Feral Heaven

When I spotted her car pulling into the driveway, I ran out onto the deck. The minute my daughter got out of the car, I gave her a big hug. She said, “Mama, it’s good to be home.”

A warm spring breeze softly swirled around us like a caress. Giving her another squeeze, I said, “Tammie, it’s good to have you home. Isn’t this a beautiful day? How would you like to go for a walk around the yard? The flowerbeds are waking up. I have daffodils that are about to bloom.”

Golden afternoon sunshine smiled down on us as we walked around arm-in-arm, inspecting bulbs and bushes. The lilac flowers were still in bud stage, right on the brink of bursting forth into a fragrant lavender flood. Glancing at the old red barn next to the lilac bushes, Tami said, “I love the barn, but it’s getting really shabby.”

Tilting my head back, I looked up at the hayloft window. A few of the glass panes were missing and the wooden frame appeared to be sagging dejectedly. I said, “It went from being a horse barn to being feral heaven.”

The windows on the lower level were in the same shape as the upper one. Jonah, my fat gray tabby who was inside the barn, heard our voices. She leaped out where the glass was missing and began to rub against our ankles. Her strident meows were demands for more attention. Tammie laughed, “This cat isn’t feral.”

Smiling, I said, “No, but they’re around. The ones that survive become very cagy and good at hiding. The only thing they don’t hide is the smell they leave behind in the barn.”

One of the sad things about living in the countryside is that sometimes people abandon cats and dogs along the road.  They probably say to themselves, “They’re animals; therefore they will survive just fine in the wild.”

Pets don’t know how to fend for themselves. Many of the abandoned ones die of starvation, are hit by vehicles or are killed by wild animals. If the poor, frightened animal is in anyway tame enough, a small percentage of them are taken on as pets, if they are found. Through the years I have adopted two kitties that were abandoned near my home.

The abandoned cats who learn to become lean, mean, killing-machines survive. We call them feral, in other words, wild. Although cats are very adept at catching mice, their skills are just as awesome when it comes to killing birds. They see no difference between the two animals although one has feathers and the other fur. One or two feral cats can kill and eat an amazing number of birds.

Many of the cats that I call feral might just be strays. Strays are animals that have had some human contact at one time. It is sometimes possible to rehabilitate them. A true feral cat has never had any type of interaction with a human and there is no way to ever turn them into pets.

The first cat I adopted was Berry. My young daughters and I found him under an elderberry bush while out for a walk along the road. We took the black and white creature home and he became a beloved member of our family.

Jonah is the second abandoned cat that I have adopted. We named her after the man in the whale because she was found after being trapped in our whale-shaped Quonset shed for three days. I suspect that she might have been abused. Although desperate for attention, she always acts afraid of being kicked.

A few days after my daughter’s weekend visit, I went out to the red barn. Standing in the doorway, I looked around at the things that my husband and had I stored there a long time ago. None of it was worth much to start with and is now worth even less.

As I stood there in silence, I heard a scrabbling sound. Suddenly an orange tabby cat fell though an opening from the haymow and hung there by its claws, unwilling to move to attract more attention. I laughed because it appeared as though it was trying to be invisible.

That evening I told my daughter, “The old red barn gives the feral cats shelter from the elements, so that’s why I call it feral heaven. The flip side of that is that while I was out there looking around today, I didn’t see any mouse damage, so the place could also be called mouse hell.”



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