Are you smitten with kittens? Mad about moggies and their mouseability? Feverish for feline friskiness and field skills on your farm? Then pounce on a chair, chap, and we’ll chat about cats.
True to their reputation, cats have, as a species, always been a bit standoffish. Though felines and humans have interacted for about 9,500 years, cats didn’t “officially” sit at our hearth until some 4,500 years ago. Dogs, cows, horses, goats, sheep, chickens and horses were domesticated long before the cat, which made Kitty the last animal to take the plunge – if, indeed, you can ever domesticate a cat.
Geneticists believe that all small “house” cats, including those in your barn, descended from five wild queens (the word for a female cat, also a “molly”) that lived in the Middle East some 10,000 years ago. All kitties considered, though, a cat is a cat is a cat – no matter how big or small – because all members of Felis catus (the Latin redundancy that means “cat cat”) share the same basic physical characteristics. You know, for instance, that a tiger and your mouser are both cats, despite their differences.
But that’s not to say that all cats are alike, obviously. If you so desire, you can have a meowler to match your decorating scheme: tri-color, one color; some even come in blue. You can get one with long hair, short hair, or no hair. You can boast of national pride by having a Scottish Fold, a Japanese Bobtail, a Havana Brown, a British Shorthair, a German Rex, a Turkish Angora, an American Curl, or a Cat in the Hat if you want – although that last one might get you sent back to kindergarten.
Chances are, though, you share your home or barn with a plain old garden-variety cat, and that’s a good thing. Most cats love to catch mice, and quite a few have been known to snag rats bigger than the cat itself, if nothing but for the fun of it. One British champion reportedly killed more than 20,000 rodents in his lifetime. Another cat caught and killed up to six rats a day for years. A clowder (the term for a group of cats) can, in fact, tamp down a barn’s rodent population quite handily.
But that same clowder could make you spit and hiss. Cat gestation is nine weeks, and a queen can have up to eight kittens per litter in each of two or three litters per year, the record being 19 kittens in one litter. That means that, unimpeded, one pair of busy breeding cats could result in more than 400,000 “free kitten” giveaways in a mere seven years.
Still, if you keep a few of those critters around, you’ll learn that they’re fascinating animals. Cats walk on their toes, and their claws, with few exceptions (the most notable being the cheetah), are completely retractable. Feral cats – and possibly, your barn cats – may claim territory ranging in the hundreds of acres. Cats can easily handle temperatures reaching 130 degrees (we pitiful humans howl at much less). Kitty can jump to a height up to five times her body length, and her spine is flexible, which is why cats usually (usually, but not always) land on their feet. And adult cats never meow at one another; except between mama and kittens, meows are almost always directed at humans.
And when he’s caterwauling at you, Kitty is really saying something! Some estimates are that a cat has several dozen ways to tell you what he wants, which means that Cool Cat definitely got his own tongue. Now ain’t that just the cat’s pajamas?
Terri Schlichenmeyer, book reviewer and trivia collector, lives in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books, but no cats.