Category Archives: Cats Plants Animals

Our dilemma

I have always wanted a dog – always.

Given a choice, I would have gone with a career of veterinarian, because animals are, and always have been, my first and best love.  But given my rampant allergies (an allergist recently told me that I’m “allergic to everything”), and given that I have no talent in math or science (which made my physicist father sad), being a veterinarian was never an option.

So when I was about ten I talked to my mother about my desire to have a dog.  My mother replied that if I kept my room clean for a year, then I would have shown the necessary responsibility to have a dog.   Being the tidiest member of my immediate family at the time (my mother, my father, and me, since my siblings were grown up and away at college), it was an easy thing for me to keep my room clean for a year.  I thought it was a done deal, that I had earned my dream dog, a rough-coat collie just like Lassie, but my mother failed me on a technicality.  I don’t remember what the technicality was, but clearly I had surprised her in my desire to have a dog – clearly she didn’t expect me to have met the criteria and kept to my clean behavior for a year.  Long story short, I didn’t get a dog, and I consoled myself with time spent with our outdoor/indoor cat Tabby, a sweet but grumpy girl who refused to be picked up and who would only snuggle with me when I was wearing my mother’s pale blue fake fur bathrobe.

Fast forward to this year.  It’s been a rough couple of years, and I’ve been fantasizing about better days.  When my beloved feral project Mommy Cat perished in the cold spell of February of this year, most likely after having been shot by a BB gun, I started to allow myself to think about getting a dog.  Mommy Cat would have never stood for a dog in her yard, and I would never have brought a dog into our lives as long as she was alive.  But after I grieved her miserable and untimely passing I allowed myself to start thinking about what our lives would be like with a dog.  I surfed various dog adoption websites.  I talked to my dear father, who at this point was suffering from dementia, about the dogs I had applied for.  I showed Dad photos of the dogs, and talked to him about his childhood dog, Tuffy.  And after Dad’s death in April, I got really serious about getting a dog.  I put in adoption applications for ten or so dogs, always missing out because I hesitated too long in applying and someone else who was quicker got the dog.

I knew exactly what kind of dog I wanted, and what kind of dog would work for our home:  three to four years old, mellow, a dog that had lived with cats, and a dog who was good with children.  My perfect dog would be trainable to be a reading therapy dog, and would snuggle happily with our three kitties at night.

And then I applied for a dog from a different adoption agency than the one I had been working with.  The first agency collects adoption applications from many applicants, giving priority to first applications and then to applicants who best suit the dog.  I had missed out on many dogs due to my response time, but had been told that we had a “lovely home.”  So with this different agency (recommended to me by my dentist), when I saw Layla, I applied almost immediately.  First I sent them an email asking if Layla was good with cats, and when the response was, “Yes!  Layla has been cat-tested and done great!”, I applied.

This agency worked differently from the other – I was the first to apply for Layla, so I was given first priority, and Layla was immediately removed from their website.  She was described as “a lovely Lab/Spaniel mix” who was two years old and “sweet, gentle, and quiet” and good with cats.  In phone conversations with her Southern foster and foster supervisor, I was told how Layla was extremely mature for her age, exceptionally smart, had no prey drive, and was very good with cats.  “Yay!” I thought, with tears in my eyes, “I’ve found the perfect dog for us!!!”

In no way do I fault this adoption agency – they are very good people doing very good things for very needy dogs –  but after meeting “Layla” Jim and I learned that they hadn’t met the real dog.  Clearly they had been in the so-called “honeymoon period” with this dog, and she hadn’t shown them her true personality.

Now named Clara by us, our sweet crazy pooch could best be described this way:  sweet, gentle with kids, crazy, just over a year old (i.e., still a teenager), bonkers, spazzy, completely untrained, has a really high prey drive, and is a Lab/Hound mix with a very very big voice (when she uses it).  She’s good with other dogs, but extremely excitable.  When she sees anything that looks like prey (including our cats), she barks in her loud hound voice and goes after it with all guns blazing.  She’s not mature – did I mention that she’s actually a teenager? – and can drive you nuts with her enthusiasm.  By some miracle she passed the Basic Obedience Course we took with her; the course instructor said she was “very surprised,” as were we.  But that night of good obedience was clearly a fluke, and our dear sweet Clara has shown time and again that she needs A Lot More Training.

