Pennsylvania Equestrian readers
share their favorite barn cat stories
From Pat Lawson, Port Royal, PA
My husband and I were adopting and picking up a rooster and four hens from our relatives, Bob and Stephanie Lawson, in the fall of 2005. As we were getting ready to travel back to Juniata County, we were introduced to a caramel and white barn kitten. Well, we just melted and away we went with another family member, who we named Dylan, after Bob Dylan.
I never had much experience with cats, but my husband has and he has never met a cat quite like Dylan. He is an indoor/outdoor cat who meows to go out and even, at times, opens the door to go out! He’s cuddly; comes when we call him; eliminates rodents with expertise; doesn’t mind water – he goes out in the rain and snow, takes a drink from the toilet bowl, and even washes his paws on the pool steps! We also have a mutt, Sam, who was about a year old when we adopted Dylan, and these two are best buddies who we’ll find snuggling together one minute and then wrestling the next with Dylan weighing in at 13 lbs. inevitably defeating Sam, weighing in at 55 lbs.!
What a gem! I would adopt another barn kitten in a heartbeat, although living up to Dylan’s personality would be a great feat.
Riana Barrington of Barrington Stables in Lancaster County
We have wonderful barn cats! We have five cats who are very friendly and always get plenty of attention from weekly visitors. Sometimes when people pull into the parking area there is a welcoming committee of cats just begging to be loved on. When parents sit and wait during their childrens’ lessons’ they are usually surrounded by cats as they sit on the bench in front of the barn. Our cats are also very courageous and don't fear the horses very much. One winter I came into the barn to find two of them sleeping on the back of my horse in the stall.
They also do amazing balancing acts to drink out of the troughs and buckets and may also be seen patrolling the grounds atop the fences.
From Susan Pizzini, Nomad’s Oasis Farm. Oxford, PA
My beloved horse Sassons Nomad was one of the great horses in Chester County. He was owned by a Lancaster County family before being purchased for a young girl named Tracy in Chester County. Tracy showed him in hunt seat equitation primarily but also western pleasure. Her grandfather taught him to drive simply by hitching him up and having him just do it. He told Tracy that he's the best horse ever and when he passed away he was buried with a photo of Nomad and Tracy together. He also told her in was a big mistake that she sold him. But if she hadn't sold him, I may never have owned this great school master for my son to learn to ride.
Nomad would stand guard for the weaker and young horses when he was the boss in the pasture. I watched as the yearling in the pasture was chased by the big mare and he'd run to Nomad and she would back off when he chased her away. He never really did it aggressively, such a kind and benign leader. So it only makes sense that when I took in my first barn cat that she would go to him for friendship.
One day I received an email begging for someone to take in 3 cats for a barn as they were not welcomed back after being sterilized by a Trap Neuter Return group and had been living in a crate for an extended period of time for lack of a home. I considered the increasing mouse population that was growing in my new barn and when a mouse jumped up at me from inside a feed bin that I believed to be secure I decided, this is it. Take these cats, give them a home and hope they take care of the mouse problem. I did all the right things, confined them in crates for over 3 weeks and then released them in my new barn. Unfortunately other stray cats moved in while my new cats were still young and unable to defend their territory and they drove off my new cats, Cuddles, Creamcycle and Connie. But Connie returned, and being lonely she made up to my old horse Nomad who I was bringing into the back of the barn to eat since he needed more time and I had been feeding them all in the pasture together. Connie decided that she could trust Nomad and everyday I came to feed, I put her can of cat food out and sometimes she would eat some and eventually not at all because she was waiting for her friend to join her for dinner. I'd prepare a special meal for my old buddy Nomad who was losing teeth much too fast as he was in his mid 30's. It was everything mushed including oatmeal that I would buy in 50 lb. bags from Lancaster County, sea kelp, ground flax seed, 50/50 hay cubes, beet pulp and supplements. After soaking all this I would bring in Nomad and Connie would join him at his food dish during the whole meal, never leaving him. She would sometimes eat his oatmeal with him.
On October 17, 2007 Nomad came in for his last dinner, Connie was with him during his meal of course. But the next night, 6 pm he and Connie were not there. I called, but I knew what that meant because Nomad never missed a meal. I found him far out in the pasture. Connie had lost her best friend.
