Last night, my faithful yellow cat Mao brought me a late supper of Rat. He’s generous that way, concerned that my regular offerings of crunchies and delectable leftovers not go without reciprocation. And unlike some ungrateful cat owners, I accept his offerings with praise, petting, and a token nudge at the critter before turning off the light and trying to get back to sleep.
As usual, Mao became slightly perturbed that I didn’t actually taste his hard-won offering. I admit it’s rude not to appreciate the no-doubt rich flavor of a fine, plump, mostly grown Rattus norvegicus. He resorted to his usual tactic, which was to continue with his breathy purring and occasional trills while tossing the rat across my throw rug and otherwise demonstrating its near-life status in order to tempt my appetite. Eating small mammals while still technically alive is a code among cat-kind and he must think me thick-headed not to take advantage of such a careful presentation.
Sometimes this last flurry of playing with the food results in escapes that require human intervention, such as opening the closet door under which the frenzied furry thing wriggled away or otherwise facilitating the rediscovery of prey. Mostly, Mao is far too skilled to allow real escape. However, he does encourage fake escapes so that the fleeting thrill of capture can be enjoyed multiple times with any given victim.
The half-grown rabbit he brought in a couple of weeks ago managed to escape and get re-caught countless times over what seemed a period of hours. Sleep became a fiction of half-dreams punctuated by shrill bunny screams. It was a relief when the inevitable crunching of skull broke the wee hour silence.
They always start with the head.
Conceding to the gentle reader’s possible horror at these goings-on, allow me to explain that I live in the Ozark woods where Nature exhibits her ruthless beauty on a daily basis. In spite of forty years of living here, always in company of cats and various other domesticated creatures, there has been no diminution of birds or small mammals. I’ve learned to respect the flow of things and step aside for the ways of everything from snakes to ground hornets to the occasional bear. And cats.
Mao came to me as an injured feral stray who even now tolerates contact with few humans besides me and who goes completely nuts when put into a cat carrier. When he appeared at my front steps, he’d been shot. The wounds had mostly healed, but one area on his left shoulder kept abscessing. Over a period of months, I fed him and watched his wounds fester then drain in a desperate cycle that increasingly weakened him until even my tempting roast chicken failed to put much meat on his bones.
I lured him to a cage and the vet discovered a dozen BB-sized pellets lodged in his body, some of which remain ten years later. But the shoulder injury that kept him on death’s door responded to treatment, which involved me locking him in a spare bathroom for ten days in order to visit him twice a day with antibiotics. He literally climbed the walls in that room. Closed doors remain cause for terror.
The vet estimated his age at about one year at the time of his capture. Who am I to get between this cat and the means of survival he learned living alone in the woods? More than most cats, his hunting is part of his life. There’s no shortage of prey. He brings me gifts, heralding his delivery as soon as he hits the pet door. I thank him.
The rat had already succumbed to unconsciousness by the time Mao woke me to announce that the food order had arrived. In order to preserve the relatively unstained state of my new bedside rug, I subtly dragged the senseless limp rat body several feet away. Mao promptly brought it back. I haven’t figured out if the attraction to my bedside rug is based in its proximity to my sleeping body, or if it has to do with the textural similarities between a natural land surface and a rug. But after four futile attempts to relocate this particular feast to the easily-mopped surfaces nearby, I gave up and let Mao have his way.
It took him quite some time to dispose of the rat, due in part to my inconsiderate lack of interest in a meal meant for two. I found a tiny bundle of leftovers this morning, the gall bladder and the skin and tail of the rat’s hindquarters. This phenomena continues to intrigue me, as all cats who have ever patrolled my woodland property and delivered rats to my bedside have left the rat’s ass on the floor. All other creatures are consumed in their entirety, every last bit of fur, nails, feet, and tails of rabbits, moles, voles, and squirrels. But not the rear ends of rats. Quel mysterieux!
I’ve provided the image of last night’s leftovers in order to share Mao’s impressive abilities. The hide of the hindquarters is turned inside-out with tail and foot protruding so that the hip meat could be consumed without touching the anal region. Meticulous butchery, to say the least. I’ve written about this before, my conviction that this particular eccentricity in the cat-rat dynamic is the basis of the old saying that someone wouldn’t give a rat’s ass.