Thursday, October 16, 2014

Curse of the Skunk

Warning: this blog contains gross descriptions.  Do not read if you are eating.

When one is a parent, pet owner, cat breeder or just responsible for the care of others, there will be no shortage of challenging moments or messes to clean up.  You learn to go with the flow, accept the yin with the yang, cuteness and poop.  As pet owners, we sacrifice a bit of cleanliness, money, and orderliness for the love and completeness we feel by sharing our homes with furry creatures that have different agendas.  Raising children is similar up to a point; hopefully a child will continue to develop beyond the simple commands of “sit” and “stay,” learn to clean up her own messes, cost a lot more money, but in the end move out and live independently. 
We have two dogs; a 13-year-old Golden Retriever, Chardonnay, and a 3-year-old Shar-pei mix, Coraline “Cory.”  Cory is a high-energy gray bullet with a strong prey drive.  As a large, geriatric dog, Chardonnay moves more slowly and takes many naps, but still enjoys adventure in moderation.  Although her knees are weak, her hearing greatly diminished and her mind seems to have dementia, Chardonnay’s worst quality is that she has never lost her desire for coprophagia; she eats poop.   
Cory, on the other hand, is the subject of this blog.  We adopted Cory for Kelsey, who begged for a puppy for her 16th birthday.  She promised to take full responsibility for the puppy; housebreaking, puppy kindergarten, clean up any messes, etc.  Well, you can imagine how long that lasted.  Cory’s person of choice is Jay, my husband.  I am the mean one who doesn’t allow jumping up, pawing, barking, or other unpleasant behavior.  Jay tells the dog to get down while petting her and wonders why she still has bad habits. 
Jay recently went on his annual salmon fishing trip to New Brunswick with his buddy, Curt.  The day Jay left, I noticed that Cory had a large, hard bump on her jaw.  It was about the diameter of a quarter.  Even though Cory didn’t act like she’d been stung by rubbing her face repeatedly and the bump was much bigger than normally associated with a bee sting, I just assumed she'd been stung and didn’t think much of it.  
The next day, the bump looked the same and I mentioned it to Jay when he called from Canada to tell me about his first catch.  By late afternoon, however, the bump had tripled in size.  I had just come home from spending way too much money at Bed, Bath and Beyond for window valances when I realized that I was going to have to take Cory to the vet.  I had a sinking feeling that I was going to need to return my purchases in order to pay a vet bill.  I was right. 
My vet, Dr. Karen Brown at Stonington Veterinary Hospital, said Cory had an abscess on her jaw from where she had punctured it on something like a sharp stick.  It was too hard to drain so I was instructed to watch for skin color changes that might warn of a rupture, apply hot compresses and give her antibiotics.  Most of my summer I’ve had to deal with Levi the cat’s staph infection on his tail, which also formed an abscess, burst, was stitched, burst, and is taking forever to heal.  I joked that Cory and Levi were going to have to share a room where they can swap abscess stories. 
Cory with her swollen face
Cory clearly didn’t feel well.  She had a fever and the right side of her face was swollen uncomfortably.  I dutifully applied a warm washcloth to her jaw and babied her throughout the day.  Shortly before the dogs’ supper time (5 pm and Chardonnay starts campaigning an hour earlier to be fed), I let the girls out.  Living out in the middle of the woods has the advantage of not needing a fenced-in yard or having to walk the dogs on a leash; we just open the back door and let them go.  Since they learned the parameters of the yard from the invisible fence collars, they no longer wear the collar.  It works, most of the time.  This time, however, Chardonnay managed to find her favorite cologne, Essence of Bambi (deer poop) and happily applied it liberally to her face and neck. 
Great.  All I wanted to do was feed the dogs and relax and now I had to wash the stench off the old girl’s head.  I took a bottle of dish detergent and led Chardonnay back out to the garden hose for a lecture on hygiene as tried to wash off the crap.  That accomplished, I fed the dogs, but Cory didn’t come over to eat.  I found her hiding and upset because her abscess has started to ooze all over the side of her chest, leg and neck.  Not able to reach the hole from which the bloody pus originated with her tongue, Cory obsessively tried to clean what she could. 
I called the vet to see if this needed immediate attention.   The vet tech, Sherri, asked me to see if I could facilitate the draining by squeezing Cory’s cheek.  So there I was, phone tucked between my shoulder and face, straddling a nervous dog, holding a wet washcloth against her swollen cheek and trying to find the right pressure points.  Finally, a glob about the size of a dime came out of the small puncture wound. 
“Gross!  This is disgusting!  My husband should be doing this.  Cory is HIS dog and he’s in Canada fishing!”  Sherri laughed and reminded me that I had probably seen a lot more disgusting things as a cat breeder.  True, unfortunately.   Since it was already about 6 pm, Sherri asked if I could bring Cory to the office in the morning so they could suture a drain in the poor pup's face. 
As I sacrificed a washcloth to blood and mucus, I became aware of an aroma coming off of Cory’s face; skunk.  Seven months after her last skunk encounter, the water still activated the smell.  Anyone who’s ever had a skunked dog is familiar with this. 
Then I had a thought; what if the poor skunk that had lost its life in Cory’s mouth last spring had cursed the dog with its final breath?  It could have planted an alien skunk seed under Cory’s skin which was now hatching.  I envisioned the dog as Sigourney Weaver impregnated by an alien, but this time a skunk head (I hoped not the tail) would emerge from the side of our dog’s face.  It would be an extra mouth to feed, but think of the money we’d make on the talk show circuit.  Maybe we’d even get our own reality show, “Cory and Stinky - Two Heads, Two Species, One Body”.
The next morning, I took our grandson to school, a kitten to my other vet to be spayed 35 minutes in the opposite direction, then came home to get Cory and drove her to Stonington.  A lot of veterinary chauffeuring, but I got it all done. 
When I picked Cory up after her procedure, her swelling was mostly gone and she had a rubber tube which protruded from two places behind her jaw, vertically up, through her cheek then out the bottom near to where her original wound was.  She looked a lot happier, but weird.  I had already told my vet about my alien skunk theory, but when I saw the drain, I started joking about blowing in one end so Cory could make bubbles in her water bowl or taking her snorkeling.  My vet has concluded that I have a strange sense of humor.  Poor Cory.  She had gone through hell week and all I could do was make fun of her. 
Cory with her drainage tube. Note the tube goes through her skin and exits below her jaw.
By the time Jay came home Saturday night, Cory’s drain had been removed and other than a couple of residual holes in her face, she looked normal and very happy to see her favorite human.  Just a regular week here in the land of fur and feathers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pull My Finger...Not!

