Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bat Story

Although the picture to the right isn't of the best quality, it does show a strange creature in the left corner of the triangular eave on our house. This is our resident bat. He or she lives in the eave at the very top of the roof on the outside of the house. A screen keeps it from entering through the attic. Jay happened to spot "Batty" this past weekend peering out from its vantage spot. It was difficult for my camera to zoom in close enough to get a good shot. The rest of photos which follow are taken by professionals.

The point? I'm not afraid of bats or creepy critters that cause fear in most people. I try to recognize the purpose and uniqueness of all the creatures, even snakes, many insects, bats, rodents, lizards, spiders, moths... you get the picture. The animals I can't stand are cock roaches, mosquitoes, horse flies, ticks and other parasites. The bat living in our belfry is encouraged, knowing how useful they are at eating mosquitoes. Did you know that some species of bats consume an average of 500 to 1000 mosquitoes an hour? I want more bats around my house!

Speaking of bats, this brings up a negative aspect of this amazing creature.....they can easily carry rabies. So it's not just the average human fear of a blood-sucking, ugly, skin-covered creature that flies at night and sparks vampire movies, there's the fatal disease factor which is a real concern should one get bitten. The reader should note that only Vampire Bats drink blood; they live in South America and tend to prey upon livestock.

Last summer I was away at a cat show in New York and talking to Jay on the phone that evening. Suddenly, Jay said, "I gotta go, there's a bat in the house!" About 15 minutes later, Jay called back to report that he'd been bitten by the bat. Now, how often have we pet owners said that there's no need for us to vaccinate our cats against rabies because they never go outside? Bats and raccoons don't go in houses, right? Well, this bat did. Apparently, when Jay had opened the back door to let Chardonnay, our dog, back in the house, the bat slipped in unnoticed. Either it was flying around the light getting bugs and flew in or it was nestled in the corner of the doorway and the suction of the door opening pulled it in the house. Either way, Jay noticed the cats and the dog going crazy then he saw the bat.

Someone else holding a bat - don't try this at home!
Being home alone, Jay couldn't tell someone to go into the basement to get the fishing net, his first thought. He was afraid to leave the bat unwatched for fear that he'd lose sight of it. The bat flew down the length of the hall to the dining room, cats and dog in frenzied pursuit. As it came back toward the kitchen where Jay stood, it went toward Jay's head. He instinctively put his hand up to deflect it and the bat bit him on the finger. Well, that was the bat's mistake. Jay grabbed my raincoat of the back of the nearby chair and swung it, bringing the bat to the floor underneath the jacket. I don't know quite how he killed the little guy and I don't want to know.

Once I found out what happened, I questioned Jay several times about how close the cats had gotten to the bat, was there any chance one had been bitten? The dog is up to date on rabies shots, but I'd allowed the cats who had retired from showing to lapse. A bat's teeth are so sharp and its bite can be so small, it can go unnoticed. Jay teased me later about being more concerned about the cats than I was about him. Yeah, well humans don't have to have their heads cut off to test them, animals do.
Jay ended up in the Urgent Care on a Saturday night. The doctor recommended that since it could take until Tuesday to get the rabies test back on the bat, it would be dangerous to not to begin the rabies series of shots right away, just in case. Jay was given a schedule of when he would have to come back in for follow-up shots, at least four more times. The fact that the bat came in the house was not good as a healthy wild animal normally won't do that. Jay got 6 shots, including one in the bitten finger.

I called our vet in a panic on Monday morning to get a list of our cats whose rabies vaccinations had expired and brought those cats in immediately. I learned that many professionals who work with animals are vaccinated against rabies, including my vet. Every year she has to have her rabies titer tested to make sure it is still high enough to protect her. She says she prays each year that her titer level will be good enough so that she doesn't have to have the painful booster shot. This was why the vet wasn't too worried about my cats as she figured their titers were still high enough even with out a recent booster to protect them.

Animal Control came to the house to pick up the bat on Sunday. The officer called back on Monday to report that the bat was healthy. What a relief that Jay didn't have to go through the whole series of shots! As a matter of fact, the Ledyard Animal Control officer was so professional and concerned that Jay sent her supervisor a letter of commendation.

