zeus has gotten into the lipstick (poorly) or some field rodent has very recently met a very bad end. I will note this does not appear to be Zeus’ blood in any event.

(For the people who are new and/or did not know, the Scalzi cats are all working cats, inasmuch as we have agricultural fields on three sides of us and thus have potential rodent problems in the autumn and winter, when the furry creatures who live in the fields decide our house looks nice and warm. Well, it is. And also, not for rodents.)

71 Comments on “You Should See the Other Guy”

  1. One of my aunt’s cats was a mighty hunter indeed. She always said that that the crunching sound of him biting squirrel’s skull was especially sickening. Then later she’d have to clean up the tail and paws (the squirrel’s, that is).

  2. I’m not a fan of cats, and especially the two cats that inhabit my household, but it is nice to only find dead mice and never see them alive.

  3. Wow. That must have been quite a fight. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cat come home with such bloody fur. One once caught a woodpecker, and another left a dead squirrel on my side of the bed after I’d left for work, which was a rude surprise for my wife when she awoke.

  4. Hi John — Cats are great anti-rodent tech. But, just curious — do you spay/neuter them? I suspect you do (couldn’t find specifics in a search of Whatever, but you do touch on it briefly in one post). Also curious about your thoughts on outdoor cats vs. songbirds – frustrates me when people complain about wind turbines killing birds, but don’t take into consideration how many birds cats kill. I adore cats, and have be an excellent owner (erm, servant) to them. * grin * I live in a city, and I expect things are different in agricultural areas. But in a city it seems like it might be better to keep cats indoors?

  5. One of my favorite pets of all time was a barn cat — too many stories to tell here. Her name was Heckett, for literary and other reasons, as in “Heck, guess what she et.”

  6. Nice!
    {soapbox} You can tell working cats because they’re thickly muscled (even the fems). If they aren’t, they have zero business being unsupervised outside. {/soapbox}

  7. Since owning cats, every time I’ve thought, “huh. Is that a mouse I hear rattling around somewhere?” I have been presented with a tiny mousie body within 24 hours. My cats are AWESOME.

    My cats don’t actually eat the mice. They treat them as toys, play with them until they break, and then bring them to me in the hopes that I will pop in a new battery, I think.

    We don’t get mice very often; in the city, I think they tend to find other options, like the homes of people who do not keep mouse-hunting predators as domestic companions.

  8. @Alan Hogg:

    Here in Canada, the environment ministry recently released a study on avian mortality. They estimated 270 million birds (out of a population of about 10 billion) are killed every year in Canada by human-related activity. Of that 270 million, *200 million* were due to cats (about 2/3 of that from feral cats,1/3 from domesticated). Only 16,700 died from hitting wind turbines. Pretty eye-opening findings, to say the least:

    We keep our cat indoors.

  9. Alan Hogg:

    All our pets are de-gonadified.

    Cats and songbirds: Our cats don’t really seem to focus on birds so far as I can tell, probably because they have enough ground critters to work with.

    If I were in a city I suspect all my cats would be indoor cats.

  10. Also, I can conclusively prove that John spays and neuters his pets:

    1. Ghlaghghee is female.

    2. Unspayed female cats will sooner or later produce kittens even if you think you’ve got them shut up somewhere that unaltered male cats cannot possibly get to them.

    3. We have never seen any photos of an adorable litter of kittens hanging out at the Scalzi compound.

    I mean, there’s also the fact that he’s a responsible pet owner….But it’s the absence of kitten pictures that really clinches it, I think.

  11. The last cat we had was named Batu. White fur, green eyes, about 9 lbs. Little guy. Very personable, curious, loved human contact, basically the whole cute lil’ kitty thing in a nutshell.

    He was a total killer. Oh my god. Adult birds, baby birds, rats and mice. Whatever he could catch and play with. He thought about squirrels but that was out of his league. Our other cat, Jade, might have had a better chance with squirrels, but she didn’t have quite the thirst Batu had (though in a strange episode Jade did catch a pigeon once).

    Yeah, I’m happier I don’t have to deal with his dead or dying playthings anymore. Still, he’ll always be my baby. Always.

  12. Horrors aside, playing with mice can be a good thing because those noises (which I cannot abide) encourage other vermin-carrying rodents to hit the road; so cats can accomplish many things efficiently. I’m a bit philosophical about the birds. Birds seem “above it all” in my mind, and I wonder if that thought gets into bird minds too. Cats equalize, by both minds. But there’s an equalizer out there for cats, too: packs of dogs, especially the domestic.