When I’m up on my game (meaning, I remember and have the time and energy), I will bathe the kittens that will be leaving soon for their new homes; more so if the kitten will be joining another cat along with his or her new family.  This way, the kitten will smell more neutral to the other cat instead of so much like my house.  I have found this helps to gain acceptance in the feline world. 
The kitten bath is much simpler and easier than the type I give a show cat.  I use shampoo or even hand soap, holding a squirming kitten in my kitchen sink while it jumps like a kangaroo to attempt escape.  Sometimes a kitten panics and needs to be scruffed.  Sometimes it simply gives up and lies down in the sink. The bathing process takes about five minutes, then the kitten is toweled off and placed in a carrier where I direct warm air from a blow dryer at low speed on the drowned rat-looking thing.  Kitten coat is comparatively fast and easy, enabling the offended party to be released after about 10 minutes of drying.  It will still be damp, but not easily chilled by then, happy to walk out and groom itself thoroughly.
Sometimes a kitten surprises me, but none like the other night.  I had already bathed his littermate with no problem and moved onto Kitten Number Two.  As soon as this kitten heard the water from the faucet hit the stainless steel sink, he panicked.  I moved to scruff position with my right hand, but this little guy was determined to escape and he bit down on the index finger of my left hand.  I let go as I was now bleeding from three places and it hurt!
I’ve been bitten before, even to the point of vomiting and requiring antibiotics administered intravenously in the Urgent Care every eight hours for two days several years ago.  I understand and appreciate the seriousness of a cat bite.  This is why I have my doctor prescribe Augmentin so I can always have some on hand (no pun intended) in the event of a bad bite. 
My finger bled quite a bit while I waited for the pain to subside.  There was a lot of swearing and near-crying on my end.  I took an Augmentin and just sat with ice on it for a while, waiting for my husband, Jay, to come inside so I could share my drama.  Jay was appropriately concerned, offering me wine and Ibuprofen and fixing salad for supper.  My finger was still throbbing when I went to bed that night, but I told myself that if it were worse in the morning, I’d call the doctor.

The next morning, it seemed better.  At least my finger didn’t hurt anymore and the swelling was still confined to the first knuckle.  By afternoon, my second knuckle looked a little swollen too.  I could tell a difference when I compared my two index fingers.  I showed it to Jay for his opinion while I was driving us to Home Depot to pick up more lumber for the larger chicken coop we’re working on.  Now picture this: I’m driving the car.  Jay is sitting in the passenger seat.  Keeping my eyes on the road, I crossed my left hand over toward my caring husband and said, “Look,” dangling my wounded finger in front of him.  I expected an “Oh my goodness!  It looks more swollen.  Does it still hurt?”
Instead I got a “What?”
“Look!” I repeated, waving my finger again.  So what does my husband do, my husband who knows my finger has been mutilated by a vicious animal, who witnessed my arm in a sling years ago when I was being treated for a serious cat bite, who has been bitten himself and sympathizes with the pain and concern involved?  What does he do?  He pulls my finger.
“Ow! What was that for?”
“I thought you were making a joke and wanted me to pull your finger.” 
“No! No! No! What’s with you and farting? I just wanted you tell me if you thought it looked more swollen.”
“Oh.  No, it looks the same.”
“Not for long.  You want to step on my hand next?”

