Domesticated Predators, Part 2: In Affectionate Memory of Scootch

Original home of 4 kittens – a little cave/burrow underneath the concrete barn foundation behind a piece of picket fence.

So… Mama Cat and her 4 little kittens had successfully moved into the garage and I had not yet moved permanently to the Small Calm Farm. I had purchased a good self-feeder and water dispenser that held enough food and water for several days for Mama Cat and her nursing babies and I visited at least twice/week, staying overnight on weekends until I moved out my Milwaukee and into the country house at the end of August.

Mama Cat

Mama Cat was annoying, approaching me and meowing for something whenever I visited the farm, darting in front of me and nearly tripping me up when I walked, sometimes hissing at me, sometimes rubbing up against my legs. She was somewhere between independently feral and dependently domesticated. She was also a good, protective mother, nursing the kittens when she felt like it and hissing them away when she wasn’t didn’t. On mornings when I stayed over, she would plant herself at the door meowing incessantly. So I began to give her canned food (a delicacy, to my mind) for her first meal of the day. She inevitably devoured a full can and immediately came to expect it. I didn’t particularly like Mama Cat. But she lived here before me and had 4 little babies.

The kittens were cute, of course. Who doesn’t like kittens? I couldn’t get closer than 10-15 feet from them, but that was alright. They were born under a barn, after all.

2 of the 4 inherited kittens. Nico is the black and white one sitting and facing the camera.

Then, early one morning, with Mama Cat at the front door meowing for her canned food breakfast, I hear a second, new, distinctive mewing coming from the garage. It’s yet another cat! Another kitten, a bit bigger and a little older than the other 4, but a kitten and obviously not one of Mama Cat’s own. Mama Cat didn’t like this one at all. I thought it was a male, for some reason (the more squared shape of its head/face and bigger, more upright ears, but what do I know?). “He” regularly tried to sidle up to Mama Cat, at first. She hissed, aggressively meowed, and nastily swatted him away. So he would run away and hide, scootching between the reclaimed barn wood stacked and leaned against the walls of the garage. (Thus the name Scootch. He spent much of his time hiding that narrow, protected space between wood and walls, scootching out his thin hiding space he he heard me.) Days passed, then weeks, and he refused to be run off by Mama Cat. When Mama Cat wasn’t around, he would bound and play and wrestle with her kittens. He would approach within 2-4 feet of me, not quite close enough to pet, but he would purr, loudly enough to hear from several feet away, and sometimes flop down and writhe happily on the concrete. The video below is one of the first times I tried to pet him, and basically captures the moment when (s)he won me over.

Scootch
Despite my general dislike of cats, Scootch was a keeper. This is my first attempt to pet “him.”

I liked Scootch. Immediately. He was different, kinda weird, somebody’s unwanted stray, a little cat that just appeared. He was affectionate, from a distance. I liked his coloring, longer hair, copious ear hair, odd behavior, perseverance and courage in the face of Mama Cat’s aggression toward him. He wasn’t born on the farm. He was a survivor. In contrast to Mama Cat and her kittens whom I had basically inherited with the farm, Scootch had come here, due to abandonment or something, and stayed — by choice. In turn, I chose to keep Scootch, without a doubt. I was unsure of all the other cats. I kept them out of a sense of responsibility, not affection. I don’t particularly like cats. They’re innately selfish creatures. But I liked Scootch.

Because of Scootch, I tried to warm up to the other cats a bit more. But, still… 6 cats? No thanks. No way. I had gone from 0 planned cats to 6 cats before I even settled in to the new place. 6 cats could become 20-25 cats in no time at all. I also planned to raise chickens at some point. Cats and wild birds don’t mix. Cats and chickens probably won’t mix. Cats simply didn’t fit the “ecosystem” I wanted to eventually establish and steward.

Though she was very well fed, Mama Cat was a skilled and determined hunter. One day, I found this dead vole near the garage. Killed, not eaten. (There’s that contradiction of domesticated predator again!) I didn’t know what this little animal was until several people identified it via Facebook. It was somewhere between a large mouse and a small mole. (Thus vole, I guess?:-) Then, a week or so later, Mama Cat came prancing out of the tall, overgrown, thistle-infested part of the pasture with a bright yellow goldfinch in her mouth. Finches thrive on thistle seed, their light little bodies sitting atop the opened head of seed, nipping away. That was it for Mama Cat. I won’t watch that more than once. I took her to the Janesville Humane Society the next day and paid the fee to “surrender” her. (Someone did adopt her. After she had been spayed. I checked back later.)

Vole

So now I have Scootch, the apparent stray or otherwise abandoned cutie, and 4 newly weaned, approximately 5-6 month old kittens. Scootch had begun to play and bond with the kittens, even more so without mean Mama Cat around. He had begun to let me pet him and even pick him up and hold him for a while. The 4 kittens remained unapproachable. Meanwhile, I had read that cats can begin breeding as young as 5 months, my youngest daughter (I love you, Ally.) had named the 4 kittens (and approved of my name for Scootch), so I was responsible for caring or finding homes for them all. I found a very nice lady, via an “Unwanted Farm Animals” group on the dreaded Facebook, who was happy to take 2-4 kittens in, care for them, tame them, and find new homes for them.

Scootch was the keeper. No doubt. But I didn’t want him to be alone, so I decided to keep one of the kittens so Scootch had some feline company. Since the kittens were basically feral, I had to trap them in a live (humane) trap and a cat carrier, inducing their entry into the devices with fresh canned cat food. I successfully captured 3 of the 4 kittens and kept the 4th (Nico, pretty black and white, short hair) as a companion for Scootch.

With the cat population now narrowed down to a more acceptable number, I was finally able to capture Nico in the cat carrier and take them both to be “fixed.” After that process, I learned there were both female. After coming back from the vet. Scootch and Nico were nearly inseparable. I say nearly because Nico followed Scootch everywhere, but Scootch would often be impatient with Nico rubbing up against constantly, got closer and closer to me when I was working outside daily, and had begun to follow me into the house regularly. Nico would never follow Scootch into the house, even when I left the door open encouraging her to do so. She would invariably stop at the door, even after I had started to leave the sun porch door for both of them to come in.

Scootch wanted to come into the house every time I came in. Scootch was ready to be a house cat. Nico wasn’t.

To be continued, sadly…

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