Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Yeah, I do Halloween..."

Those were the words uttered by my beloved husband of two months. It was the first week of October 2005 and I realized while we were in the Big Box Store that Halloween was just around the corner. I hadn't really done Halloween, although I tried to rally around this holiday aka the Great Candy Give Away for my son from time to time. I did not like carving pumpkins. First off, I do not do slime or anything slimy. Carving pumpkins was slimy work. Nasty even. *shudders* 

So that first year during the honeymoon bliss, I took it to heart that my husband went all out for Halloween. I was used to his minimalist attitude by then. If he said he "did Halloween" then come the 31st of October, we would DO Halloween! It meant getting lights and decorations and pumpkins and other spooky decor. 

It wasn't until I spent two days decorating our yard that he informed me that all he did was carve a pumpkin or two every year. We had SIX huge pumpkins!

Being newly married, I wasn't sure that that was grounds for a divorce or killing him. But we've made Halloween our holiday to celebrate ever since.  

That first year, I put up a headless College Student. The second year I had a better College Student.  The third year, I got creative and did our first Die Hard figure. I thought about it for days--something to honor my beloved husband. I put together new body parts with the help of my friend Jo and we set up the Die Hard Fisherman. I wish I had gotten a picture of it. He was sitting in the old rattan princess chair over the rock garden with my husband's antique bamboo (oops!) fishing pole that had a skull hanging off the end of the line.  He made people stop and stare. 

The next year, I ran out of time between graduate classes and did a hasty Die Hard Griller. I figured he was for me since I love to grill. He actually scared a couple of kids who thought he was really roasting people. 

 DieHard Griller
The next year,  I had been working with a non-profit animal welfare and had volunteered at numerous spay-neuter clinics. That gave me a wonderful idea for the Die Hard Advocate.  He was a hit with the adults and I hoped it helped the cause.  My husband likes carving pumpkins. The pirate was his first masterpiece. 

 Die Hard Spay/Neuter Advocate

   Ahoy Me Maties

Last year, I was racking my brains on something to do differently. I tried standing the Die Hard figure up but he is in bad sad shape. He doesn't stand anymore after spending years folded into the storage tote. So I perched him on a chair and gave him a cauldron to stir over "flames."  That didn't get near the attention as my husband's pumpkin did. Of course it was Election Year and we live in a very liberal town. There were teenagers calling their friends on their cell phones, inviting them to look at this "AWESOME" pumpkin and taking pictures of it. Young adults and older adults also took pictures or told us they liked "our" pumpkin. 

 Die Hard Cook

The AWESOME pumpkin

The aftermath

 This year, I haven't a clue what to do...and Halloween is around the corner...literally!

They Come and They Go...

One of the hardest aspects of feral colony management is losing cats. Momma Cat and Pounce took off for her former home and we haven't seen them since. That wasn't so bad because we were used to her coming and going. Pounce was a momma's boy so it just seemed right that he followed her. 

The cat that shocked us badly was Tag. Her death is still one of the troubling ones. Tag was definitely Merlin's daughter and she had that bit of Siamese in her that made me think of the Song from "Lady and the Tramp." 

"We are Siamese if you please....We are Siamese if you don't please...We come from the called Siam...There are no better cats than we am!"  

Ms. Tag with 'tude

When my husband caught her for spaying, she bit him several times and badly on his hands. That was before we found that newfangled invention, called a trap.  His hands swelled up so much that he needed antibiotics. Strong ones. Tag forgave D later.

The next time we had to catch her it was because she had this lump growing on her left flank. It started off the size of a quarter. Four days later, it was the size of a small egg. This time I volunteered to be the victim--er--the catcher. I figured she and I had developed this bond that allowed me to pet her so it was logical that I be the one to grab and stuff her into the carrier. Right?

Oh I had a good hold on her--scruff and back by the tail. Some how she bit me from my shoulders to my knees. I never saw her move. I found out that white vinegar is a very good antiseptic--just burns to the point of making Saint Francis Assisi cuss left and right. Up and down. And then some more.

Anyway, we take this very feral cat to our beloved vet, Dr. J. Tag is telling us every inch of the way that we will pay for this indignity we have thrust upon her. D just laughs at her threats but I believe this cat will do everything in her power to make good. Her threats send shivers down my spine. We warn Dr. J that this cat is very feral and she's agreeing with us loudly. He opens the carrier and looks at her. Says "C'mere sweetheart--let's have a look at you." 