Friday, September 12, 2014

Time to Retire (not me, the cats)

Last month I took a cat back that I had sold as a kitten two years ago because his owner could no longer keep him due to her divorce and personal upheaval.  I posted Rudy’s availability on Facebook: “Red tabby neutered male Maine Coon, great personality, needs a stable home” along with a cute picture of handsome Rudy.  As it so often happens with a Maine Coon, I was flooded with inquiries along with comments on Facebook, most wishing they could have him or good wishes on finding the right home for Rudy.  One follower questioned me, “Why don’t you just keep him yourself?”
Rudy in my house
And I wondered, briefly, why not?  Rudy gets along well with others, he’s very friendly and it would be one way of insuring that the poor guy doesn’t have to move again.  I calculated that Rudy had moved at least five times in his two short years so stability was a priority. 
But I don’t allow it, not for my family or for the cat.  As a cat breeder, we have to make the hard decision to let our cats go to pet homes after we have stopped using them for breeding.  It seems a bit cold sometimes, but I learned the hard way after I kept my first Maine Coon, Sassy.  I felt somehow that I would be betraying Sassy if I didn’t look after her for the rest of her life.  It didn’t go well. 

Sassy had pissues (peeing outside the box) as a breeding female.  Clothes baskets were her favorite toilet.  Many queens have this problem, especially when they are in heat.  Well, it’s not really a problem unless you are a human and also don’t want to cage your cats.  Even after Sassy was spayed at the age of five years, she had pissues.  I tried isolating her in our half-bathroom with 3 different litters and boxes, but she still refused usage.  The best I could get from Sassy was to leave out an empty litter box and most of the time she’d pee there.  Sassy also became unhappy.  Her job as a mother was no longer needed and Sassy was a wonderful mom.  I tried to tell her to help out as resident grandmother, but the success was minimal.  Kittens were brats and they quickly tired of Sassy’s “Back in my day” stories. 
Because of my problems with Sassy as a retired queen, I vowed to place all retiring females in pet homes.  This has worked.  If a cat (male or female) had pissues as a breeder, that stopped once they got out of my home, away from the competition.  Their hormones settled and new, less offensive habits were formed in the new home.  They receive more individual attention.  Their coats and size grow and the new owners have a beautiful, loving addition to the family.  For 2014, I've retired Sally, Olivia, Tippet and Sunday.  Lulu will retire after her next litter.  I've also kept two female kittens for breeding and am considering a third. 

