Saturday, July 29, 2017

Extraordinary Luck

This kind of luck rarely happens. I hardly know how to begin in writing about it.

Remember the kittens? Oh, it was hard saying goodbye to them. But we really didn’t want to adopt another cat now. Patches, our one remaining indoor kitty, is getting rather old and is deaf. We didn’t want to upset her with any upstart interlopers. Also, we were thinking that when she’s gone, we’d have some time where we could take off on trips and not have to impose upon a cat sitter.

So anyway, things were going well—as well as we could expect, considering that we had to say goodbye to the kittens. On the same day (Tuesday, July 11), Sue trapped our mamma kitty (Thumby) in the trap Jennifer of Wild Thing–Feral Feline Fix had provided for us, and when Jennifer came to pick up the mamma, I scooped up the four kittens (who were all napping) and put them into Jennifer’s carrier. And then Jennifer took them all away. Thumby, to be spayed, wormed, vaccinated, and to return, and the kittens to be fixed, vaccinated, etc., and then released for adoption. . . . Jennifer was confident that our friendly, attractive kittens would have no trouble finding homes.

So after work on Thursday the 13th, Jennifer brought back Thumby to our backyard. She was safe and glad to be home, but giving us a lot of ugly, recriminating stares. And not letting us get near her. She looked around and called for her kittens, but of course they were long gone.

The good news is that the very first day the kittens were available for adoption, Friday the 14th, every single one of them got adopted! Yay! That quickly! But on the weekend, I got calls and messages from Jennifer—and I didn’t check messages until Sunday night. Turns out there was an “issue” with one of the females.

At first, it wasn’t clear which of the three females it was (three! it turns out “Arjuna” was also a girl!)—but on Monday we found out that it was the calico, “Lois.” The “issue” was this: The woman who’d adopted her had declined to use a carrier, leash, or other restraint, feeling confident about carrying Lois out of the Jefferson City Animal Shelter and into her car in her arms.

. . . Can you see where this is going? Everyone who’s ever carried a cat and had it wriggle free out of your arms, raise your hand!

Google “Jefferson City Animal Shelter” and look at the satellite view to see the area we’re talking about. Right across the street from the shelter is the Jefferson City greenway trail, and beyond that, Wears Creek, which is lined by impenetrable woods. Jungley Missouri lowland woods.

Poison-ivy-choked woods.

And that’s where Lois ran, when she broke out of her new owner’s arms.

So two days had elapsed by the time I learned about what happened. (I need to be better about checking all my devices and messages, huh.) Sue and I did go out Sunday night, after ten, to walk along the greenway path near the shelter and call into the woods for her.

Jennifer had put out at least one trap, hoping to lure in a hungry, lost kitten with food, but all she got, she said, were possums and raccoons.

And we went back the next morning, and then that night, and then again, and again . . .

One evening, I met a man along the trail who said he’d just seen a black cat and a young orange calico fighting on the trail, behind Butzer’s, which is well to the east. He had broken up the fight . . . he showed me the place where the young calico had escaped back into the woods. There were even a few fluffs of orange hair left on the sidewalk from the altercation.

Gosh! Was she trying to return home? Stranger things have happened. She could get very close to home just by following Wears Creek. And sometimes cats do miraculous things along those lines . . . so we started focusing more on the area east of the shelter. But one look at the big, long, water-filled culverts under Southwest Boulevard, by the Ford dealership, was disheartening.

And the weather was horrible that week—high nineties, heat index over a hundred. Sure, she had water in the creek, but as the days went on, I had a harder and harder time imagining she could have made it. It was so hot! And she was so small.

Like other people experiencing grief and loss, I went through a “bargaining” stage, where I thought: If she would come out of the woods right now, I’d take her directly home, and we’d just adopt her. She’d never have to leave her home again. I promise.

I was quickly losing hope, and my emotional stamina was failing.

There was only so much trilling and dinging on her old food dish, so much hopeful, positive, encouraging “Here, kitty, kitty!” and “Come on, Lois!” “Come on, little girl!” that I could sing out into the thick, sultry woods—as if she was there to hear me and respond. Who am I kidding? Soaking wet from sweat, I’d come home and just cry.

And sleeping was impossible; I’d wake up, and the vision of Lois would swim before me, her demise a waking nightmare.

But Jennifer was hopeful: Lois associates people with food, she reasoned, so if she gets hungry enough, she very likely will leave the woods and start approaching people. Using a photo we’d taken of Lois, Jennifer got signs made up and laminated: LOST KITTEN. She put them up along the greenway; she put them up in the neighborhood south of the woods south of the shelter; she talked to people at businesses that back up along the greenway.