This is where my mouth fell open and smacked the floor. Tag came out willingly to Dr. J, let him examine her, including take her temperature like she was a tame, domesticated, PET cat! D and I looked at each other like we were stupid. Dr. J told us to bring her back in the morning so he could surgically remove this piece of intestine that's protruding. Oh yeah--that should be easy. On the way back home, Tag begins threatening us anew. Yep--she's going to scratch our eyes out and she's going to tell all the other cats to run away, and she will do us some serious damage....yada yada yada. We put her in the bathroom for overnight, took her back early in the morning.

The next afternoon when we went to pick her up, we got the news. It wasn't a piece of intestine protruding: it was multiple abcesses. He put a shunt in to help them drain and he wanted to see her in a week. She was given a mass of antibiotics but we had to give her more during the week. His staff gave us oral antibiotics. I looked at them blankly. Oral drops?  This cat? I asked if they had powdered antibiotics. The office manager told us to just open her mouth and squeeze them in. Sure--if I'm wearing chainmail and leather suit--may be! Kathy--one of the technicians--saw we were in trouble and told us to put the drops in tuna fish. That little piece of advice has served us well since. 

Anyway, after a week of bringing Sinatra in for Companion Kitty duties, (she wouldn't eat unless we brought him in--good thing he was really agreeable!) Tag had her shunt removed, her staples removed and was back to playing with her family.  

The night before she was a victim of hit and run, she stretched up onto the screen on the kitchen door. She was talking to D--reaching for him. He bent down and through the screen, let her touch his face with her paw. Our tough kitty was ever so gentle--she didn't use her claws to touch D's face. It was a very emotional moment.

The next afternoon, she was hit by a car and killed instantly. We buried her in the back yard next to Quinn, my beloved boy of 17 years. 
 We learned the hard lesson of feral cat management. It still pains us to bury a cat. I cry for days.  Being hit by cars isn't the only way we lose them. Sometimes they just leave. Sometimes, disease or illness or infection gets them. Sometimes, we find out too late that we could have done more.  Sometimes we know there wasn't any thing else we could have done. Sometimes, we never know. Sometimes, we know our time with them is limited.

Tag's surgery site


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Feral Colony Management vs. Hoarding

While Ava is perched on my left arm, purring---this is HER Mommy Time--I'll discuss the difference between feral colony management and hoarding. 

We've all read or heard those horrid stories about the cat ladies and dog men who have lots of pet animals, the animals were half-starved, disease ridden, and several were dead.  The first thing the officials on the scene say is, "The smell was so bad and there was animal feces a foot deep in places." That's the sign of a hoarder. 

Feral cat colony management is completely the opposite. I have a friend who constantly asks me when do I have enough cats. I believe I'm at my limit now. Like with children, it's hard to spread attention on every cat when you've reached your limit. Colony management involves keeping track of who has been spayed/neutered and vaccinated. It means taking head counts several times a day to make sure all members of the colony have shown their faces at least once and you noticed that they have fed. In times of inclement weather, it means setting out extra food, devising the best possible shelters to help them stay warm, and warming up the food and water several times during the night. 

Feral cat colony management means trapping sick or injured cats for veterinarian care and learning which simple illness you can treat from home.  It's knowing the possible lineage of the cats in your colony.  It's also knowing the medical history of each cat. With this many cats, I rely not on my memory, but my records. Feral colony managers usually keep records that include photographs of the cats they manage. Some cats managed to disappear when the camera is brought out, but colony managers strive to photograph every cat as they strive to spay/neuter ever cat in their colony. 

Feral colony management also means trapping kittens born in the colony, socializing them, and placing them in permanent homes.  If you've already read my previous posts, you will know that sometimes this just doesn't happen. Feral cat management also means being ready to make sacrifices when adoption and placement is not an option. It also means not taking in more cats than you have the physical, financial, mental resources for. 

Most colony managers also ear-tip their cats.  Ear-tipping is NOT disfiguring a cat. It's main purpose is to identify which cat has been spayed/neutered/vaccinated in the colony. If colony managers are also working their local animal control office, it let's the officers know that this cat is being managed and has been spayed/neutered/vaccinated and that the cat is not an ordinary feral.  Because feral cats will not adapt to being tame pets, most animal control agencies immediately euthanize them. 
 MC sporting his ear-tip

Hoarders do not keep records, do not clean up after their animals, and do not know their animals' histories. They animals are often disease-ridden, starving for both nutrition and affection, dying of all sorts of illnesses or have died. Feces is abundant and not kept to litter boxes or even cleaned up. If a hoarder has a family, their children are often neglected as well.  

