Due to years of advance planning and exceptional timing, The Bartender and I were able to enjoy a well-deserved vacation to Kauai. I arrived home to a comatose computer and a Seattle gridlocked by an invisible demon. Read the rest of this entry
I rarely mention my cats. It’s the little prey animals I care for: hamsters and doves, parakeets and gerbils, rabbits and guinea pigs. When you have chickens, you soon discover the utility of cats. Most urban poultry experiments end abruptly due to raccoons, or over time after giving up after months of watching chicken feed disappear to expanding armies of rats. Professional exterminators can rid your home of vermin, but they roll their eyes and back away from promises to rid your chicken coop of pesky rat-devils. “Barn cats” are indispensable to a farm, even a tiny urban farm.
My first cat was a feral stray. I lived a mile from my mailbox, and that rural home came with a feral cat. I tried to trap her and failed, and she disappeared for a couple years. When I discovered her kittens in my woodpile, I fed her until I could take the little ones to Safeway in a cardboard box for “rehoming.” I had friendly mamma cat Smokey spayed and she lived outdoors until the dog left (he protected her from bears and cougars) when she moved indoors. I brought her with me to the suburbs and she lived here until her death at about 18 years old. She was what could be called an “adoptable feral stray.” My current cats are “unadoptable feral strays.” So, what’s the difference?
Kitty Hawk is an unadoptable feral stray cat. The Alley Cat Project received him from the Seattle Animal Shelter where they regularly adopt out FIV+ cats. Feral cats are not adoptable (as pets), and FIV+ adds another complication. Hawk is an FIV+ feral thug. Kitty Hawk had broken into the basement of a house and fought with the resident cat in order to steal his food. Unfortunately, the other cat ended up in a veterinary hospital and the owners had Kitty Hawk sent to “the pound.” The Alley Cat Project fostered him until I contacted them in search of a “barn kitty.” He’s been here since 2011, and he arrived on my birthday! He still bites and scratches sometimes, but mostly he waits for me at the gate and rubs against my legs as I perform chores in the aviary. I discovered recently that he is diabetic and now I am out there, morning and night, injecting him with insulin and opening can after can of the most expensive cat food available. He lets the rats meander unmolested and I know now who was the true barn kitty.
About six months later, the Alley Cat Project contacted me regarding a second feral FIV+ tomcat. By now they recognized me as a soft touch and before I could change my mind, they had dropped off Grover. Grover had been living near/at a local high school. He was friendly with other cats but would not warm up to humans. Don’t touch the Grover! Another feral FIV+ who could not be released, he was truly unadoptable. He lived in a large introduction cage until I was sure they wouldn’t fight, and eventually, he and Kitty Hawk became best buddies. They slept in a heap and the few remaining rats left the neighborhood. Grover didn’t tame down for six long years, and then he initiated “nose-bumps” and allowed me to touch his tail. He even let me comb and snip out some horrific hair mats, and I hoped some day he would let me pet him. A month ago I crammed his reluctant but distressed self into a carrier and took him to the vet where they pronounced his dental disease* too advanced for treatment. I drove home in tears without him and Kitty Hawk and I are still getting used to Life Without Grover.
The Alley Cat Project had been contacting me periodically in case I needed any more cats, but until now, I had two good cats, no rats in the aviary, and everything was hunky dory. But, wait, I have seen a couple rats lately. That should have been my clue that Grover wasn’t well. I certainly didn’t expect the diabetic cat to be ratting, especially since he never was any good at his job. There were two barn kitties available, did I want them? Well, no, I don’t even like cats, but two? It took me a couple minutes to think it through, but I agreed to take their two bonded but unadoptable cats. They are in an introduction cage, just like Grover was, but this one is big enough for me to crawl into. And they were here within a week of our tragic loss, distracting Kitty Hawk, giving him a new complaint, and creating enough soiled kitty litter to fill the multiplying rat holes in the aviary.
Half-Stache is a gray & white feral FIV- (un-infected) male cat with a distinguished mustache. No, wait, half a mustache! He was surrendered to the Seattle Animal Shelter because he was under-socialized and was scared and defensive when in their care. They transferred him to the Alley Cat Project so they could find him an alternative home situation, like a barn. After six months of their exceptional care, he became an affectionate friendly guy. Whenever he escaped the “catio” and got into the house, he marked the corners of the guest room in typical naughty boy fashion. That’s about as “un-adoptable” as a cat can get. But he had bonded with the other resident of the catio.
Larry is a gorgeous but not particularly intellectual FIV+ female. The FIV+ males infect each other by fighting, but the females can become infected by mating. There are probably some “Larry-ettes” out there, somewhere. Public shelters generally euthanize FIV+ cats if they are also feral. The Alley Cat Project adopted her out to a nice big home with other cats and an enthusiastic caregiver. One year later, she still would not allow her owner to touch her, so the Alley Cat Project took her back. After six months of exceptional care, she was as untouchable as ever, and dumb to boot. And fat, as I discovered later. So pretty but dumb Larry and playful Half-Stache left their cozy catio and came to the Funny Farm, leaving the Alley Catio available to other feral cats with a better chance of becoming adoptable.
There are many cat adoption agencies out there, but most of them deal with rehoming house cats, kittens, or other “adoptable” cats. The Alley Cat Project works with ferals: trapping, neutering, and releasing them to their colonies. They rehome kittens when possible, and work with the cats who seem to have indoor pet potential. They have a few manageable cats suitable as “barn kitties.” And then there are the Conundrum Cats: sick and/or feral cats with bad habits or no apparent desire for human companionship. My first cat, Smokey is an example of a feral with indoor pet potential, though it was eight years before she would step indoors. The next four: Kitty Hawk, Grover, Half-Stache, and Larry, are Conundrum Cats. That’s what makes this a sanctuary, and not a Crazy Cat Lady situation. I don’t even like cats: they eat all the little critters I really like. (Exception for feral rats, though some of you might remember hearing about Mortimer, the old blind rat that no cat or exterminator was able to kill. I felt so sorry for him I used to feed him.)
Dimwit Larry and gamer Half-Stache have been here a month, and you will hear about them from time to time. FIV+ and FIV- cats can be combined if they don’t fight, as it is passed only through deep bite wounds, so I will be watching closely to see that everybody gets along. It’s a struggle to undo the prejudice against FIV. Many people have FIV+ pets who live long, healthy, normal lives. Kitty Hawk’s diabetes is stabilized, with insulin and diet, and hopefully he won’t revert to his former thug-like persona and instead decide to accept the newcomers as he did Grover. His food and supplies are expensive, and so I’ll remind you about my gift shop and I have “donate” buttons all over the place. I also take donated items like insulin needles and high protein/no carbohydrate food (ask me first!). And finally, keep the Alley Cat Project in mind if you want to help out desperate cats in Seattle. You might want to poke around to see if there are any similar groups in your area.
*FIV+ cats often succumb to dental disease, I later learned. It can be treated, but ferals like Grover are extremely difficult to handle.
I don’t like to read about other people’s medical issues, so I decided not to write about mine unless it was funny. There’s nothing funny about hip replacement surgery, though, and the next person who pipes up with “Well, I heard it was easier than a knee replacement!” is going to be sorry.
My son, Sam, came to stay for a month, and was put in charge of the indoor animals: the guinea pigs, a couple cage birds, the Dojo and some guppies. Of course, The Bartender got stuck with the geese, ducks, hens, pigeons, doves, rain and muck. He also got the Chicken in the Bathtub, and her thrice daily meds. Everybody has more respect for Guinea Pig Cage Cleaning Night now.
Pre-surgery instructions meant no pain meds, no alcohol, and I wasn’t allowed to do anything that could result in an infection, such as pruning my roses. The Bartender pruned while I verbally described the branch and node to be cut. Without alcohol. A month later we would prune the grapes, with me standing on solid ground 15′ away, shouting instructions. I still can’t venture out to see what he did, but I do miss puttering around the garden. Being stuck indoors for 6 weeks, I now know that I am no candidate for an assisted living apartment. I will die in this house, surrounded by this landscaped oasis, and an assortment of poultry or worse.
You don’t want to hear about the blood thinners, the appliances, the nightmares, or any details of the surgery. But there have been some funny moments. Trying to help with dinner preparation one night, I fell asleep while chopping mushrooms. Not cool when you are on blood thinners. So I was banned from knives until I was off the rat poison. All the cooking was up to the men, and that included the Guinea Pig snacks, a mountain of chopped vegetables each night. Sam baked up a storm so there were always fresh cinnamon rolls and scones with the tea he brought me. My daughter Becky spent a weekend cooking up exotic eggplant dishes that provided a week of lunches.
Sleep deprivation is the name of the game, and I am allowed to “sleep” only on one side. Somehow I manage to toss and turn all night in that singular position and I think that’s why my hair is broken. I look like Rod Stewart until I brush it out into a Phyllis Diller each morning. I’m afraid I am going to have to chop it all off, something I haven’t done since the 70’s. I looked like Little Orphan Annie until it grew out. I have been growing it out ever since. Asking for thoughts and prayers.
