With cats

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I had two cats once. I had moved with my wife to an old farmhouse in Indiana where the field mice made themselves at home. I had never considered having a cat, never mind two. But with the mice I needed feline assistance. A young English professor at the university was a major animal lover -- he and his wife had founded the local shelter -- and he told me of two kittens that needed a home. Country cats likely to be good mousers.

That they were. On their first night with us, my wife and I did not sleep a wink, as the old farmhouse was filled with the growls, meows and pounces of a mouse safari. Though still kittens, these feline siblings had hunting chops. After a couple of nights the mice packed up and left, refugees from the Big Mouse Massacre. They figured they'd rather take their chances out in the cornfields than be the victims of my kittens' killer instinct. And they never came back. Once word is out that there's cat in a house, mice stay away.

Like most country cats they lived mostly outside, coming in to be fed or when the nights got cold. When we moved to another country house they came with us. There were no mice there but the former tenant had cats so we figured we'd keep a strong cat presence as deterrent.

My relationship with the cats was warm and friendly but not intimate. We were partners in a rural enterprise of keeping mice away. They had a good independent life, with food and shelter I supplied. They were free to roam and there were no dangerous roads nearby -- on warm summer days it was not unusual to find a hound dog napping in the middle of the road that I took home from the university. I'd stop and honk and wait for the dog to lazily get up and out of the way.

I never considered the cats my pets anymore than they considered me their master. We were joined in an alliance: defeat the mice. When they hit puberty one of them left, I never knew where. They were both males and that probably had something to do with it, plus by then I was leaving too. The property was sold and we had to move into town. The buyers were very happy to keep the cat that kept the mice away.

This was long ago. I moved many times, too many to consider having pets, and though at times I missed having a good mouser, I had developed allergies that would've prevented a cat in my home. But that too began to change. With age some allergies dwindle and I think mine have. I live in the country again and though no mice come in the house, I welcome the local cats, whom I call "polite" because they mind their own business, when they walk up our road to go mousing in our barn, which they keep rodent free. Good neighbors.

However, cats have entered other dimensions of my life. But to catch a glimpse of the exploits of el Gato, literary hepcat par excellence, and his devotion to la gatita mistica y magnetica, you'll have to catch the next installment.