At some point soon after I moved to the ranch, my husband kindly requested that we place a four-animal cap on indoor pets. At that time, we had my two elderly house dogs and two wild, young house cats, which I agreed was plenty.
Within the first two years, however, the older of my dogs died, and I began joking about the opening in the indoor animal quota. It really was just a joke — we’d recently added a human baby to the mix, and another pet was the last thing on my mind.
However, as the honeymoon period of our marriage began to wane, it became obvious that the man of the ranch actually thought four indoor animals was too many. In fact, he kind of thought three was too many. As was two. And one.
Zero indoor animals was, it turned out, his ideal number of indoor animals — which put us at a bit of an impasse because I love indoor animals (except when it comes to vacuuming up all the detritus they drag in … but I digress.)
Over the intervening years, the vacancy was temporarily filled by all manner of critters, including but not limited to: baby lambs, baby chicks and even a few hens for a night.
Truth be told, I regularly violated the cap using temporary status as an excuse. For example, if you are a regular reader of this column, you know that I’ve let our mama cat give birth in our bathroom twice when the weather took a bad turn near the end of her pregnancy … and then let the little family hang out for a few weeks. “Just until the babies start moving around,” I would say. The kids cheered, and the man of the ranch rolled his eyes.
Newborn kittens aren’t much trouble — at first. Mama Cat is a different story. Despite being half their size, to this day she regularly routes both male house cats, so during her indoor stays, the house often felt a little like a battle zone. Plus, the man of the ranch lived in fear of going into the bathroom after dark and stepping on one of those wee baby cats creeping around on wee silent paws.
Newborn kittens weren’t the worst of it either. A few autumns ago, after several days of snow and sleet in early October, a hen emerged from the tall grass by the coop with four newborn chicks. She was a wreck, and several of the babies were already showing signs of hypothermia. Did I really have any choice but to scoop those chicks up and deposit them in our laundry room in a box with a heating pad?
Chicks and kittens and Mama Cat have long since moved back outdoors. Mama Cat is spayed now, and we no longer keep a rooster, but the man of the ranch still brings up the evening he went to drop his muddy clothes in the aforementioned laundry room, and I admonished him, “Stop! Close the door! We don’t want any cats getting in and hurting the chicks!”
“Barn cats in the bathroom, chickens in the laundry room…” he said, shaking his head, ‘Are there any doors it’s safe to open?”
The two original house cats remain with us, although they are now docile, old men. Instead of two elderly house dogs, we have two young ones, plus our aging Great Pyrenees who sometimes comes in as well. In other words, the detritus getting dragged inside has not abated.
Meanwhile, as the weather gets colder, two of our friendliest barn cats are regularly sneaking in whenever they can get away with it. In other words, the four-animal cap continues to be far more aspirational than actual.
Is this how my husband envisioned his life when he proposed nine years ago? You’d have to ask him to be absolutely sure, but I think the answer is yes. I did have a chicken living inside when we started dating, after all. Besides, it adds a pinch of spice to our otherwise very peaceful marriage — a good recipe for a happy life.
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