The last piece I wrote was about my black raspberries. Today, I was reminded that I had not told the whole story behind them. That reminder came from my ‘supervisor’, also known as Silly the cat.
You will please note that I do not refer to Silly as my pet, or even my house cat. No, she is no one’s cat, at least that is the impression I get from her. She arrived at my house several years ago, having found an opening in a storage shed that allowed her to enter and use the space to give birth to a litter of kittens. She was, however, a terrible mother, losing all of that brood, and one more that followed it. I, being the soft-hearted (or soft-headed) fool that I am, had given her food in hopes that she would stay around and take better care of her kittens. At that point, she would quickly slink away whenever I came anywhere near, only eating when I was not in sight. Later, she became bolder, eating when I was watching, but still staying well away from me.
After she lost her second batch of kittens, I managed to borrow a ‘safe’ trap, one of those box-like contraptions that has a spring-loaded door hooked to a balance plate. The principle is simple, but effective: food is placed at the closed end of the box, beyond the balance plate, and the only way for the animal to reach the food is to step on the plate. Once that happens, the trap is tripped, the door slams shut and is fixed in place well enough that the animal inside can’t get out. Silly, as I had begun to call her for her willingness to let me feed her but not approach, took only a day to step into the trap and get caught.
To say that she was not amused would be a huge understatement. When I approached the trap the next day, she hissed at me and glared, her message clear: “Let me out of here so I can climb up your face with my claws out!” For my part, my goal was simple: I had contacted a local rescue shelter that had indicated they would take her in, ‘fix’ her so she’d never get pregnant again, and put her up for adoption. Unfortunately, when I contacted them after trapping her, they indicated that they’d happily ‘fix’ her…but that they’d recently taken in several other animals and could not keep her long enough to allow her to be adopted.
So, after a few days, she was returned to me, still in her trap, and still very pissed off. I took her out to the storage shed, got on the far end of the trap, and opened the door. She made a speedy exit, and for the next few days, I would see her glaring at me from time to time from some spot in the yard, and the food I would put out for her would disappear, but she would come no where near me. After about a month, she began to go back to her old habit of eating while I was nearby, but she would still move away if I approached her. So I adopted a slow-but-sure strategy on approaching her: each day, I would move off a little less and wait for her to come to eat. Eventually, she got to the point where I would only take a step away from her food and wait for her to come out. On one of those days, as she was face-down eating her fill, I slowly bent down to try to touch her. She must have seen or sensed me, as she moved away and stayed away until I had left.
The next day, though, I repeated the process, and this time, I managed to run my hand over her back. She gave me a glare, but then thinking of the food, she subsided and went back to eating. I gave her another stroke, and while she shied away a little, she didn’t glare. Over the next few days, she got more comfortable with me touching her, and within a month, she had gotten to the point where her back would arch and she would give one of her odd little ‘cooing’ purrs at my touch.
Now, years later, she still lives outside (she refuses all attempts to entice her into the house…she still has her claws, and I would rather attempt to wrestle a bobcat buck-naked than try to pick her up), but as soon as I emerge from the house, there she is, looking for attention. I no longer think of her as a stray, but as a ‘hang-around-the-house’ cat. Her favorite form of attention, beyond the obvious having her back stroked, is to be scratched-yes, right there stupid human!-behind her ears. She has also come to enjoy rubbing against my legs, as any other cat will, but she also tends to follow me around, much as if she were a lost pup (and for comparing her to one of those ‘things’, I have no doubt she will glare at me). Sometimes, when I go for a walk, she will follow me for considerable distances, usually ending with her picking a convenient spot to wait for my return…whereupon she escorts me home again (I obviously being too much of a stupid human to know how to find home).
During berry season, her main joy is ‘supervising’ me. And just like every supervisor I have ever dealt with, she is constantly underfoot, always in the way, and often demanding my attention. One of her favorite tactics for getting more attention is to lay down a short way from where I’m picking, always in the direction I’m working(no, she is not a stupid cat, just a silly one). Sometimes this will get her a scratch, maybe a quick pet, but often it will earn her a nudge in the posterior from my boot. This gets me a glare, usually followed by what can only be described as a huffy walk away, followed by her going to great lengths to let me know that she is not interested in what I am doing. She will occasionally be distracted, especially if the dragonflies are mating, or even fluttering around among the canes. Then, she goes full-on hunter, crouching low and watching her ‘prey’ intently, waiting for the moment when she can pounce and triumph over her fearsome target (like I said, she’s a silly cat).
Many people will no doubt fault me for not forcing her into my house, for not asking the shelter to de-claw her so she would no longer be as fierce as she still is. I would respond that she seems to be quite happy with her life, and I have arranged a straw-lined shelter for her use in winters, and is not the happiness of the animals we take into our lives the most important thing of all?
So there you have, it, my whole berry-picking team: me stretching, stooping and bleeding to harvest the berries, and Silly there to keep an eye on me, make sure I get the job done right and occasionally give me a moment’s respite while I laugh at her (and get glared at for not respecting Herself, of course).