October is an unusual month, the turn of summer into winter, the sun getting lower now, a little weaker. And it ends with All Souls night. On the 31st of October 2016 a little black kitten showed up and moved in. Several times in the preceeding days i thought i had seen a dark shape duck back into the tall pasture grass along the road just catching movement out of the corner of my eyes figuring it was an unusualy dark mongoose. During the seven years we have been here many feral cats of all descriptions had come and gone with the surging tides of field mice and tree rats but none had shown any inclination to stay. During the previous summer while i was away an extended perod my partner had succumbed to the lure and adopted two once male kittens from a friend. These had grown, from mad tumbling chases around the upstairs to brave exploratory tree climbing, and following us further and further from the known territory of the barn where we live.
Our new visitor was not much bigger than my fist and was quickly named “Little”. Feral, shy and reclusive it could be found sleeping up in the joists above the foundation, the only one of the cats small enough to fit in that space. It seemed determined to stay from the start, taking quickly to the meals of kibble and occasional scraps. Apparently too young to hunt, it was a wonder how it survived before. We had a cloth mouse toy on a string left over from the twins so i dragged it across in front of Little until it became interested, seeing that i was trying to play, jumped on it and batted it around. i eventually tied it to a small branch of a tree so that it jumped around in the South Point breeze. Little jumped and jumped to get it over and over. The next day i saw the first live mouse in her jaws, but it was quickly taken away while she was playing with it and eaten by a bigger “brother” who knew exactly what to do. That was the last time. With the next one i heard loud growls and saw Little run off with the treasure. A row of nipples became apparent and it was clear Little was female. Never once did she allow me to get within arms reach, though once every few days i could get one pet in when she was feeding. Usually she just moved off if i even looked in her direction.
Little grew slowly. but one day i noticed she was getting a belly and remarked that she was getting fat. Later in the day my partner gave a look and said that’s not fat, she is going to have kittens. Oh so young. Periodically i had seen a neighbor’s stocky long haired siamese skulking around and heard the yowls from the usually silent twins, or seen the interloper chasing them around so figured maybe he was the lucky one. She grew bigger and bigger, then one day disappeared. When she showed up to feed in the evening quickly disappeared again, not staying to play. Several days later i watched her climb up to a joist space above the shop. After several days of seeing her go there i checked while she was feeding and low and behold there were a bunch of furry lumps back in a place very difficult to see. Over several days i tried to get a better look without much success. I got a drop light, tried the flash on the cell camera. Nada. Several times when she finished eating quickly she found me trying to get a peek back into her place, never challenging me just climbing back up in there and getting comfortable. A few weeks later i checked and they were gone, but then saw her back behind some scrap lumber on the ground. They musta started moving around and could easily tumble out of the joist space, so she moved them. A week later they were climbing around the top of the 5′ stone foundation wall. Three all black, two with long hair so they looked like baby bears, and one solid grey. The next week they were walking along the top of the wall, and bravely learned to scramble up and down to the ground. They ran and chased and tumbled over each other for an hour then slept for three. The next week they were trying to follow Little up a tree managing only a coupla feet. More fun than a barrel of monkeys, always something. But… What were we going to do with 7 seven cats? Reality set in. In a few months there might be a dozen, might be two dozen. Yikes!
A friend pointed us in the direction of the spay and neuter folks that come around every so often, and a date was set a month away. I could only hope that Little wouldn’t come into heat again before then, and the siamese wouldn’t come a calling. By then i would find all five twenty feet up in the christmas berry tree on the small branches near the top. The cages showed up and the towels for covers. The day approached. Then all too soon the day was here. And it fell to me to get them into the cages the night before. The whole thing left me out of sorts but i plowed ahead. Two of the new kittens were easy, i just picked them up gently and put them in their cages. Little fell for the trick of putting her dish into the cage, i watched her go in, then closed the cage. The third kitten fell for the same trick. This was going to be easy. The forth one had watched closely and would not go for the food in the cage, but i picked it up, place it in the cage, and went to close the door. The door jammed open just enough that the kitten shot out on the run. Now what? He kept his distance. He knew what i had in mind. He’d seen everything and got it. I racked my brain. Outsmarted by a kitten. Time was getting short. Aha! I got the fish landing net on the long pole. A couple misses, and he figured out the range staying just out of reach. I set the pole net down to refigure. Time was fast approaching for the appointment. Looking around for the kitten, now named “Speedo”, i found him batting at the fishnet, rubbing it in. I grabbed the pole and set the net ahead of him running away. He dodged it. A coupla more tries and i gave up, it was time to load em up and head em out. Last of the mighty hunters alright.
Later, going to pick them up, all four were hurting, scared and alone in covered individual cages, after being such a happy little family such a short time ago, that very morning. Two kittens went to one friend, the other to another. We drove back to the farm and left Little in the cage overnight as instructed. In the morning Speedo was waiting for me at the bottom of the steps, as if to say “See, no hard feelings, that was yesterday.” I let Little out and they got together immediately. But Little continued to call the others. She had lost three of the four and she knew it. Thankfully Speedo had escaped. He hadn’t been fixed when he wasn’t broken. The way it was meant to be.
Though the play fighting is getting more intense, Little and Speedo have been together almost every minute of every day since. And we have all been better for it. Reports are that all three of the other kittens are well loved and have become people cats, jumping on the couch, and getting petted.
It’s Halloween again and this year it is Speedo who is out in the light of the coming moon.
3 Replies to “Halloween visitor”
A black cat story for Halloween! Thanks for sharing it, Richard. I love your story of being outwitted by a very small kitten. Those moments are so good for us humans with our pretensions to being a species apart.
Just last week I was gently chided by another rancher for attributing (human) feelings to other animals, in this case stress at living life in a cage. As if we humans invented feelings. As if we didn’t inherit emotion and sentience from a long line of feeling primates, mammals, and all critter-dom. I wouldn’t doubt that even bacteria get stressed by being hemmed in!
Lowell Cattlett, the former Dean of the College of Agriculture at NMSU, says: “You can’t have healthy humans if they don’t have contact with animals and plants.” And I think his observation is 100% correct, and much under-appreciated. We need them to remind us of who we actually are, of how we are part of a larger whole, and that we are not just the voices in our heads and the mirages we create.
As you say: “And we have all been better for it.”
This story brought a big smile. I’m going to get my cat-crazy kids – just kittens themselves in my eyes – to read it in the morning. Thanks for sharing!
Lovely story. Thank you Richard. We have adopted barn cats many times. Our cats live both indoors and out. We currently have a black cat we adopted from neighbors that had a similar experience to you. A cat wander in, had kittens, and after awhile they realized they would need to neuter them or be overrun. Ferrel cats can be a big problem for song birds. Our cat is a very avid hunter and catches moles, mice, chipmunks, and birds. I have to put a screen beneath my bird feeder or he will jump up and catch them while they eat. It’s like a drive-up restaurant for him!
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