opinion | joan vennochi

Life with a killer cat

The death tally from “killer kitties” is somewhere between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds a year and about 15 billion mammals, according to a new study done by animal ecologists for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

In blog posts and other written protests, angry cat lovers rushed to defend their pets and disputed the study’s statistics. But in their hearts they know the truth. Give or take a billion, their cats are heartless hunters.

A frozen, dead mouse in my driveway is the latest evidence of this feline reality. The likely suspect is my cat, Rusty. At age 7, he is a handsome, orange-colored, unrepentant serial murderer.


Over his lifetime, he dragged multiple birds, rabbits, squirrels, and other assorted creatures, dead and alive, into the house through his cat door. My daughter once came home from school to find a chipmunk lounging in a living room chair. She opened the front door, and it gratefully scurried outside.

Get Arguable in your inbox:
Jeff Jacoby on everything from politics to pet peeves to the passions of the day.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

In another incident, I asked my son to remove the remains of what appeared to be a dead bird lying on the stair landing. As a towel was being thrown over it, the bird flapped its wings and flew into the bathroom. Somehow we managed to open the window, shut the door and convince the bird to take another shot at life and freedom.

Those are the happy endings. There are many more unhappy ones. An urgent call from home recently brought news that Rusty was gnawing on the remains of a very large squirrel that he dragged into the basement. I frequently dispatch family members to yank bunnies and moles out of his mouth when I spot him on the attack in the backyard. I’m too squeamish to do it myself.

I am first, a dog person. Having a cat was not my idea. (See, daughter, above). However, owning Rusty helps me understand why some women fall for bad boys. One moment he’s sensuously purring; the next he’s a beast on the prowl. Wild turkeys intimidate him a bit, but he doesn’t blink when confronted by Zoe, our border collie mix. I dislike his extreme dark side, but when he’s snuggling in my lap he seems capable of redemption – until the next fatality lands under my bed.

I’m not cavalier about his deadly tendencies. In hopes of turning him into a pacifist, I keep him well-fed and well-loved. But all the catnip in the world won’t reverse his natural killer instinct.


Periodically, our family tries to keep Rusty inside. But he’s so miserable, we give in. This winter, we’ve been locking his door at dusk so he can’t go out at night. We don’t want him to be eaten by the coyote that started roaming the woods behind the house.

For this cat owner, accepting the circle of life and the death that goes with it only goes so far.