Let’s just get one thing straight from the start, okay? I am not a crazy cat lady.
Besides, these are kittens I’m talking about. Homeless kittens. Just two out of a number of felines that have been occupying my mother’s barn in the past year or so. Where once were horses and llamas she now has a steady stream of cats, most of them short-hair grey-striped, some fully grown, some kittens, some so small and helpless they tug at your heart.
You see, my mother has been “invaded,” as she likes to say though not necessarily with a smile. It started with a friendly but cautious cat she called “Grey Boy” several years ago. My mother was coping with illness at the time and I saw how he softened her. How she, despite herself, despite not feeling well or even happy, beamed with compassion and joy and care when he came around. And concern when he didn’t.
My mother charmed Grey Boy enough to get him “fixed” but not before a fluffy female began hanging around, too. Soon there were young cats. They came, they went. There were always just a few.
This past year or so suddenly there were more. Too many. It was like a domino effect. Too many to tame. But she’s tried.
She feeds them and provides litter boxes along with cozy beds and toys amid a few bails of hay in what is a former garage with a concrete floor. Mahlie, our pony, is in one of two stalls attached at the back. The garage part has always been home to hay, horse gear and a tack and feed room. I like to think they all keep each other company.
Each night when my mother feeds Mahlie she fills dishes with cat food and water and does a random head count. Maybe eight cats of various sizes live there now. She’s caught some, mostly females, which she’s had spayed in hopes of controlling the population. But they stay just ahead of her.
Not all the kittens survive. Some have met cruel — but natural — fates. Owls, perhaps coyotes have taken some, she guesses. Older cats have disappeared leaving my mother to wonder: Were they hit by a car? Did they find another home? Were they attacked?
They are feral, but they know this is a place they can call home. Still, my mother tries to tame them in hopes of finding them real homes.
In the past couple of months, she captured six kittens — four striped and two fluffy grey ones — shortly after they were weaned. She put them in a large dog cage in the breezeway and posted notes around town.
People came and fell in love with them. One girl took two, and brought back friends. All found homes except one. He was rather shy and introverted, my mother said. She told the visitors she’d work with him and they could check back later.
Then she discovered more even younger kittens in the garage. She captured one, a female. Now the two are inseparable.
We have not named them but we’ve bonded. They come into my mother’s house each night for a couple hours — she’s hesitant to keep them out of concern for her lone elderly cat — to play and cuddle in her lap. I was sucked in the first time I saw them. Now I visit with them a few times a week.
Let me tell you, they are angels. At least to me. And, remember, I’m not a crazy cat lady. Just compassionate and caring and wanting them to enjoy the life they have. Like any of us.
With three grown cats already, I’m hesitant to adopt them. But I’d like to. Meanwhile, I am watching these two creatures grow and mature with about as much joy as if they were children. I worry when they sneeze and practically melt when they come to me to cuddle up or play.
People don’t always realize the gifts you get from animals. I was raised with a steady stream of them — cats, dogs and bigger “pets.” So I know.
I am amazed when I see these two cuddled up together as if they are they last living creatures on earth. They are not petty. They are not jealous. It’s as if they know how lucky they are and watch out for each other. There is a lesson in this.
I watch as they cling to each other as they drift off to sleep, the bigger one licking and cleaning the baby like a mother tending to her child. And my heart just lifts.