New Cat on the Ranch
An email journal about the stray kitty who showed up in November, 2012.
Domestic Cats vs Native Predators
Why Linda is happy to be catless.
Stories of Korsczak and Twiggy . . . returned from the dead?
Cats of the Past: Ho-Dah and Phred
Brief notes on previous felines.
Linda's long-ago cat in Columbia, Missouri springs some tricks.
New Cat on the Ranch
Yes, despite Linda's thoughts (below) on cats vs. native predators, when a friendly stray cat showed up at the ranch in the fall of 2012, Linda couldn't turn her away-- especially when there was an outbreak of mice and rabbits.
Here is an ongoing journal of Kitty Cat taken from Linda's email messages to the webmaster. Some minor editing is done for clarity.
November 9, 2012
Took a photo of the cat: it -- not sure of gender-- was very friendly the other night-- picked it up -- lots of claws but didn't fight.
November 11, 2012
The cat killed herself a full-grown rabbit last night, -- yes, it's herself-- so probably she's going to have kittens, and probably she can take care of herself. Like to keep her and a kitten or two around to cut down on the mice, rabbits.
December 7, 2012
The dogs came into the barn last night while I was giving the cat some dry food. Toby kind of seemed to be trying to herd the cat toward the door, but only with his body. The cat just twisted around and went back to eating. Toby sniffed it a little. Cosmo stood at the door and looked. Then I called them out. Cat seemed pretty unworried. So I think we are establishing some guidelines. I feed the cat something warm and meaty in the morning-- scraps from stock, then a little dry food in afternoon. And I see her out hunting in the limestone rocks in the neighbor's pasture-- so she's not just lying around. And she is using the bed I made for her in the barn.
December 10, 2012
Saturday morning I let the dogs out and the cat was on the porch-- they all seemed to be fine so I shut the door. A few minutes later I heard Toby yiking as he does for rabbits and looked and they were chasing her-- she was well ahead and got into the barn unharmed. So now I don't know what to think-- except I think it was all in fun. And she was pulling away nicely.
December 18, 2012
By the way, the name of the current feline is Kitty Cat. You wrote: "Of course the more you put into their name and care, the more you get attached; and then if the owl swoops in and eats her . . ."-----Exactly.
January 11, 2013
We lost another grouse in the windbreak last night-- I only saw 2 scared up by the dogs yesterday, so we may be down to one. The cat didn't come to its morning feeding either-- Jerry is sure she's been eaten. I think it's the coyote or maybe the owl [eating the grouse] -- both are around frequently. The cat got a rabbit just a couple of days ago.
January 12, 2013
The cat is fine. She was in the barn this a.m.-- but wasn't much interested in her food. Maybe the coyotes are feeding her. We didn't see another rabbit --she ate everything but the hind feet in 2 days-- heck, maybe it's indigestion.
January 25, 2013
We both pet her as much as she will allow-- she ducks out from under the hand but then twines around our legs; Toby comes in and greets her every morning-- Cosmo is a little more aggressive but he doesn't worry her. She really looks at cars-- and then runs.
January 31, 2013
Kitty Cat is supporting herself nicely in the barn. She's gotten another rabbit recently. At first, we found the furry spine with front and hind feet and legs and the head still firmly attached. The next day the head was detached and the spine was gone; the feet all lay separately.
She eats her rabbits in a particular stall of the barn which is now carpeted with rabbit fur, but she is not her sole support. Each morning we feed her a ration of meat and rice mixed with the canned dog food we use at vet's advice for our dogs' requirements. At night we feed her a calculated ration of dry food to supplement her hunting and wet food.
She's remaining healthy, not fat or thin, and apparently not pregnant. We see her tracks everywhere in the ranch yard so we know she is exploring, probably eating plenty of mice. Occasionally she follows Jerry into his old workshop and stays there overnight--because he can't get her out of her hidey-hole-- but emerges in the morning sleek and well-fed. At night she sometimes comes to the door of the shop where he's working and from which he delivers her dry food before quitting for the night.
February 6, 2013
We are missing our Kitty Cat; she’s been gone two nights now, which is not a good sign. She met us every morning at the barn when we took her a bit of food. She’d even taken to hopping up on a post holding the windbreak corral if we were late, looking from the barn up toward the house to see if we were on our way.
Then at night, she’d come to Jerry’s shop and twine around his legs until he took her dry food to the barn. On one below-zero day, he got some cat litter and made her a bed on a workbench and she happily spent the night, proving she was house broken. She was anxious to leave in the morning, though.
