Monday, November 28, 2011

In Which Cora And Shadow Join Forces

Coraline and Shadow are definitely both very high-energy cats. In Coraline's case this has been apparent since she was tiny. Shadow, however, has taken over a year to get to the point of enough confidence in his environment to really express the extent of his exuberant nature. He's still Brodie's favorite snuggle-buddy, of course, and can nap like a pro when he finally manages to wear himself out -- but that can take a while!

Accordingly (and much to my delight), he and Cora have actually become much more closely bonded over the past few months. As some may recall, Coraline and Brodie were actually adopted three weeks before Shadow simply due to the uncertainty inherent in trapping from a feral colony.

Brodie and Shadow got along famously from the moment the brothers were re-united, but Cora spent the first few weeks after her briefly-estranged sibling's arrival hissing and growling at him whenever he entered her sight. Eventually she came to accept him, but for ages she and Shadow were both closer friends with Brodie than with each other. Now, though, I'm seeing something different in shape but equal in (positive) magnitude developing between this particular sibling pair.

(Above image - Cora surveys the yard this past weekend, when I let her and Shadow out to run around a bit while I worked on my laptop on the patio.)

Brodie remains the go-to sibling for cuddles and free ear-washing (and the occasional but vigorous round of CHASEWRESTLEGRR, which even cats of the Garfield persuasion enjoy sometimes) but Cora has definitely gotten to the point where she knows that if she needs a partner in mischief or someone to tear randomly around the house with, Shadow is her guy.

It's also been neat seeing these two teach each other things. Cora has always been the most mechanically inclined and apt to experiment with objects of her own accord, while Shadow took months longer than either of his siblings to get to where he'd (for instance) bat treat-puzzle balls around just-so to dispense the crunchies within. It wasn't that he lacked the brainpower to operate the treat puzzles -- he's just always had the natural predisposition toward persuading others to do things for him (a trait he actually shares with Nikki).

Lately, though, he seems to have come around to the idea that there are some things he can better accomplish without running immediately to ask for help. E.g., he's become quite the expert at opening any door that isn't latched, and has managed to sneak into the bedroom behind me quite a few times recently!

(Above image - Shadow rests a while in the leaves after a vigorous game of Garden Tag with Cora. None of the kitties here have unrestricted outdoor access but on nice days these two really appreciate a chance to run off some of their energy in the back garden.)

Cora, in turn, seems to have experienced something of an epiphany in the opposite direction, as she seems to have become a lot more vocal all of a sudden, and has even adopted some of Shadow's "super secret weapons of human persuasion" (such as what I refer to as the "kittens of the damned stare" in addition to the "Lassie move" where the cat basically orders the human into a different part of the house and looks pointedly at the thing they're interested in, which in Cora's case is usually the back door!).

Of course both of these kitties have maintained their innate inclinations toward Explorer/Engineer (Cora) and Mr. Charisma (Shadow), but it's abundantly apparent that their growing friendship has led to a really neat expansion of both of their respective skill-sets. Which is just super cool to see.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

TNR News: Some Good, Some Sad

Since my last writing on this matter we've managed to get 3 more colony kitties successfully neutered and returned to their outdoor home. Which is awesome, of course -- it's definitely at the point where whenever I visit the colony, I'm liable to see unaltered cats way outnumbered by their TNRed cohorts.

So, that's the good news.

There is a bit of sad news to report as well, though: we actually brought in a total of 4 cats following the last round of trapping. While three came through the surgery fine, one of them (Tami, a little tabby girl who couldn't have been more than six months old) apparently had either an undiagnosed heart condition or sensitivity to the anesthesia because the clinic reported that her heart just randomly stopped on the operating table.

I hate reporting bad news like that, but I don't think Tami's memory would be well served by pretending this sort of thing never happens. It's rare, but it does happen, and whenever one gets involved in any type of cat rescue, one runs the risk of getting up close and personal with the occasional freak tragedy. I don't blame myself, I'm just really sorry that Tami never got to finish growing up and living a life spent running, playing, and climbing trees with her colony-mates.

What this sort of thing really drives home for me is the extreme need for more support for TNR clinics. It's great that the local Humane Society has a low-cost spay/neuter program at all, but over the long term I'd really like to see a bit more pre-op health screening become standard. If Tami did have a heart condition she might still be around if someone had been able to diagnose and treat it, and if she had a problem with one type of anesthesia, perhaps a different one might have been used.

Obviously it doesn't help anything to sit here dwelling on what could have been, but I'm not the sort of person who can just go "oh well, these things happen!' in response to this sort of thing. So I'm at least trying to look at what I can learn from the situation to help avoid it in the future. For one thing, I want to make sure that next time we bring in any cats that we at least REMIND the clinic of what happened to Tami. If nothing else that might prompt them to take a bit more care during surgery prep and watch more closely for signs of something being wrong, given that I know some heart conditions are familial and lots of cats in that colony are "cousins" of some degree.

…and on that note I will end this entry (and I promise the next one will be less sad!).

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Mousie Howl...Caught On Film!

Firstly, yes, I am still alive! Life just got very busy for a while there (I'm back to working again, yay!) and I just fell out of the habit of making any sort of regular updates.

That said...since I've been away so long I figured my first "hey I'm back" post had to be EPIC. And...well, while the video below is by far not the most epic example of what it depicts that I've every seen, it's the first-ever footage I've ever managed to secure of Cora making the Mousie Howl.

Basically, it's this sort of...repetitive MRRWOWOWOWOW! MRRWOWOWOWOW! MRRWOWOWOWOW! thing. My friend Amanda reminded me of it when we were on Skype chat recently and we (as in, the two humans) ended up cracking ourselves up ridiculously trying to imitate the noise. Her cat does it too sometimes and I've heard of a few others that do as well so it may not be THAT weird, but it's still rare to be able to capture it. Usually when Cora sees me looking at her mid-howl she drops the toy and looks at me like, "What? Nothing to see here..."

...anyhow, though, from an evolutionary standpoint I am *fairly* certain this noise is hunting-related, though in their cattish way, cats who employ it probably add their own individualized meaning and purpose to it. To me it comes across as being something like "CHECK OUT MY AWESOMENESS FOR I HAVE PROCURED A DINNER!" I could also plausibly see it being related to something mother cats would do when nearing the nest, so their kittens would know they were coming. And in some contexts it almost comes across as a (probably mild or even mocking) *threat*, e.g., "Keep it up and you're next!"

But of course, all that is just speculation. I fully expect Cora has other reasons for doing what she does that simply don't translate to human. It's just such an interesting, specific noise, though, that I'm sure it means *something*!

EDIT: Found another cat on Youtube making a similar noise...while playing with what appears to be a REAL dead mouse! Of course she's doing this on what appears to be her human's bed, too. :P

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Short video of Shadow and Cora as themselves

Here is a video that shows Shadow being very Shadowish (and Coraline being very Cora-ish partway through):

Video picture quality isn't the greatest because I didn't realize how bad the lighting was during recording. And anyone who's lived with cats should know that if they're doing something you want to film, it's almost a given that filming conditions will be sub-optimal -- and that the more time you spend trying to set everything up perfectly the more likely you are to miss whatever it is you were trying to film.

That said, I am still happy I managed to get this particular moment on camera -- it is just so, so illustrative of Shadow's personality, and Cora's, and the way they relate both to each other and to me. (Brodie and Nikki were off napping elsewhere during filming and
thus do not appear in this clip).

I also tried taking some still photos of the scene as it unfolded but only a few came out even marginally post-able (the rest were too dark or blurry to see much of anything):

And as a bonus, below is a picture drawn by 8 year old nephew Jake (he left it as a present for me and Matt at his grandparents'/Matt's parents' house). Apparently this is what happens when Auntie Anne (NOT THE PRETZEL LADY) lets the kidlets play with her ipod touch all evening:

(He's spelled NYAN wrong but this is completely made up for on account of POP TART SPRINKLES!)

(And now I must go to bed because this many parenthetical statements and this many ALL CAPS in this short of a post definitely indicate brain = in need of sleep!)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Termite Termination...without evacuation!

