Little Old Mighty Hunter

by Tina Blue
November 28, 2003

          My cat Gabby is 17½ years old now.  Since the average life span for a domestic cat is about 15 years, she's pretty old.

          But considering her age, she is awfully spry.  In fact, she is still as playful as a kitten and as affectionate as a puppy.

          But perhaps Gabby's most notable characteristic is that she is an extraordinary hunter. 

          I have another cat, Lila, who is just 11 years old, many years Gabby's junior.  Lila used to be quite the hunter, too, but in the last few years she has gotten fat and lazy, and she seldom even goes outside when I prop the door open to let them have a bit of fresh air.  (Just as well.  Her favorite prey was garden snakes, and she made a habit of bringing them in live and letting them go inside the apartment.)

But unlike lazy Lila, Gabby never misses a chance to go out, even when it is colder than her skinny old body likes.

          When it's hot, she goes outside mainly to warm her old bones.  She spends most of her time lying on the porch in the Kansas sun, enjoying more heat than I could ever tolerate.

          She does a little hunting, though, even when it's hot outside--mostly grasshoppers.

          When she catches anything, she brings it into the apartment and announces her triumph with a sound I call her "war cry."  It is a soft, moaning yowl, and she will keep it up until I come over to admire her and her prize.

          Once she has brought something into the apartment, Lila will hurry over to try to take it away from her.  Gabby is very careful with her grasshoppers.  She never kills them, and usually she doesn't even harm them, because they are quite lively and hop all over the place, much to Gabby's and Lila's amusement.  Both cats will play with a grasshopper on and off for hours, until the battery wears out.

          One time the two cats teamed up to drive a squirrel into the apartment.  That cost me $200, to pay an animal control guy to come out and remove the squirrel from behind the refrigerator. (See "Squirrel Emergencies?")

          But usually Lila just lazes around and lets Gabby do all the work.

          And work she does.  One day I heard a strange squeaking sound in the apartment, but I couldn't imagine where it was coming from.  As I am severely hearing-impaired, I have a hard time locating sounds or interpreting them even when I do hear them.

          I hunted around for the source of the sound, and finally found Gabby, sitting next to the window on the dining table, with a full-grown live bird in her mouth!

          Of course I grabbed her and ran outside with her, bird still gripped in her mouth.  When I got out there, I gently forced her jaw open to free the bird.  As the bird took flight, Gabby writhed out of my hands and leapt after it, nearly catching the thing again on the wing!  At the time, Gabby was 16 years old. At that advanced age she should not have been able to (or interested in) catching birds on the wing.

          She also catches moths and butterflies on the wing.  Gabby is a remarkable jumper, especially for such an old cat.

          This past summer, when I had to be out of town for a few days, my friend Michael stayed with the cats at my apartment.  He had the door propped open for them one afternoon, as he lay on the bed taking a nap in the other room.  Suddenly he was awakened by a horrifying shriek.  He raced into the living room, to find that Gabby had caught a live baby rabbit.  He took the poor thing from her and released it far enough away so that she couldn't catch it again. 

          A couple of weeks after I got home, I saw Lila heading toward the open door of the apartment with another live baby rabbit in her mouth.  I hastened outside to get the rabbit from her, shutting the door as I went, to make sure she didn't bring it inside.

          I got the bunny away from Lila, but as it tried to make a dash for freedom, Gabby appeared from nowhere and snatched it up into her mouth.  I got it away from her, but Lila recaptured it before it could get far.  Each time I got the bunny free from one cat, the other would grab it.  I was yelling, "No! No! Let it go!" the whole time.  My shouts brought my neighbor outside, and he helped me block the cats so that the rabbit would have time to get far enough away to hop for safety.  I took the cats inside, too, to give it a better chance.

          I had seen Lila hanging around a large bush in the front yard, and I suspect that there was a nest of baby rabbits there, especially since I would sometimes see an adult rabbit near that same bush.  But apparently my fierce felines pretty much cleaned the nest out, because they never brought in another baby rabbit.

          Almost two weeks ago, my friend Jim was visiting me on a Sunday afternoon.  As we sat chatting on the couch in the living room, with the front door propped open so my cats could go outside, I began to hear a strange sound.  At first I didn't recognize it, but after a few minutes I realized it was Gabby's war cry.  I had my hearing aids in at the time, since I was conversing with someone, so I heard the war cry even though Gabby was not in the same room with me.  In fact, because there was a person she didn't know in the living room, she had taken her prize into the bedroom instead of bringing it right up to show me.

          It looked from a distance, at least to me, as if she had caught a grasshopper, but Jim assured me that what she had was a mouse  I went to check, and sure enough, she had a tiny little field mouse in her mouth.  (It wasn't much bigger than a good-sized grasshopper, which is why I hadn't recognized it as a mouse from a distance.)  I grabbed her and took her outside, where I put her down on the porch.  Then I went inside, closing the screen door so she couldn't get back in with her mouse. 

          But Gabby didn't just want the mouse.  She wanted the mouse in the house.  She sat right outside the screen door, uttering her war cry, demanding to be let in.  I slipped out the door to sit with her a while--and to see if the mouse was dead, as I had assumed it was.  Yep.  It was dead. 

          I decided to let her hold on to her prize a little longer.  I meant to go back in and talk to Jim a while, and then come outside and take the mouse away from her.  But as I opened the door ever so slightly to slip back inside, Gabby faked me out and got in past me. (She is really fast.)  So naturally I had to grab her and take her back outside, mouse and all.  When we got back on the porch, I made her drop the mouse, and I scooped it up in a tissue and disposed of it.

          Gabby was more than a little bit annoyed with me.  She followed me back inside and prowled around the living room, glaring at me and mrreowing her displeasure.

          Well, in the 10 days since that episode, Gabby has caught four more mice--and she has brought every single one to me to display in triumph.

          Thank goodness she has been killing them before bringing them to me, since she sometimes drops them at my feet, as if she is trying to supply me with a snack.  I would hate it if she brought one in alive and set it loose!

          It must be that the chilly November weather has somehow got the mice to come out to where she can find them easily, since she hasn't caught any mice before in the 2 ½ years I have lived in this apartment.  I hope she has exhausted her supply now, though.  I've seen enough dead mice to last me for quite some time.

          But her eagerness to go outside these days, even when it's pretty cold, tells me that she doesn't think she has run out of suitable prey. 

          In fact, she's out there right now, undoubtedly on the hunt.

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