Monday, April 18, 2011

Sassy - Ten Years Later

Ten years ago today, my first Maine Coon cat, Sassy, was born.  Little did any of us know how things would progress from my beginning as a Maine Coon breeder acquiring her future breeding queen.  I blogged last month about Sassy's buddy, our dog Chardonnay, on her tenth birthday.  I figure it's only fair that I give Sassy the same treatment.

Back then, we had two domestic short haired cats, Creole and Remy.  Since adulthood, I'd held to the ideal of having two cats, no more, no less.  Hard to believe that now.  Being about 6 years apart, Remy and Creole didn't get along very well.  Remy is and was a very outgoing, loving cat, but I missed having two cats that were buddies.  Creole was more opinionated and in her opinion, Remy was a brat (Creole died a few years ago from kidney disease, but Remy is still doing well).  I thought it would be a good idea to get a kitten while Remy was still young enough to accept it.  Once cats get to a certain age, change becomes more difficult for them.  Remy was two-years-old then.  Remembering my Maine Coon Wannabee, Felicity, from my college days, I decided that if I were going to get Remy a buddy, I wanted to get what I always wanted....a Maine Coon.

Remy and kittens observe the chickens through the glass
Most breeders didn't have websites back then and we had dial up access, so I called veterinarians to try to find a breeder to talk to.  Then I found out the price....holy crap!  And what nerve the breeders had to ask me to pay $500 and then sign an agreement to not breed the cat!  Not that I necessarily wanted to breed, but still.  I finally found a breeder who was easy to talk to, Patty in Litchfield, CT.  Her kittens were also expensive, but by now I had done considerably more research and was playing with the idea of becoming a breeder.  She initially told me that I would have to get a mentor, show, learn pedigrees, health issues, kitten deaths, pay more for a kitten with breeding rights, etc.  I said I didn't want a male cat and she explained how difficult it would be to find another breeder willing to let me use their stud unless people knew me.  Basically, Patty tried to discourage me from breeding, but she didn't say no.  Most breeders refuse to sell kittens with breeding rights to someone they don't know (I would now), but there are others who are less strict and will frankly sell breeding rights to anyone willing to pay.  By the way, yes, you can breed your cat without having the breeding rights, but the cat registries like CFA and TICA will not honor the resulting kittens with registration papers.  You would be stuck with trying to place your kittens as purebred, but with no documentation to prove it.....another reason why I do early spay/neuter with the kittens I sell as pets. 

Well, it's obvious what happened.  I brought Sassy home in June, complete with breeding rights.  My beautiful kitten and future of my cattery.  As a cat, Sassy has not had the same opportunities her canine friend has had to travel with the family and have outdoor adventures.  Given Sassy's general dislike for riding in motor vehicles, she's okay with that.  When Sassy first came home to us, Chardonnay had already been there for about a month.   When comparing a two-month-old puppy to a similar-aged kitten, the felines win paws down for maturity and intelligence.  Sassy didn't whine when left alone, didn't take several months to housebreak, didn't destroy household objects with her teeth, didn't eat inedible things (with the exception of the ribbon incident)...Sassy was a perfect pet.
Baby Sassy - 4 months

Although Remy was the initial excuse to get Sassy (she needed a friend, remember?), it didn't work out that way.  When Remy first saw little Sassy, she knocked things over trying to attack the intruding kitten (I didn't know back then about gradual introductions).  Later they did become friends, but the friendship faded when Sassy changed her priorities to motherhood.  Remy didn't understand or appreciate kittens who love to pretend her wagging tail is a snake, but she has come to accept the little brats over the years.

When Sassy was four-months-old, she and I went to our first cat show in nearby Groton.  There I met the breeder of Sassy's sire, Merry Braun, who became a valuable resource with her experience.  I learned to ask a lot of questions in my effort to become a knowledgeable, responsible Maine Coon breeder.  I remembered what I had read somewhere years ago that one should only endeavor to breed animals if the goal is to improve the breed.  Creating little creatures by accident or putting two animals together with known health issues is irresponsible and a disservice to the breed. 

