Cats are an environmental disaster.
This is not my usual swipe at Lord Lloyd-Webber's musical productions -- even though they are easy targets. This time it is the four-legged variety. Feral cats.
The current edition of The Economist features a story about what can go wrong wrong when domesticated cats (if there is such a thing) revert to their basic nature as predators in the wild.
Cats are not native to Australia. The accepted story is they came as hitchhikers on early ships and thrived without competition on the Australian continent. "Thrived" does not really capture the sense of how well the cats did. The estimate of their numbers range between 4 and 20 million, with some of them weighing as much as 30 pounds. 30 pounds! (That punctuation mark is entirely for the amusement of Felipe.)
Anyone who has owned a cat knows they are efficient killing machines. Of the 29 Australian species that have gone extinct since Britain started dumping criminals in Australia two centuries ago (Yes. Yes. I know. They stopped doing that long ago. They now put them in the House of Lords.), 27 have been Auschwitzed by feral cats.
The Australians have a common sense approach to life. Just look at their immigration policy. To cut back on the killer cat population, they are fencing ten huge reserves for endangered species, and hiring aborigine women to hunt and kill feral cats in the sanctuaries. Jobs for minority women while protecting wildlife.
I thought of the article yesterday while reading a very heated discussion on our local message board about feral cats in our little "paradise" by the sea. One post caught my eye.
The author fell in the anti-feral cat camp, but his piece was passionately well-reasoned. What caught my attention, though, was this:
I don't have rat or mice problems and I'll tell you why ... it has nothing to do with wild cats. The residents of my street are vigilant about keeping it clean. Nobody uses 5 gallon paint buckets as garbage bins, which are left out exposed on the street every day. All of us have real actual closable garbage cans, which we lock up until the morning of trash pick up.Well, that is not my neighborhood. I have a garbage can that I put out twice a week after Dora cleans the house. The garbage men toss the contents into their truck, and I take the can back into the utility area. That has worked perfectly for me during the past sixteen months.
My neighbors do not have garbage cans. Instead, everyone else on my street bags up their garbage in flimsy plastic shopping bags and places them in either a five-gallon paint bucket or in plastic crates on our street corners. All at the perfect height for a dog buffet.
And that is exactly what happens. During the night, the local dogs forage through the garbage tearing open the plastic bags. In the morning, the corners look as if a garbage truck collided with a plastic bag delivery van.
I have learned to live with the fact that garbage is as frequent in the street as sand. Or I had. Barco has changed my perspective.
He loves running in the field teasing what their Mexican owner calls "birria on the hoof." He may have a pedigree, but Barco is still a dog. His nose rules his world. And anything vaguely smelling of food goes into his mouth.
There are two problems. The first is his propensity to swallow small plastic bags. Usually, they work their way out the other end -- leaving his poop handily-wrapped in plastic. But, not always. The other morning I heard him chewing something on my bed. It was a plastic bag he had regurgitated.
The second problem is a bit more worrisome. Some rather nasty stuff ends up in our garbage. And there are some mean-spirited people who think it is their duty to poison street dogs. In the process, pets sometimes eat the same poison. And die just as painfully as their Mexican street cousins.
So, we are now a leashed family. Whenever he leaves the front door, Barco is leathered to my right hand.
He hated the leash when we started our lead training. But he likes his walks. The first day out, he got the hang of it. He is now a heeling pro.
I also discovered a sports park two blocks from our house where I can let him run. But carefully. Because this is Mexico, there are plastic bags strewn across the soccer fields and basketball courts. And it is a perfect site for poisoners to ply their trade.
Those measures mitigate Barco's chances of treating these garbage treasures as the to-go window at Burger King. But it does not solve the garbage on my street corner.
Later today, I am going to pull out a couple of large garbage bags. I will then police the field and the street corners picking up other people's garbage. Rather than despair, I will simply act.
The last time I did that, two neighbor women, who live in the small apartment complex next to my house, stood and glowered at me while I picked up their trash. When I tried to engage them in conversation, they turned around and left.
I have no idea what that was all about -- even though I can guess. As I have been told repeatedly in Mexico, "neighbor" is merely a description of place, not relationship. I may wish it was otherwise, but I can live with it.
And I will continue to pick up the garbage. After all, it is no longer an activity motivated solely by altruism.