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Sun April 20, 2014
The barn kitten version of the city mouse and the country mouse
Remember the childhood story about the country mouse and the city mouse? I loved to read that book as a little girl. Why it appealed to me, I don’t know. However, since late this summer my daughters and I have had the opportunity see observe the differences between country cats and town cats.
We always had a house cat, but when we moved to the country we learned a hard lesson. Spoiled house cats should never go outdoors, or they filled a passing predator’s belly. After we experienced such a loss, we didn’t let our newly acquired pet roam the countryside.
Our cat has charms, but he’s a spoiled kitty with dull wits, as are most house cats. Sure, they worry when dinner is served, but it isn’t like a country cat that constantly scans for predators on the ground and in the air.
During this past summer we studied our neighbor’s barn kitty. Unlike many such creatures, this one likes humans as long as they meet her on her terms. When we first introduced ourselves, she was days away from birthing five mewling kittens. Eager for affection, she let us pet her and bring her little treats. But always, always, she watched and listened
After the birth of her babies, her vigilance increased. Though glad to see us, she didn’t want us messing with her offspring. When we accidentally discovered their nest in a hay stack, momma moved each and every one to a new location. Once again, she welcomed our visits but made it clear she didn’t want humans involved with her kittens.
Every time we visited, we brought treats, something her owner approved. Hearing us arrive, she guardedly crept out to see us, greeting us with purrs and ankle rubbing. However, the entire time we stroked her soft fur, she watched the sky for hawks and owls, racing away at any strange noise or movement.
We eventually discovered she moved her offspring into an old barrel tucked into the recesses of the barn. Curious, we peered into this barrel with a flashlight. I don’t know what her criteria was for picking a hiding place, but this was a good one. The little guys couldn’t crawl away to get in trouble, and the barrel was mined. Yes, mined. Mud dauber nests lined the insides. No intelligent human or anything else would reach down into that barrel to touch one of her babies. How she got each one into the barrel without injuring herself or the kitten I don’t know.
I worried the insects would sting her or the kittens, but I never saw evidence of that. What I worried about next was how this scrawny, little momma cat, who never fattened up no matter how many goodies her owner and my girls brought her, would get her babies out when they fattened and grew.
I shouldn’t have worried because when it was time, she had those babies out of the barrel and tucked between hay bales. We could hear their squeaky mewlings, but we couldn’t see them nor could any other creature, hoping to find an easy meal.
Momma continued developing her friendship with the girls and me. She learned to recognize our engine, and she would come cautiously running when she heard us approach the barn.
Eventually, she let us see her kittens. Respectfully, we looked and complimented her on her fine job of producing beautiful offspring. By then their eyes were open and they wobbled comically about their limited world. Watchfully, she made sure they didn’t wander too far. Two of the babies looked like her, two were little calicoes, and one was a midnight midget.
Always cautious, she hurried them away at any unusual sound or movement. In my mind, I compared her to our cat, that didn’t worry even when his head was inside our large dog’s mouth--something that should have concerned him greatly. This little country cat had survived and kept her kittens alive because of her wariness.
We found frequent evidence of her own predatory nature littering the barn floor. A piece of bunny fur here and a blue jay feather there told stories of creatures that got a bit too comfortable.
We enjoyed and learned from that wise little barn cat. She wanted the same thing every momma wants--for her children to be well cared for and safe.