Male breeding cats have their own set of issues. Not all spray, but when they do, it’s hard to ignore.  The good ones (and there have been a few, it's largely a hereditary behavior) live in our bedroom unless we have newborn kittens.  Male urine changes aroma when they hit puberty, one of the signs we look for when trying to determine if he’s ready to try breeding.  Maine Coon boys are slow to mature, some taking up to two years before they show an interest in a girl.  The conversations among breeders can be pretty explicit. 
“He doesn't have a clue.  She's writhing around like a hussy and he just thinks she wants to play.”
“He enjoys practicing, but he’s still shooting blanks.”
“I’ve put him on top of her, catnip on her neck, showed him dirty movies, played sexy music…and still he’d rather eat than breed.”
Because of the strong aroma of male cat urine, many breeders have to cage or confine them to a room.  This is especially true of the “hosers”, males who feel the need to claim their space outside the box on a regular basis.  Hosers typically don’t remain working studs for long.  In my house, they’re bred a few times, then neutered and placed so they can live the rest of their lives as beloved pets.  The non-spraying males work longer simply because they’re easier to keep. 
After living with several other cats, showing and making babies, my Maine Coons deserve to spend the rest of its life as a spoiled pet, free from the side-effects of their hormones.  I have only three non-breeding cats now that Sassy passed away from cancer last year; Bubba, my daughter’s crazy-ass European Burmese who was purchased as a pet in the first place; Pipsqueak, a red Maine Coon spay who was never bred because she has aerotic stenosis and wasn’t supposed to live past the age of three (she’s five now); and Bugger, my former stud male who didn’t retire until he was older and I felt it would be too hard for him to adjust to a move at that age. 
Bubba, Pipsqueak and Bugger.  Obviously, we only keep the non-breeding cats that have most embarrassing nicknames, just to amuse ourselves by calling them.  Normal-named cats don’t make the cut.
Bubba the ultimate Diva
The other, more practical, reason for placing retirees is to keep my numbers down.  Keep in mind we also have chickens and two dogs.  I’ve been breeding Maine Coons for almost 13 years.  If I kept each one after it was retired, I estimate I’d have in excess of 40 cats. In terms of breeding cats, I aim for six girls and two boys.  If I keep a kitten, I have plans to re-home an adult within the year.  I miss some of them tremendously, but it’s not like I don’t have other cats to replace that spot on my lap.
How long I keep a cat for breeding depends upon many factors.  I read several years ago that when a queen starts producing smaller litters, it’s time for her to retire.  Sassy went from three to four kittens per litter to singletons.  Kitty menopause was approaching for her. 
Some cats just aren’t good at living in a cattery environments.  These cats may have pissues, fight, or are easily bullied.  These cats often have to be confined away from others.  We have a built in cage in our basement that has cat-door access to an enclosed outdoor run so that helps, but still, I don’t have that much space.  I also have to try to appease my family with some designated cat-free zones.  My cattery environment is not rows of cages or an out- building; they live in my house, separated by doors to rooms.  All of the females except the new moms run at large in the house.  The two boys have their own spaces to eliminate “whoops” breedings.  
A cat whose heart ultrasound is questionable will not be bred, petted out to avoid possibly passing on genetic disease to offspring.  Likewise if I find out it could be passing on other health issues that the cat itself doesn't have, like gingivitis.  If the cat just doesn’t develop into a good example of the breed, I’m not so likely to keep it, especially if I have something better.  
Reproduction issues in cats, like in humans, can be common.  However, the veterinary medicine for feline reproductions isn’t nearly as advanced so we breeders are often witness to the heartbreak of stillborn or fading kittens.  My female cats are normally given two chances at producing healthy, viable kittens.  Failing that, she will have a shorter breeding career rather than risk her health and future little lives.  Pregnancy can be complicated and some bodies just aren’t meant to make babies.  When it works right, raising kittens is a beautiful miracle.  When it doesn't, I like to limit the emotional toll it takes on the mother and me.
Sunday with her litter of nine.
Another big consideration for breeders is the usefulness of the pedigree behind the cat.  I don’t like to have more than two stud cats at one time.  If I keep daughters out of Stud Number One, Levi, with the intention of breeding those girls to Stud Number Two, Wilkinson, that’s great.  But what happens with the next generation if I then want to keep a female out of Wilkinson?  This isn't West Virginia.  Sure, I can take her to a fellow breeder’s stud, but that can be more complicated.  Plus, I’m further limited with Wilkinson because he’s a brother to three of my queens.  It’s already in the plans to retire Wilky at the ripe age of two years as soon as my new stud is purchased (he’s still waiting to be born as of this writing). 
Those are all examples of why I would retire a cat a bit earlier.  If the cat passes all of the above tests for health, type, personality, good cattery cat and usable pedigree, she or he will probably stay here as a breeding cat until four or five years of age.  We love them while they’re here, and after they retire, we allow someone else to love them too.  I find homes for cats I have to take back for the same reason; they deserve more attention than what I can give them.  Rudy now lives with previous kitten buyers and their other Dracoonfly cat, Camden.  Rudy has stability and Camden has a coonpanion.
Rudy in his forever home with Camden

Saturday, May 24, 2014

What Do Lumberjacks Wear?

During the week between my son Tyler’s college graduation from the University of South Carolina and my step-brother’s wedding in St. Simon’s, Georgia, we had to move Kelsey home from college in Vermont and then my husband Jay had a birthday.  A lot of planning, airports, driving, carrying an endless supply of dorm necessities down three flights of stairs, waiting for a cat to give birth, visiting family, spending money, etc., all within one week bookended by two eventful weekends.  I normally plan birthday gifts in advance, but this time Jay was an after- thought.
When I finally thought to ask, Jay came up with his usual request.  “I really need a white dress shirt and a tie.” Again?  Well, this year that would be okay with me, given how stretched I was feeling.  I asked one more time after returning from Tyler’s graduation and before our trek to Vermont to move Kelsey.  “Well, maybe a new chain saw.”  Really?  Now you tell me? 
One of my husband’s favorite past times is playing lumberjack.  He loves to split and stack firewood, always preparing us for the long cold winter by stocking up for the wood stove which supplements our heat.  The last time he purchased a chain saw was in 1985, a Stihl which still worked.  He wanted another Stihl of course.  I said nothing to indicate that I was thinking anymore about his birthday, but called Jay’s friend Curt.  Curt is my gift advisor for Jay when it comes to fishing gear and power tools.  I know enough about the stuff to know I know nothing (can we hear it for using the same word three times in one sentence?)
Since Kelsey and her dorm contents had to be crammed into our van which drove a total of eight hours on Wednesday, I had only Thursday to pull this off.  Thursday was Jay’s birthday.  Curt and I drove out to the Stihl dealer to pick up the chain saw he’d selected as the best for Jay. 
As we returned, Curt asked me how I was going to give it him.  I mentioned the Lumberjack Song as performed on the Monty Python Show many years back.  Curt gave me a blank stare so I sang the one verse I remembered, the verse I sang to Jay when I felt like teasing him about his hobby:
                Oh, I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay

                I sleep all night and I work all day.