We feel badly that the bat died needlessly, but it left us little choice after it bit Jay. So Jay is now Batman and the designated wild animal wrangler should the need ever arise. We figure he has a good resistant rabies titer now. All of my kitten buyers are advised to have their cats vaccinated for rabies, regardless of the fact the cat won't be allowed out. Before opening the back door at night in the summer now, we look and call out a warning for any bats to move out of the way. I still appreciate the bat, but we really prefer them to stay outside.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Chickies Are Here!

I've been waiting for their arrival to post about my new venture.....hens. I've been wanting to get some sort of ground dwelling outdoor bird for a while to help keep the tick population down. We live in Connecticut, famous for the discovery of Lyme disease in nearby Lyme, CT. Jay has always boasted of the superior fertilizer created by chickens. For the past year, we've been getting our eggs from the Groton Family Farm where the red and black hens are so curious and cute. Knowing how most animals used for consumption are raised, I felt good about getting our eggs from happy hens who roamed a fenced in pasture. Jay always raved about how much better the farm raised eggs tasted. After talking to one of the vet techs who has chickens at Stonington Veterinary Hospital where I take the other pets and getting encouragement from Jay, I started looking into chickens seriously.

I found Backyard to have a lot of good information about the care and keep of chickens. I researched the various hatcheries as I couldn't find a local feed store that had chicks. Even the one hatchery I found located in Norwalk told me they just have the home office in Connecticut and the chicks all come from Ohio. It turns out most chickens are hatched in Ohio...who knew? Seems to be the central location for shipping but a lot of hatcheries have a minimum of 25 chicks per shipment.

My original goal was to have 3 hens, no roosters (yes they can lay eggs without a rooster). I learned about roosters from experience as a kid when I kept my horse at the neighbor's barn. The Burrell's had several chickens, Guinea hens and one rooster. Not only was I warned that the rooster may try to "flog" (attack) me, I found that they crow all day, not just in the morning. Roosters are beautiful, but loud and not for me.

The Meyer Hatchery could ship as few as 3 chicks, but recommended a larger number so they can better share body warmth. Chicks are shipped out the same day they are hatched because they have 72 hours of yolk stored in their bodies. After that time, shipping gets a lot more complicated because they have to eat so often. Seems cruel to a Maine Coon breeder who won't let her kittens leave before they are 12 weeks old, but hey, they are the experts.

After researching the breeds, I settled on 4 Americaunas, also known as the Easter Hen because of the blue-green colored eggs they lay. The Americauna is a multi-colored bird and supposed to be a friendly hen. I later added 6 Silver Spangled Hamburgs to the shipment because I was getting nervous that they may not all make it. Hamburgs are white with black-tipped feathers and lay white eggs. We wanted the chickens for bug control, eggs, manure and as pretty pets. Jay has been joking about naming them; Roaster, Fryer, Tender, etc. prompting Kelsey to adamently remind him that no chicken killing is allowed. Sorry, I couldn't eat something I named.

As I had to wait over a month for my chicks to be available (yes, there is a waiting list for chickens), I had time to read up on chicken care, gather supplies and plan for their brooder pen. They will stay inside in the brooder (a ferret cage I had in the basement) until they are about 5 weeks old. Then they will go outside to the chicken coop that Jay will build by adapting the fort side of the swingset.

My peeps were set to ship out on their birthday, May 26th. I had alerted the Ledyard Post Office to expect them but by 5 pm on the 27th, no chicks. I had stayed home all day awaiting their call. This morning at 7:00, Linda from the Post Office called to let me know my chicks were here! I plugged in their heat lamp to get it warmed up for them and rushed to the post office (about a 1 mile drive for us). Linda joked about me being a new mom, let me into the back and opened the peeping box to check their condition. All ten were alive and chickie cute.

So they are finally here. As I came in the door carrying my peeping box, I was followed all the way to the basement by a cat entourage. The only name Kelsey has determined so far is Foster, she's the blond Americana. I relate their colors and patterns to dogs and cats so the Hamburgs are the smaller, merle patterned chicks; like on an Australian shephard. Three of the Americaunas look like brown tabby colors. Foster would be a solid cream. I made sure the brooder is cat proof and have tried to explain to the cats that these are not toys. They do like the new entertainment though.

I know my family will now have fresh material for Jay...."Sharon always wanted to live on a farm, Jay."
"Be careful, not only does she love horses, but she always talked about wanting a Jersey cow too and you have the space for it."

