Adopting a Barn Cat: Not as Easy as it Sounds.

Barn cat NOT in the barn

Last winter, mice ate through the gas line in my car. They built a gigantic nest in it, causing the man at the service station to sternly reprimand me, right before charging me hundreds for clean out and repairs. They chewed threw wires in Jon’s Acadia – costing us close to $3000. Something had to be done.

So, not excited about poisons and after setting many mouse traps, we decided to adopt a barn cat.

The MSPCA adopts out feral cats that don’t have a home as barn cats. The idea is that at least this way they have a roof over their heads and food daily. That said, they make every effort to first domesticate every cat they get, so would-be adopters have to wait.

We have the perfect setting — an old stable and outbuildings, and gardens and fields full of mice.

We filled out the application and waited for them to call, which they did, months later, in April.

Gray is beautiful. She has beautiful swirls of white in her gray fur and striking yellow eyes. She was fierce, not allowing us close. The shelter gave us instructions for her acclimation, which we followed, settling her in a potting shed with a carpet structure, water, food, and toys.

Potting Shed

We fed her daily and waited the period they recommended before releasing her. When the day came, we opened the potting shed door and stood aside for Gray to leave her little world for the fields and gardens of the farm. I noticed she’d become quite fat in the weeks I’d been (over)feeding her.

She strolled out and disappeared into a field to the east of the house. I crossed my fingers she’d remember how to get back to her potting shed and that she’d figure out there is a great supply of mice in the garage right near the potting shed.

Everything seemed to be going well; Gray came and went, was spotted around the property —miraculously — too good to be true! — coming and going from the garage, which we took to leaving open for her.

In July we went on vacation, setting sprinklers on the gardens and hiring a woman to care for the chickens and to feed Gray.

On returning home, Gray was gone.

During our week away she had wandered off – we were heartbroken, having gotten attached to seeing her around. I kept feeding her for weeks, thinking she might return, but she didn’t. Winter came, and we assumed the worst.

In June of this year–11 months later! –the Medfield Animal Shelter, two towns away from us, called me to say they had my cat and would I please come collect her?

Amazed and thrilled we drove the 9.5 miles to retrieve her – how could she have travelled so far? And why? we asked. We brought gloves and a biggish metal animal carrying cage, expecting our fierce barn cat with her ample personal space to be in form. But on arriving, the woman who runs the shelter informed us she was very friendly and very interested in being fed. Amazing. Apparently, the man who had been feeding her in his shed during the winter had domesticated her. The cat whisperer had been taking care of our barn cat.

Homecoming- no longer a barn cat.

So this time we situated Gray in the house.

Gray – now in the house.

What about the mice? We have mice in the house, too, so all was not lost. There as so much purring, rubbing against us and needy demands for attention that if not for the chip that identifies her I would not have believed this was our cat.

That very same night at 11 pm we were in bed reading and heard a crash at the front of the house. Agreeing the cat had knocked something over and that it would be there in the morning we went to sleep.

The following morning … we found the dining room screen laying in the front yard- at least 6 feet from the house – the seedlings I’d placed on the windowsill knocked to the ground, and the cat gone. Again. This. Cat. Oi.

We wandered the property with cat food, calling for her but of course we didn’t find her.

We did find what was left of a bird next to the window.

Since birds don’t hang out in bushes at 11 pm (they go home to their nests at dark) we knew she’d been in the yard all night, but she wasn’t there by the time we’d woken to find the screen out. So we went back to gardening and wondered whether we would be driving to Medfield in 11 months to collect her.

As I write this, Gray is sleeping at the end of the bed. My son Tristan spotted her hiding out in some bushes later the day she threw herself out a window and coaxed her back in with … food. Food! Her first love.

Since that day she is careful about window screens, preferring that they remain in the window casement.

Gray’s dining room window

She is rather fat, coming and going through doors, having learned to communicate when she wants us to open one for her, and last night she emerged from the field with a mouse dangling from her mouth. Wonderful! Even fat cats can catch mice.

I have yet to see a single dead mouse from our house or garage – I’ve found only bird bits around the property – an unintended consequence of adopting her; we love our birds. But no mouse carcasses. Maybe she eats the whole mouse?

Or maybe I’m feeding her too much.

Anyway, this fall we are back to wondering what to do about the mice.

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