Sunday, November 1, 2015

Crazy Cat Lady...Not!

I type this with an overly affectionate large brown tabby and white Maine Coon called Bonnie who is feeling pregnant and hormonal, perched on my left arm and shoulder, burying her head into my hair and nibbling on my neck. Bonnie’s great-grandsire, Bugger, lies nearby, supervising all of my laptop usage.

As a breeder of the magnificent Maine Coon Cat, I wonder if others see me as a crazy cat lady. Other cat breeders, probably not. They understand that in order to produce kittens, one needs to have more than two cats. Okay, technically you just need an intact male and female which makes two, but in order to have a breeding program, there needs to be a plan beyond your first litter. You keep a kitten to carry on, but who do you breed that one to if all you have is the kitten’s mom and dad? This ain’t West Virginia folks. We study things like inbreeding coefficients to steer away from too much of a good thing with shared DNA.
But to others; the “normal” people who regard more than two cats as too many, am I a crazy cat lady to them? For those without any pets, your opinion doesn’t count. That would be like a non-parent criticizing someone else’s children. You know who I’m talking about.
The words Crazy Cat Lady do not project a positive image. It’s intended to be an insult even though I know cat fanciers who embrace the term proudly. Frumpy, unmarried, overweight, talks obsessively about her cats as if they are children who talk back. Maybe she’s a hoarder, the ultimate image of a crazy cat lady gone over the top. They do exist; I see them at cat shows along with all the other “regular” cat exhibitors, but they are the minority.

An equestrian, jogger, college graduate, human resources manager, a wife, a sister and daughter, a mother of two grown kids with Celiac Disease; is that who I am or who I was? Well, I’m still a wife, daughter and sister and I’ll always be a mother. In my mind, I am 20 pounds lighter and not hampered by exercise-induced asthma. I can still ride a horse, but seldom get the opportunity these days. Perhaps I’m a novice paralegal, supporting her husband’s new solo law practice, but not having enough to do yet.
Certainly we identify people by their jobs more than anything else which is why I sometimes feel like I need a better label than cat breeder. I cringe when I’m introduced as a Maine Coon breeder to those outside the cat fancy. The first question that follows is, “How many cats do you have?” to which there is no good answer for the average person. Then I feel compelled to explain that I also show my cats, I’m a responsible breeder and the kittens are so popular that I’ll never have enough to meet the demand (and yet I’ll barely break even after all is said and done for them).
At the local cat shows, I often meet followers, my “stalkers” as I affectionately call them. These are the people who light up when they recognize my name or my cattery on the show cage sign, then they tell me how they’ve watched my website for years, read my blog, and/or follow my cattery on Facebook. That’s pretty cool, I admit.
Career-wise, I’ve been little more than a homemaker/stay-at-home Mom/housewife the past several years. That’s another label I never thought would apply to me; homemaker. I was going to have a career AND a family. However, reality, divorce, remarriage, a recession and children who needed me took over. Life happened and my plans were put on hold for so long I no longer have the desire to figure out what they are anymore. The one plan I had some control over was breeding Maine Coons.


Maybe it’s the sum of what we do that matters more than the labels given us. I do still fit in my jeans, but not the way I’d like to. I do pottery, but I’m not a ceramics artist. I am very sarcastic, but I’m not a comedian. I do sing pretty well, but not at Karaoke. I do take back and rehome any cats or kittens I sell if the owner can no longer keep them, but I don't take in strays simply because I have to keep my numbers down. I do enjoy cooking these days, but I am not a chef. I do write a blog, but I haven’t written a book (yet). I do try to stay in my children’s lives and consider myself a good mom. I do break out into song at any cue, but not as annoyingly so as my siblings. I do enjoy travelling to foreign lands for vacation or just for the weekend at a cat show, but I love coming home and hanging with the hubby. I do continue to be a passionate animal lover, but recognize my pets are not “like my children”. I do have a wonderful following of cat lovers and kitten buyers who appreciate me and my cats. I do breed and show Maine Coons, but I am not a crazy cat lady.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Another One Comes Home

In my effort to be a responsible Maine Coon cat breeder, I have vowed to be ultimately responsible for the kittens I sell. This means that even though I sell them to screened, loving homes where they are intended to live long lives as part of a family for the duration of their feline lives, I will take them back if things don’t work out.
Not often, but once in a great while, my kittens have come back. It’s usually as adults, for various reasons; home foreclosure due to job loss, upheaval caused by divorce, severe allergies of a new family member and death of the owner. In virtually all the cases, the owners are distraught about giving their pet back, but realize I can find them a new home more easily than they can. It’s also in most breeders’ contracts to have first right of refusal if the original owner can no longer keep the animal. I would always take the cats back rather than risk them being put in less desirable situations, like an animal shelter.

