My Hobson’s choice

Aethon is a beast.  After monitoring his proclivities and activities for the last several weeks, I now understand why his continued presence and tendency to hang out and sleep here is negatively impacting the rest of the outside cats.  Let me explain.

Larenti once enjoyed a stable schedule which entailed early morning, late morning, afternoon, evening, and late-night feeding sessions.  That schedule no longer exists and I now see her sporadically at best.

Clance, while never on a schedule like Larenti, often stopped by for a meal two or three times each day, and sometimes more often than that.  I have not seen him for two days, and then only once, and before then his absence spanned almost a week.

Henko is a petite cat who is quite skittish.  Her size makes her an easy target for larger cats, so she often sneaks in under the radar so she can eat.  Before Aethon’s appearance, she came around perhaps two or three times each day.  I rarely see her more than once now, and sometimes not even once.

Psiwa is a new cat I have not mentioned yet but will discuss in a later post.  This feline increasingly visited until the last several weeks when suddenly those visits slowed tremendously and became sporadic.

Keep in mind all of these cats sans Aethon inevitably have been tolerant of each other.  In fact, Larenti loves other cats and is neither threatened by nor threatening toward them.

What does all of this mean?

I have seen with my own eyes what Aethon does when other cats enter the neighborhood.  I mentioned once that his sleeping outside the patio for most of the day could be interpreted as protecting a kill (e.g., hanging close to a reliable food source and keeping it safe from others).  It seems clear to me now that is precisely what he is doing.  He has chased Henko, Clance, Psiwa, and Larenti as they tried to approach for a bite to eat.  Last night was the clincher.

I stepped outside around eleven and Aethon was out there, so I went back inside and grabbed a handful of food before returning to the patio.  Keep in mind the timing also coincided with part of the long-standing schedule with Larenti.  As I was putting the food down, I saw the cat reacting to something coming from behind me, so I turned to see Larenti peeking around the corner from the direction where she normally sleeps (I assume based on observation).  Late night had been her domain for many months.  I turned to Aethon and told him to leave her alone, and I even stood up to intimidate him (since Larenti is not bothered by my presence, being close to the fence and moving about will not bother her, but it does trouble and frighten Aethon).  My ruse failed to make him think I would stop him if he bothered her (since the fence was between us).

He prepared for attack and launched himself at her.  She turned and dashed into the shadows trying to escape.  Before I could get over the fence, her wailing and crying pierced the night in a horrible way.  Just as I prepared to leap from the fence to the outside world, Aethon casually strolled back around the corner—apparently returning for a meal.  I leaped over the fence and chased him away out of anger and resentment (it was nothing more than landing on the outside of the fence and walking toward him, as he is still quite aloof and uncertain about people—probably distrustful as well).

The incident was over so quickly that I barely had time to register what had happened.  There is no doubt in my mind that Larenti is fine (albeit perhaps with a new scratch or two, if that much).  Her screams were panic and shock, not the calls of a dying or mortally wounded animal.  But the damage was done.  Her security in our ritual, in our schedule, is shattered.  Her feeling of safety when visiting me and having food offered by me suffered a tremendous blow.  I suspect this has been going on since Aethon showed up, and my own observations bear out that assumption.

I feel I have only two options.  Both are unthinkable yet appear to be my only recourse.

One: Stop feeding them altogether.  Having no temptation to hang around my patio would eventually keep them from encountering Aethon, at least under circumstances caused by me.  This lends itself to resolving the feeling I have that I am somehow the cause of their suffering at his hands (and yes, I assume Aethon is a male based on personality).  Having allowed them to learn I will always provide food and never pose a risk to them, I now feel responsible that the same environment is being violated despite the continuing presence of food.

Two: Take whatever action is necessary to dissuade Aethon from visiting or hanging out.  This would be the more difficult of the options.  Food availability will continue drawing him in and I cannot remain on guard duty 24 hours each day.  It would be impossible for me to intercept him at all times when he might visit.  The caveat to the difficulty is that it would allow me to continue feeding the other cats who clearly rely on me to some degree for consistent meals.

I find both options distasteful.  I would prefer to keep feeding them.  I do not want to intentionally inflict fear of humans on any of the cats.

Regrettably, upon further consideration of my possible solutions, it appears to me to be a Hobson’s choice.  That is an idiomatic expression meaning the illusion of a choice that is really no choice at all (not to be confused with picking the lesser of two evils).  In this case, the second choice is infinitely more attractive than the first, yet it is impossible to implement and enforce.  I would succeed in making Aethon frightened of me personally, yet the presence of food for the others would continually draw him back, only he would be forced to use his best predator instincts so as to avoid me and detection by me.  As I already pointed out, it is a delusion to think myself capable of monitoring the area all the time so as to keep him at bay while allowing the others to eat.

Therein lies the Hobson’s choice.  I am left with option one as the only recourse available.  The temptation of food will keep him coming back.  It would also continue placing undue stress and the threat of harm on all the other cats who find no qualms with sharing the resource (they stop by, grab a bite to eat, and move on, but Aethon spends the vast majority of the day haunting the area).

I very much dislike this situation.  As beautiful a cat as he is and as increasingly pleasant as he has become, Aethon is now the menace of the food bowl.  This state of affairs is unfortunate and upsetting.

[Update] I want you to know it’s been crushing to see Aethon lying out there since about 5:30 this morning.  He only just now left (10:20 a.m.).  Each time I went outside, he’d give me that longing stare that begged to know why there was nothing to eat and whether there ever would be.  I also saw Henko come by earlier, but she ran off the moment she saw him (as she always does).  I hate this.  A part of me feels I’m being cruel by cutting them off.  Part of me feels cruel for thinking it acceptable to try to frighten Aethon away.  All of me feels like a disappointment, as though I’ve done something terribly wrong.

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