Rose was not hospitable. The minute Mother returned from the vet and entered the pasture, the dog roared down the pasture hill to drive off this mangy intruder.
It was one of Rose's rare mistakes. Mother was not like the other animals Rose had encountered and dominated. The cat sat perfectly still until the charging border collie was about 4 inches away, and then she calmly turned and raked the dog's nose with one sharp swipe of her paw. Rose is not one to make the same mistake twice. From that point on, even when Mother was right in front of her, Rose pretended not to notice her.
Mother staked out the barn and the barnyard right away, sashaying back and forth at the pasture gate, taunting the dogs, strutting her stuff, almost daring anybody to start something. Nobody did. Certainly not my two yellow Labs, who had witnessed the trouncing of Rose.
From Mother's first day, the rodent carcasses began piling up. She left the first right by my back door—it was enormous. Daily offerings followed. This caused accompanying minor problems when my delighted, wagging Labs began bringing the corpses into the house. The pest population plummeted. I was impressed. This cat delivered.
Greeting Mother quickly became part of my morning routine. When I left a bowl of dry kibble in an empty stable, Mother was always waiting for me, purring, meowing, and circling. In the evening, I sometimes brought some tuna. I put out a de-icer bucket so that she would always have water, even on bitter cold nights. I learned one thing. As with dogs, sheep, and donkeys, food went a long way toward establishing a good relationship.
Mother seemed quite content in the barn. Unlike a dog, she had no need for or interest in sharing my life or staying by my side. Yet we had a real understanding. As winter approached, I worried about the cold even though Mother was filling out and growing a thicker coat. With a friend's help, I made her a sort of igloo in the barn loft—a cozy construction of hay bales with a fuzzy blanket underneath.
Now that the deep winter is here, I sometimes wonder if I should keep Mother in the barn or let her into the house. Every dog I've ever had would come inside. But Mother doesn't seem to care. She's happy in her space and happy to leave me in mine. She is willing to accept occasional gifts—such as cans of tuna fish or cups of warm milk—but she doesn't need my charity.
Every now and then she disappears for a day or two, and I go out to the barn anxiously, calling her name. You cannot, I realize, have it both ways. A barn cat is not really a pet. In the tradition of barn cats, she eventually reappears, and no one knows where she's been or why.
I have not seen a live rat for months now. Once in a while, when I take out the garbage or leave the dogs behind to stroll under a full moon, Mother appears at my side and strolls along with me. "Hey, Mother," I say. She never looks directly at me. She walks with her tail up, her eyes sweeping the darkness. Sometimes, I think she is keeping me company. And sometimes I get the feeling she is watching over me.