  13. Very manly.

    Our cats would have no idea what to do with an actual rodent. They are house cats through and through. They’re okay at killing the occasional bug.

  14. I live close to downtown Toronto and my ex-house was 100 years old and had a stone foundation. Every fall was mouse visitor time. Alas, I am allergic to cats but the downstairs people had Rhodesian Ridgebacks which seemed to deter them somewhat. Not that they ate them. I think.

  15. Hey, if you heard my wife talk on this you’d think me a dandy. We have domestic cats, too — long-lived, pampered and purring. When our outside cat Heckett would purr, feathers would occasionally burp out.

  16. One comment and I’ll disappear to my usual. Any time you’ve got huge amounts of feed and sloppy eaters in a barn, you’ve simply got to control the situation. Cats are one way, maybe terriers if things get desperate. (We also have a happy bull snake with us). That’s the basic bucolic lifestyle. We’ve two kinds of cats, both to love. Packs of dogs, however, or coyotes, can be scary for many reasons — even our horses have had to protect each other from their aggression. Doesn’t mean I don’t love nature.

  17. Our cat Boots loves to go after the gophers. We find them by the back door and usually a small puddle of barf. She may like to get them but her stomach does not. Considering the buggers killed my husbands apricot tree by eating the roots, that puddle is a small price to pay for her good work.

  18. I do hope you’ve discussed with your neighbors the importance of them not using poison! If not, please consider adding a little supplemental vitamin K to the Mighty Hunters’ diets.

  19. Both my parents were raised on farms and when they moved to town, retained some of those attitudes. When we were kids we begged for a pet and they were completely bewildered: “But what would it do all day?” All pets were working pets, in their minds.

  20. We had outdoor cats growing up – one was a large orange cat named Morris, who discovered that if she climbed the tree out where my dad had hung bird feeders, she could jump down and catch the birds.

    I can’t count how many flattened sparrows we found under that tree, most with a look of horrified shock on their faces. Death from above….

  21. Behold, the mighty hunter returns! And there is one less rodent to gnaw on the withered remains of the garden outside the Scalzi compound tonight – excellent work, Zeus.

    Our house is about 65 years old and the foundations have settled some, so we get regular rodent visitors who’d like to settle in a nice warm, dry spot for the winter. One of our two cats is totally, completely disinterested in mice, while the other is on perpetual mouse patrol. And at least a few times every fall and winter, I come out to the kitchen in the early morning to find a well-chewed mouse corpse in the middle of the floor, and a very proud tuxedo cat cleaning his whiskers and awaiting the inevitable words of praise and appreciation.

    We are city-dwellers, so our cats are totally indoor critters. The mouser, though, would really, REALLY like to spend more time outside, and even though he’s nearly nine years old at this point, we have to do a careful dance entering and exiting the house to keep him from darting out between our legs. I can’t even imagine how many little rodent corpses we’d find on the side stoop if he ever did manage to get out.

  22. Zeus may have gotten something bigger than a field mouse. A friend’s cat once nailed a largeish vole that had gotten into the kitchen (the house is, shall we say, porous). Arterial spray to the top of the refrigerator.

    That same cat also once took a bat out of the air (indoors; see above ref to porous house). She was a small cat, about five or six pounds, but most of her was teeth and claws.

    I’m grateful my house has nothing larger than insects for my cat to hunt.

    Magda@7pm: My grandmother had the same attitude. Why would you keep an animal just to look at? But once she realized that indoor-only animals don’t have fleas/diseases/etc, she seemed to like my cats.

  23. There are methodological problems with that cat-killing-birds study. They do kill birds. How many? We just don’t know. (Disclosure: my cats have been indoor cats, but then again I live in an apartment building, but yet again it is a fact that on average indoor cats live twice as long…)

    Also, when visiting my father a number of years ago, my cat killed a mouse the first night we were there. Left it on the bed for me. My father snapped it up to prove to his Orkin man that dammit yes there were mice in his house. She killed three more that Christmas.

  24. Cats vs birds in general is a pretty hot topic in New Zealand (a nasty combination of no native land mammals and the fact that kiwi cats default to being outside cats).

    One thing that is interesting though is that cats kill a large number of other mammals and many of those mammals (rats, stoats etc) view birds (or at least their eggs) as a food source.