                I cut down trees
                I wear high heels
                Suspenders and a bra.
                I wish I were a girlie,
                Just like my dear papa.
Curt has a good sense of humor, but having never heard the song before, I got a look.  It was very similar to the response Kelsey gave me when I told how I was thinking of presenting the chain saw to Jay, although she added the teenage eye roll at the end.  I didn’t care what they thought, my idea cracked me up and in the end, that’s all that really matters when it comes to satisfying my warped mind.

That evening, we took Jay out to dinner then came home for Reeses ice cream cake, joined by Curt.  Kelsey gave Jay a T-shirt which read on the front, “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry.”  I gave Jay a funny card with a piece of paper enclosed which had the following typed on it:
You asked for a shirt
And also a tie
That’s all you wanted
But we know you lie

To get your gift
You’ll have to work
High and low you’ll look
But please don’t twerk
You get three clues
About your present
If you guess right
You get to open it

Your first clue resides
In a special place
Under lock and key
Where you record the fish, rivers and lakes 

Now my doubters, Kelsey and Curt, perked up.  This was going to be fun after all. They didn't know the location in the clue, but Jay certainly did.   Jay went right to the armoire where he keeps his fishing flies, rods, and the fishing journals he’s maintained for decades.  There he found a wrapped present which revealed the new Vera Wang shoes I intended to wear to the wedding that weekend.  Confusion, but another clue lay with my pumps.
Oops! Not quite your size
But this is clue Number One
Number Two is where
Number two is done 
Easy clue.  In the bathroom Jay found a pair of rainbow suspenders wrapped in tissue paper (purchased from Goodwill that morning).  What? Curt started teasing Jay about what he needed to wear to the next fishing club event.  Next clue:
Clue Number three
The final one
Has keys a plenty
But none you turn 
Found in the piano bench (it wouldn’t fit with the piano keys), wrapped in tissue paper, was one of my bras and the last clue.
Your three clues…hmmm
Now use your head
If you’re right
It’s in the shed
Jay started to go outside to the shed.  I stopped him.  “Solve the riddle.  No present until you guess based upon your clues.”
“Hmm.  Shoes, suspenders and bra... Suspenders.  Bra.  Wait a minute! ”  Ding ding ding!  “The Lumberjack Song!  You got me a chainsaw?”

Watch the Lumberjack Song skit on You Tube

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Things My Mama Taught Me

On Mother’s Day I celebrate being a mother and having a mother.  Every year, we thank the women who brought us into this world and raised us, influencing us in ways they probably never thought they would.  Child and parent have different memories of those formative years, so I thought I’d make a list of some of the lessons I have taken from the marvelous woman who brought me into this world.

Take care of your teeth as they are the only ones you get

Write thank-you notes after receiving a gift

Wearing sunglasses regularly will prevent premature wrinkles around your eyes caused by squinting

Thank you for not only allowing me to try the bang-trimming method I’d read about in a magazine on you, but for forgiving me when I royally screwed up your hair

Allergies are all in my head (well, technically I guess they are)

A bug in your food is just extra protein and not a big deal

Snakes, mice, spiders and other creatures are fascinating

Learn how to fix basic stuff around the house by yourself

Grow a garden in the summer

If it looks like your outfit doesn’t really match but your mother assures you it blends, don’t wear it

You never truly appreciate how patient, calm and tireless your mother is until you become one yourself

Don’t judge other people; there is good in every one

If you are critical of others a lot, maybe it’s yourself you aren’t happy with

Compared to all the other kids’ moms, mine was always the prettiest (still is)

It’s okay to call out to inanimate objects and ask them where they are hiding

Don’t be afraid to try new things

Love animals

Be stoic and don’t complain

Practice piano, flute, violin, etc. for at least 30 minutes a day

You can’t play until you’ve completed your Saturday morning chores

You should always have a Sunday-go-meeting outfit and loud dress shoes

If you can’t pay attention, then draw during church so you don’t disturb everyone else

Respect adults, but don’t assume they are smarter than you

One month after cancer treatment, go on a Caribbean cruise

Learn how to properly wrap gifts

Never miss the opportunity to make a snow angel

Put your napkin in your lap, don’t chew with your mouth open or sit on your knees at the table

If you’re tired, take a 10-minute nap

You don’t need to know the top 40 songs on the radio as long as you know church hymns and Broadway songs…all the songs from every musical soundtrack we owned memorized, in order, verbatim

If you see a baby locked in a car on a warm day or a man passed out in the park, call the police

Love your children unconditionally

Cuteness is not just a characteristic of short people; a 5-foot, 10-inch tall woman can be adorably cute

