There are three kinds of cats at my house: four pampered house cats, our barn cats, and the woe-be-gone strays who appear from time to time. Each is fed and watered, offered a place to sleep for the night, but each falls in a very different place in the pecking order. Believe me I know all about pecking order; we had chickens for many years!
These three social classes were sharply defined several days ago when we had a nasty cold snap complete with snow. Two of my house cats, Emma and Pooh, love to spend a part of each day outside. Those few days they made their visits brief and returned quickly to the warmth of the fire. I had to call the barn cats to the back door to feed them. I have given up traipsing to the barn with them pushing and shoving and tripping me the whole way. I filled their pans and their lovely new water cooler, which my daughter bought them.
Minnie, Harry, Percy, and all the various other barn cats took up their various spots to gobble down their kibble. I try to make enough spaces so that no one is crowded and everyone has enough. When I looked up from patting furry backs and gently pulling tails, I saw the two renegades gathered under the snowy spruce trees watching.
The orange one had obviously been in a fight. His ear was covered in dried blood and he held his head at an angle as though it hurt. The black one stood puffed against the cold, ready to fly or fight, whichever was required. The barn cats were already headed off, their tummies full, to curl in the hay for the rest of the day. Most of them had lost their winter coats and faced this cold snap unprepared. The kibble had been gulped down in a matter of minutes.
I opened the kitchen door and refilled the can with a little more food and went back out. My two visitors had moved a bit closer but retreated when they saw me. I made two mounds of kibble on the stone wall and called softly to them, assuring them that it was okay to eat. I walked into the house and closed the door quietly. It took a few minutes but they crept down and ate the food, always alert for sounds from the house or the barn. When they left, they headed for the woods, not soft, warm hay and a pile of their own kind to warm them like the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are.
It struck me how like the homeless they were, uneasy in a group so much like them and yet feeling unaccepted in so many ways, reluctant to accept a handout when they needed it desperately, and resigned to sleeping in the cold rather than being rebuffed by those who already had more than enough room. I don’t know the solution. I do know that our barn cats have a pretty privileged life. That’s Minnie at the top of the page on a lovely spring day, sacked out on the porch swing. It’s just something to think about. Something that needs to be adjusted in this world of ours where cats are treated better than people sometimes.