Olivia and Kinsey check out the chicks

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mother-Daughter Matching

When my sister Diana and I were little, our mother bought or sewed matching dresses for us and once she made dresses for all three of us. Diana and I are two years apart in age, but didn't look that much alike except that we were your typical adorable little girls. Diana was born with blond hair and I have always been a brunette so it was easy to disown each other.
Likewise, when my kids were little, I tried to match them for Christmas photos. Since mine are two different genders, I gradually moved to getting Tyler a green shirt and a matching one in red for Kelsey. Then I found Fresh Produce dresses in Mystic. Kelsey and I looked so cute in our little matching dresses. By that time, Tyler was into his own look and resisted my suggestions to get a shirt to match his mom and sister.
But those days are gone. Kelsey is almost 14 years old and quite frankly, I'd be worried if she wanted to dress like me now. She makes fun of my clothes, my hair, my face, my everything. Too bad she looks so much like me....the poor girl is doomed.
This past weekend, Jay, Kelsey and I went to the Virtu Art Festival in nearby Westerly, Rhode Island. We had gone last year but didn't allow enough time to canvas all of Wilcox Park so I planned to spend the whole day there this year. The art festival is outdoors among gorgeous flower gardens and trees that must be a few hundred years old. The artists are painters, photographers, jewelers, crafters, musicians.....all forms of art. I found the vendor who makes headbands from last year. She also makes belts, dog collars and leashes out of various fabric prints.
Kelsey pointed out that Chardonnay needed a new collar. Every few years, we give up on bleaching and washing the doggy and deer poo smell out of her collar and invest in a new one. So what could be better than to get Chardonnay a unique aqua collar with sunflowers that matched a headband for me? The kids call it "gay" but who cares? Chardonnay doesn't give me an attitude or make fun of me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Follow up on Mother's Day post from Chardonnay

I'm soooo happy to have my stitches out! I was getting pretty depressed and developed several hotspots from the stress. My family was worried that I wasn't my usual self. I stopped reminding Mommy when it was 5 o'clock so she could feed me because I just didn't feel good.

I hated getting the stitches out on Monday but I'm glad they are gone! When I saw the vet with those sharp scissors, I tried to hide my butt in the corner so they wouldn't see it. Mommy kept telling me to lay still while the doctor removed them, but it HURT! I kept eye contact with her while they worked on my butt so she could tell me it was okay. She gave me the hand signal to stay so I tried to obey. She says I was very brave and did a good job of being still even though I jumped every time they poked me.

Now that the stitches are gone, I can sit and wag my tail without pain. I hope I never have to go through that again. It was worse than when I split my claw all the way to my toe this winter. I used to love going to the vet, but I'm afraid of those people in the funny coats now.

Now all I have to do is wait for my hotspots to heal. Mommy promised I'll get a new summer hair cut soon so I won't look so silly in back. Thanks to everybody who sent me get well wishes, especially Logan.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Not a Morning Person

I snore occasionally. My husband Jay complains sometimes and Kelsey makes fun of me. Jay used to get angry about it until I made him understand that I honestly don't do it on purpose. Apparently it can be loud enough at times that Jay feels like he has to hang onto the side of the bed to keep from getting sucked into the black hole of my gaping mouth (I would fit in well at a nursing home). It can be embarrassing when you realize that you're at your worst when you're unconscious. It keeps me from falling asleep on park benches. I've gone to ENT doctors, researched different remedies, tried taking antihistamines before bedtime, etc. So much for the doctor who promised me I'd no longer snore after he removed my tonsils and adenoids as a child.

Yesterday (Sunday) Jay and I made a 5 hour round trip to Hopewell Junction, New York. We'd driven there to get a good price for the feline HCM clinic being held. If you can get your cat ultra sounded by a good board certified cardiologist for $100, you drive. We took two cats, Olivia and Boo; both have very healthy hearts. Jay enjoyed talking fly-fishing with Dr. Joel Edwards and I enjoyed talking cats with other cat people.

Even though I'd slept in the car, I couldn't shake the feeling of exhaustion and headed to bed early. Jay stayed up later to prepare for the class he starts today for the summer at UCONN Law School.

