In our old neighborhood, which was near a school and a large shopping center and far from the coyote-filled hills where I live now, we had a pretty decent population of feral cats. They were cute, and I enjoyed having them around–there was one, a very pretty tri-color, that I named “Ardi” (short for Bacardi) and took pictures of through the screen door as he lounged in the late afternoon sun.
Little did I know, in those halcyon summer and autumn months, what the spring would have in store for us.
I used to wake up very early to write before I went to work in the mornings–one morning, when it was still dark, I heard a strange wailing sound coming from the yard. It sounded like a person crying out in pain. Worried that maybe our 80-something-year-old neighbor had fallen and been moaning all night, I went out into the side yard in the dusky morning light.
I paused, listening, and the sound stopped abruptly. I stared at the darkened windows of the neighbor’s house and then caught sight of a feral cat sitting in my yard, looking quite annoyed that someone had interrupted his romantic serenade.
I went back inside.
As the days passed, the cats got worse. They seemed to be everywhere, yowling and moaning and fighting in the alley. Occasionally I got up and shooed them away, but mostly I just lay in bed and seethed.
One sunny weekend morning, as the husb and I were getting up and around, I heard a rare daylight yowl. It was so plaintive that it aroused my curiosity, and I looked out the bedroom window. Which is when I noticed that the tool shed was closed, which made sense because I was the one who had closed it a couple of days prior. Why had I closed it? To keep the cats out.
I sprang into action.
“THERE’S A CAT IN THE TOOLSHED!” I cried to my bewildered husband. “GO CUT UP A HOTDOG!”
I tore through the kitchen, grabbed a bowl, filled it with water, and thundered through to the backyard, around to where the shed was.
By golly, if there was a sick, sad cat in my toolshed, I was going to save it!
There was not a cat in the toolshed.
But there was a cat NEXT TO the toolshed. Yowling his fool head off. And when I came bursting around the corner, I scared the cat so badly that he tried to leap away and ended up running headlong into the side of the toolshed. Then he got his bearings and jumped over the fence.
So. I took a moment to catch my breath, dumped the water in the grass, and headed back into the kitchen, where I found my dear husband dutifully chopping a hot dog into cat-sized bites.
Some weeks later, after many more nights of cats caterwauling outside the house (but not inside the toolshed), I was awakened at about 2 a.m. by the sound of a catfight from the side yard (which was apparently the feral cat equivalent of Studio 54).
The husb had thrown his back out and was unable to move from the bed. I had a voice-over session for the dog show the next day, with a new host, in front of whom I desperately did not want to be a babbling, sleep-deprived maniac.
So I got out of bed, went out to the yard, and clapped my hands loudly (hoping the cats would not interpret this as applause). I heard cats making tracks out of the yard.
I went back to bed.
Shortly after, the cats were back. This time, it sounded like there were three of them. Just meowing and howling and acting out parking garage scenes from Michael Jackson videos.
I got out of bed, went to the backyard, and took the only action I could think of: I aimed the garden hose directly at the spot where the bushes were shaking and turned it on.
That certainly SEEMED to do the trick. Cats scattered in what seemed like every direction but was probably two.
Then I set the hose down and looked at the bushes.
They were still shaking.
Afraid one of the cats had been hurt in the fight, I approached.
When I got closer, I saw that there was, indeed, a cat there. A pissed off, soaking wet cat.
A cat who had his head stuck through one of the holes in the chain link fence.
By now, it was about 3 a.m., and I resigned myself to getting no more sleep that night.
After exhausting my very limited options to try to get the angry cat out of the fence myself (there are no leather gloves thick enough for that particular task), I went inside, called animal control, and sat down at my computer to get some writing done. Probably any scene in “Bad Girls Don’t Die” that makes you think, “Wow! How evil/cruel/indicative of a deranged mind!” was written that morning.
Every fifteen minutes or so, one of the other cats would come by and try to start something with the fence cat, who would yowl. I would go outside and scare the other cat away, then go back in.
At about 5:15, animal control called to say they were on their way and to make sure the cat was still in need of help. I said, “Well, I’m sure he is, but I’ll go check.”
And I went outside in the early morning light to find that the cat was gone. He must have become exhausted to the point where he relaxed his ears and was able to pull his head back through the hole.
I released animal control of their obligations and went to get ready for what must have been a very long day at the voice-over recording studio.
Any time I pull out my “animal lover” card, my husband loves to remind me that I took a hose, for a good 10 seconds, to a cat who was basically in the stocks.
Ahh, the good old days.
I’ll tell you what, though.
For the rest of the time we lived in that house, there was not a single cat fight in our yard.