“Had a pal, had Thetis.” Michael Flynn, a retired mounted policeman, is talking about the mare he used to ride.
“A little black cat. A little battered tomcat…used to come in every night, summer and winter, and sleep on the mare’s neck. Thetis got to looking for him, and then she couldn’t rest until the cat came.”
Actually, Michael, Thetis and Tommy, the battle-scarred street cat, are all fictional characters from Joyce Stranger’s Born to Trouble. But real-life felines do form friendships with other species, and their stories fascinate us because of their unexpectedness.
Cats and Horses
Most horse farms have a few cats prowling around doing rodent patrol. But there’s also something about the feline psyche that’s strongly akin to the equine one.
Both cats and horses have to be dealt with in much the same fashion: You have to let them come to you and not the other way around.
They also seem to instinctively recognize a sort of spiritual kinship with one another.
“Cats are as a rule fond of horses, and the feeling is generally reciprocated,” wrote Harrison Weir, “the Father of Cat Fancy.” He then proceeded to relate the stories of several horses who formed remarkably strong bonds with cats, even sometimes letting the latter sleep on their backs.
Lorraine Josephine Horne’s Abyssinian, Sparkie, “takes walks to the stables and visits with the horses and stable girls. He even rides on one of the horses who he has a connection with.”
So does Morris, a former shelter cat living in Australia. One day, owner Jennifer Boyle spied the black cat riding on her horse Champy’s back. “I’ve seen Morris riding around for hours while Champy eats grass and grazes about the paddock,” Boyle says. “I think their relationship is so special because they are genuinely good friends without me coaxing them and all.”
This video features a horse-loving cat making the rounds in the barn:
Getting Along Like Cats and Dogs
Traditionally, felines and canines have been considered enemies. But Simi, a longhaired tuxedo cat in my neighborhood, used to make regular morning visits to Zeus, a young Bernese Mountain Dog who lived across the street.
Simi would rub against the puppy and nuzzle him. And Zeus would greet him just as affectionately, just as joyfully. The cat, I learned, had been raised with dogs and had no fear of them. So a lot of it was simple conditioning.
But that doesn’t explain Circe’s behavior. Some of Zeke’s friends brought their black Labrador puppy to the house; our blue Aby, who had never seen a dog in her entire life, went up and greeted the visitor enthusiastically.
Was it simply that Circe didn’t know enough to be afraid? Or was she just innately more social than the rest of our cats?
Some cats clearly have no problem extending the boundaries of affection as far as possible. An Irish couple saw one of their barn cats making off with a duckling.
They rushed after her, only to find that she had set up a sort of interspecies daycare in the barn and was caring for several ducklings along with her own kittens. She had just given birth, and her maternal instincts had kicked into overdrive.
In another case, a red tabby kitten was adopted into a household with 2 ferrets and bonded with them. Even as he grew into cathood — and outgrew his slinky buddies — he still played and napped with them as though they were his littermates.
Not So Remote
Once again, we have proof that felines are much more social than they’ve been given credit for being.
“Cats are often considered remote, aloof creatures and they are certainly much more independent in their outlook than most domestic animals,” observes researcher David Greene.
But he scoffs at the popular image of them as “unfriendly loners. Apart from hunting forays, which are generally solitary affairs, cats are gregarious creatures whose social organization in the wild is among the most complicated and intelligent of any in the animal kingdom.”
Cats have developed their own intricate social network. It has been extended over time to include their humans and, as these stories make clear, other creatures as well.