Hoarders have complex mental health issues that spill in to the legal and municipal issues. Many towns and cities are conflicted in working with the best possible solutions of hoarders. One cannot spot a hoarder without visiting their homes. Hoarders can be anyone; police officers, veterinarians, vet techs, teachers, artists, plumbers, and store clerks have all been identified as hoarders. 

The main signal of a hoarder is that they will not take their animals in for veterinarian care when they are sick.  The second--and I've been accused of this one :D--is they will tell you that they rescued the animal from a fate worse than death or that this animal "needed them." This is actually very interesting because we all have that "need to be needed" gene inside of us. However, with someone who is also a hoarder, that gene is kicked up a thousand times stronger. It's the after care that lacking. Hoarders cannot say "No" when another animal is in need. They will bring that animal home, lavish it with all kinds of attention, until the next animal in need crosses their path.  Then the previous animal is neglected while the care and attention is being thrust upon the newest animal. 

So the next time you see someone and label them "The Crazy Cat Lady," look around. If you see kittens all the time or diseased animals or have a horrific odor emanating from next door, you might have a hoarder in your neighborhood. But if you  noticed they have few kittens or that the cats are sporting ear-tips, then you know you have a colony manager who is being responsible.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Feral Colony

The ferals started with my husband. I was not going to help him at all. I didn't want to get involved. I knew from experience that if you feed a stray/feral--whether they are 4-legged or 2-legged, you will not get rid of them. They come to depend on you. My husband felt differently. Any critter without a loving family aka a home deserves a meal or two or more. He would give his last penny if he thought it would feed a child, so baby animals are no different in his mind. 

Anyway, he started feeding ferals and Momma Cat. I would only help out when asked and gave that with a lot of grumbling. Until I hit the plane of insanity during my last semester of my last graduate year.  It was Momma Cat's 5th litter under our house. I felt that if I could tame down the kittens, find them homes, get Momma Cat fixed, then we wouldn't have any more ferals. Research told me completely different. Ferals do not make good pets because many times they are untouchable meaning you can't pet them. Ok ok ok!

I got sucked into the vortex when I gave this last batch names. Pounce, Fearless, Tag, Peachy, and Lyon-Kitty.  It was easier to name them than to describe them, especially since Pounce and Fearless looked a lot a like! You know what I mean. "Hey Honey? That tabby-striped kitten with the tail tip has...Not the other tabby-striped kitten. The OTHER ONE!" 

Well naming them meant I got to know them. Playing with them meant I became attached to them. I'm sure that was in the scheme of things but it took me quite by surprise that I'd care about each and every one.  

 Sinatra, Fearless, Tag, Lyon-Kitty

Tag was the only female kitten in this litter, for which I'm thankful. We got her spayed the same time we got Merlin--the male patriarch of this colony neutered. I decided if we couldn't tame the feral kittens down for adoption, then we could certainly prevent them from reproducing. Easier said than done sometimes.

Frosty--who's picture you see on the top of the blog--is Momma Cat's and Merlin's daughter. She also gave us Sinatra, Java, and Topaz (who later became an inside kitty). She also blessed us with 3 more litters. She proved to be very elusive to trapping for spay purposes. We'd set out the traps and she would disappear for days. We pull the traps in, she would suddenly appear an hour later.  If a full male tom cat walked in the neighborhood, Frosty would become pregnant before they actually met! 

We got her daughter Java fixed and we got caught Sinatra and Lyon-Kitty for neutering. By the time we did, Frosty came to us pregnant. We took care of her with the intention of capturing her babies before they were too old to socialize and adopt out. We managed to do that. That must have vexed her because the next time she got pregnant, she hid her litter from us. I followed her for days, trying to locate the nest, but if I came too close, she would move them.  Typical feral cat.


It wasn't until she became pregnant with her fourth litter, that we struck a deal with Frosty. We told her to bring her other kids here, and we would help her with them. We explained that they would have to get fixed and vaccinated, but she could keep them here. We also told her that she could have this batch here and we promised NOT to take them from her. They would also have to get fixed and vaccinated and she would too. But we promised that all of them could live under the house and we would care for them all. 

