Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Breeding Decisions

Gargoyle is an outcrossed female I brought in as a kitten.  Her registered name is Grey Ghost (a fishing fly of course), but Kelsey came up with the call name of Gargoyle.  Although she's not exceptional as far as the Maine Coon standard is considered, she has the qualities of extreme affection toward humans, smoke tortie coloring masking a mackeral pattern (a new pattern in my house, my other cats are classic tabbies), and a great chin.  Since she was also a trade from another breeder, she was more or less free. 

The problem with Gargoyle is that from an early age, she asserted herself by peeing in the wrong place.  I've mentioned before that intact females can be worse than males; this cat is what we in the field refer to as a Hoser with a capital H.  If I asked her, "Hey Gargoyle!  Did you do this on the wall?", she'd respond with, "Not only that, but I can demonstrate my hosing skills right now against this wall."  I think she was a firefighter in her previous life.  Having multiple females sometimes leads to pissing contests (major pun intended) between a couple of them.  Most females are not hosers.  Some will only spray when they are in heat.  All my females stop the unwanted behavior while nursing kittens.  Sometimes the hormonal effect of giving birth straightens them out enough that they change behaviors post-partum and behave themselves even after their kittens are weaned.  This is what I've been hoping for with Gargoyle.  If she goes back to her hosing behavior, then Gargoyle will be spayed and re-homed, hopefully with one of her kittens.  Don't worry, I've placed many horrible hosers who are completely reformed after losing their hormonal influences and changing environments.  Retired breeders make great pets, even if they weren't the easiest to live with while breeding.

Fortunately, I have a built-in cage in our basement with access via catdoor to an enclosed outdoor run to confine any cats with bad aim.  This is where Miss Piss has been living until recently.  Gargoyle had been bred to Bugger and was due.  I brought her into our bedroom and put her up in the 2-level birthing cage on Day 62 of her gestation.  Although she meowed a lot, she never peed anywhere inappropriate.  On Saturday morning, Day 64, she showed no signs of an impending labor.  I had to take Kelsey to an appointment an hour away and had plans to leave at 8:30 am.  At 8:20, I was ironing Kelsey's shirt on my bed when I glanced up at Gargoyle.  Crap.  She was panting heavily.  Not feeling comfortable being gone potentially for the next 4 hours while Gargoyle was in early labor, I rescheduled Kelsey's appointment, citing a "family emergency".  We waited.  And waited.  And Gargoyle panted.  And we waited some more.  By that afternoon, the husband and the grandkids were around.  I took Kelsey and Amanda to run some errands, leaving "the boys" in charge. 

Finally, at 8:30 pm, a full 12 hours after my watch began, I saw a red tail and a two hind legs appear.  I knew just by the color that this was a male kitten.  Approximately 1/3 of all kitten births are breech, but I always hope for the cat's sake that it won't be the first kitten out.  It's a lot harder when the kitten isn't as aerodynamic as it would be head first and the mother isn't stretched out "down there" yet.  Sure enough, this kitten was not only breech, but the sac was broken already so the natural lubrication was gone.  I grabbed a clean washcloth so I could get a grip and gently pulled on the legs and tail (NEVER pull on a tail by itself unless you want to risk detaching it from the kitten) with her contractions.  We got the hips out but then the belly was stuck.  Next push.  Just the head was left.  It didn't want to come out.  Gargoyle cried in distress and pain, I held my breath and hoped that he would survive the ordeal and pulled again, certain that this kitten was going to have a giraffe neck.  Out the kitten came, 4.5 ounces, a good size for such a small mom and none the worse for his ordeal.  Amanda was excited that she was getting to watch the birth.  Kelsey pretended it was old hat for her, but there is always something intriguing about what the next kitten is going to look like.

