We have finally won the battle of our front porch. All four of the wild cats my wife feeds every morning have been caught, driven to the vet's, and sterilized, to take them out of the reproductive cycle that plagues our hill.
In fact, she feeds five every morning, but one is Marmalade, an old male that we caught and sterilized two or three years ago.
My wife called him Marmalade (because he's orange) before she knew he was a male. He doesn't answer to it anyway.
Marmalade has never been a pleasant cat. He comes in the house when he wants to, but he is surly, mean, selfish and pugnacious. He gets tangled in our feet and scratches us for no reason, except to indulge his ill temper. If we hadn't had him sterilized I have no doubt that he'd be terrorizing the neighborhood's females.
The four cats were three completely black kittens and their mother--a motley yellow-gray tortoise shell cat of surpassing ugliness and obnoxious disposition. Like her offspring, she was quite wild. She would come up on the porch to eat, but she could not be touched.
We tried for weeks to catch the kittens when they looked big enough. Finally, my wife rented an enormous trap of sheet metal and steel-wire screen, and one of the kittens actually ventured into it. She simply walked around the lever and the trapdoor failed to drop. But my wife managed to shut the door by hand. Cat 1.
We could not tell one kitten from another. I bought three collars--red, blue and yellow--so we could put them on each one after he had been sterilized. If we had brought one back and put him in with the others, without a collar, we wouldn't have known which one he was.
I caught the second one. My wife had returned the big trap, and we had replaced it with a large cat carrier. One morning while the kittens were feeding, I simply reached down, grabbed one, and slipped him into the carrier despite his violent struggling. My hands were bloodied. My wife caught the third one by baiting the carrier with a spoonful of cat food.
The one I caught yowled constantly while he was at the vet's. On his card the vet named him Noisy Cat. That was the only one so far that had a name.
The mother cat remained. My wife began calling her Mama Cat. She seemed to be uncatchable. I picked her up one day, with gloves on, but she wriggled out of my hands and bolted.
We were desperate to catch her because she had been hanging around with a couple of macho-looking male cats, and we guessed she was pregnant.
One morning my wife caught her with a series of clever maneuvers. As the cat was feeding my wife moved the open end of the carrier toward her rear.
First the cat's tail was inside it. Then her haunches. Suddenly my wife made a move at her. She backed defensively into the carrier. My wife slid the door home.
It was my job to drive her to the vet's. Before I left my wife said, "I feel funny about it. I'd like to see what the kittens look like."
I couldn't believe it. I had assumed she was pro-choice. Here she was waffling.
"Where do you stand?" I asked her. "On abortion."
"I'm pro-choice," she said. "But if it were I, it might be a hard decision." (Her grammar is always exquisitely correct.)
"Well, that's the idea," I said. "It would be up to you. Your choice."
"I'll still wonder what they would have looked like," she said. "One of her boyfriends was a beauty."
I dismissed her hesitation as mere sentiment and drove the cat to the vet's. When I went back for her the next day I asked the vet if she had been pregnant.
"Just barely," he said, suggesting that it was possible to be just a little bit pregnant. He said he hadn't charged me extra to take care of it.
She kicked and growled in her carrier all the way home.
We know she'll be happier, without another litter, and so will we. But it's hard to decide what to do with any other creature's life.
I wonder what the kittens would have looked like.