Pets Are Killers, Sometimes

Last night as we were preparing for bed a persistent and mournful howl could be heard in short bursts from the direction of the back of the house. Laetitia and I got up to investigate. It sounded like a leprechaun saying “Owww” through a megaphone. It was the cat. He was in the kitchen, with a mouse he had caught or which had otherwise strayed into his path. Whatever led to the rodent’s encounter with the feline, the result was as inevitable as it was unsavoury. I wonder what the mouse thought about its predicament. It fell to yours truly to deliver the coup de grâce. And I still feel uncomfortable about it all.

Mr. Mu had switched into badass small animal torturer mode as easily as one pulls on a pair of undies when dressing for work. And it became quite difficult to picture him as the same loving and loyal animal who loves a cuddle when the humans come home, and enjoys a good purr while he sits on your shoulder with his head snuggling against your neck and twists his tail when you give him cat massages on the thighs and the back, and it seemed incongruous to think of our adventure play “man time”, shared in the front yard and beyond at about 5pm when I water plants and check on the health and progress of those things I have potted or are in the plant hospital for strugglers on the verandah. But it is the same animal. Domestic animals are only animals who know how to behave. In certain conditions they cast aside what they know, the equivalent of humans becoming temporarily uncivilised (for animal instincts are obviously in us too), and they behave as creatures who have to dominate their environment for fear that other creatures will dominate them.

It is scary.

Perhaps what is the proper scary element in a situation like this is that we don’t know how our pets live every minute of their lives. Some things they do are hidden from us. When we see those parts of their lives it can be a shock. I have seen footage of exactly how dogs can be naughty when their humans aren’t around, and, even though these are not my dogs and I don’t know the people, the sense of betrayal is palpable (small, but palpable). It’s like when our dogs do something naughty and we don’t see it, but just see the result, it diminishes the impact somehow. Dogs can be very destructive, and I have witnessed the aftermath of what must have taken hours of spirited, almost wantonly destructive, work  – but the idea that I could witness this calculated, tag team effort by our pair makes me feel sick almost.

And of course dogs aren’t just naughty. Some attack other dogs. I’ve heard about greyhounds attacking other dogs and thought it was mostly exaggeration, but it does happen and has happened quite recently[1], although of course other breeds have worse reputations and seem to be involved more often in these kinds of events. And other breeds still seem to feature relatively commonly in stories about attacking humans: their owners, small children, and other surprising or disturbing victims. One man who was happy to be a victim had his big toe chewed off by a Jack Russell[2] so it’s not all bad, I suppose. The point is though, that we don’t know what is going on in our animals’ minds and we sometimes take for granted the fact that domestication, again like our civilisation, is a sometimes weak glue that holds part of life together. Cats and dogs – and birds and stick insects and snakes and elephants and axolotls – all feel urges and detect dangers and decide drastic action is the only appropriate action sometimes. They can’t tell this to us through speech. They are animals and nature isn’t a picnic.

Out the front front today, as I watered while dusk rapidly slipped into felty black, Mu went for a walk. I could hear his collar bell tinkle occasionally. It wasn’t obvious exactly where he was, so I stood on the footpath and looked for him. Suddenly he emerged, at great speed from the front yard of a house a few doors up. He turned the corner and ran towards me, as fast as his legs would carry him (as they say in children’s stories). Pursuing him was a young brown-haired bulldog wearing a red vest to keep the cold out. When the cat turned down the driveway of our next door neighbour, which he sees as part of his home territory, the dog stopped and trotted back to where his humans live. This was a little window on Mu’s otherwise secret life. It was funny, at least.



Published in: on August 11, 2010 at 8:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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