Saturday, October 23, 2010


All night we heard the meows (actually mews) outside our east facing bedroom window indicating a cat in distress or maybe just the nocturnal prowlings of our domesticata cavorting with their feral cousins. We knew that by morning we had to address the issue or continue to lose sleep. The plaintive calls were echoing and seemingly coming from several parts of the back yard. As it turned out, they were.

That Sunday morning when light broke and when We would be usually anticipating and preparing for another church service down at St. Matthews, I was prowling the back yard sleuthing the origin of our kitty calls. Well, lo and behold, there was a big black female cat, immediately recognized as one of the dominant neighborhood feral cats that until recently had been hanging out at a home near the end of the street. She was sitting in the gravel about midpoint of the east side of house and looking up. She saw me and as I approached her, disdainfully looked back at me as she effortlessly scooted over the eight foot wooden fence.

I walked down to where she had maintained her vigilance and was greeted by silence. I looked up and around the area for the two kittens (one black with brown spots and another totally black) she had been moving around the backyard during the week trying to escape the wrath of the resident Cairn Terrier who was bent on removing that vermin from her domain. The kittens had been spared an uncertain future only by the several intercessions of the Lady of the House and this writer.

I looked through the thick display of ferns and hostas which despite some predictable fall insect damage could still provide great cover but little protection for our kittens and still nothing. Just as I was ready to turn around and resume my preparations for church I heard several mews, again seemingly coming from the side area but never from a specific spot? The cat had been inexplicably looking up so maybe the gutters were hiding some secrets. Not possible. The plaintive calls resumed. I was standing right at one of the grates for the drains around the house… Then it hit me - Oh my God, the kitten was in the drainage system!

The side of the house has four, four inch grates, part of the drainage system that runs the perimeter of the property including the location of the earlier kitten sanctuary. I checked the back grates and voila, one of the grate covers had been removed – one of the mischievous pastimes of our aforementioned Cairn Terrier. I then replaced the grate cover. A kitten was definitely in the drainage system. Faced with the prospect of digging the kitten out or flushing it to the street, I took a deep breath and popped three of the four grate covers on the side of the house and started crying like a Mama cat. I started tapping on the sides of the openings and continued my meowing hoping to find the exact location of the kitten. She (yes, she) was initially quiet but soon started to cry. Her meows reverberated and echoed up and down the side of house hiding her exact location.

I decided to set up camp at the middle opening and try and lure the kitten to freedom. So there I was sitting cross legged in the gravel softly tapping and scratching on the side of the middle grate opening trying to meow like her Mom. After about fifteen minutes, just when I was about to move to a different opening, the kitten starting calIing out again and then voila, there was the top of her head. She was totally black and at about three weeks was just the right size to easily maneuver the drain pipe. She looked up at me, hissed loudly and popped back down into her prison.

I immediately left the area and set up surveillance at the corner of the house about twenty feet away where the kitten couldn’t see me. By this time the Lady of the House joined the circus and with her always sage and common sense advice we sought to lure her from her lair with some peanut butter and milk.

I continued my meowing and though the kitten kept sticking her head out of the opening she never fully extricated herself from her prison/refuge and never showed any interest in the food. Then all of a sudden – lo and behold - she climbed out though stayed right at the opening. She was soaking wet, scrawny and needed some attention. I started to figure out my timing to rush to the area so I could pop the grates back on to prevent her return to the drain. She made it difficult by staying right next to the hole and even climbed back in the one time I got too close.

Then Mama Cat interceded and from the other side of the fence, called to the kitten which popped out of the drain and right to the nearby fence. She moved a lot of the gravel from the bottom of the fence and scooted under to freedom. I madly rushed down the side of the house and over the gravel as fast as I could capping the three openings lest she try and climb back in. I saw her later that morning in front of the neighbor’s house - dry, apparently fed and content. All was at peace in the neighborhood.
That didn’t last…

The next morning the aforementioned Cairn Terrier pulled a 5:30 am wakeup call with an anxious, whining request to visit the front lawn. I complied - first disarming the security system, leashing her up and then exiting the house with the dog dramatically (and seemingly without effort) pulling me along. She got about ten feet out into the middle of the lawn and froze like a statue. Standing in the middle of the street about forty feet away was a very, very large male coyote (probably 50+ lbs.) who immediately took an interest in the dog (breakfast?) and started to walk towards us. I looked down the street and saw another coyote looking our way and then another that scooted around the corner.

I was getting ready to beat a hasty retreat back into the house just when the dog in an exercise of incredibly poor judgement (probably brought on by stress) assumed the position (head and body stretched forward and tail up) and started relieving herself. The opportunistic coyote continued his cautious but deliberate advance while I was figuring on a dramatic voidus interruptus when the neighbor across the street came out of his house, retrieved his newspaper, waved, said “Good morning” and went back into his home. He never saw the coyote who now startled, retreated back down the street while the dog finished her business.

We made it back into the house without incident though the dog was jittery for several days. I called City of Dallas Animal Control (DAC) who acknowledged they were aware of a coyote pack in the area and were going to be setting traps later that day. The DAC employee also advised that there was a bobcat living in the area and to take precautions with any pets.
Ahhhh Mother Nature…

I shared my early morning experience with my co-workers who immediately started swapping stories about the wildlife in their neighborhoods including the recent verified sighting of a mountain lion that decided to make nearby Plano and Collin County home. I got home that evening and the coyotes were long gone with the only vestige of their visit - a couple of piles of fur in the back alleyway that closely resembled the aforementioned kittens. So, where is our gun-toting, coyote shooting Governor Rick Perry when you need him? Sad, but as we have long stated the coyote and bobcat are now part of our urban/suburban landscape. Hey, let’s be careful out there and strive to better understand and safely interact with our wild neighbors.


Ned Buxton

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