Thunder, the Ranch Cat

By Polly Oberosler

With shovel on his shoulder, my husband Dave slogged out into the hay meadow in hip boots to do some water irrigation. His dog was somewhere around and soon he heard her splashing behind him before suddenly zooming ahead of him. To his amazement it wasn’t the dog at all, but his young barn cat leaping from one high spot to another and landing with a splash. “I’ll be go to hell,” was all he could think. He knew the cat was becoming attached to him and him to it, but water and cats just don’t go together no matter one’s loyalty, and frankly, cats often pay no mind to others in the first place. That day was one of many that she tried to follow him when he went to irrigate. When they came back she would be pretty much wet all over, even her ears, because her calculations on the waters’ depth was often askew. The only dry spot on her, often enough, was her back.

Dave had been wanting a barn cat for awhile because our two in-and-out house cats couldn’t always keep up with all the mice and the ground squirrels that pass for prairie dogs, so when our neighbors had a litter of kittens ready to wean, he went down and picked the little girl out. I asked him one day if he had decided on a name and he pronounced that her name was “Thunder.” “Thunder,” I asked? “That’s no name for a girl kitty.” His only reply was, “Thunder is her name.” Okey dokey then, it wasn’t my cat.

Working in his saddle shop that first winter, it wasn’t long before they became good buddies, and Thunder began to live up to her name. Thunder helped him thread needles, uncoil leather strips and made sure he was doing things right from her perch on the cutting table or his work bench. If he moved from one bench to the other she would follow, leaping from one to the other. It wasn’t long before we began to realize she was sort of nuts, frankly. She would leap from any table to your shoulder if you were within five feet of her, or try to climb up your leg to perch on your shoulders. Thunder would climb the barn walls if there was nothing of interest going on. There is a window about ten feet up that she enjoys sitting in to watch unnoticed, the world below, and she scales to it to get away in a hurry from an enemy. She is athletic, walking along the stall doors and rims of feed barrels as if they were wide shelves. If she had a former life at all, she must have been a circus acrobat.

Thunder follows my husband nearly everywhere, including out to the meadow to catch a horse. I often see her following him behind the horses as if she can help in case one veers off away from the gate. She runs in fits and starts, back arched and tail wadded up like a shepherd’s hook against her back as she leaps over obstacles. The horses pay her no mind unless she is in the corral, then they try to give her a sniff. Our 36-year-old mule Foxey doesn’t trust her, so she drops her head and lays her ears back if the cat gets too close.

I swear that cat isn’t afraid of anything other than our young McNab dog, Pete, so she steers clear of him. Otherwise she is seemingly fearless. I watched her chase our neighbor’s Australian Shepherd nearly all the way home one day and the dog was at a trot with her on his heels.

One day I had picked a load of hay and backed the stacker up to unload it. When the load was almost standing straight up and down Dave yelled, “stop!” I followed his gaze to the top of the stack, and there was Thunder, twelve feet up on the stack, peering over the top bales. Dave took a long pole and prodded her with it until she leapt off. I would have likely crushed her had he not seen her.

Thunder is her own gal and does things her way, which of course is far from the way we see life, but she is in charge. I can’t imagine what she does all day when not with Dave or not napping in her favorite spots. In the winter she naps in the hay barn where she is in a ball tucked into the warm hay bales. In summer, in the heat of the day she leaps to the open window in the barn and curls up on one of his tractor seats. She wants to know that she won’t be left, although she hasn’t gone with him to mow hay; yet anyway.

Polly writes from and about the ranch; all 40 acres of it.