As I left the house this afternoon on my way to meet Tigger from work, I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to look, I had only a split second to recognize one of the neighbourhood cats disappearing between the plants. I often see this cat patrolling the area. He wears a collar, so is not feral, but he never responds to my call and always seems intent on his own business. Unusually for a cat out on his own, he is a Siamese.
Siamese are, I think something of an acquired taste but those who love them do so with passion. They also usually keep them under lock and key as Siamese fetch a good price and are likely to be stolen. So far, this one seems to have avoided that fate, perhaps precisely because of his cautious nature.
As the Siamese disappeared, I noticed he was carrying something, something of a dark speckled colour. Before I had time to formulate the thought into words, a man passing on a bicycle exclaimed “He’s got a pigeon!” That indeed was what the dark speckled object was and whose motionlessness suggested that the Siamese had expertly dispatched it.
I went on my way somewhat bemused. Readers of this column will know that I am fond of cats, big and small, and identify with them. But I am also one of the few people in London who loves pigeons as well. For me, seeing one animal that I love killing another that I love is always a painful experience. For a split second, I wondered whether I should chase after the cat and try to rescue the pigeon but a moment’s reflection showed the absurdity of the proposition. For one thing, the pigeon was almost certainly dead. For another, what right did I have to show such partiality? Yes, in all probability the cat gets fed at home and doesn’t actually need to kill birds but that’s almost irrelevant. Cats hunt birds and often catch them. What right to I have to say they should not do so? If the bird had been mine, a pet parrot or budgerigar, for example, I would most certainly have tried to rescue it but I had no claim on the pigeon or any authority over the Siamese.
Relationships between people and animals are complex and generate complex moral questions. By what right do we interfere in the lives of animals? How do we decide that blackbirds are “good” and pigeons “vermin” and protect and photogrpah the former while harrassing and destroying the latter?
This is too big a topic to be discussed here. Maybe I will pick it up again another day.