Stand-Off

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? 

Wrong.

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

An Update on Junior

Remember Junior, the newest member of our farm family?  Sherlock, Jr. to be exact.  A couple of months ago, I described in a blog how two of my granddaughters selected our newest barn cat at our local Humane Society. 

Junior was an instant hit with every adult and child who met him.  He was super-playful, super-friendly, and super-cute.  I had a really good feeling about this cat.  However, at the time, I wrote that “the jury is still out” on how he did his job – namely, keeping our barn clean of unwanted pests.  More on that later.

During the past two months, I have gotten to know Junior pretty well and I can honestly say that his personality is different from that of every other cat we have ever owned.  For one thing, he is quite vocal and talks to me constantly.  As if he were carrying on a conversation.  And if I respond to his mews in “human-speak” he continues conversing indefinitely.

His meows have very different intonations. For example, his “meowwww” sounds rather whiny when waiting to be fed, his “meow?” sounds very curious as he follows me while doing chores, and his “meow, meow, meow!” sounds very excited as I call him to the barn for a treat.

Another difference is that he is the first cat that we have ever owned who licks my hand incessantly.  As I walk past him, he will grab at my hand just so that he can lick it.  When I pet him, he will quickly twist his body around so he can lick my finger.  I haven’t quite decided whether this is a complement or an insult.  Is he licking me because he loves me or because he thinks I’m too filthy to pet him?

In spite of Junior being a full-grown cat, possibly as old as two according to our vet, he is kittenishly playful.  He will leap high into the air to knock down a flitting butterfly, then race through the corral at top speed, only to end up high in the branches of the elm tree next to the barn.  All because he can.

Incidentally, I have removed the bird feeder I had hanging from that tree in my pre-Junior days.  Come winter, I will hang it in a different tree out of Junior’s territory.  I don’t want my beautiful songbirds to succumb to the same fate as the low-flying butterfly.

I held my breath the first time Junior leaped into the rabbit pen.  But it turned out, Junior was not aggressive, and the rabbits were not afraid.  Instead, they were both very curious.

Junior loves our dogs, but the feeling is not equally reciprocated.  One day, I saw Junior playfully bat at Russell’s face in order to get his attention.  Russell flinched, eyed Junior for a second, then turned and walked away.  Evidently, Junior’s bold attempt at friendship was a bit too forward for our meek, aging lab.  Russell now simply avoids Junior whenever possible.

The only times I have needed to scold Junior is when he has gotten into mischief in my garden.  He leaps onto my garden plants, pursuing a buzzing beetle, or – gasp! – one of my garden toads.  In doing so, he crushes the leaves of my cucumber plants, flattens my schwartzbeeren plants (described in my last blog – What the Heck is Schwartzbeeren?) and tears my garden netting.  I have found that the most effective deterrent is a quick spray from my garden hose.

He is slowly getting the message.

In another one of my earlier blogs I likened our cats’ personalities to male actors that we all know and love.  Badass Jack was our Clint Eastwood cat.  Likeable Sherlock, Sr. was our Tom Hanks cat.  And unpredictable Simba is our Al Pacino cat. 

Without a doubt, Junior is our Jim Carrey cat.

As for Junior’s job performance, a verdict has now been reached.  Junior is a keeper.  Since his arrival in our barn, I have found one dead lizard and one dead snake, but absolutely no evidence of a single mouse.  Not one mouse turd.  Not one nest.

Evidently, the mice just aren’t into comedy.

(Autographed copies of all three of my books are now available on my website through Kansas Originals.

Next Week:  Bracing Up

Meet Junior!

Two weeks ago, my blog took on a very somber tone when I described BJ’s bout with colic.  At the end of the blog, I listed the ages of our farm animals and stated that, with aging pets, loss is an inevitable reality. 

Mere days after I wrote that blog, Danny and I said goodbye to Sherlock, our gray tabby, in our vet’s office.

