Sextiped Valley column: A cat bib is for the birds
I love to watch birds. Any time, anywhere, but especially around my home, where I feed them all year-round. This fall, I constructed a frame for my feeders and placed it so I can observe them from my favorite chair.
The dogs sit in the bay window and enjoy them, too — along with the excitement of squirrel piracy. I throw cupfuls of larger seed, peanuts and corn onto the carport roof for them and the bigger birds. This time of year, with night temperatures falling into the teens, water is the biggest challenge. So now, after I fill my kettle for coffee, I go out to thaw the bird baths in the mornings before settling down to watch the regulars flock to the breakfast bar.
On the afternoon of the new Grand Avenue Bridge opening, I was just ready to go join the celebration when my neighbor came over in distress. Her cat had brought home a bird, which was now “stuck” in her patio fence. She hoped I’d know what to do.
The little dove had poked her head through mesh too narrow for her body. As I gently eased the wires apart, before I could lift her she took wing. For about five seconds, unexpected hope soared with her. Then she plummeted to earth across the road. As she fell, we saw a bright red patch above her wing, where no red should be. My neighbor helped me scramble down the steep bank where the dove was attempting to burrow under a tree root and steadied me as I climbed back up holding her trembling body.
“I’m taking her to my vet,” I told her. “We’ll help pay,” my neighbor said, blinking back tears. “That cat! I just don’t know how to stop him.” I knew. “Get him a Cat Bib!” “A what?” “You put it on his collar, and it keeps him from being able to kill birds,” I explained, remembering the device I’ve recommended to so many cat owners over the years. But I was in a hurry. “Just Google it: cat bib. You can order it online.” She looked at me, bewildered. “Cat bib? OK …” But I was already hurrying away with the dove.
On the exam table, the vet and I peered at the open wound, from which black oil sunflower seeds spilled. Sunflower seeds from my feeder, probably. The dove’s black eyes were bright and alert, and she seemed surprisingly relaxed as we contemplated options. In the end, the vet consulted a specialist, cleaned and sutured the wound, administered antibiotics and pain relief and set up a warm cage for the night. Plans were made to transfer the bird for longer-term recovery and rehab, once she was ready. All that could be done was done. But during the night, the dove died.
My feeders, which give me so much pleasure, attract cats, too. I know the statistics cited by wildlife and humane society advocates for keeping cats indoors, and I know that while the numbers are disputed, there is no doubt cats do kill birds. But keeping cats always indoors seems to be a serious deprivation of activities important to them. Even the most skilled hunters aren’t killing all the time.
I felt responsible for protecting from the cat the birds who come to my feeders, now that I knew what he’s capable of. So for the next week or so, I chased him away multiple times a day. I cleared away objects he could hide behind while stalking. Give the birds a chance to see him, I thought. And I attached branches to my feeder frame, so many birds could perch and flutter about as they fed — confusing the cat, I hoped, and interfering with his pounce accuracy.
Then, about 10 days after the death of the dove, I spied the mighty hunter crouching in the driveway, tail lashing, intent on the busy flock of birds having their breakfast — and a smile spread across my face. I greeted the cat, complimenting him on his new outfit. For he was sporting a natty blue cat bib, hanging from his collar and seeming to trouble him not a bit.
We humans are always taking sides for or against our fellow beings, for varying motives and reasons. But maybe we should be slower to do so. The world contains all of us, with our differing purposes, yet all are parts of the whole; each has her parts to play, some obvious, some mysterious. Cats and birds coexist in my yard peacefully, due to a small square of fabric. You can get one by going to the website. Celebrate interspecies harmony this holiday season.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.