The great white hunters — of the backyard

Not too long ago, there was quite a little controversy when a book came out claiming that roaming cats were doing irreparable harm to the wild bird population. Cat lovers immediately jumped to the defense of their furry little carnivores and even other scientists questioned the validity of the statistical model the book was built on.

I read one or two of the stories, and, after hearing both sides, I’m going to have to agree with the skeptics on this one. However, I will say that, based on my own backyard observations, cats are a bloodthirsty lot. And, if I were a small rodent or bird, I’d be very wary.

Of our four cats, two are true indoor-outdoor models. Romeo and Sylvie spend a good portion of each day roaming outdoors and getting into all sorts of kitty mischief. Before you start in with the lectures, let me just say that both are up to date on shots and flea-tick protection, and both have collars. Romeo is microchipped, too.

And, most importantly, both want to be outside and are happiest when they can choose in or out. Of course, they tend to change their minds six times per hour, but that’s a different issue.

Getting back to my original point, both of these cats like fresh food and they’re more than capable and willing to go hunting. Of the two, I would say that Romeo is the more skilled hunter. He’s bigger than Sylvie by a good 50 percent and I’ve seen him bring down chipmunks, birds, voles, mice, at least one squirrel, and, believe it or not, a garter snake.

He’s so good, the neighbors said he’s welcome anytime as he’s been hell on their mouse population. If he could speak, he’d probably sound like Liam Neeson in “Taken”: “Now listen to me you little rodents, I have certain skills….”

Watching the cats stalk is truly reminiscent of those nature shows we used to watch as kids with the majestic lions bringing down the poor wildebeest. In this case, our not-as-majestic kitties bring down the poor whatever-they-can-get-their-claws-and-teeth-into.

But with cats, they seem to think their prey can also act as playmates. I’ve seen both Romeo and Sylvie come trotting back from a hunt with something furry and wiggling in their mouths. They’ll drop the critter, circle around it, pet it, bump it, toss it around, and play with it. Finally, when the poor thing is pretty much a goner, they’ll apologize and kill it. Then, and this gets a bit graphic, they proceed to eat it.

On a recent successful hunt, Romeo came back with a young chipmunk, which he dropped. I called to him and he came over for some petting. Meanwhile Sylvie walked over, grabbed the chipmunk, dragged it away, and ate it.

Romeo just sort of watched with an “Eh, I’ll go get another one later” kind of attitude. Sylvie was very sweet though. After eating the entire chipmunk, she proceeded to puke it up on the back porch.

If you’re so disposed, inside-out chipmunks are actually pretty interesting.

“Hey, is that a spleen over there under the leg?”

“No, I think it’s a kidney. The spleen is over by the lungs”

“Lungs? I thought that was a stomach.”

Anatomy 101 in the backyard.

The one plus is that, amid all this bloody carnage, the cats seem to understand that we prefer they keep their fresh meals outdoors. Thus, we haven’t had too many instances of walking through the kitchen and wandering through a pile of fresh entrails. Thank goodness for small favors, as getting mouse kidneys out from between your toes does require a bit of scrubbing.

Our indoor cats would obviously like to get in on the hunt, but neither Lemon or Nibbler wants to go outside and wander. We’ve let them try and both tend to come running back inside after a minute or two of wandering the back porch in hopes that a small rodent will commit suicide but jumping out of nowhere directly into their mouths.

No luck on that thus far. But woe be unto any insect in the house that gets too close to Lemon. He’s quite the fly killer.

I know many people have a real problem with their cats going out and killing things. I don’t agree. It’s sort of like criticizing Kim Kardashian for taking nude selfies; it’s just part of the DNA.

Cats are evolved to hunt and hunt they will. They’ve only been “domesticated” for a short while in comparison to how long they’ve existed, so expecting them to stop doing what they do is pretty silly.

One or our old neighbors used to have a cat that was a legend in the backyard. I once saw him bring down a hummingbird. Really. Now I love hummingbirds and feel very fortunate that we have plants they like to feed on. But, at the same time, if that cat was good enough and that bird was slow enough, well, you get the picture.

In the grand scheme of things, if your cat is outdoors and he or she likes a nice fresh meal now and again, the world will keep on spinning. We, as “civilized” animals, may not like the blood and guts of the activity, but I don’t think it’s our place to tell the cats they’re being naughty.

Besides, we’re not that civilized, we can be just as nasty, and cats, for their part, tend to eat what they kill and they don’t tend to wreck the balance of nature in the process. I’ve yet to see Romeo or Sylvie mount the head of a mouse on the wall down by their food bowls. Our little folks are not trophy hunters.

If I have to clean up the occasional pile of feathers, small intestine, or extra leg now and again then so be it. The cats are happy, there’s no shortage of small critters in the yard, and the world is still spinning along through space. Now, if I could just find a way to get squirrel lungs out of the crevices of my sneakers….

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he takes care of four cats, one aging house, and still misses the tiny dog that used to keep him company. The dog was happy with naps and cheese curls, no live food needed.