Never tire of telling the story of your child’s birth to her and recalling how perfect her little toes were

If your daughter was born 5 days before Christmas, always celebrate separately and wrap the presents in birthday paper

Eat breakfast

Hike to the top of a mountain on your 60th birthday

If someone prepares a nice meal, it’s “fancy”

If you enjoy your food, hum and make appreciative noises while eating

Never use racist language or swear

If you don’t want to wait until Mom gets out of work to pick you up, either walk or get a ride home from after school sports and activities

Bactine and Pepto Bismal cure all itches and ills; anything else is an evil drug

Don’t get in the water until 30 minutes after eating or you may drown like your great uncle did (I found out later he really drowned because he didn’t know how to swim)

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all

Flatulence means someone has to go to the bathroom, referred to back then as “dirty work”

My brother Paul must have had to go A LOT

Sunday, April 13, 2014

How to be a Good Kitten Buyer

Note: This blog has been edited and updated since the initial post date.

It is kitten season and the people searching for a Maine Coon are swarming the internet. I’ve blogged before on what kitten buyers should beware of when looking for a Maine Coon breeder. If you haven't read Pet Peeves, please do so for your own protection. Now, I’m going to give you some insight on what we breeders look for in YOU; beyond the obvious indoor only, no declawing, no-hidden-agenda-to-breed stuff.

For those who are new to the process of getting a purebred kitten, allow me to burst your first bubble; we breeders are not trying to place our kittens because we’re desperate to find them a home. On the contrary, if a breeder has a decent website and good reputation, she or he is bombarded with inquiries on a regular basis. In essence, you have to compete for our approval. 

The truth is that the Maine Coon Cat is a very popular breed, so much so that we American breeders who live near the more populated areas can and should afford to be picky about who we want to work with. The situation may be vastly different in more isolated places in the US or in Europe where there are many more Maine Coon breeders than here in the States. If you find a breeder who seems to have more kittens than buyers, something’s not right. The internet makes it easy for you to locate breeders, but it also has made it much easier for us to find qualified buyers. 

This is what I look for:
First impressions do count. If I receive an email or message that says no more than, “How much r ur kittens?” with no greeting or signature, I may conclude you’re not mature enough to be serious. Also, it's a Maine Coon, named after the state of Maine with an "e" on the end, not "Main" as in primary or "Man" as in male human. If breeders are not replying to your inquiries, take another look at your approach.
Read and listen. If you’ve been told that the breeder does not keep a waiting list, don’t ask to be contacted when the kittens are born. That would be like a waiting list. 
Don’t send out a mass email to several breeders inquiring about kittens. Too impersonal and it’s very likely that none of us will reply. 
Don’t try to negotiate the price. A Maine Coon kitten will cost you anywhere from $800 to $1800, depending upon where the breeder resides, whether or not you’ll be getting a kitten that’s already spayed, neutered or micro-chipped, and in some cases, the gender and color. If we have several inquiries a day, we don’t feel it’s necessary to lose more money than we already do breeding cats. Kitten sales offset what we spend on our cats and most breeders operate in the red. If the price is more than what you had in mind, then consider a shelter kitty or buying a Maine Coon that’s been retired from breeding. I just had a man who not only wanted me to ship a kitten to him overseas without neutering (which I won’t do), but he also asked me to cut my price by 50%. Here’s a Euro; go buy a clue.
Don’t expect to be able to drop by and visit or shop for a kitten. We are not a pet store. Most breeders keep their cats and kittens in their home. We have jobs, families, schedules to keep. While I understand the logic of visiting before committing, I no longer allow visitors unless they have a kitten reserved already. If you do find yourself in a breeder’s home and you aren’t happy with how the cats are housed or the kittens are raised, be strong enough to walk out. 

When you do get to visit your kitten, usually after first vaccinations, be on time and know when to leave. I normally line up kitten visitors during a weekend, spaced 60-90 minutes apart. It gets awkward if one is 45 minutes late and the other is 30 minutes early. The vast majority do call if delayed. Many even call to let me know they might be early and ask if that’s okay; I love these people. 

Don’t allow your children to wander throughout my house to explore. I keep male cats and new moms behind closed doors for a reason. I had one family whose 9-year-old son was afraid of our two dogs. I put the dogs outside so the  boy would feel comfortable. Five minutes later, I saw the kid in our backyard, upset because the dogs were “bothering” him.   

Speaking of dogs, please don't bring yours when you come to visit the kittens without asking first. In my case, I have a dog, Cory, who can't handle seeing another dog outside. Even if your dog remains in your car, she'll be upset as cars parked in our driveway are visible from our front windows. Cory whines, barks and paces back and forth. If Cory happens to be outside when you pull up to my house, she will likely jump on your car, possibly scratching it, in an effort to meet your dog. I will have to put my dog in her crate to keep her calm just because you have to take your dog everywhere with you. Let's focus on meeting the kittens, not on canine management.

