Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yuri Cat, Deer Hunter

Our first outdoor cat was one who adopted us on our rural property. He was likely abandoned by his prior owners. He arrived at our house in a terrible state, nearly starved to death. He was about six or seven weeks old, very lovable but scared of everything. He wanted to be loved, he would stand and quiver his tail at us then trot away whenever we approached. Finally he walked into a shed we had on the property, and we were able to catch him.

Once caught, he was as lovable as could be. He was small enough to fit in the palms of our hands. We fed him milk off our fingertips then took him to the vet. Once he came back, he became our outdoor cat since the indoors already had its quota. In his starved state, he appeared to be a female. So we named the kitten "Europa." A few weeks went by, and pretty soon it became obvious that Europa was not a little girl cat.

So we renamed him "Yuri", which sounded enough like Europa that he still responded to it. Since he was "the first cat in orbit around the house," the full name we gave him was "Yuri Gagarin."

Yuri Gagarin, stalking a string.

Once Yuri grew he became quite the hunter. He left plenty of presents for us on the back patio. We didn't mind him catching pocket gophers at all, much the opposite. We did mind him catching birds, and we really didn't like it when he learned how to hunt bats. He'd figured out that if he jumped at them from behind, they wouldn't avoid him!

We tried to do what we could to let him know what he should hunt and what he shouldn't, but we never got very far with him. If it was human, he loved it. If it wasn't human, it was prey. He hunted everything, it seemed. Frogs, lizards, insects, snakes.

One day I looked out the back window and saw Yuri stalking something from underneath one of our oleander bushes. What was the cat after now? I called my wife over, then I followed his line of sight along the ground, and saw nothing. Until I came to the four point buck deer. He couldn't be stalking a deer could he? I asked her, and she agreed.

He was. He was watching its every move as it grazed. Sixteen pound Yuri was stalking a deer over four feet tall at the shoulder. With antlers. With lots of points on them. Yuri was stalking the deer.

I turned to go to the door to break things up. As I did so, Yuri squared up his hindquarters and pounced at the deer. In my mind I saw the cat being picked up in the antlers, flung across the yard, and me going out to find what was left. But the deer jumped.

The deer ran about twelve feet, then stopped. It tilted its head, then looked back at Yuri. It seemed to think, "It doesn't look like a mountain lion..."

Yuri beat a track back under the oleander bush while the deer was thinking things over. The deer lowered its head for another look, then decided the better part of valor was to mosey along to someplace else, just in case this was a mountain lion.

My wife and I let out our breath.

Not too long later, Yuri got sick and went to the vet for some expensive treatment. He hadn't been back home again a day before he was stalking something outside the window again, closer to the house this time where we could intervene effectively.

He was circling something on the ground. We couldn't make out what, at first. He wanted it, bad.

It was a rattle snake, about 18 inches long. We saw it as it drew itself into a coil.

We popped out the door. Yuri didn't want to be shooed off. That snake was his! We made some noise and spoiled his concentration, and were finally able to catch him without getting bit by the snake ourselves.

Yuri playing.

Then Yuri left "orbit," and became a house cat. We had too much love and money invested in the cat to let him go around hunting deer and rattlesnakes any more. We had too many cats indoor for comfort now, but Yuri made up for it. He learned to sit up for treats, lay against the backs of our heads and purr when we sat on the couch, and generally became the buddy of our little girls in a way that the older cats wouldn't.

Yuri lived with us for twelve wonderful years. His health was always weak as a result of his bad time before he found us, but we bore with him and kept him going for as long as it was possible.

Yuri is still my "mascot" for my personal blog, An Infinite Number of Cats on Keyboards.
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