    There’s a debate about how effective it would be to remove cats as a predator.

    p.s. Zeus is a mighty hunter

  25. My cats all live indoors, reduced to pouncing on crickets, mostly. Outdoors live coyotes, who think cats are lovely appetizers, before they get to the mini poodles. Around here, indoor cats live about four times as long as outdoor cats, not twice as long.

    But I did once live next door to an orange tabby tom (though neutered and declawed) who thought nothing of catching and killing squirrels and the occasional fullgrown rabbit. He climbed trees, too, though no one knew how. Fierce, that cat.

  26. I grew up surrounded by diary farms outside Auckland, NZ. Occasionally our cat would manage to get herself a rabbit. Normally our dog would bully her food off her it he got the chance, but she always stood her ground with a rabbit! Can’t say I remember her with a native bird, but presumably there was the occasional fantail among the finches etc.

  27. Any industrious farm dog could do that for you John.

    Me + rodent + broom and a dash of “Aaaaaaaah! GOD! Get out! Get out! GET OUT!” and they all knew and added pest control to they’re chores.

    Also after loosing Sophie and Zach (cat and dog to coydogs) I don’t know how I feel about outdoor cats. Dogs at least speak the same language. Both were rough and ready farm creatures all their lives but the little ones don’t stand a chance. :(

    Fix your beasts. Coydogs are a menace to all.

    Ps. Before you say how unlikely coydogs are to reach maturity. Let me tell you from experience, all it takes is one or two of them to drive the fear of humans out of your local coyote population.

  28. We’ve not had any mice to my knowledge (touch wood) but I have had to escort two geckos outside (or the same one twice — hard to tell with geckos) to protect same from my three indoor cats. One of mine is half Siamese (the wrong half, apparently). He has an opinion about everything and won’t hesitate to voice it. He has by far the whine-iest meow I’ve ever heard. He also eats paper. (The phone company does not accept “the cat ate my phone bill” as a valid excuse for nonpayment, BTW.) The youngest one weighs about 18 lbs, is built like a line backer and is a little thug. He delights in ambushing the other two. At every opportunity. He is easily heavy enough to de-recline a recliner if he jumps up on the extended foot rest. Watching TV with him around can be challenging.

  29. I think some cats just prefer killing birds – most of the cats we had when I was growing up contented themselves with gophers, mice, roof rats, and lizards, but we had one who was an absolute expert with birds (all of our cats were former street cats, so we rarely got any “gifts”, they were used to eating what they killed). He normally went after those brown mourning doves that are super-common everywhere in California, and are fat, slow, and tasty, but I saw him snatch a hummingbird out of the air on more than one occasion – he was that quick. You couldn’t help but be impressed. But I never saw any evidence that he trifled with ground animals at all. I guess he was just more of a sportsman.

    One nice thing about having cats that came up stray is they never really “played with” their prey, usually the kill was quick and bloody. Though if you were eating something outside they would sometimes bring a mangled creature to eat along with you – they disrupted a few of my parents’ garden parties this way.

  30. Wow, that’s impressive. A fell cat indeed.

    At least he didn’t come home covered in rodent fleas along with the blood, like one of our cats did one time.

  31. The last time -I- looked like that, I was trying to eat spaghetti when I was really, really, really tired.

  32. If our cat came in looking like that, we would just assume he broke into a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Again.

  33. GO, Zeus! I’ve had cats willing to tackle small mice, big rats–and then there was that one memorable encounter with a raccoon. That one scared me–but apparently they decided to call it a draw. The only thing worse than coming home to the gift of a mouse on your kitchen floor is coming home to PART of a mouse on your kitchen floor. Looking for the rest of it is, well, icky.

  34. Dad’s cat, in Utah, is an indoor cat. He keeps the scorpions under control. It’s amazing to watch him play with a scorpion, almost makes me fell sorry for the little guys.

  35. @Lym: cats can *climb* trees OK, it’s getting down again that’s tricky because their claws don’t retract fully.

    My husband’s family had a few Siamese and half-Siamese cats who hunted – his family lived in a rural area. Once, the matriach was pregnant and the local birds – some of whom (swallows for example) lived in the barn behind the family house. (It wasn’t a farm, but an old vicarage which would have had need for a carriage house and storage.) The birds teased the cat – named Macavity – when she couldn’t catch them in the later stages of her pregancy. Till the day after she gave birth – when she whizzed over to the barn, there was a few minutes silence, then a vociferous squawking and squalling as the birds exploded out of the barn…

    She and her offspring would also leave small dead animals on the back doorstep. This was interpreted as cat sarcasm: ‘you’re not feeding us very well so maybe you are hungry and need food yourselves’ :).