Whether or not you close my front door behind you when you enter my house speaks volumes. 
Color outside the lines. You have every reason to demand the color and gender of kitten you want, but please realize that male brown tabbies are in high demand. Females may be smaller, but they are wonderful pets as well. Plus only the girls can have cool color combinations. Maine Coons come in many different colors; brown, blue, red, cream, silver, solid black, white, tortie, etc. A little flexibility will gain you a kitten faster. Check out the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers site to see some examples of the variety.

From the same litter - solid black, red-silver (cameo), black smoke and 3 brown torbies (patched)
For your kitten’s sake, please don’t insist on a lookalike replacement for your cat that died. It’s not fair to the kitten to be compared constantly to Fluffy. Kittens are a wonderful distraction when you’re grieving the loss of a pet, but at least go for a different color from the original.
If others have ever referred to you as litigious, arrogant or a flake, please go find another breeder. I intend to be available to you for the life of your Maine Coon; for advice, sharing pictures and friendship. This is a lot easier if we are both nice, rational human beings. 
Don’t tell us about how you have the perfect yard for a cat, need a good mouser, or have to replace your last cat because a coyote got it and then expect us to work with you. We will exercise the right to refuse the wrong home for our babies. These are not disposable pets.

Even though there are many Maine Coon breeders in the Northeast, there often doesn’t seem to be enough kittens to go around. What to do? 

First, contact several breeders individually to get an idea of when kittens are expected so you can contact them again at that time. 

Search the Web, Facebook and Instagram. Unfortunately, many breeders have to pay a webmaster and do not have up-to-date websites. I'm lucky because I know how to do my own website and am not beholden to someone else.  Look for a recent update date. More breeders are turning to Facebook as that’s an easier communication to keep up on our own. Some of us only return phone calls or email if we have kittens available. 

Don't give up on the first attempt at contact. If a breeder's kittens are reserved quickly, you may have to make repeated contact to keep your name in the forefront. New litter announcements usually means I get swamped with inquiries. I try to keep organized and on top of potential buyers, but it's easy to lose track of names.

If the breeder keeps a waiting list, get on it, but keep looking. 

Ask for referrals. Most of us Maine Coon breeders know each other and will gladly refer you to someone else if we don’t have kittens. 

Timing. Your competition (this would be other kitten buyers) is highest during the spring and fall, especially right before Christmas. If you can, search off-season, like during the summer. 
Cat shows are great. Do visit a cat show to meet breeders and see firsthand to see how glorious the cat is in person, but don't expect to be able to buy a kitten at the show. Very few Maine Coon breeders will sell a kitten directly from the show hall and I don't recommend you get a kitten like this. Check or for the show calendars.

Our stud male, Levi, at a cat show.

I personally prefer to be contacted initially by email.  It saves me time to just give you all the information about upcoming litters, health screening, prices, etc. in an email. Once it’s established that you’re really interested, I’m more than happy to chat and answer questions. 
If we hesitate when you mention a certain breeder’s name that you've been talking to, read between the lines. Most of us are polite enough to not malign another breeder, but we also don’t want to see the buyer take a chance on getting an unhealthy kitten from a bad breeder. If a kitten buyer tells me they’ve been talking to so-and-so breeder and I know that so-and-so doesn't do health screening and has problems with heart disease in their cats, I normally launch into my list of what to look for in any breeder. That’s a hint.

I love questions, buyers who research and plan ahead, who take time off to welcome the new addition, and keep me updated with occasional pictures and emails for the life of their precious furry family member. Most of us contractually require that we’re kept informed of serious or genetic health issues as that helps us determine whether or not to continue breeding certain cats. Not all breeders have the same approach I do nor would they all agree with me. That’s okay. We do all love what we do and are passionate about the right fit for our babies.  
6-week-old Dracoonfly Tippet Shrimp

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tell Me Why We Have Dogs Again?