Yep, the termites have been thwarted...without any need for humans or cats to vacate the premises! There was a bit of a miscommunication at the pest control company -- the only reason we'd initially been asked to leave for the duration of the treatment was because someone at the firm had been under the impression they needed to spray aerosol stuff in the crawlspace (under the house). But since they were just injecting insecticide into the dirt under the garage, there was really no conceivable way for any of it to get on or near any of the resident mammals. Which meant we got to stay in the house -- I shut everyone (myself included) into the computer room while the exterminator did his work, but even that was mainly to avoid getting underfoot.

I am sure the cats were NOT disappointed by this turn of events -- I mean really, they got to do exactly the same thing they usually do on a Friday afternoon (which is to say, sleep), no need for anyone to be shut up in a carrier and carted across town. Hooray! But by the same token, the experience of trying to plan a short evacuation has led me to figure it might be a good idea to have a "drill" once in a while, just in case we all ever DO need to get out of the house for any length of time.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Termites. And a Field Trip For Cats.

Matt (the SO) and I recently began some electrical improvements in our garage -- basically the wiring in there was really old and crappy and scary (definitely NOT to code in places) and the lighting was poor, and there was nowhere to plug in a washer or dryer, and Matt needs more and beefier outlets for all the machine-shop stuff he would like to eventually install. It's been a project long in the making (or at least in the wanting), so it's nice to be finally getting to it.

As for how it impacts the cats here -- well, that's an interesting and somewhat convoluted matter. See, while the electrical part of things is going quite well (Matt even did the responsible thing and went and got permits from the city! And we are doing fun awesome things like bending conduit and attaching it to the walls! OMG!), we found a few subterranean termites attempting to set up shop in the wall framing.


The damage we discovered was mainly just tunnels left by long-since-fumigated buglets, but still. We saw at least five or six live ones and that was enough to prompt calling the exterminators. I mean I know the termites are just trying to survive and all, but I am unwilling to let them eat my house toward that end. Left unchecked, termites can literally do this, and if it's all happening sight unseen (as it typically is), conditions can become quite dangerous for anyone entering the structure. Which means that the critters have to go, and that apparently (per last week's inspection) entails the exterminators drilling holes around the perimeter of the garage and injecting insecticide into the dirt underneath the slab there.

Anyway, the cat-relevant part of this ordeal is the fact that, despite the fact that the house is NOT being tented (this is just very localized application of liquid insecticide), the exterminators require the structure (meaning the whole house, as ours is an attached garage) to be vacated by all resident mammals. Thus, while Nigel the goldfish gets to stay happily swimming in his aquarium in the computer room, Matt and I and the kitties need to be elsewhere for approximately four hours on Termite Death Day.

We've scheduled the thing for one of my non-work days (currently my schedule only has me out of the house three days a week) so someone will be there to let the exterminators in. Matt will be at work, and I have plenty of places I could go locally that would get me out of the house...but the cats are going to be another matter entirely.

I can't just take them all out into the yard with me as the termite guys need to do some stuff outside as well and the yard isn't huge (meaning there's no way to get the requisite distance from the extermination work area). I REALLY don't want to board them, as they would all hate it, and plus it just seems like overkill given it's only for 3-4 hours. I had a friend offer to let my kitties hang out in his guest room but he lives a few towns over and my non-driving self wouldn't have any way to get there (let alone with four cats) during the day.

Thus far, the best option that has presented itself is for Matt's parents to pick me and the kitties up on Termite Morning and bring us to their (local, in-town) house for the day. This still makes me nervous for about a zillion reasons (most of them named "Nikki", who is going to -- and I don't use this term lightly -- flip her shit when she sees/smells that OTHER, UNFAMILIAR CATS LIVE THERE) but at least it wouldn't involve any of the kitties having to deal with totally unfamiliar humans. I will probably just see if I can put my guys' carriers in the parents' spare bedroom or something and hope they will sleep for a while. It won't be fun for them but it should at least be safe and minimally horrible.

All that said, I guess I am pleased that this situation has at least prompted me into action on something I should have taken care of a long time ago -- that is, last night I went ahead and ordered two more cat carriers. For a long time we only had one, because the kittens were so little they would all fit. Then the kittens stopped being so little (read: grew up into massive muscled strapping Beasts of Awesome) and so I got a second carrier in order to make for more efficient vet trips. Really, though, if you have four cats you should have four carriers -- I mean, in case of an emergency evacuation or something you REALLY want to be able to pack them up properly for maximum safety and whatnot. So now I will have four carriers, and that should not only make transporting them off on their field trip easier, but give me additional peace of mind in the emergency-preparedness realm.

Finally, I also have to admit that I am a teensy bit curious about seeing how the kitties react to "going visiting", especially given that most of the cats currently traipsing through Matt's parents' house are Cora's, Brodie's, and Shadow's cousins and probable half-siblings. I mean I don't expect them to remember specific individuals given that they were only 7-10 weeks old when they were last over there, but I am wondering if anything will at least smell familiar, and if so, what they will do. So as much as I am not looking forward to the logistical ordeal of this whole thing, and as much as I feel bad for having to put the cats through it in the first place, it isn't liable to be boring, that's for sure!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Communication Crossover: Canine Edition

This past weekend I visited some longtime friends (a couple) who have no cats, but who do have a dog. His name is named Skip, and he is about eight years old.

Skip and I have somewhat of a turbulent history, in the sense that when my friends first adopted him (at about a year old) he was so intimidatingly hyperkinetic and gregarious that I frankly had no idea how to handle his presence. I spent many a visit following his arrival in my friends' household trying to avoid Skip and silently attempting to will him away from sticking his nose in my food (or my butt, for that matter).

My instincts were also apparently more than a little bit "off" because somehow at one point I got it into my head that if I gave him my pizza crust he would leave me alone. As you can probably imagine, this is NOT what ended up happening. What ended up happening was that Skip determined I had to be the world's biggest pushover, and thus for as long as he's lived with my friends he's had a tendency to follow me around, well, like a puppy dog.

Now, of course I don't literally believe humans can be divided into "cat people" and "dog people" in a strictly binary sense. I've known plenty of folks who've lived happily with both species (and also with rabbits, goats, chickens, and even llamas in the case of my grandparents!). But in general I am quite comfortable describing myself as, by and large, a Cat Person. Cats have always just seemed a lot more respectful of others' personal space, "oh hai, here's my butt in your face!" moments notwithstanding.

They also generally smell better than dogs (superficial, I know, but it's true...most dogs I've met smell disconcertingly like stale cheese, whereas cats smell like lavender and autumn leaves and fresh earth to my admittedly atypical olfactory system) and they're (generally speaking) a lot more inclined toward the "parallel play" type of interaction I tend to prefer with most living creatures, at least when I'm expected to remain in the presence of said creatures for any length of time.

With cats, you can just be in a room doing your thing and they'll be doing their thing, and even without constantly being in each other's business, there's this wonderful ongoing invisible-reciprocity thing at work. Of course there are exceptions to this (I actually just sat down again after a brief but intense game of "run madly around the house" with Nikki, who had been pestering me with her most emphatic "I AM BORED, COME ENTERTAIN ME, HUMAN!" door-scratching routine) but on balance I meet far more "parallel-inclined" cats and far more dogs who seem to want and need a heck of a lot of "face time" and very direct forms of acknowledgment.

Dogs, by and large, tend to put me into the same vaguely-agitated state that small children (of the age when kids tend to be yelling "LOOKATME! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT THIS! WATCH!" about everything) or human extroverts (of any age) do. As if they're constantly breathing down my neck going "Why are you so quiet? Are you upset? Are you bored? Are you lonely?? Are you okay? Are you SURE you aren't sad???", and then basically proceeding to repeatedly hassle me for some intangible response that I have no idea how to give.

That said, I've known a handful of truly excellent canines, such as my grandparents' old Australian Cattle Dog, Matilda. Matilda was outgoing to be sure, but she was so polite, and I remain indebted to her to this day for helping me find my way back to the house after I got lost in the snow as a youngster one winter. But overall at this point in my life I see dogs the same way I see children: fine, as long as they're other people's, and as long as they're not constantly jumping up in my face.

