Saturday, June 26, 2010

Broody and Moody

The chickens haven't been idle since I introduced the seven newbies, so I thought I'd update on what they've been doing.  Turns out that after all my research into the best breeds of chickens to keep in the cold climates as pets, a key piece of information was omitted by the chicken experts.  Silkie chickens have a common defect of a hole in their skulls.  This is what contributes to their cute little topnotch as part of their brains bulge out of the hole to create that look.  The hole doesn't close up apparently.  The problem with this is that it makes the Silkie susceptable to brain injury.  I discovered this after finding Frodo, our red Silkie, in apparent seizures at about 2 weeks of age.  She/he (we don't really know the gender yet but Kelsey insists it's a she) was uncontrollably dropping her head between her legs and doing somersaults.  At times, she seemed so out of it, I was certain she'd die or I'd have to have her euthanized.  I asked some questions on and found out about the skull defect in the breed.  We jokingly referred to her as the Flippin' Chicken.  Luckily, Frodo's brain gradually healed and after a couple of weeks the somersaults stopped.  However, she remains a special needs chick as we'll find her with her head in a corner, not aware of how to back up or turn around.  Or she'll be under a bush by herself while the rest of the flock is in another part of the yard.  Kelsey has taken Frodo under her wing, making the question of "Where's Frodo?" her summer project. 

Thelma, our Jersey Giant hen, the big girl who never misses a day when it comes to egg production, went broody.  Going broody is a term used when a hen decides it's time to hatch chicks.  She will sit on the nest, with or without eggs under her, and rarely come off to eat, drink or do regular chicken activities.  Simon and Garfunkel's song, "Feeling Broody" wouldn't leave my head.  Broodiness is a behavior that's been bred out of most of the egg production breeds.  It's even something that certain breeds are ranked on, along with egg production, cold and heat tolerance, personality, etc.  Chickens are graded on several factors, except of course, the above-mentioned tendency toward brain injury. 

Over the past few weeks, I noticed that Thelma had been spending more time in the nesting box, sitting for hours after she'd laid her daily egg.  We had to be careful reaching under her to collect eggs as she started pecking, something none of the other hens do.  Then the day came when she didn't lay.  I returned to  One suggested method of curing a broody hen is to allow her to hatch a clutch of eggs and raise chicks as that's what her hormones are telling her to do.  With no rooster, therefore no fertile eggs and no desire by me to add more chicks, I went to Option to break a hen of her broody behavior.  There I found the following colorful suggestions posted by Rancher Hicks of Syracuse, NY:

if yu have someplace else ot move her for the night then do that. a change of venue may help. if not get a couple of good eggs and put them under her.

try the ice cube method put those under her.

take her out of the nest and slap her around a little.

put a picture of Phyliss Diller in the nest box.

if you got a teenager put her in their room, nothing cures the urge to have kids like time spent with teenagers.

ok some are better solutions than others but i'm not in a good mood. nothing serious did'nt sleep good.

bring her into the house for the night. if you've got a cat or dog that may upset her enough to throw her out of the mood. course she may not lay for awhile.


I tried putting ice cubes under Thelma, but she just melted them.  The suggestion to put the hen in a separate cage for a few days with nothing to nest on seemed the most common recommendation with no promises that anything was guaranteed.  So I pulled the ferret cage I used for the baby chicks over to the chicken coop, set it up with food and water, and put Thelma in it.  Not having a safe place to keep the cage outside at night, I moved Thelma into the coop with the others at bedtime.  The next day, I did the same thing.  It worked!  Although she hasn't started laying again yet (apparently it may take weeks after breaking a broody hen for her to get completely back to normal), Thelma is off the nest and out in the yard acting like a chicken now. 

