My cat, like all cats I imagine, had two very different sides. On the one paw, Smithy was sweet and lovely and liked to be pet and would sleep in your arms for hours. On the other paw, he was a merciless killing machine.
I don’t mean mice, either. Smithy wasn’t very good at catching mice. His mother, Bani, excelled at hunting. I think she preferred mice and rodents to cat food. Just about every day we found remnants of mice or birds in our backyard, and a very satisfied Bani not far away. By contrast, Smithy did not seem to have the agility to catch the little rodents. Sure, he did so on occasion, but that wasn’t his main goal. Smithy was after big game.
I lived in northern Ontario, home to many different and diverse wildlife. We have lots of little things like rodents and birds of course, but we also have bunnies and foxes and lynx and raccoons, and of course the huge animals like deer and bears and moose. I thought I once saw a cougar, but they apparently don’t live in this area, so I must be wrong. Could’ve been a trick of the light.
Most importantly for the story, we have lots of wild cats. I mean this in the sense of ferals, non-domesticated cats. These poor animals live without human contact, surviving on what they catch and, statistically, not living beyond 3 to 4 years. Not the happiest life for a kitty. As a side note, during my last year before moving to university, I managed to befriend one such feral cat. Basically, I gave it food, and then it loved me. He started coming around more, and then he brought friends, and soon I had five or six cats more or less living in my backyard, mooching off my handouts. I called it the kitty sanctuary. When I moved to university, I returned home five days later to grab things, and none of those cats remained. Without my food they had no reason to stay. That made me sad in a way, but is not like I could keep them.
Back to the story at hand. Cats can be incredibly territorial, and I found this out first hand. During his first summer Smithy was not quite full-grown, but he was still huge. He had muscle to spare, and that seem to go to his head. Some of those feral cats creeped around our property at night, and Smithy would have none of that.
You may be one of the lucky people who have never heard cats fight before. If so, consider yourself blessed. It is a crying, snarling, vicious hurricane of sound and cries. Every time it sounds like something is dying in the most horrific and painful way. Cats being cats, perhaps that’s exactly what they are trying to do. Those sounds still haunts my sleep at times.
Most summer nights went like this. Smithy would go outside. Sometime later, it may be minutes or hours, we hear kitty death going on. The first time it happened I ran outside, thinking something got hit by a car. Nope. Smithy simply stood in the driveway, staring off into the distance, his tail waving provocatively. He won his first fight. He didn’t win his second one.
On that night, Smithy came slinking inside, and his face was hamburger. He had bloody scratch marks dangerously close to his eyes, and his beautiful white fur was stained crimson. He licked his wounds for about two days, and then he went right back outside, determined to protect his territory.
The first summer Smithy was on the receiving end of most fights, judging by the damage he received. As he gained more experience and even more pounds, things seemed to change. The fights became more frequent, sometimes multiple times each night, and Smithy received less and less damage. One particular night, I remember vividly, we heard aa terrible wail, and a short time later Smithy strutted up to our door. He held his head high and he sauntered, as if he had just vanquished his personal demon. In my head, I pictured this like a Pokémon game, in which Smithy had finally bested his personal archrival.
By late fall, the fights had mostly stopped. Other cats knew not to come around, or if they did they deferred to Smithy’s dominance. One morning, we actually found a dead cat in our backyard. It was a relatively scrawny thing, and it could’ve died of any number of reasons, but it was a bloody mess and I remember hearing a cat fight that night. It felt hard to believe, the cat that regularly slept in my arms may be a real killer. I don’t know whether to be proud or horrified.
As fall turned to winter, a new enemy approached. First it was the raccoons. They raided our backyard and our garbage, and they tended to work in packs. Raccoons are mighty vicious, and each one was about the size of Smithy, probably bigger. Smithy tried to fight them. He mostly lost, but he was so insistent that the raccoons started leaving us alone. It evidently wasn’t worth the hassle try to fight Smithy every time.
This is actually very useful, as raccoons are terrible. They will completely shred your garbage, leaving an incredible mess. They also chew wires and insulation and just cause a heck of a lot of mischief. Keeping them far away was a blessing. That said, I worried about Smithy’s health, as he took some real beatings.
It soon got worse when Smithy challenged bears. Let me explain. Note that Ontario is incredibly rural, and our backyard effectively stretches deep into the forest. Bears live deep back there, and they frequently moseyed on into our backyard. These were mostly the cubs, little bears, though a little bear is still bigger than most animals.
If you’ve ever watched any cat videos online, you’ve perhaps seen cats chase bears off their property. These are mixture of amusing and ridiculous, as a small animal chases away something much bigger. This happened in our backyard. The bear babies liked to snoop around, but they ran at the first sign of motion. Smithy was often this first sign, running towards them and causing them to flee. This was hilarious to watch, but you have to wonder what would happen if the bear turned around and decided that enough was enough.
I tried not to think about that. Instead, I just relished in the fact that our property was completely animal free, kept safe by our Smithy, the kitty guardian.