She agreed because she had her last batch of kittens here. She was easy to trap after the kittens reached two months in age. I mean she literally walked into the trap willingly. We managed to get both her daughters spayed before they turned 6 months in age. We are still working on her sons. 

Anyway, back to the original colony. We had Momma Cat and her last litter: Pounce, Fearless, Tag, Peachy, and Lyon-Kitty. We had Frosty and her first litter: Sinatra, Java, and Topaz. And we had Merlin...the granddaddy cat of nearly all. They were how D and I learned about colony management, rather than colony care. They are no longer with us, save for Frosty, Topaz, and Merlin. I remember each of them fondly and with sadness that they are no longer here. More about colony management tomorrow.


Peachy in his tree


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thinking about the holidays

I had planned to introduce you to our feral colony this morning, but something happened to change my mind.

Yesterday, I was talking to my Baby Sister. Baby Sister, mind you, is 42 years old. She works for a wonderful organization called Save the Chimps. She works at the Alamogordo, New Mexico branch of this wonderful organization. She is in the process of moving to the Florida sanctuary to live and work. I'm happy for her since this has been her goal for several years now. 

In our conversation, she mentioned how the price of her blood glucose testing strips have jumped and she has trouble affording them. She needs them, but can't always swing the extra cost. I found out what she used and looked on eBay for her. We--I found several auctions that were going at a decent price and bought a box of 100 strips for her. My sister is a proud woman. I started picking up on the fact she was embarrassed by my act, so I told her that it was her holiday gift this year from D and I. 

Well it had me thinking. For the past two years, I've been on a "handmade origin" for gifts. I grew tired of the commercialization traps around holiday gift-giving and have fought back by making our gifts for friends and family. I try to make the gifts fun yet practical. For instance, last year, I crocheted dish towels, dishcloths, and potholder sets for every one. Of course I started in August because I was determined. This year, I had planned to make coaster sets for everyone out of either plastic canvas or crochet.

I hit a snag in the time department. I'm teaching 5 college level classes and that has used up a lot of my so-called free time. It seems like I'm never going to get all these papers graded, and the semester's end is coming up way too quickly for me! So I decided this year, I was going to send baked goodies, because I can whip up a set of baked goods in a night or two that will be enough for several families. 

But after talking to my sister and realizing that the economic crisis has hit every body in some form or fashion, I'm wondering if it would be better to give NEEDS for this holiday season. I think I'll see what our friends and family members need this season and see what I can do to giving them that need. 

Our elderly neighbor has a hard time every winter paying her heating bills. Our town is notorious for charging extremely high prices for gas heat. Our neighbor is on a very fixed income--her retirement pension was enough to let her live and afford a few luxury items 10 years ago, but the increased costs of living are hurting her. She's 80 years old and reasonably healthy. We have been helping her out by running errands for her, taking her shopping, bringing meals for her to eat. May be we can pay a month's heat for her instead of giving her another fru-fru she really doesn't want or need. 

Got any ideas? 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Uh Oh...

Don't you just hate when it happens to you?

I'm learning about blogging and to do that, I play with my site in between my students. Remember that I teach at the college level and the university uses the most modern technology. Seriously. Right now I'm waiting for one of my students to contact me in a virtual classroom that is really cool when it works. My students can find me online in this virtual classroom on Saturday mornings (when I'm not at the Farmer's Market!) and get private/semi-private tutoring. Mind you--this is voluntary on my part because like most schools, I don't get paid for anything outside of the 3 hours a week I actually teach. That means grading papers, setting up assignments, answering student concerns via telephone/email, and tutoring/review sessions are completely given gratis.  

Anyway--while waiting for another student to come and ask me a question about this week's assignments, I began playing with my newly created blog. What can I do--how can I do it? Some where along the line I accidently removed the people who signed up as followers to this blog. I'm not sure what I did or how I did it so I can add people back to that list. So please, if you can find it in your hearts to forgive me my mistake--please re-add yourself. I didn't mean to bump you out!

Thanks for your patience.  

How We Got Here...Part 3

So now we have Ava, Arby, Chile, Jack THE Rabbit, Topaz, Merlin, and Gabby as our family of fur-kids. Nonetheless, my husband is worried about Mad Max--the lone feral that comes to us for food. It's December and it's cold. Winter is here and poor Max is having a hard time without a colony to help keep him warm. While we didn't have any luck finding Gabby and Merlin a home, we have had luck finding other kittens and cats homes. My husband felt that Max might become a good adoption candidate, but that cat had eluded us several times already.