Naturally he is feeling bad because the last evening we saw her, she’d come to the shop as usual and he wonders if he should have shut her inside. But it was a warm night, and just a night or two before then she’d killed another rabbit, so she’d proven she could hunt safely at night.
February 11, 2013
Kitty Cat still hasn't returned.
We suspect the two great-horned owls who are back in the juniper trees north of the retreat house, courting and hunting. The first morning the cat was missing, I walked quietly to the tree where the owls are most often seen and looked directly up at one of the owls, who opened its eyes, looked, blinked, and shut them again. Then I walked through the windbreak and noticed owl pellets in a new spot, glanced up and saw a second owl suddenly tip its head and peer downward. This one wasn’t as calm; it immediately dropped out of the tree and winged up the draw. Below the perch were several fat pellets filled with rabbit hair-- not cat hair.
Another possibility is the coyotes, who have been way too familiar with the ranch yard this winter, also no doubt drawn here by the abundance of rabbits. We’ve seen them several times just leaving the area beside the garden, or between our house and the well on top of the hill. They never seem especially nervous.
Meanwhile, though, the dogs continue to have a great time every morning chasing rabbits-- as many as three or four in the Homestead House yard. Then they trot back up the hill, panting, spook the rabbit who hides under a particular cedar beside the road, chase it into the windbreak trees by Windbreak House. They lose it, scare up a couple more and generally have a yipping great time until their tongues are dragging the ground and they come to the house for water and their treats.
February 14, 2013
Still no sign of Kitty Cat . . . alive or dead. We’re hoping she went across the highway to the neighboring ranch or the farther-away subdivision, in search of other feline company.
February 20, 2013
Yesterday afternoon a writer staying at the retreat house asked if we had a cat. She’d seen “a white cat with brown spots” the other day.
As soon as we heard that, Jerry took food to the barn and called for Kitty Cat, but she didn’t come. Something ate the dry food that night, but we think she would have come to our call if she was there– we still haven’t seen her. We’ll keep putting food out.
Kitty Cat is back!
This morning, as we walked the dogs down to the retreat house, Kitty Cat was halfway up the road, coming to meet us. She dashed back to the barn and waited until we got her some crunchy food and she promptly started eating. The dogs made her a little more nervous than they used to, so we shooed them out.
She is thinner, but has not had kittens. About a week ago, Something was in the barn and ate come of the crunchy food we had left for the cat, then fled, knocking over a board in the loft as it escaped us. No smell, so probably not a skunk. Not a coyote; probably not a raccoon because we saw none of the characteristic feces or mess raccoons leave. Possibly another cat? A fox? We don't usually see them here, but possibly.
But whatever it was may have scared her away from the barn for awhile. As she ate, she looked intently at some of the piles of boards lining the inside walls, nervous. Certainly something could hide behind those.
This evening, if she's still here, we'll give her some worm pills (maybe help that skinniness) and some meat and try to shut her in Jerry's shop for the night. While this will curtail her hunting during the best time for mice and rabbits, it may save her from the owl, coyotes and other predators that might be looking for her.
March 4, 2013
Jerry went down this viciously cold evening and captured the cat and carried her to the shop. “She didn't like it,” he said, but she didn't fight and scratch. He fixed her a couple of beds with old coats-- one in the shop interior and the other by a window so she can see him coming in the morning. He created a litter box and fed her a tasty supper. I've made a cardboard box padded with sweatshirts and towels he can take down tomorrow for her.
Then he locked her in. We'll go down early in the morning, walking the dogs, and let her out so she can hunt. Perhaps after a day or two of this she will feel secure and will start coming to the shop in the evenings, knowing she'll be safe there.
I’m suspecting she is nervous about an older feral cat that discovered we were feeding her and tried to drive her away. We've seen a crusty old tom with torn ears, though not for six months or so. But a cat that lives entirely in the wild might see this as a great opportunity to supplement his feed. What we will do is stop putting food in the barn completely; it might not only lure in another cat, but skunks, racoons and other destructive wildlife. We'll only feed the cat inside the shop, where she's the only diner.
March 5, 2013
Eight degrees last night. When Jerry went down to feed the cat her meat and worm pill this morning, 2 of the 3 big garage doors were wide open-- as Jerry grumbled "pumping heat into the air."
No way the cat could have opened the doors; she couldn't even get into one of the bays. So we are discussing this with the garage door people and the electric company, wondering if a surge could have caused it. What if we'd been gone for a week? Can't have garage doors wide open.
Today just after 4, when I had finished my first gardening of the season (digging @#@$%@%@ bristly foxtail out of the rhubarb), we walked to the barn where we usually find Kitty Cat and called her.
