Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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The Cat Who Came Back

As promised, this time I'm sharing the story of Puff & Little Puff. Hopefully, it's one you'll enjoy, but you may end up thinking I'm a nut. Either way, here it is...

12 years ago, I had yet to meet Dan. I kept my horse Sara on a piece of property my father owned, and we had kitties there. I can remember holding a pregnant Shadow and feeling the unborn kittens moving around. She would have four of them, on the Fourth of July, 2001. Unfortunately, Shadow was hit & killed on the highway when the kittens were only 3 weeks old. I was home from college for the summer; I found Shadow and buried her, then brought the kittens home to care for. My younger sisters loved having kittens in the house, but although fun to play with, none of the girls wanted to feed the kitties at midnight or 3 AM. That was my job. All four survived, and the fluffy tan one would be known as Puff. My sisters used to dress him up in doll clothes and push him around in a doll carriage. He learned that resistance was futile, and for the rest of his life, he would allow just about anyone to pet or pick him up.

He was a special (and spoiled) pet of my sister Laurel, but when our father died, I took custody of Puff, as Mom moved too close to a main road for comfort and I was living on my own nearby and rented a place with a nice backyard and woods for him to prowl. Shortly after, I met Dan and would take Puff to the farm when I moved there. He loved the farm. He would follow me around and supervise whatever was going on; building the greenhouse, weeding the garden, whatever. He also appointed himself farm stand mascot and would greet customers. Many kids who may not have had pets of their own were delighted to pet him, and Puff patiently soaked up the attention.

This past summer, he disappeared. I looked for him, calling and listening. I put up “Lost Cat” posters and talked to the neighbors. My neighbor Heidi gave me the answer I was afraid of...she had found a bunch of Puff-colored hair and a claw in the woods, as though there had been a fight of some kind. It was apparent that Puff has lost, to something with teeth. We never found his body.


In October, an acquaintance asked me if I would take in a couple of cats, as barn cats. Her son had found them in the woods, but since they had 3 large dogs, they couldn't keep the cats, who were currently locked in the garage. Although usually our response is that we have plenty of cats around already, this time I said yes, I would take them. They were about 12 weeks old, and there were 2, that was all I knew. The next day she arrived with a bag of cat food and the kitties. “They're Halloween kitties, one is black and one is orange,” she said as she opened the door to the dog crate in the back of the vehicle. One was black with white paws and chest, and the other...was the spitting image of Puff. Same markings, same hair length. The only difference was his (yes, also a boy!) eyes- the new kitty has copper-colored eyes, while Puff's had been yellow with a green ring around the pupil. I was dumbfounded at the coincidence, but took them down to the barn and fed them there, hoping to train them that the barn was their home, and not the house. When Dan came home, he told me he gave it 12 hours before they came into the house. We walked down to the shop, and saw the kitties had found their way outside. They were sitting on the rocks between the barn and the shop. Although I had told Dan that one looked like Puff, I think it startled him, too, when he saw for himself. “I've missed that cat.” he said to me...and Dan is by no means a cat person. When he came back up to the house later, the little Puff-colored one followed him right into the house as though he owned the place (Dan was way only took 3 hours!). Dan started calling him Puff immediately. I protested, that it wasn't fair either to Puff's memory or to the new cat. I tried to call him LP, for Little Puff, but the only thing that seemed to stick was Puff. Again.

Now I am aware that I probably showered more affection on this cat, since he looked so much like my furry little buddy, and that can have an effect on the way he would behave towards me. But I swear this cat loved me right from the start, and wanted to be petted and be near all the time. I've never met a cat that enjoys being picked up and held so much. I tried writing it off, because really, the idea that the cat could be reincarnated and find me again was just too much. It's just a crazy coincidence that it is a friendly little cat who looks like the one I lost. But then again...

He seemed to learn his name was Puff in no time at all. From the time he arrived, he would come to the farm stand and supervise, even letting a small child pick him up the very first market day. One of my regular customers was shocked at the resemblance. Little Puff also picked out the exact same places to nap. While the computer chair and the back of the couch are kitty hot spots that all cats seem to gravitate towards, there are others that were really Puff's alone, and Little Puff would eerily be found in the same spots. For instance, in one of the spare bedrooms upstairs, Puff loved to sleep between the pillows on the turned-down sheet. I think it was so he could get more cat hair on things, but he was always there. One day, I went into the room putting things away, and there was Little Puff. It didn't even register, I was so used to seeing a cat that color (and that color alone) in that spot. Then I remembered that it's not the same cat!