It took months but after a while she began coming to me, you see Connie didn't like me. She kept her distance and if I tried to pet her she would scratch me. But she would rub against Nomad's legs, weaving in and out with total trust and lying down under him and behind his back legs. I’m not a good replacement for Nomad but after almost a year out of desperation and loneliness for Nomad she chose to befriend me now. My other 3 horses are no substitute for her old friend but I found that when they come in to eat so does she. I put down the food but she would rather be with them and watch them eat. It’s not the same as Nomad, but she is the horse's cat, not mine.
Today I still have Connie, she’s a great cat but I’m no replacement for Nomad. But she inspired me to help Forgotten Cats with their efforts to find barn homes for more cats, I’ve taken in several more cats and I never see mice in my feed bins now. Forgotten Cats is a stray cat’s best friend. www.forgottencats.org
Cocoa from Sweet Rock Stable
Attached is a picture of our 15 year old barn cat Cocoa. As he is always on the job we caught him to take this picture.
He was out of a litter of three that was dropped off along the road when our barn was built 15 years ago. He has outlived his two brothers and still can catch rodents bigger then himself. He has all SRS clients and staff trained to fill his food bowl as needed. As he is the king cat at our barn.
From Linda M. Wickham, Spring Grove, PA
Felons In My Barn
Sherlock Holmes, the 18 hand American Warmblood of my focus, patiently waited for me to appear, carrot in hand. Outside his high stall window, I heard a faint “meow”. Hunting around the back side of the barn, I found a big black cat that was all of two inches wide. In horror, my heart sank. I bolted to my car and got a sandwich, left over from lunch. It was all I had. He ate the entire sandwich.
Over the next week and after work, I brought kitty food every day. Sherlock and Zorro were now my focus. Zorro seemed to fill out directly proportional to the size of the dish filled with kitty food. Sherlock looked longingly at Zorro’s food. I had to prove to him that his treats were safe from Zorro and not in the kitty food dish. One sniff ended his stress.
About a week passed and at the close of each business day I found myself smiling and thinking about Zorro. I visualized him running part way, to meet my car, as he did each evening, when I appeared on the long dirt road leading to the barn. But the 9th day would be different.
I drove up to the barn and no Zorro. The despair I immediately felt, pierced me. I got out of the car and called but still no Zorro. Then I noticed some movement at the far corner of the barn and stepping out of the long evening shadows, there stood Zorro, a wraith of a black cat. He had gone back to being two inches wide, overnight. I thought, “This will be the end of him. He must have something dreadfully wrong with him, well beyond starvation.” He walked slowly toward me, as I called. He was weak and so I walked forward to meet him, with the dish of kitty food in hand. He dove into the food like a felon on death row eating the last meal of his life. Tears lingered on my eyelids. I was afraid to pet him as I had done before. Maybe whatever he had was catching.
Now, again, a movement at the corner of the barn caught my eye. I was stupefied. Another black cat stepped out of the shadow and looked at me tentatively, as if asking if he too, could come. Instantly, I realized it was the real Zorro and when I called, he ran toward me understanding he was invited. He ploughed his head into the dish, like he had known the other cat all its life. They ate with their faces pressed together, choking on their food and I kept adding more food to the dish.
I started a casual investigation to see if I could learn more about these two cats. I asked some of the riders around the barn. Finally, it was my trainer Scott Chipps that had the answer. It seems a veterinarian/friend had rescued these two litter mates from a local prison, as the prisoners were not taking care of them. She had dropped them off as barn cats, with Scott’s permission but the cats had promptly disappeared.
Now with Scott’s affirmative nod, my husband Michael and I took care of these two felons, covering both food and medical needs, for the next three years.
When my husband and I decided to get our own farmette, moving from Maryland to Pennsylvania, we really wanted to take the Zorro brothers with us. But knowing they were Scott’s barn cats, we felt it would be a slim chance these beautiful, (now 14 lbs each), black panthers would ever adorn our own barn.
I devised a plan…Scott had a stately event horse valued at about 60K. So, with a twinkle in my eye, I asked Scott if he would give us Devo as a going away present. Then I quickly followed up saying, “and if that is out of the question we would settle for the Zorro brothers.” Scott responded with a chuckle and grinning ear to ear, said, “Of course they can go with you.” My heartfelt thank-you and hug were spontaneous. Michael and I were thrilled to have this going away gift.
