Monday, May 28, 2012

Barn Kittens

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 have always had a house cat, but since we moved to the country we have learned a hard lesson.  Spoiled house cats should never go outdoors, or they become some passing predator’s dinner.  Since we learned that lesson, we no longer let our newly acquired house cat out to roam the country side.

Our cat has his own charms, but because he is a spoiled house kitty, he has dull wits, as is the case with most town cats.  Sure, they have to worry about crossing the street and watching for “Brutus,” the neighboring pit bull, but it isn’t like being a country cat that constantly must be alert for predators on the ground and in the air.

During this past summer we got study our neighbor’s barn kitty.  Unlike many barn cats, this one likes humans as long as they meet her on her own terms.  When we first met her, 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.  Never did she give in 100% to the pleasure of a good scratching.

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, this momma moved each and every one of her babies to a new spot.  Once again, she welcomed our visits but made it clear she didn’t want these humans involved with her kittens.

Every time we came bearing little treats, something her owner said was fine, she guardedly crept out to see us.  As usual, she greeted us with purrs and ankle rubbing, but the whole time we waited there, she watched the sky overhead for hawks and owls and jumped to run at any strange noise or movement on the ground.  What an alert little momma!

We eventually learned she had moved those five kittens into an old barrel hidden in the recesses of the barn.  Bravely, we took our flashlight and peered into this barrel.  I don’t know what her criteria was for picking a hiding place for her little family, but this was a good one.  The little guys couldn’t crawl away and get in trouble, and the barrel was mined.  Yes, mined.  Mud dauber nests lined the barrel.  No intelligent human or anything else would reach down into that barrel to touch one of her babies.  How she got each baby into the barrel without injuring herself or the kitten I don’t know.

I worried that 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 didn’t fatten 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 away in the crevices between hay bales.  We could hear their squeaky mewings, 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 voices or our engine, and she would come cautiously running as 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 five beautiful babies.  By now 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.  The midget was half the size of the other kittens, and we worried about that one.

While the other kittens grew larger and braver, the tiny one stayed close to the nest.  For a while we hoped it would make it, but nature deals roughly with the weak and eventually that baby disappeared.  Of course, we missed it, but by then momma let us gently pet her remaining babies.

Always cautious, she hurried them away at any unusual sound or movement.  In my mind, I compared her to our cat, who doesn’t worry even when his head is inside our large dog’s mouth--something that should concern him greatly.   This little country cat had lived this long 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 their own stories of creatures that got a bit too comfortable.
Whatever happens to the wise little barn cat, we have enjoyed her and learned from her.  She wants the same thing every momma wants--for her children to be safe.

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