I was trying to just accept that she was gone. It got so I was going through the motions: I have to be able to tell myself I did everything I could. And I was trying to convince myself that it wasn’t my fault little Lois had come to a bad ending—I had done everything just right, as far as I could tell, and her getting loose was beyond my control. I started focusing on how I could keep such a thing from happening in the future. (For starters, the Animal Shelter needs to insist that people adopting cats use some sort of restraint, a harness/leash or a carrier, or even just a single-use cardboard pet box . . . !)

I was trying to move on.

Then on Monday, July 24 (ten days after she’d run away into the woods), around 5 p.m., I heard the phone ringing and recognized (by now) Jennifer’s number. I picked it up, and she said, “I think we’ve just had a Lois sighting!”

Breathless, incredulous, I listened to her say that people in a business west of the shelter had noticed a “new” calico kitten around their building; they’re on the Wild Thing program, so apparently Lois had been getting food from them—but disappearing into the woods behind their offices, which is only a short distance, and a steep, weedy slope from the back side of Target. The city's Target store is actually just behind the Animal Shelter. You wouldn't think it is, but sure enough.

They’d seen her less than an hour ago. I told Jennifer I was heading out right now.

First, I looked at the office park, but it didn’t seem too promising—I didn’t want to trespass behind those businesses, although I thought I might have heard a “meow” in response to my calling. (By this point, I was ready to believe I was hallucinating.) A little frustrated, I drove clear around to Target, wended through its parking lot, and parked along the deserted southeast wall. I had with me the food dish and a can of stinky canned cat food.

I looked down the shrubby, impenetrable, but rather short slope toward the area she’d just been, and I called and dinged on the food bowl. Almost immediately I heard meowing in response. It took a while before I could see her, but then she appeared: Lois! A few weeks older and skinnier, but Lois indeed!

She was wary. Come on, little girl (I was trying to remember the voice I’d used when I spoke to them when they were in our backyard). I kept talking, using all the weird, unique little voices and trills I used. I think she remembered. Still . . . she didn’t come forward. She was only about six or eight feet below the top of the hill, but I sure couldn’t reach her. Time for the food.

I didn’t have a spoon, so I dipped my fingers into the can of food and flipped some at her.

Well, that got a response! She was indeed hungry!

I tried to make a trail of cat food up the hill between us. And I pushed some food onto the dish I’d brought, making what I hoped was a lot of appetizing clattering in the process. While Lois was snarfing up the good stuff on the slope below, Jennifer drove up. When she got out of her vehicle, I pointed and mouthed: “It’s her!!!” Jennifer walked closer and peered down the slope: “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe this!”

She had just set a trap behind the business below, but she drove back around to put it at the top of the hill.

There were a lot of weeds, brush, and garbage, and I was in my slipperiest flip-flops. Lois wasn’t coming up, so tried to descend to the side of her, hopefully to go past her and then back up behind her, to kind of drive her closer to the top of the slope, where I’d left the can and dish of food.

This didn’t work; she skittered farther down when she saw me coming. But when I walked back up the hill, she simply followed me. I moved the food to where I’d been, then stepped back, and she scampered up the rest of the hill to the bowl—level ground—and I simply walked up to her, grabbed her and the food bowl, and (holding onto her very securely) took us all into my car. I didn’t let go of her until I had us all inside, the door shut, the car on, and window rolled up.

She freaked out for just a moment—bounced from the front seat up onto the dashboard—but I grabbed her and set her down on the floor in front of her smelly canned cat food, and she started eating and purring. And that was that. From then on, she didn’t stop purring for about the next twenty-four hours!

I waited for Jennifer to return. When she did, Lois was sitting in the back of the car, enjoying the A/C, and apparently waiting for us to go home. We didn’t talk long; mainly talked about how amazed we are, and about adoption stuff.

Even before Jennifer had picked up the kittens, we had told her that if there was any problem or delay in getting any of them adopted, we’d be glad to just take her/him/them back. At that time, we had nightmare visions of one of them possibly languishing for days in a cage at a shelter—we didn’t dream anything like this could have happened.

So that offer, plus the more metaphysical “bargaining” I did while we were calling for her, pretty much closed the deal. And so we have adopted Lois.

Because Patches is the queen of our house, and is rather elderly and quite deaf, we’ve decided not to try to incorporate Lois into her world. We’ll make good use of our first floor being a separate apartment, and Lois will live on the first floor while Patches has the rest of the house. (When we adopted Patches, she lived on the first floor the same way, since Nikki was our elderly, frail queen cat at the time. What goes around comes around.)

