When I was a kid, our barn was full of cats. They were absolutely necessary to the functioning of the farm. Without them we would have been raising mice and rats instead of hogs.
After my sister Sweetie and I survived countless failed attempts to save the runty piglets, we finally finagled a house cat.
(Let that sentence sink in for a moment. Sweetie and I had the honourable task of saving runty piglets. As a result, I can never ever ever watch that horrible Charlotte's Web movie. I promise you, we will discuss this later, in great detail.)
When my mom was growing up, there was no such thing as a house cat. Ever. If the dog got his tongue in contact with a dish, that was it, that dish never came back into the house. Being thus contaminated it was forever a dog dish. There were no critters in the house. (It's amazing that these two are allowed in my mother's house, isn't it?)
For us kids, the barn cats were a reason to go out to the barn. Our job was to bring food out to them, usually suitable scraps from the house. Often we'd see our dad doing chores with a cat clinging to his shoulder. Sometimes a cat would help itself to a nice meal of newborn pork and we'd never see that cat again. But many times we could catch him pausing to lovingly scratch a particularly nice kitty behind her ears.
Sweetie and I thought we'd never get a house cat. We wedged ourselves into the hay bales, cuddled our good ol Mammykatz, taming and naming every kitten that came along.
Then Prissy, a long haired tabby with white paws and chest, a real house cat, was given to us by a friend. Sweetie caught Prissy's hygiene routine one day and was shocked -shocked to find out that Prissy wasn't so much after all. So we had a gorgeous fluffy cat named Percy.
After Percy's demise we missed having a small prowling mammal in our house. We got a funny little stunted legged Burmese. He was awesome. He had a croaky, cranky, grumpy voice, a square head, and bowed legs. I loved him. After he was gone a few years ago, Mom didn't have it in her to get another one. She does enjoy our visits with our pets in tow. Her house is like a vacation home to our cat: bigger, older, more corners to poke into, more hidden places to disappear into.
So what's the difference between a house cat and a barn cat?
Here is a barn cat:
Here is a house cat:
Can you see the difference? One lives outside, one lives in the house. That's it.
I often feel sorry for my house cat because he doesn't go outside. I see my neighbour's cats and how much fun they have, stalking weeds and leaves and rodents. But after all these years, sheltered inside the house, snoozing in a warm patch of sunshine on the hardwood floor, would he stilll go out if he had a chance? He's never made a run for it.
It doesn't much matter anymore. He's old now. At 16 we are not measuring our remaining time with him in years. He walks crooked, I suspect his hearing is going, and he sleeps even more than a cat should. He'll just curl up and go to sleep wherever he happens to be. But he won't sleep on our beds anymore. I think he's getting us used to falling asleep without him.
Meanwhile, out in the barn, another black cat prowls the depths of the haymow, and goes off on daily early morning hunts for a nice warm rodent to eat. We see from the dining room window, with our breakfast in front of us, as he trots his path across the corral, tiny mouse paws dangling from his mouth, to squeeze into the little hole in the barn wall. Later on in the day, when my Dad goes out to feed the horses, he'll take a cupful of cat food out with him, and Spooky will balance across the edge of the troughs, purring, rubbing himself against the wall until he gets his food.
When Spooky gets old and decrepit, he'll just start to disappear for longer periods of time until one day we'll notice that we haven't seen him in a week. We might never find his final resting place. As Nigel gets closer to the end of his life, we are completely aware of his life ticking away. We know in detail what condition he's in. There aren't as many places in our house for him to slink away and hide.
There's nothing we can do about it either. That's just the way it is.
I've started putting his cat mat on my desk so I can pat him while he sleeps and I work. I'm going to soak him up as long as I can.