Around 1:30 AM, I woke up and realized Jay hadn't come to bed yet. Well, either he was still up studying (doubtful) or I'd had a bad snoring night, he'd had enough and decided to sleep on the couch. Let me emphasize here that 360 days out of the year, my snoring is not so bad to send Jay out of the room, especially if he gets to sleep first. I went back to sleep.

When I later dragged myself out of bed at 6:30, Jay was already getting out of the shower. As I schlepped into the bathroom to brush my teeth, I asked him what happened last night. He said my snoring was so bad, he tried to wake me up 4 times and finally gave up, going downstairs to sleep on the couch. Jay went on and on about how awful it was while I brushed. I abruptly spit out the toothpaste and looked at the tube of white stuff I'd just put on my toothbrush.

"Are you still mad at me?" I asked him.

"No, why?"

"Because I just brushed my teeth with the athlete's foot cream you left on the sink."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day and by law, it's a bright sunny day. Although I have 2 teenagers, my biggest worry this past week was our canine child, a Golden Retriever named Chardonnay. Chardonnay is 8 years old but has always acted like she's much younger with the maturity level of a 3-year-old child. So much for a laid back middle-aged dog; her gray hair started showing up when she turned three, but that's been her only sign of aging. She still runs hard, plays hard, greets everyone at the door as if she's missed them for years.....the ultimate poster child for unconditional love.

A week or so ago, it was nice and warm out so I decided that Chardonnay was overdue for a bath. We have to bathe her outside with the hose which is fed by freezing cold well water, so I prefer hot days. Chardonnay is so great at taking a bath that I remove her collar and she will just stand there and allow me to manipulate her body around to wash her. It was a good thing I bathed her because otherwise I don't know when we would have noticed the quarter-sized bubbling growth under tail, right above her rectum. It looked very painful, but didn't seem to bother her.
Off to the vet to check out Chardonnay's butt growth. The kids were concerned but afraid to look "down there". Kelsey has often claimed that she hated the dog because she's a pain. A lot of this is simply manipulation to convince me that we need to get another, smaller dog. Kelsey finally admitted recently that she doesn't really hate Chardonnay as she wished her luck with her butt at the vet.
The vet asperated the growth to send off to the lab for analysis but warned me that 70% of growths in the anal area are malignant. Of course, all the worries get worse. Chardonnay is getting old whether we're ready to accept it or not. It doesn't seem fair that our beloved pets have such short chapters in our human lives. She is such a part of our family we couldn't imagine our household without her. We have many Maine Coons, but only one dog so yes, she is extra special.
I waited anxiously all day for the vet to call. I finally called them that afternoon and was told they had the results but the vet would have to call me back to talk to me. More waiting. Finally the phone rang. The vet reported that she had a benign perianal adenoma. I opened the bedroom door and yelled out the news to Tyler and Jay downstairs, "No cancer!" The tears would've come no matter what the news, but tears of relief were good. Now I just had to worry that her surgery would go okay and she wouldn't lose control of her bowels as a result.

Chardonnay had her growth removed this past Friday and came home the same day. She seems comfortable and has normal bowel movements. The family is happy and relieved to have the tumor behind us (pun intended). I don't know how long the new Chardonnay appreciation will last but she is enjoying the extra loving for now. The concern is replaced with trying not to laugh at her new doo.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Trials and Tribulations of Cat Breeding

When you get a cat who exemplifies everything you love about cats, as a breeder you want to reproduce it. I got Cassie almost 2 years ago from Broadsway cats in North Carolina. Cassie was intended to replace another breeding female I'd gotten from the broads at Broadsway who was only able to have singleton litters. Amy has nice kittens, but just one at a time (there's been one exception to that when she gave birth to 5 but that happened after Cassie came to us).

Cassie is a ticked torbie, meaning she has the torbie colors of brown and red mixed together but has the ticked pattern with no stripes except on her head and legs. A ticked pattern in a torbie causes the colors to look rather muted rather than the regular flash torbies have. Therefore, I don't really care for the ticked pattern in a torbie but from the moment I met Cassie at the show hotel in Pennsylvania, I loved her. This was a kitten who oozed personality from the beginning. She walked right up and greeted me like a dog would, happy for any adventure. So even though she was ticked, Cassie had me with hello. I named her Broadsway Cascapedia of Dracoonfly, aka Cassie.

