John Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 21, 2007

Damncats, now beagles add to din at AG’s Bed and Breakfast

The damncat census on the back porch at Annie-Glenn’s Bed and Breakfast these mornings has been nine and 10.

There are more around, but since we share a colony of feral damncats with Miss Shirley next door, it’s hard to tell how many and who’s who, where, what, why and when.

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My efforts to neuter the lot have fallen short of their ability to multiply. For more than a year, I have occasionally caught a damncat or two in a live trap and shuttled them to an Oxford vet who works in cooperation with the Mississippi Spay Alliance. The alliance distributes grant funds to cover most of the cost of the surgical procedures, an expense that would otherwise become significant in dealing with colony numbers.

The alliance sent me eight vouchers for neutering. There is one left, meaning that we have spayed or castrated seven damncats. That does not mean that we have only ferried seven damncats to the Oxford vet. When I first started showing up over there with damncats in cages, I failed to tell them how many I would eventually be attempting to bring. It was after I brought them a damncat who had made the trip before that they began notching their ears to prevent another near double-neutering.

The damncats easily survive the neutering. It is in the days that follow that they disappear. The neutered damncats seem to stray away or show up in the street flattened while those yet fertile survive and thrive.

Occasionally those damncats’ world gets turned upside down when a pair of beagles makes a pass through the backyards, yelping and baying like beagles do. The beagles apparently discovered those rich damncat hunting grounds and made it part of their regular trek whenever they are out. Whose they are, where they come from or where they go is unknown. Well known by their announcements is their passage through our damncat environs.

Especially well known to the damncats themselves is their passage. Not that the beagles are a threat to fleet-footed tree climbers, but they get nervous anyway. The dogs circle the scrub shrubs growing near the base of trees, noses to the ground, scarcely looking ahead, yelping infrequently as they search. Whenever they hit hot scent, infrequent yelping becomes constant baying and a chase is on.

Infrequently the chase might involve a live damncat who quickly flees harm’s way and then stops to view the commotion at a disinterested distance. Frequently the chase involves dogs and very recent scent. The beagles seem to enjoy it either way.

From fence row to tree base to scrub growth they conduct sniff search patterns, working as a team from south to north through four or more adjoining back yards before continuing out of sight and mind as their commotion fades with the distance.

Unless, of course, they find the door to the crawl space under Annie Glenn’s Bed and Breakfast has been left open. Finding that access, they just continue under the house the same commotion that they have created in the great out-of-doors, barking, baying, noses to the ground with cats fleeing anew as they find a formerly safe haven suddenly violated.

However, above the crawl space in the house itself, that commotion is amplified to an extent that one would first think the Hounds of the Baskervilles had been loosed beneath one’s feet.