A tail of two instincts

Jackie Valley

A murderer lives in my home. She goes by the name Oscar Valley. She is my cat.

Standing tall at one foot and weighing about 18 pounds, this lovable ball of fur with endearing bright green eyes and a bushy tail may not fit the mold of the typical criminal gracing television screens on “America’s Most Wanted.” But her cold-blooded instinct is undeniable. She stands guilty as charged.

The unfortunate incident stemmed from a case of a killer on the loose in our backyard. Normally, Oscar’s prison guards – my family – watch her every move as she navigates the square yard, looking for a hole in the picket fence. But as my mom tended to the hot dogs on the grill, Oscar made her escape.

It was too late. She had John Dillinger-ed her way out. Except this time, the convict dressed in stripes – fur stripes, that is – eluded authorities at the Valley household in Springboro, Ohio, not at a so-called “escape-proof” county jail in Crown Point, Ind.

Hours later, the not-so-smart criminal came back, leaving a dead baby bunny on our patio in her wake. Outraged, we banished her inside the house to solitary confinement while the rest of us mourned the loss of our baby bunny friend who had previously resided in a front yard rabbit hole.

“Where were those baby bunny’s parents?” I wondered. Their absence all week had caused me to seriously consider bringing a gourmet meal of carrots and lettuce to the infants abandoned in the front yard hole. Now look what had happened.

Sadly, I realized this was Oscar’s second conviction for such an offense. She was on house arrest after being paroled for an eerily similar scenario at our previous residence near Cleveland. The poor bunny didn’t have a chance.

But then a greater realization occurred to me: Maybe it was not entirely Oscar’s fault. Maybe she had simply succumbed to instinct. After all, she does hail from the animal kingdom as much as we tend to forget that, given her spoiled existence.

And maybe – just maybe – humans are no different.

Animal instinct operates on the same ideals as the human instinct version, otherwise known as human nature. We kill every spider crossing our threshold. We blast obscenities at passing drivers. We listen to our heads more than our hearts.

We are human. We make mistakes and we try to learn from them, but we are sometimes doomed to fail again – courtesy of human nature.

Granted, our mistakes, I hope, do not involve the death of another living being, but the same principle applies. If we all had a nickel for every time we opened our mouths too soon – well, we would all be rich. You get the point.

And yet, perhaps unlike animals, humans contain this pesky little thing called a conscience. Humans beat themselves up about those acts of instinct that spawn larger mistakes. We will lie in bed for hours cross-examining Point A and Point B of a failed situation until the alarm triggers a new day, regardless of the lack of sleep. Or we just shy away from crossing that picket fence so to speak, not wanting to venture into potentially mistake-prone territory once again.

But what do our furry friends do after an episode of animal instinct? They forgive and forget and wait for the arrival of the next food bowl.

Perhaps Oscar does not deserve solitary confinement in our house, after all. I’ll open my bedroom door again tomorrow night, so she can reclaim her coveted bedtime spot next to – or on top of – me. Just not tonight.

Jackie Valley is the forum editor for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].