We knew his health had been failing, and the day before we took him in, I saw evidence that his condition was deteriorating very rapidly.  Plus, I suspected that he was possibly in pain.  We waited a day to see if he would recover, and when he did not, we took him to our vet to euthanize.  We know we did the right thing, and we will miss him, but we will treasure our amazing memories of Sherlock, our “Tom Hanks” cat.

Danny and I both agreed that we needed another cat.  The perfect opportunity arose when two of our granddaughters, cousins to each other, visited our farm recently.  I first took them shopping at Orscheln (my favorite store!) where I bought them each a pair of boots (one can hardly visit a farm without proper boots!), then it was on to the Humane Society to shop for a new cat.

Unfortunately, there were far too many from which to choose.  As much as I wanted another cat, nothing would have pleased me more than to have them tell me, “Oh, so sorry! All of our cats have already been adopted!”  That wasn’t the case.

I told the girls that I didn’t want a newly-weaned kitten.  Instead, I wanted a youthful cat, but one old enough and smart enough to protect itself against wild animals should it wander into our pastures.

As we strolled down the aisle, looking into each cage, both girls were immediately intrigued by the same cat – a butterscotch yellow tabby with white socks.  He was keenly aware of us, and appeared quite playful as he stuck his paw through the cage door.

“I want this one!” they both exclaimed.

I too, thought he was not only very pretty, but his personality seemed quite friendly and playful. 

“Let me see what his name is,” I told them as I flipped over the card on his cage.

“Sherlock?!! Are you kidding me?!” I exclaimed.

There was another woman in the room with her daughter, also looking at the cats.  She stared at me with obvious confusion at my reaction to his name.

I quickly explained.  “We just recently lost a cat.  His name was Sherlock.”  She smiled and nodded in understanding.

I turned to my granddaughters.  “Girls, I think it was meant to be.”

When Danny met him, he too fell in love with our newest family member, but hesitated at calling him “Sherlock”.  I agreed.  Somehow, we both felt that our other Sherlock, the one we buried, deserved that identity.  Yet fathers and sons were given the same name all the time.  How did they avoid confusion?

“Let’s call him Junior!” I told Danny.

So, what kind of a cat will Junior be?  This much I know:  he is playful,

loves people, and the dogs, but is cautious around the horses.  (That’s a good thing.  I don’t want him stomped on.)

He has also shied away from Simba.  (Who doesn’t?!)

As far as being a mouser, the jury is still out.  He caught this mouse, played with it awhile…

…and then let it go.

Sigh.

(We met Sherlock Sr. in the May chapter of my third book, The Return to the Family Farm)

Next Week: Hay there!

Note to Self: Next Time, Wear Gloves

Do you know what is the shortest measurable time period known to humans?  Are you thinking millisecond?  Nanosecond?   Nope, you’d be wrong.  It’s the length of time needed for a contentedly purring feline to transform into a hissing hellcat that scratches your hand. 

The photo you see below is a photo of my hand after an encounter with Simba, one of our two barn cats.  Before I describe the encounter, let me give you a little background on my experiences with cats.

Remember the movie 101 Dalmations with dogs running and leaping, coming out of every nook and cranny? Well, if you replaced each one of those cute, furry, spotted puppies with a mostly feral, shaggy, yellow tabby cat, that is what our barn looked like when I was growing up in the Sixties.  Back then, we didn’t bother with spaying, neutering or vaccinating barn cats.  If Frontline or Heartgard existed back then, we certainly didn’t know about it, and wouldn’t have spent money on it if we had.

Our multitude of farm cats lived wild, lived free, and – in return for shelter and a daily feeding – they kept our many farm buildings clear of mice, rats, and other undesirables. 

But let me make this very clear – they were not friendly, and they were not pets.  If we kids discovered, hidden among the hay bales, a new batch of kittens before their eyes were opened (and if the mother were not around!) we could hold and cuddle them.  But once their eyes were opened and the kittens were mobile, they hissed, bit, and scratched just like their elders.

I loved our dogs; I tolerated our cats.

And then…Jack entered our lives. 