Almost all of the cats that come back to me are on the younger side and are easily sold to new homes after a short adjustment period where I can have them vetted and assess them. It has always worked out well; a family gets a Maine Coon and a cat gets properly spoiled in a new home.

Recently, I’ve taken older cats back that I felt were too old to re-home. One cat I took back was Ray, a nine-year-old red tabby who I blogged about in February. Ray’s owner had died and Ray himself had been recently diagnosed with cancer.  We enjoyed Ray’s company for about four months before my vet helped him leave us to escape his cancer. 
Last week, I brought Ray’s mother, Boom Boom, home.  I took the 11-year-old cat back from my mother, with whom she’d lived for the past seven years in North Carolina since she retired from breeding (the cat, not my Mom). Some of my readers may remember Dracoonfly Cosseboom, one of the largest female Maine Coons I ever had the pleasure of showing. Even with her tell-tale torbie and white coloring that’s normally assigned only to females, Boom Boom was large enough that a couple of judges felt the need to verify her gender.  Sixteen pounds on a one-year-old Maine Coon is big, even for the boys. Boom Boom earned the titles of CFA Grand Champion and TICA Supreme Grand Champion. In 2008, she became a TICA Outstanding Dam which means five of her offspring also became Grand Champions.

I had not wanted to bring Boom Boom back like this. Unfortunately, between my mother’s liver cancer, her increasing memory loss and my step-father's limited mobility, Boom Boom has not been receiving the attention she needs.  My mother would complain about how much the cat vomited and scratched herself, yet neither she nor my step-dad, John, seemed to be able to take preventive steps.

I spent quite a bit of time and effort over the years, trying to educate Mom and John on the need to avoid feeding Boom Boom cat food with corn meal in the ingredients because of her skin sensitivities.  Cats are obligate carnivores and many pet food manufacturers use corn meal as a cheap source of protein. Cats are not designed to digest corn. Thus, corn meal is a primary reason for cats vomiting after eating. However, Mom and John kept going back to Meow Mix; it was easier to buy at the grocery store than go to a pet specialty store and invest in the better brands I recommended.

In addition to food allergies, Boom Boom also had fleas. Fleas are more difficult to deal with in the South as they hitch rides indoors on people. Keeping a cat indoors is not an absolute guarantee to avoid fleas. Having Revolution applied monthly on the back of her neck to prevent fleas never became a habit for poor Boom Boom. Instead, when Boom Boom scratched, the knee-jerk reaction was to put a Hartz flea collar on her. This was not only ineffective, but irritating to the cat’s sensitive skin. Thanks goodness they never tried Hartz Spot-on as that product (which is still out there for some reason) has been known to cause seizures and death in cats and dogs.

No surprise then that Boom Boom has bald spots and scabs on her. I know I should have taken her back sooner, but when your mother always talks about how much she enjoys the cat every time you talk on the phone and the last doctor’s report indicates her time is getting shorter, you rationalize leaving the cat as a therapy pet for a few more months. My sister and I increased our visits to Mom after we saw the situation last December, when Boom Boom was badly infested with fleas and she’d lost weight.  My mother actually had not noticed because the scratching had become normal for Boom Boom.  We used Revolution to get rid of the fleas and got her weight stabilized. We bought the better dry cat food, but would just return a month later to find Meow Mix again, because “Boom Boom didn’t like the new food”.  My family is just too spread out to make visits more frequently; Mom is in North Carolina, I’m in Connecticut, my sister lives in Minnesota and my brother in Arizona.

So last week my husband and I drove to North Carolina to visit Mom and prepared to return with a cat. We packed the large, collapsible dog crate I use to transport the cats to cat shows. It’s big enough for a litter box and a couple of Maine Coons. We had already checked Boom Boom for fleas and found none, but just in case, the last day Boom Boom was at Mom and John’s house, I gave her a Capstar pill and a bath. Capstar will kill any remaining fleas within 30 minutes and I wasn’t taking any chances of bringing the little blood-suckers in my house.  Mom asked if we wanted to take Boom Boom’s cat tree for her, but we didn’t want to take a chance on unhatched eggs either.  I have several cats, two dogs and no fleas. I want to keep it that way. The seven-foot cat tree went to the dump.

I was very nervous about the prospect of taking my mother’s cat away from her. I had a vision of Mom bursting into tears and begging me not to take Boom Boom. To offset this, I had bought Mom one of those realistic-looking stuffed cats that lies curled up and breathes with the help of a D battery as a substitute to sit on her recliner with her. I also enlisted my step-father’s support as I knew he was tired of taking care of the cat. If Mom forgot why Boom Boom was gone, I needed John to be able to give her gentle reminders. Mom just can’t do it anymore and although John likes Boom Boom, he has enough on his plate with his wife and his own limitations.  

