This is the season in Vermont when the wildlife assaults the barricades. The wolf spiders scuttle in from the garage and drink out of the dog water dish. The field mice squeeze through the tiny crack where the heating pipe enters the wall, hoping for a spot by the fire and a regular supply of crumbs. And it’s the season when, every evening, the gray cat Telemann goes on the hunt.
In the morning I find the shrunken remains of a spider or two, its legs curled inward like fingers in a fist. I shudder as I walk by, thinking, if it’s the size of a penny in its contracted state, how appallingly huge it must have been while it was alive. And I am grateful to my hunter for keeping us spider free.
But the field mice are a different story. If spiders rank at the bottom of the adorableness scale, field mice are at the top, with their furry little bodies, tiny paws, big ears, and shiny black eyes. Beatrix Potter used to keep them as pets, and so would I if I could litter train them. And if I didn’t have Telemann.
Telemann doesn’t care about the adorableness of field mice. He views them not only as food, but as superior entertainment. If watching squirrels through the window is tantamount to watching tennis on TV, catching a live mouse must feel like playing an actual match.
I don’t begrudge Telemann his mice. We really cannot have them in the house, and he saves us the distressing job of trapping them. It’s what happens between the catching and the eating that I cannot bear–the seemingly frivolous, sadistic batting and stalking and pawing for what looks like the sheer pleasure of prolonging the little creature’s agony.
Or at least that’s what I thought until two minutes ago, when I googled “why do cats play with their prey.” And it turns out that they’re not playing at all! They are trying to exhaust their prey, before delivering the killing bite to the back of the neck, in order to protect themselves from being bitten or, if the victim is a bird, pecked. Cats have a short muzzle, and big vulnerable eyes, and a rodent in desperate straits can inflict serious damage. So the batting and pawing have a purpose, and Telemann, after all, is not a sadist. Whew!
Not only that, he is a thrifty, respectful hunter. He eats every speck of his mice, leaving not so much as a tuft of velvety fur for me to find. For all I know, he bows and gives thanks to the Mouse God before settling down to his meal.
When he’s done, he licks his perfect white teeth with his perfect pink tongue and, tail high, strides victorious and immaculate to where I’m reclining with my book. He jumps on my chest, right between the book and my face, butts my nose with his forehead (why?), turns around three times, and settles purring and blinking on my sternum to digest his mouse.