I knew so little but got so lucky with Sassy. Most new breeders get stuck with a poor example of the breed, learn from their mistakes, and have to reinvest to get the right combination of health, type and personality. I got all that with Sassy, but didn't realize it until later when we started showing in ernest and had seasoned breeders and judges telling me what a nice cat she was.  Type-wise, Sassy's ear set is too wide and it took a while for her chin to square up, but her size, pattern, color and expression over rode her imperfections.  Sassy did well showing in CFA and became a Grand Champion after only 3 shows. I didn't discover how exceptional that was for any cat, much less a female Maine Coon, until I met exhibitors who had been trying to Grand their cat for most of a year.
Sassy - 8-months-old

Sassy became fast friends with Chardonnay. This friendship came in handy as Sassy matured and I anxiously waited for her to come into heat for the first time. Sassy and her female descendants are not horrifically vocal when cycling, and they start pretty late, at around 11 months old. This is a real blessing since the general rule with cats is to wait until the queen is at least a year old and has cycled three times before breeding her. When a kitten starts cycling at 5 months (and it happens, especially with other breeds), it puts the kitten at risk of a getting a uterine infection if the breeder holds off on breeding her for seven months. On the other hand, no one wants their kitten to become a mother at only 7-months-old. I learned the best way to determine if Sassy was indeed in heat was to let Chardonnay test her. Our dog thought it was great fun if Sassy allowed her to chew on her neck, not understanding what Sassy really wanted. If Sassy went into lordosis position when Chardonnay made the moves on her, we knew...yep, she was in heat.

Sassy in heat with Chardonnay.  They were both just over a year old here.
Looking back over my records, Sassy has had seven litters, 18 kittens total.  Sassy is the reason I never had problems with kitten mortality the first three years I was breeding.  She and her daughters, Ginger, Boom Boom and Crystal, started me out on the right foot.  She usually had small litters of huge kittens and mostly girls. Sassy had ten kittens before she had her first boy and he was also her largest, weighing 6.1 oz at birth, reaching 15 pounds at 8 months. Murray went to become the 2nd Best Maine Coon in CFA in 2005-06.  Murray's sire is Bugger whom I got from another breeder.  Bugger's breeder loved to take credit for Murray's success, but I disagree.  Bugger is incredibly handsome, but Murray got his good looks from Mom.

GC RW Dracoonfly Same Thing Murray at 5 years - Sassy's Number One Son
Sassy was my first queen to earn the title of Distinguished Merit for producing five Grand Champions in CFA. If you look back through the pictures on my website, you can see Sassy's exquisite expression in most of her descendants. Her look carries on in her granddaughters and great-granddaughters who continue to produce kittens.

Cassie- Sassy's great-granddaughter

Myra - Sassy's granddaughter
Sassy has not been perfect.  She has had "pissues" for most of her life.  I had hoped that when she was spayed and retired from breeding, this behavior would stop but it hasn't.  I'm sure that if I had placed her in a different home, her pissues would cease.  They always do in such cases when a cat leaves the place where the habit has formed.  She also has mild Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a condition where she doesn't seem to know she has to poop until it happens.  This does seem to have greatly improved on the Young Again Cat Food we're using now. 

I made a mistake by keeping Sassy after she retired from breeding.  I felt obligated to her as my first, almost like I would be betraying her trust in me if I sent her away.  In retrospect, she would have been happier if she didn't have to live with so many other cats.  She loves people and Chardonnay, just not some of my cats who irritate her.  She's too old to try to place now, but I have since promised myself that all future retiring queens will be placed into other homes.  Still beautiful, Sassy does seem to enjoy being a grandmother to the kittens that come and go. Her place is the island counter top in our kitchen. The other cats have learned that if they invade Sassy's space on the counter, they'd better be young and cute, otherwise they are quickly corrected by the Queen. 

Happy tenth birthday Sassy!

Sassy at 10 years
Not looking too shabby for a great-great grandmother

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hanging with the Fashionistas

Friday afternoon I listened to a message on my answering machine from Gloria, the animal agent in California who got Bugger his Tidycats ad.  Gloria sounds like she's been smoking since she was twelve and bit loopy.  She was bidding on a job in Manhattan that needed a Maine Coon for a designer's fashion shoot.  The job requirement was for a brown or "orange" Maine Coon that could sit, stay and be held by a model at the very upscale Carlisle Hotel.  Remembering my last fiasco with a $115 parking ticket, stuck in traffic for four hours on the way home, and having to bug Gloria for my $250 check, I hesitated.  How much?  $350 for a four-hour half-day, $500 if we went over four hours plus paid parking.  The client pays the agent by credit card immediately so she could send me my check the next day.  I was interested.