Jack, ironically enough, was also a yellow tabby.  I talked Danny into getting a cat in 1991 after we moved into a new house in town directly off a golf course.  Rodents coming off the course were a real nuisance and I knew the right cat could take care of that problem.  Jack was more than I could have ever hoped for.  Not only did he take care of our home and property, he taught me that cats could be just as lovable as dogs – but with a personality entirely unique to cats.

Jack was a badass.  And I say that with the utmost admiration.  A Clint Eastwood type of badass – cool as a cucumber, quiet, calculating, and he always got his man.  Yet, just like Clint, he sometimes displayed evidence of a softer side that could almost be described as sweet.

One summer day, my niece stopped by our house with Tuffy, their family dog.  A cockapoo, Tuffy was sweet-tempered, smart as a whip, but evidently, inappropriately named.   While my niece and I were chatting on our driveway, Tuffy began barking furiously as Jack crossed the driveway towards us.  Tuffy approached Jack and began circling him, barking constantly.  Jack ignored Tuffy as he nonchalantly strolled ever closer to us.  Tuffy was now emboldened.   His circles grew smaller, and his barking grew ever more ferocious until Jack stopped, only a few feet away from us.  Tuffy was now barking within inches of Jack’s face.  Jack’s eyes narrowed to slits, and then…

Remember that time period I mentioned in the first paragraph?  Like greased lightning, Jack swiped his paw across Tuffy’s face.  Tuffy let out a yip! thenleaped vertically into my niece’s arms!  Even LeBron would have been impressed with Tuffy’s vertical leap.  Luckily, my niece’s reflexes were also cat-like, and she caught Tuffy before he fell back onto the driveway.  Tuffy stayed in my niece’s arms for the rest of the visit. 

Meanwhile, Jack casually continued his jaunt across the driveway into the sunset, tail held high.  Badass.

Unfortunately, Jack died of old age before we ever moved to the farm.  As soon as we got our barn built, Danny and I both agreed we needed another cat.

Enter Sherlock.  A gray tabby, I got Sherlock from the Humane Society where he had been appropriately vaccinated and neutered, 21st century-style.  Sherlock, we soon discovered, was more affectionate and sensitive than Jack had been, turning out to be more of a Tom Hanks kind of cat.  He loves adults, leaping with no warning into any suitable, available lap.  He loves kids, even those who squeeze a bit too tight, or love a bit too much.  He even loves our other farm animals, and is often seen rubbing against the horse’s legs and snuggling with our dogs.

Unfortunately, Tom Hanks isn’t really known for always getting his man.  When I witnessed Sherlock sitting quietly, detachedly observing as a mouse ran between his legs, (Yes!  Between his legs!) I realized that we really needed someone more like Clint back at the ranch.

Instead we got Simba.  A once-feral cat, Simba came to me via our vet, who had planned to take him to his own farm rather than euthanize him.  Also appropriately vaccinated and neutered, Simba is smarter than the inbred cats from my childhood, more ruthless and unpredictable than Jack had been, and more of a hunter than Sherlock.  But the line between good and evil is sometimes blurred with Simba.  He is definitely more the Al Pacino type.

Simba, Danny and I have reached a mutual, legally-binding agreement.  He shall catch unwanted mice, and in return we shall feed him and provide shelter.  He shall not, however, be expected to offer any snippets of affection.  If any human and/or feline interaction is desired, we shall each be referred to Sherlock (who loves everyone). 

This works really well for about eleven months out of the year.  The problem is, Simba has long hair.  He is beautiful in winter, and I can’t help but admire him (from a safe distance).  But in spring, when he starts to shed, his coat gets these gigantic clumps and he simply can’t manage his own grooming.  The poor cat looks miserable.

So, for the past few years, I have started grooming him in the spring.  Believe me when I tell you, I did this very carefully at first.  But then I realized that he kind of likes it!  That is, until he doesn’t. 

And there you have it.  Now you understand the genesis of my hand scratches.  I know it doesn’t look much.  But it stung – my feelings more than anything, I guess.

I think I need a snuggle with Tom Hanks.

(Oh, I have more “Jack” and “Sherlock” stories! Read the May chapter in my third book, The Return to the Family Farm.)

Next Week:  No Humor Today