Then we had a bad storm that brought snow and freezing temperatures. Max was no where to be seen. Four days later, as we were coming home from the store, loaded down with cat food and other provisions, he showed up on our front porch, demanding food. My husband unlocked the front door, told Max he would bring him some food. I was behind him, still on the sidewalk. I made a decision.  I whipped off my jacket, swooped down on Max on the porch, covering him with my jacket. I had a good hold on him, so he couldn't escape, but the first thing I realized was how LIGHT he was. Inside we went and into the master bathroom. It had become our sanctum for healing kitties, holding kitties for vet care, and for assessing kitty needs. Max went into the bathroom and was still in shock that he didn't do the usual kitty gymnastic/flying trapeze antics. D brought him some warmed up food and moved a litter box in while he was eating. We made a bed for him. 

Within a few days, we noticed a pattern with Max. He would eat, then within 20 minutes use the litter box. As much as we were feeding him, he wasn't gaining any weight. So we took him to the vets where we discovered he had Irritable Bowel Disorder aka IBD. You know what I did--I slipped right into hyper-research mode.  Apparently, Max had malfunctioning small intestines. According to research, this usually signified the death of an animal because no matter what they eat, their small intestines were so coated with mucus that they couldn't absorb any nutrition. In effect, the animal starves to death. However, my research turned up the Vitamin B12 Protocol. For some animals, getting a shot of Vitamin B12 helps reduces the mucus development in the small intestine, which allows nutrition to be absorbed and helps the animal gain weight. Normally the protocol lasts for 6-8 weeks. 

We were desperate to try this because by now Max couldn't walk. Our vet--whom we love and trust with all our animals--suddenly was booked solid for two weeks and we couldn't get in even on emergency visits.  So we crushed up some Vitamin B12 tablets and mixed them with distilled water to give to Max. Within 3 days, there was noticeable improvement. He was walking. By the end of the week, he began to gain weight.  Six weeks later, we tried to take him off the high dose of B12 because we were worried about his liver. He went back downhill within a few days. 

It's three years later and Max still gets B12 every other day to help him. Obviously he became cat number 7 in our household.  


In January 2008, I became ill. I thought it was the flu--and it probably was. I also discovered a year earlier that I was highly allergic to food preservatives, which embarked us on a journey of rediscovering unprocessed foods. By February, I was still sick. I wasn't able to help D out with the animals as much. I decided that I should quit smoking since I wasn't able to breathe well at all. I also went to the doctor and discovered I didn't have the flu--but pneumonia! I was given a battery of steroids, antibiotics, and other pills to which I had serious reactions to. Yep--allergic. 

During this same time towards the end of February, Jack developed a lump and we feared another abscess. Back to the vet clinic where we found out the lump was the previous antibiotic micropills used to kill the last abscess. Dr. J took it out and we brought Jack home. He ate his hay and some how, he inhaled a piece of hay into his lungs. Our beloved Jack lived only four more days before passing into bunny heaven.


The next day after we buried Jack I ended up in the hospital with a multitude of problems. I'll save those details for another time. Obviously I'm better now because I'm blogging! :D

We were down to just the 7 cats and we started integrating the household. It took months and we still have cat spats every now and then, but for the most part, they have learned to coincide peacefully.

May of this year---my husband dragged me out of bed because one of the local pets who was turned out doors showed up on our back porch with her babies. We discussed it and D put up a shelter box for this Momma and her babies. The next morning, the kittens were still in the box but Momma was gone.We were hoping that Momma would stay and let us help her raise them. However, Momma disappeared. The kittens were between 4-5 weeks old, loaded with ear mites and every one of them had ringworm. 

I figured a month  to get them raised, cleared of ear mites and ringworm, and we would be able to find them homes. People love kittens and are quick to adopt them. I just love how I'm so wrong!

