Tales from the 45th Street alley
by Thomas Parker | illustrations by Katie O’Beirne
“Yellowknife’s a dog town,” is a statement I’ve heard before. Most pet owners in this town have chosen the dog: the loop-tailed husky, the affectionate lab, and even the little lap dogs. Yellowknife has a dog park and dog poop bins, dog-sitting opportunities and dog-walking clubs. I was nearly convinced everyone had a dog in this town – until I spent time in the alley.
Amidst the bungalows, businesses, and apartments in downtown Yellowknife, there is an alley behind 45th street where cats roam. The alley is narrow and gravel, and each home has a different coloured backyard fence, a garbage bin, and string of wires leading to a hydro pole. Well, I’ve counted seven cats in this area, some are pets, and some are feral, and I’ve named them all. The core group consists of Red, Grey, Cow-cat, and my cat, Juniper. Other sightings include Halloween-cat, Calico-Kitty, Tango, and Mr. Patterson, a neighbour who kind of looks like a cat.
Alley life is tough for the cats and certainly not a place for dogs. Typically, dogs are supervised or contained to an area by a leash or fence. Alley cats don’t have these restrictions and are free to explore territory and hunt unsuspecting birds and mice. They delicately roam the area with an upright tail and curious attitude, but make no mistake, these cats are killers and the alley is their turf.
One evening, back in September, I wandered the alley searching for my Juniper. “June! Jooooniper!” I hollered, but no response. The air was crisp as I strolled and rattled a plastic cup of cat food. “Where’s Juniper,” I shouted up to the shiny black ravens on the web of hydro lines, and again, no response.
After ten minutes of searching I gave up and headed home. That’s when I heard the grumble. I froze. It was coming from the neighbour’s fence, where Red lives. “Grrr…Murrr.” It sounded like two muffled engines, but I felt deep in my stomach that it was probably cats.
I crept towards the growling as the gravel crunched underneath my steps. “Juniper!” I gasped. Through my neighbour’s fence wickets I saw her arched back, her tail poofed like a feather duster, and her little body turned sideways. Staring back at Juniper was a wolverine-type cat, 15 inches from paw to shoulder. It was Grey. His deep and golden eyes were glaring at little June. Suddenly, the cats sprung into each other, forming a fur ball that bounded on the concrete.
Desperately, I began whipping cat food between the fence at the ball like a pellet gun, but to no avail. What happened next was weird and amazing: Red pranced into the scene and the cats quickly disengaged. Grey landed ready to pounce again, but Juniper kept rolling like a bad stuntman to an eventual stop. The three cats swiftly exchanged stares and then dispersed. With the quickness of an alley cat, I also dispersed, bounding after Juniper to my backdoor.
The next morning, I sat reflecting at the breakfast table. I wondered what provoked the catfight and why Red was able to defuse the situation. These alley cats are so unpredictable, I concluded, shaking my head. Maybe people in this town prefer dogs because they are predictable pets. Dogs will stay by your side, unless they see other dogs. Dogs will sit and roll over if trained, and will play catch even after everyone is tired of catch. These alley cats are different. They are precarious. They own their backyards, but will meander the alley looking for friends, or for trouble. As the cold and dark of winter settles in, so do the cats in their respective homes. Snuggling into their more domestic lifestyles, but perhaps dreaming of the spring and the escapades of the Alley.