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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Midstokke: The casualties of domestication

By Ammi Midstokke The Spokesman-Review

I’m not sure who decided it was a good idea to domesticate cats, though evidence points to the Fertile Crescent population nearly 10,000 years ago. Archeologists recently found a human skeleton buried with a cat skeleton and a few knickknacks, and assumed the two had been fast friends.

In all likelihood, the cat killed the human, then slumbered next to it before having a kitty cardiac event due to its gluttonous diet.

What I do know about cats is they are not environmentalists or ornithologists.

Some years ago, we adopted our sister-cousin feral farm cats from a North Idaho accidental inbreeding facility. The “facility” was our friends’ wood pile on their back 40, where the six-toed, wide-set-eyes kitties were proliferating at a rate of population growth that kept the local coyotes well-fed. We picked out two runts, and thinking we were being good citizens, had them sterilized on the way home.

I had a ground squirrel problem at the time. They remedied it within a season, simply by prowling the gardens, though I only once saw a dead ground squirrel. What I did see was a lot of voles, moles, mice, fluffy bunnies and birds.

My gardens flourished while my karma floundered – much like the birds we were always trying to rescue from the cats. We tried every embarrassing cat accessory the internet would sell us, my favorite being a giant rainbow clown collar that would ideally shame them into staying indoors. Despite their embarrassing attire and enough bells to give them both the appearance and sound of an entourage of court jesters, they caught birds.

When we moved into a little rental house in the city, the neighborhood cats had eaten all the birds already and I looked forward to some reprieve from the massacre and a reduction in guilt. I was still concerned, though, because we lived close to an elementary school and I did not put it beyond my cats to drag a kindergartner home on any given day of the week.

But the cats got fat and lazy in town, occasionally watching the crows from the window sills as if reminiscing bygone days of predation, and the carnage all but ended.

Bored, they became brawlers instead, leading to an 18-month stint of adrenaline-fueled insomnia for me. Sometimes a random cat would appear to continue the midnight assault and battery in my own bathroom. The harlot from across the street, Mandy, a scrappy little grey cat half the size of ours, was a regular violent offender who was not bothered in the least by my towel waving and curse slinging.

Ragged and red-eyed in the morning, my husband would feign empathy while mostly disbelieving my stories of cat wars. He sleeps through all manner of mayhem – sirens, jet planes, disco balls (with the sole exception of my reading light), leading him to worry about some early-onset dementia.

The only thing more certain to disrupt my slumber than the feline fracas was locking the cats indoors. Their malcontent was expressed by them turning my houseplants into toilets and meowing until the confinement ceased. Once released, they went outside only to return moments later to growl at other cats through the windows.

For months, I have pined for our return to the forest, where my now older, fluffier, and less-feral cats would nap in the sunlight and I would sleep in the blissful quiet of a wooded breeze. My cat-loving friends told me to keep them inside so they don’t get lost, but I felt pragmatic about the possibility of them living their best lives in the wilderness. I figured it would take them a few days to find the cat door and venture out.

I was wrong.

And on the first night in our new home, spread out across a luxurious king size bed that feels like an island of sleep, something woke me. I thought perhaps it was the cats playing with some plastic or crawling into boxes. I turned on a light, but since my husband is now something like 12 feet away, he did not rouse.

He didn’t flutter an eyelid even as I gasped at the feathers all over the room, or as I chased the cat down the hallway, or when it growled at me as I stole its prey. He slept through me putting my shoes on, opening the glass slider in our room, and turning on the patio lights so I could venture into the woods with a terrified bird and set it free.

People keep warning me of a coyote problem in the neighborhood, like our cats might be on the menu. If they were, I’d say it was nature attempting to restore a balance and I’d accept their kitty fate. But honestly, I think it’s the coyotes who better watch out.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at