Sue was almost as ecstatic as Lois when she came home. I stood beside the doorway, holding Lois, as she came up the stairs to her office: “Sue, did you get my messages?” “No, my battery ran out.” “Well . . . I have something to share with you . . . Surprise!”

Sue’s expression was priceless. She was astonished, also, because she’d had a dream that morning that Lois had returned—a dream that literally came true.

And Lois—considering she must have been exhausted after ten days in the wilderness—didn’t really sleep until the next afternoon. Sue slept in our guest bedroom on the first floor that night to keep an eye on her. And every ten minutes, Sue said, Lois renewed her purring and nuzzling and kneading.

Here are some photos of Lo-Lo since she’s returned.

Her first night at home, we let her go outside in the backyard so she could visit with her mamma. What a reunion! Lois wanted to nurse, and Thumby let her try. I doubt she was lactating anymore, having been spayed, but it’s the sentiment that counts. The picture says it all.

We sat outside with the kitties well into the evening. For the next hours, Lois trotted after her mamma like a little lamb. Sensing Thumby getting rather annoyed at times, we gave her breaks by periodically picking up and petting Lois. Even unrelated Rufus, the neutered male of our backyard clan, seemed interested in the returned kitten.

When we went back inside, we brought Lois with us. And oddly enough, she has not shown any interest in going back outside. On Friday morning, she went outside, tried to nurse from her mom, and her mom hissed at her (well, it’s time for weaning). And Lois came back in and doesn’t seem interested in going back out. Which is fine with us.

We have plenty of cat stuff—extra litter boxes, cat furniture, toys, etc.—so she’s like a little princess in her own apartment. Since Sue’s office is on that floor, she gets a lot of people-time.

As I write this, just a few days after her return, Lois is already gaining back her weight. She’s calmed down a lot; she has a pleasant demeanor. She has excellent litter box habits.

But her personality has changed since the day I put her and her siblings into the carrier two weeks ago. Then, she was a precocious, aloof, smarty-pants junior cat’s cat. We meant “food,” and she wasn’t afraid of us . . . but she wasn’t very attuned to us. But since her ordeal and return home, she seems to have decided that we are the best people in the world. We’re rock stars!

We’re family.

. . . Amazing how luck can so suddenly appear!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Bluebird versus Honda Mirror

This is a new thing for me: a male bluebird attacking the mirror of a car. I've seen other birds (especially male cardinals!) engaging in this territorial behavior, but not a bluebird. So this is a first.

(A quick internet search revealed that American robins often attack their reflections in mirrors and windows, too, and bluebirds and robins are pretty closely related--they're both thrushes, look at their body shapes, legs, and bills--so it shouldn't be a surprise that both do it.)

Look! Mr. Bluebird was so obsessed with fighting his perceived interloper (who absolutely refused to leave and was always there in the mirror each time he looked), he let me get close enough for some pictures:

Oh, it was so hot last week! Maybe the bird was feeling extra peevish, nervous, and out-of-sorts. I didn't notice the bluebird doing this yesterday, when it was cooler. But on Thursday, when I took these pictures, it got up into the high nineties by midday, and at midmorning he was panting from his exertions.

Here's a fun quiz: "How can you tell when a bird's been attacking your car's mirrors?" Two pictures provide the answer:

. . . And how do you keep the birds away from your mirrors (if not to protect the mirrors, then at least to prevent the bird from hurting his bill or from getting heatstroke)? In the past, my parents have slipped a big old sock over their mirrors: easy on, easy off.

My solution was to tie a ubiquitous white plastic grocery bag around each mirror. It looks ridiculous, and it's a bit of a pain to untie them in order to drive somewhere . . . but at least it saves the bird from wasting his precious energy attacking a mirage.

Silly thing. There's a reason why calling someone a "birdbrain" is an insult.

Of course, after I put bags over my mirrors, he moved on to our neighbor's car.

And one final thought: Wowsa! We have bluebirds in our neighborhood!

We have not had a great number of, well, interesting songbirds in our neighborhood recently (of course; see post on cats below). We have the usual: bluejays, grackles, cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, catbirds, Carolina wrens, and occasional flocks of waxwings that come through. There are also plenty of chimney swifts and mourning doves, and a few Eurasian collared doves, as well.

But this summer we have seen at least three bluebirds (the male plus a female plus a female or immature male), which clearly are living somewhere in the area; I love their songs, those mellow little comments. And last night at sunset, we watched a kingbird repeatedly fly out from the top of the pine trees across the street.