Not there. We called for ten minutes or so and decided she'd voted: she doesn't want to be shut in the shop during the night hours.
As we turned away from the shop, we heard meowing-- and here came Kitty Cat from the pasture in front of the house, where we've often seen her hunting.
We went inside and she came in, ate some food and settled down in her bed on top of a cabinet-- right by the window.
March 9, 2013
Today Kitty Cat met us as we headed back up to the house after walking the dogs, and came along behind us. She posed for a picture with the dogs and Linda, checked out the undercarriage of Jerry's truck, and puzzled the dogs considerably when she took the short way out of the dog pen. I'm hoping she doesn't plan to move right into the house.
March 11, 2013
Yesterday, the cat went to the area where the rabbit has been hiding. The rabbit slowly flattened itself almost into a pancake. Kitty Cat passed within 6 inches of the hidden rabbit but did nothing to indicate she knew it was there.
Kitty Cat’s House
Jerry made Kitty Cat a bed in a lovely cardboard box lined with old towels and sweatshirts; he thought she’d enjoy sleeping by the window. Perhaps he envisioned her as the Watch Cat. But she has steadfastly refused to sleep in the box, curling up instead on coat tossed on his workbench.
So, after visiting friends who have three magnificent cat rooms for rescued felines, Jerry built a Cat House.
The lower step has a rug for traction and enough space for Kitty Cat’s meals. The steps to the Cat Loft are carpeted, as is the nifty front porch. The house features several windows and a snug, carpeted interior.
March 23, 2013
Kitty Cat has a new trick. Without warning, from behind, she lands on Jerry's shoulder when he's working at the workbench. She seems to stay away from equipment that makes noise so this has not been a danger, so far. Then she rides around on his shoulder for awhile as he moves around the shop. Jerry says he doesn't mind, and so far she stays away when he's operating things like saws.
(See Linda's Bio on this website for the story of Ralph the cat, who tried the same trick with Linda's father.)
Kitty Cat's New Family
Five kittens were born today: two mostly-orange tiger, and three orange-tiger-and-white like mama.
We suspect the father is a tough old tom we’ve seen around the place at intervals for several years. A retreat writer who spotted him mentioned torn ears and a self-sufficient stalk. We recall that before Kitty Cat disappeared in February, she had seemed afraid when she was eating in the barn: constantly looking over her shoulder and leaping at the slightest sound. We suspect the other cat was stalking her and the kittens are the result.
We didn't think the cat loft would be too safe so we made her a bed in a dog carrying crate on the floor of the shop awhile back, and she's been nesting there, so that's where she had them.
May 13, 2013
Kitty Cat grossed Jerry out today by bringing in a baby rabbit and eating it while the kittens watched: started at the face and ate down to the tail. Left one ear for awhile, he said, then she ate it for dessert. Good cat!
May 15, 2013
The kittens born to Kitty Cat on April 18 are now a month old and beginning to venture from the safety of their nesting crate onto the carpeted ramp and floor of Jerry's shop. Their legs still shake when they walk, so more than one has toppled over the edge of the ramp onto the now padded floor.
They are beginning to play, to hiss at the dogs and swat their noses with their tiny claws. The dogs are gentle with them, just sniffing in curiosity. Cosmo gets bored in a hurry and heads back outside to chase rabbits but Toby The Pack Lord feels Responsible for the little critters, so he trots around behind them sniffing and worrying.
May 18, 2013
When visitors came to see the kittens today they were not in the shop. We searched for some time and finally found them in the wood pile next to the old shop/garage by Homestead House. Did Kitty Cat carry them there one at a time or did she coax the whole litter down the long driveway? We carried them back to the shop and Jerry put a board across the open doorway so they can have fresh air. Kitty Cat can jump in and out but the kittens cannot.
We're putting out cat food softened with water for the kittens.
They are also learning to use the small, low litter-box we put down for them in the shop.
May 27, 2013
Kitty Cat moved the kittens from Jerry's new, light and airy shop to the old, dark, dusty shop/garage by the retreat house. Maybe her instincts told her it is safer to move her kittens periodically so predators won't find them. Maybe she disliked having the door shut and locked each night and prefers the old building where she can come and go all night.
to be continued . . .
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Domestic Cats vs Native Predators
written February, 2012
We still have no cats on the ranch and yet the mouse population is kept in check by the predatory birds as well as by a healthy population of bull snakes. And we have abundant smaller birds of all kinds, including sparrows, chickadees and robins that spend the winter in the junipers close to the retreat house. Not long ago I saw a bald eagle along the highway as I headed to the post office.