John agreed that this would be best and backed me up. We told Mom that Boom Boom needed to come back home with me where I could take care of her. Mom was in agreement; she even thanked me several times for taking care of Boom Boom during the week we were down there. Mom tends to repeat herself, but I was happy she remembered what I was intending to do. Still, when the time came for us to leave, Mom burst into tears.

Why does this have to be so hard? Aging parents. Cancer. Dementia. Aging, neglected cats. In the end, we’re trying to make the best of a bad situation. Mom calmed down quickly, saying she hadn’t intended to cry. Something would be wrong with her if she weren’t upset. I know how much she loves this cat. I reminded Mom that seven years ago I had cried when she took Boom Boom away to live with her in North Carolina.

Now that Boom Boom has been back a week, she seems very happy. My mother still thanks me for taking care of the cat, and is getting used to being cat-less. Boom Boom doesn’t appreciate our other cats yet, but she clearly remembered our house, jumping immediately into our master bathroom window. Right now, she’s enjoying an itch-free lifestyle, learning to like new foods, and meeting the other cats one by one while she lives in our bedroom. When Boom Boom is ready, she’ll come downstairs on her own terms and take on the rest of the household. I’m relieved the transition is working out well and we’re happy to have Boom Boom back in the family.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Bobbing for Beetles

It's summer time, the living is easy and my chickens are loving it. It's also time for gardening and dealing with the pests that come along with it. One reason I wanted chickens was to have a natural means to take care of the ticks and other bugs. One of the most infamous garden pests is the Japanese Beetle.

I read an idea in my Backyard Poultry Magazine (I know, you probably thought I read Cosmo) that I decided to modify and try to not only rid our yard from Japanese Beetles, but to also provide extra nutrition for our 18 hens and one roo.

From our friendly neighborhood Holdridge Home and Garden, I bought a beetle trap which works by suspending a pheromone attractor over a bag. Plastic supports hold the magic aphrodisiac in place, also keeping the bag open and wing inserts prevent the buggers from crawling back out. There's a zipper at the bottom of the bag for easy emptying. It's a clever invention in theory, but I wondered as I looked for a place to hang my beetle trap if it would really work. Doubts were quickly dispersed as Japanese Beetles started bombing me; I was blocking their flight paths toward their hearts' desire.

The magazine article suggested not allowing the bugs to collect in the bag as they become disgusting pretty fast in the summer sun and you want to feed live, healthy critters to your chickens. The author suspends his beetle trap over a ten gallon bucket, both hung over a hook. The beetles fly to the trap and fall through the open bag to the water below which effectly holds them hostage.

Trapped Beetles Await Their Fate in the Bag
Not having a hook already set up on our yard and too lazy to do anything about it, I came up with an alterative. Since the goal is to provide extra treats for the chickens, I had to have a way to serve the beetles without allowing them to fly away and escape the eager beaks. The beetles are very fast flyers and if they are just dumped out on the ground in front of the chickens, most will escape. I know, I tried it. So every day or so, I unzip the bottom of the beetle bag and let the day's catch drop into a waiting bowl of water. Beetles are not good swimmers so they cling to one another, forming little beetle rafts which also keeps them from getting away easily.

Water Bowl Waiting to Receive the Beetle Bounty from Above

I then take my water bowl of beetles and serve it to the waiting flock who devour them in about 30 seconds. Bobbing for beetles has now become part of our routine.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Things My Daddy Taught Me

As I did for my mom on Mother's Day, for Father's Day I have written down the things my dear Papa has taught me. Whether my dad intentionally set out to teach us these things or not, I find myself doing or referring to "Dadisms" quite frequently throughout my adult life.

Do stretching exercises at rest stops when traveling, ostensibly to keep the blood flowing, but mostly to embarrass your children and grandchildren.
Know how to check your car’s oil yourself.
Women should expect men to treat them with respect.
It’s “chimney” not “chimley”.
Real men cry.
When watching TV, conduct the theme music.
Be politically correct.
A change of key is called modulation; Barry Manilow was notorious for modulating. 
Exhale deeply and loudly when stretching to get everyone’s attention and/or make people wonder if you’re okay.
Flatulence in an enclosed space can be deadly and will be talked about for years to come.

When the accelerator cable on your 1972 VW Beetle breaks, take your screwdriver out of the glove compartment and adjust the timing on the engine so it idles fast enough to putt-putt at 20 MPH to the nearest service station.

