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From the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished dept. June 18, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben saw a headline on yesterday’s Yahoo! home page that could have come straight out of The Onion, but unfortunately was true. Clicking through, I saw that sure enough, a man in Oregon just landed in the hospital with the plague. (Your eyes aren’t deceiving you: the plague. As in bubonic plague, the black death, the Middle Ages.)

This was bad enough, but I’ve read over the past decade about how plague turns up every once in a while in the Southwest, apparently carried by mice rather than the rats that carried it through Europe. So, though it came as a surprise to find that it’s now spread to Oregon, it wasn’t as startling as first learning that plague was back, and was in the U.S. (Our friend Ben would be remiss not to mention that armadillos are also apparently acting as carriers of leprosy, which doesn’t affect them. They typically transmit it to people who eat them, just FYI for fans of wildcrafting and foraged food. But I digress.)

What was really bad was why the man came down with the plague. Turns out, he and his family had befriended a stray cat, which they fed and named Charlie. Charlie enjoyed hanging out at their house. So far, so good. Good, at least, until the man observed Charlie doing what cats do second-best (first-best is, of course, sleeping): hunting.

Charlie had caught a mouse. The distraught man rushed out to try to save the mouse, and ended up—shock surprise—being bitten for his efforts. (The doctors seemed unsure if the terrified mouse or the outraged Charlie had bitten him; my guess is both.) And because of the bite(s), he contracted the plague, is now fighting for his life, and poor Charlie was summarily dispatched and shipped off to a lab for analysis. (The mouse’s fate was not disclosed.)

All this reminded our friend Ben of the many winter nights when our then-senior cat, Jessie, would catch a mouse in our house and alert Silence Dogood with a “broken cat” cry that she made at no other time. The groggy Silence (this always happened in the dead of night) would lurch into the living room, turn on a light, grab the fireproof (and also mouse-proof) gloves from the woodstove, unlock the front door, and wait. Jessie would obediently trot over and drop the (unharmed) mouse on the doormat, and Silence would scoop it up in a gloved hand and toss it back into the yard. We have no idea why Jessie did this, though of course Silence always praised her lavishly after each catch (and swore that the same mice would come back in repeatedly to play their part in the game). Those of our other cats who’ve been hunters—by no means all of them, some just watch, and others pointedly ignore intruders—have killed and eaten their prey. (Or, at least, eaten some of it, but let’s not go into that.) Fortunately, we live in Pennsylvania, and I’ve yet to hear of a plague attack here.

Dragging myself once again back to the point, our friend Ben would like to remind everyone of the perils of trying to do the right thing in the wrong way. Our friend Ben has read too many horror stories of people being badly mauled trying to break up a dog fight or even cat fight. Of course no one wants to see their beloved pet being ripped up by another animal. But rather than rushing into the fray, use a readily available and entirely effective weapon: water. Throw a bucket of water on fighting cats. Turn a hose at full blast on fighting dogs. It will definitely distract the assailants, and give you time to get your pet out of harm’s way before hostilities can resume.

But as our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would doubtless say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What are you thinking, allowing an animal you care about to wander unsupervised and become a target for another dog’s or cat’s aggression?!

If your dog is outside, you should be, too, and your dog should never be roaming free. If you have a domestic cat, it should be indoors. And if, like Charlie’s family, you befriend a feral cat, for God’s sake, let it be what God intended rather than what you think it should be. If it’s outdoors, it’s going to hunt and eat birds, mice, bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, or anything else it can catch, along with that nice bowl of food you set out for it. You have to decide if inviting its company and winning its friendship (which you will) is worth that price or not. 

Finally, as of yesterday’s news article, Charlie’s “father” was in critical condition. Our friend Ben would like to invite all of you to send a prayer for his recovery. He may have been lacking in the judgement department, but his heart was in the right place. And no one who acts from the heart deserves to die for their actions. May this good deed go unpunished.

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