The cage method worked so well with Thelma, I started playing with the idea that since I have a broody hen and a moody teenage daughter, perhaps the same method would work for breaking moody.  It make take years for this to work on Kelsey, but it's worth a shot, right?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kitten Buyer From Hell

I've written about my Litter From Hell, maybe mentioned a mother cat from hell, had long hellish days (as I'm sure all of you have), but I've decided to blog about my nightmare kitten buyer.  First, my disclaimers: I love meeting my kitten buyers, become personal friends with some of them, and of course, I love hearing about how much my kittens mean to their lives once they have left me.  Second disclaimer:  I've changed the name of the kitten buyer, but the story is true.  I've dealt with pompous kitten buyers, disorganized and inconsiderate kitten buyers  (if you're going to be 45 minutes late, call and tell me), and ignorant kitten buyers...I can deal with all that.  This man built up a slow boil with me that ended tragically. 

Dr. C wanted a Maine Coon kitten.  He's a medical specialist at a NYC hospital and lives in a Manhattan apartment with his mother.  From the beginning, my notes from our conversations said things like, "Needy, but a nice guy.".  He already had a male Maine Coon he said he obtained from a pet store in Manhattan, admitting it wasn't the best place to get a cat, but that the cat was okay.  He loved his cat and wanted to get him a coonpanion.  In the past, if a potential buyer told me they had a male Maine Coon and wanted a female, I would have asked for proof that the older male had been neutered, fearful that someone may want to breed her.  But since I spay and neuter my kittens before they leave me, I didn't worry about this with Dr. C. 

Like some of my kitten buyers, Dr. C was obsessive about his new kitten-to-be.  Many kitten buyers are anxious and will call or email, asking for advice because they want to do everything right for the new family member.  I see it as a sign of caring.  Dr. C, however, called about twice a week before getting his kitten from me to ask my advice on his existing pet shop cat.  He wanted to know what to feed, what I thought about what his vet said, what certain behaviors meant, etc.  I was already starting to dread his long, self-absorbed phone calls concerning a cat I wasn't responsible for.  The family even commented that we'd miss listening to his voice mails after he got his kitten as some of them were quite amusing. 

I had a mental image of what Dr. C would look like long before I met him; an older, but not old, balding man who lived with his mother, with a personality like Felix Unger from The Odd Couple.  When Dr. C showed up to meet his kitten, I was pleasantly surprised.  Sure, his mother was sitting in the back seat of his Jaguar like Miss Daisy, but Dr. C actually looked pretty hot in his shorts and he looked about my age.  The voice on the phone was opposite from what appeared in front me.  I think my jaw dropped open and stayed that way for quite some time. 

Dr. C was getting Mia, a blue torbie girl from Myra's "M Litter" (all the kittens had names beginning with the letter M).  He kept the call name we had given her.  After I'd agreed to sell Dr. C a kitten, I regretted it because of all the obsessive phone calls I received while he waited for her to mature enough to take home.  I was afraid that he'd keep up the behavior after he got his kitten, but he didn't.  As a matter of fact, after Mia went to live with Dr. C I had a hard time getting hold of him just to find out how she was doing.  I spoke to him once and he told me she'd been at his vet's for several days due to recurring diarrhea and was undergoing tests.  I asked him to let me know the results of the test, but I didn't hear from him for almost two years after that. 

Then shortly before the holidays, Dr. C's voice showed up again on my voice mail.  He said his older "pet shop" Maine Coon had Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), a fatal, incurable disease believed to mutate from the common Corona virus.  This was bad.  I was concerned more about Mia because frankly, if the other cat had FIP, that was tragic, however there was nothing I could do about it.  He was going to die anyway.  She probably had the corona virus, many cats do.  From what we know about FIP, it seems to strike the young and old cats, those with weaker immune systems, when the corona virus mutates into FIP.  I just hoped that Mia's immune system was strong enough to keep her healthy. 