When my Mom came for Thanksgiving, she walked in the door, and before she even took her coat off, she said "Oh my goodness! It's Puff!” I reminded her that I told her about the cat that looked like him, and she replied that it didn't just look like Puff, it was Puff. Little Puff also seemed oddly at ease with Pepper, my mother's dog, with whom Puff lived for years. Strange. Talking to my neighbor Heidi about it, she told me that among those who believe in reincarnation, it's very common to believe the same dog will find you again, and considering how close I was to Puff, it didn't seem like much of a stretch to think the same could be true of a cat. But, I protested, given the age of the kittens, they would have been born at pretty much the exact time Puff disappeared. Heidi's thoughts were that since he left so unexpectedly, and he knew I would be worried, maybe he made it a point to come right back. Talking about him at Christmas with my family, my sister Laurel told me to drop the “Little” and just call him Puff, because I should accept that he came back. And then, when I came home after my family get together, Dan said he had slept very poorly because the cats kept him up. Puff had always had the most horribly annoying trick to get me to open the door and let him in at night. He would get on the couch on the front porch and claw at the sheet of plastic we used to weatherproof the bedroom window. It makes a terribly annoying noise, so you have to get up out of bed to let him in. None of the other cats ever picked up on that trick, even though I'm sure they had watched Puff use it to his advantage many times. While I was gone that night, Little Puff got up on the porch couch and began clawing the plastic until Dan got out of bed and let him in. The odds of that being coincidence are just too much to fathom.

So, this spring, when we reopen, I'm confident I will have a fluffy farm stand mascot once again. Stop by and see for yourself, but by now there is enough evidence that I'm positive that the cat came back.

Little Puff and his brother, 8-Track.


**After writing this yesterday, I was reading a book when (Little) Puff jumped up beside me.  When he looked up, I noticed an unmistakable ring of green around the pupils of his eyes that simply wasn't there when he came to me.  Spooky, isn't it? ** 


Fall Babies

Although fall is generally harvest time and not baby season, we've had some adorable little ones join our family this month, bringing both happiness and heartache.  Our brood cow Lil usually has a calf each spring, but something happened and we noticed she came into heat around the first of the year.  While that was a bit of a disappointment, she is getting to be pretty old, and things like that are part of life.  We have been anxiously watching her and knew the time was getting close, but we let her stay our in the pasture.  It's actually more sanitary to give birth outside if the weather cooperates, and Lil has had something like a dozen calves without assistance, so we weren't too worried that she would need help. Of course, when the day finally arrived, it was cold and wet.  In the interest of giving the calf the best start possible we decided to bring them into the barn for a few days.  

Dan had walked out to check on her on Wednesday, and sure enough there was a healthy calf on the ground, far up in the pasture.  I was in the middle of canning some Apple Pie in a Jar jam, so I couldn't really drop what I was doing, so Dan and his brother Matt took the truck out into the pasture.  They loaded the calf into the bed and put a lead rope on Lil. She didn't need any encouragement to follow along and kept an eye on the little one the whole way down.  This was the first calf born since our bull matured, and he seemed protective as well, as he also followed the truck all the way down to the barn.  While things like that can be a pain, it's good that he takes to the calves.  We have a large population of coyotes locally, and having the bull keeping watch over the girls and their little ones is actually kind of nice.  By this time, I was able to step away from the kitchen and was bedding down the stall.  We were able to get Lil and her calf in the barn and shoo Bullwinkle back out, so all went well.  The calf enjoyed his truck ride so much I decided to name him Ranger (after the truck).  He's strong and healthy, and since the weather has warmed back up (our high yesterday was a balmy 75!) he and his mama are back out in the pasture with the rest of the herd, and both are doing fantastic.

We also had a litter of kittens born here lately, which has been the heartbreaking part.   The mother cat has successfully raised kittens this spring, but this time, she seemed to just give up on the whole mothering job.  She seemed to do a bit better when I wasn't around (her motherly hormones seem to make her want to cuddle up to me instead of the babies for some reason), so I'd lock her in the house with them anytime I was running errands or working outside.  Still, after two of the four died, I realized I needed to step in and care for the kittens if they were to have any chance at making it.  At that point, there was a black and white one who was very small and runty-looking and a grey tiger one who seemed a bit better off.  I decided to start feeding them and warmed some milk and found a large syringe without a needle to use, since I don't have any baby bottles small enough for kittens.  But the grey one was nowhere to be found.  I couldn't believe the mother cared enough to move it, but it was gone.  I searched outside, and listened for a crying, cold baby kitty to no avail.   I locked her in overnight with her lone remaining kitten, which she ignored all night. Incredibly, in the morning, as I worked to get ready to open the farm stand for the day, I found the grey kitten on the front steps.  It had somehow survived, alone, outside, on a night where our temperatures went down to 22 degrees. Unsurprisingly, it was cold and not doing well at all, but I got some warm milk into it and put it in the kitty bed next to the woodstove.  It's been a frustrating weekend, as I've been feeding them every few hours, but watching the little black and white one fade away.  It really never took to eating from me, and its mother ignores them completely now.  I did the best I could, but it didn't make it.  The grey kitty has a great appetite and bites at the syringe when I feed it, so I'm hoping that it continues to thrive.  It's eating regularly and well, and naps contentedly without crying after a meal.  I know there is never a shortage of cats anywhere, and I wasn't looking for kittens, but since they are here, I felt it is my duty to care for them as best as I can.  Taking care of orphan critters is part of being a farmer, and even though our livelihood doesn't depend on kittens like it does lambs or calves, I'll do the best I can for this little one. So if you see me and I look a bit tired, it's probably from these every-4-hour feedings, which really don't make for a good night's sleep!