For all major endeavors, have a Plan A, B and C.
When your teenager confides what she’s been up to, don’t freak out but instead tell her you’re glad she came to you. 
Precede your instructions with “May I suggest, “ so others won’t think you’re too controlling.
Don’t describe people simply by the color of their skin.
If you’re uncomfortable and someone can do something about it, speak up rather than put up.
Don’t put a spoon into a blender full of potatoes until the blades have completely stopped.

Stay in good physical shape so you can claim that you weigh the same as you did in college.
E-nun-ci-ate, ar-ti-cu-late and be correct in all things grammar.
Sing frequently and often around the house in full voice. My favorite? “She has freckles on her butt….she’s nice”.
You may over-communicate until others’ eyes roll out of their heads, but they can never claim they didn’t know or that you’re unorganized. 
Never hesitate to tell your family that you love them and are proud.
Even though you don’t really understand it, support your young daughter’s obsession with animals, especially her desire to have a pony. Later, warn her husband that she also always wanted a Jersey cow.

When napping on the couch, don’t react to anything going on around you, like when your young daughters apply make-up to your face or your 3-year-old grandson licks your glasses.

If you’re really angry at something your child did, warn her that you’re about to lose your temper.  Sorry, that always made me giggle (silently).
Embrace technology and learning new things.
Don’t attempt to do basic maintenance on newer cars; what you think are spark plugs are not.

Men can be feminists too.
Keep the “I Heart Dad” socks your daughter gave you for Father’s Day forever, always wearing them when you see her, even thirty-plus years later.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Shopping for Spring Chicks

