My Hobson’s choice revisited

Last November I discussed my Hobson’s choice regarding the neighborhood cats I had been feeding.  The problem that ultimately forced me to realize I had to stop came from the presence of Aethon, an unsterilized male who had decided the food supply belonged entirely to him, and he was willing to enforce that claim with unremitting hostility and violence leveled against any other cat who wished to share in the bounty.  In fact, he eventually began sleeping near the food throughout the day as a measure of guard duty.

I witnessed on many occasions his savage aggression toward the other cats I had befriended.  When one night he unleashed terrible brutality on Larenti as she approached, my heart broke with the realization that I could no longer feed them without endangering the gentler members of the neighborhood feline brigade.  I wept as I concluded the banquet must end.

Yet a few days later I mentioned to xocobra during a visit that it wasn’t just Aethon’s malfeasance that spelled the end.  At that time, I already faced a growing financial disaster.  Add to that the cost of feeding my own five cats along with at least five regular outside visitors—and all with prescription cat food that isn’t cheap.  It seemed, as I admitted to him, that my Hobson’s choice was a double-whammy.  I was spending a fortune on expensive cat food whilst simultaneously engendering a rather volatile situation with the various outside cats (all because of one specific cat, mind you).  I was unable to monitor the situation around the clock in order to intercept Aethon’s tyrannical terror, and similarly I was unwilling to visit upon him any harm or fright because his actions were not intentionally evil.  He was, after all, simply trying to survive, and being unfixed meant he was a slave to his raging male hormones.

And therein rested my Hobson’s choice: stop feeding them or chase him away.  Since chasing him away was impossible and unpalatable, I really had only the illusion of a choice.  My course of action seemed all to clear…  I had to stop feeding them to address both the financial worries and the growing discord and harm being done in response to the availability of food.

But did I stop?  Yes.  For a short time.

Too often I was visited by any number and combination of these cats, and each time I died a little more, lamented their need and my unwillingness to fulfill it, and suffered a thousand wounds when they called out to me or stared at me with the questioning want of a cat accustomed to being provided a meal but who suddenly finds itself going without.  Nevertheless, I knew I had to stop, at least temporarily, in order to break Aethon of his habit, that of staking his claim early in the morning and remaining on sentry throughout the day so as to attack any interloper who wished to share in the feast.

And it worked.  Perhaps a week went by as his visits grew less frequent and shorter.  He would arrive and take his position.  He would watch me closely with eyes asking the question his mouth could not articulate.  Finally, after seven or eight days, his early arrival stopped.  He began making infrequent visits throughout the day and night, each time checking to see if the situation had changed, and each time finding it had not.  And then, after about ten days, his presence became occasional, one defined by casual strolls and jaunts through the area as part of an irregular schedule.

The damage had been done, though, for the same could be said of the other cats.  I rarely saw any of them, and certainly a few seemed to have disappeared altogether.  I feared for them, shed tears of worry and sorrow on their behalf, and eventually succumbed to my own humane heart.  I began feeding them again.

Since then, most have returned at least from time to time.  All except Clance and Chira.  Clance I saw rarely after that, and now I’ve not seen him for a few months.  I do carry a great deal of concern for him.  My hope is that he was adopted, rescued by some other loving person, but I also realize that’s probably more self-deception than anything else.  He could still be around but not visiting because the meal became unreliable.  I simply don’t know.

As for Chira, the last few times I’ve seen him he has been wearing a collar.  As I had suspected and hoped for some time in response to his less frequent visits, it appears someone has at least taken to providing him with love and attention, not to mention some kind of stable companionship and care.  My apprehension based on his absence lessened tremendously when I realized that.  In spite of not seeing him since early January, I have at least some measure of hope that he’s being taken care of and hasn’t just gone missing like too many stray cats do.

Henko still visits.  Being as aloof and skittish as she is, she’s still the hardest one to see.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t see her.  Almost every morning like clockwork, I watch her slink by the windows nearest my desk where I work.  Rather than bother her too much, I give her plenty of space.  She’s a small, frightened lass, one subjected to quite a bit of unnecessary chasing by the others, something due in no small part to her size and position in the local pecking order, I believe.  So I give her space and don’t attempt to visit with her too often.