Gargoyle relaxed, cleaned up her new prize and I started calling my friends to let them know we finally had one.  An hour and a half later, she delivered a stillborn kitten with gastroschism.  Gastroschism is the medical term for the reality we breeders call "guts out".  The stomach area is the last to close up in the development of mammals and sometimes it doesn't always work.  I've seen it occasionally and it's not pretty.  At least this one wasn't alive.  When they're born alive with gastroschism, it breaks your heart as in most cases, it's so bad there's nothing you can do for them.  My vet advised me long ago that in the event a kitten was born that was obviously not "meant to be" and a vet wasn't readily available to euthanize (cats are notorious for delivering at 2 am), to humanely suffocate the kitten by putting it in a zip-lock baggie in the freezer.  Nauseating I know, but it essentially puts the kitten to sleep.  Fortunately, Jay has been around the few times this has happened to take care of the deed, something I'm for which I'm grateful.  So the second kitten was disappointing and created more anxiety about the next arrival, which fortunately came almost immediately. 

This one looked black.  After all these years, did Bugger carry the gene for solid colors (no tabby stripes)?  Nope, I saw the tell-tale white eye-liner which gives away the tabby pattern.  It was a boy, probably a silver, maybe a brown tabby, but very dark and apparently healthy.  After he dried, I could discern a mackeral tabby pattern on his sides, the first I've ever had born in my house.  The silver boy was 3.5 ounces, smaller than his brother, but still within the normal range for a newborn Maine Coon. 

Worth mentioning is the discovery that Gargoyle has eleven nipples.  The standard number for a cat is eight, but in-between the normally spaced nipples, I found three "mini-nips".  I've had one cat before who had nine and heard about a Persian with 18 once, so it's not that rare.  Good thing cats don't have to be fitted for bras.

After all this, we have two new kittens in the house.  Right now I'm thinking I'll let both go as pets instead of keeping one.  It may be a different decision had one been a girl.  I had guessed that Gargoyle would have 3-4 kittens; she delivered three so I was pretty accurate.  Kelsey and Amanda couldn't come up with call names so I researched suggestions for this small litter.  On the internet I rediscovered an animated TV show "Gargoyles" shown in the 90's based upon a comic book.  My son Tyler used to watch it.  I chose names of two of the characters, but since the names are French, I had to go with two I could pronounce easily.  The red classic boy is Behemoth and the silver/brown mackeral boy is Cyrano (and no, he doesn't have a big nose for those of you familiar with Cyrano de Bergerac). 

Gargoyle's First (and last?) Litter
Gargoyle and her boys are doing extremely well. I've opened the cage door at the top so she can get out for a mommy break if she wants.  She is using the litterbox like she never had a problem.  True to the nature of a good mom, Gargoyle doesn't want to leave her kittens for more than a minute, if at all.  Nothing would make me happier than for Gargoyle to change her hosing ways so I can keep her in the breeding program as she is unrelated to any of my other cats.

Meanwhile, after a kitten hiatus during the summer, we finally have new babies to watch grow from little rodent-type things to adorable fuzzy kittens.  The Circle of Life and all that.  Kind of neat when it all works out right.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gone Away to College

My son Tyler has finally gone off to college.  He transferred to USC (that's U of South Carolina, not Southern California) as a sophomore. Last year, Tyler commuted to UCONN's Avery Point campus in nearby Groton, CT, a big disappointment for all of us.  UCONN is in such demand that unless you are in the very top echelon academically, you have to go to one of their smaller campuses for two years before qualifying to transfer to the main campus in Storrs, CT.  We all wanted Tyler's college experience to be one of living on campus; commuting from home took all the fun out of it.  I have to mention that had Tyler applied to schools during his senior year withOUT consideration of where his girlfriend wanted to go, he probably could have avoided the whole Avery Point thing.  But try to explain to a 17-year-old that the likelihood of a high school sweetheart truly being "the one" and lasting through the changes of young adulthood are rare.  I only wish that Tyler and his girlfriend had broken up 6 months prior instead of right after the Senior Prom.  Oh well, it gives me a teaching moment for his younger sister of what not to do. 

We had a marathon run from Connecticut to South Carolina, leaving on a Wednesday and returning on Friday.  16 hours of total drive time, most of which was pretty smooth since we took the west side up I-81 and avoided the nemessis of the East Coast, I-95. 