Not having a lot of details, I envisioned a photo shoot in the vast lobby of a grand hotel.  I needed a cat that wouldn't get freaked out in the arms of a tall, skinny woman in heels and expensive clothes, clawing his way out of her arms.  I also wanted to bring a cat of my own breeding, born in my house.  My boys aren't good at being held.  My girls are pretty amiable.  Of the brown tabbies, should I take Olivia or Myra?  Olivia has a better head type and is very feral looking, but I looked at Olivia's coat.  Even with a bath, she would look scraggly.  Olivia had to have a major trim with her last litter and she doesn't look too regal.  Myra, on the other hand, has a warm brown, low maintenance coat that wouldn't even need to be bathed.  I submitted professional pictures that Helmi Flick had taken of Myra years ago and at 10:30 that night finally got confirmation that we had the job.  They wanted a cat whose color went with the earth tones of the background.  Be there by 1 pm tomorrow.  Good thing because I'd already packed up the large travel cage, litter box, food and grooming supplies in the van.

Myra's portfolio shot at 8 months old - photography by Helmi
Myra and I made the uneventful 2 1/2 hour trip with one stop to clean up poop and another at PetSmart to grab the black harness and retractable leash Gloria recommended just in case.  Black doesn't show up on camera as much and all I had in the way of a harness was bright purple.  Fortunately, I had remembered how much Myra drools in the car and had put two bibs on her prior to leaving. 

We parked in the garage adjacent to the hotel on 76th Street and found our way to the 22nd floor.  A man with a foreign accent named Mark who fit the stereotype of a male designer let me in the suite complete with kitchen, two bedrooms and a major sitting area where the photo shoot was to take place.  Everyone else was in Central Park and should be back in an hour.  I took Myra out and we made ourselves comfortable in the majesty of the room.  The pictures I took with my cell phone don't do it justice.  It had a 16-foot ceiling, fireplace, antique furniture, built in bookcases, grand piano, views on three sides, bouquets of flowers, book collections on art and photography.  Mark got me a glass of sparkling water, invited me to share in the food they'd had brought in, showed me around then left me there alone while he went outside to smoke a cigarette.  Me and my cat, my bags, cat hair already covering my navy pants, carrier that smells faintly of cat pee.  Everytime after I combed Myra I had to dispose of the gob of hair that she was nervously shedding.  I admit that a few times I just tucked the hairball under the skirt of the upholstered chair.  I'm sure they have people to take care of a little cat hair.  Yep, I belonged here.

Myra tries to relax in her luxurious surroundings

I sat in the room on a comfortable chair with Myra and as different people entered the room, each introduced him or herself as if I was important.  A blond lady named Poppy told me she worked with Serge, like that meant something to me.  I found out later that Serge is the designer of the Paule Ka brand that was paying for all this.  When people noticed the cat, they lit up.  I got lots of attention as they petted and admired my reason for being there.  If you're visiting another country, trying to get around in Manhattan, something as real and down to earth as a cat brings out the best in you.  I heard about every one's pets at home and growing up.  A model from Japan who lives in New York told me about her puppy and asked my advice on how to handle him as she's pretty frustrated with his constant barking. 

Several times, three or four people would join me in the sitting room; apparently not much to do but sit and wait in the fashion world.  I had a very funny conversation with three gay men I can't go into details about.  One woman played and sang at the piano for half an hour.  She was good, but the piano was loud and Myra was scared.  I tried to discreetly keep her ears covered with my hands. 

Although everyone spoke English, when together some spoke their native language which I recognized as French; I took Spanish in school, not French.  Fortunately, none of them smelled like the French citizens I remember from my trip to Europe in 1987.  I felt like a minority American in New York City.  In the surroundings with the accents, I could easily have been in Europe.  I only met two models, the rest were photographers, assistants, lighting, make-up and hair people.  There were also extra people who just seemed to be there to hang out.  All European, of course.  And here I was...American, short, frumpy, not-so-slender, heterosexual, covered in cat hair, and probably sporting residual chicken poop on my shoes.  

I was told that after the photo shoot in the park was over, they would then have to shoot in the hotel restaurant.  Restaurant management was being really particular and granted them exactly one hour, starting at 3:30.  Myra and I got pushed back.  Fine.  I knew if I was there past 5 pm, I was getting more money.  I fed Myra turkey from the finger sandwiches so she was relatively happy.

