Cats in the City Living a Dog’s Life

As I have often noted here, cats live a hazardous life in the city. The attrition rate on our hill is catastrophic. Over the years, dozens of cats have come to our door; almost all have vanished before living out their life expectancies.

They are the victims, I suspect, of automobiles, gunfire, poison, the animal regulation patrol or coyotes.

The notion that coyotes take cats is not fiction. I have seen coyotes in our back yard, though I have never caught one in the act.

Maryann Campbell writes of a friend who had exactly that horrifying experience. The friend, Mary, had moved from an apartment to a house in Pacific Palisades, to have more room for her five cats. The house was surrounded by many inviting sylvan paths.


First Annabelle disappeared. Mary posted signs and offered a reward. No response. A week later Tidbit disappeared. She posted signs again. Then Misty disappeared. Only Kahlua and P. J. remained. Mary locked the two cats in, but one day P. J. got out.

Mary ran outside, searching frantically. She looked down into a ravine and saw P.J. dangling limply from the jaws of a coyote. The coyote was looking up at Mary. She screamed. The coyote dropped its prey and ran. Despite several puncture wounds, P.J. survived.

I am of two minds about this. Coyotes are remarkable animals. I do not know how they manage to survive in an urban environment. Partly, I suppose, by eating cats. On the other hand, cats are equally predatory, even though most are fed by human beings. How would you like to be a mouse in a house with five cats?

Karen Burton of Oxnard points out that in listing cats’ traits in words that begin with in (independent, insolent, intractable, inquisitive, infuriating, morally intemperate and intellectually inaccessible) I forgot “instinctual killer.”

“They kill for sport,” she says.

Ms. Burton feeds wild birds. Some are ground feeders. They prefer to pick fallen seeds off the ground. “Consequently they have fallen prey to my neighbors’ well-fed cats. I do become upset when this happens.”

Ms. Burton suggests that people who feed cats or birds are creating an artificial ecological imbalance. “Perhaps cats (domestic and feral) are contributing to the natural selection of a native bird species.”

I doubt that house cats have any effect on the evolution of wild birds, or that coyotes have any effect on the evolution of house cats. However, I have worried about feeding birds, and thus enticing them into the cats’ reach. When I find bird feathers under the feeders I feel guilty.

I feel no such compunction about allowing cats to encounter coyotes. People do not feed coyotes. They are on their own. The cat is their natural prey. If cats must wander, they must take their chances. Coyotes have to eat too.

Meanwhile, I must defend myself against Coco Viault, who chastises me for reporting an incident concerning Dana Dovitch and a friend’s kitten, which accidentally fell from an open second-story window.

Ms. Viault points out that the cat could have been and probably was injured. “It isn’t funny to presume profound meaning when one finds a defenseless little kitten still alive after such a trauma and writes a letter to a columnist about it. . . . Far worse, in my opinion, is the columnist who passes this dangerous fable on to a multimillion readership. . . .”

First, Dr. Dovitch made sure the kitten was not injured. Second, in that column I quoted a long paragraph from “The Book of the Cat” noting that the notion that a cat can survive a long fall without injury is a myth, and warning of the injuries it might sustain.

Falls can be fatal. Rod Casper sends a clipping with a Buenos Aires dateline about a dog that fell from a 13th-story balcony and hit a 75-year-old woman, killing both. A woman in a crowd that had gathered at the scene was killed by a bus. An unidentified male witness died of a heart attack.

I suppose I will be much more abused by cat lovers for suggesting that coyotes have to eat too, and any cat that wanders into their hunting grounds is fair game.

To paraphrase Ogden Nash:

The trouble with a coyote is THAT It happens to be fond of CAT