When I was little, The Most Beautiful Girl in Third Grade, Barbara Vanderbilt, had a cat that had kittens and for some reason, she bestowed one to me. I humbly accepted this honor, secretly hoping that some of Barbara’s blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty would miraculously transfer to me through her kitten. I remember Barbara as a tiny third-grade version of Brigitte Bardot. I was a chubby, slightly stinky, perpetually stuffy-nosed kid with dirty ankles and what my mother lovingly referred to as “dishwater blond” hair. I went up against Barbara for the coveted part of Dolly in our class’ rendition of Hello Dolly at Monsignor Weygand’s Jubilee Celebration, but whom was I kidding? I couldn’t hold a candle to Barbara’s star power. Barbara nailed it with effortless aplomb.
Anyway, I accepted Barbara’s kitten and brought it home, much to my mother’s surprise. The kitten was orange, the color of Ritz crackers, so I named her Crackers. I loved her so much, but neither my mom nor I knew a damn thing about kittens and how to raise them. My mother was way too busy with a houseful of teenage boys (and their friends) 24/7 to read up on the care and keeping of kittens. Needless to say, the house was a little too hectic for poor Crackers. A few days into her stay with us, Crackers went missing and no one could find her. I was bereft until one of my brothers opened the refrigerator and there was Crackers, hanging from the egg rack on the door. She was alive, but pretty chilly.
Crackers ran away the next day. I can’t blame her. She figured she’d take her chances out in the wild. It couldn’t be more dangerous than our chaotic house.
When we acquired our farm, I was delighted to find that it came complete with two cats – and they were orange, just like Crackers. But these pussies are not for grabbing. These cats are working cats, cold-hearted killers. It is their job to keep mice and other varmints out of the barns, and these felines are fierce. Hell, they’ve been at it for over thirty years. They are named Tom and Jerry, though I’m still not sure which is which. One, let’ say it’s Jerry, we call The Pet Cemetery Cat because he looks like he’s back from the dead. He has survived several brushes with death, including being run over by a tractor. He walks, or rather, lumbers in a sideways fashion, kind of like John Wayne and seems to be mumbling to himself, “Don't say it's a fine morning or I'll shoot ya.” Jerry is always friendly, coming out of nowhere to greet whomever enters the barn, rubbing up against our legs. But make no mistake; he’s a killing machine. As the Sheriff says, “no mouse, rat, chipmunk or small rabbit is safe under his watchful gaze.” His one ear is mangled; he has many lumpy tumorous protrusions on his belly. But he’s been showing up for work every day for the past thirty plus years, ready to kick some ass and take no prisoners.
Our dog, I’ll call him Rex to protect his identity, has a healthy respect for Jerry. They pretty much agree to disagree. Rex darts into the barn; Jerry moves into the shadows or the corners of an empty stall. Rex tiptoes up to him, and Jerry stares him down, “Bring it on you filthy mongrel.” Rex creeps closer; the cat lets out a hiss and my 80-pound Doberman takes off the other way, “Sorry! I thought you were someone else!” Rex gets his revenge eventually, though, as he runs over to Jerry’s food bowl and snarfs the entire thing in seconds flat, cautiously watching Jerry with a side-eye as he does so. Jerry just rolls his eyes and lumbers away, “Whatever, dude. I prefer mice anyway.”
Aside from the canine vs. feline drama, I have to say, this is the way to own cats: outside the house. My husband, Doctor Doolittle, loves all animals but draws the line at cats because he is deathly allergic to them. Though I do have fond memories of my oh-so-brief chapter of kitten ownership, I would never bring a cat into my home. I really like and admire those barn cats. But I’m thinking, as for house cats, … honestly, they’re kind of assholes, aren’t they? They’re so blasé, so above it all. Dogs are all, “I love you! You’re the greatest!” and cats are just kind of “Yeah, yeah …” House cats seem to resent their owner’s very existence. I hear horror stories of how cats will go out of their way just to mess with their owners. And they’re pretty vindictive, aren’t they? I mean, cats will get revenge by peeing on their owners’ stuff. That’s messed up, I’m sorry. Talk about passive aggressive. A pet is supposed to enrich one’s life, not demean and bully them.
So, though we have cats on our farm, I wouldn’t say we are cat owners. We just share space with them. We’re kind of like roommates with different schedules, passing each other in the barn, giving a head nod to each other, “Hey, ‘wassup.” Rex enjoys their food and they enjoy their jobs. We all agree to disagree and it’s better that way.