Our cozy insulated barn in Pennsylvania is appreciated by all. The first cold crispy day of fall found the Zorro brothers sprawled side by side in a warm shaft of sunlight, while my husband took their picture. Never were two felons loved more than these.
From Margaret Holsinger
This is a picture of a barn cat that was born last year at the barn I board at. I think his name is Ray-Ray.
From Barbara Bingham
“Mousey” was the skinny runt of the litter with three strikes against her from the beginning. When I first saw her, her eyes were pasted shut and her nose was crusty. It didn’t look like she stood much of a chance. That was the spring I had decided to do something about the steadily growing population of my barn cats. I systematically began trapping them and chauffeuring them back and forth to a participating veterinarian in the spay/neuter program sponsored by PAWS. I had obtained discount vouchers from our local SPCA to try and keep the cost to a minimum. “Mousey,” as I had named her after a childhood cat with a similar malady, was inducted in that process, as she had now lived through distemper and it had left her with something resembling epilepsy. She was victim to spells where she would suddenly arch her back and rise up on her tiptoes, stiffen her legs and fall over, paddling the air with her front paws and crying piteously. When witnessing it, I would soothe her, stroking her gently and telling her to be strong, “it will pass”. She came through her spaying along with the others. Her 'fits' as I called them morphed into spasms where she periodically would lose control of her bowels.
My horse boarders were non-complaining about her little accidents even through it was invariably on their horse blankets and pads, where she could always be found sleeping, curled up in a tiny orange ball. I implored my horse vet to dispense something for the symptoms, and he gave me penicillin which would help her for a while. This isn’t a sad story, she must be 5 or 6 years old by now and has thoroughly captured the hearts of all who know her. She comes running with that funny stilted gait of hers when it’s feeding time and arches her skinny back to rub against your leg and purrs in appreciation for special treats and canned food. She’s a mascot at our barn. The other cats step aside to let her eat the special food and I have seen them licking her and helping her groom. Even my baby colt is especially gentle with her and inspects her all over while she lays quietly and trustingly. Mousey is a lesson in perseverance and acceptance. Bless her heart!
From Cathy Heagy
We have a cat named Milky who lost her left hind leg in an accident. Because she no longer can scratch behind her ear normally, she is usually seen rubbing her neck against door frames in the barn.
She enjoys getting scratched by anyone in the stable who stops by. The girl in the picture is Ann Slider, a neighbor and riding student here at Grey Forest Acres in Narvon.
Submitted by Ginny Morgenthal and her barn partner PJ
Once in awhile we are astonished by the fortunes laid before us. Ours happened at a horse farm we once had on a warm summer evening as we brought our 20 odd horses into the barn for their nightly feeding. Silverado, our mellow Rocky Mountain horse, walked gently into his stall as he’d done hundreds of times. His winnowing and rearing in the air quickly brought us to his stall. As we calmed him down and backed him out, there in the middle of his straw laden stall was a barely perceptible creature, squeeking and wimpering, a newly born kitten just inches long, with his umbilical cord still attached.
Silverado had been doing what Rockys and many other horses do, trying to avoid stepping on a creature barely perceptible to one’s eyes. In the far corner was a another squeeking baby burrowed into a nest. The mother, one of many feral cats at the barn, had abandoned her newlyborn. Silverado stood at the gate to the stall stared and sniffed at these new creatures in his life.
After being unable to find their mother and lure her back, we decided to rescue and raise them as our own. Clearly this was an endeavor not to be underestimated; yet with their eyes unopened, no fur, inches long and totally vulnerable, rescue was our choice. Silverado's choice was not to harm them if possible. What were we to do?
A visit to the vet came with the advise that their chances at survival were slim. Two years later we are the proud parents of exceptional twin boys: “The Colonel and Fizmo.” Hand fed several times a day with just a dab of special food on a finger tip, they beagn to slowly thrive, eventually crawling out of their heated cardboard box, opening their eyes and exploring the world.
Today, they know nothing but dogs, cats and horses and their lives have enriched ours beyond anything we could have imagined. Everytime they snuggle or rub against one of us, our minds drift back to that small horse farm, a straw filled stall and a horse called Silverado.
Thanks to everyone for sharing!