Saturday, March 2, 2013

Julius and Greyjoy

A couple of days ago, I was in the back yard picking up fruit under the citrus trees, when I had the misfortune to step in cat poop. I uttered an expletive that was vulgar, yet accurately descriptive of what I had stepped in.

Our cats had nothing to do with it; Dickens and Zorra are strictly house cats. However, two neighbor cats have been regular (very regular, judging by what I stepped in) visitors to our back yard for the past few months. They are clearly from the same litter, though one is orange and one is gray. They aren't strays, because they both have collars. They won't let us get close enough to see if they have name tags, so we have provisionally named them "Julius" and "Greyjoy."

Ordinarily, I would not be tolerant of strange cats using our back yard as a toilet. Our neighbor to the north certainly isn't. Once, I watched Julius jump over the wall into his yard and immediately heard our neighbor bellow, "GET OUT!!!"

All I could think was, I hope the neighbors don't think these cats belong to us.

Because let's face it, it's pretty rude to allow your cats to go around digging up the neighbors' flower beds and scaring the birds away from their bird feeders. It's also dangerous for the cats. (One woman I know lost two cats in less than a year by allowing them to prowl the neighborhood. After she told me about the disappearance of the second, I told her I didn't want to hear about any more of her cats until she stopped feeding them to the coyotes.)

However, there is a reason I forgive my neighbors for allowing Julius and Greyjoy to terrorize the neighborhood.

Eight years ago, my parents and my Aunt Sheila flew out for a visit. During their visit, we spent a lot of time on our back yard patio. Cleo, our sweet old calico, was always with us. She was sixteen years old at the time; she couldn't get over the wall surrounding our yard if she wanted to, and she didn't want to. She just wanted to be where we were.

One day, towards the end of my family's visit, we were all out on the patio enjoying the sun. My mother noticed that Cleo was staring at something under the bird feeder.

"What's she looking at?" my mother asked.

"Birds," I said.

"Are you sure it isn't a squirrel? I hate squirrels."

"I didn't know you hated squirrels, Mom."

"Nasty rodents. They carry disease, you know."

We did have a squirrel who was a regular visitor to our yard. He liked to sun himself on one of the rocks under the bird feeder. I took another look.

It wasn't a squirrel. It wasn't birds, either. What had caught Cleo's interest was rats.

Lots of rats.

I had seen them foraging under the bird feeder and assumed they were birds. My eyes are not as good as they used to be. Fortunately, my mother's, father's, and aunt's eyes were even worse than mine.

If my mother felt so strongly about squirrels, I wondered how she would feel if she knew that there were about a dozen rats frolicking within twenty feet of her.

"Just birds, Mom. Isn't it about time we went inside?"

After my parents and aunt left, I bought a trap and took care of our little infestation. Since then, we see the occasional rat or two every year, but never as many as we had that year.

Since Julius and Greyjoy showed up, we haven't seen any.

Which is why I don't mind them visiting our yard from time to time.

I just need to be careful where I step.

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