Which brings us back to Mr. Skip. At eight years old he's far from being a sedate dog but he's definitely mellower, and he's gotten a whole lot more thoughtful and patient. He still follows me around and gives me every manner of piteous begging-face, but his manners have improved tremendously and he is long past the age when he would actively stick his snout into my plate (or worse).

Anyhow, this last time I visited my friends and Skip, one really interesting thing I discovered was that there is actually some amount of crossover between relating to cats and relating to (at least some) dogs. Or at least there seems to be.

My guess is that it's something to do with practice -- as in, when you live with several nonhuman creatures day in and day out, you sort of end up shifting into a mode where you very readily and automatically start seeing them as "stakeholders" in the environment you share with them.

And when you experience that perspective-shift, suddenly you stop being as annoyed by whatever actions of theirs you don't quite understand.

Or something like that, at least.

In any event, during this past visit I actually managed to have a lot of fun interacting with Skip. The coolest part was where he approached me and taught me how to play a game he liked (one which mainly involved him running around the dining table playing a variant of "keep-away" with one of his toys). His humans had no part in showing me what to do; I just followed Skip's lead and found him to be a wonderfully clear communicator.

Again, partly I suspect much of this is due to the fact that he's older now than when I first met him, and I'm a lot more comfortable with mellow(er) older dogs than with hyperactive puppies and young dogs. But I am quite sure that something else -- something on my end -- has also changed, and I would wager my cats (especially Nikki, who is probably the most regally demanding cat I've ever met) are largely to thank for it!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cat Music, and Music Cats

The tomcats in Diane Duane's (excellent) cat-wizard novels are portrayed as quite thoroughly fascinated by song (given that this is what they view their caterwauling-at-the-ladies as being). Real-life cats also of course sometimes communicate vocally, though of course personality and circumstance will strongly influence how much and in what ways they will engage this particular channel.

That said, I've definitely noticed varying responses to human-made music on the part of my feline housemates. Cora, Nikki, and Shadow mostly seem indifferent, though it could just be I've not played anything they've had strong feelings about one way or another yet. I've talked to several humans who have described their cats seeming to despise most instances of "human caterwauling".

Brodie, on the other hand, seems to love music. If I am playing something he likes he will hop into my chair, curl up in my lap, purr loudly, and even drool on my arm until the song is over.

I have no clue what this is about, especially as it clearly isn't a feline universal. He seems very relaxed when "his" songs are on, so maybe something about it reminds him of happy warm snuggly kittenhood days?

As for Brodie's taste in auditory entertainment, that tends to run toward the "folky female vocalist" band of the musical spectrum. Bonus points if said vocalists have the ability to cover a large octave range. Far and away his favorite artist right now is Joanna Newsom, especially the song On A Good Day. He also enjoys Joni Mitchell. (And he even likes it when I sing along with what's playing, though I will not be posting a video of that!)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Coraline Climbing

I can't remember if I've posted this here before, but below is probably my favorite picture of Cora ever:

It's from last year and it was seriously just a "lucky" shot. As in, I pointed the camera up into the tree and pressed the button a bunch of times without having much of a sense at all of what I'd end up with. Not bad for a little Canon point-and-shoot!

But anyway. I must of course note that neither Cora nor any of the other three kitties here are presently allowed to roam willy-nilly about the garden or neighborhood. If nothing else, this helps keep my nerves intact -- the actual street my house is on is pretty quiet, but just over the back fence there's a very busy main road.

Still, Cora in particular just seems to light up with joy outdoors, so I try and at least give her a little bit of (supervised) time to romp and climb and chase bugs. One of my most fervent wishes is to someday be able to construct an outdoor play area for my cats (awesome examples of these can be found at Catio Showcase), but given the investment likely required to do it right (not to mention the "convincing partner of what a wonderful idea it is" factor) it's probably going to be a while. :P

In the meantime, the Amazing World of Outside is going to have to remain a super-special treat!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Chance For Jack

We (meaning me, my partner Matt, and his parents) have had something of a fumbling start getting the local feral cat colony into a "managed" state, but things are getting better. Sometimes I look out into the feeding area and see no less than eight or so cats -- all sleek, clear-eyed, glossy-coated, and ear-tipped (indicating their TNRed status).

We've still got a ways to go, however, and I know of at least three unspayed females -- all of whom had litters in April or May of this year. I've thus far seen two solid grey babies, three black ones, and two tiny tabbies. There may have been more but either they didn't survive or are still being hidden by their mothers. It is also hard to tell which kittens belong to which mama -- this is common in feral colonies, though, as female cats (especially sisters or mother-daughter groups) will trade babysitting duties.

Unfortunately, despite the cooperative mothering that can occur in groups of outdoor cats, sometimes kittens still get abandoned. We suspect that to be the case with the kitten below:

This little guy's name is Jack, and in this photo (taken this past weekend) he is resting on the sofa with Matt's mom. We think he's maybe 8 - 10 weeks old, but he could be older -- he is very underweight. When I held him it felt like his backbone was about to poke through his skin.

Matt's mom (with help from 10-year-old niece Julie) managed to catch him pretty easily in the back yard without even employing a trap; this is not a good sign, as a feral kitten that can't move fast enough to run away generally isn't a very healthy kitten. We'd been seeing him around for a while but he never seemed to be "with" the other kittens -- rather, he sort of hung around on the periphery, and has always (since we started noticing him) been much smaller than the rest.

Of course Jack will be taken in for neutering eventually, but right now the priority is getting him well. One reason for his alarming skinniness became apparent to me when I happened to peek under his tail: Jack's got tapeworms. Big time. Or rather, he had tapeworms -- hopefully the medication has worked by now. Various worms are capable of infecting cats, and roundworms are more common than tapeworms, but tapeworms have a pretty distinctive, um, style, and thanks to Shadow's tapeworm adventure when he was five months old I got a very effective lesson in recognizing them.

Cats get tapeworms either from fleas (which are a necessary element of the worm's life cycle) or infected rodents. I am fairly certain Shadow got his from a flea, but whatever the vector, I am quite vigilant these days about not letting anyone's monthly topical parasite treatment lapse. I learned the hard way that just because a cat stays indoors all or most of the time doesn't mean they can't get cooties. Fleas can hitch-hike in on your clothes, for instance, especially if you spend any amount of time around groups of cats, and given my feral-colony dealings I try to be mindful of this.

But back to tapeworms. The first sign of Shadow's wormage was the little pile of what I initially believed to be sesame seeds in between my sofa cushions. Which was odd to begin with, considering I couldn't recall having eaten anything with sesame seeds on it at any point in the preceding months. Later that day my uneasy feeling was validated when I noticed that Shadow had a number of what looked like grains of rice stuck to the fur under his tail.

I fleetingly hoped that he'd just, you know, sat in a bowl of rice or something -- but then I saw that the "rice" was moving.


Thankfully, two doses of praziquantel took care of the beasties that had set up shop in my (then) little black cat. Everyone else got dosed too, of course, just to be on the safe side, and the only side effect I observed was (in Cora's case) "excessive salivation", which resolved on its own within a few minutes.

Praziquantel is available under several brand names but the stuff I got was simply labeled "tape worm tabs". I've seen it at pet stores but it's generally ridiculously expensive there; I ended up buying it online and only spent a quarter of what I would have locally.

You can't just use regular wormer (e.g., the piperazine stuff easily found in grocery stores) because that will usually only get rid of roundworms. Tapeworms are essentially like those monsters in video games that can regenerate themselves indefinitely until you get to the source, and the praziquantel does something chemically to permit the head to be digested and passed uneventfully out of the body.

In any event, the point of all this is that if you live or work with cats, I highly recommend having tapeworm meds in your stock of Kitty First Aid supplies. Because I had two whole bottles left over from Shadow's wormisode, Jack was able to get treated without delay. Yay! Now hopefully he will start gaining some weight. He's still got a stuffy nose (hence the slightly open mouth in the photo above) and might need a vet trip for some antibiotics, but he is definitely looking more alert these days.

