His name was Jester. Actually it was Chester when I got him, but he quickly earned the name Jester. His perfect black and white markings, and his entertaining personality made me think of a court jester.
He came with the farm. I didn’t want him, had too many cats already. But the seller had to leave him behind. He had come with the place when she bought it, and with her divorce, just one more thing she could not deal with. She smoothed over my objections, “He is just a barn cat, no trouble, doesn’t need any attention. But don’t try to pick him up” she cautioned, “he doesn’t like to be held.
I also was told that at one point they had found Jester in a blackberry thicket, mewing and in pain. They took him to the vet who could not diagnose anything specifically wrong. They brought him home and cared for him not knowing if he would recover, until talons started erupting from under his skin and they concluded that he narrowly escaped becoming dinner for a bird of prey. Who knows how far he fell. Well, I thought, he had lost one of his nine lives, eight to go.
And so, I acquiesced. After all, I had been in the exact same predicament myself, years earlier, having to sell a farm due to a divorce and leaving the two cats that had come with that place, behind; securing the stability of their lives with a line item on the sales agreement that the new owners would provide for their basic needs (upon which both husband and wife had to initial).
Jester quickly became my best barn buddy. In some ways, more dog than cat, he would follow me from stall to stall as I cleaned every day. He would find just the perfect clean corner to squat in, out of my way, and quietly watch (and maybe critique) me as I vigorously cleaned each stall, and then on to the next. He would listen intently as I described my hopes and plans for this new farm called Freestyle. He became a great companion to talk to about my ideas, seemingly to always agree with them.
One day, quite soon into our new relationship, I paused. I wonder…. And then I did - I reached down and picked Jester up. So far, so good. I turned him in my arms and cradled him as a baby - he purred. After that, each end-of-chores was celebrated in a moment with Jester enjoying his special time as a pet.
The years continued by, how quickly, until the day Jester decided not to eat his regular cat food. That was the day that Jester became a house cat. I wanted the last few days of his life to be the luxury he certainly deserved. I tried feeding him everything that owners of beloved old cats try. After a few more days, nothing suited him. All he needed was water and a cat box. Every night I would sit down and he would jump up in my lap for hours. Nothing got done, but everything I needed at that moment was in my arms. This went on and on. I couldn’t believe he would live for several weeks like this: every night in my arms as if he wanted a long goodbye. Finally, one night he didn’t jump up into my lap. Instead he went to the door to go out. I knew it was time. We made the trip to the 24 hour vet clinic with him, of course, in my lap.
The kind vet took him from me momentarily, to insert the catheter. He handed him to me and walked away for a few minutes, to give me a little more time. When he came back, tears were silently running down my face, unchecked because my hands were smoothing a beloved body one last time. He asked gently if I was okay. I said “Yes, it was just that he started purring after you put him back in my arms”. Jester left me, as he deserved to, being cradled gently by the hands who knew him so well.
That was about seven years ago and I still miss him. I miss my childhood cats: Tiger and Rusty, the two cats I left behind: Cream and ET, as well as my house cats: Doonesberry, and my once-in-a-lifetime cat Jinxx. There were the barn cats: Creamsicle and Raina, and the work cats: Buddy and Gabby too. I miss them all and surprisingly don’t even consider myself a “cat person”.
Just a barn cat? To a pet lover, no cat, dog, or horse is ever “just a” anything.
I am writing this as I make arrangements to have a feral cat taken in to be neutered that was unknowingly trapped in a warehouse next to my business for longer than I care to imagine. Now “Gibbon” will spend a quiet weekend locked in my warehouse - this time with food and water and a cat box, as he recovers from his surgery and bath, to be let free on Monday morning, and we will continue feeding him as long as he shows up at our door. Please participate in spaying and neutering and feeding these poor ownerless animals in any way you can.
You might be interested in knowing that I ran into the buyers of my old farm a couple of years after I sold it and had to leave my cats behind. I asked them immediately “How are my cats?” Their reply? “Our cats are just fine”. I left with a huge smile.