This is the tale of our barn cat.
It was Black Friday, November 2014. I had never had a barn cat before. I'm not sure I remember the exact reasoning my son Adam used last year to get me in the car, but somehow we were headed down to the Animal Welfare Society with a cat carrier in the back. We sometimes had mice in the walls of our old house -- you'd hear tiny feet scurrying across the ceiling on a quiet winter evening -- but we could always set a snap trap if we thought they were getting too numerous. I'm pretty scrupulous about keeping the sheep grain in covered bins. Didn't really need a barn cat...
Before we left that day, we perused the AWS online Cats page, looking for 'barn cats'. I felt myself softening when I saw they had a beautiful tortoiseshell barn cat. Adam was quick to point out that the AWS was having their own Black Friday Special, all the black dogs and cats were reduced cost, or free!
"IF we get one, this cat is NEVER coming in the house", I repeated to myself, "never, never, never!" After decades of having many pets, I have discovered that Outside pets are much easier on the Inside of your house. Also, Dave (my husband) has allergies to cats, and he was less than thrilled with this expedition. He stayed home with the dog.
Adam and I had visited the AWS before. It's a busy place filled with with barking dogs and excited people. You are free to walk right into the dog or cat areas to hopefully fall in love with a new furry friend. Well, it was different this time: to visit the Barn Cats, one must be accompanied by a staffer out to The Shed. The staff person put on her coat and found the keys.
The Shed was cold and silent as we stepped inside. The space was divided in half by a wall of shelves reaching almost up to the ceiling; these shelves were occupied by about a dozen cats, some peeking out from behind white bedsheets draped over the wall for them to hide behind. As soon as the cats figured out that the woman had 2 strangers and no food, they all fled in unison to the far side, moving in a feline wave over the top of the dividing wall. I caught a brief glimpse of a tortoiseshell-colored tail as it vanished over the top of the wall.
We talked, considered, and walked back and forth in the shed, the cats ever fleeing before us. Some of them hid behind the sheets or settled in little plexiglass boxes on the shelves. Eventually we decided, yes, we would give it a try; and conveniently there was a black kitten sitting in a box right at eye level. "How about this kitten?" said the woman. "Sure," we said. She reached up and clicked a latch, for the box was actually a trap. Well, that made it easy! It occurred to me at that moment that this kitten may not be the brightest bulb in the box.
The staffer took the boxed up kitten off to an exam room. Somehow they gave her a couple vaccinations: I noticed the traps had convenient holes in the sides, or did they take her out and hold her? I will never know. Anyway, she was magically transferred into our cat carrier and we filled out the paperwork. They called her "Little Girl", and she qualified as a Free Black Friday kitten. She was about 6 months old, already spayed, microchipped and vaccinated. I made a donation to the AWS anyway because this was an incredible deal!
Home we went. We set up our large wire dog crate in the barn with a litter box and food bowl. We put in a heated water bowl, as the temperatures were already below freezing. Last of all, we put the cat carrier in the back corner of the crate. Hissing and growling emanated from the carrier as we surrounded it with hay for warmth. I finally unlatched the carrier door and tied some twine to it; running the twine outside the crate. After closing and latching the dog crate, I pulled the twine to open the carrier door and tied it to stay open. Nobody came out.
She lived like that for 2 weeks. We never saw her body, only 2 glowing eyes peering out of the carrier. When I put my hands near her to change her litter, she would hiss. But the food always disappeared. And the litter box was used, sometimes with diarrhea. I tried a couple of different cat foods but I couldn't find one that agreed with her system. (…..never coming in the house, never, never, never…..)
After 2 weeks, it was time to let her go free. I didn't want to extend her acclimation period since it was such a pain having to kneel down and crawl into the cage to change the litter while being hissed at. Dave cut a cat-sized hole in the barn door so the cat could come and go as she pleased. That evening, I tied the big crate door open. Nobody came out.
