Back in the summer of 2014 - the summer of the Great Mouse Invasion - we hired two sisters to work here at Sidehill Farm. Those of you who have been following our tales of the absurdity of life with cows for a while will remember this posting:
We were nearly at our wits end, when as though it were divinely ordained, we received The Call. A former apprentice of whom we have always been very fond, called to say that she had two barn cats that needed homes. Yes! Barn cats! Perfect! We called Rebecca back right away and got the scoop: two tiger cats, sisters, great mousers, rugged barn cats. Perfect! Rebecca was allergic to cats, her new housemate arrived with cats, and now they needed a new home. Perfect! We'd talk again in a few days, and make arrangements. Perfect! In the meantime, we fantasized about our new rodent control team - probably some rough looking characters, mangy coats, tattered ears, maybe missing a front tooth - but Finely Tuned Mouse-Killing Machines who are Ferocious and Insatiable and feed themselves on the spoils of the hunt.
Rebecca and Annamay arrived the next day with a cat carrier and a large plastic tub in tow. Inside the cat carrier were two adorable, little tiny, glossy and perfectly groomed tiger cats. Georgie and Dickens. Glossy and perfectly groomed, and wearing sparkly collars with shiny tags. Our hearts sank. Not a tattered ear, missing tooth, or even one mangy hair between them. Did I say sparkly collars? Sparkly collars. We opened the plastic tub that came with them, and inside were cans of organic super-groovy wet cat food, bags of feline dental care treats, a litterbox with scented litter, and worst of all, cat brushes. Cat brushes? We had to admit that they were very sweet - snuggly and affectionate, but just light-years away from our vision of a coldly efficient team of scruffy mouse killers. We let the cats out in the barn, closed the doors, and with very low hopes for the success of the venture, left them to explore their new home. This was not looking so perfect.
If you have visited the farm shop here in Hawley, you have probably met Georgie and Dickens. Georgie is the chubby one with the white feet who sleeps in the basket on the table in the farm shop. Dickens is the leaner one who meows stridently at you to open the door, and then 30 seconds later, meows at you to let her back out again. They are, despite their sparky-collar-beginnings, in fact, Real Barn Cats. They live in the barns, bite the heads off mice, terrorize visiting dogs, and leave us endless gifts of small headless bodies. We no longer have a mouse problem. But they are also soft, furry, sweet, and affectionate. They love to be petted. They climb in people’s cars and fall asleep in sunny spots on the driver’s seat. They seek out laps. There is not one tattered ear, mangy pelt, or snaggled tooth between them, and you could in no way call them rough customers. And so, we endlessly muse on this strange disconnect - the adorable killing machine - and of course, invent endless theories on why this must be. We have come up with many. But the only thing that makes sense?
Georgie and Dickens are aliens.
Yep, when the alien leaders were asking for volunteers for this mission to earth, Dickens, clearly a prodigy in the intelligence gathering field, was a top candidate for head operative. A true James Bond type - handsome, charming, athletic, and coldly efficient at data collection, she was a natural to go undercover as a cat. But the alien leadership knew she had one flaw - she was too good. No one would ever believe it. She needed a sidekick who was so completely believable as a cat that her cover would never be broken. Someone soft and fluffy with a squeaky meow and absolutely zero ambition to be head alien. Or really, zero ambition to be anything other than a basic, affectionate, mouse-eating cat. They needed someone maybe not so bright, maybe someone who was passed over for a promotion pretty early on in the training. So they sent Georgie. And while Georgie missed a few key lines in the cat training manual - have you ever seen a cat trip over her own feet? - she’s pretty darn cat-like. You’d never know the truth.
Dickens, on the other hand, clearly spends a great deal of time sucking information out of people’s brains. Just look at her: she sits on the top of the t-shirt shelf in the farm shop and fixes you with her laser brain sucking stare. Don’t worry - it’s not just you - she does it to cows, calves, birds, dogs, customers - everyone and everything. And we are sure she uploads it all directly to the mother ship. Once she has plumbed the depths of your mind for useful data, she’ll jump down and insist that you give her a vigorous petting. From this, we deduce that these particular aliens are peaceable. They seem primarily concerned with collecting data on humans and their mysterious activities, and are not planning a full-scale invasion. They might have even flown completely under the radar and never been discovered, except for one slip-up that has given them away.
Dickens accidentally read the dog manual.
While Georgie was memorizing skills like purring and face-washing, Dickens picked up a manual from the wrong pile. She comes running when you drive in the driveway. She comes when you call her by name. She loves to be vigorously, roughly scratched all over her body. She likes to go on long walks in the woods with the humans. She chases balls. She scratches at the door to come in. When you don’t let her in, because she is a barn cat and barn cats don’t come in the house, she hurls herself bodily at the door until she catches the door handle at just the right angle and the door opens. Then she comes inside and lies down on the couch and waits for you there. Wagging her tail. Dog / alien.
And so, we have been happy with this explanation of the ways of our barn cats. They are aliens, Dickens is the lead, and Georgie is the distraction. The classic smart alien/ goofball alien storyline. Dickens collects data, Georgie lies in the basket in the farm shop with her belly in a sun spot. All is well. But recently, Steven, who minds the farm shop on weekends, and has a deep soft spot for these little furry aliens, (or maybe they’ve taken control of his brain…) installed a cat door in the back door of the farm shop so they could come in when it was really cold out. Georgie figured out the cat door in a matter of days. She comes and goes as she pleases. Dickens? Three weeks on, Dickens has no idea how to use the cat door. She still stands out front and meows for customers to let her in and out. You can stuff her through in both directions over and over, and she just looks at you like you’ve offended her. We just assumed that she thinks that squeezing her body through a small space is beneath her dignity. But this morning, as I opened the door to the farm shop and greeted a soft, sleepy, warm Georgie stretching in her basket, it suddenly occurred to me that we might have it all wrong. What if Georgie is the mastermind?
Back to the drawing board on the barn cat theories.