Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch: Charlie’s Cat Thought He Was a Dog

Two years ago our grandchildren moved to a house on the edge of town. Fearing their cats might not live very long next to a busy highway, our daughter brought the cats to live at our place—two mama cats and their young kittens and an adolescent black cat named Shade. Whenever the grandkids come out to the ranch, they enjoy seeing their cats and playing with them.

Shade belonged to 7-year-old Charlie and was a very unusual cat. From the time he was a baby, Shade was a mellow, companionable creature who always wanted to be with people. He immediately bonded with my husband, Lynn, and wanted to be wherever Lynn was — following him around the barnyard to do chores, jumping from the fence to his shoulder while Lynn filled the heifers’ water tank with a garden hose, climbing onto the feed truck as Lynn loaded bales of hay.

This young cat was absolutely fearless, following us as we walked through the cow pastures, even when the curious cattle came charging up to check him out. The first time this happened, Shade merely hunkered down and let the cows sniff and snort. When he didn’t run, they lost interest. The only time he became fainthearted and ran off was once when the old lead/boss cow, Rishira, bellowed and blew snot at him and actually rolled him along the ground with her nose.

Some of the barn cats (Shade's siblings and friends) warming themselves on the hood of the jeep.

All our cats love to sleep on the loaded feed truck — on the hay, in the sunshine. On a cold winter day, they perch on the warm hood after the truck has been running. Whenever we drive out to the fields to feed, we have to make sure we don’t have a truckload of cats on top of the hay. A couple of different times, Shade was a stowaway and went with us anyway; he didn’t seem to mind traveling on the hay in the back of the truck. He liked this so much that soon he insisted on coming with us whenever and wherever we fed the cows. If he wasn’t right on deck when we left, he followed us until he could catch up with us at the gate to the field. Lynn often stuck him through the open window into the cab with me so the cows with calves wouldn’t stampede over the top of him — they were even more protective and upset about seeing a cat in the field after they had their baby calves.

Shade always liked a high perch so he could look around.

Being a cat, however, Shade was much more independent than a dog, and sometimes he preferred to ride in the back of the truck, or the front, and if he changed his mind in mid-ride, it was no use trying to deter him. If he got tired of helping me drive (sitting purring by my side, or getting tangled up in the steering wheel, or sitting on my shoulder or the dashboard or the back of the seat, or on my lap with his head out the window like a dog), he climbed out the window and shimmied along the side of the truck and back to the load of hay. Conversely, if he was on the hay, he sometimes tried to shimmy along the door handle to get back into the cab.

Mostly, however, he preferred riding on the back, seeming to enjoy the teetering balancing act as we bounced over frozen mud ruts or manure patties. He delighted in these acrobatics as much as any truck-riding cow dog.

Shade waiting on the four-wheeler to go with Lynn to irrigate

His latest sport is pretending to be a hood ornament. One morning he climbed on the hood after Lynn stopped to shut a gate and didn’t want to give up his vantage point, so Lynn left him there and drove to the next field, with Shade lying on the hood, enjoying the view. He managed to keep his place and didn’t bounce or slide off even when we bounced through the rough terrain in the field (though Lynn went a little slower than usual, not wanting to jostle him off).

The funniest part, however, was when we got up to where the cows were, and they saw this small black panther atop the hood of their feed truck! Rishira’s eyes got big, and she threw her head in the air and snorted and trembled, not sure whether to run off or charge at the cat! I wish I’d had a video camera at that moment, as she and the cat had a stare-down and Shade nonchalantly gave her a lazy, superior look that seemed to say, “Ha! You can’t chase me now!” He continued pretending to be a fancy hood ornament all through the feeding and back to the barn, enjoying every minute of it.

Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Storey's Guide to Training Horses, Stable Smarts, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Your Calf, Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle, Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. You can read all her Notes from Sky Range Ranch posts here.



Heather, Love your blog as much as your books. Shade reminds me of our Smokie (girl). She is a cat that earns her keep by keeping our dogs in check, keeping rodents out of the yard, and being a great friend. My wife and I want to raise cattle one day and your books and inspiration are a big help. Keep doing what you're doing!

Laura Hopkins said...

Hi. Loved looking at your pictures of Shade. What a unique cat. One that like to ride. I adore all the furry creatures our Earth provides. The give and ask for nothing but foot and water.
Thanks for putting a priceless smile on my face.

Laura Hopkins