The next morning, it was very cold, and there was a new coating of snow on the ground. We found a perfectly straight line of cat prints in the snow, heading away from our barn toward our neighbor's property. The cat was gone. I left food for her in hopes she would come back. By nightfall the food was still there, untouched.
I thought: "well, (sigh), that was an interesting (failed) experiment, and a lot of work for nothing…!"
But, two days later, someone heard a tiny mew in the barn, coming from the shadows under the work bench. My whole family was thrilled! The kitty was back!
And she was back to stay. She still kept herself hidden most of the time. She would make herself a nest in the hay or slept in a carpeted-cat-condo we put under the work bench for her. We would report excitedly if we saw her: "A full body sighting!!" Every day I talked to her as I fed her and I began to wait near her bowl after I laid it on the floor. Gradually she learned to come out and start eating while I stood a short distance away. We fed her treats, too, and she began to trust us enough to eat from our hands.
|Little Girl with Adam at our back door|
|Dave with Little Girl|
Now that my whole family was fascinated with this cat, I had to do something about her digestive issues.
She was starting to have diarrhea outside the litter box, all around the barn. Not good!!! I researched online, and considered various "sensitive" formula cat foods. I even found small blue bag of popular cat food with a $50 price tag. Really? For a free barn cat???
I eventually found some information about feeding plain raw meat to cats and how it quickly cured their ills. The most interesting comment I found was, 'What are we doing, feeding cereal to carnivores?' That comment resonated with me; of course canine and feline digestive systems are set up for eating meat! I got depressed reading about the history of the pet food industry and how veterinarians are promoting pet foods more and more these days. I have seen this happening over my lifetime. When I was a girl, the veterinary waiting room was just that, a simple room with chairs so you could wait for your turn. Now it's a marketing space, with high priced flea remedies, collars, specialty foods and brochures surrounding you. But I digress…
I continued researching feeding cats a 'raw' diet, and watched a video of someone's cat eating a raw chicken wing: crunch, crunch, Gone. Wow. Raw bones are ok; which makes sense. Although I would feel safer with tiny raw bones, say, mouse-sized. Chicken necks perhaps. As everyone knows, cooked bones are dangerous for pets. As for the chicken meat itself, I think the initial (old) research into the 'raw' being superior to 'cooked' aspect was done poorly and is flawed, but the idea of avoiding grains made sense to me. Just for the record, I have studied animal nutrition and my degree is in Animal Science. I decided to take away the kibbles and cans; and started feeding gizzards, hearts and livers to Little Girl. I occasionally supplemented with cheese as well for calcium, since my grocer doesn't offer necks.
It worked wonders. Her digestive issues cleared up the very first day. So now I load up with gizzards every time I shop. I get about 3 meals from each $1.50-ish package. One day at the store, the lady in line behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said "Oh, I just love gizzards, too! Nobody in my family will eat them, but I love them!" I just smiled and nodded…!
Little Girl also supplements what we give her with mice, chipmunks, moths, etc. She is an excellent hunter and eats most of her kills. The walls of my house have been Silent ever since she came.
|Gizzards & Hearts|
|Healthy & shiny coat|
The snow melted, and summer came at last. Little Girl was seen more and more often. Every night when I went out to feed the sheep, she would run along beside me. She would wait and then run beside me again on the way back. I never brought treats or anything for her at that time, so it seemed she just wanted to play. She would walk in front of me and then stop, as if to make me stop. Sometimes she would lay in the grass, purring loudly, right in front of me. So I started trying to touch just the tip of her tail every day. Again, the excited reports, "I got 2 tail-touches!"
Eventually I was able to rub her neck and shoulders, and she really liked that. Sometimes she would rub against our legs, purring just like a real pet cat.
And now, it's a year later. We gave her the raw turkey neck yesterday: crunch, crunch, Gone. And she has learned to jump up in our laps.
Happy Black Friday!!
|selfie with kitty in my lap|
p.s. She is still never coming in the house!