Well, it took 2 months for us to clear the ringworm and another month to clear the ear mites. We did have flyers out for the kittens to help them get adopted but no one wanted kittens who still needed some treatment. One woman asked me if they got along with dogs. She explained that all her kittens disappeared and she was sure it was because they didn't get along with her dogs. I felt it was possible the kittens had disappeared into the dogs' stomachs. Another lady wanted to know if they were fragile because her granddaughter already killed a Pekingnese dog. *lifts the brow* Another lady wanted the kittens to kill spiders and other bugs. She didn't realize that black widow spider bites would probably kill the kittens. Another one said that if they climbed her drapes or shed on her furniture, she would boot them outdoors to fend for themselves. The one that took the cake wanted to know if she could have the kittens dyed to match her hair color! By this time, I was getting pretty fed up with humanity. 

 So that's the short story of how we ended up with eleven house hold cats! Tomorrow I can introduce you to the feral colony!


Friday, October 23, 2009

How We Got Here....Part Two

At this time, we have Ava, Arby, Chile, Jack THE Rabbit, and Topaz. I told D we had more than enough--especially since we were also taking on the ferals that lived under our house. He agreed. I should have know that when he capitulates easily, it means he's being sneaky. But I digress.

                                                 One of my favorite pictures of Jack and Topaz

I began to realize that we had a couple of female ferals that needed spaying before they started having litters and litters of kittens.  We also had several males who would be more than happy to help them start having litters and litters! I started reading all kinds of information about ferals, their care, their needs, how they came to be, and anything I could.  One of the ferals was named Merlin by my son because he was silvery white, fluffy, and had crossed blue-eyes. I do not know if the real Merlin fit that description but for my son, it was good enough. Merlin was the father of most of the feral kittens, including Topaz. That fall, we managed to grab both Tag (Merlin's other daughter) and Merlin for a trip to the mobile spay/neuter clinic. Tag left my husband in dire need of antibiotics because we didn't learn about trapping.  But she's another story. Merlin was caught easier than we thought he would be and that let us believe that he had been formally owned.

Two down and others to go!

It was the following summer, we realized that something was terribly wrong with Merlin. He had had kidney infections in the past for which we had him treated. This time he had both kidney and bladder infections that didn't clear up for weeks. Our vet cautioned us that Merlin might be in CRF (Chronic Renal Failure) which meant we had to think about possible euthanasia for him. I went into research-hyperdrive to learn more about CRF.  Turns out the most kitties get this because of dry cat foods or foods made with grains and legumes (translation: corn or soy). Since we had Merlin inside with us anyway, we tried giving him only canned foods to see how he did. Miraculously, his constant kidney and bladder infection cleared up by the time we took him back to the vet's for a check up.  However, by this time, he had been in the house so long with us, that it would have been cruel to turn him back outside. I started looking for another home for Merlin. 

Merlin had been abused in the past because he had this tendency to snap his inch-long fangs deep first and then ask you why your hand was in his mouth later.  In other words, he bit first whenever he felt that you were going to hit him. Even petting him was done cautiously because he tended to bite instantly. That tendency made him unadoptable in my book. And we had another house cat.

Three months later, D noticed a new kitten playing out in the yard. I just buried my head in my hands when he told me. Sure enough, she was about 2 months old. I told him she could stay but we had to get her fixed before she got old enough to be sexually active. "No more kittens born under our house" was my mantra.  A week later, D noticed that she had gunky eyes. Ah--it looks like our friend Upper Respiratory Disease was back to haunt us. Caught her, took her to the vet for treatment. Because she had a couple of other problems as well, it took her longer to heal up. By that time, she had gotten socialized. Because of her age (and because I'm a softee) we could not put her back outside with the rest of the ferals. 

I thought I was being smart by socializing her so we could adopt her out. She was beautiful and we called her Gabriella--Gabby for short. We did have a couple of people who came to look at her but they didn't return. They told me that she "wasn't their kind of cat" whatever that means! I even tried adopting Merlin and Gabby together because they had bonded.  But most people didn't want to take on Merlin and his kidney problems, they wouldn't take Gabby.  So now we were up to 6 cats and a rabbit. I felt panicky every time I thought about the number of cats we had, not including the ferals we were managing. I worried that people would start equating our home with hoarders. I worried how we could financially take care of all these animals, not to mention the emotional needs of every one, including ourselves. I worried how we were going to integrate our household members instead of having closed doors between the groups. I worried and worried.

Meanwhile, my husband was bonding with one of the outside ferals he named Mad Max. Max was a lone feral. His mother was killed before he was 8 weeks old by a hit and run. Our ferals refused to let him join the colony where he could have had companionship, warmth, and share the bounty.  Winter was fast approaching and my husband was working at ways to keep Max warm. 

