Rod Liddle takes issue with Wilbur’s grieving owners who want a change in the law to impose restrictions upon creatures such as snakes. What we really need is a new citizen’s right to defend ourselves against the feline menace
It’s been a grim summer for news, all things considered, what with Afghanistan and flying pig flu and the rain and now Harriet Harman squatting over us all like one of those terrifying smallpox deities the Hindus have. So I thought I’d share with you a story which, in the midst of this gloom, cheered me up enormously. It is the story of a little ginger and white pussycat called Wilbur, who lived in Bristol with his owners, Martin and Helen Wadey. Martin and Helen loved Wilbur a lot. His purr was, according to Martin, ‘like a dynamo’. He was the family pet and suitably adored.
Anyway, one day Wilbur set off in pursuit of that familiar and engaging leisure option for our millions of domesticated cats — killing wildlife in a neighbour’s garden and then taking a massive dump in the middle of the lawn. Off he went on his pitter-patter little paws, over the fence, across the flower bed (pausing briefly to urinate on a rose bush) to check out what creatures he might harry to death — look, over there, a vole scampering with fright beneath the hedge! Or that fledgling mistle thrush obliviously looking for its mum. Wilbur thought about it for a moment, then devised a plan of action: start with the thrushling, then have a dump just by the patio and finish up spending a bit of time tracking down the vole — worth the effort because they’re endangered, apparently. But then Wilbur caught a first whiff of something quite unexpected; a rich, exotic, luxuriant smell he did not recognise — beguiling and yet somehow carrying a sleek, sinuous, harbinger of danger. What the hell is that, Wilbur wondered to himself, in those last few seconds before he was eaten by the python. Wildlife 1, Pussycat 0.
Not just eaten, mind, but — according to the press reports — ‘crushed, asphyxiated and consumed whole’. I don’t know what the Daily Telegraph would have preferred the python to do — maybe stun Wilbur humanely with some sort of electrical device before flambéing his liver for a light supper, accompanied by a glass of Chablis. Whatever, Martin and Helen heard ‘blood-chilling cries’ emanating from their neighbour’s garden and immediately suspected that it was Wilbur. They were right! The RSPCA turned up and with some piece of hi-tech equipment detected the cat’s ID chip inside the python’s bulging stomach and the faintest, defeated, plaintive miaow. Laugh? At this point of the story I was paralytic with mirth and jubilation — but then I read on and a familiar irritation began to settle on my shoulders.
First, the Wadeys’ bizarre and unjust reaction in complaining about such an outcome. Like all cat owners they seem utterly without any notion of responsibility, either to their neighbours or indeed to the wildlife which surrounds them. Some 80 million wild birds and animals are killed by domesticated cats each year and this may well account at least partly for the rapid decline of some of our garden songbirds — the thrush, the dunnock, the starling, the house sparrow. Not to mention the water vole. But cat owners could not give a monkey’s — that’s nature, they argue, that’s what cats do, they decimate wildlife.
Well, sure — and that’s what pythons do, they eat cats, given half a chance, so stop whining. Cat owners also do not care that their creatures wander over all the gardens of their neighbourhood, leaving behind their toxic ribbons of noisome defecation and the bodies of dead birds and mammals on the back steps of their neighbours houses. Wilbur was doing precisely this when he was eaten by the neighbour’s civic-minded Burmese python; if the foul creature had stayed in its own backyard, it would be alive right now to rub itself up against its owners in the manner of a sexual deviant released on parole several years too early. The snake was minding its own business in its own terrain and had not expected to be disturbed by an agreeable late afternoon snack blundering through the undergrowth, believing itself — mistakenly, as it turned out — to be top of the local food chain. Tough, puddytat. And yet when the RSPCA was called the focus of anger was directed at the owner of the python, who was issued with a written warning about keeping his snake indoors, safely locked away. Why? Why wasn’t the same warning issued to Mr and Mrs Wadey, to the effect that they should not be allowed another cat unless they could guarantee that it would not invade their neighbour’s gardens? At least the python stayed in its own backyard. And didn’t the RSPCA have a device to see what was lurking in Wilbur’s stomach?
Listen — things get worse, they get much worse. The bloody Wadeys are now petitioning 10 Downing Street for a change in the law. They want to introduce an amendment to the Dangerous and Wild Animals Act which would ensure that heavy restrictions are placed upon the people who wish to own such creatures as snakes. They have called this proposed adjustment to the law ‘Wilbur’s Amendment’. This little nugget of information may make you feel slightly nauseous, as if you too had just digested a whole cat without so much as a side salad of rocket dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. But, despite that, I suggest that we keep the title — ‘Wilbur’s Amendment’ — but change the legislation so that cats are classed as dangerous and wild animals and that ordinary members of the public, when faced with a cat prowling in their back garden, may take arms against them so as to protect both their property and the lives of asylum-seeking wild animals which may have taken refuge there.
Certainly, shooting cats would be a lot less time-consuming and probably more effective than some of the measures I have adopted over the years. The passive ones, such as urinating into a beaker, mixing it with Tabasco sauce and scattering the resultant emulsion around the perimeters of my garden works only for a week or so, until the local cats realise that it’s not a tiger living there, just an angry human. My cat pit failed too — plenty of the creatures fell into the pit but too few were speared on the sharpened apple-wood tines at the bottom. The obvious answer, I suppose, is to buy a python and underfeed it, so that it is perpetually on the look-out. I think I will call it Wilbur, or maybe Wadey, out of respect.