|Toby as a timid feral kitten|
No matter how cold, dark, damp or gloomy it is when I get up to tend to the animals, I am always encouraged by the cheerful companionship of Polly and Toby, our two farm cats. Once they have been fed first thing on a morning, they sit by the door and wait for me to pull on my boots and set out to feed the sheep and chickens. They love to bound along beside me, and accompany me to and fro across the yard as I scatter corn, fill up water buckets and check the sheep.
Their most popular pastime is to sit on the fence posts like a couple of carved stone lions, overseeing my work. Polly sits motionless and still, stoically supervising the proceedings and occasionally remembering to blink. Toby, however, gets impatient and usually begins mewing and fawning about on his post until I put him over my shoulder and carry him about as I finish my chores.
Once my tasks are all completed, the cats come bounding back to the house with me for a second helping of their breakfast (and some of mine!) before going about their important business of snoozing by the fire or persecuting small animals.
|Polly on her post|
The cats are a recent addition at the farm, having arrived here as strays last August. They were skinny, parasite ridden and fearful when they set up home under a conifer tree. Toby, the weedy little kitten, took months to tame. His journey from a terrified feral to the most affectionate, playful, responsive house cat was a long one, but well worth all the patience and hard work on my part and on his.
Toby and I share a very special level of trust and mutual understanding, and enjoy spending time together exploring and investigating. I have great fun learning from him and showing him new things, and our ability to communicate with each other gets better all the time. Today he helped me to collect the few remaining apples in the orchard by climbing along the branches that I pointed out to him and using his body weight to lower the branches enough for me to reach.
Polly too has progressed from being only as friendly as she needed to be in order to be fed, to recently sitting on the furniture with me. She now very occasionally, even sits on my lap.
It was Polly’s reserved but relaxed attitude with me that persuaded Toby to give me a chance. Cats learn so much from watching each other and as Polly’s behaviour did not reinforce Toby’s early fears, that helped me to create a link between me and his food and slowly build up from there.
Like Toby, I too learnt a great deal from Polly and mimicked the calls, body language and behaviour that she used with her kittens in order to engage with Toby. Ironically, it is now Toby who is leading by example and giving his mum the confidence to establish an even greater level of trust and communication with me, which is really exciting.
It may be true that you can’t teach old dog new tricks, but maybe you can teach a cat?
|Toby as an adult farm cat|