Calming Signals. You Can’t Save ‘Em All. Cat Version.

I walk in my pasture. Women of a certain over-thinking age do well to put a few miles in a day. Here on the high prairie, it’s scrub weeds, intermittent wildflowers, and big black beetles. It’s a win to see birds or salamanders. The high desert land fascinates me but we’ve been in the “historic drought” range for a while. I never used to think pastures needed protecting. One night at dusk, I marched into the far corner of the pasture and lifted my eyes to see a small ginger cat on the wooden corner post. I stopped flat, as if it was a mountain lion. It was so young and its flank curved in where it should curve out.

If you are bilingual, if you speak calming signals as well as words, (you do) then you give an exhale, keep your hands to yourself, and look away. The ginger looked back with half-lidded eyes. It might have been napping. No hissing, probably not feral but it had been living rough. A second later, it flew off the fence and disappeared into the weeds. We’ve got some Nicholas-Cage-tough tomcats in the area and a Great Horned Owl on the pond that looks well-fed, but most small animals get eaten by hawks here on the open prairie. The ginger had a white bib and mittens equaling high visibility. I wasn’t sure I’d see it again.

“You can’t save ’em all.” My parents said it first, but many others over the years have frowned dispprovingly. It might be the most obvious warning ever. Right up there with “You’ll get wet in the rain.” My first “rescue” was a kitten I shoplifted. Naturally, I got caught. I’m sure I walked too fast toward the door of the pet store, clutching it to my chest and protectively rounding my shoulders. A man called me to pay for the kitten but I indignantly blurted that it was sick and started run-walking. I was in high school and knew better than to announce it to my mother but she recognized the guilty body posture. A tiny black kitten, too young to be weaned with snotty eyes and nose. It died later that night but fifty years later, I’m the same girl

I caught a glimpse of the ginger the next week on the corner post again, and with all the l skill I use catching fearful horses, I moved closer as passively as I could. Horses and cats have more in common than we think, but calming signals are a universal language. If I could make friends, I could get it neutered. Would I need a trap? A few days later, I got close enough for a quick touch, and I walked away before it fled. A few days after that, the ginger strode towards me on the path. It was worth a try, I turned toward my barn and it followed. It was a perilous choice; we’d have to pass my yard, guarded by short attack dogs who are ginger-colored and the only ones who recognize the true danger of cats. Humans are complacent and foolish, but the dogs are not so shallow. The Little Barking Men yapped and yodeled but I stayed between the cat and the dogs. Then it ran through the horse pens, into the barn where I keep a smorgasbord (as my people call it) of kibble and free-range mice. I filled the dish fresh while congratulating myself for being a genius wild cat tamer. Okay, this little ginger was probably snacking there before, but during a pandemic, it felt like I was working on world peace or fighting climate change or at least, had a new reason to hide in my barn. 

Cats and horses take the time they take. They don’t care if you think you are doing a good deed, they know better than you. So, I waited. I saw cat shadows every few days, I’d call during the night feed and wait in the dark, but I more hoped than saw her for the next couple of weeks. Eventually, the ginger came during daylight, not eating while I was there but I was wearing it down. I can be relentless. Then one day, all final defenses fell. Finally, she climbed on my lap and purred and I felt her spine sharp under my hand.

I am the cat whisperer! I am patient and a genius with animals. I can do it all, bandage goat injuries singlehandedly, do a vaginal flush on a llama, train horses, sleep with dogs. Not to mention, cheer, gloat, pat myself on the back, and just generally bask in the glory of my incredible animal magnetism. One of these days I’ll be able to look at this cat’s backside and know what sex it is, I am legend! Yay, me. (Like I say, pandemic brain.)

Then the ginger stepped off my lap and did a couple of rolls on the ground and I think, gosh, the cat is really not that thin, it has benefitted from the kibble. There is an actual belly where there was only gauntness before. Anna, you saint! You do-gooder! The cat is round now. Wait. Too round. It’s gained weight, but just in one place. And from this angle, no need to look at her backside to tell her sex. And I know just enough about pregnant cats to know their hormones make them extra friendly. Yay me. Cat whisperer.

“You can’t save ’em all.” After I left home, I wanted to work with animals and I got a job at a shelter. This was the seventies, a different time. My main job with euthanizing year-old mixed breed dogs. The management needed a woman working in intake because so many dogs were afraid of men. I also worked with the sick animals; if they were purebreds, we tried to save them. It was twisted and challenging but I love animals. I have no other excuse. 

Sometimes people brought mothers and litters of tiny kittens to the shelter. It was before anyone thought to foster cats, and we euthanized litters this young because we had no place to keep them. One day I begged a woman to keep hers for a few more weeks. We could adopt them all, I told her, would she please bring them back then? You know how that goes, right? The woman got mad, the assistant manager had to calm her down, and I got a good talking to and a threat that I could lose my job. The whole event felt like a pileup on glare ice. As if this was a job that anyone in their right mind would want. Trust me, you really don’t have to tell me I can’t save’em all. 

But I brought this ginger girl, not much more than a kitten herself, into my writing studio. She’d a private place away from my housecats and the cruel Little Barking Men. I fed her, bought a new cat bed which she hated. She sat on the windowsill looking outside longingly but soon her belly was too big to balance there. Then one afternoon while I was writing, I looked under my desk and she’d begun labor. I put a towel down and carefully moved her onto it, breathing with her, and typing on while she gave birth to four literary kittens, two gingers and two torties. Soon, they’ll be crawling on me like lice.

The Infinity Farm Home for Unwed Mothers is full. I can’t save ’em all. 