I will be sure to get another picture when I next visit, and of course if anyone local reading this blog has been looking for a kitten, please feel free to inquire! One area I would like to improve upon in terms of colony management is that of removing adoptable kittens and finding them permanent homes. Outdoor, unsocialized cats can of course lead perfectly happy lives (so long as they've got ample access to food, shelter, etc.) but it really makes it MUCH easier to care for those that cannot be adopted when colony populations are kept on the small side.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Cat Collar Conundrum

(This post brought to you by "things that seem kind of frivolous but that I know other cat-appreciators are likely to be able to identify with, and which may with any luck generate some degree of practical discussion")

None of the four felines-in-residence here currently has unrestricted access to the outdoors. Nikki used to have daytime garden privileges, as that initially seemed like a fair arrangement given she'd been an outdoor cat at my parents' -- but I put my proverbial foot down about that after she sustained one too many injuries fighting who-knows-what last fall.

Still, they've all proven their skill at escape artistry on more than one occasion. Nikki in particular is a champion door-dasher -- often I have to exit the patio sliders walking backwards because she's so good at appearing out of nowhere and darting between my feet.

Shadow, meanwhile, let the whole crew out a few times before I finally learned how to latch the screen door properly (he knows how to paw sideways at it and push it open). And just generally I like to be prepared for the possibility that regardless of how thoroughly I fortify the house's potential exit points, someone is bound to get out every now and then.

Now, all kitties here are microchipped and registered with HomeAgain, so they've at least got that measure of identification with them at all times. But it still makes me nervous to think of them out roaming around with no visible identification. Thus, I've been trying to get everyone to wear a collar ever since the youngsters' major kitten growth spurts started tapering off.

The results of this have been...inconsistent.

Nikki has the best record so far, probably because she's so used to collar-wearing (since my parents had her wear one all the time) and because she has no interest in the vigorous wrestling matches her housemates regularly engage in.

Brodie is also pretty good about not losing his -- he's had his current one on for so long now that I can't remember the last time he slipped it.

Shadow and Cora (who seem to have morphed into tag-team mischief-makers lately), however, continue to confound all my efforts to keep them identifiable at a distance as Cats With A Home.

In Shadow's case, mostly he just loses his. It doesn't matter what type -- clasp, buckle, velcro, you name it -- give him a few days and it'll be gone, and when I find it (under the couch or behind a chair, usually) it will generally look like it's been pulled out of a war zone (because he chews on it and plays with it like a toy once it's off).

Cora also loses collars (probably for the same reasons Shadow does). I was all excited a few weeks ago as at that point she'd been doing great with a lovely elasticized orange collar -- but then I found said lovely collar buried in the litter box. Eeep. But she also has a different (and more worrisome) problem -- that is, a tendency to get collars stuck around her lower jaw. I only ever use breakaway cat collars, mind you, but I still get concerned she's going to injure herself in the process of thrashing around to free herself.

That said, right now she's wearing the neon pink number pictured below:

...and so far she has NOT gotten this one wrapped around her face. I've attached it a little more tightly than I have in the past, and now I am thinking perhaps the jaw-stuck phenomenon was due mainly to my being too tentative about tightness. As is evident in the photo above, Cora has a ridiculous amount of neck-fluff (to the point where I'm beginning to wonder if she's got a longhair gene being partially expressed, if such a thing is possible). I can still put two fingers easily between her collar and her neck the way it is now, so she's definitely not choking, but it does seem I need to put hers on somewhat tighter than, say, Brodie's or Nikki's.

But I digress. What I've been doing is putting it on her during the day (when humans are liable to be traipsing in and out of doors) but taking it off and putting it away before I go to bed at night. Kind of annoying, but definitely more cost-effective than replacing lost or litterbox-buried collars on a regular basis!

So, if anyone is inclined to discuss: does your cat (or cats) wear a collar? What type? How do you keep them wearing it? Am I overestimating the need for visual identification? Etc.?

Sunday, May 29, 2011


It was weird...for a while after we (meaning me, Matt, and his parents) got three pairs of cats Trap-Neuter-Returned, it seemed like every cat we saw was already eartipped (meaning they were someone who'd already had their trip to the clinic). Thus, we've been holding off making appointments pending the stragglers coming out of wherever they've been hiding.

That said, it looks like we're going to be starting up the trapping again real soon. There are at least three unspayed females still at large, and from what I can tell, two of them recently had litters. Current calculations estimate a minimum of seven new kittens in the neighborhood.

Here is one of the newbies I managed to catch on camera the other day:

This little guy/girl (haven't been able to get close enough to determine which yet) is one of a litter of four. Two solid grey, two brown and black tabbies.

Here is a closeup of Grey Kitten #1 munching on a quail leg. No, s/he didn't catch the quail -- I very boringly got it at the supermarket. (Getting feral kittens to the point where they will even come near enough to the traps to venture inside can be a task in itself, so I figured I'd bring them a bit of quail as a friendship offering. They were, needless to say, enthused.)

The next picture actually has three cats in it, though the one in back (Grey Kitten #2) is sort of hard to see. Grey Kitten #1 is still munching away at the quail leg in the foreground, while adolescent kittygirl Dominique watches with great interest (she already finished her quail leg, and was probably wondering if the little guys were going to drop any leftovers!).

...and finally we have some actual clear pictures of Radar, who is my current number-one suspected baby-daddy to the little grey newbies (the resemblance is quite apparent).

Genealogically speaking, Radar is the son of Coal, elder brother of Cora, Brodie, and Shadow, and littermate of Suzie. Unfortunately we've not yet managed to catch him for neutering, and he's managed to become one of the current reigning toms. Whilst quite dashing and popular with the ladies, Radar is generally too shy around humans to even come out during daylight hours. I'm guessing the only reason he was out and about when this picture was taken was because, with kittens recently weaned, one or more of the local momcats has come back into heat. :/

Above, Radar is mildly startled to find a camera pointed at him. I thought he would run away, but he didn't this time.

...but as this last picture shows, he probably didn't run because, well, Buddy (another local boycat) had been dragging around a catnip-filled sock. From the looks of it, Radar found some residue from this on the concrete, because he spent several minutes rolling around and drooling and looking altogether, well, catnipped. (Which has me wondering if maybe putting catnip in/near the TNR traps might increase our catch rate! Anyone know whether this has been tried?)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When Is A Cat Not A Cat? When He's A Little Hoarse.

A few weeks ago, Shadow lost his voice. He's a chatty guy in general (seriously, he yells more than Nikki these days, and she's the Siamese!). Something tells me if he'd been left outdoors and, er, intact, he'd have been quite a hit with the ladies, given his fabulous vocal range and capacity to project! But apparently even his magnificently robust vocal cords have their limit -- as he actually managed to recently meow his way into a mild case of laryngitis!

Basically he got so excited following a particular trip to the Magical Land of Back Yard that he spent the next couple evenings meyowling (whilst staring pointedly at the back door). I am thinking he must have meowed all day the following Tuesday as well because when I got home from work* he was obviously trying to meow, but all that came out was a raspy, squeaky "miiiiiiew!"

Initially I thought he might be angry at something because the sounds he was making bore a vague auditory resemblance to the growly thing some cats do as a keep-away warning. But his body language wasn't angry at all; he looked normally curious and alert, albeit slightly perplexed (I am sure he was wondering where his siren went!).

Now, cats can get laryngitis for a variety of reasons, probably the most common being the acquisition of an upper respiratory infection. I briefly worried about this -- even though my guys don't have much direct exposure to other cats, I do, given my dealings with the local feral colony. As that colony overlaps with a population of half-housecats and self-socialized adolescent kittens, I don't entirely discount the possibility of my acting as a Kitty Typhoid Mary.

Certainly I do my best to minimize the risk of my carrying feline illnesses home via hand-washing and monthly application of flea-prevention medicine to my guys, but still. If Shadow had not regained his voice as quickly as he did -- he was back to full volume within maybe two days -- I most assuredly would have called the vet. Since he had no signs of runny eyes, no sneezing, no lethargy, and no change in appetite, I figured "watchful waiting" was appropriate, and in this case things did indeed resolve on their own.

But anyway. The most interesting result of Shadow's temporary voicelessness was how it affected Brodie. Generally speaking, Nikki and Shadow alternate in the position of Spokescat for the household. Their agendas and priorities differ somewhat, but they're both plenty concerned with getting breakfast on time, and thus they usually switch off as far as who is going to go scratch and howl at the humans' bedroom door at early-o-clock in the morning.

