Barn life is the best life for these two cats

Some cats prefer being pampered, but Meow and Leopold are happiest living the good life with their pig and horse friends.
By Sarah Thornton

When Meow the cat first showed up at Horse Haven, no one thought that 20 years later she’d still be ruling the roost there. But that’s exactly what the calico cat is doing today.

While cats at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary typically call Cat World their home-between-homes, Meow has a different story. And since Horse Haven recently got a major upgrade that included a new headquarters a mile down the canyon from Meow’s kingdom, there was an opportunity for a second feline mascot. That’s how a kitty named Leopold stepped into the role previously forged by Meow.

Meow the senior barn cat at Horse Haven

20-year-old barn cat

The first time anyone remembers spotting Meow at Horse Haven was seeing a flash of orange-and-black fur as she darted between buildings. Staff members tried to corral her, but Meow was fast, smart and wouldn’t let anyone come near her.

It took time and patience, but they eventually managed to humanely trap the calico kitty. Following her vet exam, vaccinations and spay surgery, it was clear to everyone that Meow hated being confined indoors. And although it appeared that she’d never been socialized to people, she already knew her way around Horse Haven and seemed intent on sticking around. So rather than upheaving her life through relocation or trying to make her an indoor pet, they released her back at Horse Haven. Since then, she’s become something of a legend.

“I’ve been here 21 years and I’ve seen her down there at least 20 of those, if not more,” says Jen Reid, Horse Haven manager.

Meow became a fixture at Horse Haven (which also houses pigs, goats, sheep and other barnyard animals). For many years, she avoided staff and visitors. “She really and truly was feral,” Jen says. “She would not interact with humans.”

Meow was well-fed and safe, but all that lovey-dovey petting stuff was not her style. Year after year, she was loved from afar as she went about exploring, sunbathing and rolling in the sand.

Meow the calico cat walking next to a person's feet

Making friends with Meow

It was at least 10 years before Meow decided people weren’t so bad. “One of the caregivers who worked here a long time ago decided to make it her mission to friendly-up Meow,” Jen recalls. It was a tall order for a cat who avoided people for so long, but over time, Meow softened little by little. Today, she happily rubs against people’s legs and leans into ear-scratches.

No longer a distant supervisor, Meow greets everyone in the morning, reminding staff and visitors alike that no matter what, it’s a good day to pet a cat. “I am always super happy to have her around,” Jen says.

Meow may be getting older, but the fact that she has thrived for so long is testament to the fact that a home for a cat doesn’t always mean a house. And when Horse Haven recently expanded, a second kitty who preferred life outdoors moved in.

Smiling woman behind Meow the cat who is standing on a picnic table bench

New barn cat on the block

While Meow was always the only barn cat at Horse Haven, that changed when Leopold arrived. He had an injured leg and eye issues that required attention, and he didn’t like other cats much. So after receiving the care he needed from Best Friends veterinarians, (including neuter surgery), he was moved into a private room.

Leopold liked his human friends and enjoyed getting attention, but sometimes his pent-up energy turned into bites and scratches. Before coming to Best Friends, he had lived outdoors with all the space in the world, and being inside was tough on him.

For a long time, Jen had wanted another cat on the team for the newly built area of Horse Haven. Placement as a barn cat is a win-win solution for kitties who are happiest when they are unconfined and roaming freely outdoors, yet can still be safe and cared for. Horse Haven’s new location, with safe, enclosed spaces, plenty of sunbathing locations and lots to explore, was an excellent environment for a barn cat. The only thing left was to figure out was who, among all the potential kitty candidates, was best for the job.

Leopold the new Horse Haven barn cat lying on some hay

Choosing a barn cat

Amy Kohlbecker, senior manager at Cat World, says they chose Leopold because they felt he stood to benefit the most from going to Horse Haven and might have a harder time getting adopted. They were looking for the cat who would be the answer to the following questions: Who would be significantly happier if they could go outside whenever they wanted? Who would require little maintenance?

Leopold was the perfect fit and as it turns out, he’s so much happier. “He just seems totally chilled and relaxed,” says Jen. And he really is. After an initial acclimation period and time to explore the new area, Leopold has set up in the hay room and around the feed room. The hay room is huge, and when not in use it’s perfectly protected from any wandering wildlife. Leopold can explore as much as he wants and can always return to his safe place.

He waits every morning for breakfast and his eyedrops, and then he spends much of the day stretched out in the sun. Having the whole world open to him has completely changed his personality. He’s mellow, gently seeks out attention and doesn’t have any of the nervous energy that he had living indoors.

Leopold the barn cat walking outside with horses in the background

“He’s doing his job well … (including) other duties as assigned,” says Jen with a smile.

Meow and Leopold have all the space they need and plenty of very important cat business to keep themselves occupied. It’s not a life of couches and windowsills and constant cuddling, but for these two cats, living outside under the sky around the pigs, goats and horses is even better.

Join Best Friends and help more pets find their happiest place

Leopold lying on an ATV in an indoor arena at Horse Haven

Photos by Molly Wald