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A Cat Named Barney

Among the things that didn’t sell at our barn sale was a realistic looking orange tabby toy cat. Instead of leaving it with boxes of stuff to be donated, I positioned it so its head is peeking out from a gap in the barn boards. Some people driving by will think it’s a real barn cat, looking to see if it’s safe to come out.

It was a bit of whimsy on my part, but it was something more than that, because not so long ago there was a real cat that peeked out of that gap in the boards.

His name was Barney.

BARNEY WAS A stray – or more likely, a drop-off – who showed up in our barn a couple of years ago during pumpkin patch season. Grandson Bob heard it meowing before Honey got a glimpse as it dashed from a hiding place.

“If we feed him here, maybe he’ll stay and become our barn cat,” she said. And so we did, and he did, which we knew because the food disappeared, but it was many days before he let himself be seen.

Barney was a small boy cat, with a short, black, shiny coat prettily set off by white markings on his feet, whiskers and chest.

Since it looked like he was going to stay, Honey said we should give him a name. I didn’t hesitate. “Barney, because he’s a barn cat,” I said.

I usually was the one to feed Barney because I frequent the barn anyway. I could tell by the way he acted that he wanted to be friendly, but he was afraid. He didn’t act like a feral cat; he acted like a cat that had been mistreated and lost his trust in people.

When I brought his food I often stayed nearby so he could get used to me gradually. As his hunger overcame his fear I was able to get remain nearer. After a few weeks I could sit on the barn floor right by his food as he ate. One day after pouring food in his dish, I left my hand by the dish and was able to touch him. It was a breakthrough moment, and eventually the touch because a rub and then a scratch.

My next trick was to position the food dish so Barney had to climb over my leg to get to it, and that led to a bit more rubbing and scratching. A couple of times I tried to pick him up, but that panicked him. Still, for a cat who wouldn’t even let himself be seen he had come a long way.

I reported to Honey regularly on Barney’s progress: Barney did this or that, or let me pet him longer, or sort of laid on my leg for a little while. When she or others fed him, he would be nearby, but would wait until they left; they couldn’t touch him or get close. He was still a frightened little cat. At least he and I had become friends.

FALL TURNED TO WINTER, and we cut a hole in a Styrofoam box so he’d have a warm place to sleep. Feeding was all the more important, since he needed food to generate body heat in freezing weather. Usually I fed him in late morning or noontime.

Since we don’t keep grain or animal feed in the barn, there’s nothing really to attract mice, so Barney didn’t have much opportunity to catch his own food.

One Saturday I had some tasks that kept me from his morning feeding. I knew I needed to feed Barney, then something else came up and it was late afternoon when I got the barn.

“Bar-ney!” I called. Usually he would be waiting, or would meow in answer. Nothing.

I called outside. No Barney.

With a sinking feeling I began searching the road between the barn and the farmhouse where General Doc and Col. Peggy reside. Barney sometimes sneaked across to steal cat food from their back porch.

I found him on the road, run over.

“Oh, Barney, I’m so sorry,” I said as I picked up his little body. I buried him in the soft earth behind the barn.

WHEN WE ADOPTED three boy kittens this past spring, one of them was shiny black with white feet, chest and whiskers. Fizz is a gentle, loving cat. Of the three cats, he likes me best.

Honey and I speak of Barney sometimes, especially when we are in the barn. Having the toy cat peek out of in Barney’s hole in the boards was my bit of whimsy. I hope it brings a smile to passers-by. For me, it’s a melancholy reminder of a sweet little cat who was trying so hard not to be scared.

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