Being a Treatise on How to Obtain a Good Mousing Cat
used to be good friends with the mice, once upon a time, and it happened
that because an old Mrs. Pussy, who lived in the city, didn't have
anything in the house to eat, the cats took up catching mice"
- Mouser Cats' Story by Amy Prentice
It was an old house, a Victorian pile of five bedrooms with a big hallway with a pretty tiled floor and huge, wide wooden front door. We called it Banana Hall and even our bank statements bore that moniker, though everyone else knew it simply as Number 34.
It was a cold house. Winter heating was the romantic Aga stove in the massive kitchen, and the living-room's open fire. Uncaulked, it leaked at every seam - each sash window rattled in the wind, the scullery door failed to meet the floor by a good inch and the roof was gapped with missing tiles.
Despite this, I loved living there. The place had character. Furthermore, the bathroom, whilst narrow and bland, had two wonderful features - a bath I could stretch out in and float, and an unfrosted window that gave out onto the woodland at the side of the house. Many's the hour I spent there, reading and refilling the bath from an apparently endless supply of hot water.
The kitchen lacked full Romantic Country Kitchen status only because we hadn't filled it with copper pans and hanging bunches of herbs, but it was ever warm and generally dry. The household (consisting of Charles "The Tank" who was the resident landlord, "Greg" the art student, myself and sundry others) would gather there, sitting round the ancient and battered pine table. Tea would be drunk and conversation made, and occasionally food was cooked and eaten.
Oh, I forgot. Go back and add "...and mice spotted". The kitchen was naturally at the back of the house next to the long pantry, and at the back of that was the scullery. Now as I think I said, the scullery door was shy of the floor by a good inch, a tribute to the sand-bedded quarry tile floor having sunk under the weight of countless footfalls. The scullery gave out onto the garden, which was next to the wood. And through the woods and the garden, the scullery and the gap, came the mice.
They were brown, they were grey, there were field mice, errant harvest mice; in fact everything except flitter-mice came in through the vanguard. And of course, they made for the kitchen and the pantry and made themselves unpopular guests.
So we laid traps. Nasty things. They weren't popular any more than the mice were. We used to lie awake waiting for the first one to be sprung at night. We hated emptying the traps even more than clearing up the mouse droppings, and the cleaning woman (yes, we had a maid, of sorts!) declined to do anything about the traps, to the point of sweeping round them.
The experiment was doomed to failure. The mice were winning and they knew it. They outnumbered us, were smart enough after a while to spurn our offerings of cheese (never popular), bananas (naturally), bread and butter pudding (which we never ate either) and peanut butter (fairly successful in the early days). Someone once mentioned the word poison round the table. The subject was quickly dropped.
The cat was initially an accident. At least, it came to the house accidentally. It was, of course, a tatty stray. It was skinny and poorly and pretty as anything you like. "It" was a she, but I don't recall that we ever dignified her with a name - she was always just "The Cat".
Pretty tabby that she was, she'd been trounced by one of the neighbourhood toms (of which there were many, skulking brutes missing odd bits) and had come to have her litter in our scullery. We only knew this after the event, when we heard her plaintive cries one late evening, and bravely investigated the dusty room with torches and sticks. We must have looked like latter-day peasants storming Frankenstein's Castle.
She'd made a bed of rags behind a tattered chest, and had her still, cold litter there. Poor Cat. We fed her with tuna and warmed milk that night. It took her a while to realise that her children weren't suckling, and finally left them behind. She joined us in the kitchen.
Initially, The Cat was just good company. She'd sit and purr, and rub at our legs when she felt inclined, but never jump into a lap or deign to be cuddled. But she made the place prettier somehow, sitting as she did on the window sill. I hung up a string of onions and put my pans up on hooks below the cupboard, and finally our kitchen was Romantic.
Just the Facts: The Mousing Cat
A good mouser is hard to find. Think of this - pretty well all the cats we know are domesticated. They have a diet of Whiskas and such, and special cat milk treated to take out something or put something in, I don't know what. They are well-fed and snuggly and purry and whatnot, and they don't need no mice to eat. Oh they might chase mice, don't get me wrong. But they don't kill them, mostly.
A really good mouser knows what it is to be hungry, and must have the hunting instinct. So what is the ideal cat to have? One like The Cat. Generally, females make better mousers - they do have the instinct. After all, toms just have to strut around and lie in the sun, pausing only to fight other cats and impregnate females. Lady cats have the instinct to feed their kittens, and are more inclined to be good hunters.
The other element is the domestic/feral bit. A feral cat knows what it is to be hungry, rather than just idly peckish, and damn me if The Cat wasn't always on the lookout for food, even when full of tinned tuna or whatever treat that day held. The psychology seems to be "I don't know when I'm going to waken from this dream, so I need to keep my strength up".
A secondary consideration is the smell of cat. Apparently, the smell of a Real Cat is enough to deter those pesky rodents from coming in at all, so immediately you will experience some benefit, even if your cat is fat and lazy.
The Cat was, by virtue of all these elements, an excellent mouser. Complaints were few, even on those occasions when she'd pounce on her victims under the table during our own meal. She had a little kitty dance she'd do with her rear end, pre-pounce, and she always got her prey. Most importantly (at mealtimes) she was always polite enough to munch the mousy bones in the scullery, and always cleaned her plate. Some folk complain that their cats leave shredded mouse everywhere, I guess we were luckier.
In the space of a month, the flood was down to a trickle. The Cat was happy with a new home, we were happy with fewer mice, the cleaner wasn't sick every time she saw a loaded trap.
So, there is the story of The Cat of Banana Hall. And a HowTo on getting a good mouser. Oh, I nearly forgot. "...and They All Lived Happily Ever After".
Genets were popular pets in Medieval Europe, and were kept as mousers, especially by the Spanish Moors. - thanks Junkill
rootbeer277 says Cats and mice used to be friends? I guess the moral of that story is never trust anyone who could kill and eat you if he misses breakfast. Crap, this is why I make sure I've got something over everyone I know.