Apparently, though, Nikki decided to take the day off on one of the mornings when Shadow was still too hoarse to howl.

It took me a few seconds to even recognize the voice I was hearing when the meowing started up that morning. It sounded a little like Shadow, and even a little like Nikki (oddly enough) but not exactly like either. Turns out it was Brodie.

Brodie has never been silent, but he's nowhere near as vocal as either of his siblings, and seems to save his mewing for very specific occasions. And until Shadow's laryngitic episode, Brodie never stepped up to Morning Door Duty.

Now, though, he actually seems to have worked himself into the rotation! Which is both surprising and unsurprising, if that makes any sense. Brodie is a bright guy -- his mechanical skills occasionally rival Cora's -- but his personality is (in general) more passive than that of either of his siblings. He takes longer than any of the others to figure out certain kinds of social cause-and-effect where humans are concerned, and seems to have a tendency toward quietly observing situations for a long time before engaging with them.

That said, he never fails to come through for his feline housemates when the need arises. And I am beginning to see a pattern wherein Brodie seems to learn much of what doesn't come naturally to him by doing what does come naturally to him -- which is to say, being closely attuned to other cats and helping them out in any way he can.

* I've been employed part time as a hardware tech since January 2011, forgot if I mentioned that here already. It is tremendously fun. I feel like an anime fix-it girl!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Random Recent Photos

I'm working on a few more substantive posts, but in the meantime, here are some photos! Of cats, naturally.

First we have Brodie sitting on my desk. This was a lucky shot -- it always amuses me when cats "forget" momentarily to put their tongue back in after grooming themselves, but generally I don't manage to get the camera out before they go "oh!" (in Cat, of course) and put it back in. :P

Next, another rare moment: Nikki and Shadow snuggling on the window seat. Normally their interactions consist of Shadow being a pain in the arse (he quite enjoys jumping out at Nikki when she walks by) and getting hissed and paw-whacked in response.

That said, despite the vast differences in their ages and personalities, I've come to notice that these two actually do share a particular type of...intensity in how they interact with the world (which of course includes their human and feline housemates). I suspect Nikki might be willing to take him as her protege' in certain areas. He's got a tough road ahead of him if that's the case, but something tells me he can handle it!

Oh look, it's another photo of Nikki snuggling with a boy cat! This time it's Brodie. Who adores Nikki (in the "worships the ground she walks on" sense). He was the first to persuade her that he and the other youngsters might be okay to live with, and it shows.

(At present, while Shadow can sometimes nudge his way in next to her without her protesting, Brodie is the only other feline-in-residence Nikki will actively come up and initiate any sort of snuggery with. Which is what she did just prior to my taking this picture.)

The next picture shows Cora the Explorer, checking out a hole (from whence Matt recently removed a large juniper stump) in the back yard. I was so happy to see how quickly she bounced back after her recent gastrointestinal scare...she has such boundless curiosity, and it was so apparent both when she lost it due to not feeling well and when she got it back once everything was sorted out.

...and here Cora continues her yard adventure by sniffing a blade of grass. (I love her expression here, she is so intent!)

Shadow is also a big fan of Outside, as long as there are no mailmen present (and yes there is a complicated and rather embarrassing story there, which I might relate on here someday. Hint: it involved my learning that when sufficiently freaked out, cats can do something described in the literature as "evacuation of the anal sacs".)

Okay, moving Mr. Shadow is trying out his new harness (while simultaneously testing the thermal conductivity of the new concrete pavers Matt and I put between the garden beds). I had to get him a medium-sized dog harness recently, as apparently manufacturers of cat-specific products don't have giant dudecats in mind. And I love how he looks like King of the Yard here.

Okay, this last one isn't technically of a cat. But it is related to cats in that it shows a whole heck of a lot of catnip. I wish there was something nearby that offered more of a sense of scale in this picture, but seriously this plant has gotten to be close to three feet high. This after originally coming from a seed planted last year and surviving the winter. I am very pleased that it is looking so healthy. It's a great dual-purpose plant: cats enjoy it (well, not Nikki, but she's Nikki) and the flowers are apparently good bee forage (thus good to have in the garden).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Plumbing Issues

(TMI warning applies to this entire post, by the way.)

The photo just below is not a picture of a cat. Rather, it is a picture of my front yard taken last Tuesday.

Normally my yard doesn't look like this. And, just in case anyone was wondering, no, it has not been invaded by giant gophers.

The large mound of dirt, the cones, and the caution tape are all there due to Major Plumbing Activity. You see, we've got this great whopping sweetgum tree in the front yard that's nearly as old as the house, which was built in 1954. The tree provides lovely shade and turns a splendid array of hues in the autumn season (yes, we do have some trees in California that actually change colours!). Its roots, however, can pose quite a bit of an issue for sewer pipes, especially old segmented clay and cast iron pipes.

Anyway, to make a long story slightly less long, recently Tree won a significant victory in the longstanding Tree Versus Pipes battle, and the result was, shall we say, unpalatable. Essentially we had raw sewage backing up into the yard whenever anything went down a drain anywhere in the house. Initially it was just a little backup, and the flowers by the porch certainly seemed happy about the extra water and fertilizer, but over the past few weeks it started getting to the point where you couldn't step out the front door without stepping in The Partially Disintegrated Toilet Paper Wad That Time Forgot.

Which, you know, I figured was setting up to be an environmental hazard in addition to being monumentally disgusting.

Needless to say, plumbers were called.

Thankfully they arrived promptly and by Thursday afternoon everything was fixed up and filled back in. The yard looks remarkably unscathed, and we aren't stepping out the front door into any unpleasant surprises anymore. I will be very happy to spend the next hundred years (or whatever the lifespan of the new plastic pipes is) NOT thinking about my sewer lines, let alone stepping in the effluvia thereof.

Which brings me back to cats. The photo below is of a cat.

Specifically, it is a photo of Coraline, taken last weekend. She was feeling okay at that point -- in fact, she'd just finished a vigorous session of "leaping after the feather toy" -- but apparently sometime between then and Tuesday evening something (not tree roots, though!) clogged up her plumbing, leaving her unable to poop effectively.

And as gross as the mere concept of poop is, it's pretty important to be able to produce it if one happens to be alive (and wishes to stay that way). Just as there can be no light without darkness, there can be no eating without pooping. (Which is one reason my little niece's simulated kitten-care video games, wherein you get to feed the cats but never deal with a litter box, baffle me endlessly. But that's another topic entirely.)

As far as how I came to realize Cora wasn't producing...well, when you live with multiple cats and scoop their litter boxes on a daily basis, you kind of end up getting to the point of recognizing everyone's, er, deposits. And Cora's have always been rather distinctive inasmuch as no matter what she eats...let's just say if there were a prize for "superior feline stool formation", under normal circumstances she would be a grand champion. Not so much last week, though, as pretty much all the recognizable solid matter I scooped had clearly (based on known dimensional attributes and scent signature parameters) emerged from Nikki or the boys.

Mind you, I don't think Cora ever got completely obstructed. I did find a few of what are colloquially referred to around here as "poopflakes" in the box, and I will let you use your imagination to figure out the etymology of that term. Moreover, she was able to keep food down despite an obviously diminished appetite, whereas total colonblockery tends to result in projectile pukesplosion shortly after meals.

Most alarming, though, (aside from the pooplack, of course) was how her whole demeanor was just off. Normally, Cora is extremely active (in the same sense that the sun is extremely hot), but on Tuesday evening all her movements seemed very slow and tentative. She also only made half-hearted attempts to jump and climb the way she usually does, and showed no interest whatsoever in her favorite toys.

So, I called the vet's office with my concerns. They agreed that something didn't sound right, so first thing Thursday morning Matt and I bundled her up in the carrier and took her off to the clinic. We ended up getting assigned to a different doctor than last time (again) due to scheduling constraints, but that turned out fine as this doctor was pretty awesome (at least as awesome as the one we'd previously seen and liked a lot).