The reason Dr. C called me was to let me know that he knew his other cat was going to die so he wanted to line up a replacement kitten after that happened.  I advised him to wait awhile and at least have Mia tested to make sure she didn't have a high titer for the corona virus, sometimes an indicator for FIP.  Dr. C disagreed, said he'd been consulting veterinarians from Cornell, and there was no need for Mia to be tested or wait.  Not feeling comfortable that I wanted to risk a second cat into his home, I told Dr. C I did not have a male kitten available and didn't expect to for quite some time as I had a long waiting list.  I also posted a warning about Dr. C on some of the Yahoo groups I'm on for Maine Coon breeders as I didn't want anyone else's kitten to risk exposure to a potentially fatal disease.  His male cat apparently lived a few more months, but meanwhile Dr. C called Maine Coon breeders all over the east coast, from New York to Florida, looking for a male brown tabby kitten.  Many breeders contacted me privately, asking me what was wrong with this guy.  One breeder said she'd told him she didn't have kittens and wouldn't until the summer.  He still called her 2 to 3 times a day, saying the same thing.  She asked me why Dr. C didn't "get it", she didn't have any kittens and him calling constantly wasn't going to magically produce any.  Another breeder in Pennsylvania actually accepted a deposit from Dr. C for a brown male kitten, then called me to ask advice when he started having problems with Dr. C.  Apparently Dr. C and his mother got so ugly and combative over the phone, demanding to have first pick of the litter, that the breeder broke off the agreement.  Dr. C then threatened to sue the breeder if his deposit wasn't returned by a certain date.  Another breeder in North Carolina reported similar problems with his demands.  I have to admit that Dr. C was never rude to me.  His mother barely said two words when we met.

Yes, we breeders talk about our problem kitten buyers.  Many of us are on Yahoo groups where we share information about  cat shows, kittens, triumphs, health concerns, etc.  One thing cat breeders all agree upon is that we look out for the best interest of our kittens.  A breeder I work with reported that Dr. C called them looking for a kitten, stating that his blue female "Mia" was purchased from a pet shop, but "she was okay".  This was the same language he'd used with me when talking about his other Maine Coon before he bought Mia.  So now I wondered if he'd really gotten that cat from a pet shop or just wanted to keep me from contacting his breeder as a reference.  Although obligated to keep in touch with Dr. C to a certain degree because he had one of my cats, I was certainly not going to sell him another.

Dr. C left me a voice mail a few weeks ago, saying that now his male cat had died, he thought perhaps Mia would get along better with a female kitten and it might be easier for me to have females available (Maine Coon males are more popular than females).  He rationalized that Mia had met his neighbor's female cat and got along with her.  I didn't return his call.  Two days later, he called back and I answered the phone.  This time he told me that Mia had fallen off the balcony of his apartment.  Then he went on one of his tangents about how close he'd become to her since the other cat had died, she'd only eat when he hand-fed her, he'd gotten a male kitten from a breeder in Chicago and they were getting along well, he'd tried to block off the railing to his balcony with plants he'd spent $400 on from Home Depot to keep her from jumping onto the railing, the apartment management wouldn't allow him to put up chicken wire above the balcony, but he'd let her out anyway.  When she'd jumped over the plants to perch on the railing, he'd taken her down and "given her a smack", but he said he "probably should have beaten her, maybe that would have taught her a lesson."  He knew he shouldn't let her out there, but she loved it so much and she was like his child, he couldn't say no.  A friend had warned him about the danger he was putting her in.  Still not fully getting it as I was envisioning a balcony on the second or third floor, I interrupted him to ask, "How's Mia after her fall?"  "Oh she's dead, she fell 23 stories." Mia had fallen to her death the day he'd left the voice mail asking about getting a female kitten, but he said he couldn't tell me the whole story then. I heard no angst in his voice, no crying, just excuses.  My shock over Mia's death has vacillated between anger, despair and guilt.  Writing this is supposed to be a cathartic release for me.

