Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky., is famous as the home of retired Thoroughbreds (most recently making news as the new residence of dual classic winner Charismatic). But anyone who has dropped by the farm office or taken a tour on a mild spring day can tell you it has also become a haven for rescued cats. About 20 of them, to be exact, are scattered between the office, the barns, and the farmhouse where founder Michael Blowen and his wife Diane live.
The felines come from a variety of sources. Cats wander onto the farm from afield. Having heard about the size of the property, people try to give the Blowens cats. A few cats accompanied volunteers to work and never left. Sometimes, the couple suspects, cats are pushed out of cars nearby. Some are more or less skittish than others, but all find their place on the feline totem pole eventually.
For just about everybody, the place on the totem pole is somewhere underneath one of the group's newer members, a black and white female of about two years old named BeBe. BeBe was brought to Old Friends by a volunteer who found her wandering an apartment complex parking lot as a kitten and brought her to the farm. As Diane Blowen remembers it, BeBe basically hopped out of the car and took over the place.
“I was very reluctant to take another cat because we have so many,” she said. “But BeBe quickly won over everyone's affections. She's been a great addition, she really has.”
Not only did she prove herself a decent hunter, BeBe quickly acclimated to people, Thoroughbreds, and resident miniature stallion Little Silver Charm, who is a special friend of hers. On pleasant days, she will spot a tour group beginning at the bottom of the hill and leave her spot in the tobacco barn or garage to join in, following visitors and vocally making her presence known.
BeBe is one of two cats to Blowen's knowledge that has killed not just mice but an actual rat, which she tackled before she was full grown herself. There are still mice on the property, but since BeBe's arrival, the volunteers believe the rat population has largely moved on.
BeBe is no fool. In exchange for her many talents, she expects to get her way. Now that the weather has turned colder in Kentucky, she has been making a case for becoming a part-time house cat.
“Every time I open the door in the garage, BeBe comes dashing in and tries to hide,” said Blowen. “But the problem is we have four cats in the house and none of them like that. They're all hissing and carrying on.”
In lieu of a spot in the house (she does have adequate shelter from the cold, it's just in the less-glamorous garage), BeBe commandeers cars. She wisely avoids moving vehicles, but is fond of jumping into open parked cars, and has become quite a traveler in this way. Michael Blowen got all the way to a car wash 20 minutes away and paid for an interior detailing before he realized she was in his vehicle one afternoon. A volunteer made it halfway home with her before she popped up in the backseat and began mewing. But BeBe also has her very own car, an old one belonging to the Blowens which stopped running. They kept putting off hauling the vehicle away, and eventually noticed BeBe had figured out a way to climb inside the backseat.
“We've been kind of reluctant to get rid of it because it's BeBe's car,” she said. “It's kind of an eyesore, though.”
The issue of territory is a big one among the farm's cats. BeBe has largely usurped the former head of the garage cats and is now Miss Popular among the humans, much to the dismay of Princess, who lives in the house.
“Princess really does not like BeBe because she's a threat to her,” said Blowen. “She's a young, cute female. BeBe has usurped her role and she does not like it one bit.
“They each have their own territories and they don't really like it when the other cats encroach on their territories,” said Blowen.
One area where BeBe's reign does not extend: the hay storage barn. That belongs to Maggie, who came to Old Friends with farm manager Tim Wilson. Wilson picked up the bobtail cat as a kitten five years ago when he still trained horses at the Thoroughbred Training Center. Maggie is named after the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, due to her curious, adventurous nature which had her bounding up and down piles of hay as soon as she was big enough. Maggie learned to catch mice and birds alike in her time in the shedrow and keeps all manner of riffraff out of the hay storage area. (She is appropriately vaccinated to protect her from whatever creatures should wander through.) Maggie remains friendly to people even though she's a little more removed from most of the farm's activity than BeBe – she even comes when Wilson calls her name.
“She got to pick which barn she wanted to live in, and this is the barn she picked,” said Wilson. “She makes sure no one's stealing any of the hay; I guess she's a guard cat.
“Maggie is not yet part of the tours. BeBe is, but Maggie hangs out here.”
Which is probably just as well. The garage certainly isn't big enough for the both of them.
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