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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Courting the Barn Cat

The pretty wild kitty.

O.C. and Syd in the stable.
I've gone back to grooming Drifter once a week as I rebuild the strength needed to get back in the saddle, but truth be told, I think I've spent nearly as much time grooming the barn cat as I've spent on Drifter! I'm trying to win her over, you see, and that takes time.

O.C. is one very attractive kitty, with a long, soft coat and an amazing pair of luminous green eyes. She's not what you think of when you think "barn cat." But she was born to a feral mother and has been virtually wild since she was a kitten, so she's happiest in and around the stable, keeping vermin at bay. She's extremely skittish, wary of the slightest noise, alert to the littlest movement, and does not trust people. That isn't to say she doesn't like people; it's just that if you startle her (and she startles easily), she's going to object with her teeth and her claws before making a run for it!

Snoozing on horse blankets.
Naturally, this interest in people and petting coupled with her extreme skittishness intrigues me and makes me want to win her over. I haven't had any cats in my life since the Ancient Kitty passed away last year, so I was feeling ready to make a new cat friend. I may prefer dogs over cats, but that doesn't mean I'll pass up an opportunity to pet one. And O.C. has heavenly, soft-as-a-cloud fur.

O.C. looks very silly with her leg stuck up in the air.
It was her fur, in fact, that brought us together in recent weeks. It just so happens that I not only like to pet animals, I also like to groom them, especially when it comes to working matted and shed fur out of an animal's coat. I find it deeply satisfying and animals tend to like it, too. So when I noticed that O.C. had several large mats in the long fur behind her head, I had to have a go at them! She will jump up on a lap readily enough, but I was concerned that the inevitable pulling on her fur that would occur when I started working the mats out would provoke a painful response. I therefore went to work rather gingerly, but she made it quite clear that she loved what I was doing! I think the mats had gotten to the point that they were causing her some discomfort and she seemed to understand what I was about. She purred and purred as I worked the matted fur free, pushing her head into my hands, begging for more.

O.C. is now sporting a shorn spot on the back of her head.
I was able to get most of the mats out with my fingers, but there was a particularly large and stubborn one that could only be removed with scissors. I hated to evict O.C. from my lap, knowing that there was a good chance this would constitute a criminal attack in her eyes and she wouldn't let me come near her again, but off she went, much to her displeasure. It did take some time to persuade her to come back for further ministrations and for some reason when she DID get back up on my lap, she decided that my left hand was not to be trusted. It is rather difficult to snip mats out of the fur of a cat using only one hand, but every time I moved my left hand, she'd try to bite it. It was protected by the sleeve of my winter coat, so no harm was done, and she only managed to sink her teeth into me once. The stable owner told me that they'd given up on trying to cut her mats out because she so frequently drew blood, so I was quite pleased to learn that I'd been able to provide this service to O.C. with minimal acrimony and bloodshed! I don't mind when she tries to bite or scratch me because I know she's just scared and doesn't know what else to do.

O.C. on the alert!
So each time that I've come to groom Drifter since, O.C. has been around and I've immediately sat down and invited her up for a little bit of petting. I work out any mats that are starting to form, massage her ears and her skull, tickle her under her chin, and give all manner of physical affection around the head. She's made it clear to me that I am not to run my hand along the length of her body (that's how I got bitten), touch her anywhere other than the head, or make any sudden moves, but if I abide by those rules, she wants nothing more than to snuggle.

The contented kitty.
When I came by the stable yesterday to groom Drifter, we followed our usual pattern. She meowed when she saw me and jumped up on my lap as soon as I sat down on the bench. I separated some hairs on the back of her neck that were starting to get matted and then gave her lots and lots of petting. She was purring so fiercely that she began to drool, which made me laugh. Benny, the Ancient Kitty, would do the same thing when he was happy. It made me glad to know that O.C. was enjoying my caresses to such an extent! At length, I decided that since I was here to look after a horse, I ought to get to it, and dislodged O.C. from my lap. She stayed nearby, however, curling up to snooze in my coat when I took it off, but what really made me happy was that when I was bending down to clean Drifter's hooves, with my hands near the ground, O.C. came over and tried to persuade me to pet her some more. She actually trilled! I suspect that O.C. has not trilled for many human beings, so I felt very honored. When I was finished with Drifter, I sat back down on the bench and O.C. immediately got back in my lap, butting her head against me, purring and drooling, snuggling her little face into the crook of my elbow, licking my jeans, and even, at one point, playing with the strings of my hooded sweatshirt.

O.C. watches a flurry of falling snow through the open barn door.

And so I sat on the bench in the chilly stable, listening to the sound of steady rain falling on the metal roof, the vibration of O.C.'s purr traveling up through my hands, marveling at her warm but virtually weightless presence on my lap. I could see Bear's steaming breath wreathing his head as he stood at his stall door, pondering the rain that fell beyond, and hear the quiet but solid noises of the horses shifting their bulk from hoof to hoof as they dozed away the afternoon. The air was full of the sweet perfume of the hay stored in the room behind my bench and my skin and clothing were imbued with the scent of horse. As O.C. writhed in my lap, seeming to ache with an urgency to get as much pleasure from my touch as she possibly could, my soul broke free and my being opened to a sense of peace.

Evil kitty ears.
After half an hour of this quiet meditation through interspecies physical connection, I decided, rather reluctantly, that I ought to go before my blood sugar dropped or I got too tired to drive. I began the delicate process of trying to persuade O.C. to leave my lap. She did not wish to do so, and when I incautiously moved my hand to give her the classic feline eviction nudge, she perceived it as an attack and responded in kind, drawing blood on the back of my hand with her claws. I was sorry that our wonderful session had to end with blood and misunderstanding, but was glad when O.C. immediately began to clamor for my attention. I do not know cat vocalizations and body language as well as I know the language of dogs, but I am pretty sure she was pleading for a return to my lap and more petting and was quite sorry to see me go!

O.C. has the most beautiful green eyes with glittering gold undertones.

And so I am happy. Altruistic joy has a particular keen-edged sweetness. I felt it very strongly during the Ancient Kitty's final years, when he was old and greasy and bony and my pleasure in touching him had to come from knowing that my doing so made him happy. I'm feeling that again with O.C. I don't need to own her or coo over her or tame her of all her wild ways. I just want her to know that I wish her no harm, that I will happily untangle her fur, and that I only seek to give her pleasure with my touch. It is immensely gratifying to me to that her trill, her head butts, and her drooling purr all would indicate that O.C. has come to understand my intentions and is, in my hands, knowing joy.


  1. I am a cat person through and through and I adore barn cats! You are lucky to have the trust of such a sweet kitty.....

  2. You brought tears to my eyes! O such lovely sharing and the joining of joys. Fur can be bliss to the human fingers and it is wonderful to fell it living and appreciating our touch as
    we are pleasured, too. Thank you!

  3. Gorgeous - looks like a Norwegian Forest Cat. Sorry about the loss of your beloved Ancient Kitty - I have an Ancient Kitty myself and I treasure every day with him.

  4. Wonderful story and photos! We have a barn cat at the farm where I work who came to us feral. We gained his trust over the years and now he's a friendly, spoiled barn kitty. He's still a little wary of strangers, men especially, and still isn't too fond of being picked up, but otherwise you'd never know he was feral. Plus he's a great mouser :)