Here in New
Hampshire we have a benevolent organization called the Love the Little Kitties
Association. Its membership includes doctors, lawyers, state policemen, several
clergymen, a retired Air Force general and the local undertaker. It was founded
by an eminent municipal judge, who holds the office of Head Lover. I had the
honor of being named Associate Lover.
The purpose of our
organization is the extermination, by fair means or foul, of feral house cats.
By definition, feral means "untamed, wild or savage," and house cat
means a cat that is supposed to live in a house. The feral house cat is not so
much untamed as de-tamed, usually as the result of being de-housed. Meetings of
the LLKA are held whenever a member encounters one of these roving beasts
stalking the fields in search of prey. Our shooting seat is an open convertible
or a specially fitted jeep with slits in the side windows for protruding gun
barrels, or the undertaker's hearse, which not only affords excellent
visibility but is also handy for a quick getaway. In all honesty, Artist Edward
Sorel's depiction of one of our meetings (left), while faithful in spirit, is
optimistic. We have not yet been able to acquire an elephant.
Let me hasten to
explain, ere the cat people bristle their back fur, that we have nothing
against little kitties that stay by the fire and restrict their diet to canned
salmon. Our members wouldn't dream of shooting a tiger (sorry, I mean a cat) in
the lap of an elderly grandmother sitting in a rocking chair in her front
parlor—provided the window is closed. Our aim (and it is generally quite
accurate) is the hot-eyed hunter, neglected by grandma or abandoned when the
summer vacationer closes his camp in the fall.
Take the city
people—seemingly a nice, civilized family group—who rent a cottage for July and
August at Conservation Lake. Shortly after their arrival an itinerant tomcat
purrs at the door and attaches itself to the household. At least they think
it's a tomcat, until it delivers a litter of seven kittens in the guest-room
bed. These are duly adopted and cared for until Labor Day rolls around. At this
point these sunshine cat lovers decide they can't take eight cats back to a
city apartment; so they board up the cottage, lock the door and drive off
hurriedly before the children notice their erstwhile pets huddled on the back
porch, left behind to shift for themselves.
What that family
has done, however unwittingly, is as criminally careless as tossing a cigarette
out of the car in a parched pine woods. They have loosed eight of the most
dangerous predators in America—predators that must be eradicated. This
statement, while incontrovertible, suggests a different remedy to dedicated cat
they sometimes ask our esteemed Head Lover, "don't you shoot the people who
abandon the cats?" This is a meretricious question. As the judge points
out, most of the time it is impossible to distinguish cat leavers from cat
lovers. Even if identification is positive, leavers usually are leaving at 65
to 70 miles an hour and make a difficult target. Besides, people are
permanently out of season in most resort and wildlife areas.
If the cuddly
little kittens they have abandoned remained cuddly little kittens the whole
problem might not arise. Alas, they do not, nor do they become wan and weak and
harmless. In no time at all their fur grows long and shaggy, they attain
enormous size (I saw one which measured over three feet in length) and they
develop uncanny hunting ability. A single cat will kill an average of 100
songbirds in a year. Some wildlife officials have estimated that these feline
felons account for better than 50% of the small game that is destroyed
annually, more than the total of all the foxes and skunks and bobcats and
weasels—yes, and human hunters—combined. As New Hampshire's fish and game
commissioner, Ralph Carpenter, puts it: "The house cat, left to its own
devices, raises havoc with all forms of wildlife, particularly around summer
resort areas which are usually located in our best wildlife preserves."
There's no telling
how many cats roam wild in this country today, though my guess would be well up
in the millions, but so severe is their toll that in many states the local game
protectors shoot them on sight. Conservation-minded sportsmen, like the members
of the Love the Little Kitties Association, pitch in to help the good cause.
Last winter our Head Lover, the judge, joined a group of Maine wardens who were
cleaning out some feline predators around a deserted summer colony on Sebago
Lake. It was tricky shooting, he reported, because the fleeing quarry would
duck between two cottages in the line of fire or hide behind an aluminum canoe
on a pair of sawhorses. The results were nine cats, two picture windows, part
of a slate roof and one dead amidships on the canoe.
There are no rules
or bylaws in our organization to handicap the members in their efforts.
Sawed-off shotguns are useful for the shorter distances, and a burlap bag
weighted with stones is favored for treacherous cats that try to mislead LLKA
members by jumping into their laps. (The Mau Mau technique of strangling or
hanging cats never has caught on.)
A few of our
members, as is their individual right, eschew the burlap bag on the grounds
that it lacks sporting zest. A distinguished college professor, for instance,
recently developed an ingenious procedure for lengthening the odds. The
professor took two English walnuts, split them, and glued the four halves
securely to the bottom of the cat's feet. He tossed the cat onto a frozen lake
and, as it skidded and slid across the ice, zigzagging erratically, tried to
line up on it with a .22 automatic. The experiment ended when the professor
fell through the ice. The cat was seen (and missed again) a few weeks later,
skating brilliantly in the moonlight.