Monday, January 17, 2011

Our three barn cats

We have three barn cats and they’ve been here for more than twelve years. Blackie wandered onto the property and gave birth to Charlotte. Soon after birth, Charlotte was trapped by our dogs in a wood pile and wedged herself deep within the lumber, which is the only way she survived as her brothers and sisters did not. Carefully, we pulled apart the lumber around her and put her and her mother in a safe, dog-free environment: the barn. They live there today, along with Boudicca, named for the famous female Celtic warrior simply because she has a pink triangle on her nose.
The three of them are quite contented; spending most of each day sleeping either in the barn or out in the barnyard on sunny days, the dogs, for the most part, having learned a live-and-let-live attitude. In the evenings the cats like to sit with me as I take a few minutes to relax, laying on the grass and scratching their ears and petting them. Only Charlotte will roll over and let me scratch her belly, though she’s still suspicious enough to keep an eye open for approaching danger.
Many people don’t feed their barn cats, thinking hunger will make them better mousers. Perhaps that‘s true, but I prefer not to use hunger as a motivator. It just takes one ill mouse for us to lose a cat and I don’t want to take the chance so they are well fed. I figure hunting is so instinctual that they will probably hunt just for the thrill of it. From the way our cats play with their prey before killing it, I’ve learned that hunting is as much a game as being necessary for survival. And, as I said, hunting isn’t necessary for our cats. I feed them cafeteria style; there’s always food in their bowls. Of course they have to share it with the chickens and turkeys who have also found the food bowls and don’t realize these tasty morsels are just for cats.
Our vet said Blackie is the healthiest barn cat she’s ever seen, and I take that as a compliment to how we provide a safe, nurturing place to live for the three cats.
I think about them one evening while driving home through the woods and see two young kittens playing in the road. I stop and get out, wondering if they are tame enough to be saved. But they run into the bushes as I approach so I don’t know if they are alone or have mom with them. I try calling out to them but my “meowing” is probably not very realistic as I hear them rustling in the tall weeds but they refuse to appear. Unfortunately their instinct for survival will not save them from the night creatures who themselves are looking for food and for whom two young, defenseless kittens will be easy prey. Their chances of surviving a fox or other carnivore are slim. Then there is the issue of food; these kittens are probably still nursing. What a waste, I think, to go through the whole gestation and birth process just to be eaten alive shortly thereafter; it hardly makes sense, like so much of nature for whom creating and destroying are constants. These sweet, beautiful kittens, so full of life and playfulness, won’t live very long and there’s nothing more I can do to prevent that than standing on the edge of the road “meowing” in a fruitless attempt to stop the inevitable. Like so many moments in life.
All I can do is spend time with Blackie, Charlotte and Boudicca, scratching and petting them and glad for each day they’re here.