Cassie's personality only improved as she aged. She gives little "chirps" when she wants you to pick her up. She will also reach up like a small child, waiting for you to hold her in your arms. Once Cassie is face-to-face with her human, she rubs both sides of her head against your cheeks. If someone ignores or doesn't notice Cassie's attempts to be picked up, she just jumps in your arms from the floor. It's best to be ready to catch her in this case because Cassie will naturally dig her claws in if she feels like she'll fall from your chest. Cassie's sweetness is unbiased, and she compliments new acquaintances as well as family with her affection.

Unfortunately, as Cassie grew up, she also developed intense car-sickness. After too many times of having to clean diarrhea out of her coat at the cat shows, I decided that Cassie had enough of showing and I was tired of smelling like crap. She has a beautiful typey head, but that didn't justify torturing both of us. So Cassie stayed home to be bred...except for one problem....she wouldn't go into heat. My Maine Coons are generally late bloomers and have been known to wait until almost one year to start cycling so I was patient. I know cats can have silent heats so after a while, I put her with my male to see if he could detect a readiness that I couldn't. No, Bugger just kissed her on the head, but no interest "that way". I put her with my other male and he also seemed to just want to be friends. This went on for several months until Cassie was a well over a year and half old.

By this time, I declared that even if Cassie could never have kittens, she was staying with us forever. Normally, I have to spay and place cats I can't breed so the house doesn't get over crowded but Cassie is special to my heart. I was discussing Cassie's problem with my friend Lynn who is also a Maine Coon breeder Lynn suggested a change of view for Cassie might inspire her to cycle and offered her male, Toro, a brown tabby with high white. Well, it worked! Lynn reported that Cassie was acting like she was in heat and although she never actually witnessed a breeding, she was sure Toro had done the job.

On the day I was to meet Lynn and get Cassie back, her husband Howard noticed that Cassie's neck had a nasty sore on it. Apparently when Toro tried to breed Cassie, she kept rolling to the side. Cats can only do it in one position so Toro naturally tried to hold Cassie upright by her scruff. Toro is a gentleman with the ladies so I don't blame him at all for doing what he had to do. However, Lynn thought that Cassie's injury was serious enough that she needed to go to her vet before I got her back. Cat bites are dangerous even to cats and Cassie's wound had absessed. She needed stitches and drains put in. Not a pretty sight. Lynn and Howard felt terrible and even refused to let me pay for Cassie's bill. Cassie could care less even though she looked like she'd been decapitated and had her head sewn back on.

Once home, I was warned by my vet that with all that Cassie had gone through with surgery, there was a good chance the pregnancy wouldn't take or the kittens could have serious birth defects. I realize that with cat breeding, it's never as simple as putting two cats together, they breed and have healthy babies. Things can and do go wrong more often than not. However, I remained optimistic....having complete faith that since I was lucky enough for Cassie to finally get pregnant, everything would work out.

I counted down on the calendar and determined Cassie's due date was May 22nd. She got larger and wisely stopped jumping into my arms though she still begged to be picked up. Meanwhile, Ginger had had a litter of 6. A few days after Ginger's kittens were born, Jay and I were talking downstairs after coming inside from a nap on the hammock. We heard the sound of a newborn kitten crying upstairs. Jay remarked that it sounded like Ginger was moving kittens. Upon checking in on Ginger in our bedroom and she calmly looked at me from her kittens' bed. Clearly, Ginger's kittens were fine. Then where was the crying coming from?

I crossed the hall to Kelsey's room and found two newborn kittens on her floor with Amy hovering around them. Amy hadn't been pregnant had she? And if so, who bred her? These kittens had white and neither Amy nor Bugger had white on them. I started hollering for Jay and checked the mess under Kelsey's bed for more kittens. I found Cassie under there with another kitten and afterbirth mess on her bottom. She wasn't due for another 2 or 3 weeks but these kittens were a very good size, definitely full term and healthy.

As it turns out, I completely miscounted on the calendar. Cassie delivered after 66 days of gestation, very normal for cats. By the time I found the kittens, the cords were cut and they were dry already. Good thing one of us knew what she was doing. Two of the kittens are ticked tabbies like their mother, so I named them Rikki, Tikki and Tavi. Hopefully all three have inherited their mother's good sense and sweetness too.

Cassie with Rikki, Tikki and Tavi