Tyler couldn't get on-campus housing and is renting a 3-bedroom apartment about 2 blocks from campus.  He has his own room and bathroom, a far cry from my college days of going down the dorm hall to use the bathroom with 20 other girls.  He didn't want any help from his parents to set his room up, but did accept help from Kelsey.

The latest Toy Story movie came out this summer in which Andy, the boy who owns the characters of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and company, goes off to college.  True to my nature, I cried during the last half of the movie.  I relate to the scene where Andy's mother comes into his empty room after her son has packed up all his belongings and realizes that this is it, her first-born child is actually leaving her. 

Kelsey had the hardest time saying good-bye to her brother.  The closeness between the two who are four years apart in age is one of my proudest as a mother.  The normal animosity, jealousy, and meaness that is natural between most siblings was never an issue between Tyler and Kelsey.  They are not just bonded by DNA, but by a close friendship. 

Tyler in his USC apartment
The nostalgia, his empty room, the void left by his absence, the tremendous loss his sister feels....all are off-set by our happiness for him.  As I tried to console Kelsey a couple of days ago, I told her we were successful in raising a person who wants to grow up and leave home.  Now we get to decide what to do with his bedroom.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Finn the Bonus Boy

On August 8, 2005, almost exactly five years ago, my largest Maine Coon female whom we called Boom Boom gave birth to her first litter.  The previous week we'd had her X-rayed at the vet to determine how many kittens to expect.  Yes, it is safe to X-ray a pregnant cat, something about their lifespan not being long enough to be affected by X-rays.  My vet showed me the X-ray with a clear 3 kittens evident, with an uncertain shadow in the 3, maybe 4.  Given that Boom Boom had gotten up to 18 pounds, about a 5-pound gain, I was slightly disappointed, but have learned that just because a cat has lots of room for babies doesn't mean she'll fill up that space. 

Boom Boom delivered 4 kittens during the day, one more than confirmed, so I was happy.  She had two red tabby boys, a blue tabby and white boy, and a brown tabby and white female.  This was terrific as I had a potential client who was anxious to get a red male to show in the Alter Class (for neutered/spayed cats).  Mother and babies settled contently in the birthing tent in our bedroom. 

The next morning I was still in bed as Jay was getting ready for work.  He woke me up, alarmed that he saw a placenta in the birthing tent.  I am always careful to count a placenta for each kitten born as retained placentas can lead to a nasty infection in the mother.  So there I was, checking Boom Boom, actually smelling her bottom for any indication of odor, worrying about whether or not she had a dead fetus inside and the placenta had separated, would I have to take her to the vet, etc.  It was too early for the vet to be open, so I did what I could do.  I changed the bedding as it now had fresh blood stains on it.  As I moved the kittens to the clean blanket, it occured to me that I had three red kittens, not two anymore.  A bonus kitten!  Relieved to find a happy answer to what was a problem five minutes before, I congratulated Boom Boom on delivering Kitten Number Five by herself so quietly.  Kitten Number Five was slightly damp, but just as robust as his littermates.  He became known as Bonus Boy, then Ben, later registered as Dracoonfly Finbar Conneff "Finn" by his new owner.  Having kittens over a span of a couple of days is not uncommon with cats, but worrysome for the owner.  The cat registries stipulate that the day the first kitten arrives is the birth date for the registration rather than have multiple birthdays for one litter. 
Finn and his littermates explore the uses of toilet paper 

As the kittens grew, two of the red boys stood out but for different reasons.  Baron was the largest of the reds, with huge boning and a gregarious personality.  We still compare his legs to those of a Golden Retriever, making comments about how he must be related to our dog.  He was the lap kitten, always climbing into our laps to be held.  His head type wasn't great, but good.  The late arrival, Finn, had a better head type, but wasn't quite as large and very hyperactive.  Finn wouldn't sit still for anyone.  I vascillated between the two to try to decide which one would make a better show cat.  I normally don't choose the kittens for my clients, but since the potential owners had never shown a cat before, they trusted my judgement.  I took pictures of the kittens in profile shots facing each other, head on side by side, weighing them, trying to decide.  It was six of one, half a dozen of the other.  I finally decided that Baron would be the chosen one as his owners also wanted him use him as a therapy cat, figuring he had the right personality. 

