It is was almost 11 p.m. and I was standing at the kitchen sink having a last glass of water before bed and staring sleepily out of the window at the floodlit statue of Buddha that rests serenely beneath the blue spruce in our backyard. I was just about to turn away when two huge, hulking shadows detached themselves from the darkness behind the neighbor’s garage and came lumbering into the yard, squinting at the light and chattering to each other.
I shouted for Jay to come and bring his camera. The window was open several inches, and the two furry intruders whipped their masked faces up toward the source of the sound. These were obviously city raccoons – after a quick conference of a few chirps, they decided to ignore us and made their way toward the cat food bowl in front of the garage.
We have been feeding two orange tabbies since last winter when we discovered that they were literally living under a pile of boards behind a garage that backs onto our yard. We put a bowl of dry food under an old litter box cover to keep it safe from the elements, and both cats come by to eat at least twice a day. Apparently the scent of tuna had attracted these less civilized diners as well – as we watched, the larger of the two wedged himself into the opening of the cover and promptly got stuck. After bonking about for several minutes, he had the presence of mind to put his paws against the cover and push it off.
As Jay and I watched, chuckling, the other bandit tried grabbing the bowl with one paw, but it was too far back to reach. Following a brief consultation both critters backed up, examined the situation, then proceeded to push the box cover back until the bowl was at the entrance. One of them snatched the bowl out, flipped it over, and both settled in to scarf up the food. When it was gone, they chirred at one another and trundled off, stopping to stare over their shoulders at the kitchen window before disappearing into the darkness behind the garage once more.
Growing up in the country, this sort of a visitation would have been so commonplace that we would have hardly paid attention. My mother put a large pan of table scraps mixed with some dry cat food out on the back porch each night for the farm cats, and it became commonplace to see a stringy pink opossum tail or an occasional ringed raccoon tail amongst the furry bodies ringing the buffet. There was once a brief visit from a young skunk, although I recall my father discouraging that particular freeloader by yelling loudly at him through the safety of the kitchen window. The skunk trotted off, disgruntled, but the farm cats barely responded other than to spread out a bit more around the dish. Farm cats are an adaptable lot whose general motto is “live and let live,” and there were seldom any scuffles or other rude behavior over dinner.
In his later years, my father was highly amused by the pair of turkey buzzards that took up residence atop the abandoned silo in our barnyard. He watched their awkward courtship as they danced about, wings akimbo, squawking loudly, and finally summoned my mother to the window, pointing them out and whispering to her conspiratorially “Look. They know we’re in here – they’re planning to wait us out!”
When I recounted the story of my night visitors, one of my co-workers suggested a number of solutions to the perceived problem – box traps, poison bait, etc. When I demurred, he was surprised.
“Well, what are you going to do?” he asked.
What we are going to do is pretty much what the farm cats used to do – move over a little, let them share what we’ve got, and try to be neighborly.
After all, they were here first.