Saturday, January 24, 2009


An old friend recently remarked, “My wife always reads your columns. But she wonders why you never write anything about cats.”

I think I have mentioned cats a time or two. Most people who know me don’t consider me a “cat lover.” Or overly fond of any kind of pets, which may not be completely true. I recall a number of cats and dogs I have enjoyed and considered friends. But, for the most part, I much prefer the company of humans.

During my days on the farm, cats were always welcome. In exchange for shelter, a small amount of food, and a certain amount of protection, a farm cat paid its way by helping control the rodents around the farmstead. Most farmers who milked cows were happy to give the cats a pan of fresh milk twice a day.

Many young people today, having never known a time when kitchens didn’t have garbage disposals, may find it hard to believe that “table scraps” once made up an important part of the diet of many cats and dogs, I’ve seen pets engage in some exciting fights over table scraps. Once, even a family’s pet crow was right in there, taking and getting in his share of licks in exchange for a share of the goodies.

Mother cats regularly supplied new kittens with which children could play. The survivors grew up to be mousers and ratters. Wandering tomcats often made their rounds, killing any small kittens they found. As farm kids we could never quite figure out why. Many small tykes today, having spent time watching an animal channel on TV, have witnessed this same thing happening with lions in the wild, and might explain it as nature’s way of strengthening a pride of lions (or clowder of cats) by preventing excessive inbreeding.

OK, about that word “clowder” – that’s a “book word” for a whole herd of cats. But in my eighty-plus years, I have never heard the word used in conversation.

For the most part, cats haven’t changed much since they first left the wild and agreed to live with humans. Numerous distinct breeds have been developed. And a few cats have learned, and are willing to perform, various tricks. I’ve always felt that felines could be taught to do almost any stunt a dog can perform, and many a dog can’t. But most of them refuse to lower themselves to that level. After all, in ancient history cats were often considered to be god-like creatures, and not jugglers, fools, or clowns.

Some of my cat-loving friends are convinced that their cats love them and miss them when they are not around. I certainly won’t argue with that. But I’ve never heard of a cat lying on its dead master’s grave and starving to death. That’s more the kind of behavior we expect of dogs.

Anyway, if you wanted a “cat column,” Mary, this is about the best I can do.


Morning’s sun warms up the front steps
And the old cat lounging there.
Now and then, she’ll lazily stretch
And she’ll comb and groom her hair.

Tabby’s master comes outside and
Sees her enjoying the sun.
He wonders if cats remember
Things they’ve known and things they’ve done.

The first day she came to his farm
He encouraged her to stay
By setting out a small pan filled
With fresh cows’ milk twice a day.

That was 14 years ago now.
Tabby’s old as farm cats go.
She’s survived the hottest summers
And waded through winters’ snow.

People at her farm home were kind
And mostly treated her nice.
The cat paid her way by helping
Them control their rats and mice.

Her body, so slim and agile,
And her teeth strong, sharp, and keen.
And her claws, like sheathed steel daggers,
Made her a “killing machine.”

In the summer, she would visit
A pasture or field of hay.
There she’d stalk and kill striped gophers.
She would bring one home each day.

She produced a hundred kittens
Give or take, maybe a few.
All in all, Tabby did what farm
Cats are expected to do.

She always hid well her kittens
When they were helpless and small,
Protected them from tomcats that
Would have tried to kill them all.

A farm cat’s life is no picnic,
Dodging mean dogs and rat traps,
And each day having to fight for
Her share of the table scraps.

The farmer knows, before long now,
Tabby will have to move on.
Up to Cat Heaven, the day when
Her ninth, and last, life is gone.