Monday, June 30, 2008

Snoopy Was A Good Barn Cat

Snoopy Was A Good Barn Cat

I have acquired an uninvited cat at my house. I’d seen it a couple of time wandering around the farm and decided to ignore it and expected it to go away. That was until one night after dinner and I’d settled down to watch some TV before going to bed, I heard a “meow” coming from my front porch. I looked out the window and there it was. Front paws on the windowsill, it stood on its hind legs trying to see inside I guessed. ‘Meow!” clearly translated, “Please feed me.”

I did.

It’s still here.

Turns out this ugly, yellow, and white cat is very friendly. Most bizarre is Ugly and my Jack Russell Terrier, Barnie, seem rather fond of each other. Of course Barnie is on his lease whenever they are together, but they do a lot of sniffing and the cat rubs Barnie’s face and Barnie wags his tail and all seems to be very amiable.

Ugly has already proven herself as a huntress. She has caught at least one mouse, some creature that by the time I saw it I couldn’t identify, and a squirrel. If I had a barn Ugly would be welcome as a barn cat.

Having a cat around for the first time in about fifteen years brings back memories of other cats that earned their keep as barn cats. One in particular was named Snoopy.

Barn cats are survivors and my Snoopy was no exception. The very fact that she reached adulthood among stomping hooves, farm machinery, and various predators proved it. And furthermore she was the sole survivor of a five-kitten litter. Admittedly, I didn't do a lot for my barn cat, except feed her down in the hay barn and make sure when the vet came to vaccinate the horses that she got her shots.

The hay barn was her haven. She could squeeze in and out of a crack in the bottom of the door, which made it inaccessible to anything bigger than her. The steps to the loft offered an additional fortress. Mama Snoopy made her stand on the third step, snarling and swatting at whatever pest came in reach, including kittens she was ready to wean.

Snoopy was small and black, genetic qualities she passed on to her offspring. She seemed to like me and most other folks. She even tolerated my two-year-old granddaughter, who always wanted to pick her up--by the neck. But Snoopy hated dogs and sent them yelping home for help! The neighbors' Irish Setter didn't dare enter the barn yard he had been humiliated by Snoopy so many times. He just sorta slinked by the driveway, peeking toward the barn to make sure he could safely make his way down the road without being attacked.

Whenever I was tempted to list cat food as a rodent-control expense in my books, a late night visit to the barn would reveal that the rodents were alive and well. Snoopy seemed to have more of a taste for birds than rats. The telltale pile of feathers I often found on the floor attested to that. Occasionally I would find a dead, but uneaten mole at the feed room door, they must have smelled funny to her. And I do suppose she killed some mice; it's just that their population was too much for one cat to control.

Nevertheless, she was a talented huntress and protector. Birds, moles and mice were not her only prey. I once watched in fascination for an hour while she killed a snake. I could tell it wasn’t poisonous, but Snoopy took no chances. Either way, it was a threat to her kittens. She cunningly timed her strikes exactly, always dodging the snake's fangs. Over and over again she did that until finally, she weakened the reptile enough to come in for the kill. She chewed off its head and left the snake lying dead, then went back to her kittens.

I suppose, though, my barn cat's real usefulness lied in the companionship she shared with me on especially lonely or cold days. Then I welcomed her warmth as she sat on my lap, purring. Also Snoopy's consistency managed to lend some order to an otherwise disorderly world. She was always there. She would greet the car when I drove into the barnyard and followed me to the feed room, meowing persistently that I feed her FIRST. She got under my feet, nearly tripping me while I did my chores. She followed me into my office and sat on my desk while I did the books. And eventually she would sit on the book, as if to say she deserved my undivided attention. Many times I had to shoo her out and shut the door before I could get any paperwork done.

Useful or not, I guess Snoopy just sort of fit into the atmosphere of my barn; things were never the same without her. Snoopy died of old age. A miracle considering what a gutsy outdoors cat she was. Next a black and white tomcat named Sylvester guarded my barn. He didn't have as much character as Snoopy. It could be I didn’t really try to get to know him. He did catch mice, presented them to me like he wanted to win my approval. Finally we became friends, too.

But Ugly is not going to win me over. I don’t have a place for another animal here. I don’t have a barn, just a garage. If she wants to hang out around here she is on her own. All she’s getting from me is food, well; I guess I have to get her shots and wormer. And get her spayed (or neutered, I am not really sure about her gender.) But, she’s not coming in the house. I draw the line at that. Well, maybe just if it gets really cold this winter.

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