It's been a real treat. I hope they all stick around!

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Kittens

July 13, 2017

To whomever you are, the kind persons who adopt the kittens we’ve cared for since they were born, here is some information you will be glad to have about their first weeks of life.

This litter was born in late April 2017. We had known their mom was pregnant and had been keeping an eye on her—when she disappeared, we figured she’d given birth. It took us a few days to find out where she was hiding them. But I’m getting ahead of the story; you should learn more about mamma.

The mother of these kitties is a thin, polydactylic (extra-fingered) tan/brown tortoiseshell. She appeared in our Munichburg neighborhood about three years ago—apparently she had been the pet of one of the many renters on our block, who apparently moved away without notifying her—and taking her with them. We have a revolving door of abandoned cats on our block, thanks to plenty of low-income rentals, and people who don’t take responsibility for their pets. We feed the cats they leave behind and work with Wild Thing Feral Feline Fix to keep them from breeding. Unfortunately, we were unable to get “mamma” fixed “in time.”

So back when “mamma” first appeared in our backyard, as a young adult cat, she had to try to fit in with four or five other, interrelated cats, which was difficult for her. Compared to the semi-feral cats, she was rather outgoing and loved to be petted. As time has gone on, however, she has become more wary.

By the way, we often call her “Thumby” (Thummy) for the large thumbs on her front paws.

Last year, Thumby had a litter of kittens—her first—but some never-supervised neighbor children discovered them and carried them away when they were quite young, and we didn’t see them again. No wonder Thumby hid her second litter carefully!

So when Thumby had this litter, we kept an eye on her to see where she might be hiding her kittens. I found her nursery one morning when I was mowing our lawn—Thumby flashed away from my mower and ran up the steps by our driveway, hesitating halfway up to stare wildly at me and hiss. I immediately stopped the mower and investigated . . . she had emerged from a yucca plant near our driveway. I approached cautiously and peered into a sheltered hollow on the ground amid its base of bladelike leaves—the leaves, bending over, formed a perfect little chamber for the litter—and what I saw looked like Easter eggs. It was only about a week after Easter! The little calico looked like a pretty Easter egg, curled up with her gray and white spotted siblings. I didn’t reach in or touch or pester them—they were sleeping, and mamma was watching worriedly from the steps behind me.

We kept an eye on them, and when it looked like it was going to rain, we rigged up a shelter out of a cat carrier near the yucca plant . . . but when it finally rained that evening, mamma moved all her kittens into our backyard, under a potting bench that offered excellent shelter. This is also near where we regularly feed our the stray kitties. It wasn’t long after this, and after a continued stretch of rainy weather, that she moved the kittens into our downstairs sunporch.

She soon got into the pattern of staying indoors with the kittens, in our sunporch, during the night, then spending days nursing the kittens under the potting bench. We lured her and her kittens indoors each evening with canned food—ensuring they’d have a peaceful night, safe from raccoons, opossums, stray dogs, and other cats that roam our neighborhood at nights.

And so the kittens grew up more or less indoors, amid the miscellaneous extra furniture, lawn furniture, and boxes we store on our sunporch; it is basically a carpeted garage. They learned to use a litter box early; we rigged up a spare bonsai pot as a step for them to get in and out of the box.

We worked at socializing them with people, picking them up and petting them, holding them on our laps, being gentle overall, cooing and talking to them, and playing “string” and “milk jug ring” and then “string tied to milk jug ring.” They also loved the catnip mice we bought for them! They totally hid them somewhere; good thing we bought a three-pack!

As they’ve gotten older and the temperatures have grown hot, they spend less time indoors, as our sunporch is not air-conditioned. They all have acquired fleas pretty bad, but I have not felt confident about them being old enough to tolerate Cheristan or other topical flea treatments. Sorry; I hope that when they are settled in a “forever” home, you’ll rid them of fleas and they’ll receive all the veterinary care they deserve—and they do deserve the best.

I should talk about their individual personalities, which have emerged quite strongly.

First is “Lois,” whom we named for an older cousin whose personality is distinctly strong-willed, smart, and straightforward. Practical. Lois is the calico that looked so much like an Easter egg the first time I glimpsed her as she was curled up with her littermates. She has been the first to try anything.

The first to venture away from the nest (I think the first to open her eyes, too). The first to start nibbling at solid food. The first to play “string” with us. The first to start climbing on anything and everything. The first to clamber up the one step to our sunporch. The first to venture farthest out into the yard. You get the picture.

