When you train racehorses and hang around barns you see a lot of things that others don't. This story is not about all those crazy things or stories that I could tell you. I will save those for another time.
Growing up I have always loved animals. All animals. But I had a phobia
about cats for whatever reason. I always thought they would scratch and
bite me. I even had dreams about it. I have been bitten by dogs, which I
have loved as long as I can remember, but I have never had a dream
about it. And I have never been scared of any dogs. I don't know where
my cat phobia started but I avoided them at all cost when I was very
As the years went by I just seemed to encounter the odd cat here and
there, and as they all seemed friendly, I got over it. Cats are just
like any other animal. if you let them come to you they will be very
friendly and loving. There are exceptions to that rule and those ones
let you know to back away.
By the time I got my first "real" job running my Uncle's factory I had
completely gotten over the cat phobia. I liked cats. Even loved cats. At
that time I also had my dog Minnie, a big, lovable black Labrador
retriever, and she would come with me to the factory everyday. Sometimes
she would follow me around, while other times she would just lie
around and sleep in my office. Minnie loved all things, no matter what.
But she was enthusiastic and did not understand that other living things
could be scared of her.
There were times in our backyard at home that Minnie would chase a cat
just to play with them, corner them and then get scratched on the nose.
Many a time she came back in the house with a bloody nose. That never
stopped her from doing it again. She was just lovable and carefree like
In my Uncle's factory, they had an old cat they called
Maria. The sweetest and most lovable cat you ever met. And very tame.
Nothing fazed old Maria. She would just make her way around the
factory, and most times just lie around. She would stand up if you went
to pet her, but otherwise she was very quiet and old. She had to be 15
by the time I met her. Minnie, being Minnie, went right up to her and
sniffed her out. Maria, unlike most cats just lied there and let Minnie
feel her out. Minnie licked her on the nose and they were best
friends. After a while, Maria and Minnie hung out together in my office
and I got to love cats after knowing Maria.
A few years later I began to train racehorses and my
first stop was the barn of Joe Gasparro. I only knew of this place
because a co worker of mine, Don Altman, knew Joe from way back. They
were both in their 70s while I was barely 30. Joe was different. Very
different. He kept the barn although there was no one using it for a few
years. There was shit all over the place. Cob webs everywhere. Old junk
and vehicles everywhere. When I brought my horses there to train I was
the only tenant. Most of the time I was there by myself. Joe had some
horses, but they lived outside and didn't really need any care. He put
one big bale of hay out for them and they ate that for weeks before he
had to replace it. Other than that there was one cat, they called her
"Mama". In the days when that barn was full of tenants, she had quite a
few litters of kittens. Hence her name.
Mama was also a very sweet loving cat. But she was scared
of dogs. Many a late night after I had worked all day and trained the
horses until dark, I would be alone in the barn. Just me, the horses,
Minnie and Mama. Minnie would chase Mama but she could never catch her.
Mama was older but she was very fast and she was not about to let Minnie
or any other dog eat her. She had survived barn life where most cats
maybe lasted a year or two. Mama was a very sweet cat, and when Minnie
was not there she would also follow you everywhere and fall asleep on
After a few more stops I ended up at a barn just north of
where I lived. It was a good place to be, in that I knew a lot of the
people there and cut down on my travel time. When I first arrived one
thing was very plain. There was a lot of cats. More than thirty. The
female ones were constantly becoming pregnant. There was also varying
degrees of friendliness. Some cats were very friendly, others gave you
the time of day but mostly because you fed them, while there were a few
who were very feral and would not ever let you touch them.
I have always been the type who could relate to any
animal and get them to come to me. There was one cat in the barn, a
cream colored female, who had lived longer than the average cat would at
a barn. She was about 3 or 4 years old. She was pleasant enough but no
one had ever touched her and she was very careful to make sure you never
did. It was commonly held that no one would ever touch this cat. I
maintained I would get her to sit on my lap while I petted her, which
sounded like a pipe dream to everyone else.
Most barn cats have trouble staying clean and their coats become
dirty..or matted..or unsightly. Not this cat. She was immaculate. It was
as if she was a house cat and was brushed every two hours. Unlike many
barn cats she was also very healthy and maintained a nice healthy
About 3 or 4 months went by and still I had not touched
her. She would come up close to me and it was clear she wanted to be
friendly, but she was not trusting enough and had a fear of humans.
Because I was very animal friendly, she felt safe to live in my tack
room, which really was just a stall. That is what we used for tack
rooms. When I was in their tending to my equipment or feed, she just lay
there, comfortable enough to just relax. But if I got too close to her,
she got nervous and if I got within petting range she was set to scurry
out of the room. She would never hiss or threaten you like some barn
cats who didn't want to be handled would, but she definitely was not
going to be handled.
As summer approached it was very hot and we got to
sitting down more, both in the barn and outside in the shade. At times
this cat, which I had now named Sugar because she was so sweet, would
just about brush up against my leg. As long as I didn't touch her, she
now had a comfort level to do that. At times I would have my hand inches
from her back and she would not move. However as soon as I made the
slightest contact she would still scurry off. This went on for about
another month. Winter was now approaching and smart barn cats that stay
alive learn to find warm blankets to sleep in at the barn. Sugar had
learned it was okay to sleep in my tack room on two or three blankets. I
never gave her a hard time like other guys in the barn who did not want
the cats in their room or messing up the blankets.
Each morning I would see Sugar and she would now brush up against my
leg. Still no contact with my hand, but as I got closer now, each time
she would not shy away. I knew it was a matter of time until she would
let me pet her. Her guard was now down and she trusted me.
As I was sitting in my tack room one winter day, Sugar
was rubbing against my leg and my hand was loosely on her back. She was
not moving. All of a sudden, she just hopped on my lap and sat there.
Complete trust. She let me pet her and she moved her head into my hand.
The barriers were completely gone. The cat they said no one would ever
touch was now friendly. Not with everyone, but with the ones she knew
she could trust.
For weeks she was the friendliest and most loving cat in the barn. I
went to race out of town for a few days and when I came back I noticed
she wasn't around. I asked others what had happened to her, but of
course they didn't know.
Being that it is a barn any number or things could have happened. Hit by
a car. Killed by a fox. Just run away. Anything could happen. Usually
though, you would find a body somewhere. That never happened with her.
About two weeks went by and I was cleaning my tack room and I lifted up
my blankets, the ones I was not using.
Deep under the blankets I found Sugar. She had died about 2 weeks
earlier. I suspect she froze to death. It was a sad ending after all we
had been through to gain that trust.
The cat I called Sugar. At
least she died having learned to trust. Many barn cats came and went
over the time I trained horses. Many were friendly and nice, but she is
really the only one I remember. She will never be forgotten. I hope,
wherever she is that she didn't forget me.