It was a strange day today. Overall, it did not feel very productive. I did manage to get some minor editing done on “A Small Sample of Earth” which was good, though I still need to cut it down by a third if I want it to be even seriously considered for any children’s magazine. Bah! But anyway.

The day turned weird about 3:30 p.m. I was listening to my iPod out on the front porch, doing some serious thinking about Chapter Three and what is going to happen/needs to happen, etc. So while I was laying there on the porch swing, out from under our porch comes this fluffy black cat. It strolled along our little front flagstone path (which is overrun by irises at the moment) and settled itself at the end by the blue spruce. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I love cats. HOWEVER, I do not love strange cats lurking around near our bird feeder. We have managed to lure in a large variety of birds to this bird feeder, and they are all comfortable with us sitting on the porch, chatting, and watching them. There is a family of finches–a father and two hatchlings–that stopped by last Saturday. The two younger birds were just chirping and chirping, following their dad around (with some finches, once the babies are hatched, the mother bird goes off to lay a second brood, while the father takes over raising the babies), testing out their wings. They were adorable. SO, I am very protective of our bird feeder. Plus, it pisses me off when house cats (which is what I took this cat to be, since there are a lot of people with cats in this area) go around killing things, even though they’re well fed. I don’t care if it’s their instinct. They can hunt for birds elsewhere. Not on my property. I didn’t like it when our own cats did that, so a strange, uninvited cat is NOT welcome.

So I get up and walk over to where the cat has just laid down. I figure, I’m making a lot of noise, I’m rattling the plants, it should skedaddle pretty fast. This cat does not. It creeps under the spruce and mewls at me. I shake the spruce. It doesn’t move. It’s giving me a look that I associate with cat arrogance–you know that, “I don’t like you, and I don’t have to do anything you say,” kind of look–so I think, fine. You want to make this war? Fine. I’ve got the big guns. I shake the tree a little more, because I don’t want to take this next step, but darn it if the cat just glares at me. Doesn’t budge an inch.

So I say, fine, and go inside. I find Indy, who is more than happy to go outside with me when he hears the word “kitty,” and put on his collar and leash. Then we both go outside. Let me tell you a little something about Indy. He’s the cutest dog in the world, until a cat hisses at him. (Borders are notoriously bad with cats–in fact, if you own a cat, most breeders will refuse to sell you a Border Terrier, because the dogs have a history of killing cats.) Once a cat hisses at him, he goes balistic. You know those war-dog-beasts the orcs ride in the second Lord of the Rings movie? Against Rohan? Yeah. That’s what Indy looks like when he gets hissed at.

Now don’t worry. I was not for the life of me going to actually let Indy get a hold of the kitty. I just wanted to scare the cat out, plus let Indy leave a little scent behind to keep other cats away from the bird feeder. Most cats are smart enough to bolt at the mere sight of Indy, and if not then, certainly when he starts barking like a maniac. So I bring him over to the tree, where he almost immediately spots the cat. Like clockwork, he goes mad and starts trying to get back there. I’m holding him back, naturally, and Indy is going crazy.

The cat hisses. It growls–you know that low, guttural growl–swats at Indy. But it does not move. At all. I have never seen a cat hold its ground like that. Ever. It was strange, actually. After a few minutes of this, I realize it is futile. The cat has beaten me, and my big guns. I take Indy back inside, but now I’m just pissed.

Now, let me give you a little background again: there used to be a cat in the neighborhood (I won’t name him), who was a bully. You know the kind–the cat that beats a local dog into submission. We had one heck of a time with that cat picking on our cats a long time ago, so bad that our cats couldn’t even eat their own food outside because this cat would beat them away and wolf it down. We had to run that cat off our property with supersoakers before it would stop coming back. So in my mind, this new cat is one of those kinds of cats. The bullies. So I’m pissed.

Well, about that time, I was sitting on the other smaller front porch. I don’t want to sit on the big front porch, because I don’t want to watch this cat stalk birds, because it’ll just make me angrier, and because I can’t actually stop it. I try to convince myself that this is just the law of nature: things live, things die, animals have to eat too, even if they are overfed dumb house cats. Well, while I’m sitting there, my mom and my sister come back from Em’s physical therapy session. They see me out there and are curious as to why I’m sitting on the little porch, not on the big one (which actually has chairs and is wider than three feet). I tell them about the cat, and so they come with me to get a look at it.

It has moved. Now, it’s sitting back beside the flagstones again. Just sitting. It doesn’t jump up when the three of us come near it. It just looks at us. Flicks its tail. Mom tries to scare it off the usual way–clapping, making loud noises, shooing. Nothing. The cat just stares at us. It looks like it’s starting to get pissed. It begins to head back toward the porch. Emily goes through the house to scare it away from the porch, but when she comes out that door, it has turned and moved along the side of the porch, off to the right, heading into the rose bushes. We all assume its got a hole over there where it can slink back under the porch and hide. Emily goes in to get Indy again.

Strangely, the cat has not gone under the porch. Apparently, the hole theory was false. It instead begins walking slowly–this whole time, it moves slowly, casually, like it doesn’t have a care in the world, or at least, doesn’t care at all about us trying to scare it off–across the lawn toward the knoll behind the house. Emily comes around with Indy–again, Indy goes nuts. He’s straining on the leash, barking, yipping, snarling. The cat stops. It glares at him. Hisses. Arches up in that classic Halloween style, and makes this awful face. Indy continues to go nuts, but no matter how close he gets (we don’t let him get closer than a foot), the cat doesn’t move. It hisses, it swats, it even snaps. My mom takes a more decisive step and gets a large stick (like, four feet long with branches) in order to prod the cat to keep moving toward the knoll. The cat, when addressed with the stick, does not run. It attacks the stick and tries to bite it multiple times. It does not move. Somehow, it’s gotten back to the edge of the knoll, but now it’s laid down, and it’s not budging. When it attacks the stick, we start to think about calling animal control. This is far from normal cat–even normal stray cat, because all of our cats were strays (and all black, strangely)–behavior. It is clear that anything closer than a foot–dog or human or stick–will promptly be bit. The cat is definitely aggressive. And slow. That was what made us nervous by this point.

