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A wild, bird-eating 18-year-old orange tabby & his domesticated 102-year-old pet

The two “pets” are my parents. There were the two of them in the house for the first 15 years or so of the tabby’s residence. Minou’s story winds about them, binds them in mutual affection and shared life.

Jim Gabour
20 April 2016
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The story is not quite clear on how he first came to occupy at the house on Boeuf Trace, just south of central Louisiana’s Bayou Robert. 

But shortly after arriving, he accepted an offering of food, and then decided he need go no further.  He was finally home, had arrived at his home. 

The two humans who lived there prior to his entrance were welcome accoutrements to the comfortable shelter, basically his pets, subject to his whims and needs. 

They were, however, useful for can and door opening, though, so he decided he would protect them, even nurture them. 

They were allowed to remain, though there is some family conjecture as to whether or not the title to the house has been discreetly transferred to his name.  It might have been, had he a surname.

Minou – basically French for “pussycat” in the same way our Boeuf Trace street is named “Cattle Trail”, this being Cajun French territory, after all – has run the house by the bayou for almost two decades now.  Or at least that is his pet’s current estimate.  Chronology seems to slip back and forth on the Trace these days. 

Time has become a malleable, uncertain thing.  But in cat years that makes Minou at least 82, and maybe as old as 88, depending on the source.  And the pet turned 102 last November.  That’s around 22 in cat years.  Just old enough to drink hard liquor.  Though he no longer does.  Bourbon doesn’t give him the same kick it used to, he says.  He drinks coffee, for the caffeine instead.

The two “pets” are my parents.  There were the two of them in the house for the first 15 years or so of the tabby’s residence. Minou’s story winds about them, binds them in mutual affection and shared life.

The female, my Mom, was a gentle, trusting and loving soul, never a one better, but was already slipping away even as they met.  So Minou set himself to helping her hold onto a bit of joy the last decade or so of her life by giving her comfort and amusement through all her waking days and nights.  I think he did a better job than I did, as he was always there for her, and I was often away.

He was successful, dominating her favorite chair until the arrival of a last cruel year of decline, which separated them finally.   He would not sleep there once it was unoccupied.  It had been her place, after all, not his.  So he turned his attention to the remaining pet, the male, allowing him some independence and a great deal of slack, on who got possession of the remaining chair,  as long as the cans got opened for breakfast and dinner.

These days the house on Boeuf Trace is the residence of two aging bachelors, each with his own personal, though shared, agenda.  Ask the tabby:  that agenda is Minou maintenace.

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But this cat is is no free loader. 

Minou earns his keep by guarding the fig and pecan trees out back.  He recognizes them as food sources for the human pet.  Food is important, no matter the species.

He acts casual, lying about and grooming himself nonchalantly until the squirrels who steal his human pet’s hard-won food source, and who have at first  shied away at his arrival, boldly return to the ground to gather up the windfall nuts. 

Minou then eats them. 

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Then there is fig protection. He lies passively by the fig tree until the mockingbirds who peck holes in the prized figs lose their fear and actually start to dive-bomb him, pecking him on the head as they swoop down, making raucous victory-over-cats birdcalls. 

He usually allows them three pecks. 

Minou then eats them. 

He does not require canned food after consuming small mammals or birds.  He usually signifies this by bringing the remains of the deceased vertebrate to the foot of the pet’s chair to show him the prize.  To demonstrate that at least he is still young and independent of food sources, whereas the pet requires flesh-food caught and killed by a third party, terminally acquired by the payment of currency to an oversized  human supermarket-thing, a vendor actually remote from the act of hunting.  The tabby considers this dishonest.

Which brings up the consequences of that rather discomfiting behavior pattern of mortality display.

Visitors to the house often express serious distress when Minou brings a prize into the living room for human praise.  This has occasionally occurred during human dining events, which seem to amplify the emotion brought on by the exhibition of rather bedraggled animal remains.

Some authorities blame this on his mother:

The mother cat teaches her kittens to kill to eat. Her first lesson consists of bringing home dead prey and consuming it in front of the kittens. Soon they learn to join in. At the end of this stage, she brings the dead prey home and leaves it for the kittens to eat on their own. . . Many cats (especially spayed females) will provide this lesson to their human owners. Thus, bringing home dead prey and dropping it at our feet.

Not in this case.  Minou had little, if any, knowledge of a mother before his wandering into the Trace house as a very very young kitten.

What then?  Why does this soft-hearted, gentle creature persist in what would be considered feral behavior?  There are many non-behaviorist theories on this phenomenon.  Some are more scientific, even chemical:

Cats are evolutionarily highly specialized for hunting, compared to other mammals such as dogs. This is now thought to be the indirect result of the mutation which caused their ancestors to lose the ability to taste sugars, thereby reducing their intake of plant foods. Since they have a greatly reduced need to digest plants, their digestive tract has evolved to be shorter, too short for effective digestion of plants but less of a weight penalty for the rapid movement required for hunting. Hunting has likewise become central to their behavior patterns, even to their predilection for short bursts of intense exercise punctuating long periods of rest.

So these folks speculate that back in prehistoric times kitties somehow lost their sweet tooth, which made them angry enough to take their frustration out on mockingbirds:

Unlike most other animals (including dogs), cats' bodies do not produce much taurine. Taurine is an essential amino-acid - one of the building blocks of proteins. Without taurine, no animal can survive for long, so cats make up for their taurine deficiency through their diet. Since only meat provides enough taurine to keep a cat going, your cat is what biologists call an 'obligatory carnivore'. It is important to remember that although dogs can survive well on a vegetarian diet, cats can not. They literally have to kill to live. (Or sub-contract the job to humans, which is basically the same thing).

So even though Minou gets the metal cylinders of tuna “taurine”, he still finds it part of his domestic responsibility, and his secret to long life, to get outside, exercise, and gather his own.  He is not an evil creature.  He just needs his taurine, yes, yes.

I have read about people putting bells and bibs on their cats to make them less efficient hunters, or making them overfed and fat, or just keeping them inside.  This is all very ironic, since it was cat’s abilities to hunt and keep mice and other animals out of human food sources, that first attracted men to cats.  My own cat herd insure that our home is completely free of rodents, even though we live near the Mississippi River with its seasonally infested wharves and warehouses.  They, too, will on occasion travel blocks to find one and bring it home.  Just to keep their paws in The Game.

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Dad, once a hunter himself, has grown used to the habits of his roommate, and requires the same of houseguests.  If folks want to visit him, they just have to accept Minou’s foibles.  Which include the occasional bachelor’s fresh poultry dinner.   

And, of course, the chair sharing.

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