In-door domesticated cats are a phenomenon of post-WWII. Prior to this, other than a few luxury cat owners, cats roamed allies in the city and barns in the country. Cat-ladies existed, putting out plates of food for the neighborhood cats. But, most cats until the mid-1940′s were ferrel, keeping the rodent population in check. Then came Fuller Earth clay.
Fuller Earth clay was required in the military factories to absorb oil, chemicals and fuel spills. As the war ramped-down, the factory managers had warehouses of Fuller Earth around. They would keep some of it, as their factories transformed to domestic production uses. An employee had an idea of taking a bag of it home, putting it in a box, and seeing if the local cats would urinate and defecate in it. Cat-litter was discovered. The marketing departments shift from selling war-bonds, to convincing home owners to buy Fuller Earth for their beloved cats. Our cats are hardly domesticated, other than showing up for morning feedings. They use regual earth for their litter box.
About the time that we took on Bella, our dog, as a training project, we began having rat problems in our barn. Massive rodents which usually lived in the woods found calf grain to be pretty tasty and bails of hay to be warm homes. About this time, our neighbor picked up an abandoned kitten. The person who rescued her found her with matted fur and covered with maggots. “Maggie” was the name that stuck. She began to live in our garage, with the agreement that she would take care of the rodents.
She became a good mouser, proudly parading her kills around the yard. Bella and Maggie developed a love-hate relationship. Who could nab the most voles, field mice, biggest rat, chipmunks. Maggie figured out how to maneuver around the yard without getting caught by Bella. If she were most successful, she could get onto the deck to sit on the outside of the kitchen window ledge. Occasionally, she would let Bella catch her, after which she would alternate between purring and growling, until she had enough of Bella licking her. While Bella has killed groundhogs in seconds, and skunks without getting sprayed, she never put her weight ratio to Maggie’s disadvantage, other than resting her paw on her back.
Meanwhile, our neighbor’s barn cats were putting out litters a couple of times each year. We consulted about bringing some addition barn kitten to live with the calves and goats. The next litter that arrived on the top shelf of their hay rack became ours. We spent several days enticing the kittens to milk and food, then to sit in a box, and then be touched. We were not concerned with petting them, but making sure they tolerated us. Smoky, Ashes, and Charcoal came down our barn after they weaned. Other than Smoky, which had long hair, would could not tell them apart, so they collectively became “The Grey Boys”.
We learned soon that they would be good mousers. As we were still having rats visiting our barn, I put large rat-traps inside boxes, with a hole at a corner. Once set, I put this on a top shelf, which the kitten could not reach. I did not want to catch a kitten in error. One morning, when I came out to feed the calves, I noticed that the box was gone. A rat had gone in, triggered the trap, but only caught his tail. It then came back out the hole, but it’s tail dragged the trap. It pulled its way to the shelf edge, from which it, the box and trap fell to the barn floor. As I entered the barn, The Grey Boys were lined up, taking turns whacking it with their paws. They would not have been large enough to take on this rat, but they had the idea.
Maggie does not get along with The Grey Boys. We feed them on opposite sides of the garage. The Grey Boys mostly hang out with the livestock. Maggie, returns across the garden to nap on the wood piles or in the garden shed, and slip up on the deck to show us her back outline and green eyes late at night… Just to wake up the dogs.