25: A Captive Moment

25: A Captive Moment

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

A Captive Moment

I have noticed that what cats most appreciate in a human being is not the ability to produce food, which they take for granted — but his or her entertainment value.

~Geoffrey Household

Wildlife at Leap of Faith Farm was plentiful. From our window we watched deer grazing in our pastures in the green of summer and bedding down on the sheltering hillside as snow fell around them when the winter winds began to blow. Coyotes howled under the full harvest moon and haunted the winter nights. Birds flocked to the feeders that decorated our back porch eaves. Raccoons raided those feeders when food supplies dwindled and so did opossums. Those hardy creatures with their pencil sharp noses, black beady eyes and reptilian tails had changed little from prehistoric times. We had to admire their tenacity, but we preferred to do this from afar, not face to face. They reluctantly waddled away when we discouraged them from the birdseed feast with straw brooms and loud voices. They were not easily persuaded to find other eating spots.

Fall meant that we had to rethink our feeding pattern for the family of cats that had moved into our barn during the summer. Feeding in the old chicken coop worked well during warm weather, but now that winter threatened with each falling leaf, we decided to feed the cats upstairs in the loft near sheltering hay bales, cozy blanket-filled boxes, and strategically placed heat lights. The cats thought this was a grand idea, and readily tripped up the loft stairs behind us.

As our feeding routine became more familiar, our relationship with our new cat family grew. There was orange and white Peaches, tiny charcoal gray Jessie, black and white Chess, marmalade orange Larena, and her soft yellow son Justin. They all became used to our approach with kitty food each day and even tolerated an occasional chin rub or light brush of fingertips down their backs. Larena and Justin even trotted to meet us as we climbed the loft stairs with our kitty goodies. We were happy to see our cats snuggled in after a good meal when the night temperatures began to dip near freezing. What we were not happy about were the other creatures that decided this bed and breakfast was just what they were looking for. Occasionally a raccoon decided to try the tasty cat food on the barn’s second floor. But more frequently, when we climbed the stairs, in addition to our furry pets, we also saw the grinning face of an opossum.

At first, while the cats watched the show from their warm beds, we were successful with driving the opossum down the stairs and out into the night with a short burst of yells and stamping feet. But as fall’s crispness became winter’s harshness, the ritual was repeated more frequently and with increasing difficulty. The opossum were intent on securing a good and easily obtained meal, and we were determined that they must learn the restaurant was closed. Opossums sometimes carry a disease that can be devastating to horses. Besides protecting our cats’ food supply, we also wanted to eliminate the exposure of our guys to these cunning intruders.

And so we began an almost nightly opossum roundup. If we saw the escaping tip of a tail or the yellow glow of eyes in the deep recesses of the hay bales, we instituted a drive-and-capture technique that was almost always successful and surprisingly easy. With pole and broom, we prodded the little creatures from their haystack tunnels. While one of us would keep the opossum moving forward, the other held a trash can at the ready. Behind the opossum, the swish of a broom; ahead, a dark tunnel to hide in. The cats sat by wide-eyed as they watched the match unfold each night. Perhaps they were placing bets on whether the humans or the opossums would be victorious. And opossum by opossum they were loaded into a can and spirited away down the road or to the boat landing by the river and released to lead their lives away from us.

We must have captured at least twenty opossums over that winter. Most were amazingly easy to corral into our trash container, but some were a challenge for the two of us. One night I alone did chores. I fed the cats their evening meal, brought the horses into their stalls, and then went back upstairs to say good night to the cats. As I reached the top steps and turned to look down the barn aisle, I saw an opossum finishing his evening meal. I grabbed my broom and began urging him toward the stairs, but he doubled back and ducked into a hay bale tunnel. “Not so fast, opossum,” I said. But when I dislodged him from his hiding place, he scurried between other bales. Our hide and seek game went on for some time and the cats advanced from their beds to the edges of the surrounding bales for a better view.

Exasperated, I thought perhaps I should just give up and wait until my husband could join in trying to capture this wily beast. “One more time,” I promised. Then, whimsically, I called out to my furry audience. “Come on cats. Help me catch this opossum.” I pried him from between the bales again and with broom in hand, began herding him down the aisle. Ahead of us was a stack of hay bales and the opossum headed straight for them. Just beyond, a trashcan sat waiting. I feared he would just skirt the stack and go into hiding again, but then ahead I saw movement in the shadows. Larena had reached the base of the stack and began climbing up one side. Justin approached from the other side. For a moment time stopped, with the cats on each side and the opossum on the top bale, mouth wide open and hissing, and me behind with the broom. The trashcan loomed ahead. Then, with a strong sweep, the opossum fell forward into the can.

My cats had come to my aid. These friends I looked out for each day had decided to return the favor. “Goodnight cats and thank you!” I called and I carried the trashcan out into the night for delivery of the opossum to his new home far away.

~Cheryl Suzanne Heide

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