By Tom Gumbrecht
Originally published in Horse Directory, May 2013
It seems that where there are horse barns, there are feral cats. We started out in 2000, the year we
built our barn, with two, rescued from beneath the stairs at Samantha’s elementary school; they
were in dire straits as their mother was no longer there to care for them. Bottle-fed, neutered and
vaccinated, they became the first residents of the barn at Dreamcatcher Farm. Over the years others
wandered in from time to time. Despite several effective plans to control their “multiplication”, a
new cat still occasionally shows up and blesses us with her litter.
|Gypsy and friend... the two moms.|
We do what we can. The population is transient, and after our first two lived out their lives, I had
never named another feral. Never, that is, until a very special cat came along who we eventually
named Gypsy. Gypsy tested the waters for a few weeks by coming into the barn for seconds, then
minutes, at a time. Sensing safety, before long, she was sitting alongside me as I had my morning
coffee in the barn. That was the sum total of our interaction until one evening when she made the
unfortunate decision to traverse our backyard which is competently patrolled by our three large dogs.
Most cats can easily outrun our dogs but something had slowed her down on this occasion. I pulled
her out of the mouth of one of our dogs, and by her condition, was shocked when she bolted away,
not to be seen again for several days.
I caught a fleeting glimpse of her behind the barn, literally dragging her hind end around behind
her. As she collapsed, I could see that she was giving birth to what turned out to be a stillborn litter.
Attempts were made to patch her up and trap her, but she would always elude them, and disappear
for days at a time. I assumed it was because she was too sick, and knew it. When she didn’t appear for
several weeks, I said a silent prayer while looking out into the woods.
|Lola wants to be a mom to the kittens also..|
walked in, looking healthy and alert, and took her familiar place by my side as my jaw dropped in
awe. It dropped even further when some months later, she had another litter after it had been
deemed medically impossible. Of all places, she chose to give birth in a corner of the stall belonging
to Bella, our Arabian mare who had perhaps the least tolerance for small furry things as any horse in
the barn. Sensing danger, I carefully moved them one by one to a prepared bed in the tackroom. And
one by one, she brought them back into Bella’s stall. Not once but twice, and the next day I no longer
saw them there and feared the worst. My routine took me into the stall of our large paint horse,
DannyBoy and I saw the tiny kittens on the side of the stall of this 1,200 lb. giant who chased felines
around the paddock regularly for sport. And yet both horses had made sure that the kittens remained
safe. Later, the mother moved the kittens one by one onto the top of a high cabinet in the tackroom,
and ultimately back to the bed I had prepared. She accepted my offer, though on her terms, and
earned the name “Gypsy”.
|Surprise! A drawer full of kittens!|
but not for long. Two other kittens whose mother had passed while giving birth were found in the
woods by Gypsy and brought back to the tackroom where she raised them as her own until they were
adopted out. And so Gypsy’s career as a surrogate mother to any and all who needed her, began.
She would go out and patrol the surrounding woods and bring back anything feline in need of a
mother. The remarkable became routine, until one day it became incredible. A feral wandered in
and had a litter on a stack of saddle pads, and then abandoned them. Gypsy stepped up and waited
for me to prepare a bed, which she assumed I would, and brought them one by one into the safety it
afforded. With a “mother” unable to nurse, we assumed that this would be a bottle-fed litter, but the
kittens’ mother had a change of heart and came back to check on her family. Far from being cause for
a “custody battle,” Gypsy saw it as a chance to become a mother’s helper.. . furnishing warmth, love,
mothering advice and support while the natural mother provided milk. Often the kittens are wedged
in between the two “moms,” who have become inseparable best friends as well.
A few days later, a third mom added two more kittens to the communal kitten-bassinet. This one
was a bit skittish, and within a day all but two of the kittens had disappeared. Gypsy stood on
the tackroom countertop with her head down for a long while, depressed, I had assumed, by the
disappearance of her charges. I had assumed wrongly. She had been indicating to me that there
was something amiss in the drawer below. I hadn’t picked up on the clue until I needed to retrieve
something from the drawer, and there were seven kittens staring up at me when I opened it! The
skittish mom had found a way through the back of the cabinet, to create her own feline safe deposit
With a look in my direction somewhere between gratitude and impatience, Gypsy carried the babies
one by one to the safety and comfort of their bed. When the skittish mother cat returned, there was
no admonishment from Gypsy, just an outpouring of love and support.
Miracles, Gypsy has showed us, do indeed happen. A barn is home to many if you’re looking for
Archived previous stories are available at www.tcgequine.blogspot.com
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