Every now and then someone who is not willing to take responsibility for their own pets dumps a cat or two on the highway and then the slaughter begins. Whenever we have had cats here, the songbirds have been decimated. When we moved back, I insisted that the former tenants remove all of the ten or so cats they’d left behind. They’d dumped twenty pounds of dry cat food in an open garage and the place was overrun with mice as well as ankle-deep in cat waste.
Some folks predicted we’d be knee-deep in mice after the last cat was removed; hasn’t happened. And we haven’t used poison or traps anywhere outside the houses.
When we had cats on the ranch in the past, a few energetically hunted no matter how much they were fed or whether they lived inside or out. I particularly remember one barn cat, a frequent mother, who came stumbling into the yard one day dragging a rabbit by the ears, with the body dragging between her legs. She stopped, dropped the rabbit and looked at me as if to say, “I’ve got six kittens to feed, you know,” and then resumed hauling her burden to the barn.
Some cats, just like humans, didn’t hunt as long as they were fed. When my mother wasn’t here, I’d cut their rations and haul pickup-loads of them to the haystacks where they’d rediscover the satisfaction of mouse-catching.
Much as I enjoy snuggling up to a purring feline on a cold winter night, I will no longer willingly host felines on the ranch. Keeping a cat would require me to act against its hunting instincts by keeping it inside so it couldn’t slaughter the natives. I’d rather encourage the healthy balance of native predatory wildlife.
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I am by nature a cat person. I suspect the old division between cat and dog lovers is based on that most obvious of feline traits: independence. In animals or humans, it comforts more than frightens me, but some folks can't stand it.
One of my cats became a ghost and followed me a thousand miles to haunt a room he never entered while alive. His name was Korsczak, after Korsczak Ziolkowski, the sculptor of Crazy Horse in South Dakota, because his thick pelt looked like the sculptor's wide gray beard. Part Persian, the cat was silver, a huge tom who looked like a badger when he fluffed his fur and hissed. I got him as a kitten when I was in school in Missouri in the late 1960s. When I left my first husband and moved into an apartment by the packing plant, Korsczak came along. I lived on the second floor and he learned to climb a tree beside my bedroom window around sunrise and meow to be let in. Finally I took the screen off so he could come and go at will. Whenever he came home, he first cleaned the white bib under his chin and then his paws.
One morning after I felt him crawl under the covers, I went back to sleep. Twenty minutes later, I woke with the sense of tiny legs crawling over me. I threw back the covers. A gray film covered the white sheet between Korsczak's body and mine: lice. I shooed him out the window and threw the bedding after him, showered and still felt the crawling sensation everywhere. At the nearest pet store, a clerk nodded wisely and handed me a bottle of louse-killer, but it was days before I stopped finding squirming specks.
Korsczak was also responsible for turning a beef-gnawing ranch girl into a temporary vegetarian. He'd climb the tree carrying a rib or strip of half-rotted meat from the packing plant next door and sit under the bed crunching it. This habit led to his demise; the vet said he'd been poisoned by something he ate and had to be put to sleep. I gave the order over the telephone and told them to keep the body so I could bury it myself. When I went to the vet clinic, sniffling in sorrow, a gum-snapping teenager said, "Oh, the gray cat. He's gone. Landfill. Here's his collar if you want it. That'll be ten bucks."
Four years later, in the early 1970s, I rented a room in a tumbledown hotel in Deadwood, South Dakota, before the town became lavishly "historic," and was remodeled into a tourist trap. On weekends when I went to the ranch, I sometimes let friends use the place. One Monday morning, I met the friend who had stayed there over the weekend as he was leaving.
"Why didn't you tell me you had a cat?" he said. "Scared me to death."
"Because I don't have a cat."
He stared. "I went to the kitchen to make a sandwich and when I came back, he was curled up in that chair, licking his paw."
"I don't have a cat."
"How did he learn to do that? I finally figured out he came up the fire escape."
"I. Don't. Have. A. Cat. What did he look like?"
"Big Persian, gray; white bib on his chest. I jumped when I saw him and said 'Nice kitty' or something. He looked at me like I was pond scum, then jumped on the bed. I shut the window to the fire escape and sat down to read and he jumped on my lap and ate part of my sandwich."
"I used to have a cat that looked like that, in Missouri."
"Well, maybe he came back; I've heard great stories about cats finding people hundreds of miles away."
“No,” he said slowly. “I went to the kitchen for a drink and when I came back, he was gone. I looked all over the apartment for him, because the window was shut. Then I looked for a litter box." He went pale. "He died?"