Back inside, Mom isn’t sure she wants to call animal control, but we don’t want it coming back or getting under our porch again. We’re all starting to think the cat could have rabies, though it wasn’t foaming at the mouth or twitching/convulsing. It was moving okay, but just slow. Really slow. It stopped whenever it could to just lay down or sit. Finally, Mom decides to just call animal control to see what they suggest. We figure they probably will just tell us to keep an eye out for it and let them know if anything changes.

Instead, they send someone to come check it out.

The cat, by this point, because we all went inside and didn’t stay watching it, has moved (slowly) up onto the knoll. Emily, when she went back out, could hear it walking around in the leaves. We figure it’ll be long gone before anyone from AC comes to check it out; besides, we’re starting to feel like maybe we’re just over reacting. But hey–my opinion was, if when AC heard that the cat had attacked the stick my mom was holding, they thought it was worth while sending someone out to see about this, it’s not overreacting. It’s at least a legitimate concern. We have a lot of kids in this neighborhood, and the cat does not run. Even if a little kid ran toward it to pet it, it would stay where it was, and with the way it attacks anything near it, we were a little afraid it was dangerous.

Anyway, in the meantime, I decide to check out the symptoms of rabies, since I was only familiar with the foaming/attacking/jerking behavior as a clear indicator of the disease. When I looked it up, I found this:

“The first sign usually is a change in behavior. Pet owners should be aware that behavioral changes can occur as a result of many conditions, from digestive disorders to poisoning.

Rabid animals usually stop eating and drinking, and may appear to want to be left alone. After the initial onset of symptoms, the animal may become vicious or begin to show signs of paralysis. Some rabid animals bite at the slightest provocation and others may be somnolent and difficult to arouse. Once the animal shows signs of paralysis, the disease progresses very quickly and the animal dies.” —http://www.animalhealthchannel.com/rabies/symptoms.shtml

So let’s look at the checklist here:

1. Change in behavior?–N/A, we didn’t know the animal before, so I couldn’t say. All I can say is that it was acting like no cat I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve known a lot of cats, adopted and strays.

2. Stops eating/drinking?–N/A, can’t tell.

3. Appear to want to be left alone?–BIG CHECK.

4. Bites at the slightest provocation?–I’d have to say yes, having witnessed the branch situation

5. Paralysis?–Not sure, but if the beginning signs of paralysis are slow moving and a lack of desire to move, then possibly.

6. Difficult to arouse?–Yes. I’m surprised we got the cat to move at all.

Later, it also mentions the animal will probably have a wound that they’ve been chewing at, which we didn’t see, but we didn’t look too close. Now granted, none of these things alone necessarily means anything, but the combination of them at least made me feel like we weren’t being totally hysterical for wondering if perhaps the cat might be infected.

So later, my sister and I were doing errands, the policeman arrives to check out the situation. He and my mom go back to the knoll to look for the cat, which we hadn’t seen in a while. We assumed it had moved on, and we’d probably just look crazy. But while the policeman is up on the knoll, tromping around looking for the cat, my mom strolls around the side of the knoll. And there, right in the leaves, laying down, is the cat. It doesn’t budge when she comes up on it. It just sits there. Staring at her. She calls for the policeman, and he tromps through the woods, making plenty of commotion. Most (I say most, perhaps not all) cats would run at the sound of a juggernaut coming through the branches and brush at them. This cat doesn’t so much as flinch, even when the policeman suddenly appears right above it. Doesn’t move. The policeman concurs that this is not normal cat behavior. He also notices a wound on its leg.

He decides to call in to find out what he should do. AC apparently doesn’t have a protocol for dealing with cats suspected of having rabies. If the animal is obviously really vicious or having siezures, the officer is authorized to shoot it. (It’s kind of hard learning about this kind of thing, because I hate the thought of shooting a cat, but then again, if it really does have rabies, isn’t that somewhat kinder than letting it die slowly? I have no answer for this, but it’s been on my mind all day). Anyway, the cat isn’t in fits, and it isn’t offensively attacking. The AC people say that he (the policeman) can catch the cat and bring it into the vet, where they’ll check it out but most likely put it down. He asks my mom for some thick leather gloves, and my mom brings him some and the cat carrier we had, with a towel.

He’s just about to grab the cat, which has not moved during this whole ordeal, when the cat seems to get a burst of energy–well, not a “burst” perhaps. It moves off, though, faster than it has before, back up onto the knoll. The policeman says he isn’t going to be able to chase it around to catch it, but that the local grain store has a have-a-heart trap for rent, if we want to try to catch it. Then, if we do, we can call them again and they’ll either come out and bring it in, or we could bring it it (possibly for a fee).

So for the time being, the cat is out there in our back yard. I can’t help but feel at least a little relieved that we aren’t responsible for having it put down, but at the same time, I do worry that it might in fact have rabies. It’s strange to me that AC doesn’t have any protocol for dealing with this. At least I don’t feel insane, because even the police officer was convinced that there was something wrong with the cat. Hopefully Indy does not come across it while he’s out back, because we know the cat won’t back down, and Indy won’t either. Luckily, Indy has his rabies shots up to date.

But that’s the story of today. Funny, I just realized it’s Friday the 13th. Fitting? I think so.

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