I enjoyed a documentary on National Geographic Channel the other night entitled "Urban Jungle," about the spread of suburbia and the adaptation to it by wild animals. There were 1,000 bear sightings in Tahoe last year, and as we probably already knew, it also stated that deer, coyote and raccoon populations were at record highs. It's said the native Americans thought of animals as the equals, or betters in some cases, of humans. We don't, but they proving to be so much smarter than us bipeds. Think of that squirrel you can't stop from getting all the birdseed in your feeder, even if you haven't encountered the other three in your yard yet. In California and the Southwest, people have learned the hard way not to leave pets outside at night or without safe shelter: the coyotes will get them, and you will hardly know it.
There were two short segements about housecats defending their home territory that were pretty astonishing. One faced down an alligator, and another went all medieval on a little bear, who turned and ran. Cats seldom consider their small size when confronting a threat; in their minds they must be big and bad-ass when they need to be.
Our four-year-old cat Blackberry surprised us a day after the Nat Geo program. He was in the back room at around 9 p.m., cooly resting on the floor and surveying his domain, when he suddenly got up into the stalking stance, close to the floor, with tail poofed and ears laid back. He advanced on the back door and began a startlingly loud growl, then stood up and batted the glass with his paw. We couldn't see anything out back on the deck until we turned on the light, revealing the white cat who lives a block away, just sitting there. Mr. Berry was having none of that. With the light coming on, the other cat slipped away, as Blackberry ran full tilt upstairs to observe from the bedroom window. It took a while for him to calm down from this blatant invasion of his territory.
He knows exactly what's going outside, what is serious and what can be ignored, even though his only trips outside the house have been twice to the vet. He has his own rules about what is permissible there, too: he agrees to remain calm and polite after getting over the indignity of being put in his blue travel cage, but draws the line at getting his temperature taken. That isn't going to happen.
Blackberry also has his own priorities about what constitutes a threat. Unknown people -- and he knows a different vehicle pulling into the driveway immediately (big eyes, tail down) -- cause him to head quickly and quietly as possible down into the basement, where he opens the door to the storage room with his paw, to hide under the old bunk bed. Other cats, well, that calls for a confrontation through glass or screen and full on ninja ready-to-attack mode. He always knows when they're out there, even if still out of sight. Squirrels, rabbits, dogs...to him, they're no big deal. But he's our little hero.