Scott Smith admires and appreciates the essentially feral barn cats that keep his rural property near Casper free of vermin.
He’s even set up a pair of cat shelters on his place, so his feline defenders have somewhere to get out of the weather, as well as a place to get some extra food and fresh water.
Unfortunately, the shelters also attract some freeloading raccoons. They’ve been crawling inside, hogging the space and gobbling the cats’ food.
But this week, a young, smallish cat decided he’d had enough and gave one of raccoons a swift smack across the face, as if to say, “Beat it, you bum!”
Smith has cameras set up in the cat shelters and caught the incident on video.
“I was proud of him, because that’s a young cat. That’s not one of the big, old seasoned males,” Smith told Cowboy State Daily. “He’s not even a year old, and that took a lot of courage.”
A few years ago when Smith and his family moved on to the 20-acre property, it was infested with mice.
The rodents left droppings all over the property’s shop and were getting into vehicles and destroying the interiors.
So, when feral cats started showing up, Smith welcomed them. Soon enough, the cats had the mice at bay, and Smith hasn’t had any mouse troubles since.
“The cats provide a good service for us. So, out of appreciation, we provide them with food, shelter and water for them,” Smith said.
The cats aren’t pets, he added, but barn cats in the truest sense. Many of them aren’t even approachable, so he and his family let them be.
Others will approach people on their own, and Smith said a few of them will come hang out with him in his shop. One kitten really took to the family, so they decided to adopt it as a housecat.
Cats come and go, or sadly sometimes struck by traffic or otherwise meet their fate. Their numbers fluctuate between about two and 15, Smith said.
As new cats arrive, the family live-traps them and takes them to a spay/neuter clinic in Gillette, where the cats also get vaccinations, he added.
Other than that, the barn cats are left alone to patrol the property for vermin.
One of the cat shelters is heated, the other isn’t. Even during cold weather, some cats prefer hanging out in the unheated unit.
“We go out (to the cat shelters) three or four times a week to fill those bowls, especially during the wintertime,” Smith said. “Those animals that can take a tremendous amount of cold, as long as they’ve got some internal fuel to burn. So we always make sure that they’ve got some fresh water and food for fuel.”
It didn’t take long for the food and water to start attracting raccoons. Smith said the critters irritate him, but he takes mercy on them.
“We live-trap them and transport them down by the river about 20 miles away. I don’t think any of the ones we relocated have made their way back here. I think new ones just show up,” he said. “It’s not as if I hate them, they are fascinating and clever animals.”
The raccoons have been freeloading off the amenities meant for the useful barn cats.
“They’ll just be lounged out in the shelters, eating all of the freaking cat food and having a good life,” he said.
The first unheated shelter proved easy for raccoons to get into. The second heated one, which is made from fiberglass, is a bit more difficult for the raccoons to breach, he said.
The entrance is “the smallest cat door we could find,” and accessible from a high self that cats can leap to, but raccoons usually can’t reach,” Smith said.
“If they can get even one claw hooked on the shelf, they can get up there. Not very frequently – and the fatter ones can’t do it at all – but every once in a while, they’ll get in there,” Smith said.
One Kitty Finally Got Fed Up
For the most part, the cats cede space and food to the raccoons. But the brave young cat decided that enough is enough.
The smackdown happened in the unheated shelter, Smith said.
In the video, the cat stands to attention as the raccoon starts to come through an entrance in the floor, emerging slowly, like some old B-movie monster.
Once inside, the raccoon starts to act like he owns the place — until the cat puffs up, gives him a solid smack on the face and follows up with a menacing hiss.
The raccoon looks startled by the sudden, unexpected assault and flees for a corner.
Smith said he hopes that other cats start follow that one’s example and convince the raccoons to stop coming around.
A Hard Life
The family will continue doing what it can for the cats, he said. For the most part, his family and the felines have a mutual respect.
But except for those few cats that decide they want to interact with people, it’s a distant relationship, Smith said. Generally, they don’t give the cats names.
“The life of a Wyoming barn cat is hard,” he said. “I have a lot of sadness when I go outside and see the ones that have been hit by cars.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.