Spring will come, I promise. I know this not because of the weather conditions, but because the local feed stores are starting to get in baby chicks to sell.
For those who may be newer to the chicken fancy, there’s a multitude of information that can be found online. I still find to be an invaluable resource for everything from preferred breeds to healthcare to coop designs.
Since I began keeping backyard chickens almost 6 years ago, I have acquired new chicks every year, one way or another. My original flock of nine has grown to 20. I have expanded in part because I like so many different breeds that I had to have at least one (or two) of each kind. My flock of 20 is represented by 10 different breeds of chickens. I like the variety I get with the different colors of eggs and having chickens that I can easily tell apart.
I have found that as my older girls decrease their egg laying production, it helps to have new pullets to continue to supply my family with eggs. Although hens are clearly most productive during their first two years, they will continue to lay as an older hen, just not as often. We have a hard rule to not cull our chickens as these are our pets. The older, and by older I mean three years and up, lay primarily during the longer days of spring and summer, then take a sabbatical starting in the fall. I look at it as the younger girls paying into the social security fund of the menopausal ones.
I have obtained chicks utilizing different methods; by ordering them online from a hatchery in the mid-west, feed stores, hatching my own eggs, mail-order from a breeder and directly from breeders at poultry shows. I have yet to attend a chicken swap meet, but that’s an idea too. I would prefer to get them all directly from the breeder as those chicks are generally most likely to fit the standard for the breed. I was amazed when I saw the Buff Orpingtons at my first poultry show as they were easily twice as large as our online-ordered Buffy. I also trust the health more from breeders as opposed to mid-west hatcheries, although I have no personal experience to support that.
I have, however, encountered a few issues when shopping for chicks at a poultry show. The breed I want may not be available or even at the show I choose to attend. I have had the best luck purchasing young adult chickens at poultry shows. I suggest Googling “Poultry Shows” to find show and swap meet dates in your area.
Most chicks purchased from a feed store originate from the big hatcheries in the mid-west. The feed stores are merely the middle man. They are already sexed to be all female unless straight run is indicated. Feed stores usually carry four to six of the more popular breeds. In Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and other states, the law requires that buyers must purchase at least six chicks at one time. I was told this was to limit frivolous single Easter chick purchases and protect the chicks from those who are not likely to know what they are doing. Chickens are flock animals so a single chick is not going to be happy or healthy. I have been able to get around the six-chick rule with a couple of feed stores after I explained that I already had a backyard flock, it was after Easter already and I didn’t have room for more than three new chicks. Although you can have the immediate satisfaction of selecting your chicks at a feed store and taking it home that day along with all the supplies, the variety of breeds are limited. If you want a Polish Crested with its crazy Cruella Deville hair, a cute Silkie or a Marans hen that lays chocolate brown eggs, don’t look at Tractor Supply.
My very first chicks arrived from Meyer Hatchery in Polk, Ohio. The reason I initially chose Meyer was that it was the only online hatchery I could find that would ship as few as three chicks. Most hatcheries require a 15-25 minimum order, depending upon the time of year. With an online hatchery, your choices are much greater. I found it easy to pick and choose which breed and color I wanted, easy because the websites include descriptions of the chickens (personalities, cold/heat tolerance, egg color), hatch dates, and whether I wanted all female, male or straight run (mix of both genders).
If you do encounter a problem with a minimum chick number requirement, one can often find fellow chicken keepers to split the order.
My chicks arrived when they were two days old at my local post office. They had nesting material and heating packs in their special live chick box. Because newly-hatched chicks still have a yolk sack on their abdomens which provides them with 72 hours worth of continued nutrition, the best age to mail chicks is the day they emerge from their shells.
I have had limited success with hatching my own eggs. I don’t have an incubator, but the one thing a Silkie hen is good for besides looking cute, is sitting on eggs, no matter what the source. I have used my Silkies to hatch a friend’s pheasant eggs and eggs from other hens. The problems I experienced were infertile eggs (read rotten), a low hatch rate (only one out of four eggs ended up as a live chick) and not getting girl chicks.
Along with many of the chicken fanciers of the world, I only want female chicks or  pullets (young hens under the age of one year). Roosters are not necessary to get a hen to lay eggs, plus they have a reputation for becoming aggressive toward humans. Many towns have ordinances which will allow chickens to be kept in backyards as long as none of them ever crow. Crowing is not just a morning activity, but one that begins around 4 am and continues throughout the day. I have come to regard a rooster’s crow as nature’s music, but if we lived in the burbs, I wouldn’t want to subject my next door neighbors to the music blasting from my backyard.
Statistically, half of all eggs hatched will result in male chicks. It is a major disadvantage to be a boy in the chicken world. Realistically, people don’t need half of their chickens to be male. Hens not only lay the eggs, but they are quieter, gentler, and, if one is so inclined, better to eat. If the chicken reproduction world were as advanced as the dairy industry, the gender could be pre-determined. Dairy farmers also only need female calves, but they are now able to artificially inseminate their cows with semen that is already divided to produce only girls. My wish would be that scientists could come up with a way to ensure only female hatchlings and avoid a lot of the chicken gendercide.
There are those who proclaim the hatcheries to be the enemy because they end up killing the unwanted male chicks. The animal rights activists push the vegan agenda with their hatchery abuse videos. However, the video I’ve seen represents the factory farmers who raise chickens for the big companies like Purdue.  While I would agree that factory farming methods are disturbing and inhumane, not all hatcheries should fall under the same label.
The hatcheries that cater to the local farmers and backyard breeders seem to be a lot more humane in that they’re selling pets and heritage breeds. These hatcheries try to place as many boys as they can by having local sales. Some hatcheries use the male chicks as extra packing warmth with other chick orders. In the latter case, this means that if I ordered six Silver-laced Wyandotte pullets, I may also receive an equal number of little cockerels in whatever breed that wouldn’t sell.  
On the other hand, your local chicken breeder will also end up culling unwanted roosters, just at an older age. I’ve been to poultry shows where the breeders were trying hard to sell us roosters because otherwise they’ll end up slaughtering whatever cockerels they didn’t sell when they got back to the farm.
Some suggest that when ordering online to only order a straight run of chicks which is supposed to be an even mix of genders so as not to discriminate against the boys. Realistically, with so many people ordering pullets only, those who order a straight run may receive more than 50% male chicks. Until the day arrives where the only male chicks that hatch are those that are wanted, I try to be practical. It is much easier for me personally, since I don’t eat my chickens, to only bring in pullets to begin with.
As surely as the snow will melt and the mud will dry, little peeps will be arriving regularly. They may come to the post office, the feed store, the poultry show or with your neighbor. With so much cuteness and promise of the best eggs ever, it’s time to start shopping.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bahamas vs. Connecticut

My husband, Jay, is an avid fly-fisherman. Ties his own flies, Vice-President of the fishing club, and can tell you what kind of fish you’ll catch on what type of fly during a particular season. In short, Jay lives for fishing. Once a year he travels to Canada with his friend Curt to spend a lot of money trying to catch the elusive salmon. The weather stinks, the people are great, and he may catch one or two salmon if he’s lucky after standing in a frigid river for 8 hours. He has a great time and comes home telling me how he wants to take me there sometime. Freezing weather in the middle of nowhere, no matter how beautiful, is not my thing.  I can fly fish, but it’s not something I want to spend hours doing, every day.
This year Jay was invited to go fishing with Curt and join a mutual friend of theirs, Steve, who rents a house for 3 months a year. That’s great. I have no desire to hang out with these codgers. Both men are older than Jay, one is a hypochondriac and the other has no regard for his personal hygiene. However, Steve’s rental home is in the Bahamas, on a small island near Eleuthra which can only be accessed by water taxi. Steve also has a boat there. Much less costly, and ever so much more desirable a place to hang out doing nothing, especially since our snow is taking forever to melt this year. Still, I really didn’t want to go, not with that group. Plus I’ve been to the Bahamas before, twice (in my life before Jay) and it wasn’t in a one-bedroom cabin shared with three others.
However, saying I’m here in cold Connecticut while my husband is bonefishing in the Bahamas generally garners some sympathy.  Jay was actually feeling guilty about leaving me weeks before he left. Mind you, he still obsessed about the trip, packing a week in advance, buying a new fly rod, tying more flies than he would ever need, flies that only the mighty bonefish will take because the fish eat differently there. He was excited about going, yet definitely feeling  guilt not normally expressed before the Canada trips.
After Jay arrived at his fishing destination, he called every night to report in.  I found that I could counter every wonderful experience he was having in the Bahamas with one of equally opposite appeal back home.