There was an article in the New York Times recently about how high rise dwellers are making their balconies safe havens for their cats so they can't fall off, referred to as Catios.  Too late for Mia.  At least some cat owners understand what Dr. C didn't.  Just like a small child doesn't comprehend all dangers, cats don't either.   Our responsibility is not to make excuses, but to protect them. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Kitty Spotlight

The Dracoonfly cats have been in the spotlight recently.  First, our resident stud muffin, Bugger, was selected as one of 6 out of 45 cats submitted to be photographed for a print ad for Arm &Hammer Cat Litter.  Then the following week I was asked to be interviewed for a Maine Coon segment on a show called "The Secret Life of Animals" on NECN. 

I've been contacted by animal talent agents before, but none of my cats were ever selected.  The agent has to submit pictures of animals they can bring in for their potential job, bidding against at least two other agencies.  Bugger's picture shown here was taken when he was about a year-and-a-half old during a TICA cat show around Halloween in Hartford, CT.  It was apparently this photo that Arm & Hammer liked. 

So I bathed Bugger twice that week in anticipation of his big photo shoot.  Bugger naturally has a pretty greasy coat and it needed work.  Even after the second bath, he didn't look great, but presentable.  Luckily, although the big boy can be kind of nervous, he's extremely tolerant...even standing at length in our kitchen sink that is way too small to handle a cat of his stature. 

The photo shoot was on a Thursday.  On Wednesday, I discovered I had been bitten by some bug on the top of my foot.  We suspect a deer tick.  Ironic since I got the chickens with the idea that they'd take care of the ticks and I felt the bite while in the chickens' yard.  The bite mark on my foot grew exponentially the next day so only my Crocs fit comfortably.  I threatened the chickens with the fryer for slacking off, but they just laughed at me.

The day before the shoot, the animal agent suggested that I bring a back-up cat.  Partly so the other cat gets the exposure and also in case Bugger didn't behave.  I decided to bring Bubba, Kelsey's European Burmese cat.  Bubba loves to travel and is very photogenic.  Click here to see Bubba's past photo shoots. 

Our photo shoot was scheduled from 3 to 5 pm at the Chris Collins Studio on 20th street in Manhattan.  Not being able to bring myself to wear my Crocs into the big city, I put on sandals, taking off the left one and driving with a freezer pack on top of my foot most of the way.  We were running slightly late as I had to stop for gas and to clean out the litter box.  Bubba pooped and Bugger threw up, both landing it in the box.  Bugger gets car sick easily, a problem which he demonstrates by vomiting and prolific drooling.  I had him in a large cage in the back of the van with a litter box and a bib around his neck to try to soak up the drool. 

Rushing to cross the Triboro Bridge, I got into the EZ Pass lane.  Traffic was moving nicely since it was a Thursday afternoon.  I should make it in time, I thought.  Then, the EZ Pass reader wouldn't let me through.  The sign said low balance and the bar blocked my escape.  I had to sit there in the toll area, cars backing up behind me and honking, until an attendant finally came to check it out.  Turns out I didn't update my credit card with EZ Pass.  Last September I had to get a new American Express card due to fraudulent charges on it.  Amazing how that wasn't a problem two weeks earlier when we picked my step-brother up at La Guardia Airport and crossed a couple of NYC bridges then.  Ten minutes lost.  I called the studio and told them I might be a few minutes late; no problem.

I found the studio easily enough and was ecstatic to have an open parking spot directly across the street from it.  I checked for signs about parking restrictions and seeing none, parked on the street between two large vans.  Not dealing with a parking garage was a blessing.  I loaded both cats into individual carriers and went inside.  First question from the photography staff, "Which one is Bugger?"  Second question, "Why did you bring the other cat?".  Thanks for the suggestion Ms. Animal Agent; now I look foolish for bringing an extra cat who now has to sit in a carrier for two hours watching Bugger get all the glory. 

