I buried two more of the neighborhood stray cats today.
That wasn't my plan. My plan was to rake leaves, maybe mow the lawn one last time for the season. I had filled three bags of leaves from our front yard and from the tree lawn of the widow across the street. I could probably have filled two more, and mowed the lawn. I was making good time.
As I was dragging up the third bag to position it behind our house, I happened to glance into one of the shelters that my mom has set up to provide the strays protection from the rain and the snow. I saw a tabby tail in there, and a tabby leg. Getting closer I saw the whole tabby stretched out in the back of the shelter. Its eyes were closed but its mouth looked slightly opened.
I reached out and touched its foot with my leather-gloved hand. Stiff. No reaction.
I shook the shelter slightly, said something like "Hey, get up." No reaction.
This wasn't a "named" cat. It was one of the almost-identical gray tabbies, maybe one of the ones born last October. I didn't see it much, but when I did I thought of it as the Ocicat, because its tabby stripes were broken up into something more like spots.
Much like Squiggles two weeks ago, it appeared to be healthy overall, aside from the fact that it was dead.
I was done raking for the day.
I decided to have lunch. I didn't want to deal with burying a dead cat on an empty stomach. Lunch was more involved than it should have been, considering it was just leftovers. Then my mom told me that the lady for whom we save aluminum cans would be coming by "shortly" to pick them up. I was glad, because we had accumulated more than a few bags.
After a few more delays, it was time to get myself together and go out to do the unpleasant task of burying a cat.
Naturally, this was followed by another delay: I couldn't find my boots, which I had last worn two weeks ago when I dug a grave for Squiggles. What the hell? Did our cats carry one of them off? In the end I wore one boot from one pair and another boot from a completely different pair.
As I dragged myself and my grave-digging spade and my stone-lifting iron bar outside, my mom told me she had found another dead cat.
This one was in among the bags of leaves. It was another tabby, another adult. My mom thinks it was Daddy, who she believed was the father of Bowie and Thor and BlueBear and their two outdoor siblings.
I would have to dig the hole a little deeper.
Digging a grave isn't easy. It never is. Our yard has a lot of fill in it, mainly in the form of boulders, most of which are located under about six to twelve inches of topsoil. You can only dig so far before you need to pry out a boulder. Since the bottom of the boulder is usually twelve to eighteen inches below ground level, this is a bit of a trick. And the boulders are not always oriented in a way that makes them easy to pick up. I had one today about the size and shape of a loaf of bread, with its long dimension extending down into the ground. Sometimes the boulders are just too big to move, and you have to abandon the hole and move on to another location.
It took a while, but I got the grave dug. Not as deep as I would like, but there were some boulders at the very bottom, and I didn't want to abandon the hole. I did pull out two large stones, the loaf-stone and one other, which are now serving as headstones. The two cats are buried together, on the other side of Gretchen from Squiggles.
So what is killing these cats?
I don't know. I suspect a neighbor - the same evil, obnoxious neighbor I wrote about here, who had recently redirected all of the rainwater from his gutters to flow onto our property and into our cellar:
"Why not go talk to this guy and ask him not to do this?" you might ask. Well, this is the stereotypical "bad neighbor". He always has been. He will gleefully dump carcinogenic herbicides onto his property and let the runoff go into my gardens. He uses a noisy riding mower on Sunday afternoons, but complained when I used my reel mower in the early morning during a heat wave so that I might not die of a heat-induced heart attack like my other next-door neighbor. (He was whining that the noise of my mower - a faint click-click-click - had woken him up. I had to ask him to speak up several times as I could not hear him over the din of the early morning truck traffic on our street.) . He will cry blue murder if any leaves blow over from my yard into his, even leaves from trees several blocks away. He's a loudmouth and a lout and a bully. He's not the type who responds positively to being asked politely to stop doing something he obviously knows he shouldn't be doing.Lately he has been complaining - loudly, belligerently - about the stray cats crapping in his yard. Fair enough. But is the proper response to such a thing poisoning the cats? Because that's what I think he's doing. Over the past two weeks or so - ever since another neighbor found the body of Squiggles - many, if not most, of the stray cats in the neighborhood have vanished. Tortoise, the mother of Peaches. Mommy, the mother of Bowie, Thor, and Bluebear. Most of the nameless lookalike tabbies. And now Squiggles and the Ocicat and Daddy have turned up dead.
But not long dead. These three cats have been dead only a few hours when they've been found mid-day. Could they have been poisoned in the morning? Could he be setting out bowls of antifreeze first thing in the morning?
The fact that Squiggles died two weeks ago and the Ocicat died today made me think that maybe this wasn't a case of poisoning. After all, if someone is setting out an attractive poison for these cats, I would expect to find several dead at once. And all I had to go on was one cat dead two weeks ago, one cat dead today, and at least two cats (Mommy and Tortoise) missing.
When Daddy turned up freshly dead this afternoon, suddenly poison seemed much more likely.
But I don't know. I don't know what the post-mortem signs of poisoning would be. I don't think these cats died quickly, but they didn't seem to be in agony. Squiggles died with a mouth full of pine needles. The Ocicat looked like it was asleep in a shelter. Daddy was nestled in a relatively warm and protected place among bags of leaves.
It could be something else. It could be someone else. Unless I actually see this guy setting out bowls of bright green liquid in the morning, I won't know for sure.
And if I knew, then what? There probably isn't even a law prohibiting poisoning stray animals. There probably is a law prohibiting feeding and sheltering stray animals.
Things like this make me hope and pray that there is some sort of cosmic or divine justice. No, I'm not about to shove a funnel in this guy's mouth and pour a gallon of Prestone down this throat - so if this should happen, it totally wasn't me. And I doubt he will have a minor but disabling stroke and find himself eaten alive in his bed by rodents whose population grew without check after he killed off all their predators. But if he were to collapse in front of me - well, I might find myself completely at a loss as to how to dial 911.
There's a special place in Hell for anyone who would poison stray animals.
Uncharitable, I know. Un-Christian. Well, as Eric Draven said in The Crow, you're just gonna have to forgive me for that.
I'll keep you informed of further developments. In the meantime, if there's anyone out there who could take in some stray juvenile kitten/cats, there are still a few left wandering around. That may not be true in a matter of days or weeks.