Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Silent Purr

It has taken me a while to figure out Lollipop. She is a Calico cat that I named Lollipop because of the large round circles of brown and black against her white coat. She hisses at me when I get too close or surprise her. She connected with me once when I mistook her behavior as accepting and tried to pet her. It wasn't. I got three nasty claw marks on the back of my hand. But there was no growling, just that stare I have been seeing everyday, two or three times a day for the last few days. She and the other two cats I have agreed to take care of in my barn have taught me about feral cats.

When I open the door to the small storage room where they have to stay till they get acclimated I see her, with her feet tucked beneath under her in a 'catly' meatloaf position, the other two crouched behind her. Usually she settles as far away as she can, under the folded table or scooted behind the work boots and outdoor umbrella stacked in the corner.

She doesn't take her eyes off of me. The tip of her ear and corner of her eye have had bits of blood on them since she has been here. And her nose looks recently bumped. She looks pretty rough and I wonder what she has gone through in her former life as one cat among many that were recently rescued from a hoarder. A hoarder is usually a well meaning person who doesn't have a clue about and is unable to care for the animals that live and breed continuously in houses, basements, garages and worse. The animals often live in unhealthy conditions without adequate food, water or vet care, getting sicker and sicker.

Today though as I watched I noticed them begin to groom each other. A small sign of a beginning trust and sense of safety. No one else has gone into their room. They do hear the muncing and stomping sounds of the horses, barking dogs and voices of my grandchildren as they play in and around the barn. I wonder about her, whether she is getting enough to eat.

Her companions, Polka Dot and Moonbeam are far less shy about coming to get the food I bring them. In fact if there is some left on her plate when they have finished theirs they crowd her out and eat her portion as well. When they do this she does nothing to stop them. Temporarily I have been giving them canned food morning and night to give their nutrition a boost. But typically some cats are grabby and some don't get what they need. Horses do this too.

I started pushing her dish right under her nose with a small stick and distracting the other two. Even then she eats tentatively, her head lifted, eyes on me, alert as if in the wild. Sometimes she uses her paw to pick up the food. I have never seen that before. I do leave dry food for them and have to hope she gets enough. I haven't even been able to get a close enough look at her to see how thin she is

As time goes by her companions begin to play with the toys on strings I dangle for them. I tried to entice her several times but found that rather than wanting to play she lashed out at me.
Finally she began to venture out from behind the table to jump up on the old stuffed chair sitting in the room. She even stayed there when I opened the door.

Her responses were subtle. I needed to watch her carefully. But I read somewhere that if I looked directly at her she would feel threatened. She did seem to relax a bit when I was careful about this. And so slowly, very slowly she seemed to get more comfortable. You just don't know what these animals have had to survive but one thing I do know. She was brave enough to close her eyes when I talked to her. And eventually she grew what looked like a smile, what a cat often looks like when they purr. And then it came to me, it must be her way of purring.

So I talked to her a lot (I talked to them all whenever I was with them). I told her she was beautiful and that she would be o.k. And she would smile and close her eyes.

After 6 weeks or so I allowed them to venture out into the barn and then out into the yard and pastures nearby. I had set up a screen door (locked) on their room to the outside to give them a little air and sunlight a little longer each day and so they could be more familiar with the area. I hoped it was long enough to have replaced their former memory of home. This was their new home. This was where they were fed.

Lollipop came in and out of the barn. Once I celebrated when I saw her with a mouse in her mouth. After exploring by themselves during the day I often saw the three of them on the highest bale of hay in our hay storage room where they often curled up together. I still kept a close eye on them and because of the coyotes, fox and owls tried to close the barn doors at night. I didn't always see them. One day I realized I had not seen her for a day or two, not unusual, but then it was 5 days, then a week. And it slowly dawned on me she probably would not be back. She had been the most timid of the three so my hopes were not high. I had accept that and let her go.

But I learned from her that sometimes purring is something you may not hear, it might be something you see. And like lots of things in life if you pay attention, even if it is to a cat, or a dog or even a child, it might surprise you to find that somehow you have made a difference. And if only for a minute or a few weeks a life could be blessed, and a cat could be content.

And I know for a while Lollipop was safe and not hungry anymore. I will always remember her as the cat with the silent purr.