Bugger's job (after I used his bib to dry up the drool that somehow permeated his entire mane) was to sit on a low table, front feet on a mark (masking tape).  The litter box filled with the product would be added later using Photoshop.  Good thing, because one anxiety I'd had was that if he had to actually pose with the box, Bugger would keep trying to use it or lay in it.  Bugger's table was surrounded by white boards on one side and a very large, square, warm light on the other.  I stood on the light side and kept him in position.  Bugger was nervous at first, curious at what he saw around the obstacles, then just plain bored.  I had brought cat teasers on a stick to direct his attention, but he REFUSED to acknowledge them.  He was like a child with his fingers in his ears, singing "La, la, la, la, la....I can't hear you!"  He completely ignored me.  Fortunately, if there's one thing Bugger is good at, it's just sitting there.  The camera crew blew air canisters and made noises so he'd look at the camera and I just kept making him sit up straight when he started to slouch.  After an hour, Bugger ignored the photographer's crew also but they kept shooting.

The studio must have taken well over 150 shots.  They loved his intense "look" and that he was content to sit (I guess the previous model kept trying to run away).  They affectionately called him Dr. Evil and compared him to a cat wearing a cat costume due to his big head.  A small fan was brought out and directed at Bugger's face, blowing his mane back as if he were in a rock video.  The fan felt good under the hot lights so he really enjoyed that part. 

After two hours, we packed up to leave the studio.  One of the staff nicely offered to help me carry my two cats to my car.  I replied that I was just parked across the street so it wasn't necessary.  Pause.  "You parked where?"  Uh oh.  I found a $115 parking ticket on my car, time stamped for about 1 minute after I parked.  Now I saw a sign on the opposite side of the street stating that parking was restricted to utility vehicles with permits.  Is it possible that the NYC parking police actually watched me park, unload my car and walk away before issuing the ticket?  Couldn't he have at least approached me and let me know I was parking illegally?  There goes a huge chunk of the $250 I'm supposed to get paid by the animal agent. 

The drive home was long as expected due to rush hour.  I didn't get home until 9 pm, taking 4 hours to make a 2-hour trip.  I was exhausted and my foot hurt, swollen and red.  I hope it's all worth it and Arm & Hammer use his picture.  They used 6 cats for the shoot. Supposedly there will be 6 similar ads with a cat named "Scooter" sitting beside the litter box.  The following day, I saw a doctor about my foot who immediately prescribed antibiotics as prevention against the effects of Lyme Disease. 

After all this, I was somewhat reluctant one week later when I was contacted by a producer at NECN in Newton, Massachusetts about a segment they wanted to do on Maine Coon cats the following day.  That's right, one day's notice.  Someone must have cancelled on them.  They had found my name on the website for the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association (MCBFA) and wanted a breeder to talk about the breed because it's the second most popular of the cat breeds.  They offered a staff member's Maine Coon as a prop, but I counter-offered with cats of my own.  I wasn't sure if the staff member's cat was from a breeder or just a long-haired tabby that a vet declared "looked like a Maine Coon". 

I decided to bring the Bugger again, so another bath for him.  I also brought along a 10-week-old red and white kitten, currently called Boston, to demonstrate the color diversity and the tremendous growth a kitten goes through to reach adulthood. Boston is pictured here at our house, watching his promo on TV. 

This trip was much less eventful.  A parking lot with marked Visitors Spaces was a luxury after last weeks' photo shoot in NYC.  I put two bibs on Bugger this time so he was mostly dry when we got there.  If you'd like to watch, the show can be seen online here

There are so many things I wished I'd said or done, but the taping was completely unscripted with no rehearsal or questions given ahead to think about.  I wish I had made Bugger stand up, but he was comfortable lying on the couch with his head in my lap and the host, Vicki Croke, had instructed me beforehand to just let the cats be cats.  I had also intended to dispute the false statement made on Animal Planet that if a cat has an "M" on its forehead, it's a Maine Coon, but I forgot in my nervousness.  Oh well, looking back at it, I'm glad they showed mostly shots of Bugger's head instead of me.  And I did get in some comments about heart screening and color genetics.  I could talk for the whole show about my cats, but fortunately for everyone, I was being thanked for coming before I knew it.