Psiwa’s presence is almost as regular as Larenti’s.  He comes and goes throughout each day and enjoys his time at the public table.  He’s grown quite accustomed to me, something that pleases me to no end.  Instead of running away each time he sees me, he’s now so comfortable with my presence that he’ll sit right by the fence as I put out additional food.  When before I couldn’t be within six feet (two meters) of him, I’ve actually been able to touch him a few times over the past month or so.  That is tremendous progress between us.

But now that I’ve ranted ad infinitum about all of these cats, and without mentioning the few new visitors I’ve seen on very rare occasions, I come to the crux of the matter.

My relationship with Larenti has developed to a new level.  She now talks to me even when it has nothing whatsoever to do with food.  She responds to my presence with comfort and affection, shows excitement when I’m around, and shows up constantly, sometimes sleeping right outside the patio fence for hours at a time.  This is nothing like Aethon’s similar behavior last year, mind you, for Larenti is not violent and is not protecting the food.  She’ll lie quietly and without interference as other cats—especially Psiwa—come and go.  For that matter, she hangs out with Psiwa quite often.

The point is, though, she’s grown used to me and has developed a bond with me.  It’s comfortable and welcomed.  And it’s in danger.

You already know I intend to leave Dallas at the end of the year, give or take, an uprooting change in my life intended to get me away from concrete jungles and too many people.  I want to live in a place that will indulge my growing need to commune with nature, so it’s certain I will relocate closer to the family farm in East Texas.  I want a place where the natural world is not as tainted as it is here, a place where walks in woodlands and along riparian landscapes are not deceptive illusions as can be found here at the lake where I presently reside.  There is ample nature to be seen here, yes, but it’s not natural and it’s not free of human overcrowding.  It’s a habitat located within the city, one surrounded on all sides by urban and suburban sprawl, one a mere stone’s throw from downtown Dallas.  I’ll post some maps momentarily to show you what I mean, but this lake is nothing more than a brief hallucination in an otherwise vast landscape of civilization.  It is no escape from humanity’s constant drivel and activity; it’s a blink right in the middle of the mess, one you could easily miss if you didn’t know it was there.

That’s not the life I want anymore, and it’s not the life I’ll have when I move.  Or at least that’s what I hope.

Which leads me to Larenti and the other cats.  When I leave this place, I must leave them behind as well.  It’s simply not possible to rescue them all, methinks.  But could it be possible to rescue one or two of them?

I think it is in at least a small way.  Since I don’t know where I’ll move to, though, I don’t know if trying to do that would even work.  And I dare not move them simply to keep them as outside cats.  They’re comfortable in their current territory with lives that are somewhat stable and secure, at least as much as can be had under the circumstances.  Uprooting them and placing them into a new, wilder environment would simply put them in greater danger.  I’m not willing to do that.

I still think it could be possible to adopt one or two of them before I go.

Having six or seven cats would be a tremendous change, I know.  It would be disruptive to the current five assuming one or two new members could even be integrated.  That’s a huge assumption.  But aside from that consideration, what else can I do?  I would be leaving them without my support—the biggest part of which is food!—and would essentially be abandoning them to their fates.  I’m sure they’d survive given that they survived before I came along.  They are cats, after all, and that means master predators and cunning beasts whose only real threat is people.  And starvation, disease, larger predators, parasites, and whatever else might befall them.

Therein lies my worry and pondering.  When I move, what do I do about them?  If anything, who do I rescue?  And will any action even be possible?

I have months before this quandary is faced directly.  I already stress about it nevertheless.  I can’t wait until the last minute to decide and act.  My greatest fear is that I’ll simply have to disappear from their perspective.  One day the food will stop.  One day the affection and attention will end.  It will be so abrupt and unforeseen.  And what will they do then?  How long will they continue to visit hoping for my return?  And who will occupy this space after me, and how will they react to these cats who keep coming around and waiting?

There is much that must be considered in all of this.  I realize that without hesitation.  It doesn’t change the consideration, though.  Not at all.

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