First night’s report: “It’s beautiful here! The water is so blue.”
I responded with, “The snow is beautiful here too.”
“It snowed again? Are you serious?”
I took a picture of our newest winter wonderland and sent it as proof. “Yep. About three inches.”
Jay: “I’m tired from walking on the beach all day.”
Me: “I understand. I’m tired from shoveling snow.”
Next day. Jay: “I caught a barracuda!”
“That’s nice Dear. I caught a cold.”
Day Three: “We saw sea turtles and lots of sting rays.”
“That’s nice. I took the old, sick Hamburg hen to the vet to be euthanized today. She was suffering and I couldn’t watch her like that anymore. “
Day Four: “I’ve been doing a lot of the cooking. The other two aren’t very good in the kitchen. Steve almost set the grill on fire.”
Me: “Me too. And I’m not doing the wood stove anymore because I end up smelling like a camper.”
Day Five: “We ate out tonight. They serve a lot of conch soup here. The people are so friendly. We’ve been drinking a lot of rum drinks.”
Me: “That’s nice, Dear. My nose is sore and red so I’m making chicken soup. Later I’ll have orange juice mixed with cran-mango juice…plus vodka.  Then I’ll take a Benadryl before bed to combat my cold.”
Day Six: “I had a bonefish on the line but it broke off. Man, do they fight! It was so exciting; it ran my reel all the way out.”
“I bought new rain boots to walk in the mud to the barn because my old ones leaked so badly. ”
Day Seven: “Well, Honey, we’re on our way home.”
“Lovely. I’m going to a cat show in Canada next weekend. Would you like to come with me? Oh, never mind, you’d miss Opening Day for trout season.”
Jay: “Are you kidding? I’d love to spend the weekend at a cat show with you instead of fishing.”
Me: “Thought so.”

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Birthday Girl

I note the birthdays of all my Maine Coon litters on my Facebook page. I tell my cats "Happy Birthday!" when it's their big day, but that's as far as the recognition goes. However, when the oldest pet in the house turned 14 today, I felt the need to put forth more effort. No, not the party hat and cake; she wouldn't understand and may even find it humiliating.

14 years ago - this photo is still on our fridge
For the past couple of years, I've felt we were on borrowed time with Chardonnay, our Golden Retriever. She's had a tumor removed. She's had one seizure, possibly linked to a brain tumor according to our vet, but that was over a year ago. Her knees are bad and her hips have atrophied; she's on medication and supplements to help her. She hesitates before getting up and navigating the steps. Her hearing is almost shot and her eyes are foggy. Her skin has several gross-feeling cysts the size of an engorged tick. I blogged about Chardonnay on her tenth birthday in part because I wasn't sure how much longer she'd be with us.

But once up, Chardonnay trots along happily. She still practices caprophagia with tremendous passion whenever the opportunity to eat poop arises. She can't hear us tell her to be quiet, but she can always hear Coraline barking at imagined intruders and joins in. She turned grey a decade ago, but has maintained her girlish figure of 83 pounds all these years.

I've never had a dog live this long before. I've never even had a purebred dog before Chardonnay. I know of many who have had retrievers (Lab or Golden) who didn't make it past 10 years old. Once in a while, I'll hear of one who lives to 16, but that's rare for a large breed. For me, Chardonnay's birthday is sentimental and an accomplishment.

So today, on Chardonnay's 14th birthday, I thought I'd take her on a shopping trip to Pet Supplies Plus. It's a perfect day for her breed; cold, fresh snow and freezing rain, adding to the snow that will never melt after our never-ending winter. Snow is Chardonnay's favorite element. If it were nicer weather for humans, I'd take her for a hike in the woods.

I brushed her, getting a couple of puppies worth of fur off. Gave her a mani-pedi while the others watched.