Moving along, though, the bottom line (heh) is that Cora did indeed, per the vet's examination, have a traffic jam in her lower intestinal zone. Thankfully a single Super Colon Cleanse (read: enema) was able to dislodge the backup, and all this entailed was a mild sedative (as opposed to general anaesthesia, which would have been needed if they'd had to "go in manually") and monitoring at the clinic until around 5:30 PM.

The vet undoubtedly dealt with the most buttfountainous aftereffects of the enema, for which I am thoroughly grateful. Nevertheless, things were still fairly...messy when we initially got Cora home. The sedative had mostly worn off by around 4 PM (when the vet called me, proclaiming that my cat had "pooped beautifully") so I can completely understand why Cora was returned to us with her entire back end, tail, and legs soggy and smelly.

Trying to give a fully-conscious Coraline anything resembling an effective bath is probably marginally more difficult than trying to perform a one-handed backwards cartwheel through a swarm of bees. And I would rather deal with a bit of yuck than have my cat sedated a second time solely for cleaning purposes.

Nevertheless, I didn't want her getting infections (or tracking Ass Flavored Smoothie all over the house) so Matt and I did the best we could to soap and rinse her lower half while she proceeded to claw her way up my chest and attempt to surgically attach herself to my face.

That went about as well as you can imagine it did.

Luckily I only ended up with a few holes in my neck, and none of them bled that much.

Really, though, my primary emotion Thursday evening was one of pure relief. Poor Cora. I can't imagine how much it must have been hurting her to be that blocked up. I was so happy when she got home, and she seemed to be as well, though I had to decline her friendly tail-swipey-leg-weaving greetings at first!

That said, ye gads, I honestly hope I never have to see anything like that coming out of a cat ever again. Granted most of the scariness was due to the fact that I'd been feeding her robust doses of hairball gel and petroleum jelly for a day and a half prior to her vet trip, but it was nonetheless disconcerting to have the contents of the litter scoop jiggle like some sort of earthquake-evaluation medium.

But anyway. Three days following her ordeal, Cora appears to be none the worse for wear (and Shadow, who has a severe Vet Phobia, has ceased hissing at her hind end). I put her in "quarantine" in the spare bedroom for only one night following her Great Rectal Waterslide Adventure. She was very quiet that evening, but by mid-morning Friday I figured she was fine to rejoin the household proper, given that she was shoving her paws under the door and trying to tear off pieces of the wood by that point.

The cause of her epic pooplog backup is thus far unknown, but the current primary suspects are (a) hairball material stuck in transit, and (b) her apparently "highly efficient" colon.

In other words, apparently Cora's tendency toward poops-so-perfect-they-almost-look-fake is actually a sign that her body is really good at extracting things (including water) from whatever is passing through. This isn't a disease, mind you, just a physiological predilection of sorts.

Cats evolved to be extremely efficient in this regard and as Cora is already like a more intense version of a regular cat to begin with, I guess it's not surprising this goes all the way down to the intestinal level. But it's something that needs to be managed, as cats Cora's age (less than two years old) only rarely get this badly blocked up. I have been instructed to (a) add 1/8 tsp twice daily of polyethylene glycol (a laxative, commonly sold under the brand "Miralax") to her food, (b) stop feeding her any dry food (aside from the occasional crunchie-treat), and (c) start brushing her every day (at least while we're in the midst of Super Shedding Season).

Adding more fiber to her diet may be something to think about as well, but the vet cautioned against going overboard here given that additional "bulk" could make things worse.

So yeah. Last week was pretty epic, and not in a cool fun way. I will certainly never again take any form of waste-pipery for granted, whether said pipery be part of my household sewer line or my cat's intestines.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nikki and Cora Disapprove Of The Roomba, But Approve Of Chairs On Tables

Matt got me a "Pet Series" Roomba vacu-bot for my last birthday. I was mightily pleased, as it does a great job of cutting down on the inevitable cat-fuz tumbleweeds (fuzzleweeds?) that occur when you've got four mainly-indoor felines in residence.

The cats, however, while they don't take off in mortal terror upon hearing the Roomba start up, are...not exactly fond of it. Sometimes Nikki yells at me when it's on in a manner that can only be interpreted as, "TURN THAT THING OFF!" But mostly they all just avoid it. And sometimes they find very creative ways to do so.

Case in point: I often put the dining chairs up on the table in order to make it easier for the Roomba to sweep underneath said table. Last time I did this, I left the room for a moment and came back to find both girlcats had taken full advantage of the situation.

Technically, kitties are NOT allowed on the table. But as they are allowed on the chairs, I figured I couldn't in all fairness shoo them down. So I took a picture instead. :P

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tall Cat Is Also Loud


I finally managed to get a semi-decent video of Shadow making some of his characteristic conversational noises.

(He has actually been even chattier than usual lately -- all the kitties here have a major case of Spring Fever, owing to the hordes of birds and squirrels that have been congregating on the back patio lately. But I am glad I got this video because it really shows his level of extremely vocal and personality-laden "interactivity" -- along with his insistence on acknowledgment. Apparently he's been taking lessons from Nikki!)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tall Cat Is Tall

As I mentioned in my last post relating my joy at finding a cheap, suitably sized litter box, Brodie and Shadow are growing up to be pretty big guys. Sometimes it even seems like they might still be growing! Which is cool, of course. I've never understood people who get all disappointed when kittens grow up. Tiny babycats are certainly totally darling, but big strapping grownup cats have their own particular brand of awesomeness, and my guys have more awesomeness than you could shake a stick at.

Observe below, as Shadow awesomely tries to get a head start on his dinner:

It's hard to convey a sense of scale unless photos are taken with the cat standing next to something of known and/or obvious proportions. The above photos do a pretty decent job of illustrating Shadow's impressive tallitude, though: note that the kitchen island Shadow's got his paws on here is 36" (about one meter) high. Meaning Shadow is that tall standing up (as in, measured from top of head to bottom of back feet). Clearly I'd better be careful what I leave near the edge of the counters!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Litter Box Score!

My previous post on litter boxes is now out of date inasmuch as the "Box #3" pictured therein -- which was actually a cement-mixing tub -- broke a few months ago. As in, it managed to snap nearly in half when I was trying to get it out of the closet to clean it. Whoops.

I replaced it immediately with the largest plastic bin I could find at the tiny hardware store down the street, but there wasn't much of a selection and the one I ended up with had this annoying groove around the inside bottom edge.

I dealt with it for another few months but finally got tired of digging litter-concrete out of said groove, and for the past 2 weeks have been poking around in search of a bin with a completely flat bottom -- as well as sides at least 12" high. Brodie and Shadow are big, tall guys and Brodie in particular is a bit of an elevator-butt pee-er, and we've had a few instances of, er, overspray lately. Thankfully I'd thought to install plastic floor-protector stuff under the box so none of the wee actually hit the hardwoods, but still. Ew. Apparently this is not to be a household with ANY low-sided litter boxes.

But (as usual) I digress. None of the "big box" hardware stores nearby had anything that quite fit the bill, but today I totally scored. There's a Container Store a few blocks away from where I live, and while in general the prices there are WAY out of my budget, the clearance section can be a veritable goldmine of cheap. Thus, today's bounty (see below)!

Of course there's a cat (Brodie) in it -- I can't bring anything home that's jump-inable without someone jumping into it within the first few minutes of its arrival. You know how that goes. I think this box will do the job perfectly -- Brodie is a substantial 14ish pounds, and he looks practically lost in it!

And now, a closeup of the pricetag:

Seriously! I got a normally-$21.99 item for $2.27! Just because it was missing the lid, which would have been useless to me anyway. Wootness!

So yeah. I've since gone at the new box with a hacksaw to make a little cutaway on the side (the youngsters would probably jump over the edge but Nikki prefers to step in more daintily) and placed it in the Box #3 location. Really glad I found it. And just FYI, the Container Store is one of the few places I've been able to consistently find flat-bottomed storage containers...Ikea is another but that's a bit of a trek to get to so we don't go there very often.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I found a picture of her! An old one, from around 2006. She was/is very hard to photograph. The only reason I got this photo was because one of her kittens (at the time) was pretty bold and decided he wanted to nurse RIGHT THERE RIGHT NOW.