And here is our problem:  we have fallen in love with this crazy dog, and despite a recent email to the adoption agency detailing our worries about Clara and the cats, we are hard-pressed to give up on our silly Clara Kerfuffle.

But our three wonderful cats are terrified by Clara.  Our cats, Moses, Millie, and Moxie, are feral-background cats who were born to feral Mommy Cat in our yard, and who we personally trapped and tamed (in the case of Moxie, against all odds).  Our vet has told us that these cats can never live with other humans, that their feral background precludes them from accepting other two-legs.  And these same cats have shown great signs of stress from being in the house with Crazy Clara, including a UTI for Moses and all three cats eating half what they normally do.  I can’t blame them:  Clara barks at them, chases them, and corners them when given the opportunity.  Clara has a very high prey drive, and our scared kitties provide excellent potential prey for her, not housemates.  If only they would stand up to her and give her a good scratchy swipe on her nose, then perhaps the dynamic would shift.  But they’re not built that way, and they run in terror from the Great Black and White Loud Barking Thing with Really Big Teeth.

Currently, we live a life divided.  Our small house, only 1,000 square feet, has a Cat Side and a Dog Side.  We can either spend time with Clara, or we can spend time with the cats.  When we are with Clara, the cats give us sad eyes through the French door.  When we are with the cats, Clara has to go into That Stinking Crate because otherwise she will chew and destroy everything in her reach.

What are we to do?  Clara has brought a lot of great things into our lives.  As a childless couple, Clara provides us with a great intro to people we don’t know.  She’s cute, she’s charming, everyone loves her and wants to meet her.  She’s a dog in a million, truly, and we are very blessed to know her.

But we’re also very blessed by our sweet, loving kitties.  And it doesn’t seem fair that we’ve brought such stress and strain into their otherwise charmed lives.

Life without our kitties is unimaginable.  Life without Clara is a very sad thought indeed.  Perhaps our dilemma is insignificant to some, but I take it very seriously.  Four vulnerable lives are affected here, four lives of four beings who can’t speak for themselves.  I wish I knew what the right answer was to our dilemma.  And I sometimes (often?) wish that my selfish desire for a dog hadn’t put us into this position of having to choose one breed of animal over another.

Clarabelle

I might need to change the description of this blog – adding “and dogs” – because we brought home a new family member on Saturday.

Her name is Clarabelle, and she’s a sweet, mostly mellow, loving gal from East Tennessee.  She met our vet yesterday, and he thinks she is less than two years old, and that she is a “failed hunting dog” due to her docked tail and her probable breed mix (he thinks lab/hound mix, or perhaps lab/hound/terrier mix).  His best guess is that she was dumped after failing her hunting dog training.

All we know of her background is that she was found near the end of April at a general store in Tennessee, where she was going into and out of the store being social with people.  She then moved on to a different general store and did the same thing, at which point she was picked up by the MARC rescue group.  Clara had obviously been nursing puppies, and the rescue thought that maybe the seven puppies they had found a few days prior to finding Clara might be hers, but she rejected those puppies.  Clara was fostered in a loving home, and put up for adoption by Great Dog Rescue of New England (her name at that time was Layla, but we couldn’t live with that song going through our heads for the rest of our lives!).

Clara is incredibly sweet, and good with people and dogs (a bit submissive with other dogs, actually).  She rarely barks, although she gets a bit riled by bunnies in yards and the Weimaraner down the street.  Thankfully, she couldn’t care less about our neighbor’s two barky hounds.

20160528_131435 20160528_170445 20160528_171916We’re taking the introductions with the cats very very slowly, especially since Clara seems to have a bit of a prey drive (contrary to what the rescue group told us).  So far Clara and the cats have only met by smelling each other’s traces in our living space and by seeing each other through the French doors.  Our vet gave me some good tips to help ease the introduction process, including taking it very slowly, rubbing a towel on the cats and putting that towel in Clara’s crate, and good advice on how to manage the day of face-to-face intros.  Clara has lived with a cat before, so we’re hopeful that we can make this work and have a very happy home!

Vacation

Ah, yes, vacation.

Jim and I are enjoying some much needed R & R, including plenty of cuddle time with the three varmints.  (Below are my two new favorite photos of dear sweet wild little Moxie.)  We don’t have much excitement planned for this vacation, but hopefully in a day or two I will be renenergized and reinspired to post something of substance here, especially since Jennifer and I have come up with some cool new programs for the fall at the library.  Until then, enjoy the Moxie photos!

