Our granddaughter, Holly, loves animals. Cats, in particular. Holly shows her affection for cats by pulling on their ears and tails and by staring them down until they attack. Our own cat, Harriet, can attest to this. When Harriet is confronted by cat-loving Holly, she runs away.
In July of 2021, I decided to take Holly to see the cat house at Purina Farms. If you like cats and you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to make the trip. The cats live independently – as cats always do – in a multistoried house with cat-sized furniture and lots of windows to look out of. From a cat’s perspective, the house is just about perfect. They live in comfort with good food and clean litterboxes – a safe distance from their most ardent fans.
But sadly, when we visited Purina Farms, the cat house was closed. I mean, COVID-closed. Out-of-an-abundance-of-caution closed. Just-in-case-the-virus-jumped-species-closed.
But the dog-diving pool was open that day, and the piglets and bunnies were in their pens. And the chickens were strutting their stuff to impress any four-year-olds who might be happening by. A staff member saw Holly eyeing the chickens and asked if she’d like to pet one.
Personally, I’d have declined the offer. I mean how much fun could it be to pet something with talons and a beak? And how could feathers possibly be as nice to the touch as the fur of a kitten or bunny? But Holly was all in. Bring on the chickens.
The woman showed Holly how to pet a chicken softly, and Holly petted for a good minute or two. I’m not sure, but I believe girl and chicken became friends that day.
Holly was just four then. And she’d been sheltering in place for a third of her life. She’d been wearing a mask for as long as she could remember. Most of her memories were of her own family and her own house and her own dogs. That chicken at Purina Farms was welcoming her back into this great wide world.
Animals have a way of doing that. If you watch a dog or cat for 10 minutes, you can’t help seeing what they see – the ball, the laser light, the squirrel in the yard. And suddenly, your world is bigger and lighter and better than it was before. It’s easy to empathize with animals.
Before my husband and I had kids, we had pets. They were ours to love and care for. Because, face it, we are born to love and care for others. As a species, it’s time we relearned that.
And that’s a real challenge as we emerge from our COVID-induced ennui. Because we’re not used to being around people who aren’t naturally cuddly anymore. And we’re not used to driving in traffic or waiting in long lines at the store. We’re definitely not used to those who have sharp beaks and talons. But maybe, if we all took time pet a chicken, we might realize just how much we need each other. Holly could have told you this at four.
I’m happy to report that two years after her visit to Purina Farms, Holly has learned how to care for animals, and Harriett has begun to accept her advances. Girl and cat are friends. Except that Harriett still reserves the right to avoid Holly – and everyone else – anytime she likes.
Purina Farms is a St. Louis treasure and the March feature in my 2023 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. It is also available as an 11 x 14 litho print or a limited-edition 16 x 20 archival print. For more information, please visit ayearinthecity.com.