Then Kelsey called to report that our 5-month-old black kitten, Lulu (formerly "Alice Walker" of the Poet Litter), couldn't walk without falling over and had her head tilted to the right.  It sounded serious and Kelsey was home alone.  I called my husband Jay.  He should be home in 10 minutes and would look at Lulu.  Our vet's office closes at noon on Saturdays, but I knew that the answering service would page the vet-on-call for that weekend and have that person call back in an emergency.  It's nice knowing that a vet who knows you will be there for advice so the only choice isn't an emergency vet clinic where the costs go up and the care is usually a shot in the dark.   I had Jay take Lulu's temperature so he'd have something to tell the doctor.  It was normal.  My vet called Jay and spoke to him, concluding it didn't sound like an emergency and if it were neurological he couldn't tell anything without an MRI anyway.  Jay said Lulu didn't seem to be in any pain when he moved her legs and she was eating.  He confined the kitten to Kelsey's room so she wouldn't try to walk around.   I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to put Lulu out of my mind as it looked like Myra's moment was finally coming to pass. 

Myra, who had looked so calm and relaxed in the chair for the past four hours, tried to hide under my arm as the room filled with equipment and lighting guys manipulating noisy reflectors around the lights on 8-foot stands.   Music was played on the stereo which further frightened the cat, but since Serge the designer himself had arrived and requested it, I didn't feel it was my place to ask them to turn it down.  The human model, whose name I don't remember, was from Hungary.  A beautiful girl, probably 6-feet tall.  She looked like a model should look, but I took pleasure in noticing that she had an overbite.  Not a lot of orthodontists in Hungary, I guess.  The model talked to me and petted Myra while they fussed over her hair and make-up. 

Myra's human model is prepped.  Designer Serge Cajfinger is in the background by the window.

After the model was situated on the couch and the hair spray had settled, I finally got to do what I came there for.  I was officially titled a "cat trainer".  Some of them even asked me how many animals I train.  Hey, I just breed and show Maine Coons.  I don't know what their expectations were, but I placed Myra on the back of the couch, her tail hanging down luxuriously and told her to stay.  Myra looked at me, eyes wide, but she stayed put.  She would remain where I put her for about five minutes at a time until someone unintentionally frightened her.  If a person came in through the door behind her, she darted under a chair.  If the hairdresser rushed in to fix the model's hair, Myra bolted.  The photographer finally realized the problem and ordered everyone away from the doorway so Myra wouldn't get spooked.  She tried to get the hair dresser to slow down, but he never got it.  After about an hour of posing Myra, getting her to face forward, fetching her out from under the chair and placing her back on the couch, lights flashing until they blew a fuse, we were done.  Overall, Myra did very well and stayed put long enough for them to take well over a hundred shots. She looked great, although she kept her ears sideways for most of the shots so she appears angry. 

I got home around 9 pm.  My immediate diagnosis of the kitten Lulu is that she has an ear infection so I've started her on amoxicillin until she can see the vet. 

Meanwhile, I'm SO proud of Myra.  Taking her out three years after she's finished showing when all she's done since is stay home and have kittens is asking a lot of a cat.  Myra is normally a very passive cat, somewhat on the shy side, but always very tolerant of what I've asked of her.  She's in a children's book, but that was an easy photo shoot at a cat show when she was very young.  I was told that the ad should be in Vogue, along with other fashion magazines, around September.  I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Secret Passion

I apologize in advance....this is a very superficial blog about people who really don't matter.

Don't tell anyone, but I enjoy watching shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.  Whoopi Goldberg has joked that the show should be called "Dancing with the Star", singular, and I see her point.  Of the eleven "celebrities" dancing this year, I only recognized four of the names, five if you count that I'd vaguely heard of Romeo, a has-been hip-hopist.  Of course the show tries to appeal to a broad audience by hiring celebrities from all venues; sports, television, movies, music, reality shows, modeling.  I don't watch sports or reality shows so that limits my familiarity.  I do like to watch dancing; escaping from my own out-of-shape, uncoordinated body by watching others do what I can't.

The celebrities get paid; the longer they stay on the show, the more money they earn.  I imagine most of them don't really need the money and do it to revitalize a sluggish career.  Some have honestly said they're doing it to lose weight.  DWTS certainly transformed the bodies of Kelly Osbourne and Marie Osmond; dancing 6-8 hours daily gave them a weight loss turbo boost.