Moxie Sweet Moxie paws

Summer update

This has been the CRAZIEST summer reading program I have ever seen at the library – constantly busy, every day, with almost no down time – and considering that this is my ninth summer at the library, that’s saying something.  Mind you, a crazy busy summer at the library is a very good problem to have!

So this is just a very quick update on my summer, all aspects (with, of course, some cat photos!):

Great programs so far this summer at the library, including the annual Ice Cream Social, a concert with the Toe Jam Puppet Band, stories with Mark Binder, hula hooping with Pinto Bella Hoops, a Historical Sword Demonstration with Jeff Goodhind and Jeff Lord, four book group meetings, and storytimes.  And lots and lots and lots of kids doing huge amounts of reading (and collecting prizes and working towards their summer reading bookplates).

Home improvement projects are continuing as we can find time to do them.  We priced out buying new kitchen cabinets from Home Depot, and realized that it would be cheaper for Jim to build our new cabinets – so that is Jim’s current project.  The quote from the electrician for the necessary work in the kitchen should be coming in soon, hopefully low enough that we can afford it, and then we need to figure out our timeline and finally finish off that kitchen.

Needless to say, this summer’s vacation week will be a staycation yet again, both because we need to fund the home improvement projects, and also because we need some time to do them!  And Jim is picking up quite a few gigs this summer, including one during our summer vacation.  (Acton Boxborough Farmer’s Market, Sunday, August 24.)

And the cats are doing very well.  No longer kittens, they are still not adults, and exhibit some rather annoying behaviors still (such as chewing power cords), but they are wonderful little buggers and we love them very much.  Moses is absolutely huge now, probably well over fifteen pounds, and the girls, Millie and Moxie, are adorably normal-sized.  (See photos below.)  We still feed Mommy Cat every day, and I’m trying to see if I can make friends with her, though her continued skittishness makes me think that she truly is feral.

And that’s it!  The quick summer update!

 

Pippa

Pippa 1997? - 2014
Pippa
1997? – 2014

Four weeks ago today, we had to put our beloved, but elderly and infirm, Pippa to sleep.  My life has been a bit crazy lately, and so I feel like I haven’t really mourned her yet.

But this morning I got up after having slept a bit late, and thought to myself how lovely it would be on this day off to make a pot of tea and snuggle on the sofa with Pippa and our favorite “magic blanket.”  And it hit me like a ton of bricks that Pippa isn’t here anymore.

She was a wonderful girl: smart, affectionate, kind, tolerant, dignified, and an incredible (if reluctant) role model to Moses, Millie, and Moxie.  I miss you, Pippa.

 

Kittens and Computers

One thing I’ve learned over the last few months is that three kittens don’t coexist very happily with a laptop computer – between the jostling to share my lap and the temptation to chew the power cord – and, as a consequence, my poor blog has been gathering virtual dust.

But yesterday I upgraded to WordPress 3.8.1, which promised to be compatible with mobile devices.  So here I am, with eleven pound eight month old Moses in my lap, typing this entry on my iPod Touch…which is proving to be one of my more frustrating experiences of recent months.  Give me a real keyboard over a delay-ridden tiny virtual keyboard any day!  Blech!

At least Moses is happy, and now you all know I’m still here, in Kitten Land.

R.I.P. Pew

Like his namesake from Treasure Island, our feral feline friend Pew was struck and killed today, not by a stagecoach, but by a car.

Pew showed up in the midst of trapping Mommy Cat and the five kittens this past summer.  I first saw him jammed into a kitten trap – he, an adult cat, had managed to stuff his whole body into the tiny kitten trap in order to get the sardines that we used as bait.  At that time I had assumed he was someone’s pet, but as the summer went on it became clear that Pew did not have a home, and he became more and more dependent on the food I put out on our deck.

Jim named this all black cat Pew because he was so sad: tongue lolling out constantly, a cataract in his left eye which made the eye all milky white, and a scruffy coat.  Annette, the cat trapper, guessed that Pew was “a hundred years old” (she probably meant in cat years), and she also surmised that he didn’t have a tooth in his head, which would explain why his tongue always lolled out, hanging an inch or two down from his mouth.  If you know Treasure Island, you’ll know that the literary Pew was a blind beggar, a tragic figure who met his end under hooves and stagecoach wheels.

