Cat on a quad: Meet Fred, the rescue cat who is king of the farm
From a dump to an animal utopia, Fred is living the dream
When I first heard tell of Fred the cat, I knew I had to meet him. It's not every day, after all, that you meet a cat that loves ATVs, befriends geese and stars in books.
Fred now lives in St. John's on what his owners, Dena Eales and Stephen Martin, call a hobby farm, where he lives happily among animals he has no business getting along with.
But things weren't always this way.
"He was nasty," said Eales.
"I guess they thought he was feral and feral cats usually get sent to a barn-type area or shed-type area where people are still willing to feed them but don't want to cuddle and pet them."
Fred had been discovered with other cats living in a dump in Lethbridge, by a group called Feral Felines Rescue and Rehabilitation. As Eales and Martin are no stranger to fostering rescue cats, they opened up their barn to Fred and Misty, his apparent mate.
Eventually the two rescues would be offered access to the large surrounding property, a habitat they would share with a goose, a duck, ponies, horses, a pygmy goat and two pot-bellied pigs.
I cannot explain how bizarre it was to see all the animals — save for the two pigs — living together in harmony. There was something almost magical about the environment, as if you you were entering a place where the laws of nature were suspended.
'Fred dearly loves the quad'
It's true: this cat is quite at home on an all-terrain vehicle. While sunning himself, he leaps aboard after Martin pulls up in his ATV and slaps the side.
"Fred dearly loves the quad," Martin said.
"Actually we have a front-end loader here that I use in the wintertime and I've had him in the loader. He just jumped right on in and I'm going around snow clearing."
Fred's love of ATVs has brought him fans, thanks to social media. On the rescue organization's Facebook page, people who've fostered their rescues share updates on their adoptees.
After discovering Fred's infatuation with quads, they decided to share it.
It wasn't long before Fred became somewhat of a local celebrity. Fans wanted constant updates, more videos and eventually, a children's book.
Eales and Martin teamed up with Feral Felines Rescue and Rehabilitation and others to produce the book, Feral Fred Finds a Family. The illustrator, author and photographer all volunteered their time, with all proceeds going back to the rescue outfit.
Before the books had even been printed, Eales tells me there were about 200 pre-orders.
Winning over Fred
Eales said that with most feral rescues, you sequester them for a time, giving them food and shelter in a bid to earn their trust. Usually a three-week period is recommended, but apparently Fred and his lover weren't the trusting types.
Eventually they took to stroking Fred with a rubber glove on a stick, trying to prepare him for human affection. Eales and Martin waited three months before allowing Fred and Misty to come and go as they please. [Misty, by the way, comes to visit at night. She has no apparent interest in being a pet.]
Imagine this. You know all those animals I mentioned? Sometimes they all go for walks together. Like something out of a Disney film.
Fred's remarkable shift in attitude towards humans was gradual, but Eales says there was one event in particular that helped build trust.
One day Fred decided to follow those animals, but from a distance. It was the furthest he ever got from the barn and he must have got turned around, getting left behind when Eales and the animals returned.
Eales figured that Fred could find his way back to the barn. When he still hadn't returned to the barn the next morning, she went searching.
"I ran back down to the woods where he was last but I seen him and I sung out his name. And he ran out and jumped out of the woods into the path and come right over to me and got up in my arms," Eales said
Wait, a human is holding me!
That was the first time Fred ever allowed himself to be held.
"After a few seconds of me of course just oohing and ahhing on and on, that I didn't lose him and that he's still safe... he realized he was in my arms," Eales said.
"He was like 'Eww' and then he hissed at me and jumped down."
These days, Fred is much less stuck up.
At first glance, you wouldn't struggle to believe Fred's origins. He has half a tail, half an ear and the kind of physique that no proudly sedentary house cat would possess.
But, he is still cute in the way that all cats are, even if he is the kind of cat you might not turn your back on.
But my wariness evaporated after my first encounter. Fred was lying on the back of a small trailer, rolling from side to side, exposing himself to sunlight and a barrage of belly scratches from the strange man with the microphone.
But sunbathing is not his favourite activity.
When Martin arrives and revs the engine of his ATV, Fred wastes no time in climbing aboard. He never passes up a ride.
I had never seen anything like it before. At home, my cat runs in terror if you shake a set of keys.
Fred is king of the farm. Even the geese respect him.
As happy as I was to tell Fred's tale, it's a hard place to leave.