FARM LIFE FROM A FARM WIFE: From Spit and Spat to (maybe) Sweet and Serene

Kay Reminger

Last year when we remodeled our existing barn to house my brother and sons’ bred cows, almost all of our cats left for a calmer life. Cats like serenity, and the opposite of serenity were air hammers and skid steers invading their territory.

Up in the barn mow things were more to their liking, and the few that stayed started making that their home, creating little snuggle places to hide. They hunted and then returned, but only a scarce few, like scarce meaning three. Those three have since disappeared, and we fear the lure of an easier life in downtown Leopolis beckoned. At least one, though, we discovered had met its fate on the road past our place. Poor thing.

So my husband went on the lookout for natural rodent control: new cats. Talking to our neighbor one day (who is a lover of cats), she directed us to Sarah Magee, a worker with the nonprofit Shawano Cares About Critters. Their Facebook page states: “The idea of SCAC came about several years ago when some cats near an apartment building had to be relocated.” It goes on to explain how a small group of people work with other organizations to TNR (trap-neuter-return) outdoor cats. In 2015, 812 cats were fixed. Sarah told me the group fixes about 500 cats per year.

The other day, she brought over a large dog crate folded inside the hatchback of her car. Also inside, she had two smaller crates, each housing very scared teenage sibling cats, one creamy yellow and the other, a tabby. Along with the kitties she brought litter, a water/feed dish, food, blankets and paperwork declaring each one neutered, complete with shots. These were well-prepared felines needing a home.

After showing us the how-tos, such as making sure the new arrivals tuck themselves to the back of the cage before opening the cage (slowly) to feed and clean, she explained the need to keep the litter box free of clumps and to maintain fresh water and cat food. All very common-sense advice but nevertheless, very much needed to hear because, you see, cats to me were always quite self-sufficient.

Growing up on a farm and then marrying a farmer, cats were there for two reasons: to catch mice and to procreate so the next generation accepts the responsibility to catch mice. The circle of life.

When I was a kid we had one grandma cat named Pamper. Knicks of life showed up on her body, a tear in one ear, a patch of fur gone. She was around forever and had litters of kittens, more than I can recall. Soon we’d notice she grew round and heavy and presently we’d catch her nursing a brood. She’d cart them to a safe spot by the scruff of their necks if she felt they were threatened in any way. She was very tame and a permanent fixture, intertwining around our ankles, purring.

We kids would dress our cats in doll clothes and have a parade, carting them in our little red wagon inside slated cardboard boxes; a circus on wheels. Those accommodating cats would be limp as a dishrag allowing gentle little hands to primp and fuss.

Cats came and went due to farm hazards; for example, cutting hay. Farm cats hunt mice in a hayfield. Their first instinct would be to crouch and wait as the haybine came closer, which was in reality, the death penalty. My dad never knew they were there. Once in a while they’d park under the cows for warmth in the winter and unknowingly get laid on by a cow. We’d find them the next day. Farm kids learn as life unfolds before them, living and dying alike.

Dubbing our new arrivals Spit and Spat, they are living up to the names. For now, the response to my soothing tone is a hiss or a low warning growl with a mighty effort to slink down as small as possible in the far corner of their crib. Time and patience, time and patience.

Never, in all my farming years, have I ever tended to cats. They’ve always been rather self-sufficient — improvising, finding a handy potty wherever they happened to be. Now I have a kitty litter pooper scooper, a covered tub to keep their food dry and protected with a fresh water source right around the corner. Sarah suggested we keep them in this roomy dog crate for about two weeks to make them aware this is a safe place where you get food and water.

As they adapt and come to trust me, I’ll change their names to something closer to Sweet and Serene. While I’m nervous to release them, I hope when I do they’ll catch lots of mice and live a good long life here on Leopolis Road. Our experience with SCAC has been nothing but great. Slipping Sarah a small donation to show our appreciation, she is glad to get the word out about their humane efforts. We are living proof their compassionate work pays off.

(“You gave them charge of everything You made, putting all things under their authority.” Psalm 8:6, New Living translation)

Kay Reminger was born and raised on a dairy farm, and she married her high school sweetheart, who happened to farm for a living in Leopolis. Writing for quite a few years, she remains focused on the blessings of living the ups and downs of rural life from a farm wife’s perspective.