The common English breeds display great partiality for haylofts, barns, outbuildings and surroundings, and possess all the attributes of the race, namely, cunning disposition, nocturnal habits, much patience in pursuit and in lying in ambush for prey (Fig. 135), seizing it by a sudden leap, then playing with the captive before putting it to death, and not limiting destruction to the mere gratification of appetite.

The subtlety and circumspection of the common cat are seen in all its habits and movements, and humane, not pampered, treatment renders it invaluable to the householder, farmer and gardener.

The gamekeeper, on the other hand, regards a useful cat with the greatest aversion, and spares no effort to compass its destruction. The owner of the cat, especially of a female one, may be partly to blame, for kittens must be inducted by the mother into the art of procuring their own livelihood, the natural instinct always predominating in this respect; hence they are presented with live or freshly-killed food betimes from mice up to leverets, and from unfledged birds up to young partridges and pheasants, even the swift hare and bouncing rabbit finding place in the cat's menu. Rearing cats near game preserves, therefore, almost always results in the disappearance of the mother, and the progeny in their turn fall to the gun of the gamekeeper, or are allured by tempting bait into torturing traps. This may to some extent be prevented by drowning surplus kittens within twenty-four hours of their birth, then the parent will be less prone to poach, and may elude the gamekeeper for many years.

When domiciled in farm-buildings, stables, and sheds in gardens, the cat appears to great advantage; as having free ingress and egress, it keeps a watchful eye on intruding mice, and seldom permits meadow voles to exist in the neighbourhood. Poaching mainly occurs, as before stated, when the cat has kittens, which are brought forth from three to six at a litter and remain blind for nine days, the period of gestation being sixty-three days.

Cats are also great scarers of birds, and have been utilized for protecting fruit, of which an example (Fig. 136) will be suggestive:

"When at the Rev. H. L. Ewen's, the Rectory, Offord D'Arcy, Huntingdon, some time ago, I was struck with the novelty of both cats and kittens being employed as bird scarers, not by tethering, as is sometimes done, with string or chain to a particular place, but by a sort of continuous running line. In this particular instance the cats, adults as well as kittens - the one as far as I could see being as good as the other - were employed to protect strawberries from the thrushes and blackbirds. The strawberry-beds were 4 to 6 ft. wide, with an alley between. At each end of the alleys a peg was driven into the ground, and between these pegs galvanized wire, I think No. 10, was stretched about an inch from the ground, though it rested on the ground in some places. Before securing the wire to the pegs a piece of small chain about 12 in. long was secured to the wire by passing the wire through a ring at one end of the chain, and at the other end of chain was a swivel ring, such as is used for dog-chains, only both chains and rings were smaller. The cats were secured to the chains by small collars, and the cats could run the whole length of the strawberry beds without let or hindrance; and that they answered their purpose was evident by the fine fruit, principally President, being unmolested.

It is necessary to state that at each end of the "run" a drain tile (about 9 in. diameter) was laid on its side in the line of the run and slightly sloping to it, and the end farthest from the run in both cases was closed by a board, whilst those next the run were left open, thereby forming a good shelter for the cats in inclement weather. Saucers replete with milk and other evidence of food being supplied, rendered the arrangement complete" {Journal of Horticulture, July 26, 1883, p. 73).

Occasionally a cat, called wild, is found in woods, and evidently making its home there. But this, in most cases, is only the house cat taken to a depraved mode of life, and like the ordinary tame cat taken to poaching must be summarily dealt with, as nothing comes amiss to such cats in the way of game. The game-preserver contends that when a cat has taken to this mode of life it is useless in or about the house and its outbuildings, and not being easy to shoot, it must be trapped.

Rev. H. L. Ewen's Method of Scaring Birds from Strawberries.

Fig. 136. - Rev. H. L. Ewen's Method of Scaring Birds from Strawberries.

The trap employed may be that known as the Patent Hugger, 10-in. jaws, which, being furnished with sharp spikes, kills the animal at once, and tells "no tale." But the poaching (it may be a "torn" on courting excursion) cat is usually captured with the large rabbit trap, selecting a place for setting at side of a path or ride, and by a tree-butt or thick bush, forming a pathway of sticks leading to the bait, generally a paunched rabbit opened out, placed and secured at the far end, with the trap carefully concealed at the entrance and spring inwards about 6 in. from the bait. Where such "back" as that just mentioned is not at hand, as in rabbit-warrens and other open places, a sort of square may be made with brushwood, in which to peg the bait, leading two narrow pathways from it at each end and exactly opposite each other, in each of which place a trap (Fig. 137), or dig a false rabbit hole in a bank 18 in. long, and bait with rabbit entrails pegged down firmly, and set the trap with the spring inwards about 6 in. from the bait. A few bushes may be placed at the entrance of the hole, pathway-like. The worst of trapping cats is that of their being liable to make escape minus a paw or large part of a leg.

Such misfortune, however, does not damp the enthusiasm of cats for hunting, any more than it does a three-legged rabbit from leaving a covert and feeding on herbage in the adjoining field.

Trap set for Cat in Open.

Fig. 137. - Trap set for Cat in Open.