After working a long Wednesday morning cutting brush and thinning the overgrown forest overlooking our rustic abode along Sterling Creek south of Jacksonville, I was looking forward to an energizing refreshment.

After working a long Wednesday morning cutting brush and thinning the overgrown forest overlooking our rustic abode along Sterling Creek south of Jacksonville, I was looking forward to an energizing refreshment.

Pulling off my gloves, I eagerly lifted the lid of our little lunch cooler we packed for the day.

"There must be some mistake," I said as I fished out a plastic bag filled with what appeared to be dry pet food.

"I'm not finicky, but there are things that even my Kerby stomach will not tolerate," I added. "This looks and smells like cat food."

"That's because it is cat food, goofus," Maureen replied with a smile. "It's not for you. Spartan gets hungry when he's out at the job site. His little legs work hard climbing the hill. He needs an energy boost."

Spartan is the hairy creature my wife insists on referring to as our working cat. He invariably follows us out to where we are working on our property, although I find the adjective more than a little suspect.

"Packing a lunch for a cat seems like a furry precedent that could come back to scratch us," I groused.

"And what on Earth is this?" I asked as I pulled a small dish with cute little paw prints painted on it out of the cooler.

"Spartan's water saucer, of course," she replied. "You can hardly expect him to drink straight out of his water bottle. The poor little guy doesn't have opposing thumbs."

Yep, there was even a water bottle for Spartan in the cooler, apparently filled with special feline water. As to whether he has opposing thumbs, that comment did give me paws, er, pause.

With Wednesday off for good behavior by virtue of working on Memorial Day, we spent the lion's share of it thinning the forest nearest our home. It's part of an ongoing project we began last spring to reduce the summer fire threat close to the house.

After laying Spartan's lunch out under a tree, I started munching on something I found in the bottom of the cooler. I believe it was non-feline food, but am nagged by doubts. After all, it's bad form for a grown man to be down on all fours barking up a fur ball.

I also grabbed a bottle of what may or may not have been cat water, and sat down to contemplate life with a cat herd.

If you are the one who reads this column, you may recall that we have nine cats, all awarded to us by assorted folks unable to keep them.

No, don't even think about it. We've got cat hair coming out our ears. Incidentally, I wouldn't recommend flossing with it. Too stringy.

In fact, I sometimes daydream about erecting a sign at the end of the driveway reading, "No cats need apply." Or perhaps one advertising cats for sale. We could let you have the rare working cat for $100. True, "we" couldn't, but I could.

"No, you could not," observed my wife, the mind-reader. "You love our cats. And you have to admit that Spartan is one cool cat."

Truth be told, I do like cats. They are warm and fuzzy creatures who enjoy settling in with a good book as much as I do. But dogs have always been my first love, although Harpo and Waldo, each weighing in at 110 pounds or so, make for cumbersome lap buddies.

Spartan arrived as an adult, a gift from a daughter who is getting married this summer. Her fiance, upon seeing his future mother-in-law's cat collection, wisely told our daughter that he was allergic to cats. Nope, that law school education was not wasted.

Living with a cat herd has given me an opportunity to study them. Like people, each one has a different personality. Some are lazy louts, albeit they are difficult to spot, given the fact they all sleep about 18 hours a day.

That's why Maureen's description of Spartan as a working cat caused me to scratch behind my ear. We're talking about a cat that would have to diet to see 24 pounds again. Spartan is definitely not spartan.

He is the only one allowed outside for any length of time, and five are permanent inside dwellers.

A curious fellow, the big tabby likes to survey the job site, checking out our progress. But he is quick to stay out of our way, especially when I rev up the chainsaw.

Actually, all nearby critters — humanoids, coyotes, rattlesnakes — get a little nervous when I fire up the saw. Turkey vultures gather overhead, no doubt optimistic that a delectable body part might be severed.

But Spartan takes it all in stride, meowing softly to us as he rubs up against a tree. But mostly he plops on his back, holding a furry paw over his face to block out the sun while he takes a cat nap.

When the day is done, he trudges home with us. The tune he purrs sounds remarkably like "I'm a lumberjack" from the classic Monty Python skit.

Maureen's right: He is a cool cat.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at