Stay tune for part three...
Merlin and Gabby--Best Buds


Thursday, October 22, 2009

How we got HERE from there!

So you are probably wondering how we came to have eleven cats in the house. Actually I'm still wondering about that one myself. 

It started when my husband and I were dating back in 2002. Yes, we are newly married and have only been together for 7 years. That's another story. Back then I had Shamrock and Quinn, brothers and had rescued Ava. Ava's former owner neglected her until the only way she could get his attention was to pee on something. He was military and the last thing she peed on was his discharge papers. He was going take her out into the desert and shoot her. I intervened and that's how she came into my home.

Shortly after D and I got together, my beloved 16 year-old Shamrock needed to be put down. He had developed a host of older cat problems, among them diabetes. My former vet always said he had "old cat problems" but never would tell me what those problems were. I was always "reassured" to just keep him comfortable. The new vet explained that Shamrock was in the final stages of the disease and trying to keep him alive would tantamount turning my beloved friend into a "science experiment." The kinder decision of euthanasia was the only one I could make.

So that left 16 year-old Quinn and Ava.  In the spring, while working on what was going to be our new home, we decided to hit a local drive through for dinner. While going through the drive-through, we  heard some caterwauling. The clerk inside said it had been going on all day. In the vacant building next to this fast-food joint, we saw this tiny kitten on the roof being dived-bombed by bees. D climb up and used part of my sandwich to entice her down to him and we took her home.  She became Arby. 
It was a year to the day when we put Shamrock to sleep that we had to euthanize Quinn. He had quit eating and drinking. It was time. I grieved again for my boys who saw me through my son's birth, my divorce, the hard times, the moves, and the decision to return back to school.   Meanwhile, Arby and Ava were here but hating each other. Quinn served as a buffer between them. I was not willing to take in a new cat. Grief has a way of making decisions seem like they are etched in stone.

Yeah--yeah go ahead and laugh. That was before Chile walked into the back office of where I was doing my practicum on my last day of work. Starving Chile was so hungry that she was willing to eat chile-salsa. She was covered with ear mites.  When she and D saw each other, it  was love at first sight! We were back up to three cats and all girls.

Never having three female felines before, I was totally unprepared for the fighting, the mad-dog contests, and the constant smack-downs. Chile and Arby had kung-fu kitty fights all the time. Ava hunted Chile and Arby with a vengence, and mostly after we were in bed, sleeping.  It was constant chaos. I put my foot down in 2003. No more cats. 

Well obviously that didn't work. In November of 2003, D and I went to the local box store and found a rabbit in a shopping cart. Yes, a live rabbit. The door greeter told us that one of the cart boys found two of them in the parking lot. It was below freezing with ice and snow. The cart boy took one of the rabbits home but left the other. Without discussing this with my husband, I just told him to grab some lettuce and an apple or two--we were taking that bunny home with us. 

While I was waiting from D to purchase rabbit foods, a woman with two children came up and said "Are you taking Dutchess home with you?" (A boy bunny named  Dutchess ?!?!?!?!)  They confessed to dumping both rabbits in the parking lot because they wouldn't live well with their prized guinea pigs. Turns out they tried to keep the bunnies and the guinea pigs in the same cage together because they couldn't afford separate cages! Now that's responsible pet-owning.

So now we had three cats and a rabbit. The rabbit was still a baby, only 3 months old. The rabbit became Jack THE Rabbit and became instrumental in stopping the fighting between the girls. Sometimes we wondered if he realized he was a rabbit or if he thought he was half cat. Where ever the girls went, he was there with them. He trained himself to use the potty box (mind you--it was always successfully as he would leave pellets on his way to the potty box.) If the girls could jump on a shelf, he proved he could too. If they could run the Feline Raceways first thing in the morning, he showed he could race with them, changing the morning routine to BK (Bunny-Kitty) Racing.  Jack often beat the girls across the "finish line."  The first time Ava tried to "introduce" Jack to the wonderful game  (for cats at any rate) of chase-n-hunt, he proved that he may be the usual prey, but he had predatory instincts as well. She bears the bald patches on her hocks where Jack ripped out her fur to this day!

