16 August 2008

Bite They Tiny Heads Off, Nibble on They Tiny Feet*

*With appropriate credit to B. Kliban

One of my least favorites parts of cat ownership is that you unwittingly take on responsibility for all of the woodland creatures that your cat kills, maims, or tries to kill. In our part of Germany, this mostly means shrews, although there is other wildlife in our neighborhood, including several species of songbird, hedgehogs, and fox. In the past three months I have had to dispose of more dismembered, disemboweled, and headless shrews than I care to remember. (Compare and contrast with my heroic effort to rescue a confused baby shrew in the parking lot of Tengelmann's when we first moved here over a year ago.)

I woke up this Saturday morning to the sounds of what I thought was a bird chirping, and the sight of one of our cats stalking the foot of my son's bed. I lifted the bottom of the quilt, which had slumped to the floor while my son slept, just in time to see a dark shape of indeterminate species scurry under the bed.

I grabbed the cat and unceremoniously threw him into the bathroom until my son woke up. I thought I would be able to find the... critter with the cat locked in the bathroom, but whatever it was quickly hid itself, and I could find neither hide nor hair of the beast. On inspection, it appeared that I had not properly closed the front door when we returned from grocery shopping last night, which is undoubtedly how the... whatever it was got in. This explained how our other cat, who had been in the house when I went to bed, was standing at the back door waiting to be let in when I awoke. (This episode is telling, in that it obviously never occurred to our dear girl cat to let herself in via the very door from which she had made her exit.) I decided to let her in and keep a close eye on her, but it quickly became clear that she had no knowledge of the critter in my son's bedroom, as she showed no interest in pursuing it.

I lay down on my son's bed to read, keeping a watchful eye out for the... whatever it was. I waited for him to wake up, and when he did, I explained that there was an animal in his room, either a bird or a mouse, that the cat in the bathroom had been trying to kill it, and that I needed his help to save it. Then I asked him to let the cat out, and we followed him. Just as I had known he would, he immediately locked in on the critter's position, which was apparently under my son's giant stuffed bear, which sits in the corner made by my son's bookcases. I lifted up the bear just enough to see a long tail and a long nose. Our visitor was a shrew, it turned out, and so my son shooed the cats and locked them both away while I chased it. When the shrew proved elusive, we decided to just lock it in my son's bedroom and let the cats out, so I could make breakfast for us and then deal with the "critter issue" (as I had begun to think of it) on a full stomach.

A few minutes later, my son said, "Mommy, they killed something. I don't know what it is, and I don't know if it's the same thing, but they killed it." He, in some distress, pointed to the torso of an adult shrew, which lay on one of our living room rugs. Interestingly (to me), there was no blood. I, wishing once again for a man of the house to deal with such things, cleaned up the shrew bits and tried not to think too hard about where the top half of the shrew might be. Meanwhile, we wondered aloud whether this shrew half belonged to the full shrew we had just locked in his room, or to another one. The torso looked smaller than the one in my son's room so I suspected another shrew remained, but it was impossible to prove without letting the cats into my son's room, which I really wasn't ready to do.

But wild critters follow their own rhythms, and at some point while we were eating our breakfast our shrew decided it was time to make a break for it. I heard squeaking, just before the cats flashed into action on the stairs below my son's room. My son, who was hyper-alert and determined not to let the cats kill again, was on them in seconds and locked them both away. Meanwhile, I went to investigate how our uninvited visitor was faring, who in his desperation to escape had plunged between the stairs almost to the basement -- about a 15 foot drop onto marble stairs, in other words. It turns out shrews bounce rather than splatter, luckily, as he appeared only stunned. I sent my son to get the box and DVD we had set aside for shrew-catching, and then carried the little guy outside, where I released it unharmed*.

Phew! And so begins another weekend in our house.

*Where it will probably get killed by the neighbor's cat, but oh well. I only saves 'em, I doesn't adopt 'em.

No comments: