Most of my pet costume photos come from other people. That’s because my own attempts are dismal. Once in a while someone gets inspired and we end up with a few good ones. 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.
Kitty Hawk isn’t sweet at all. He bites and scratches me because I am never fast enough with the food. In fact, he bit the veterinarian and then the vet tech.
Kitty Hawk is a barn kitty, a former feral tomcat who tested positive for FIV after he ended up at the pound. (He broke into a house, beat up the resident cat and ate his food.) He lives outdoors in my aviary where he is second-in-command to my serious rat catcher, Grover, another FIV+ former feral tomcat.
Diabetes is the reason why Kitty Hawk has gotten so skinny, even though he is eating twice as much food. Last week’s blood test told us the bad news and today he had his first insulin shot. Twice a day, evenly spaced, means that I get to traipse out there in the dark to give him his evening injection. It’s going to be inconvenient, expensive, and painful. For me, not the cat. He doesn’t seem to care. He likes his new food, and so does Grover.
Let’s talk about something more fun: guinea pigs! It’s great when kids grow up and leave home, because then you get an entire bedroom for your guinea pigs.
Squirrel lived alone for several years after his buddy, Stevie Ray, died. He was within sniffing and squealing distance from the others but he wanted a live-in buddy. Cookie Monster loves Squirrel, but Brutus is aptly named and will not tolerate Squirrel. So, Cookie Monster had dates with Squirrel but always went home for the night.
Daniel was supposed to be a dude buddy for Squirrel, but turned out to be Danielle. She was in a separate cage while I worked to introduce them, but like Brutus, she is very opinionated. Squirrel is a mellow guy and Danny is a speed demon, always rearranging her furniture so she can run circles around it.
Brutus tolerates Cookie, but Squirrel adores her. I decided to make some changes. My large L-shaped cage has plenty of room for four, but I had to get clever in order to divide it into three spaces that each meet the minimum space requirements. I did the unthinkable: I put diagonal dividers in.
Squirrel and Cookie Monster have the middle apartment, and Brutus and Danielle each have end units. Brutus and Cookie Monster can still visit through the divider, and Danielle can continue to get acquainted with Squirrel and Cookie Monster. And Squirrel doesn’t have to live alone anymore.
They still get floor time, of course, and we switch out the piggies to keep things interesting.
The Funny Farm is getting ready for some new additions, but I’m not ready to spill those beans yet. Instead, here are some short news items.
The handicapped doves (one can’t fly, the other can’t walk) are, in fact, mother and daughter. Recently I added a soft little nest for The Pirate, the not-walker. Her mom, Snow White, joins her in the nest, and they snuggle on and off during the day. I had no idea that would happen, but it has totally changed the way they interact, and it’s wonderful to see them grooming each other and chatting.
The six vintage hens that live in the aviary lay about a dozen eggs a week this time of year. They range from about six to ten years old. We had a raccoon in the yard yesterday afternoon, while everyone was out for their daily Garden Party. I ran out when I heard the ruckus, but the geese and ducks had already high-tailed it back to the aviary so I only had a couple straggling hens to march back in. It was a scraggly nasty looking raccoon, not a big healthy one like I am used to seeing around here. Garden Parties have been cancelled for a while.
Here’s silly Norman, stealing some lettuce. I take out a head of romaine every morning, and distribute it fairly among the geese, ducks and hens. I drop it into the sink until I am ready to fight my way through the spider webs to toss it around. As I throw it into little piles, Norman follows me and takes a little bite out of every leaf. What a guy.
The Bartender has been busy painting the Little Free Library. He also painted the old bench from the back yard to match.
It’s probably the biggest Little Free Library I’ve ever seen. I put a bunch of books out there at the beginning, but more books show up all the time! There are so many new ones I have been sneaking a few for myself! It’s fun to see people walk up to take a look, and I have even seen people drive up and park!
Stay tuned. My next blog will be full of surprises!
Writing a blog is easy when there is so much to write about. Sometimes, though, the material piles up so fast and furious that there is no time to write! Taking a vacation creates a windfall of material, but if taken correctly, induces a predictable and even desirable stupor. The school year aspect of my life (that I don’t write about) creates an artificial deadline which looms like a cliff of doom to rodent aficionados. So while I have a couple blog posts in the works, why not start and finish a third, and really confuse the heck out of everyone?
As a sanctuary (also called a LOFT, Live Out Full Term facility) I see many animals through to their last days. Older pets aren’t as adoptable and often find their way here. Some have just been here a hella long time. Carl Sagan the Guinea pig is one of them.
His brother, Ankhsheshonq, left us long ago, complications due to dementia. Carl will be
NINE* TEN years old in October, but he is having some issues with right rear axle paralysis. He’s perky, doesn’t seem to be in any pain, still interacts positively with Stevie Ray, and races to the treat bowls on cue. Still, he has no strength in his hip and leg, and flops over as soon as he is stationary. Because he isn’t as active, this gets fairly messy, so he has been getting baths, as needed. He likes the extra attention, and the older I get, the more sympathy I have for these old pets. I hope Carl makes it another year, to TEN ELEVEN years old, but in case he doesn’t, I have located an older boar companion for Stevie Ray, who remembers when the Dude Ranch was 5, not 2 dudes. You will be hearing about him in a while.
Fat Bonnie Bunnie seems to be making an effort to overcome her fears, and we have started to let her into the living room for romps. She doesn’t seem as fearful there as she is in the kitchen, such nonsense. Her sister and litter-mate, Helen, was so joyous and playful, I know Fat Bonnie had a nearly identical history. I am reading some of Temple Grandin‘s fine work, and thinking maybe my little fatty has some brain anomalies, but whatever the problem, the treatment is the same: minor adjustments, one at a time, to her daily routine until she responds positively to something.
Dobby continues to be a big help around here. He eats grass from my bucket, apples from the raked up pile, bamboo that sticks through the protective fencing. He marks my tool handles, my jackets, and surprisingly, he now marks Kitty Hawk the tomcat!
He’s back up to 116# but that’s still below his pre-veterinary visit weight of 117.5#, and well below his previous 125#. He has gained weight during apple season before, so we’ll see. His big secret is that he’s writing his memoirs, but I’ve seen it and if he wants my help publishing it, he’d better tone it down a bit.
I can tell you that a capybara that falls off his bed- it’s a pillow on the floor!- during a nap doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room in the dignity department.
In other Dobby News, he has a couple new-from-Florida wind chimes, and a beach ball that he despises!
The wild animals around here are out of control. A mother raccoon and three babies peered in at me while I was feeding the chickens- during the day. I had to pick the bumper crop of grapes, too tart to eat, but rats in the arbor are not as adorable as they sound. These aren’t my cute Wistar rats, no they are the other mangy kind, and they don’t look so hot this year.
And Dobby had 28 visiting mallards yesterday, prompting a brisk recall of the cracked corn appetizer I put out for Happy Hour.
Enough is enough.
At least the hummingbirds are satisfied: my garden blooms for them all summer and I can ignore the feeders for a while.
I was contacted by a Facebook friend of many years, and we made a very satisfactory duck exchange. Her little Ping is small, white, and has angel wing, and probably wouldn’t thrive in the natural environment available to her there. My thuggish Muscovy drake, Romeo, has not mended his ways, and my little hens have been living in fear. Norman the goose isn’t too fond of him either.
Romeo’s hen-directed activities are inappropriate, but he is friendly to people and ducks, and he is a big drake, able to take care of himself. So we traded, and while we are still watching to see how it goes, I think we both came out ahead. Just yesterday I noticed how quiet it is around here. Romeo himself was quiet, but he had a way of stirring things up, and it is nice not to hear Norman honking at 2am!
UPDATE: I stand corrected. After talking to Carl Sagan’s owner (Carl is a foster guinea pig), I am stunned to report that Carl will be 10 years old in October. He’s doing great, and I honestly think he’s going for 11!
I wasn’t busy enough, so I am now officially not retired. Sixty-four is an odd time of life to start a new career, but my volunteer status no longer adequately describes my activities, so I have been hired. Coincidentally, my wildlife photography, my non-stop blogs, and my stunning cinematography have been derailed. The dramas have no respect, and continue to unload at an alarming rate. Currently, the blog-waiting room at the Stacy’s Funny Farm Station is taking numbers, but all of the clerks are out to lunch.
For instance, there is still a rabbit at large in the guinea pig room. I am losing confidence that Honey Bunny will be reunited with her owner in the near future, but she is a lot of fun for now. Other than the fact that she has started to mark the carpet. My own Bonnie Bunny has previously attacked a rabbit- her own sister!- so I don’t dare introduce them.
Snow White, the dove, is finally perking up. I had brought her inside and she did well at first but then languished. I still don’t want her to have direct contact with her daughter, The Pirate, until I am certain she is healthy. For the past four days, I have been wheeling her cage into the kitchen so they can “flock,” and they are eating together (from afar) and Snowy is suddenly showing signs that she will completely recover. Next I will let them interact, supervised, and determine whether they want to share a cage. Snow White probably thought she was doomed to flock with guinea pigs. Oh, the horror of it!
In fact, the guinea pigs are a fine little herd. Carl’s eight year old legs still scurry with the youngest of them. He honestly doesn’t seem any older than the other dudes. Speaking of old dudes, my antique cockatiel, Jorge, still occasionally falls off his perch onto the padded cage floor. I’m beginning to think he is a LOT older than the sixteen years I know about. I’m his third owner, and he’s been
annoying me here for ten years.
The new hens are settling in, laying eggs, begging and underfoot. The flock dynamics are fascinating: little Bianca is now shunned by the two hens she arrived with, and old Jello seems happy to have her as a new companion. And yet, the roosting positions vary from night to night, with Bianca randomly sleeping near the two and then Jello. Little Lula sleeps below, but still manages to get off the ground. She has been on Metacam for a year, and if she ever dies we might discover what her problem is. She is a sweet happy hen, comes when I call her each morning for her medicine.
We had 11″ of rain in January, almost 1/3 of our yearly rainfall. Even the ducks are sick of it. Norman’s feathers are in poor condition, and the Muscovies look pretty bad on wet days, too. They have a heat lamp and whole wheat and cracked corn treats, but we’d rather have some sun.
Quasimodo the turtle has been out a few times this winter. He’s been here since 2009, and each winter I wonder whether I should bring him in or let him hibernate. In this photo you can see the bulge at his right cheek, a calcium deposit he’s had since before he came here to live. I feed him when I see him, but he really isn’t interested in eating during winter. Dr. Pepper has emerged a couple times, too, but not for long.
The crazy wild mallards are proliferating. There were 26 one afternoon last week, right at the time of day my flock generally emerges for the Garden Party refreshments. A couple of the mallard ducks march directly into the aviary, turn right at the turtle tank, enter the barn, and help themselves to the poultry food! I now have to make a sweep for mallards before I secure the gate for the night. One morning last week, a drake surprised me by flying off the roof onto the ground in front of me as I walked out with the breakfast treats. Entering the aviary I was greeted by a female mallard, merrily swimming in the duck pond. She was reluctant to leave, though her drake was mighty relieved to have her released.
My tomcats vacillate between boring and completely frustrating. Grover has decided to discover whether it is possible to actually perish from hairballs. Kitty Hawk is easy enough to handle that I occasionally grant him the privilege of walking the circuit around the house. Those days are over as he apparently strayed across the street. I figured that out when I heard the distant cat fight- who could that be?
Dobby, my precious angel, has been saving “gifts” for me, letting loose in the kitchen as I return home for school. He’s so thoughtful. I keep telling myself it’s the weather. You might think a rainforest animal would like the rain, but no. He seems to disapprove of rain, though honestly, in winter he disapproves of almost everything except corn-on-the-cob.
There has been a tiny visitor at our front door, and I have almost stepped on him twice. The second time I brought him in for a photo shoot. It’s spring when wooly bear caterpillars appear, right? Summer is surely coming!