Baron was sold to Marge and Phil Berger in the NYC area so that Marge could fulfill her dream of becoming part of the cat show world.  Finn was neutered along with his other littermates and sold as a pet to Tereasa Brainerd, a professor in Astrophysics at Boston University (yes, she is a Rocket Scientist).  When Tereasa came to pick Finn up, I told her how hard my decision had been because her kitten was really nice.  I mentioned that if she ever wanted to try showing him, to let me know.  Tereasa replied, "Okay!", but I didn't believe her.  Most kitten buyers don't make the leap into the show world once they find out what it entails. 

Well, Tereasa not only tried showing her kitten, she became a cat show addict.  Likewise, so did Marge and Phil Berger who have since become Maine Coon breeders under the cattery name of MaineVu.  Both parties have become good friends and have shown all over the country with Finn, Baron and the cats that followed them. 
Baron and Finn after a kitten final
As Baron matured, he changed personalities.  He tired of showing, especially riding in the car after dark and never grew into a lap cat.  Although he achieved success in the show hall, his ear set became a challenge.  Ideally, the Maine Coon's ears should be set up on their heads, at about 11 and 1 o'clock. Baron's spread out too much.  Still, he earned the title of Grand Premier in CFA and Supreme Grand Champion Alter and Regional Winner in TICA.  Finn achieved the same titles in CFA and TICA as well as in CFF, a third, smaller cat association.  As he matured, his personality also flip-flopped from his youth.  He became eternally patient and tolerant.  A good thing because Finn also grew an enormous, deep red coat that required a lot of care to keep it in show condition.  Finn's mane demanded that Tereasa keep a bib on him at shows except while being judged as it always got caught in his mouth when he felt compelled to groom over what his owner had just done.  The bib protected his mane from becoming a wet mass.  As adults, Baron and Finn could not have looked more different, their breed and color being their only commonality.  Baron looked more like his mother and Finn looked more his father, Bugger, but with shorter ears and more coat.  We often remarked on how a Persian  must have snuck into the house.
Finn and his fur coat

Since Tereasa wanted to continue showing, she showed Finn again the following year in TICA, this time to an International Win, meaning that he was among the 25 highest-scoring altered cats internationally for the 2008-2009 show year. Over the years, she also acquired and showed a Bengal and a Ragdoll with some success.  But Finn was the show cat and he got better with age.  Male Maine Coons continue to mature until around 4 or 5 years old, so they really get into their prime long after most are retired to breed.  A spayed or neutered Maine Coon is an awesome creature as it doesn't fall victim to the negative affects of hormones, breeding and  heat cycles which keep them from growing beautiful bodies and coats.  Very often a show cat makes it clear that they've had enough of the baths, blow-drying, travel and noisy show halls with strangers handling them.  Showing a cat with a bad attitude is not for the faint of heart and can border on stupidity if the owner doesn't get the message.  It can be dangerous as a frightened, angry or upset cat can send a person to the hospital if they manage to bite someone. 
Not Finn
For the 2009-2010 show year (a show year runs from May to April), Tereasa went for the only title Finn had left to conquer, that of Lifetime Achievement.  A Lifetime Achievement Award (LA) is awarded to the cat who earns an International Win and two International or Regional wins over the period of at least two years.  Finn was a Northeast Regional Winner again this past year, qualifying him as an LA.  I'm forever grateful to Tereasa for her commitment to Finn and showing him competitively for most of his life.  Finn is now officially retired from showing and his fur has been mercifully shaved for the summer and to relieve him of the encumbrance of his mane.  His day-late birth really was a bonus.   To see more photos on my website, click here and here.  To see Finn along with the other winning Maine Coons in TICA, click here.
Tereasa at the Regional Awards Banquet this past weekend