In previous years, I was irritated when a celebrity with an obvious advantage was put on the show.  I knew Kristi Yamaguchi would win and stopped watching that year.  As much as a figure skater can try to claim that dancing is "so much different" than skating, you know it's still more closely related than say, playing football or acting.  Same thing with Jennifer Grey, last year's shoe-in winner.  She didn't get the lead in Dirty Dancing without having taken years of dance lessons.  So they made her back injury and cancer survival a big deal in order for her to appear like she was at a disadvantage. 

This year, there's no one with a major dance experience advantage.  Watching the first show, I tried to come up with a percentage of celebrities who had been surgically enhanced.  This year's obvious ones are the boob jobs.  Of the women celebrity dancers, my best guess is three out of five have gone under the knife; the Playboy bunny, the model, and probably Wendy Williams.  At least this year I don't see as much of the botox and nose jobs as in the past, i.e. Wayne Newton, Jennifer Grey, Buzz Aldrin (yes, the botox was obvious men).

As I don't care about/don't know the other "celebrities", I'll just focus on those I do.  Some of them are pretty good dancers, but since the audience decides who wins, it really all comes down to popularity.

Wendy Williams has a daytime talk show.  I've never watched more than 2 minutes of it, but I'm aware of who she is.  However, I never realized until DWTS how much Wendy looks like a transgender.  If she was born female, I feel sorry for her.  Without the make-up, hair and very large, perky bosom, Wendy could easily be a Wendell.  With all the accoutriments, she could be mistaken for any of the drag queens on Bourbon Street in New Orleans (don't ask me how I know that).  The boob job I'm not sure about because Wendy is a large person; usually a boob job is more obvious when a very thin person has a lot up top for the size of her frame.  Breasts are made of fat tissue so guess what goes first when you lose weight?  Wendy probably will go home soon because she is clearly the worst dancer and tends to march through her dance steps with the grace of Kate Gosselin.  If Wendy stays and wears out her welcome, it's because she's better known than some of the others and will solicite more votes from her fans.

Tony Dovoloni and Wendy/Wendell Williams
Even though I don't follow a lot of sports, I know who Sugar Ray Leonard is...mostly because I've always thought he was very cute.  He's still cute, but not a very good dancer.

I know Kirstie Alley from the TV sitcom Cheers.  She is probably the most overweight person I remember being on DWTS (no doubt one reason she wanted to do the show) and is a funny actress.  She has been suprisingly well-coordinated in her dance moves.  I'm curious to see how much weight she loses and expect her to last a while.

Ralph Macchio, best known from the Karate Kid movies.  He still has that young baby-face, but looks like he's wearing too much make-up.  When they did Ralph's introduction piece, he came across as a geek.  Geeky hair style (but still all his), goofy jokes and an intellectual family man.  He reminded me of a skinny version of my brother.  When he danced, however, Ralph had a very graceful style (unlike my brother).  I guess he still has some of that martial arts coordination.  Ralph could end up winning, but I'd love to see big Kirstie take it.

My goofy brother Paul, aka "Howard" demonstrates his dance moves
Compared to American Idol, DWTS has more professional judges who give better critiques.  Winning DWTS doesn't carry the same weight with a rich celebrity that it does with a singing amateur who's trying to break into the business so American Idol has less fabricated drama (especially now that Paula is gone).  The dance show contestants have a drama or story each week to draw people in.  The celebrities argue or sleep with their professional dancing partner, walk off in frustration, cry, get hurt, show off their families, have trouble connecting with the dance, etc. for their "story" each week. 

My biggest pet peeve with Dancing with the Stars is the constant audience clapping.  I don't know how anyone could think that having the background noise of applause the entire time the hosts are talking would be a good idea.  If someone else is talking, it's rude to make noise so no one can hear the person with the microphone.  I wish host Tom Bergeron would just once say, "Quiet people!  May I have your attention please?"

I'll be watching tonight to see who gets booted.  After last week's non-drama-after-all-the-buildup-to-get-ratings show with anger management drop-out Chris Brown, the DWTS will have to come up with another entertainment tension-builder.  Maybe Charlie Sheen will show up in the audience to promote the loser "L" on his forehead too.