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I started putting food out for a neighbor's cat after noticing one day while I was petting him that he was very skinny. Figuring a hungry cat is going to bring more hell on birds than a full cat, I decided to put out a little kibble in what passes for my back yard.
The skinny cat's name is Ren. He's black-and-white and full of personality. Often when the neighbors take their frisky young German shepherd for a walk, Ren follows them. And I don't mean for just a few steps. He'll follow them on a long walk around the neighborhood, ducking for cover here and there, then catching up again. Sometimes the dog will playfully pounce toward Ren, and Ren will return the pounce, taking no guff. If Ren encounters someone else walking their dog down the sidewalk, he sits on his haunches and stares them down. The dog-walker usually crosses the street to pass. I watched out my living room window late one night as Ren did the same thing with a huge raccoon. They had a quick boxing match before going their separate ways.
So back when I started doing this I put the trail camera out back to see if Ren would find and eat the cat food. I found that he did in fact find and eat it, and on a couple of occasions he would even be waiting for me when I set it out in the morning. However, two other neighborhood cats also got in on the free lunch -- a small, short-haired black cat, and a large, long-haired gray cat. (Squirrels and birds seemed to ignore the cat food.) Using the clock on the trail camera, I took notes on when each cat showed up. Ren and the black cat came by every day, usually multiple times. The long-haired cat showed up too rarely to set a pattern, but Ren and the black cat invariably came during the day, probably because their owners let them inside at night.
Any cat food left out overnight became fair game for rats and raccoons. Ren didn't like other critters eating his food, so he started scooping sand and leaves on it after he was done. That was making a mess, so I started putting the food in my other neighbor's yard, which is just a slab of concrete. (There's a tall fence separating my yard from Ren's yard, but nothing between me and the concrete yard.) After seeing the night action, I put out only as much chow in the morning as the cats could completely eat during the course of the day.
Just on a whim, I decided the other day to start putting the food back in my yard, laying it out on a stepping stone. I was surprised to come home from work to see the pile still there. I checked it again in the morning and it was all gone. I noticed I hadn't seen my neighbors in a few days and figured they might have gone on vacation, and that would explain Ren's absence. But I don't know where the black cat lives and thought it was strange that the food would remain uneaten all day. I did not believe the rat would eat that much so I set my trail camera out there to see what was going on. Why was the food being left uneaten all day? Where were Ren and the black cat?
When I went out to check the camera after work, I saw that most of the cat food had been eaten. Usually it is all gone, so I knew something unusual was still going on.
Well, the camera found out. The night life was having a party. Ren might indeed be wherever his owners put him when they go out of town, but the black cat had obviously been gone to get medical care. You'll see in the last frame of the video that he walks right past the chow before coming back and finally spotting it. He usually shows up early in the morning, but he didn't show up this time until just after noon, and he didn't return later for seconds, which is why there was still some food left.
My trail camera has been sitting in a drawer since the water hole on Mt. Tam dried up. I was glad to find a use for it by uncovering a back yard mystery.