In my final year of graduate school, my final semester, I went a little crazy. We had a litter of feral cats born under our house, much to my dismay. It was the 5th litter born there, thanks to this very prolific Mama Cat. She was someone's pet cat--someone who refused to get her spayed and would kick her out of his/her/their home every time she became pregnant. That's when we would find her hanging about. Her usual method was to disappear (translate: go back to her people) after her litter was old enough. Then she would show up a week or two before she gave birth again.  This time she didn't leave right away. I think she was tired of giving birth because she let these kittens suckle until they were 9 months old. At the same time, her daughter Frosty gave birth to her first litter as well. 

Like I said I went a bit crazy with all that I had going on. Graduation was looming, my thesis defense was driving me insane with rewrites, my mother was trying to plan a graduation party for me (Ma--I'm 43 years old!), I was highly and visibly involved in a student organization that wanted change on campus, I was finishing my final practicum, and I was trying to plan my son's high school graduation long distance. (He was living with his father in Virginia at the time.)  In the midst of all this, I loftily decided to get Mama Cat fixed, tame her kittens down and find them homes. This would prevent more kittens being born and maybe peace could reign under our house again. 

Go ahead and laugh. I! Little did I understand about ferals and such. Like a good graduate student, I did some research. Found out that it's probably and highly unlikely that the feral kittens would ever make good pets because they were too old. I did find an organization to help me pay for Mama Cat's spay in return for some volunteer time. And in the middle of trying to do some backyard good deeds, I did manage to graduate with my 4.0 GPA intact. A month later, my son graduated from high school, despite his parents!

The day after D and I came home from my son's graduation, my wonderful husband noticed that one of the newest kittens laying by the back fence. He walked right up to her and to his surprise, she didn't run away, which is normal feral behavior. He noticed her eyes were gunky and glued shut and brought her in the house to show me. And that's how we ended up with Kitty #4 aka Topaz. 

Stay tune for the rest of the story!  


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

They Can Be Cute...SOMETIMES

This morning when I went into the kitchen to feed eleven demanding stomachs, I noticed that a couple of the kittens seem to be interested in something behind the couch in the living room. I couldn't see what they were staring out but I could read their thoughts. 

"Think she's going to be mad?"

"Oh yeah...this is a big no-no!"

"You gonna tell who did this?"

"Hey, I live by the Feline Code. Don't ask, don't tell!"

Turns out SOMEONE had knocked over my ficus (weeping fig tree) sometime during the early morning hours. Potting soil was all over the floor, the couch, and the end table. It mixed in with my craft books. For good measure, they scattered my crochet hooks that I had sitting on the end table, waiting for me to finish the baby poncho. Luckily I had put that away.

So before coffee, there was a huge mess to clean up. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Welcome! Welcome!

Hi! Welcome! Come on in! Hope you aren't allergic to cats! We have more than most people. That means I'm always cleaning up fur and *shudders* hairballs. Have a seat and get comfy...well as comfy as the cats will allow you to be. Want some coffee or tea? I see--you brought your own. Now THAT'S coming prepared.

What is this blog about? will be a conglomeration. It will have tales about our furry friends, information about them, and record the most public of my journey into being. 

About the name...well that's a short story. I decided this year since I live in northern New Mexico that I was going to roast my own chiles. The local Farmers' Market was exploding with smells that tickled the tastebuds and lots of green chile.  My favorite person of our local market is a young man I met at the local P&J by the name of Daniel. He was selling the best green chile, garlic, and onions. I tell you I had no will power against the salesmanship/craft of this young man. I bought a basket of chile, took it home and roasted it. It smelled so heavenly while it was roasting, filling every nook and cranny of our house with its delectable odor. We ate it that night. 

The following weekend, I bought two baskets, along with fresh garlic and onions from Daniel. Took home my loot, roasted the chile. This time I managed to put aside one container before my husband and I gobbled up the rest. The following weekend, I had to by a bucket. It took me a full day of processing, but it was worth it. My home had the smell of roasting chile and my freezer was starting to look better.

That's when I noticed our feline HERD racing through the house during the roasting period. They could be sound asleep until the odor of roasting chile penetrated their nostrils. I saw it progress from a stretch and yawn to a WAKE-UP! smack on the head of another one.  Then the racing began! From room to room--the cats would race each other, themselves, and air. There were feline contests during the roasting, including who could trip their human dad first, who nearly got caught in the roasting oven, and who could be the first one to get the older cats to join in their kitty-games.

I told my beloved husband that if I ever broke down and joined the rest of you in blogging...I would name this after the cats who crave green chile! Hence the name. 

Kick off your shoes and stay awhile.