Finally the snow has melted enough for us to take a hike on the trail in the woods behind our house. We have over three acres and our property backs onto a park, leaving us lots a privacy and a wonderful place to walk our dogs, Chardonnay and Coraline "Cory". Jay and I love to walk in the woods right after a snow fall, but this winter the snow had gotten so deep, traveling where it wasn’t shoveled was difficult for the past month or two. Having warmed up to a relatively balmy 35 degrees, it was time to take the dogs and ourselves out for some overdue exercise. 
The trail is a big circle, about 2 miles total, and isolated enough that the dogs enjoy running off leash, tracking down scents, then checking back with us every few minutes. Chardonnay is 13-year-old Golden Retriever. Coraline is a 3-year-old Shar-pei mix, a smoke-colored mutt with the speed of greyhound. Although Chardonnay is on medication for her knee and has slowed down considerably over the past couple of years, she still loves to run. 
About half-way around, I noticed that even with the cold temperatures, there was standing water. Big problem when you have a Golden who prefers cooling off in stinky black mud.  I was just about to recommend that we call the dogs back so Chardonnay could be led past the temptation of water when we heard Cory barking excitedly. Oh crap. Someone else is walking back here, I thought. The barking became high-pitched and more frantic; Jay started jogging ahead toward the sound. 
Chardonnay the mud puppy
“A skunk!” he yelled. Well, you know what happened next. The theory is that skunks spray to defend themselves from predators. Too bad it didn’t deter Cory the skunk killer. She broke the poor skunk’s neck, killing it immediately. Chardonnay was close enough to take a good hit. Having been through this once before, I stayed away from the crime scene and let my husband try to get the dogs away from the dead skunk. I wanted to avoid walking through the haze and having the stench cling to me too. 
I finally grabbed Cory’s collar to keep her from running back to her prize, getting the skunk’s blood that was on the dog’s mouth all over my hand. Don’t worry, you can only get rabies from saliva or brain tissue of an infected animal. Our dogs are up-to-date on their shots so they're protected.
The last time the dogs got skunked I had to deal with it by myself since Jay had just had hernia surgery that same day. This time, I was just a wee bit happy that Jay was getting the opportunity to learn all about skunk odor removal.  I offered to help him though with my expert advice, but was determined to allow him to do most of the work.
After a couple of dog baths, wiping down surfaces, mopping wherever they walked in the house, washing clothes and bedding, taking showers and still smelling skunky, it was supper time. Chinese take-out.
I posted a picture of our trouble makers after their baths, looking damp and innocent, on Facebook and asked, “Remind me why we have dogs again?”
The Killer and the Accomplice
As far as I know, even outdoor cats know better than to challenge a skunk. Hell, I've seen pictures of cats and skunks eating out of the same bowl. Dogs are known for pursuing all things bad for them; skunks, porcupines and cars. They will do it even after being hurt or suffering the sting of skunk spray in the face.  They just don’t seem to learn from their mistakes. 
So I started thinking, I have always liked both species, dogs and cats. Each has its pros and cons.  These are some that I came up with: 

You don’t have to wash your hands after petting a cat to get rid of the cat smell.

Dogs rarely vomit up things for you to step in when you least expect it.

Cats don’t eat poop, nor do they roll in the poop or on the dead carcasses of others.

Dogs will often clean up cat vomit for you.  Very helpful.

More people are allergic to cats than dogs. Hey, I’m allergic to both,but I got shots. 

Cats don’t embarrass you by sniffing the crotches of your guests.

Cats don’t deter robbers (unless you have Maine Coon whose size may well convince a burglar you keep wild cats)

Dog vet visits cost a lot more due to extra blood tests for Lyme disease and heartworms.  The cost of spaying a dog is much more than a cat, especially for the larger dogs.

When it comes to traveling, meeting strangers, outdoor activities with their humans, and being trained for a profession such as guiding, hunting, police work or pulling sleds, dogs rule. 

Cats can hide just about anywhere in your house.

Some cats are so good at playing invisible that your friends and family may never know you have one.

One of the selling points of a Maine Coon cat is that it is “dog-like”, meaning it is a gregarious breed.

Dogs are way easier to medicate than a cat. 

Cats are more likely to get on your counter tops, tables and surfaces which have breakable objects.
There are always exceptions
Cats may use your large potted plants as a litter box. 

Dogs may rip your potted plants out of the pot and sling dirt all over the floor (which the cat will then use as a litter box).

Cats have been known to shred upholstery and rugs.

Dogs have been known to rip down dry wall, eat the crotch out of underwear, chew stairs, table legs and numerous other non-edible objects.

An 8-week-old kitten is cute and taught itself to use a litter box about three weeks ago.

               An 8-week-old puppy is cute, but has no bladder control.

Dogs that bark a lot are very annoying and will make your neighbors hate you.

It’s rare for a neighbor to complain about your cat, especially if you keep it inside. 

Infection from cat bites can be dangerous, but a dog is capable of maiming or killing a human.

Conversely, dogs are also more likely than a cat to save a human’s life. 

Dogs offer unconditional love to their humans.

Cats offer their love when you’re trying to do something else, like sleep, read, type on the computer or use the bathroom.

Cats can (and should) be kept exclusively indoors because they can use a litter box in the house.  Dogs have never mastered this skill. For this reason, cats are more convenient pets than dogs.

Some people find the chore of scooping a cat’s litter box repulsive. These are the same people who don’t clean up after their dogs.

And finally, although it’s not recommended, dogs can help you clean the cat’s litter box.
So cute and innocent. For now.
 To further illustrate the differences between cats and dogs, watch this YouTube video.