I don’t like conflict. I take the words “Blessed are the peacemakers” seriously. I say this as a prelude to my description of what has been a prolonged conflict on our farm. Some farm owners might not have been bothered by what I am about to describe, but I was, and I am so relieved that I think I finally figured out how to fix it.
It’s our two cats, Junior and Simba. They don’t like each other.
In one of my earliest blogs, Note to Self: Next Time Wear Gloves, I compared Simba, our aging cat, to Al Pacino due to his sometimes-friendly, sometimes-sinister, but always-unpredictable personality. At that time, he was a barn-mate to Sherlock, our always-friendly-to-all-God’s-creatures “Tom Hanks” cat. They were roughly the same age and had been together since their youth, with Sherlock arriving at our farm first. When Simba arrived a short time later, Sherlock welcomed him with open arms – or paws, as it were. At any rate, they were amicable companions for almost a dozen years.
After Sherlock passed on in 2019, we then got our youngster, Junior, whose arrival to our farm was portrayed in one of my summer blogs, Meet Junior! I felt that Jim Carrey’s spastic, goofy, in-your-face, over-the-top personality best described Junior.
Simba was not amused by Junior’s antics. (Try to imagine an aging Michael Corleone sharing a taxi with Ace Ventura.)
After the first howling, hissing, fur-flying tussle, the result of which is visible in the photo above, I decided to keep the cats separated. Simba would continue to have access to the outside with the stalls for shelter as he always had, and Junior would be kept inside of our barn. Separate beds, separate litter boxes, separate food and water. Both areas would be kept mouse-free. (Junior as it turned out, was an excellent mouser, although he “played” them to death. Jim Carrey again.)
I congratulated myself on my simple, yet elegant solution.
That is, until Junior began escaping from the barn. Every time someone opened the barn door, Junior slipped through too quickly to stop him. Then, because he had been cooped up inside (what is actually a very large barn) against his will, he eluded re-capture. Danny and I were both concerned that if we continued to try to hold him inside day and night, he would eventually leave our farm and perhaps never return.
We needed another plan.
So, I decided to keep Junior in the barn only at night, and allow him free roam of the farmyard during the day. Junior could then hunt for mice outside as well as inside since Simba’s hunting abilities appeared to have diminished with age. This newly-revised plan again seemed perfect.
Until a new problem appeared.
It became apparent that Junior – as does every youngster it seems – craved the forbidden fruit. Upon his release from the interior of the barn, he immediately hopped onto the bales in the stall – Simba’s domain – and ate out of Simba’s food dish which inevitably led to another howling, hissing, fur-flying tussle.
So, during the day, while Junior was outside, I brought his own food dish outside as well, and placed it beside Simba’s food dish. Sherlock and Simba had always eaten out of separate bowls, side by side, with never a hiss between them. Two food dishes, no reason to fight, right?
I hated their fights, but I was baffled as to how to stop them. I needed to identify the root cause of their hostilities. I believe that virtually all conflicts, of both animals and humans, stem from an inherent need for power. Power insures control. Control insures adequate territory. Adequate territory provides food and mates. Food and mates insure survival of the individual and the species.
Since both of our cats were neutered males and there are no females nearby, I eliminated mates as a cause of the conflict.
That left food. I still believed that the root cause of their issues somehow stemmed from food. I came up with another idea.
I needed to keep both food dishes inside the stall with the bales so that my horses could not access them, but what if I separated the dishes? I kept Simba’s dish on top of the bale stack along the north wall where it had always been, but moved Junior’s food dish onto the floor along the south wall. This put as much distance between the dishes as possible while still keeping them both inside the stall.
Bingo! There hasn’t been evidence of a single fight since then.
Now Junior, after being outside all day, readily enters the barn at night. And Simba tolerates Junior inside his stall during the day as long as Junior’s food dish is far from his own. I once again have a serene, peaceful farmyard.
It only took me six months to figure it out.
Now…if someone could only figure out how to stop the cat fights in our nation’s capital.
(Our very first cat, Jack, was a beloved family member for fourteen years. You can read about him in the May chapter of The Return to the Family Farm.)
Next Week: A Stitch in Time