AUBURN — It took a year of mourning before Whiting Farm was ready for another cat.

Rufus, the fluffy, friendly Maine coon, had been the furry face of the farm for more than a dozen years — in fact, was such a fixture there that his permanent care was written into the contract when Elmer Whiting sold the place to John F. Murphy Homes in 2014.

Rufus’ death in 2016 hit the community hard. Last December, someone on Facebook mentioned a litter of kittens had been abandoned in a barn and would soon need new homes.

Maybe, farm officials mused, Whiting Farm could take one of the kittens. The place needed a good mouser, after all. Maybe it was time for a cat.

Or, it turned out, two cats.

Now about 11 months old, Ivy Rose and Daisy Mae have picked up where Rufus left off.

“How can you not smile every time you walk in and see these two greeting you?” Farm Director Kim Finnerty asked.

It hasn’t taken long for the sisters to feel at home in their predecessor’s favorite greenhouse No. 4.

“They’re spoiled. Rotten,” Finnerty said. “They have the run of the entire greenhouse. Their bed is up in the rafters (with) a built-in ramp so they can go in and out of it. They also have all the stuffed animals they could ever want. And they create their own toys with whatever is lying around. We buy them toys, too, but they just steal whatever.”

The short-haired cats — Ivy is the gray one, Daisy is brown — spend their days playing and sleeping like any house cat. But playtime for them means dashing among the seedlings, where they leave small paw prints in the soil. Naptime means sprawling across one of the plant tables as employees and volunteers work around them.

“They like the vermiculite. The bags are nice and soft, so they think this is their personal bed,” said Melissa Mercay-Collins, greenhouse manager. “And if you put a jacket down, they’ll lay on it. They claim jackets.”

While No. 4 is still a working greenhouse, it’s easy to spot the kitten influences. Toys hang off a stool and work table. A basket labeled “Ivy and Daisy” and filled with small stuffed animals sits near the front door. Sisal rope winds around a plank to form a makeshift scratching post. Every once in a while, a worker will stumble upon a small purple jingle ball or Ivy’s favorite stolen mitten or some other kitten treasure tucked among the leaves of a potted plant.

No one minds.

“Half of our phone pictures, I think, are the cats,” Mercay-Collins said.

The farm originally got the kittens to keep rodents away. But like Rufus, who’d mellowed with age and in recent years was more likely to share his food with the mice than chase them, Ivy and Daisy may not be the best hunters.

“These two are so spoiled, that is not necessarily what their job is going to be,” Finnerty said. “I think they’re going to be our greeters.”

They’re already off to a good start. While the farm hasn’t yet opened to customers for the season, it’s a regular stop for kids and adults from John F. Murphy Homes, an Auburn-based nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities.

One day last week, a small group of teenagers stopped by greenhouse No. 4 before spending the rest of their morning volunteering and working on life skills at the farm.

“Kitty! Hey kitty, kitty,” squealed 16-year-old Kaylee Sullivan as Daisy jumped onto the stack of bagged propagation mix in front of Sullivan and nudged her outstretched hand. “Oh my god!”

The kittens have started venturing outside No. 4 for short periods. But while they’re fearless among the greenhouse’s high beams and spritzing water hoses, they aren’t so comfortable with the free-range chickens that roam the grounds just outside.

“They go out … They go onto the cement. And then the chickens will inevitably move and they sort of run back in,” Finnerty said. “Ivy yesterday did make it to the corner of the building, which was a big deal.”

Even when they do eventually feel comfortable roaming the wider farm, Ivy and Daisy will always call the greenhouse home. Rufus held court there when customers dropped by, and the kittens soon will, too.

“This is their playground. That’s what I call it. This is their playground and we are just sort of serving them,” Finnerty said. “They probably should have been called Princess.”

The farm will officially open for the season – and members of the public can get their first greeting from the kittens – on Sunday, May 6.

Rufus will not be forgotten at Whiting Farm. He’s buried behind his beloved greenhouse and the farm keeps a memorial for him there. Workers and volunteers still miss Rufus, still talk about him.

Ivy and Daisy help lighten the mood.

“They just make you happy,” Finnerty said. “They’re funny, they’re entertaining. They just make you smile every day.”

Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at [email protected].


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