...and here's a clear closer view of her face:

...and here are some photos of Shadow where the resemblance to his mom is pretty evident:

Coal seems to have passed down a lot of her overall face shape to Shadow, and Brodie for that matter. They've all got the big triangular ears and the squarish muzzle with the little "pinch" under the cheeks (though Shadow is Mr. Muscles these days, so this is becoming less evident on him). The long tail and body shape both Shadow and Brodie exhibit also seem to have come down from Mom.

Coal's eyes are positioned differently than her sons', though; hers are more straight-set whereas Shadow's go up at the edges like angled almonds (though Brodie's do this even more). I actually only just noticed this looking back at these photos.

When I manage to glance Coal IRL, usually most of what I see of her is her shape. The picture above of her face was a VERY rare and lucky shot.

So yeah, just a random bit of kitty-genealogy there. Which I always find interesting.

(I'm thinking Cora must have gotten a lot of recessive genes as far as physical shape goes, and very likely she had a different daddy than either of her brothers. The main thing she seems to have inherited from Coal is her insufferable cleverness. :P)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shifting Feral Colony Dynamics

I've definitely observed a shift in colony dynamics over the past two weeks or so. The last few times Matt and I have stopped over at his parents', I've gone on little expeditions around the neighborhood and tried to take a bit of a "cat inventory". Most of that area is houses, but there are also two parks within easy walking distance and a number of large-ish fieldy areas -- it is apparent why so many cats choose to live there, given the amount and type of space available.

Anyway, the "shift" I'm noting seems to have to do with which cats are likely to be found where -- in addition to which cats are likely to be found at all.

I saw one cat come right into the yard whom I've never seen before -- a strapping young tabby tom who proceeded to prance around, spritzing shrubs and whatnot, and altogether looking quite pleased with himself. No clue where he came from, but I'm definitely glad we managed to get four of the females spayed prior to his arrival!

I also spotted something like five or six black cats, spread across several yards and lots. There are a LOT of black cats in that colony (which I've read is common in random-bred populations; over time you start seeing coats default to brown tabby and black, because those patterns confer the best camouflage, or something like that). I can tell them apart pretty readily once I've seen them a few times, by way of differing face/body shapes and movement patterns, but I am nonetheless becoming really appreciative of ear-tipping, given the fact that some of these kitties really only ever grace us with rapid-fire cameo appearances every now and then.

Speaking of one point (when we were standing in his mom's living room) Matt motioned out the door at one particular black cat and said, "That one looks like Shadow". I glanced out myself and lo and behold, Coal was slinking out from under a car!

I was REALLY relieved to see her because frankly I'd actually gotten to the point of presuming she was probably dead. She's the mother of my three youngsters, Suzie, Radar, and, well, probably a whole lot of others who've come and gone over the past few years (Coal herself is six or seven years old). She's very distinctive-looking, though, especially given that she's extremely large for a female cat. Not fat-large -- if not pregnant she tends toward the wiry/rangy side -- but just big, long, squarish bone structure. And Shadow is the spitting image of his mom in a lot of ways, especially in the face.

So yeah. Coal is one tough lady. And she's smart. She's had to be both to survive as long as she has. I would dearly love to trap her and get her spayed but something tells me I'm going to have to build another drop trap in order to do that, because she's way too cautious to get anywhere near the cage-type traps that we've been putting out. But in any case, it is good at least to know she's alive, albeit looking rather ragged.

I've also twice now seen a cat that I think is supposed to be black...but who seems to be missing all his/her fur on one side! S/he is very skinny but ate like a horse during the last feeding session I observed so I'm guessing there's something skin-related going on rather than a worse, systemic thing, but it was still pretty alarming to see. My tentative guess is that this poor kitty has flea allergy dermatitis, given that s/he looks a heck of a lot like this, but it's hard to tell for sure.

Either way, if s/he ends up in the trap that will enable closer inspection as well as administration of some sort of topical flea treatment. In the meantime, though, I am seriously wondering if there's something safe we might be able to sprinkle on the food that could help reduce the parasite load for the ferals. Any suggestions would certainly be appreciated.

But back to my original point about shifting colony dynamics. I really shouldn't be surprised to see this sort of thing at all. I tend to think of spay/neuter purely in the sense of it being Kitty Birth Control, but it also impacts hormones. Which means that it will also likely impact the social organization of the colony, what with far fewer cats engaged in courtship and mating and all that accompanies those activities.

The newbie tabby male I described above has probably just moved in to fill what he sees as an opening. I didn't realize before the extent to which Blue was "guarding" the yard over the past few months (in addition to guarding his adopted babies). With him gone, and with JB/Tuxie neutered, there's been a decided drop in testosterone as of late. And I never noticed this until now, but in general it seems like the majority of long-term colony members are female, both spayed and unspayed. There's a much higher "turnover rate" with the boys, and quite a few have just seemed to disappear as mysteriously as they've appeared.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunday Evening PicturePost

I just realized I've been writing so much about feral cats and the ongoing local TNR project lately that it's been a while since I posted any new pictures of Cora, Brodie, Shadow, and Nikki on here. Time to remedy that!

(1) Nikki on one of the dining chairs (which I am sure the cats think exist just for them -- there's something about the height, the cushioned seats, and the fact that they allow a nice little nap-cave when the chairs are pushed in that seem to attract felinekind).

I am sure she thinks I'm a bit strange for aiming that weird silver thing at her (i.e., my camera) but she nonetheless occasionally grants a clear view of her eminently distinguished countenance.

(2) Cora in the kitchen, watching sunbeams and shadows. Something about her is definitely looking more grown-up these days.

(3) Shadow watching the back yard, out the kitchen window. Lots to see out there (birds and squirrels in particular) now that spring is officially here!

(4) Brodie after having stolen a fig from me! (Hence the little black bits on the floor in front of him). The lighting is a bit harsh here because I had to use the flash so that's kind of annoying but it was the best recent picture I had of him and I wanted to include one of each cat in this post.

But anyway, yeah, Brodie is very adventurous in his eating habits and seems to have a peculiar and particular fondness for figs. He once stole two fig cookies practically right out from under my nose, and I figured (heh) maybe he liked the butter in the cookie part or something, but no -- he also steals whole dried figs if he can get at them!

Needless to say I don't give them to him regularly (I don't even want to know what the litter box would look like if I did...) but his occasional thievery doesn't seem to be hurting him. Maybe it's a texture thing?

Friday, April 1, 2011

I didn't want to write this update.

...but I got the news from Matt's mom earlier today that Blue didn't make it through the night. He went into what sounded like some sort of respiratory crisis, which makes me suspect he probably had pneumonia or even heartworm.

He tested negative for FIV and FeLV but apparently something else -- something we couldn't see or diagnose in time -- was wrong. He may well have been sick even before he and Dominique and Michelle showed up in December. And it could be he got exposed to some random germ at the clinic during neutering which he couldn't fight off due to an already weakened immune system. And he could have been much older than all of us thought.

At this point there's no way to know for sure. I keep wanting to blame myself anyway -- as in, maybe I should have pushed to get the runny eyes checked out prior to taking him to the TNR clinic. But given I've seen many, many cats with runny eyes turn out just fine it just didn't occur to me that Blue's condition could be that serious. And the clinic people apparently didn't notice anything egregriously amiss either. So whatever it was, it only reached critical badness levels over the past two days. And none of the other cats seem to have similar symptoms right now so I doubt it's going to turn into some horrible epidemic.

In any case I guess I am at least glad Blue got to see "his kittens" to the colony, where they will both hopefully go on to lead much longer, healthier, and happier lives now that they've been spayed and (by the looks of it) accepted into the feline social network.

I wish Blue had gotten to enjoy a "new lease on life" for more than the few months he spent with the colony, but I imagine he was glad to spend the time there that he did.

Rest in peace, sweet Protector of Kittens. You will be missed.

[Oh and BTW just because I realized the date just after initially posting this...I would NEVER EVER write something like this as an "April Fool". That would just be horrendously evil.]

Thursday, March 31, 2011

TNR Report #3: Herding Cats, For Real! Also, Mr. Mom.

Whew, what a week! Short version: two more cats have been TNRed at the time of this writing, which means six cats total from the colony have been spayed or neutered since the beginning of last week.

