Monday, October 13, 2008

A Country Miracle

We had a little miracle around here yesterday. I'll start from the beginning to give you some background about our cats.

When you have horses, you often live on the edge of a town or way out. We always try to live as close to town as possible, for work, but still have enough land for our horses.

When we moved to our horse property in the Lewiston Valley, it was on the edge of farm fields--which were split down the middle by a ravine and creek. We lived at the very top of the ravine, and the tip of our land was the beginning of it.

What came out of that ravine? Well, there were deer, coyotes, owls, wild turkey, cougar, moose, and more recently, a bear.

But it was the coyotes that gave us chills every night when the sun went down or a plane passed overhead--they went to howling from all their spots in the canyon and whupped it up like they had just made a kill. It was eery, and it always got our dogs to barking.

Elsa, our older dog, would stand at the edge of our property and bark until almost daybreak to ward them off.

Every farm needs a cat to keep up with the mice, and our house was no exception. I found mice in the breadbox and in the storage room downstairs. So, we counted ourselves lucky when a brown tabby emerged from the wheat one day.
Where she came from, we do not know. But the boys named her "Killer"--as they witnessed her kill many times as they put up fence, and then she'd disappear back into the fields with her prey.

The girls came out of the house and followed her one day. They'd have none of that "Killer" stuff--they took her in the house, up to my daughter's room, petted and combed her, and named her "MJ"--Mary Jane.

Well, we had ourselves a mousing cat from that day forward, MJ. And, she was pregnant. Her pregnancy got her killing more than ever, and sometimes we felt sorry for the prey, but we saw that it was part of her nature, and necessary.

When the kittens were born, she took to training them by bringing fresh kill into the garage where we kept them, and letting them play with it. She'd plop down and watch them, relaxed--a practice she still continues. She did such a good job training them, that our puppy who we brought home at the same time, also got in on the education, and is now a better mouser than most cats.

The training was an amazing thing to watch. Every day, every night, there was an opportunity for her to teach them something. Often, we'd sit out on the deck with MJ, the puppy, Maggie, Elsa, and all the kitties, and watch them finding hiding places, chase insects, and learn from their mother.

After a while we found homes for two of her kittens, and two of them, the gray twins, stayed with us. We named them Boy Kitty and Girl Kitty. And, eventualy, we moved them up to Spokane--to a new ranch--two hours away. Again, on the edge of town, lots of wildlife, lots of coyotes.

We did pretty well with them, until last spring, when we lost Boy Kitty. It could have been the coyotes, but there were also two Great Horned Owls nesting in the barn next door.

Boy Kitty, despite his mother's teaching, never really learned he couldn't hide behind a blade of grass. Still, we held out hope for a better outcome, calling the animal shelter, visiting all of our neighbor's for a couple of weeks, but eventually we had to accept that he was gone.

After that, I took to locking them in at night and letting them out during the day. They might be working cats, but you still grow attached. In fact, I respect and love them more for the work they do. I don't resign myself to the inevitability of their loss--I try to be proactive and avoid it.

But in the end, it comes down to themselves and their mother's training--and yesterday proved it.

It was a busy anniversary weekend for us--we had guests Friday night and then we were out of town from early Saturday until Saturday night. It wasn't until Sunday morning, yesterday, I realized the animals had stayed locked in--the pet door cover had not been removed since Friday. There had been people in and out of the garage, so they had opportunity to get out, but it was clear, when I did a head count, Girl Kitty had gotten locked out of the garage all Saturday night.

My husband and I knew that was a death sentence.

We walked around the house calling her, and in usual circumstances she'd come right out, but no kitty. By mid-afternoon, she still wasn't home, and we felt her odds of survival were greatly diminished.

MJ, her mother, lay alone on her pillow, kneading her paws in her sleep, as if her daughter, Girl Kitty were lying there, too. We'd had MJ spayed, so there was no chance of her having more kittens, and we wondered if she would, like so many cats we read about, disappear when there were no strong bonds to keep her.

The sun went down last night around 7:00. It was dark. There was no Girl Kitty.

At dinner we began to blame each other--then stopped ourselves and said there's no way we can protect them all the time. On the farm, one mistake could mean death--and death is so final--but we are bound to make mistakes. It comes down to their training--and then their own ability to survive.

I'll let you know right now, this story has a good ending.

Shiloh, our daughter, went out to say good night to MJ, and guess who came in from the outside--Girl Kitty. She was wide-eyed and thirsty, and we don't know where she'd been, but there she was, perfect, and healthy, and alive.

Shiloh came and got me and we all ran to the garage. We hugged each other and jumped up and down. MJ circled her full-grown kitten, ever still the mother--she licked on her and, I'm pretty certain, she was smiling.
She'd raised her two kittens the exact same way and one had learned her lessons, and one had not. One had survived in whatever circumstance she'd faced--and we can only imagine what it was that kept her gone so long.

We have four cats, two dogs, seven horses, and three goats, and every one is special to us. Living on a ranch and facing the death of animals--the horses we've lost, the cat, the baby goats one year that really broke my heart--it teaches you to let go and accept that life is about the here and now--the animals understand this lesson best. The lesson summed up is: Things live and things die, and it's all about the living.

But it also teaches you that when miracles happen, like Girl Kitty and Cowboy, my horse with the broken foot who survived last year and who I've ridden all summer, though he should be dead--when miracles happen, you celebrate--they don't come often, and there's no guaruntee there'll be many more.

Update: The horse guest is gone. Her family came and picked her up yesterday. They brought her brother home from Lake Roosevelt so that she'll have a pasture buddy, and we hope, stay home and stay safe. So, good luck to Cassandra as she learns her way through a life with horses.

Also, I'm including a picture of Beautiful, taken yesterday as she watched us load the horses mid-afternoon for a ride at Riverside. She has been putting on a lot of weight, and now she's a pudgey thing. She's our observer--nothing happens around here that you don't look back and see her peering through the panels bars--and watching intently. She's trying to figure out everything about what living here means.


  1. Glad to hear about Girl Kitty!

    Beautiful is looking plump, healthy, and happy.

  2. Linda, what a great story. A hard lesson living and dying. Doesn't seem to get easier. The Mustang Horse Club is riding on Sat. the 18th. at Riverside. No need to ride a mustang, we just want to ride and have fun. No charge, bring a lunch or snack or whatever. Would love it if you could joint us. We are gathering at the Trail Town trailhead and leaving to ride at 11. Will probably ride 2 or 3 hrs. depending on what everyone wants to do.

  3. Beautiful looks beautiful. My boys would be so impressed with their old herd mate. What do you feed her to make her look that good? Wildairo eats orchard grass hay and some sweet feed but he just gets a big belly it seems.


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