It was a sunny spring day. Eight month old Axel and her sister Bundt Cake bounded out of the garage and began following me to the barn. They were two of five kittens brought to us by a feral cat we named Rascal. We homed one of the kittens. When no one wanted the rest of the litter, we kept them. Two homed themselves with us as indoor/outdoor cats. But Axle and Bundt Cake walked themselves to the barn that beautiful morning and they never looked back. Barn living was the life for them!
Axel was a completely orange cat except for her white bib and white tipped toes. Her coloring allowed her to blend in completely to dry autumn and winter grasses, or to show her off against the bright greens of spring and summer. She lived her days and nights as one of the most focused predators we’ve known. She was an efficient huntress, taking only rodents and seeming to leave birds alone. Just what you hope for in your barn cats. Her signature kill (most outdoor cats seem to have them): Chipmunks. Every few years when the population would tick up, so would the pile of chipmunks she brought to display in the barn. Nearly every single day Axel would appear for her breakfast and dinner check-ins. Now and then she would disappear for a few days, clearly out on a hunting expedition that would take her further than her normal rounds. Her athleticism was like none other I’ve seen in a cat. She could scale the old wooden ladders in the barn faster than you can blink an eye.
Axel. Axel Bug. Buggy. Bug-a-boo. Whatever name she was called by, you could be assured on the coldest of days to find her snuggled in with her goats. Axel came to be at the barn around the same time we started to gather a few goats as pets. She was here to see the birth of our goat Olivia over 11 years ago. She was always partial to the goats. In our early years before we brought sheep back to the farm, it was common to look out and see five goats in a line headed to graze and right behind them would be the distinctive orange dot of Axel.
When she was around seven years old, she had a medical emergency. She was clearly not doing well and I rushed her to the vet. Her heart stopped on the table. They revived her with little paddles. Axel lived to see another spring after a winter of indoor rest! She seemed unstoppable.
Axel cautiously welcomed each cat who came by hoping to live here. Notably was her acceptance of a stray we named Robbie. He was a roly-poly tiger cat with a bobbed tail. Robbie wiggled his way into our hearts and endeared himself to all with his obvious love of lambs. Within a year of being with us, Robbie was diagnosed with a heart condition and we were told it would eventually be what he would die from. For two days that autumn, you would see Robbie walking around and then coming 20 feet behind him was Axel. She followed him everywhere for two whole days. The evening of the second day, Robbie did not come to dinner. Axel was restless and would not stop talking to me. I finally stopped calling for him, I became quiet and looked to Axel. Away she went. When I didn’t follow, she again started marching around talking. She wanted us to follow her. So we did. Axel led us to where Robbie had died in his sleep in his favorite nap spot.
At 14 years old, Axel well outlived the average 7-9 year life expectancy for outdoor cats. She lived her life on her own terms. Came and went as she pleased. Had her favorites in the barn. Asked to be petted and held when she wanted. And when she wanted to be held, our world would stop for those moments. For as wild as she lived her days, she was a big softy who would let the weight of her world melt into your arms. Sometimes she would find you and just want to sit near you for a spell. Axel was an animal who taught you the real meaning of being in the moment. We loved her for that. For her focus. For her skill. For her magic. For being a small cat yet seemingly bigger than everything around us. She assumed a job she was never asked to do but rather felt compelled to do. Cats are fascinating in the way they will choose where they want to live if given the choice. We always honor their choices by providing them food and shelter wherever they choose.
Last week I arrived at the barn for morning chores and the air around the barn felt different. As I approached the door I enter every day, there laid neatly in my path was a chipmunk and a Blue Jay. Axel’s calling card. A chipmunk. The largest chipmunk I’ve ever seen. And the one thing she was never known to kill or bring to the barn……….a bird. A big, bright bird we would not miss seeing. This may seem gruesome and awful to some. Those who know cats, know they bring gifts. This time these two profound gifts were a goodbye. A last farewell to let us know it was time for her to pass on and we need not worry for her.
As wild animals do, we are certain she headed off to a place of her choice to pass away on her own terms. Our relationship with her was deep and with an understanding hard to place into words. It is our hope that everyone gets to experience this type of connection to an animal. Sharing her story with you we hope will honor all she was to us.