Everyone knows the old adage about cats and their nine lives. For 16 years now, the orange and white cat that has inhabited the stallion barn at Airdrie Stud has been as determined as any cat Kelly McDaniel can remember to use up every one of the nine allotted to him.
McDaniel, the longtime stallion manager for Airdrie until his retirement two years ago, remembers the cat showing up one day, wandering in from Steele Road, which cuts through part of the farm's 2,500 acres. The cat had been neutered but had no notches in his ear, which are made by veterinarians at the time of spay or neuter to indicate an outdoor cat is not a stray.
“He just walked up behind the barn, no collar on or anything,” said McDaniel. “He'd been somebody's cat. He showed up after I'd just lost a cat, so I thought, 'This is provincial.'”
Animal lover McDaniel figured the cat could earn his keep catching mice heading for the stallions' grain, but the cat showed little interest in that. Instead, he spent his time performing feline acts of daring which should have gotten him killed or at least injured, always escaping unscathed. McDaniel decided to call him Lucky.
Lucky either never figured out or didn't care he was drastically outsized by horses and took to weaving in and out of the stallions' legs when he had the opportunity. McDaniel remembers one incident when Bret Jones, bloodstock services manager, was leading Cairo Prince into the stallion barn. The big gray had just arrived to the farm and was still full of energy, prancing down the aisle, and Lucky ran directly through his feet, to the horror of Jones.
Much like a feline Evel Knievel, Lucky was also fond of heights, climbing up a vertical ladder in the feed room to the beams that run above the stallions' stalls and the breeding shed. High above the action, Lucky would pace back and forth during breedings and was also not above walking at ground level through the shed if given the chance. The behavior was ridiculous enough McDaniel could only assume the cat had a death wish.
“Whenever we had breedings he'd come out and walk behind the horses in front of the crowd, two or three times,” said McDaniel. “That's why I started calling him Lucky the Suicide Cat.”
When he wasn't testing his balance, Lucky would climb a set of stairs and use the catwalks (naturally) to reach a patch of light which comes through the stallion barn's cupola windows in the afternoon. There he would nap, high above the ground on a narrow strip of wooden walkway.
Lucky's other interest is showing off for visitors to the farm, trotting out during stallion shows purring and often flinging himself on the ground behind the horses.
As it turned out, Lucky was way ahead of the rest of foodie culture on free range versus grain-fed meat: McDaniel said he would only catch mice who lived in the fields, bypassing those who were actually in the stallion barn's feed room. Lucky was also a bit of a showman about his limited mousing, only choosing to do his job when visitors were around the stallion barn so he could bring them dead mice as welcome gifts.
“It was only when the tours were there,” said McDaniel. “I've had a bunch of oddball cats, but he's something else.”
Despite his risky behavior, McDaniel said he never felt his heart jump when Lucky would go shooting under a horse. He never really believed the cat was really going to be flattened by a stray hoof.
“You know, it just never crossed my mind. He's just always been lucky,” he said.
These days, Lucky's age has begun to show. He was at least a year or two old in 2003 when McDaniel first found him and took him to a vet so he's around 17 or 18 by now, if not older. He has cataracts in both eyes that restrict his vision, he knows his way around the barn well and still makes his rounds, checking in on things at the ground level. The stallion crew put barriers on the bottom rungs of the stairs and ladders he used to climb to discourage him from touring the catwalks by memory. And while he can't see, he's as friendly as he ever was, following voices to look for human legs to bump and hands to pat him, purring enthusiastically.
McDaniel still checks in on him when he stops by the farm, making sure he has his medication and half-jokingly suggesting the grooms should curry him while he sheds his coat for spring.
For a one-time stray, it seems Lucky is lucky in more ways than one.
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