Next, I lifted her into the back of my car and off we went. Chardonnay loves car rides and meeting new people. Once at our destination, I helped the old girl out and we trotted into the store. When I announced to the sales associate that we were here to shop for Chardonnay's birthday, she proclaimed that meant she got a free cookie.
Getting her treat at Pet Supplies Plus
Everyone in the store petted her, and I'm sure Chardonnay assumed they all came to see her. She gets a bit miffed when kitten buyers come over and spend more time looking at kittens than they do her. We walked down the aisles, stopping to sniff all the food bags, treats and toys. I offered Chardonnay several toys; the stuffed chicken, the tug toy, a ball perhaps? Nope, just food thank you. She enjoys eating and napping the most these days.

Window shopping
We filled up our cart with the other items we needed, picked up a few more dog treats and checked out. Chardonnay got to eat another big cookie in the car, happily munching away while I drove home. Happy birthday puppy girl!
Happy Girl!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Back to the Fold

Responsible breeders of purebred animals have an unwritten code of ethics to be available for the entire life of the creatures born in their home.  Many of us have contractual agreements with our clients to be notified in the event that they can no longer keep their pet.  Over the years, I’ve taken my Maine Coon kittens back as adults because of financial hardship/loss of home, divorce, major health issues in the family, and death of the owner.  In all of these cases, I was able to find a new home for the cat so they only had to live with us a couple of months.  Until now.
Part of the musical litter named Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La and Ti, Ray (Re) was kept and shown as a neutered male. He had mitral valve dysplasia pretty severely as a kitten so I wasn’t sure initially how long he would live. As Ray developed, his heart did too, and although he kept his heart murmur, his cardiologist no longer considered it life-threatening.  Dracoonfly Renegade Ray was shown to the title of CFA Grand Premier and TICA Supreme Grand Champion Alter. 
Six years later, I decided Ray would be happier if he could be a spoiled only child. He had become increasingly unhappy with some of the other cats.  I placed him with Ella, a widow who lived in a lovely elder apartment community.  Ella’s daughter, Linda, had been looking for an adult cat to provide companionship for her aging mother and Ray was a perfect fit.  I even went to visit Ray about six months after he joined Ella to check in on him.  Ray and Ella had bonded beautifully.
Last week, Linda informed me that her mother had passed. Linda couldn’t keep cats in her own apartment so would I take Ray back? She was overwhelmed with the death of her mother and needed to have one less worry. Of course, I’d love to see Ray again, I told her.
Just one thing, Ray isn’t well.  Just a couple of weeks before, she noticed he’d lost weight.  Her vet ran several  tests and an abdominal mass around Ray’s gall bladder was discovered last month. His prognosis was not good. Ray would be coming home to die.  Linda had her husband drop Ray off the next day, with all his toys, brushes, scratching post, food and litter. She included a thank you card with money to help with his medical expenses.
So now I have him, my big red “Ray Ray”, my “Rainman”; “Superman” to my granddaughter. He was gone for three years, but clearly remembered his old buddies Bugger, Bubba and Chardonnay. The rest of the clan isn’t too sure what to think of the intruder (he’ll be an intruder until he smells more like my house), but they’re getting used to it. He still looks like the 20-pound cat that left me, but feeling through his heavy coat to his body tells a different story. Ray has lost four pounds and he feels very bony underneath all that hair. Once we get all the mats out, his weight loss will probably be even more apparent.
Ray’s vet has transferred his records to mine and she’s in agreement that with his age, weight loss, the elevated white blood count and the mass, Ray probably has cancer. Gall bladder disease is extremely rare in cats so it’s not as simple as removing the organ. The only way to know for sure would be to do exploratory surgery and I don’t want to put him through that.
As a breeder, I track the health of my kittens, just in case a genetic problem presents itself. However, Ray is considered an older cat at nine.  His sire, dam and six littermates are all doing well.  Sometimes, shit happens. 
Ray still seems happy; he eats well and loves to have his head rubbed, but I know he’s stressed with all the changes in the past week.  His purr should reassure me that he feels okay, but I know that purring is also a cat’s way of managing pain so I can’t use that as a barometer.  I have to watch his appetite, his litter box, his activity level and track his weight.  He’s had diarrhea so that’s worrisome. So now I’m in charge of Ray’s quality of life, a job I’ve unfortunately learned over the years. I’m not one for heroics, nor do I ever want prolong the inevitable for my own selfish reasons.  In situations like these, I watch the cat closely and try to put myself in their place.  Ray’s time with us may be short this go around, but he’s still my Ray Ray.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Out of My Way Already!

