August 4, 2010

I’m a Buddhist, but my cat is a serial killer.

The moral cost of cats. 

I’m trying to come to terms with our conflicting dharmas.

To say that one is a Buddhist implies that one is a pacifist. After all, one of the main tenets of Buddhism (and most religions, in theory—if not practice) is that you don’t kill.

I’ve been studying Buddhism over the last few years and trying to entrench myself in mindful values that are in line with my newfound paradigm. When I find a spider in my shower, I coax it out before I turn the faucet on. I drive slowly in my residential neighborhood because I know there are a lot of pets and kids running around. And although I do eat meat, I am educated on my sources and am prone to long chats with the vendors at the farmers market about just how nicely they treat their chickens pre-rotisserie. I’m that annoying person who always asks the waitress, “Where do you guys get your beef?”

Sadly, my cat, Budapest, does not share my attitude toward non-harming. She is a blithely ferocious mass murderer of small animals. One might say she has a knack for killing.

Once an urban indoor cat, our recent move to the country has unleashed a fury for the hunt in Budapest (affectionately and not-at-all-appropriately known as “Buda”).  Buda’s main pastime and dharma in this life seems to be to kill things. I don’t begrudge her this and realize that nature is cruel and that it’s a cat’s God-given instinct to hunt. Budapest had a mysterious and unquestionably challenging childhood and I find it touching that she has managed to not just thrive, but that she has taken to cold-blooded murder so cunningly. It warms my heart that she has found her path.

However, I am an aspiring Buddhist with my own path and so have an obligation to protect life whenever possible (or, at least, convenient).

The first time Budapest brought home a stone-cold-dead vole as what one can only assume was an offering of her utter love and devotion to me, I was mildly revolted, but also a little bit proud. “It’s normal,” I told myself. First vole was followed soon after by second vole, and then Buda surprised me by catching a hummingbird, and then a quail… and that’s when things started to go quickly downhill.

Before long Buda was catching a bird a day, sometimes two. It got to the point where I sincerely started to worry about the songbird population in these parts.  To make it even worse, Buda likes to keep her prey alive as long as possible. She is adept at carrying baby birds gingerly home in her mouth, where she deposits them on the kitchen floor and then sits back to watch them freak the eff out. She gets the most pleasure out of torturing them in this way, but doesn’t necessarily find much use for them once they stop moving, which inevitably leads to a prolonged death for the animal, and much hysteria all around.

Mommy’s nerves soon frayed—not to mention my moral compass. I called everyone I knew in the world for advice.

Accordingly, this is what I tried:

  1. Freaking out. Crying. Praying for the bird. Begging Budapest to stop with the bloodthirst. All to no avail. I still ended up vacuuming up feathers off my kitchen floor.
  2. Just letting her have her way with the bird. In the house. This was a disaster because I am a sissy when it comes to watching or listening to baby animals die.
  3. On advice from my dharma teacher, Mark Coleman, I tried rescuing the birds from her mouth whenever possible, which is actually not that hard, since she gives them to me willingly. The first time this happened, I called the Humane Society, and they sent a guy down to pick up the bird. Unfortunately, that did not end well because I naively neglected to close the lid on the box. The bird, who at first glance appeared to be in a coma, was actually perfectly mobile, and jumped out and ran away as soon as I turned my back. The humane society dude did not believe me that I ever had a bird in the box, which was kind of embarrassing and made me wonder how many other people think I’m crazy?
  4. Rescuing the birds from her mouth, and driving them up to Marin Wildcare —an amazing facility that takes in injured wild animals, no questions asked, and nurses them back to health before releasing them back into the wild. This seemed like a reasonable solution for a while. But then my daily hour-long trips started to cut into my ability to actually work for a living.
  5. Putting a bell on her. You would think I would have tried this option earlier, but Budapest, for all her rugged coolness, throws herself into utter histrionics when you try to put a collar on her.  Previous attempts to get her to wear a collar resulted in bloodletting (mine) and dramatic gagging (hers). Nevertheless, I got the bell on her. It was a nice silver bell on a matching silver disco collar. I was pretty pleased with it. It took her seven minutes to bring back a baby quail with the bell on. The cat knows how to make a point.
  6. Keeping her inside. Again, a no brainer. Have I mentioned that I live in a one-room studio cottage? A few hours of nonstop scream-meowing and other shenanigans later, and this freelance work-at-home writer was reduced to tears. Buda went back out.

Here’s one piece of advice I was given but did not try: putting Budapest on Prozac. Because I really don’t think she’s depressed. In fact, I think she’s happier than she’s ever been.

My latest philosophy on bird brutality is thus:

If you have a bird in your mouth, you cannot come in the house. No exceptions.

It’s not an ideal solution, but I feel like it’s a worthy compromise, until I think of something better.




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