  36. The people who know such facts say that mother cats teach their kittens how to hunt whatever it is that they usually hunt so the kittens will grow up hunting the same sort of prey. Birds are especially tricky (or maybe they are boss level prey…) so if a mom cat isn’t a birder, the chances are that her offspring won’t be birders either. That’s not to say that a cat won’t take a swipe at a bird if the opportunity presents itself (or eat a fledgling that can’t yet fly well), but unless it has been taught to hunt birds the chances of successfully catching a bird isn’t really high.

    We got a set of kittens three years ago when our Siamese died. The Siamese liked to play with things rather than hunt things so it was usually a 50-50 chance that whatever bug caught his attention would also escape to safe parts of the house. One of the new kittens is a hunter rather than a player so it was a bit of a shock when I pointed out his first spider and he up and ate the thing BAMN! Since then, I’ve had no troubles with crickets, haven’t seen any wandering spiders on the floors (or anywhere cat level) and if we have mice, I haven’t seen those either. Not even regurgitated parts so yay hunting cat.

    Good job Zeus in keeping the rodent population down.

  37. Glorious! This mighty warrior has earned his place in Sto-vo-Kor!

    Srsly, it’s a good thing that your cats are such good hunters. One of my cats is a spherical lump, and the other (her son Smudge) is insane, thinks that he is a dog, and tries to hunt deer.

    Needless to say, both are inside cats–Smudge because he’s a danger to all surrounding life, himself included, and Pipsqueak because she couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the outdoors when there’s food, water, a litter box, and my sometimes-protesting lap in the house.

    (Pipsqueak treats me as her personal human and likes to sit on me at really inconvenient times. She won’t touch the rest of the family. Just me)

  38. My two cats are indoors only, except when I live somewhere where I can safely allow them out. And by safely I mean, in Libya I had small courtyard off the kitchen with 15 foot walls. They were allowed out there to sun themselves and roll in the dirt.

    That didn’t stop them from hunting. Birds, roaches, mice, insects, toys. The most interesting thing was watching them hunt together. Houdini, my Belarusian ally cat, would go high and Rewind, the solid Libya ally cat/wild sand cat mix would stay low. Though I’m pretty sure only Houdini, my older cat, was allowed to eat the spoils. He let Rewind walk all over him, literally, until he didn’t and then Rewind got schooled.

    Sadly Houdini passed away in India but Rewind’s still an able, if stupid, hunter. When the squirrels attempted a break in last week he was ready to show them exactly who’s house they’d broken into. (They didn’t get in thankfully as I didn’t really need/want squirrel heads in my bed.)

  39. Great job, Zeus! My cats are working cats, too. Well, one of them is. He wants to make sure we catalog his kills, though, so we find little mouse corpses deposited in roughly the same spot on our dining room floor. 5 of them in as many days last week, which is way more than usual (we usually see 1 or 2 a year). He considerately leaves them on the hardwood and in plain sight which makes cleanup easy and we can find them and get rid of them before the small children find them.

    He used to be a more avid consumer of mice, as we’d occasionally find just a spine and tail or something (with no blood to be seen anywhere), but has apparently lost taste for mouse tartare as he enters his senior years.

  40. Just a reminder: If your cat was as big as your dog, he’d eat you.*

    * Not valid for toy and miniature breeds.**

    ** But then again, are toy and miniature breeds really dogs?

    We live on 5 acres on the semi-rural Colorado Front Range. Our rescued and spayed orange tabby, Molly, used to keep the house blessedly free of field mice. That is, until she came home one day with a clean break of one ulna. We had to amputate the leg, and try as she might, she’s just not as effective a mouser on three legs. Also, she doesn’t have access to the kitchen (our oldest rescue dog just can’t leaver her alone) or the pantry in the garage, so we have to lay out traps.

  41. Old house, stone foundation, so hunters a must when the snow starts to fly. Beagle mutt locates them and starts barking at them (damn lazy dog). Cat 1 (the indoor cat) plays with it for a bit until Cat 2 (outdoor cat and the Lord High Executioner) shoos both Dog and Cat 1 away and gets down to business. In more temperate times, expect to find noses, legs, tail, and the spleen on the front porch every AM. Only rarely goes after/takes down birds seeing as the 4-footed hunting range is so well-stocked.

