Friday, March 07, 2008

THE CAT & THE BAT

Strays! Every now and then they wander into our lives and test our mettle. Beings at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong agenda. I don’t know if I deal with strays very well. I do know that I probably don’t deal with them the way most people want me to.

Two weeks ago, upon arriving at Prairie Pond Woods with a friend, there she was, pacing in circles on the front porch, bashing the side of her head onto any hard surface that was near. The proverbial black cat, crossing my path with high-stepping white paws, welcomed us as if we were her long-time owners. “Nice to see you. Now, come pet me,” I anthropomorphically imagined it saying. Yesterday, I returned for a few days and guess who greeted me on the steps?

“Why are you still here” I actually said to it, wondering how and where it survived these last two weeks in mid-winter. I doubted that the little bed I'd made from an old pair of pants or the eight hard-boiled eggs left in a bowl, would have kept her around for long. Surely she would have moved onto greener pastures when no one came out of the house after several days; someplace where there was another hand to feed her. Upon bending down to pet her though, I spotted the feathered carnage next to the bird feeder and realized that, despite my absence of care, she had everything she needed right there. This was no stray. She had made herself right at home-sleeping in some cozy niche in the barn, no doubt, helping herself to this new bird buffet or the smorgasbord of rodents in the prairie. Nope, this was now her big cat residence and I was the stray that showed up on occasion to feed her freezer-burned bacon at the kitchen door.

But all good things must come to an end. Roommates part and go separate ways. In order to save the birds that would soon be migrating through from thousands of miles south to thousands of miles north, and to leave enough meadow voles to feed the local hawks, fox and coyotes, she got crated and taken to the “adoption agency.” The sacrifice of one for the many.

Some people will think this cruel and heartless (especially since the animal control officer told me that most people don’t like to adopt black cats out of dark-age superstition). But a conservative estimate shows that one breeding female cat can have 100 kittens over the course of a 7-year life “on the streets.” This is the real tragedy because out of that one comes countless deaths and horrible suffering, as feral cats are wounded, diseased, and set on a course of killing all day, everyday just to survive. It seemed a reasonable option.

Now the bat…I let live…twice. But I think most people would have bashed it to death upon finding it in their basement the first time, let alone the second. It had obviously made itself at home, as well, literally. Aside from sparing it for its ingenuity in finding the way back in, I let it go because it is a key species in controlling mosquitoes and other bugs in the summer. In contrast to the fecundity of one feral cat, one bat consumes approximately 600 mosquitoes in just an hour.

The first time it was easy to catch. I just covered it with the small wastebasket and slid a clipboard underneath…the way most people would capture a bug on a wall. I knew it would not be difficult because in winter bats enter a state called topor, which is much like hibernation. In this state, their breathing and heart rate slow down, and it leaves them rather groggy when disturbed, if not vulnerable.

But the second time proved a little more dramatic. It was hanging in the corner of the room, no way to cover it without leaving a way to escape. And as willing as I was to do this…I still wasn’t up for having a ticked-off bat flying around the room. So I got out the broom and gently tapped it several times in hopes to knock it down and then cover it.

Talk about your good horror film footage!
That tiny, fuzzy, mouse-like body lifted its head and hissed at me as if I was Vincent Price. What a face! All pointy and bashed in at the same time. I was literally, face to face with this creature of the dark. But then the poor thing tucked its head back down and must have fallen asleep again, so I knew this was going to be an easy fight, barred teeth and all. After several more alternating taps and hissings, it finally fell to the floor, opened its wings and just laid there on its back, trying to muster either a fight or flight response, but unable to do either. I felt really bad about this, wondering if I was doing irreparable harm to its nervous system. I also wondered if it would be able to survive out in the cold weather, since it had already acclimated to the ambient temperature of the basement, which was probably in the 50’s.

The first time, I just set the basket on the side porch, kicked off the clipboard, and shut the door in virtually one motion. The second time, I thought it would be a bit more compassionate to drop it off in the barn, with hopes it might take up residence there. It also clung to the same basket and slept, seemingly peacefully, while I messed around in the barn. By the next day it was gone.

Final Score: Stray Bats: 1, Stray Cats: 0 (or maybe not)