SMOKE: Dog Nails Cat. Cat Escapes. My Bad.

Originally published: 12 December 2005

I'm a relatively big fan of Discovery Channel and National Geographic.

Out of all the really cool stuff they broadcast I enjoy a good "war of the wilds" documentary most, particularly when it involves big animals beating up on smaller ones.

Reminds me of my school days, you see. Fond little trips down memory lane and all.

I just find animal instinct, aggression and survival fascinating, and it's horrifying yet thrilling to watch a big cat hunt down an antelope or wildebeest and kill it slowly.

I don't understand how anyone can be a ranger, or anyone else close to the wild. How do you not intervene when some defenceless, beautiful creature is being slowly suffocated to death, its muzzle clamped firmly in the jaws of a mighty lion?

I understand that it's not cruel nor personal - it's simply nature at its untamed finest. Doesn't stop me feeling empathy for a dying beast, although it's always tempered by the beauty of a powerful animal continuing the cycle of nature.

I'll be honest - I don't hang out in the bush all that much. I don't exactly spend most of my waking hours creeping through the undergrowth and bracken, if you catch my drift.

So the closest I get to seeing animal instinct in practice is through That Bloody Dog, who for the most part is totally useless.

Once - when she was but a pup - we took her to Arniston for a weekend and while there she caught a bird. Not only did she catch the swine - she plucked it straight out of the air.

She was sitting on the front lawn and some idiotic pigeon got a little too bold and flew too close to the ground. TBD leapt up and swatted it out of the air and with one shake of her head snapped the bird's neck.

People got hysterical as people do at the supposedly precious life of yet another nebulous, no-name-brand bird, and while I had to pretend to be stern I was whooping with joy inside.

My dog had caught prey, and as any father would be I was proud.

Since then, however, all she's caught is one or two spiders, a gnat or three and one of my old shoes. It's been a long drought.

That drought was broken the other night, however, in an incident that both thrilled me and left me filled with regrets.

It was Friday night and Tashi was in Johannesburg. I stayed up late with hookers and cocaine (the usual when Tashi is away) and once the party had died down and the last guests had been carted away in sleek limousines I took TBD out for her final ablutions.

I opened the back door and before I knew what was happening a lightning bolt shot from between my legs into the garden with a roar.

I saw instantly what was going on - an all-white cat was streaking along the side of the wall, heading for the alleyway, and the lightning bolt was TBD who had suddenly been transformed into some sort of hell-creature.

The cat had been hiding in the very spot TBD has been ratting all these months. I thought she was just being mental as I found no evidence of rats, but obviously the neighbourhood cats have been taunting her by hanging about in her little piece of woodland territory at the bottom of the garden.

It wasn't the brightest cat - by making a mad dash for the alleyway it had to run right past us, and in TBD's world that was never going to happen. Not over her dead, fat, perspiring little body.

What fascinated me most in that split second when time slowed down was that TBD didn't head for the cat - she headed for the estimated point of impact.

Anti-aircraft gunners are taught to fire their rounds in front of the aircraft they are trying to shoot down, because if you aim at the plane it will have passed long before the bullets reach it.

TBD understood this principle on an instinctive level and she appeared to be making a beeline for nothing but solid wall. At the last moment - just before she slammed into the wall - the ghost cat arrived, and what followed was the mother of all animal kingdom collisions.

TBD crashed with a primal roar of rage into that fleeing cat, smashing it into the wall as she grabbed it by the neck and it was her roar that saved the cat.

I don't tolerate barking, noisy dogs, as I've explained many times before, and at 03h30 I wasn't about to tolerate the roars of rage from my dog and screams of fear from the cat - so I yelled out to TBD to shut up.

It was completely instinctive and had I given myself one second more I wouldn't have done it. But I gave one yell and in that moment - despite her killer instinct - TBD paused for one brief, cat-saving split second.

To her credit that's how much she obeys and listens to me - she was in the middle of a highly violent and nasty confrontation yet she still listened to the sound of my voice, relaxing her hold on the ghost cat for just the blink of an eye.

And in that moment the ghost cat darted for the alley. TBD was but a whisker behind - she'll listen to me, but only to a point. When it comes to fleeing prey she won't listen to anything but the beast within.

She went screaming down the dark alleyway after the ghost cat, but the most extraordinary thing happened. At the end of the alleyway is a seven-foot high wooden gate - and it was closed. The cat had nowhere to go, and TBD was almost upon it.

All it took was one leap - a jump I would never have thought possible. That damn ghost cat cleared the gate with one almight cat-spring, using the top of the gate as a springboard to leap one level higher, onto the carport roof.

Unfortunately for TBD it was the last thing she was expecting and at full charge she simply didn't have the braking power to avert disaster.

She slammed into the gate with a crash, snoot-first, and whimpered in an agony of rage, pain and frustration. The cat was long gone and I could have sworn I could hear a faint chuckling sound, receding into the night.

I rewarded TBD with a Quality Street toffee which she spent hours trying to extricate from her gums, champing up and down noisily.

I was so upset for her. Had I not intervened she would have killed that cat in a heartbeat.

Don't get me wrong - I don't hate cats. Well ... that's a lie. I do hate cats. Not enough to want to see them get their necks snapped and torn to shreds by a dog, however.

But just the way TBD remorselessly slammed into that cat with such force and accuracy was proof enough that it was a natural instinct from deep inside her, and way back when it's what her ancestors were bred to do. Not hunt cats, obviously, but certainly to hunt and kill small animals like moles and foxes.

My mate Grey used to have a pair of Jack Russells and he would describe how they would hunt moles on his father's farm. They would sit about during mole season, waiting for the bumps in the earth that indicated a mole was coming up, and the moment a mole popped its head out of the ground they would slam into it with the same force and in the same way as Mischka did that ghost cat.

It's obviously their way of killing.

In the greater scheme of things I did the right thing - that cat is no doubt loved by someone as much as I love my dog, and as a fellow animal-owner and -lover I couldn't willingly allow my dog to kill someone else's animal.

I would have loved to have seen it though, in much the same way as I enjoy the Discovery Channel. Discovery is all very safe - we can sit there and watch lions killing baby deers and pontificate into our beards about how it's simply nature at work and how there's nothing cruel about it.

But if the same thing happened to your ghost cat pookums you'd feel very differently.

There's something entirely savage about an animal killing another animal, even though in the case of the ghost cat my dog was simply defending her territory from the intruders who have taunted and teased her for so many months.

I would have loved for her - as a wild dog at heart - to have known the thrill of the kill, and to have defeated the intruder fair and square. Just for one moment to have been a real dog, a real animal, a real killer - not the domesticated show pony dogs have become.

So much as I'm glad someone's cat didn't die a nasty, visceral death in my back yard, a part of me feels sad for my dog, and what might have been for her.

Her innocence intact she slumbers peacefully in her basket.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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