  42. @Boo: “That’s not to say that a cat won’t take a swipe at a bird if the opportunity presents itself (or eat a fledgling that can’t yet fly well), but unless it has been taught to hunt birds the chances of successfully catching a bird isn’t really high.”

    My cat is an indifferent hunter of just about everything (for example, a former roommate accidentally killed a mouse, trying to chase it out of our apartment, while Sputnik looked on lazily). However, I was hanging out on my balcony with him one day when a very unfortunate sparrow chose to set down directly beside the cat – who didn’t even have to stand up to chomp down on the poor thing.

  43. My last cat, Fuzzball the Maximum Cat, was a Maine Coon and, as they often are, enormous. He started off as the neighbor’s cat, and they moved and he didn’t, and he became my cat.

    He was an indoor outdoor cat, and when he was the neighbor’s cat and during the transition period before he became my cat.he was a killing machine, capable of killing adult rabbits, which was a pretty good trick for a cat.

    But he was apparently just interested in them as food – he didn’t leave intact corpses around (spines, yes, lots of spines) and as soon as I started feeding him, he lost all interest in hunting. To the point where he would hangout in the yard and birds and chipmunks would run by within a few feet of him (and certainly close enough he COULD have caught them) and he just looked at them with mild interest. He didn’t even get into the hunting crouch or anything. As long as his belly was full, he was a friend to everything, I guess.

    Man, that was a good cat. I miss him.

  44. Years ago, I came home to find a dead rabbit on the enclosed porch. My cat had killed a rabbit nearly as bit as he was, carried it 40 feet along the top of a fence, another 10 feet along a 4×4 that supported clothes lines, into my bedroom window (and across my bed!), through the kitchen (avoiding the dog that lived there), and through another window onto the porch. These days my cats are fat, neutered indoor cats, who occasionally chase a bug.

  45. One of the reasons we are very happy with Zorro is that, prior to her becoming an indoor kitteh, she proudly presented us one evening with a substantial rat. She got much petting and praise for that feat. We put out kibble for several other outdoor cats (we would like to catch them and get them spayed/neutered, but they are wary of the cat trap, plus the Humane Society’s idea of a discount is $125 per fix), and once they have eaten, they are generally content to watch the big doves come in and clean up the spilled food.

    Good Zeus!

  46. That’s a lot of blood, for a mouse. I suspect Zeus took down something bigger.

    Our (four) cats are all rescues; three are indoor only, and the eldest does what she wants. Between them and our dog, we no longer have a rat problem outside, and we haven’t seen a wolf spider indoors in two years. The house is old enough to be mouse-permeable, but the two youngest cats are long, mean, muscled hunters–I’m pretty sure a mouse wouldn’t last ten seconds indoors.

  47. Great job, Zeus! That’s the way to earn your keep. :)

    We used to have a field mouse problem, and our cat took care of the majority of them. But I guess after a while she decided they weren’t as tasty as she would prefer, so instead of eating them she’d bring them upstairs to play. Which would then lead to our very soft-mouthed golden retriever grabbing up a poor, confused mouth, and me having to pry said mouse, now very soggy, and return him to the woods from whence he came. If nothing else, it was quite entertaining!

  48. So, I didn’t know that my indoor/outdoor cat read your blog, but, she left a gopher for me yesterday. Her first ever, and I did make a fuss and praise and treat her for it. We have had gophers tearing up my garden all year, and her hunting has made me very happy. I hope she continues.

  49. Momma, a very small female cat I had inherited when neighbors abandoned it when they moved, was the fiercest animal I have ever seen. She frequently killed large rats, squirrels, and the occasional rabbit (but I never saw her kill a bird), even after being declawed. She used to walk around our property with my mom and her small dog every morning. One day my mom was surprised on this walk by a full-grown mountain lion. Her dog took one look at that big cat, ripped leash out of mom’s hand and ran ki-ying back to house. Momma cat ran right up to mountain lion, planted herself in front of it, fluffed all her fur out and began hissing like mad at it. Lion looked at cat, shook its head once, and ran off.

  50. Catbutt and Catface have always been mousers (I live in a super rural area and working cats are necessary). But yesterday I came home for the first time to BIRD MASSACRE DEATH LIVING ROOM 3000. Sigh. I guess it was inevitable that they’d figure out the trick eventually, but it still made me sad to bag up the stiff little feathery remains. Cats: pets that love you but would totally kill you if they were only large enough.

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