A Reason Not To Let Your Cat Out At Night

I like cats. I own one. But I'm fine with people who don't like cats. That's OK. Cats are lazy, and they're unthinkingly sadistic, and they're often aloof, and they're not too bright, and they tend to scratch up the furniture.

But what kind of bastard runs over a cat and doesn't stop?

Ah, thereby hangs a tale.

I am in the habit of wandering around my suburb in the dead of night, mainly for the exercise. I live a sedentary life and eat a lot of chocolate. If I don't get some exercise I'll turn into The Human Beanbag.

So, for this reason, I was walking down Victoria Road, one of Sydney's major thoroughfares, at half past three on the morning of the tenth of December, 1998.

There, in the middle citybound lane, was a collarless ginger cat lying in a pool of blood. As I stared at it, hoping that it wasn't what it obviously was, its hind leg kicked.

I jogged over to it (Victoria Road is a busy street, but not at half past three in the morning), picked it up and carried it to the footpath on the other side. It was obviously badly broken; its breathing was barely detectable, its mouth was open and its tongue was sticking out, and, as I mentioned, it was bleeding from a wound I couldn't see and didn't want to look at on its right, roadward side.

Probably, my picking it up and moving it finished it off. It looked as if it had spinal injuries, so that would have done it. Another kick, and it was still. No breath. No pulse I could find.

As I stood there, making sure the cat was dead, a taxi slowed down and pulled over a little down the road. It started reversing back towards me.

The cat was dead, though, so I shook my head and waved the taxi away.

I left the cat lying there and walked on up the street, my previously cheerful mood thoroughly evaporated. What kind of bastard, I reflected, runs over a cat and doesn't stop? Did they just not care? Perhaps they'd been glad they hit it. There are people like that, some of them radical environmentalists, most of them just bloody-minded unthinking clods. Then again, perhaps they'd thought about stopping, but decided not to, and were now feeling good and guilty.

Perhaps I was unjustly maligning them. Perhaps it was a police car off to do something important. Perhaps it was an ambulance.

Or perhaps the driver was just too damn sleepy to notice what the heck he or she had just hit.


Anyway, I walked on down the street, past the local veterinary hospital. That's right - the driver had, ten seconds before running over the cat, driven past a big illuminated sign that said "VET". I vaguely considered going back and getting the cat, and inducing whatever sleepy shiftworker inhabited the place of an evening to see if it had an ID chip, so the owner could be notified. I didn't bother. I didn't feel much like getting cat blood on me, and the local constabulary already think I'm a nut for wandering around in the middle of the night. Doing it while carrying a dead cat could get me locked up.

There was another reason to move the cat, though. I had left it, I realised, at the gate to the yard of the local Our Lady Queen Of Peace primary school. Was it a good idea to leave a deceased feline to frighten the schoolkids?

On reflection, I decided that it was.

It wouldn't hurt them, and it might serve as an extremely pointed lesson as to why you shouldn't let your cat out if you live near a busy road. Plus, I've got to admit I didn't mind the idea of little bothered kiddies asking their Catholic teachers what, exactly, God was thinking when he let this happen.

But when I got home I resolved to retrace my steps the next night, to make sure someone had collected the cat. If nobody had, I'd do it myself. This is Australia, in summer, and the dead cat is the canonical stinking-dead-thing for a reason.

I'm back from that second walk now.

At first, I thought the cat was gone. I walked past the school's big black wheelie-bins, bulging with well-stuffed garbage bags, and thought "Yup, that's where it'll be."

But it wasn't.

Somebody, presumably a kid or kids from the school, had moved the cat a little way into the schoolyard and piled rocks and sticks and dirt on it. It wasn't much of a cairn - plenty of cat was still visible - but given the limited resources available in an asphalt schoolyard, I think they'd done a sterling job.

Not that that was the smart thing for the kids to do. Even after one Australian summer day, the now-stiff cat was noticeably smelly. In a couple more it'd be appallingly stinky. It would have been better to get a teacher to haul it away on the first day. But no matter. The kids didn't do the smart thing, but they tried to do the right thing. I was touched.

Anyway, I moved the larger rocks off it, pulled it out from under the rest and heaved it into the garbage bag I'd brought with me. I'd never handled a day-dead animal before. They really do go quite stiff.

Coincidentally, I had got to the spot slightly before the little council cleanup truck that does the rounds in the small hours. This isn't the big noisy vacuum street-sweeper - you can hear that one for miles. This is the little one with the bloke with a broom and the bloke with a blower. These blokes push muck off the pavements and into the gutters, where the big noisy vacuum street-sweeper truck sucks it up. They keep the pavements safe for people like me who walk around barefoot.

The bloke with the broom was well back down Victoria Road sweeping his way towards the truck, but the bloke with the blower, who doubled as the driver, was de-leafing a piece of pavement in front of the school. I walked up to him with my bodybag. He looked nonplussed as he killed the blower motor and wondered what the heck he was about to be presented with.

We ascertained that while this wasn't actually his department, he didn't mind if I slung the cat in the back of the truck. He'd drop it off in the bin at the depot.

We had a brief conversation. He was interested to find out what kind of lunatic wanders the streets barefoot at half past three in the morning - it was almost exactly 24 hours after I'd first found the cat. I, as always, expressed my great respect for anybody who does a Proper Job like sweeping streets or working in a supermarket instead of this pansy-ass computer journalism lark I engage in.

According to him, if one runs over an animal and the animal is still alive, one is legally required to at least move it off the road. If the animal is deceased, one may legally drive on. Since it is rather difficult in many cases to determine the state of the animal by looking in the rear vision mirror as one speeds on down the road, I would presume that stopping and checking would be in order.

Our conversation concluded. I thanked him for taking the awkward cat-bag off my hands, and walked on, easily outdistancing the little truck with its constant lengthy stops.

I felt rather optimistic again. The good-hearted attempt by the kids to do the right thing had cheered me up no end, and the street-cleaner was a good bloke, too. On reflection, the taxi driver the night before was probably a kindly soul too, who would have done a bouncing U-turn over the median strip and whisked me and the cat back to the vet, if there was any reason to.

Maybe the driver that hit the cat was a bastard. Maybe they were just unthinking.

It doesn't matter.

There's hope.

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Copyright Daniel Rutter 1998. Last modified 13-Nov-2007.