Black cat befriends flock of sheep
Meet Mr Tibbs, a plucky feline with an unlikely set of woolly friends...
With dreams of leaving their busy lives in the ‘Big Smoke’ behind, husband and wife Andrei Szerard and Holly Carter upped sticks in 2012 to run a smallholding in the stunning Devon countryside.
With two elderly cats and an eight-week-old kitten in tow, the pair set about transforming an eight-acre plot into their dream farm, with rare-breed sheep, pigs, chickens, and a place to grow their own vegetables.
Within a year of moving and enjoying the rural setting, their elderly cats sadly died within two days of each other. “Our young cat, Pepper, was stuck with two humans — not what she had originally planned,” recalls Holly. “When we recovered from the loss, we went to Cats Protection in Exeter and saw two tiny, 12-week-old black kittens cuddled up together. They came to live with us: Mr Tibbs and his sister, Bronwyn.
“The kittens weren’t allowed out for six weeks and, unlike Pepper, were quite wary about venturing out at first. After about six months, they started to go outside and got to know the chickens, and soon became proper country cats,” adds Holly, who never anticipated the inter-species friendship that was yet to begin.
“All three cats get along with the livestock — chickens, pigs (when we have them), and the flock of sheep. But Mr Tibbs is, indeed, exceptional. He, and sometimes his sister, accompanies us to check on the sheep most days — it’s like having two tiny black Labradors bounding alongside us!”
She continues: “His sister will say a cautious ‘hello’ to the sheep, but is quick to scamper to a safe height if they get too close. Mr Tibbs, however, has developed various sheepy friends and is very brave. He is keen to rub alongside them, and the receptive sheep just stand, almost frozen to the spot, as if entranced or hypnotised! Some of the sheep also wag their tails, which is a sign of pleasure.”
Initially, the sheep were quite sceptical, as Holly explains: “They probably saw him as a predator, but since we had 20 new lambs last year, who have grown up with him around, they get along really well. He has a sixth sense, and knows when to avoid an approaching sheep who may not be so friendly (the older ewes are more likely to be a bit grumpy and want to give him a bit of a head-butt!).
“If we have to handle a sheep in the shelter — turn them to treat a lame foot, for example — Mr T will often be sitting on the gate watching. We’re sure he rather delights in their indignity!” says Holly. “We haven’t yet spied him actually curled up and sleeping with any of his woolly friends, but we have captured a number of his encounters on video, many of which can be seen on our Facebook page.”
A remarkable friendship
For Holly and Andrei, the relationship Mr Tibbs has developed with the sheep has been a real treat. Holly says: “Watching Mr Tibbs develop this inter-species relationship has been a remarkable joy for us — there is something quite special about watching two different animals actually choose to be with each other, when there can be no obvious ‘reward’ for either, save for the simple pleasure which both the sheep and the cat derive from it.
“Now he doesn’t even have to follow us down to the field; we will find him with the sheep before we’ve even got there! It would be interesting to have a camera on his collar to see what he gets up to, but we wouldn’t want to know about any of the animals he hunts!” she laughs.
“We used to worry about him getting kicked or injured by the sheep, and thought we might have to intervene or separate them, but they’re a small breed, and he knows which ones he can go near and which ones he should avoid. I guess animals have a special way of communicating that we humans can’t see.”
Mr Tibbs isn’t exactly in charge, explains Holly: “When it comes to a pecking order — excuse the pun — it’s the chickens who hold the upper hand!
“You’d think that birds would be on the back foot around cats, but the chickens will flap at the cats so they have learned to give them a wide berth. If one of the cats gets a mouse in their mouth, the chickens will try to make the cat drop it and then eat it themselves — we never realised that chickens were carnivores before we moved here!
“We also have a little detached, thatched barn which we run as a romantic bed and breakfast, and many of our guests have been able to enjoy the cats’ sociable natures. It’s not unusual for us to take over breakfast to find a happy guest sitting in a rocking chair with Mr Tibbs or his sister curled up on their knee!”
Meet Mr Tibbs
If you want to meet Mr Tibbs in the flesh, Holly and Andrei also run a bed and breakfast situated on the smallholding site. To find out more, visit www.smilingsheep.co.uk
This feature was published in the March 2017 issue of Your Cat Magazine.