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A little light cat herding to stay in shape

Sunshine, one of Jenny Schlecht's six barn cats, sits outside on a nice day. At night, Sunshine likes to dart into the garage and hide under vehicles rather than go into his snug house. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service1 / 3
Tiger, one of Jenny Schlecht's six barn cats, lounges in the window of the garage after sneaking in. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service2 / 3
Jenny Schlecht3 / 3

I have a new workout routine.

I’ll be completely honest — I haven’t exercised as regularly as I should for, oh, a decade. Or more. Who’s keeping track?

For years, I was as an athlete who was constantly at practice or a workout. When I “retired” from serious competition at age 21, I began jogging a little, until I remembered that I had never liked jogging. I bought an elliptical machine, which is great for hanging clothes and collecting dust. I played slow-pitch softball for a few years until I got pregnant with my older daughter.

Since then, my main forms of staying in shape have been playing with my kids and helping out around the farm. Through luck and genetics, apparently, I’ve managed to stay pretty close to the same size I’ve been for most of my life, while lacking the muscle and definition I once had.

But in the past few weeks, I’ve found my new routine. I call it, “cat herding.”

Regular readers of this column will recall that we acquired a new barn cat in the spring after several cat-less years. I’ve had a few messages from people who wanted an update on Patty and her five kittens. I’ve been reluctant to write it — not because anything was wrong, but because I didn’t want to jinx our good luck so far.

Patty has been an excellent mother, and her kittens quickly became plump and active. When they were big enough to stand up to our overly-affectionate dog, Cocoa, we gave them the run of the place during the day. But for their nighttime dwelling, my in-laws cleaned out an old chicken coop that would be snug from the cold and secure from nocturnal beasties.

As summer passed, the kittens grew bigger and bolder but mostly stayed near the yard. Patty roams far and wide, returning all but a handful of nights to be let into the chicken coop. (I tried to call it “the cat house,” but my mom said that might give people the wrong idea.)

On a good night, a number of kitties already will be in the chicken coop waiting for their supper and a quick snuggle. But, for the most part, they are too mischievous to go home when the sun goes down.

We run from barn to barn looking for swishing tails and listening for faint meows. We stomp through the tall grass and duck to avoid low-hanging branches in the shelterbelt on the edge of the yard.

On a cold night, the easiest way to get the cats to come is to open a garage door. The garage is not heated, but it is insulated enough to make it attractive to the cat horde. Once inside, the cats turn into ninjas, sneaking this way and that, hiding behind boxes or bags.

Their favorite place to avoid capture is under the vehicles. My girls and I sit at the edge of the cars and pickups and plead with them to come out. Just the other night, my older daughter and I both army-crawled under my mother-in-law’s SUV in pursuit of Sunshine, our orange boy, who looked at us in amusement before scampering off, just beyond our grasps.

We run this way and that, climb here and there and squeeze into tight places. One by one, the cats are captured and marched down to the chicken coop, where they snuggle into the straw together. The coop is soon filled with the sound of contented purrs.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for those six ornery cats who keep me on my toes, along with the husband, two little girls and one dog who do the same. I’m thankful for family and friends and my work. And I’m thankful for a full life, with just enough time for a little nonsense like herding cats.