Saturday, February 6, 2010

Woof, Meow, and Ouch: The Dead-end Nature with which We Operate.

This post is the beginning of what promises to be a long, continuous tale. In my neighborhood, the humans share the streets, yards, and trashcans with an assortment of loose animals. Just within our block, there are dozens of cats and dogs, a scattering of horses, not to mention the giant toads, hermit crabs, and the slinking mongoose. Sitting along the street in the evening, I have built relationships with some of them, and find great amusement in finding my role in this myriad of feral beasts... and during this process I have kept a journal of my interactions, of which I'll be sharing with you. Before we get to the entries, I need to give some background of the characters. To this point, the most important players have been a trio of male cats. Our first cat to hang around us is named Hawk, and later on you'll meet two others, Harrier and Owl Cat. The overlying tension of all that happens is caused by the fact that our landlord Don Walter(who lives above us) strictly prohibits cats around the house due to the allergy of his wife...but we'll get to all of that. So, with no further adieu, let it begin... photographs will be at the end:

A cat has appeared, and he seems to be willing to come closer, unlike the other ones. The development of our relationship has been gradual, the sequence of events long and complicated. At first it was simple bribery with bacon fat, then preening. We give him pleasure in the form of company and food, and in turn he gives us company and a fun challenge. His eyes are forever critical, and his body is still constantly taut and poised to flee. Our relationship has been forged under the disapproval of our landlord who strictly prohibited cats in the vicinity, due to the allergy of his wife. I name him Hawk.

Hawk ran to the door, staring out to the street. We scampered up behind him, and through the dimness of dusk we saw a figure sitting on the curb, staring intently down towards us. It was a dark, vertical figure with two ears sticking up from his skull. The image of a long-eared owl came to mind and the name stuck. Owl Cat. Just as his existence registered we blinked and he had disappeared. Walking up the driveway to the road, we looked up and down, but saw nothing. He had disappeared. Hawk refused to leave our side, weaving between our legs, peering down the street.

Last night we were the closest ever with Hawk, having gained enough trust for him to come inside and sit alongside us, to chase down toads in front of us, even to cut loose with his youthful energy and leap onto the side of a telephone pole, only to calm down, leap off, and nudge and sway between our calves, running to catch up with us if we walked ahead.

We had to take Hawk away this morning, as Don Walter was overheard cursing and threatening to poison him with tainted tuna. Don Walter then came and yelled at us directly, telling us to stop feeding the cat and leaving the door open. We feared for his life and felt responsible for it. Phillip and I forced him in the car before dawn as we headed to Maricao Forest to bird. We drove him down the road, through a mile of undeveloped land and into Ensenada town, where we let him out by a traffic construction sign and the first houses. In the car he struggled at first, jumping onto the dashboard and throwing his head into the windows, calming down only when one of us held him in our lap, stroking his ribcage or the areas around his throat and ears. As we approached our destination he began to emit a series of heart-wrenching screams, hollow and descending, unlike anything he had made before. We tossed him out the door, drove away, and then looked back. He sat there by the side of a new road motionless... he seemed to be scarcely breathing. But we knew from having just held him that his heart was racing.

We were taking him away from the only place he had ever known, into a new, cutthroat world in which he was completely un-established. And in our heads Phillip and I agonized. We were performing the utmost betrayal, but at the same time we were trying to convince ourselves that we were doing the right thing: severance for the greater good.. but that made us feel no better.

1/21 evening
Full of guilt. Not until now did I realize that we hadn’t even fought for him, hadn’t made his case for permanence to Don Walter. Instead, we had taken him anonymously in the dark and severed our relationship. I can picture us slamming the door and driving off..

1/25/10 – 8:00 PM –
A new cat appears coming up Calle D. With distant coaxing he takes up post underneath a field vehicle by the blue trashcans. Luring with a slice of cheddar cheese gets him to come as close as 2 meters, but just for the food. Cheese is gone, mostly down his throat, and he is now perched on the curb where Hawk used to sit, his face to the road. He has also spent moments lying underneath the car. During the day a few new cats were seen, a black white and orange cat(smore), and a mostly black cat with a white throat that was feasting inside a trashcan. Optimism rises with this new cat, Harrier… though he is certainly more independent and slower to reel in than Hawk. He has now crossed the road, his camouflage is incredible. He is part rock, part threadbare grass as he chases down a toad and slips away through the brush.

I was alone in the house, sitting at the kitchen table, when I saw Owl Cat sitting by the blue trashcan on the curb. I scarcely believed my eyes, this mythic cat is virtually never seen. And now he was a stones throw away. At mid-day! I slunk to the refrigerator and pulled out a piece of ham. I tossed a few pieces his way and cautiously he stepped through the grass to eat them. The entire time I was cautious not to move, not to slam the door, my only goal being to imprint upon him a positive notion. I filled a lid with milk and placed it behind the car tire. He pretended to not be interested until I left him alone, then, as I watched through the screen door I saw him drink it up eagerly. I have attempted no physical contact, but now he is lying scarcely 5 meters from the door, his back to me, his eyes surveying the scene. I was able to grab some photographs of him.. he is a haphazard mottling of coffee and black with no pattern whatsoever. He leers with the most peculiar eyes.

1/28/10 – 6:00 PM

Hawk returns!!! While throwing stones into trashcans, we take a break and walk up the street, and as we return we see Hawk sitting by the cans. He begins to cry and meow constantly, plowing headfirst into our legs, swishing through us and giving us the utmost affection. His coat is dusty, we know he has traveled at least 1.5 miles in his return and by only two possible routes: through uninhabited inhospitable forest, or following along the treacherous road. We are overwhelmed with emotion: overjoyed, pained, and conflicted about what to do. It has to be only moments until Don Walter hears all of this screaming.

We wind up taking him away again for fear of his life, but it is a half-hearted attempt. This time we take him only .5 miles, across the neighborhood… to buy us some time before making a more serious decision. He will return. All we know is that his profuse screaming would reveal him to Don Walter all too quickly. What a cat. I love him. Maybe he thought it was a manhood test, and he was super proud to have passed it. But God. We are assholes... He's been taken away again, thrown into another random neighborhood, where he will have to pass through the bar district, full of the most massive and lunatic dogs to return. I predict his return by dawn.

Still no return from Hawk. Maybe he has died? He would only have had to come back about 0.5 miles, easy distance compared to what he did before. Owl Cat not seen in awhile. Harrier stops by the trashcan spot daily, is resting often underneath the cars, but gives no affection and I am starting to not care about him.


This is Hawk. Doing what he does best: charming.

Steely-eyed Owl Cat. Forever mysterious.

Harrier. The most regular visitor now, but completely unwilling to bond.

A cat seen only once. Frightening.

Our dog for one night... until Don Walter chased it away with rocks. He still stops by occasionally.

So when you're in a place that hardly rains and is surrounded by salt water, where do homeless animals drink from? Thankfully, there are random puddles of household runoff everywhere. . . Yum Yum.

And there are some big ass poisonous toads. The animals like to chase/eat the little ones, but once they are full grown, like this one, the toads are the ones doing the eating.

And there are some big ass hermit crabs, this one stuntin' on the kitchen table.


  1. I can't believe you could ever come to love a cat. My heart is warmed.

  2. Did Hawk ever come back?

    Your post makes me remember the affection i used to feel for cats - before the neighborhood cats starting eating our wildlife. Love your pics.

  3. he did not come back and i still hate cats