Not bad, and definitely a good start, but I was really hoping for eight (especially given we had eight appointments reserved). The Humane Society folks assured me that this sort of thing happens all the time, as you can't really guarantee you will actually get the number of cats you've made appointments for, but still. Color me annoyed.

Monday night's session went well: we managed to catch Dominique's shy sister Michelle (who is all black with a little white "locket" on her chest):

(Michelle watching me and the camera from a table)

...and a little marble tabby girl we haven't named yet who may well be one of Mimi's siblings judging from her size. So that was good.

(Tiny tabby girl with the high beams on -- this is actually the clearest picture I've got of her thus far)

Wednesday night's session, on the other hand, was...chaotic, to say the least. Matt and I stuck it out monitoring and attending to traps well into the late eve‌ning, but ultimately had to admit defeat (our own kitties were home waiting for their dinner, after all!). Matt's parents said they would monitor the traps for a while after we went home and I am sure they did, but I haven't heard from them yet today and I'm not optimistic that anyone actually ended up being trapped.

See, things started out promising. I began by cleaning the traps and setting up all four of them (three regular-sized and one kitten-sized) out in the general area frequented by the cats. At that point it was still light out, and as they'd not been fed yet, kitties were starting to mill around the patio area anticipating their dinner.

Then, just as I started getting ready to actually bait the traps, Toby (former rescue kitten, now the resident Territorial Boss Lady) decided for whatever reason to go around and spritz her signature scent on said traps.

(Toby disapproves of this ridiculousness!)

And when her (feral) younger brother Gryff got wind of his sister's aromatic graffiti, of course he had to go and overmark it with his own eau-de-pheromone.

Anyhow, since Toby's determination to mark the equipment wasn't evident on trapping days prior, my guess is that this time I didn't clean the smells of the other cats (not to mention the "clinic smell" which can be a major feline anxiety trigger) off the traps well enough. Needless to say, lesson learned! Prior to the next session I will most assuredly make sure the traps are liberally sprayed with enzymatic cleaner and thoroughly wiped down and air-dried.

[The newer enzyme sprays ("Nature's Miracle", "Anti Icky Poo", and similar) are really good at destroying the proteins or whatever the stuff in cat urine is that flashes up a giant SPRAY HERE! sign once applied to an object, but you really have to give them time to work, and last night I didn't get a chance to do that in any more than a cursory manner. ]

I may also try to corral Toby in the house or garage next time, seeing as even when she wasn't spraying she seemed determined to meddle in every way possible with what I was doing (she ended up IN a trap at one point when her curiosity got the better of her). She is very much like Nikki in that once she sets her mind on something there's just no arguing with her.

Mind you, of course I don't think ill of Toby for her actions. From a feline standpoint she was acting in accordance with perfectly sensible Cat Logic, and in general she's this awesome sweet bossy ladycat that I am always happy to visit with. She just needs to stay the heck away from my traps on TNR days!

So...I repeat, what a week! I am not sure when the next trapping night will be. It has to be relatively soon if we want to really stabilize the colony population, but given the mess that was last night I am proposing waiting a week or two before trying again. Between Toby's meddling, the neighbor's loud motorcycle (which arrived next door at the worst possible moment, when the ferals were just starting to emerge from the shadows), and assorted other Elements of Certain Chaos I wouldn't be surprised if the shyer cats we really need to start targeting will take a few days to re-establish their routine. And the routine (especially as it pertains to feeding) is really important for successful TNR.

All that said, one thing I am happy with that we managed yesterday was getting Blue into the house.

(Blue on the patio, looking apprehensive)

Blue has been fighting an upper respiratory infection for a while now, and while it seemed much better on Clinic Day, it looked much worse yesterday evening.

Like worse with eyes practically crusted shut, nose completely sealed off by matted dried mucus and hair, and breathing through the mouth due to nasal blockage. Matt's mom, awesome lady that she is, said she'd take Blue to the vet if she could get the obviously under-the-weather kitty inside, and this didn't end up being very difficult at all.

So anyway. Blue went to the vet. The diagnosis of "respiratory infection" was no surprise at all -- but we were all REALLY surprised to learn that "she" was really a "he"! You'd think the Humane Society would have mentioned that little detail, as I presume they neutered (as opposed to spayed) him last week, but still. Wow. Clearly, Blue isn't actually Dominique and Michelle's mother after all, despite the fact that he was sure as heck acting like Mom to them.

And as for how the other boy cats were treating him -- I'd thought they were doing the chase-and-grab thing as part of whatever passes for feline courtship, but now I'm guessing they were trying to fight him.

Anyhow, I really do wish sometimes that I could learn the stories of all these cats that show up. Who knows what kind of environment Blue and Dominique and Michelle came out of, and who knows if (or how) they are even actually related?

Blue is definitely a Siamese mix of some sort (he's got snowshoe points), but he could still be the girls' littermate or older brother. Litters of random-bred kittens can easily be comprised of both "pointed" and non-pointed cats, and as I've noted before, littermates can even all have different fathers due to the manner in which feline reproduction works. And Blue isn't that much bigger than the girls.

Or -- and at this point I'm considering this the likelier case -- Blue could just be an unrelated boy cat who for whatever reason "adopted" the girls he showed up with. Despite his being a relatively little guy, something about him just feels older. I'd picked up on that somewhat even when I thought he was the girls' mom, but still hadn't figured on her (his) being more than a year or two old.

Now, though, I wonder about that estimate. True he's sick right now so that might be adding a layer of confounding weariness to his bearing, but still, at this point I wouldn't be shocked to find out he was seven years of age or even older. And if he's younger than that, ye gads, I don't even want to imagine what he's likely been through.

That aside, it's not unheard of for male cats to occasionally choose the nursemaid role, though I guess it's sort of unusual for an un-neutered male to do this.

Either way, he's been a great nanny/protector to Dominique and Michelle and while again there's no way to objectively confirm this, I get the sense that all three of them had it pretty rough wherever they were before this past December. I have definitely seen cats band together in times of great stress and it really looks like that's what happened with this little family.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

TNR Report #2: Dominique and Mimi

Thanks to everyone who offered well-wishing for Wednesday's trapping ended up going just as smoothly as the first session, even though it started raining just as I was getting ready to set the traps. Woot!

Getting the first kitty this time felt kind of like cheating because it was Dominique (who decided a while back of her own accord to start hanging around with the local primates and even occasionally gracing us with purrs and head-butts). I think she picked up on the fact that something was going on, though, because usually she runs right up to me when she sees me and this time she sort of hung back and eyed me warily.

Still, she walked right into the trap as I sat next to it, just like her mom, Blue, had on Monday. Of course I don't know this for sure, not being privy to her (or any cat's) innermost mental processes, but it looked to me like she KNEW she'd get stuck if she walked into the trap but ultimately decided the sardines were worth it!

(Whole Foods, while colloquially called "Whole Paycheck" in these parts for reasons obvious to any non-millionaire who visits the store, actually carries a surprisingly inexpensive line of canned cat foods. The "Sardines in Jelly" variety is probably going to be my go-to trapping bait of choice from now on, because ye gads, the kitties go utterly batty for it. After trapping I put the rest of the can out on a paper plate for the other colony cats to finish off and I swear it was like sharks at a feeding frenzy!)

Kitty #2 (who has since been named Mimi) was by necessity trapped in the more traditional "bait trap, set trap, walk away, and watch from a distance" manner. She (and we only found out she was a "she" when we brought her to the clinic) was a very shy but thoroughly scrappy little girl kitten. She's solid black and a bit smaller than Dominique -- probably three or four months old. I'd been seeing her occasionally for about a month, and always alone, which is pretty weird. Usually feral kittens initially show up with their mothers to eat, but I have no idea who Mimi's mom is, or if she has any siblings. She looks very healthy and not emaciated or anything so it's doubtful she was orphaned; more likely she's just got a very wary and secretive mom, and possibly littermates even more shy than she is. But in any case, she doesn't need to worry about becoming a "teenage mother" now.

Anyway, both Mimi and Dominique came through their spay surgeries just fine, and have now rejoined their companions and family outside. Stay tuned for further updates of next week's sessions -- we're repeating the same routine next week -- and (hopefully) pictures!