It hasn’t been all bad. The lilacs and rhodies bloomed, indoors and out. After the blood thinners ended, I could finally spend cocktail hour out on the deck with Princess and Fat Bonnie. The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, and the grass is growing. Take a last look at that raunchy deck. It’s currently under renovation so that I don’t accidentally step through a hole.
And so The Bartender is currently my Chauffeur, because I can’t drive, even while I can’t drink. We go out for Physical Therapy and blood draws (to verify to what extent the Coumadin is killing me). We even went to the dentist yesterday. Excuse me, not my dentist, my periodontist. That was a shock. My charming dentist, who once closed his office and brought everyone over to meet Dobby, would not have called that a “deep cleaning.” He would have called it a major excavation, and had I known, I would have waited another week, but it is done now, and we can start counting the weeks until Step Two, which will be discounted a cool $2k by my insurance because I subjected myself to Step One. (Let’s all push for universal health care, but don’t stop hollering until we get dental care, too, okay?)
And, speaking of dental work, I started a Go Fund Me for a capybara friend of mine. Little Gidget had to have her incisors removed, at a shocking cost to her owner. Capybaras are amazing animals, and Gidget is adapting nicely to grazing without her incisors. The health issues these guys can develop are unending, and veterinarians are so hard to find. The ROUS Foundation is doing what we can, but it’s hard to keep up!
In other news, a baby squirrel has prematurely left his nest. Archie (just a coincidence) is about 3/4 size, and fits neatly inside the squirrel proof cages on my bird feeders. I generally don’t see babies until they are nearly full grown. You can’t even tell they are babies until you watch them drunkenly negotiate the fence-tops, and there’s not much hurtling from treetop to treetop. Because I can only see wildlife from the windows, I have been rigging up feeders outside the bigger windows. The hummingbirds love their new swings!
I also picked up a new stray, this time a parakeet from a park about 3 miles west of here. He was perched on a railroad pedestrian overpass. I’d love to find his owner, but he’s welcome to stay here, dirty feet and all. His feet look like someone took footprints in an attempt to ID him. For now, I am calling him Big Boy, in honor of the recently restored Union Pacific steam engine.
I am finally selling Dobby’s swimming pool. It has been in storage long enough. Check it out here, and tell all your friends!
Snow is beautiful, isn’t it? It was so fun to look out the front door and see bountiful snow: fluffy clean snow, looking like Crisco. It’s so quiet. I forgot about that part. You see, Seattle doesn’t get much snow. Not enough to justify snow plows or snow tires, so everybody takes the day off to enjoy the magnificence of it.
I got out my snow ruler: nine inches! (23cm) And started to watch the weather forecasts like a fiend. More snow? Freezing temperatures, too? Uh oh. I started to bring in the hummingbird feeders after dusk. Get up at dawn, throw on my flimsy robe, hang them back up, hummers buzzing at the empty hanger, as if to remind me where the feeder belongs.
The back yard wild mallards landed in the
Crisco snow, rapidly sinking in up to their necks, trudging back up to the surface, flying back up to the roof. Over and over. So funny! I could be mean and toss their ration of cracked corn into the deep snow, but that would be wasteful.
They quickly learned that the wild bird buffet was being served on the deck, right outside the kitchen door, in dishes. They had the area trampled flat in no time. There are at least forty-two of them, after all. The original pair have been here daily for a dozen years, rain or shine.
Dobby would have been sequestered in the kitchen for two weeks by now. There’s still about six inches of snow on the ground. The bare patches are thawing and we’re supposed to have more rain before the temperatures drop again in a couple days and they start bragging about more snow. The Prince would have been perfectly miserable, cabin fever in spades. This is one of the many reasons why I am not considering getting another capybara. Our mild marine climate is no longer to be trusted.
The graveyard‘s colors are muted, and the sun can’t illuminate the gems hanging from the arbor. The snow is so pretty, even the Dove dome is a masterpiece. That snowball in the foreground is a “Dogloo” turned igloo. The pigeon loft is behind it, and this morning I decided to take the eggs away from Phoenix and Cor-ten. Birth control is so easy for birds, imagine if we could lay an egg and simply walk away from it! Today there was a tiny fuzzy face looking out at me. I was too late. So they have a baby and I guess congratulations are in order.
