Fifteen or so years ago my husband and I ran a boarding stable for horses. This was to defray the expense of our horse habit—not sure it defrayed any costs, really, but it did provide us with lots of horse-nut friends. We had “real jobs,” so our stable was a you-care-for-your-own-horse facility. This meant that most everyone was out there every day; that, of course, meant that we all became fast friends.
This picture is similar to our barn. It was specifically a horse barn with 28 stalls. It was old but serviceable and time-tested. I loved walking through, seeing our contented equines with their heads poked over their stall doors.
Part of our barn family was the cat population. Through the middle of the barn was a raised (not quite a “loft”) concrete-floor where hay was stored. From this section we could throw hay down into the hay racks of two rows of stalls. This huge hay expanse made a great kitty heaven, and we sure did not mind the fact that the mouse population was kept down by their presence. These cats just “materialized.” They also just disappeared from time-to-time, and we knew that the coyotes that would lurk about the place at night were a constant danger to them.
The cats were friends to our horses, and I have seen many a scene of affection between the species, similar to this.
V and her family were out at the barn a lot—V’s oldest had a mare with us. She and I (mostly V) would occasionally take some of the females in to be spayed. It seemed a never-ending battle and, truly, it began to seem like the kiss of death. It became a running joke that those we selected for the operation were either soon run over by some car or just disappeared like so many before them. Neutering the males seemed like a lost cause, too—there was always another tomcat down the road to impregnate our cats. So, we soon gave the population control thing up.
Two cats who stand out in my memory were sisters, tortoise-shell cats like this picture, here. We called them “Daphne” and “Camou,” which was a reference to her camouflage-like pattern. They were difficult to tell apart, and were almost always seen together. I suppose that it should have been no surprise that they turned up pregnant at the same time.
Daphne was the first to have her kittens. We knew about the litter in the hay. On the day they were born, I spied Daphne moving her four kittens, one-by-one down the hallway. I know that mother cats do this frequently, seeking a safe place, so I did not think much about it until I spotted her less than half an hour later going back the opposite direction with a kitten in her mouth. I began to pay attention.
What I noticed was that when Daphne was moving away from the original site of the litter, she seemed noticeably bigger than when she was going back toward it….it dawned on me: Still pregnant, Camou was moving her sister’s kittens. And Daphne was bringing them right back.
All afternoon these sisters moved kittens, and I did not know quite what to do but watch the drama play out. I did find where Camou was taking them, and I would check periodically. Sometimes there would be a kitten or two lying there. Sometimes there would be none. Daphne would take spells when she nursed what kittens were in her nest.
Finally, later than night Camou had her own litter in her own bed. You might think that having her own four kittens would satisfy this mothering urge, but no—she seemed to have grown to love the first litter, too. The moving started up again.
We at the barn were all aware of it and somewhat stressed out about it. Finally everything settled down. All eight kittens ended up in a big pile in the hay together. Both sister-mamas were right in there with them, lying there nursing them all, showing them off happily when we would come to check on them.
As these kittens grew, we never really knew who belonged to whom. I wonder if these mother/aunt cats knew? I wonder if it mattered at all? I think not.
I miss my barn days. C