Anna Blake for Relaxed & Forward 

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56 thoughts on “Calming Signals. You Can’t Save ‘Em All. Cat Version.”

  1. Why does this sound oh-so-familiar? I literally felt the soft fur of the babies and heard their cries. Reminder of my childhood days when our cats had their kittens in the closet of mom’s bedroom, or in the back of our family station wagon! This weekend might mean a trip to the shelter — again!! Enjoy your babies. If not for you they probably wouldn’t be here, or at least last long. You are an animal “saver” which in my book is better than anything else. You can’t save them all, but you can save some. I’ll pass it forward — again!!

      • I also remember litters of kittens – born in a cupboard or in a playhouse out back of the garage – and no spays or neuters. Our 2 mother cats were even given away at one point – several miles away from our home at a “farm”. And yet they both came back! What we didnt “know” back then seems shameful now. Both my mom & dad loved animals – just not the way I did and do, I guess. Anna, those are such beautiful babies as is the mom. People will be lining up. Maybe you cant save them all, but you can dam well try! That phrase is just an excuse to not try to “save them all”. Works for cats & kittens, just like it works for dogs & puppies, horses & foals – frankly all animals.

  2. Anna, you softy! But really, just proves you’re human & very like me who would have done much the same. I love all animals, too, as evidenced by our ‘group’ of dogs, horses & cats who all come here to forever homes. Are you finding other homes for the newest kitties or will they stay with you? Take care.

  3. Kitties are worth saving! When we can, we do. I’m am so curious to hear the sex of each of those kittens. mew mew mew mew mew mew mew mew mew!!! Cat version mews!!!

  4. Kindred spirits. Bless you for making room for one more and then four more. All of our cats have adopted us. Our newest cat lived in the woods under the thick blackberry bushes for months. I hatched a plan to be consistent with placing a bowl of food at the edge of the woods every day. Eventually he got used to me. One day he approached and rubbed up against my legs. I bent down and pet him, he purred loudly. I ended the lovefest and walked away, and he attacked my leg. Figured I overwhelmed him, my bad. Still have the scar. He has been with us for 4 months now and spends more time in the house than out. His choice. Woody the wood cat is his name.

  5. Good on you Anna! I stand in awe of your cat whispering skills. I think of them as more challenging than horses in terms of human /animal communication (hence the expression “harder than herding cats”). It’s true, as many have said before me, that we can’t save them all, but we can sure try. My lifelong collection of adoptees, rescues, and homeless applaud your efforts and encourage all of us to try and beat the odds and “save them all”.

  6. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear of such single-handed world peace endeavors along with a slice of undermining climate change, all during a pandemic. Be careful, Anna Blake, you may start something that will surely change this world… Yet, Monkey See and Monkey Do, two former feral kittens born in an abandoned barn six years ago, quickly pointed out to me they think your radical ideology is purrfectly feline. On second thought, I must agree!

  7. Because I read your emails every time they are emailed to me and just a few times, I’ve
    commented. I LOVE reading them and will be subscribing to The Barn and engaging in Happy Hour soon! I am now enrolled in Touched By A Horse, The Equine Gestalt Coaching Method . Elizabeth Pearce’s, Lil Bit North Ranch is in Elizabeth Colorado. I was wondering how far away is yours?

  8. Oh, I use the “can’t save them all” mantra on myself so often. I have limited time, resources, health, etc, that I must manage in order to take care of my already-too-many-four-legged dependents. But I fill the crow feeder and small bird feeders every day. I volunteer transport injured critters between wildlife shelters. I keep an automatic cat feeder on the front porch so that the now-not-as-skinny-as-when-I-first-glimpsed-him buff-colored stray tom cat will not miss a meal if I am late coming home past his usual sneak visit time. And on and on. But I mostly use the “can’t save them all” mantra to try to keep my heart from breaking when there’s one that I can’t do anything to help, whatever the reason. Not sure it helps….

  9. But was HAS helped– many times! –is working always to understand and live the calming signals that you, Anna, have brought to our busy, overcrowded attention! Keep working on us!

  10. Kittens!! Irresistible little bits of velcro fluff ? You get an A plus in cat whispering Anna!

    You can’t save them all but you can sure make a dent.

  11. Well… you know I love this one since kittens are maybe my most favorite little critter. Still laughing at the paragraph about your extraordinary animal skills. I’m just glad you took in mama for her delivery and will find homes for the kittens when it’s time.

    You are still that girl, and so am I. That’s how I came to have a full house of cats and horses, too ! Can’t save them all but sure can help a few here and there when there’s an opening. How can we not ?

    • You are that girl, and all us girls get it. I thought of you when I first saw her, in class we talk more about horses, but I knew you’d be delighted. It’s a shame we can’t have tea with the kittens. Thanks Sarah.

  12. We certainly can’t save ’em all but we can save those that come into our lives like this little giner did. Well done for cat whispering her into a safe place to give birth and saving 4 new feral kittens being born out there. XO

  13. She is a beautiful cat. My ginger who has just one black whisker and some black on her gums sends her greetings from subtropical Australia. I have always thought horses are very like cats.

    • A friend asked me once, when I have a huge bunch years ago, what was it? Was there just nobody to tell me no? You’re right, it is my dirty dream. Thanks Susanne. I was looking for the word.

  14. Very sweet story, and love the family picture. This made me think of the starfish story, we can’t save them all, but what a difference it makes to the ones we can save.

    • Thanks, Matt. Partly a happy ending; the kittens are all in good homes and Peach, the mom, is spayed and sleeping on the bed.


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