I nodded. "He died. Buried in a landfill in Columbia four years ago; under a zillion tons of garbage by now."
"He ate part of my sandwich. I think I'll stay somewhere else next time you're gone," he said.
I should have suspected cats could come back at will. Long before I met Korsczak, my cat Twiggy died in South Dakota and then followed me to Missouri a year later, though I didn't admit that for years.
I had taken Twiggy-- she was always thin-- with me to Missouri the first time I moved; she got pregnant and I moved to a place that didn't allow cats, so I took her back to the ranch. According to my parent, she sat on my back step crying until she and her kittens all starved to death.
One night, about a week after my folks told me she was dead, I heard a pitiful meowing outside my apartment and there was a cat that looked just like her, shrunk down to skin and bone. I called her name and she started purring and came toward me, but she wouldn't come into the light. When I reached for her, she darted away and I never saw her again.
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Cats of the Past: Ho-Dah and Phred
After someone poisoned his two cats, Janet and Jacob, George missed them so much, he stole a friend's cat, Phred, by feeding him expensive food whenever he dropped by. When George and I were married, I insisted that the union was on probation until we saw how our two cats got along. Phred toured the ranch once and promptly established a territory no ranch cat would enter, hunting gophers and mice on our hillside.
Not long afterward, my cat, a retiring female named Ho-Dah (Lakota for "blue," her color) became ill. I’d rescued her from the home of an ex-friend who lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He’d killed the rest of the kittens in the litter, and the last one was clinging to the screen door. He was trying to get her off so he wouldn’t shoot a hole in the screen when I grabbed her and took her home. She kept the ranch mouse-free for years, so I thought she was simply depressed about Phred's arrival until the vet diagnosed feline leukemia. The treatment sounded like torture, as well as expensive. Holding her on my lap, I gave her a shot that sent her to sleep instantly and we buried her with MacDuff and his honor guard of ranch felines.
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Pipe Cleaner Spiders
I can’t recall the name of the cat who lived with us in Columbia, MO, during my first marriage and the journals that might tell me are gone. I named the goldfish William Faulkner so I’m sure the cat’s name was poetic. I’ll call her Emily.
Emily was a lively little critter who kept our creaky old house mouse-free and loved to skitter around our polished wood floors. I made toys for her out of several pipe cleaners twisted together, turning them into a springy spider.
She’d bat these toys all over the house for hours. Whenever one disappeared under the refrigerator, I’d twist together another one.
The problem with the toys was that Missouri is home to some very large and hairy spiders. I do not like spiders, having been trained from childhood to fear them by my mother’s shrieks every time she saw one. But even without that background, the spiders in Missouri scared me.
One day I lay down on a patch of grass beside a woodsy path to nap. One ear was against the ground and I was awakened by the sound of many footsteps thumping along the path. I sat up in alarm, assuming several people were approaching.
No, it was just one spider the size of my hand, galloping along.
So when I would get up in the dark at night to go to the bathroom, and step on one of the cat’s pipe cleaner spiders, I usually howled and levitated, waking the cat.
Teeth and Long White Claws
Emily had another cute trick. She liked to go into a darkened room and meeeowwwwww piteously, as if she were suffering acute distress.
When a human rushed to investigate, she would leap in the air with her paws spread wide as though she were a pouncing lion. She usually appeared to hang for a moment at about eye level.
After she’d scared several of our friends speechless during parties, we usually shut her in the basement when we had company.
Once our friend Jim, who drank a lot, knocked on our door in distress around two a.m. I don’t recall his problem, but it was important that he come in and tell us about it for several hours, during which he and my husband drank a few more beers. Jim was deathly afraid of cats; I don’t think he even knew we had Emily because we always kept her safely away from him.
At two in the morning, my first consideration was not Jim’s comfort; I went back to bed. I was awakened by a scream and a thud. I leapt out of bed and met my husband at the bathroom door-- where Jim lay, out cold.
Emily was sitting in the bathroom doorway, her tail curled around her paws, one ear flipped back as though she were puzzled.
I hustled the cat to the basement while my husband revived Jim.
“Horrible,” he muttered, shaking water our of his eyes. “It was horrible. Some thing-- some furry thing with teeth and long white claws-- jumped at my eyes and tried to scratch them out.”
"You really need to cut down on your drinking, Jim. You’re starting to imagine things."
“It was your cat! That’s what it was.”
"Why Jim, you know we always shut the cat in the basement when you come. There– can’t you hear her meowing to be let out? You know Jim, you really need to consider drinking less."
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