Kitties & Compassion

For those of you who follow the blog & Facebook page, you probably know Puff had gone missing. As much as I'd like to say he came home safe & sound, that is not the case.  Life on a farm seldom imitates those happily-ever-after Disney-type tales.  A neighbor found some Puff-colored hair in the woods, as though there was a fight. There are plenty of things with sharp teeth in the woods, and unfortunately, they enjoy dining on pets & poultry. While we found no blood or body, he had never been missing before, and despite the tales folks have shared with me about cats showing up long after hope was lost, I've accepted the fact that he isn't coming back.  Puff had a personality much larger than his size, and I'll miss the fluffball dearly, as I'm sure many of our farm stand friends will as well. I just count myself blessed to have had 11 great years with him.

It also never ceases to amaze me how animals can show love, compassion, or whatever you want to call it, to their humans. Maxwell & Itty Bit (other farm kitties) followed me faithfully through field, forest, and along the road while I searched for Puff. I'm sure they knew he wasn't coming back before I did.

Maxwell is only a year old, and he has always idolized Puff- cuddling with him, following him around, and just generally looking at him like he was thinking that he wanted to be exactly like Puff when he grew up. Max has been my constant companion, the first week I couldn't even go to the bathroom without him! He's taken to sleeping in all the spots Puff did, including on my bed, something he's never done before. And at least, unlike his hero, Max stays off the pillows! Itty Bit has been close by as well. (She's sitting in the computer chair with me as I type right now.) Even Stumpy, a kitten born this spring, has been extra sociable, and managed to weasel her way into the house enough that I've upgraded her status from porch kitty to house cat.  And if there is any balm for a sad heart, I think warm cuddles and the antics of baby animals are right up there.  Stumpy has been tearing about the house all morning at lightning speed. It impresses me greatly, because she lost a hind foot at birth, but doesn't let it stop her from running, jumping, climbing into my houseplants, or just generally being a kitten. 

The only thing that remains to be seen is if any will step into Puff's pawprints as self-appointed farm stand mascot.  And I know that wherever Puff is, a part of him will always be here at the farm with us.  I mean that quite literally...I'm sure I'll still be sweeping up cream-colored cat hair for years to come...


Really Old School

We went to a farm auction on Wednseday looking to pick up some equipment to make haymaking easier.  Although the hay loader went out of our price range, we were able to pick up a dump rake. It was quite the conversation piece; many of the older men gathered around it to reminisce.  One gentleman, probably in his 70's, came up to tell us how he had not run one since he was a little boy, and seemed very happy we were going to use it rather than use it as an antique yard ornament.  It made me laugh a bit inside, as he was Amish and has been using more current technology for years!  But the dump rake is home and worked great for Dan yesterday.  We'll have much less hay wasted by being left in the field, and it will be much simpler to load several piles of hay than forking up long, narrow windrows.

On a much sadder note, we've had some deaths in our chicken flock recently.  We eliminated a raccoon who had eaten several of my best layers and though it was over.  Three of the 4 killed were my Ameracauna girls, so I'm having a bit of a blue egg shortage at the moment although I do still get one or two a day.  Unfortunately, one of the feral barn cats has developed a taste for chicken and last night killed her 7th hen.  She has got all our adult Giant Cochins, both my Porcelin bantam girls and a mother Phoenix died defending her babies.  We have no choice but to kill her, as she is wild and would not be a candidate for the local humane society.  It makes me sad though.  So I just want to remind everyone out there that farmers do not need extra cats.  Over the years many midnight feline drop offs have occured here because people assume that if they can't give away kittens then they will have a happier life on a farm than if taken to a humane society.  I have 4 "bitty kitties" that came to us in this way in October.  Please know that not all have a happy life- established barn cats, a new road, lack of food if they don't know how to hunt...many other kitties don't make it long.  So let me just channel Bob Barker for a minute and remind you to spay or neuter your pet if you personally can't handle a litter of suprise babies.  I can't take care of them either, and it breaks my heart when I have to destroy one!

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