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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Taming the wild beast

Sheila is a self-proclaimed house cat. We didn’t plan to have a house cat. She just waltzed in one day her first winter, jumped on the couch, curled up in a sunbeam and went to sleep. She didn’t go back out until spring.
The diminutive little white cat with grey spots was born in a feed storage bin in the shed. Her mama had her kittens and fed them there every day for a couple months. When they were old enough to wean, the mama took off, back to the barn. Some of the kittens followed, and they were taught mouse hunting as their main source of food. Sheila headed to the house. She finds mouse-hunting distasteful.
In the warm months, Sheila darts out the door to spend the day in the garden. She also enjoys a sunny day outside in winter, but she doesn’t last too long before she starts crying outside the door, because she hasn’t grown any kind of winter coat. She has a bad attitude most of the time but for some reason I find that endearing. I pick her up and give her a kiss, mostly because she hates it. She scowls, squawks at me and kicks ‘til I put her on the ground.
A few years ago, Sammy arrived. The tenants next door moved out and left their cat behind. Every day I saw him darting across the yard to the shed where he could share the food that I put out for the barn cats. Every night he would return to the house, waiting for his humans to return. They never did.
A man once told me that you can communicate with feral cats or cats that were once tame but have gone feral due to trauma by blinking at them. Each time I met eyes with Sammy as he crossed the yard he would freeze, not knowing whether I was friend or foe. Then I would blink. He stayed frozen. And blinked back.
Every day we shared this communication, and one day Sammy decided he would brave coming up on the back porch to eat some of the food I put there. I slid the patio door open slightly and Sheila appeared to confront the new cat. There was a short exchange and Sheila stepped back into the house, with one last remark at Sammy. He followed her, into the house, and straight down the stairs into the basement. The cat lair. Where the furry felines come in from the cold to find food, water and myriad hiding places.
I thought of the three-foot-tall dollhouses the Farmer made for his girls when they were little. Many times I have had feral cats in the house, being treated for one ailment or another, and when I open the cage to let them out, they dart into the far reaches of the dollhouse, where I cannot retrieve them. I hoped Sammy wouldn’t try to stuff himself in there. He was three times the size of the other cats.
Now, two years later, Sammy still startles easily, bolting off the couch and disappearing like a flash down the basement stairs every time he hears a strange noise. But he’s becoming bolder. Last night I saw him contemplating jumping up on the couch beside the Farmer. He’s never done that before.
So we have two house cats now. The Farmer doesn’t seem to mind. Except for when they use the carpeted stairs as a scratching post. Little tufts of carpet are strewn all over the floor in the morning. I came up with an idea to deter that particular activity. I covered their favourite section of the stairs with tin foil. They bat at it with their paws and check their reflection in it but it’s still there, protecting my stairs. It’s not exactly a décor improvement but it works.
This winter, the twin tabbies from the barn have also decided to be house cats, at least part time. They dart inside when someone opens the patio door, and scoot downstairs to eat. But instead of rushing back outside again when their bellies are full, now they stay inside for days. The brown tabby, who is adept at letting me get just within reach and then disappearing in a puff of fur, can now be found lounging on the couch by the window, watching the birds at the feeder.
The grey tabby, her brother, climbs the screen on the living room window and screams at us until we let him in.
At last count, we have four house cats now.

1 comment:

Amy said...

What cute kitties - I love the photo of the one sitting in a bowl! Cats are so fun.