SAN DIEGO — Never in a year of yesterdays would I have dreamed that the key to immortality lay in the paws of an oversexed cat. Not that the article I read said that exactly, but it seemed a logical conclusion.
For the past five years, our back yard has been a feline brothel, run by a small black stray who's conned us out of many a bag of cat food. ("Poor thing, she's so skinny. Just give her a little bowl of food and send her on her way.") Jezebel has twitched her tail and lured every tom within blocks whenever she is, as the pet encyclopedia so delicately puts it, "in season."
The yowling and moaning of lovesick swains awaken us night after night, sometimes in harmony, but more often with a combination of tones that can be compared with the sound of an entire symphony orchestra gone tone deaf.
If anyone is still asleep through the caterwauling, our neighbor's two nosy beagles will complete the wake-up call. They can smell cat through solid concrete. The minute a cat steps over the fence into our yard, the beagles set up a baying that is guaranteed to make even dead flowers jump out of their beds.
Coincident with the dogs' snuffling and howling, there ensues a pandemonium of frantic toms, desperate to escape whatever those awesome hound sounds suggest to them. Inevitably, the cats upset flower pots, watering cans and lawn chairs.
Our neighbor, a take-charge sort who rather fancies a full night's sleep, set a humane trap to catch Jezebel and her offspring.
Neighbor Ned's trapping efforts paid off immediately. He caught his own cat, Elmo. Elmo was an innocent bystander, never having been a part of the cacophonous chorus around prolific little Jezebel. Elmo eventually calmed down, but Ned gave up trapping anyhow.
We tried our own hand at trapping when Jezebel emerged from her hidey-hole with another litter and proceeded to teach them the fine points of leaf chasing and bug zapping. We arranged a gourmet meal in the center of the trap, set its triggering device and went into the house to observe from a bedroom window. The trigger proved faulty. Instead of catching kitties, the trap served as dining hall and playground for a tumbling swarm of spring-loaded fuzzballs.
We've watched with baleful eyes the reproductive cycles of Jezebel and her offspring. It's obvious that those cats have inherited their mother's erotic tendencies; each litter of kittens grows up and has litters, too. They're all wild and wary.
The Humane Society couldn't help. Animal control offered no solution that worked. It seemed not a soul was willing to come a-capturing, net in hand, unless the wild cats were wildcats.
It was discouraging at best. We had visions of a sequel to Hitchcock's "The Birds," featuring our back-yard felines.
Then I read the article. It cited research done in mental hospitals, convalescent homes, pediatric wards and senior citizen residences, showing that the presence of a furry animal prolongs a person's life.
It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that if those cats keep on reproducing, our entire neighborhood could benefit. Instead of posing a threat, our dear little upholstered friends are our ticket to eternal life.
Immortality, thy name is cat.