When the snow first falls, the cats test it. Curiosity satisfied, Kitty Hawk rejoins his smarter half in the barn. The hens are smart enough to hunker down in the barn until it goes away. The ducks and geese have fancy feet and don’t mind the cold.
Well, they don’t mind it too much. Norman isn’t looking particularly happy here. It complicates his job as flock manager.
Even when there is snow, the ducks and geese prefer to sleep under the stars. In the morning, I can see where each one slept by the thawed dirt ovals they create with their downy blankets. They pull their feet up inside the feathers, tuck in their bills, and they’re good for the night. In the photo below, you can see two ducks sleeping on the ground, and to the left, two thawed ovals where their friends slept the night before.
In the photo below, you can see the aviary netting is starting to sag under the weight of the snow. Look at the top rail of the fence, straight and true. The roof netting should be uniformly higher than that top rail, but you can see a droop near the center of the photo.
From inside the aviary it looked like this. I tried to smack at the snow from below, to get it to drop off the netting, but it was so light and fluffy it wouldn’t fall through the big holes of the 2″ chicken wire. Seattle snow usually falls straight through to the ground. Only deep dry snow falling quickly onto the thin frozen wires will cause significant accumulation. Even so, our usual quick return to 40 degree weather melts it away.
We had deep
fry dry snow, frozen temperatures, and frigid nights. Most of the hens sleep in the barn on heated pads. Adelita still prefers her roost, next to where Conchita and Jello used to sleep. The geese and ducks still preferred the frozen ground to the cozy barn.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we got a couple more inches of snow. The net is relaxing under the weight of it. The duck pond is frozen. Beyond the fence, wild mallards gather the troops, ready to beg for cracked corn as I pass by for inspection.
The heat lamps come out and the Muscovy ducks come in. They are a South American breed and not as hardy as my other domestics. Their feet and caruncle can get frostbite and they love the heat lamps. The shavings in the barn don’t seem to freeze as long as they are dry, but like a fool, I provide drinking water in the barn during freezing weather and the ducks take care of the “dry” problem. It’s still nicer than the pile-up of snow outside.
The perennial Chinese New Year’s decorations are suddenly timely. Last night the barn lights didn’t come on at dusk. D’oh! They are on a timer and we had a six hour power outage. They have probably been cycling on in the middle of the night for the past week.
About a week before the storm, I brought this little dove into the barn. She wasn’t flying up to the perches, and so I fixed her up with a cage that has a perch on the ground. Usually a week or so of R&R perks them up, but I’m also glad she wasn’t in the big dome during the storm. She’s cooing to her buddies in the dome so they all know she’s okay.
After all the snow, everyone was excited to finally see rain. It is Seattle, after all. It rained all night. In the morning, I was surprised to see robins gaily hopping in and out of the aviary. They are too big to get through the aviary netting, so that meant they had found a hole. It turned out to be a hole the size of a Mack truck. Several of them, in fact.
Meanwhile, everyone became used to moving into the barn every night. When I gave the signal, Norman would march everyone in. When the netting collapsed, I realized the cats would be able to walk right out, so I locked them into the smaller portion of the barn during the day. Norman’s non-flighted flock would be okay waddling around in the wrecked aviary during the day while we worked on repairs.
Not only did the aviary netting seams rip open, each of the support posts poked a hole. The important central support was a tree that had died and was now rotten enough to splinter into several spongy logs. The central support cables tightly gripped the one remaining sound portion of the tree which was now dangling a few inches above the ground. We removed the other supports so that the netting would be easy to reach and repair.
I built my first aviary in 1984 out of recycled fishing nets. Holes would rot out of it, unpredictably. The second one, in 1988, was smaller and I used Toprite aviary netting. Squirrels chewed it where it attached to the fence. I used sturdier Toprite for my third aviary, in 1991. It was an effective net, but the small holes clogged with snow quickly, necessitating hourly snow removal during the storms. A fallen fir tree once took the entire net out, ripping it to shreds. This 2001 aviary “roof” has a chew-proof stiff wire mesh edge with a 2″ chicken wire infill. For eighteen years, the snow has fallen through the netting, except where it is covered with twigs and autumn leaves. A yearly cleaning was all it took. Until Snowpocalypse.
I have a bartender on staff, and his job description is a moving target. I flagged all the holes with bright pink survey flagging. Where I could reach, we worked together to zip tie the holes. Then he went out the next day, like John Henry, and zipped the rest of those suckers right up. They didn’t have a chance.
We put the supports back up, and Bob’s your uncle! Everything’s back to normal, and Norman can take a break. Sure, there’s still six inches of dirty ice encrusted compact snow on the ground, but I’m fairly certain it will go away. Someday.
