There’s been a murder in the garden

Cat and Dog behaviour

For the last six months I have borne witness to a shift in the dynamic between the cat and the little dog. The cat has long made a habit of parking itself halfway up the stairs in order to block the dog’s access. At least twice a day I hear a plaintive little bark that means, “Help! I’m trapped on the other side of the cat!”, forcing me to stop whatever I’m doing and oversee safe passage.

When the old dog was still alive, this hostility was kept in check. The cat didn’t mess with the old dog, and the little dog was afforded some protection in its shadow.

Since the old dog died, however, things have escalated: the cat now hides behind furniture in order to leap out at the dog when it happens by, causing mayhem. The little dog has taken to staring at me with a searching expression, which I hate.

“It’s not my area,” I say. “This is complex animal behaviour stuff, best sorted out between you.”

The dog continues to stare.

“Honestly, there’s nothing I can do,” I say. “It’s not like you can appeal to a cat’s sense of fair play.”

Not that hungry

The dog cocks its head to one side, and places an imploring paw on my arm.

“Besides,” I say, “if you’re willing to let a cat get between you and a bowl of food, you’re just not that hungry.”

Then one day the little dog kills a rat. I hear the noise first — a terrible, urgent flapping sound — and find the little dog standing over the bloodied rat on the patio, with the cat looking on in horror.

“That was your job,” I say to the cat. “Now you don’t have a job.”

The dog is immediately infused with a territorial ambition beyond barking at people who happen to be walking by the front window. It spends its afternoons in the garden, thrusting its nose into tight corners, looking for more rats.

The cat’s life, meanwhile, has been leached of meaning. It can barely attract the dog’s attention, much less traumatise it. While the dog patrols the garden, the cat sits on the newspaper I’m trying to read.

“Maybe you should think about moving on,” I say. “Explore opportunities elsewhere.”

The cat looks away.

“The flap opens both ways, if you know what I mean.”

Two days later, my wife walks past me in the kitchen and opens the garden door.

“What’s wrong with you?” she says. There is an unfamiliar note of concern in her voice that makes it clear she isn’t talking to me. I stand up and turn around.

The cat sways drunkenly into the kitchen, its back legs giving way.

“Have you been hit by a car?” my wife says. The cat props itself against the wall and stares up at her with unfocused eyes.

I bend down to examine the cat. There are no outward signs of impact or injury: fur ruffled but unbloodied, claws all accounted for.

“It can’t have been a car,” I say, gingerly feeling the cat’s bones. “But this cat is a mess.”

“What’s happened to you?” my wife says. The cat’s head lolls.

It takes me just five steps into the garden to find the answer. There is a dead, partially beheaded pigeon lying on the gravel. The cat, in a desperate bid to re-establish its credentials, has taken on a bird its own size, and nearly lost.

“I think we’ve all learnt something today,” I say to the cat, but I can tell it’s not in the mood for any life lessons.

“Stupid cat,” my wife says.

“I can’t touch a dead bird, by the way,” I say.

— Guardian News & Media Ltd