The blizzard of 2015 is coming, a "Nor' Beaster" they say. The supposedly historic storm that will wallop the northeast, particularly the coast, has gotten everyone in a tizzy. Normally, being closer to the coast has the benefit of giving us six to twelve inches less snow than our neighbors will receive one hour west. My husband the boy scout has made his preparedness list: firewood inside for the woodstove, water jugs filled, batteries, bird feeders filled, chicken coop prepared. And of course, bread and milk. Don’t know why the last one; we’re mostly gluten free and lactose intolerant.
This morning, while the snow was still whispering of the threat to come, Jay and I cleaned out the chicken coop and put down lime, diatomaceous earth and fresh shavings. The dogs came out with us.  Our geriatric Golden Retriever, Chardonnay, lives for this kind of weather. Snow is heaven for a Golden. For Coraline, the short-haired Shar-pei mix, not so much.  She wears her pink jacket when it’s cold and has a low tolerance of the whole precipitation thing.
The chickens’ water and food dispensers were filled. The water and its heater were brought inside so when the storm hits, the girls and the new rooster, Sam, can stay closed up comfortably inside. They have a heater in their coop to keep the worst of the chill off, as long as we have power. As we worked, the chickens were everywhere we didn’t want them to be; in the way of the rake and shovel, clucking ahead of me while I focused on my tasks at hand. I finally asked Jay to offer them scratch outside to try to give me some room to work.
Sam and his girls

Coraline became tired of waiting for us to let her back inside, and as she has been known to do, let herself back in by pulling the door handle down. Cory will shut the door behind her, but only if we are there to instruct her. We were still working outside and didn’t notice the wide open back door for a few minutes. A couple of cats wandered out, marveling at the snow. I heard a “Crap!” and looked up to see Jay rushing to the door to close it, cats running back in as he approached. Cory was shut in the house. Fortunately, she doesn’t know how to open the door from the inside.
Back in the house and outside chores completed, Jay looked out the window and noticed a small bird that wasn’t acting right. At first it appeared that the tiny black and grey Chickadee was carrying a thread. Then it became apparent that it was entangled and tethered to the tree by the thread. Jay held the bird while I worked to get it loose from the almost invisible thread that was wrapped around its body. Even its foot was bound to a flight feather. The little guy was frightened, but still had the wherewithal to bite us. Fortunately, a Chickadee bite isn’t as powerful as that of a chicken. After about five minutes, the thread was separated and the Chickadee flew away. It would have been a great viral video moment had anyone been there to record it. We feel so fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time.
Most of the storm preparation completed, Jay went upstairs to take a call for work. I decided to fill the dogs’ five gallon water jug. I got our big red Maine Coon, Pipsqueak, out of the sink so I could fill the jug. She still hovered close by, supervising my actions. “Could you move?” I asked while putting her on the floor. Why do the animals always have to get in the way when I’m busy? They always seem to be right where I’m walking or about to sit.
I looked out the kitchen window as the snow gently covered the ground, dusting the black smoke cat who was wandering around the bird feeder. Crap! We missed one. Tina is our adventurous, and pregnant, female. I turned off the running water and rushed to put my boots and coat on. Jay called down to me to ask where the kitten was.  He couldn’t find little Kate in our master bathroom where she is supposed to be and her mother, Kiss, was frantic.  I had a new priority and yelled, “Tina is outside!” as I went out in the snow.
I circled the house, calling and looking under bushes. Normally if a cat gets out, it will instinctively hide under our deck. Our cats are exclusively indoors so the great outdoors terrifies them. Except for Tina, that is. She's an indoor cat, but a rebellious one. The last I’d seen of Tina was when she was leaving the bird feeder area and headed toward the front yard. Tina had kept several steps ahead of me and also circled the house where I found her sitting calmly by the back door once I caught up. Apparently the adventure had lost some of its fun with the reality of snow and cold. I opened the door and Tina sauntered in. Wiping the snow off of her coat, I lectured all the creatures surrounding me about the dangers of going out. Didn’t they know there was a blizzard coming? Be grateful you don’t have to live outside, dammit!
Jay called back downstairs. Did I know where the kitten was? Jeez! I had a good idea since I’d heard the cabinet doors under our bathroom sink opening and closing before. Under the sink, behind closed cabinet doors, we have a laundry drop to the washing machine downstairs. The drop is about two feet before the clothes land in the basket. I had done most of the laundry, but there were still dirty clothes in there. I reached up and opened the cabinet over the washing machine and pulled out the basket of clothes. Sure enough, cute little 5-week-old Kate the kitten sat there nestled in the laundry and looking very comfortable in her new bed. I took the kitten back to her anxious mother upstairs and, using a bungee cord, secured the cabinet doors.

Kate the laundry princess

Enough drama with the animals already! Can we just get on with the blizzard? Check back with me tomorrow to see if I need digging out.