She has a no-nonsense personality yet at times rather sad eyes—a sort of gravitas far beyond her years—er, weeks of life. Her head, face, and build is a lot like her mom’s . . . although she is fluffy, I suppose, like her father (whoever he is).

Second is “Half-Gray” (sorry, we never came up with a name for him; I’m sure you will devise something clever and fitting)—“named” for the way his face is divided into gray and white sides (which is a quick way of distinguishing him from his similar-looking sister, whose coloration is more balanced-looking).

The gray and black markings on his back are something like his brother’s. He is a little athlete, with a chipper personality. He is the one that almost always mews when you pick him up. He was the first one to purr, and he is the one who purrs the easiest. He will be a good-time kitty, a cat’s cat, and a true friend to his humans. He likes to jump onto plants—I told you, he’s an athlete. Of all the cats in this litter, we think he would be a good kitty for someone with kids.

When Jennifer of Wild Things came to pick up mamma and the four kittens, the mamma was trapped in a cage on our lawn (she’d been there a few hours, and we’d put a sheet over the cage to keep her calm), and three of the kittens were fast asleep—making them relatively easy to pick up and put in a carrier. But “Half-Gray” was nowhere to be found. We discovered that he was sleeping under the extra folds of the sheet we’d put over mamma’s cage. I thought it was sweet that he, of all the four, had wanted to be near her. Indeed, as soon as she was trapped, he went over to her, and he must have stayed by her the whole time.

Third is “Dreamboat”—again, a non-name. We also call her “Sleepy.” I’ve played around with calling her “Doris” and “Debbie,” but I’m sure you’ll think of a pretty name for her—to match her prettiness. She’s fluffy, with marbled gray and black on her back, with white paws, a white face and shirt front, and pink nose.

Practically a show cat. Once, when we were letting the kittens explore some of our house, she found a floor-to-ceiling mirror at the end of a hallway—and actually saw her own reflection! She tried to play with it.

From Day One, she has been the sleepiest of the four. Her favorite “game” is “The Perfect Sleeper”! When we would enter the sunporch with delicious canned cat food, all the cats would get excited—but she would snooze on. She’s extremely easy-going, and she would be an excellent cat for an older person. I’ll bet she behaves very well in a home. She will probably have a tendency to put on weight; she’ll probably be one of those cats whose food you must ration.

And she will be someone’s dear little snugglepuss. Of the four, she is the one that seems to identify with people best—she looks deep into our eyes as if trying to read our thoughts. The day Jennifer picked her up, little Dreamboat was lying flat on her side on a flat rock in the shade next to a flower bed. It was a hot day, but she looked cool and comfortable. It was especially hard to put her into the carrier.

The fourth kitten is one we’ve called Arjuna, or Arjie, or Archie. He is the one that’s all gray tabby, the only one with truly short hair like his mamma (not fluffy), and the only one to have inherited his mother’s extra digits on his forepaws. I hope whoever adopts him looks well beyond the novelty of his unusual hands—for he is a complex cat. He’ll need someone who can tolerate some weirdness.

He’s the “runt”—always got pushed away from mamma’s teats by the other kittens, had a hard time nosing into the food bowl at dinner time. He kind of developed a Napoleon complex—out of nowhere, he jumps onto his siblings and picks “fights” with them (kitten sparring, rolling, tumbling). He loves to play with things—often, he would be last to the dinner bowl because he was distracted by something he had found on the floor to play with. He loves games that involve him swatting his big forepaws down onto something—like smacking at a string being dragged across the floor, or batting around a nugget of garden mulch.

But despite his apparent aggressiveness and fearlessness, he is the only one of the litter that has been fearful of us—he has habitually run away when we reach for him. We named him Arjuna for one of the main characters in the Bhagavad Gita, a famous, indomitable warrior who, at the beginning of the text, collapses in fear and worry as he surveys the opposing army. I could see little Arjie requiring a little extra patience, and an understanding of his extra energy and weird cat ideas. He is a complex character and will be a unique, unforgettable fur person.

If anyone’s thinking of getting two of the kittens together, I’d suggest Lois and Arjuna together, and the two gray and white ones together (Half-Gray and Dreamboat). Arjuna also gets along well with Half-Gray (the two boys).

But they all get along fine with each other.

Here’s another picture of their mother. We have several more photos of the kittens (including when they were younger) and of their mamma and would be glad to share them with the people who adopt these kittens. . . . I know I wish I had photos of my cats—which we adopted as full-grown adults—so I could see what they looked like as kittens, to see what their littermates looked like, to see pictures of their mamma.

Best wishes,
Jule Schroeder