70: Mother Love

70: Mother Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Cat

Mother Love

Fun fact: In order to be fertile, cats require at least ten hours of light a day.

From the moment a child enters the world, the mother knows she will do whatever it takes to protect her child — even giving her life if she is called upon to do so. One of the strongest and most courageous examples of Mother Love I ever saw was demonstrated, brilliantly, by our feral cat, Miss Henrietta. It happened a number of years ago. Our family of four resided in the old McClew farmhouse in the small town of Burt, New York, three miles south of the Lake Ontario shore.

Along with purchasing the 125-year-old farmhouse and orchards, we inherited a beautiful, golden-colored German Shepherd named Sandy and two female barn cats. I became especially attached to the beautiful, black-and-white feral I came to call Miss Henrietta. Our other cat, Matilda, was much more aloof than Henrietta and not at all interested in any kind of relationship with us.

We were told Matilda and Henrietta had lived outdoors all their lives. They were used to being on their own. However, we still provided them with daily food and water, and also took them to the vet for checkups and vaccinations. They more than earned their keep by helping to control the rodent population in our barn, certainly a greener alternative than using toxic poisons.

Both cats had minds of their own. Each knew exactly what she wanted and what she did not want. For example, I was certain that friendlier Henrietta would want to live inside our cozy farmhouse, but I was wrong. She had no interest in staying in our home and let us know that. When I brought her inside to feed her, she would hightail it out the kitchen door if someone opened it, not even finishing her meal. She did, however, accept us fixing up a warm and cozy home for her on the second floor of our barn.

When my small boys, Chrissy and Timmy, were outside with me, Miss Henrietta purred when she saw the three of us coming toward her and often followed us on our excursions around the farm. I took those soft, soothing sounds as a greeting — like she was saying to us, “Hello, happy to see you again.” One day, she surprised us all with a gift — a frog she had caught near our pond. I broke into a big smile, realizing this was a sure sign she was becoming fond of us. After all, you only give gifts to those dearest to you.

One day, this independent feline finally let us pet her — a real breakthrough. She actually seemed to like our affectionate behavior. However, if a relative or friend came for a visit, Miss Henrietta was nowhere in sight. She only responded favorably to our little family — no one else.

I have so many happy memories from our five years on the farm. I learned many lessons about country living, as well as life lessons from our farm animals. One of those “animal lessons” happened during a short period when we had auctions. People would drop off articles they wanted to sell, and we would keep everything in our barn until there were enough items collected to warrant an auction. We would then hire an auctioneer and make all the arrangements necessary for a successful event.

I remember one particular auction that turned out to be the largest sale we had at the farm. People came from as far away as Kansas. My husband and I, of course, wanted everything to run smoothly.

The Friday before the big Sunday afternoon event was a beautiful, sunny day. My boys and I were outdoors having a grand time exploring the farm grounds. I heard a truck pull up in our driveway and immediately recognized our neighbor, Doug Bottom, who was bringing over last-minute auction goods.

Doug had brought a friend along to assist with the unloading. My boys and I quit our exploring to watch what was happening. We noticed Doug’s two German Shepherd dogs had come along. They were beautiful, lively dogs, running all over the place and exploring the new surroundings.

Miss Henrietta had just given birth to four adorable kittens. The birthing had taken place in her warm, safe living area on the second floor of the barn. Mama cat was extremely protective of these little ones, as well she should be. And though she would let our family near her new babies, she did not want anyone else hanging around them.

When I saw one of Doug’s dogs begin to race up the barn steps to the second floor, I immediately thought of the kittens’ safety. I started running in the direction of the stairs, but Miss Henrietta was well ahead of me. She had already sensed the possibility of danger to her little ones and was now in “protect” — or should I say “attack” — mode. To Henrietta, those two words meant the same thing.

That fierce mother cat, about one-eighth the size of one of those dogs, hurtled down the stairs, two at a time, screeching loudly and looking quite ferocious. Miss Henrietta leaped onto the back of the intruding dog, burying her claws deeply into the shocked animal. Our German Shepherd visitor, now scared to death, howled in pain. Before you could say “lickety-split,” both of Doug’s dogs were speeding back to the safety of his truck. Once Henrietta saw the danger had passed, she went back to tending her babies.

Henrietta in action was something I will always remember. Because her babies were in danger, no mountains were too high to cross, no oceans were too deep to swim, and no German Shepherd was too powerful to tackle.

I never really understood that kind of protective love until I became a mom. Once that happened, I knew I would put my life on the line to keep my children safe and protected. It is just what mothers do, like courageous Miss Henrietta, our beautiful black-and-white mama cat.

~Kay Johnson-Gentile

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