I am going to tell you about my cats. I consider them very important members of my gardening team as I wouldn’t have thought of having chickens without them.
Señor Faztudo and I make all kinds of compromises to live together, as we all have to in a relationship or family. In his ideal world we wouldn’t have any animals in our lives. This is for two reasons, neither of them are because he doesn’t like animals. The first reason is because he doesn’t want any creature sharing our house, and that’s non negotiable for him. Not even a spider, so certainly not a cat. If we have any animals they must live outside. The second reason is he hates the idea of human beings keeping pets. He thinks it’s wrong to keep an animal and take away its independence and make it reliant on humans. He’s quite strong in his views about this and I do have some sympathy with his belief, which I think is actually quite an extreme view on animal rights, although I think domestic animals and humans have developed a relationship of co-dependency which would be very difficult to re-negotiate after so many thousands of years.
Subordinate Cat in full camouflauge
Because he loves me, Señor Faztudo tolerates the chickens, as long as they stay in their half of the garden, although he says we should re-name that part of the garden “Poo corner” But what about the cats? Why have we got them? I suppose the answer to that, is that he dislikes mice and rats – a lot. We lived in a terraced house in London and once, the cellar was overrun by mice after some building works next door. We still shudder to think of it , as we had to really fight back to get rid of them. And there is a carob processing plant in the village, which is why no one minds the feral cats we have hereabouts, they do a very important job.
A friend of ours who worked in cat rescue found a nearby farm-house with two kittens living in the barn, needing a home. I wanted females as they are better mousers, in my experience and two little balls of very frightened fluff arrived. The condition of their adoption was that we had them spayed,and vaccinated which we, of course agreed to.
On their arrival, we immediately had the problem that Señor Faztudo didn’t want them in the house, so I made them a warm bed in the cellar. However, it became clear in a very short time it was cruel to leave such young kittens alone and so they were brought into the house under sufferance, where a dark box in the warm kitchen soothed their initial fears. But feral kittens are taught to hide in the day by their mothers and somehow on the second day, the smallest kitten disappeared completely and was nowhere to be found. I thought it may have crawled up the central hoovering system and was in a terrible panic when the other kitten also did a disappearing act! Two hours later I had pulled out every box from every cupboard, shouted “kitty kitty” down the central hoover conduit until I was hoarse and taken the washing machine apart. Zilch…nada….
A little while later, I was on the loo and suddenly an awful smell began to attract my attention. Worried that there may have been something badly wrong with me, I suddenly heard a pitiful mewling and both kittens emerged from behind the bidet covered in poo. Panicking and to hide the fact that the cats had done the terrible-awful behind the bidet I scooped them up in one of my best hand towels and washed the poor little things under the bidet. All of Senor F’s worst nightmares were happening at once! Bedraggled, but none the worse, the kittens went back in their box and so their lives with us began.
Boss cat up the ladder
The kittens entertained us mightily for the next six weeks, but Señor F held firm in his resolve that they would be outside cats and actually, I agreed with him. Both our previous London cats had lived outside, and were very healthy for it. They always had a warm bed in the shed, were fed a good quality meal once a day and did a great job keeping rats and mice out of the garden. And there is the added advantage of not bringing ticks and fleas into the house with is an inevitable by product of having animals, even with treatments. The key thing is to feed them at the same time every night, and let them in the house, just for their meal, so they know where they belong. And of course, if they hate it, they are at liberty to go and live elsewhere (which in fact, one of our cats in London did, at the age of eight, but that’s another story)
Little by little our kittens grew and Señor F tolerated them swinging on his trouser leg, dashing in and out of paper sacks and cardboard boxes and scratching the sofa to death, with good grace. After a while, they began to venture outside and get used to their surroundings. I’ll call them Boss Cat, the white one and Subordinate cat, the tri-coloured one, to protect their anonymity. One day, Boss Cat didn’t come home at night. I was distraught and feared she had been eaten by something, a fear which was made worse by venturing into the garden and shining a torch into the tree to see dozens of pairs of eyes of something! I hoped they were feral cats who would look after a kitten, but I went to bed in tears. The next morning there she was at the door, bright as a button and none the worse for her adventure, although she didn’t do that again for quite a while.
Over the next few months the kittens became more and more adventurous, only returning to the house in the evening. At first, like all young things they had their ups and downs. Subordinate cat ate a black gecko and had a very sore throat for a few days. Boss cat got beaten up by a huge Tom, despite being spayed and was very wobbly for a while. Subordinate cat got her foot caught in a rabbit snare and it was red raw…she must have been released by the farmer, but it healed. All of this was worrying, of course, but I tried to accept it as an inevitable part of their freedom and we were always on hand to take them to the vet if they needed treatment. Every night I fed them a meal at the same time, so I could keep an eye on them and they have nearly always come home and always a few days later if they have gone roaming.
For their part, they have done their job well. Despite having chickens and vegetables growing in my garden, I have never seen a rat or mouse unless it was dead and in the process of being consumed. The downside is occasionally they eat lovely birds, the saddest was a green woodpecker baby. Boss Cat once fell in the pool swiping at a swallow, to her great surprise and found quite quickly, she could swim! And I once found quite a large snake on the mat, playing dead. I picked up up on a stick and it sprang to life, quite crossly. At the point I could only say I was glad the cats don’t live indoors! They have a bed each in the porch and occasionally on a winter’s night I can be seen furtively slipping a hot water bottle in their beds, although with the thick coats they have, I doubt if they really need it. If Señor F were to see me he’d say ” you’re turning those cats into wusses!” They have lived with us for four years now and have learned wily ways to cope with their surroundings. They don’t even eat my newly hatched chicks and I like to think they know they are “family” but sit on top of the coop as though guarding them from other cats. I love to see them about the garden enjoying their independence, although I also feel honoured when they come and sit on my lap and watch the chickens with me from the hippy shed. I would have more if I could, but Señor F says two is plenty to take responsibilty for and, as usual, there is some sense in that!