Sunday, January 30, 2011

Little Miss Lilly

When we got Zorro, our plan was to get two barn cats. It didn't take long for the second cat to appear-- or should I say "reappear".

We caught our first glimpse of Lilly in mid April, just a day after my initial encounter with the tom cat-- "Tomlin". She was skittish, timid, and completely wild. Nonetheless, we hoped she'd keep prowling, making meals of any enterprising mice who might think they could live the life of luxury in the feed room.

There seemed to be several amorous encounters between Lilly and Tomlin, and we braced ourselves for a litter of kittens. But the balls of fluff, with their sad little mews never appeared. And by mid-summer, Lilly's own appearances on the farm were brief and rare.

So, after sighting a few rice-sized brown dots in the feed room, we gave up on our feral cats and sought out a barn cat of our own. Our search turned up Zorro. And the day we brought him home is the day the Lilly-cat came back (see my earlier blog entry for that night's adventures).


Late August 2010

It's been about a week since Zorro arrived, and I think we've seen Lilly streak by somewhere on the property every single day. Finally, one day I walk into the feed room to prepare the horses' grain. Zorro quickly jumps on top of the narrow, four foot high door. He has many different meows, but for now, he uses his high-pitched, kitten-like, almost cute "mew" to entice me into dropping a handful of cat food into his plastic dish. As the dry kibbles fall, covering a fading portrait of a too-happy-looking fish, I hear another meow-- a raspy, and desperate sounding noise.

I peek into the isle of the barn and see Lilly tentatively making her way toward us, emboldened by hunger. I make the decision then and there. We are keeping her. And if we're going to keep her, we're going to feed her. As Zorro violently shoves his nose into his dish, I reach into the container of cat food and grab a small handful. I hold out my hand and move slowly toward Lilly. She's too frightened, and makes a dash for the great outdoors. She hides behind a pile of lumber, so I drop the food on top and leave. A few minutes later, I see her nervously sitting on top of the boards, scarfing down the food as quickly as she can. The slightest movement or noise sends her scurrying for cover.

For the next couple of days, that's how it is. Lilly shows up for most of Zorro's twice-a-day feedings, but she keeps her distance, waiting for me to drop a few triangles of food somewhere that offers her an unobstructed view of her surroundings and a quick getaway.

Then, one evening, she comes toward me with slightly more confidence. She's actually under my feet as I bring the food dish toward her. This time I put it in the tack room. I set it down and then back away a foot or two. Even though I'm there, Lilly devours her dinner. I slowly reach my hand toward her. She jerks in fright as my fingers make contact with her down-soft fur, but she keeps her nose pressed into the food dish. I start patting her head and back. Every single time my hand touches her, she twitches as though she's been shocked. Then, finally, she starts to purr.

As Lilly eats, I take my first close-up look at her. Her face is gaunt, almost skeletal. There's a yellow-brown crust in the corner of her sunken, red-rimmed eyes. Her pink nose is marred by a fresh, 1/2 inch long, red scab--probably the result of an unfriendly encounter with Zorro She's thin and looks unwell, but her coat is shiny, clean, and unbelievably soft.

A few days later, I make an an appointment for Lilly to be spayed and vaccinated, though I have no idea how I'll manage to get this shy, timid cat into the car and off to the vet. I've got two weeks to work on it though

In the meantime, I make a point of gently reaching out to Lilly each time she dashes to the barn in search of a free meal. She seems to enjoy the pats and scratches she gets, and often rewards me with her loud, engine-like purr. She's bold enough now that she supplements her meagre diet by climbing into Murray's feed tub when he's outside, and eating whatever beet pulp he leaves behind-- even if I'm standing or working in the barn.

Her interactions with Dave and I are still very tentative, and any too-quick movements send her scurrying for the door, or leaping toward the rafters, but she's slowly becoming part of the family.

After a few weeks, it's finally time to see the vet-- and time to find out whether wild Lilly can be coaxed into a cat carrier and transported 20 minutes down the road without sending too much fur flying through the air.

To be continued...

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