A black and white flash of fur caught my eye as I stumbled my way to the barn early one morning to feed and prepare treatment for our sick little foal, Juno. It appeared to be a small cat, but it moved so quickly I had no way of being sure and I just didn’t have the energy or time to conduct a thorough investigation. Juno, and her mother Athena’s eager nickering easily pulled my attention back to the task at hand.
In the previous weeks, I thought I had seen a cat a few times darting through the trees about a 100 yards from the barn. I wondered if this was the same cat finally finding his way to shelter. Maybe he’d been spending the night under the cover of our old tin roof, but was frightened by my arrival. Hopefully, he’d been hunting around the barnyard. Orca’s and Snapper’s absence had given rise to an increase in mice and rats around the barn.
The next morning, the same flash appeared as I walked toward the barn, except this time it paused just long enough to take a quick glimpse at me and for me to confirm it was a cat. The other humans around the barn had seen it too. It appeared we had a stray frequenting our barn while we and our cats were away.
Each day, the cat paused just a little longer before he disappeared with lightning speed. We began trying to talk to him, reassuring the little creature we had no intention of causing him any harm and it was fine to stick around and see what was going on. And each day, the cat took longer pauses, until one day, he paused on the other side of the barn and watched me as I took care of Juno and Athena. But once I made eye contact, he was gone.
The next few days, we all caught a long enough glance at him to recognize how similar he looked to our dear, sick Orca. Orca and his brother Snapper had been away from the ranch for several weeks as Orca was getting care indoors through his last days of life with a rare and fatal cancer.
One day, Rebecca reported that the little cat had waited until she was just a few steps from the barn door before he bolted off. It seemed he was slowly working up the courage to stick around and see what we were all about. This pattern continued for a couple of weeks as he seemed to step out of his comfort zone a little more each time. Sometimes he would delay his escape a little longer, and sometimes he would run just to the other side of the horse’s pen where he would sit and watch. He began to avoid flight at the sound of our voices or at a moment of eye contact from us, but he remained distant and mostly avoidant.
Late one evening after a particularly stressful and difficult day, I went to check on Juno and Athena before heading home. It was a beautiful evening that shone with the light of a full moon while a gentle breeze kissed the leaves of the trees around the barn. I decided to lie down on one of our benches and take a few minutes to process the day, connect with myself and everything around me and figure out what I needed before I could relax enough to turn in for the night. I called my mom, a reliable source for the empathy and understanding I needed in that moment.
As I talked to my mom and cried about what I was going through, I suddenly felt a soft furry something rubbing up against my dangling arm. I caught the glimpse of white fur and felt the vibration of a faint purr against my skin. I paused in the middle of my sentence, held my breath, and glimpsed down to see the elusive little cat rubbing on my arm like we’d been long-time friends. My mom, not knowing what happened, asked if I was still there. I told her about the cat and that he had just made his first move to ask for some attention and connection from me. We continued our conversation as I petted my new feline acquaintance.
When I hung up with my mom, he began meowing at me as he rubbed against me. It seemed he was asking something more of me. He was extremely thin and gaunt. He was a giant cat head on a tiny fur-draped cat skeleton. I ran home and grabbed something to fill his belly as it was too late to go purchase cat food. He purred as he ate, pausing in between gulps of food to glance up at me with a grateful meow. I told him he was a brave little kitty and said goodnight.
It was a downhill slide from there as he won the hearts of everyone at the ranch with his affection and playfulness. He teased Juno running in and out of her pen, getting her to chase him then swatting at her as she dropped her nose to examine him. He crawled in Rebecca’s lap and weaved his way around Jenn’s neck until we had no other choice than to create a space for him in our little therapeutic community. After a little bit of effort and time, he was able to win Snapper’s acceptance and friendship.
Brave is now a fixture at Pecan Creek Ranch. He joins us in the middle of EAP sessions and much like Orca once did, he offers a greeting and affection to everyone who comes near. When you look out from the office, you often see him sitting outside the round pen watching clients work with their horses, stepping in to offer comfort and connection when things get really difficult. He found a safe place and a purpose.
But it wasn’t easy for him. Every step along the way, he had to face and overcome fear to get what he needed. He had to take small, persistent steps to get to the place of comfort and belonging he has now. He didn’t know the outcome and he tried anyway. He wasn’t sure it was safe and he asked anyway. He was afraid, but he chose to be Brave.