Then I walked out to look at the still pretty clean snow in the front yard, and discovered that the core of my multi-trunked Flame Amur Maple had shattered. All of the branches have splayed out and collapsed to the ground as if a malevolent giant stomped on it. Oy vey, how is The Bartender going to fix that?
Chickens come in many colors: white, yellow, brown, black, and all sorts of speckled and blotchy mixed colors. Mine are brown. All kinds of brown, subtle markings, slight variation in comb shape. Well, there is also the puny white/orange/black speckled Princess Blur, the banty Mille Fleur. Due to her diminutive size, she could be brown and I could still spot her a mile away. Emmy Lou Harris, the new hen, is brown. Of course she is.
The arrival of Emmy Lou means that Samantha, otherwise known as Miss New Hampshire, is no longer the new hen. She has been here since October 2017 and has totally integrated with the flock. Norman the goose has accepted her as a full-fledged member and he’s as protective of her as he is of the rest of them.
Princess Blur, on the other hand, has yet to admit that she is a chicken. The cats are terrified of her and she chases mallards in the yard. Dobby tolerates her, and she successfully lobbies for extra garden time. Are all Mille Fleur hens kooky?
New hens are sequestered (in the bully pen) from the flock until they accept each other. I had Emmy Lou only a week when I discovered bossy Conchita (yes, the one who broke her leg . . ) in the separate pen, and Emmy Lou happily exploring the larger yard with the other hens. Other than a few scurries and quick departures, Emmy Lou was getting along nicely. Since then I have found her back in the bully pen, taking a break, but she’s generally well accepted.
Emmy Lou hasn’t been to the garden yet, though. She is able to explore the aviary in peace when the others are out in the yard. It also means she hasn’t met Dobby, though he visited the hens in the aviary this morning. Emmy Lou kept her distance.
Here’s Dobby helping me put the poultry away after the garden party. (FAIL)
By the way, this is what the back yard “grass” looks like after our wet winters. It looks like dirt.
This is why Dobby goes to the front yard to graze, especially in winter and spring. There is even new grass coming up on the path between the aviary and the gate to the front yard.
I re-seed with a pasture grass mix in late spring and this year the germination has been fantastic. The yard has almost complete coverage already. Unlike your lawn, which is probably a mix of perennial rye and Kentucky bluegrass, pasture grass is food grass. It has some perennial rye, but it mostly has timothy grass, orchard grass, and tall fescue. It would get tall and shaggy if Norman and Cubicle (the geese) weren’t such good mowers. They are much more efficient than Dobby.
Phoenix the pigeon moved out to the aviary in Spring. He discovered my female pigeon, Cor-ten, and they keep laying eggs. Phoenix is very helpful, taking turns on the nest, and he seems very content. That is, until I remove the eggs. Every egg that hatches means one less rescue I can take in, so spring is all about finding nests and taking away eggs. I’m happy to let the resident wild mallards raise the neighborhood ducklings.
Speaking of wild things, here’s Conchita and Dobby. You might be able to see the three crows on the roof. They have been making quite a racket, because “Three” is a baby who begs constantly. They are teaching him that my yard has the best treats.
Unlike lovely Emmy Lou, Brutus the guinea pig is not quietly joining the herd. She can’t get along with sweet Squirrel, my funny boar. She and Cookie Monster share half the pen.
Squirrel is a very entertaining guinea pig, and a gentleman, too. A sow’s dream come true. He always got along with Stevie Ray and was crushed when he died. Brutus and Cookie Monster were intended to become his new herd.
Cookie Monster adores Squirrel, and so she visits him frequently. I can’t leave her with him all the time, because Brutus is bossy when she returns. I’m afraid that eventually Brutus would reject Cookie Monster if she spent too much time “next door.” So she commutes back and forth and everyone is happy, at least some of the time.
I though April was wild, but after 17 years here, I have deer in the front yard. Coyotes have been pooping in Dobby’s front yard, and I have even seen cottontail rabbits next door. Dobby had a cottontail out here several years ago, and he loved that bunny. I hope he has another one visiting this summer.
I put up a mason bee house in March and was stunned to see how popular it is! Look at how many of the condos have sold!
The squirrels have been crazy this year. They’re always nutty (sorry, couldn’t resist), but this year’s squirrel games are wild!
This is a subtle reminder to visit the Gift Shop. Briana and I are making lots of jewelry, and I will post a bunch of new stuff when the finished items overflow our “finished” basket.