I am sure that many people reading this will be aware of Winston Churchill's statement "Dogs look up to you, cats look down upon you, but pigs treat you as an equal".
I think it is particularly true of cats. If they stay with you it is because they want to be there, and not from any sense of loyalty to the person who feeds them. Wherever we have farmed we have had cats. Never in the house, but always in the farm buildings. Cats are our vermin controllers.They always have ad lib good quality cat food and fresh water available. My opinion is that well fed cats will hunt for the fun of it.
Earlier this year our resident population of two females had a total of 10 or perhaps 11 kittens. I do not press them to be pets and the kittens always tend to run and hide when I am near them. The adults become friendly enough and seem content to be close without being petted. The numbers fluctuate from time to time due to natural causes and predators, but we have always managed to keep a few about.
At the beginning of July all of them simply disappeared overnight. No sign of anything. Then, at the end of September I had a sighting of one of the adult females crossing the river towards us. The level is low due to the long dry summer, and cats frequently cross it. Two days later both females turned up along with three, by now half grown, kittens. They settled immediately back in the large shed they had formerly occupied as their resting and sleeping place.
Obviously I have no idea where they have been, and not to sight them for about twelve weeks seems almost impossible if they were still in the vicintiy. I am out and about for most of every day and there is a good view of surrounding land from the house windows.
All were rather thin but not in poor condition, except one of the adults had lost her tail. She now has a stump about an inch long. I was really pleased to see them back, because the rains have started today - as can be expected at this time of year, and vermin will be looking for winter quarters. I have 700 bales of hay in this shed, and rats and mice would create havoc by chewing through the bale twine.
Where they have been, why they went away, and why they chose to return will always remain a mystery I suppose, but cats being the free spirits they are, I can only hope they stay.