The Sixth Cat


 We’re all familiar with the 12th man, right?

The term represents the football fan, and his (or her) support and involvement, with a certain team. The 12th man doesn’t take to the field, but is part of the game.

Last night I encountered the 6th cat.

It was a typical Saturday evening. Late night, buzzed on cocktails, Martin and I were feeding the critters. The barn was ablaze in light and raucous activity. Maisie blasting her barks and the horses banging their feed tubs as they scarfed down dinner. The five cats milled about, meowing plaintively for food.

“Alright, alright,” I muttered, retrieving a can of wet food from the tack room. Cracking it open, I approached the dishes perched on the hayloft stairs. Already, two cats were in position, awaiting the meal.

At least I thought they were cats.

I assumed they were cats.

And I stood in arm’s reach, cat can tipped in preparation for pouring, when I saw the two of them.




I didn’t scream, instead opting for a steady, panic-fueled chant: “Oh-my-god-oh-my-god-oh-my-god-oh-my-god-OHMYGOD!….” while bolting across the barn to the nearest open door.

When I realized that the opossum was neither in pursuit, nor poised to attack, I studied the beady-eyed beast. “Hey Martin!” I hollered. “Grab my camera! And hurry!”

But there wasn’t any need for speed because Mr. Oh-Possum showed no interest in departing. Instead, he squatted over a cat dish and stared expectantly as if to say, “Okay, I’m ready. Serve it up, lady.”


The barn cats were equally nonchalant. They filed past the wildlife, heading up and down the stairs, suggesting that Oh-Possum is not a visitor but a regular tenant.

Martin and I crept relatively close (Translation: I advanced cautiously while shoving Martin in front as a human shield); the possum hissed briefly, but didn’t budge.

Despite the late hour, I phoned our neighbor. “Chet, get down here right now and shoot this thing!” I yelled.

Chet was unmoved. “It doesn’t sound rabid. Just use the trap I left you,” he said, referring to the humane trap he’d loaned us to catch our semi-feral cat.  

We tossed a lump of cat food in the trap and set it. But we must have set it wrong because this morning, the trap door was shut and the cage empty. (Admittedly, I was relieved to avoid another encounter with that oversized rat.)

Now that the sixth cat has made his presence known, I think it’s time to re-think the division of evening chores. Suddenly, kid-duty — bathing the crew and settling them into bed — has become an appealing option…






Three days a week, Brynn attends preschool at a pre-K to 8th-grade school nearby. And every morning, we arrive late.

Not just a few minutes late. But Late, like… the carpool people are long gone, the school doors are locked and the front desk person has to buzz us in.

It’s not a big deal — Brynnzilla is three for Christ sake. It’s not like she’s late for geography class or something. And the lady in the office has been cool; she waves a hand toward Brynn’s class and checks her name on the attendance list. 

But a couple weeks ago, the school lady buzzed us in and handed me a square of turquoise paper.

It was a tardy slip.

It’s official, Brynn’s got a record. 

After collecting a few blue slips, I made a conscious effort to deflect them. Not by waking up earlier, but by justifying our delayed arrival. I used the typical reasons. Traffic woes — with a rural spin.

Sorry we’re late, we got stuck behind a combine.” Or “We got stuck behind a hay truck.” Or a tractor. Really, any mobile farm implement is plausible.

I’ve used the absent-minded parent approach.

I forgot her lunch; we had to go all the way back home…

And there’s always the sympathy card.

Brynn’s CF treatment took longer than usual.” (Which often is accurate; Brynn is a beast about wearing her vest for treatment.)

But this morning when we arrived 20 minutes late, I didn’t bellyache about a fictitious traffic snag or car trouble. I stated fact.

We had to shoot a rabid raccoon by the mudroom before we could leave the house.

“By all means, go on up,” the front office lady said, gesturing toward the classrooms. It was a solid excuse. Rabid raccoon is well beyond the realm of creatively-conjured delays. And my disheveled appearance and Brynn’s mop of bed-head hair confirmed a morning of disorder.

It was a truthful tale. My only embellishment? The use of “we.” We did not dispatch the raccoon. We prodded the raccoon with a pitchfork, surmised it was alive and crazy-angry, and then we summoned the neighbor. He kindly drove down and did the deed.



Don’t be fooled — this guy was neither cute nor harmless. Photo snapped using a long lens.


Credit also goes to Maisie, who alerted me to the problem. I missed her first cue; when I walked outside just after sunrise, I actually yelled at her to “leave it,” (whatever “it” was) and follow me to the barn. But when we got back to the house, without provocation Maisie thrust her snout between the deck railings and violently snapped her jaws. I peered over the side and spotted the raccoon, huddled by the mudroom, under the dog-door ramp. He was not friendly and not healthy.




So, good job, Chet. Well done, Maisie.

But dammit, I’m running out of tardy excuses. Dangerous rabid raccoon?

That’s a tough one to recycle.





The Bane of Border Collies





There are a few things that a Border Collie cannot stand:

1. Thunder, fireworks, and the like…

2. The act of being herded by other dogs…

3. And the smothering affection of children.

Fortunately, Scottish sheep dogs can cower during thunderstorms.

And they can outrun most other canine breeds.

But kids? It’s tough to dodge the crush of kids. They will chase you, they will corner you, they will hunt you down.

Don’t fight it. There’s simply no escape.


Oh please, don’t squeeze off my head…


In Border Collie world, the only good kid is a sleeping kid.