I like to say: we bought a house, and the house came with a barn, and the barn came with a cat.
Originally there were two cats. People had seen them around, sometimes together. One long-haired grey cat. One white cat with tiger markings. The property hadn’t been inhabited for 8 months by the time we got it, and a neighbor had intermittently been putting food out for them, but not taking care of any hygiene. One stall in the barn was disgustingly full of cat feces and empty litter box bags. We suggested to the realtor that if a neighbor wanted to feed stray cats, they might do it at their own place.
I’d never had a cat. I’ve been severely allergic to cats all my life. I’d walk into someone’s home, sit on the couch, and suddenly feel that jab like a needle in my eye. That was the 30-second warning that all my facial orifices were about to seal shut, and convulse me in a fit of sneezing and coughing. “Do you have a cat?” I’d inquire, as politely as I could, while attempting a graceful and speedy exit. “Oh, yes,” they’d say, “he’s upstairs right now, but he loves that couch!”
There was the one cat I’d loved, Chai, back in high school when I used to babysit for a family who had moved here from Thailand. He was a Thai cat and mesmerizingly beautiful. I’d put the kids to bed and sit on their big wicker lounger, watching TV, petting Chai and sneezing. They had a dog too, and though I am a lifelong dog person, I couldn’t care less about that little dog. Chai, I adored. He ran off one day and never returned, and I was sad for a long time.
But I never thought I’d have a cat. Litter boxes, for one thing. The horror. A girl I knew in New York kept hers on top of the refrigerator. The cat would jump onto the kitchen counter, then onto the refrigerator, urinate and defecate, jump back onto the kitchen counter, and then onto the floor. Lunch, anyone?
But I love animals, and if we bought a place where cats lived, I felt like they were my responsibility. I was glad to cover the vet visits for checkups, shots, spaying/neutering, to land them happily and healthily somewhere. I did a lot of asking around, and found someone who would adopt the grey cat. She made out great. She’s now a well-brushed housecat named Willow, and she sleeps on the bed with two humans and a few other cats.
No takers for the white cat, though. Everyone knew him, because he had quite a wide hunting range from his home base at our barn. He seemed friendly… He’d run up to you, looking for attention, roll on his back – and then when you went to pet him, he’d bite you, hard. So although he had admirers, no one wanted to adopt him.
We bought the place in late Fall, and it was getting colder and colder. I certainly did not want the cat to freeze, or starve. We started putting out food where he might find it. Some Thanksgiving turkey on the wood stump. Bowls of kibble. Often he would come for attention. I’d pet him – just never on the belly.
Eventually, I guess we adopted each other. I decided to name him Rahu, after a not-so-popular Hindu deity whose vehicle is a cat. (Rahu is a lunar node, considered malefic, but might be just misunderstood. Much like our seemingly scary, but, it turns out, super sweet and snuggly, barn cat.) We had a naming ceremony. “I hereby feed you these sardines, and name you Rahu. You are now our cat, and we will take care of you.”
We tricked out an area in the barn as his deluxe barn cat pad. There’s a cat door that comes into a little stairway, with a couple windows. He has a heated cat pad, heated cat bed with canopy, heated cat water bowl, and automated food dispenser. (The first version actually dispensed food twice a day while playing a recording of our voices saying, “Rahu! Come get your dinner!” But a raccoon broke it.)
We put a futon in the barn so we could sit out there and snuggle him. With electric blankets. Turns out, he LOVES to snuggle. Once he came to trust us, he became the cuddliest creature I have ever encountered in my life. You literally can not out-snuggle him. I’ve tried. The record is two hours nonstop. Eventually, I have to get up and do something else. He could go on forever. He purrs, and stretches out his giant feet, and flexes his claws in ecstasy. And, it is my great honor to say he will sleep with his belly in the air, being petted, in a state of pure and total relaxation.
We wonder about his past. When we took him to the vet, we were surprised to learn not only that he was already neutered, but that he had a microchip! The chip company called his prior owner, and found the person had passed away 5 years earlier, and no one in the family was aware he/she had ever had a cat. He was 8 years old. Maybe, we speculated, he’d somehow gone astray as a kitten, and had come to live and fend for himself at our barn all those years ago? All we knew was that he’d been living there already when the last owners moved in, and they left him there when they left….
Funny story: to take him to the vet, we lured him into a cat carrier using a can of wet food. He meowed his head off all the way there. When the vet was going to open the carrier, we warned her, “Careful, he’s a wild barn cat who bites.” He came out of the carrier (smelling strongly of mackerel) purring like it was the best day of his life, rubbing up against the vet and the technician – who looked at us like we were clearly crazy.
He also had obviously never been indoors before. It took me a couple months of patiently trying, putting food by the door and calling him in, to get him to come in the house. At first, he would freak out if I closed the door. Now, he has his designated couch (with a towel on it), where he goes to nap away the day and to receive snugglers. He still mostly lives in the barn, and is quite the accomplished hunter – but he has the best of all worlds. When we arrive from New York, if we stand on the porch and call his name, he will often come running – well-fed cat belly swinging side to side – to be let into the house.
Oh, and no litter box. Thank god. He clearly believes the only place to do his business is outdoors. Since there’s no outdoors in our house, he never goes in there. He also only sharpens his claws on wood. So he will sharpen them on the fireplace logs from time to time (makes sense!), but never claws or scratches furniture. He tags along on walks with us. He gets along with the dogs. He leaves the chickens be. Yes, he’s the perfect cat.
And – my allergies are gone. I did acupuncture for a year, a special protocol wherein you put some of the allergen (in my case, a ziploc baggy of Rahu fur) on your abdomen, and then get treated with needles in particular meridians. It gradually, over months, decreased and finally has essentially erased my cat allergy. Which is good, when you love someone furry.
Rahu, you’re the best.