Yesterday morning I got a good look at Pew – my last view of him alive, as it turned out – and he was looking a bit worse than usual.  His good eye was all runny and yucky looking, and he was particularly hungry, snarfing down all the canned Friskies and a lot of the dry kibbles that I put out for him.  Yesterday I thought, once again, that it would be a miracle if Pew could make it through the winter.  I’ve been worrying about how to best help him keep fed and warm, especially since he long ago proved to be more feral than stray: skittish and unwilling to come near me, though very willing to eat the three plus cans of food and also dry food that I put out for him each day.

And then there is today.  Jim and I were going to head to Concord to have lunch at Helen’s, and I had just finished getting ready when I stepped into the kitchen and noticed the food in the bowl on the deck was gone.  “Who came and ate?” I asked Jim, since it could be either Pew or Mommy Cat.  “It was Pew,” Jim replied, “He was just here eating.”

As Jim stood in our foyer putting his jacket on, he saw Pew in our driveway, heading towards the street.  Not many seconds later we were about to get into our car when Jim looked across the street and said, “Is that a cat?”  It was.  It was Pew, his body twitching its final twitches just on the side of the road, a smear of blood extending from the middle of the road to the side of his poor mangled head.  We hadn’t heard brakes, or a car horn, and there certainly wasn’t a car stopped in guilty horror to examine the poor cat that it had just hit.   Just Pew, dying.

We both went over and stood by Pew as he died, trying to decide what to do next.  Pew died quickly, probably a much more merciful death than if he had died of cold and hunger over the harshness of winter.  He had been hit mostly on the left side of his head, the side with the bad eye, so hopefully he never knew what hit him.  And he died with a full tummy, probably looking forward to a nice nap in the sun.  As he left us, I told Pew that he was a good cat, and gave him my love.

Jim got first one, then another shovel, and together we slid Pew off the edge of the road and under the bushes a few feet in from the road.  Jim called the police department, and a very rude police officer said that he would let the highway department know and that they would take care of Pew’s body.  Perhaps we should have buried Pew in our yard, but let’s just say that Pew’s mercifully quick death left more than a bit of a mess, and we’re not up to taking care of his remains.  [Update: the highway department never came, so on Monday Jim buried Pew in our back yard, at the spot where we first saw him last summer. We both feel better knowing that Pew is home, cared for, and not dealt with as random roadkill by strangers.]

Rest in peace, poor dear Pew.  I’m glad we could keep your belly full for your last few months; I’m sorry we couldn’t do more to make your life safe and easy.

And to the callous idiot who hit Pew and didn’t even have the decency to stop and see if Pew needed help:  a pox upon you.  You were driving too fast, you didn’t even hit the brakes, and you didn’t care.  You do know that a black cat crossed your path today, and that you killed that cat, don’t you?  That can’t be good for you.

Happier pictures

Moxie and Mona weren’t represented too well photographically in the last cat post, so now that I’ve gotten some good pictures of the two of them I thought I’d post them so their full beauty is shown to all:

Mona
Mona
Mona
Mona
Moxie
Moxie
Moxie
Moxie
Moxie
Moxie
Moxie
Moxie

Back to normal?

I certainly hope so!

It has been a long, strange summer, with most of our time at home consumed by cat trapping operations.  When we weren’t actively setting traps (which we did, night and day, for most of the summer, from June 22 to August 25), we were feeding the mommy cat and her kittens and nurturing our relationship with them so that they would stick around and one day be trapped.

But Sunday morning we finally – FINALLY!! – caught the final stray kitten (we caught mommy on Thursday morning), and yesterday the mommy, who we have named Mona, came back from the animal hospital after successfully being spayed.

In all, there were five kittens and their mother living in our yard and our neighbor’s yard and barn.  The first two captured kittens live with us, and Moses and Millie have brought much joy into our lives.  The next two captured kittens went to live with our friends Lisa and John, who have been working on socializing them.  The last captured kitten, who I yesterday named Moxie since she is full of it, needs a home.  Perhaps our neighbor’s daughter will adopt Moxie, or perhaps Moxie will go to the Guardian Angels shelter.  Moxie is adorable, with longish rabbit-like soft fur, but she will need a patient person to socialize her, since she was trapped at the old age of fifteen weeks.  She did respond well yesterday to being handled by our awesome vet and me, so hopefully there is hope for her to be someone’s companion.

As for Mona, the mommy cat – despite my hopes that she was just a scared stray, she seems to be feral.  Our vet helped me transfer Mona into the cage yesterday, which involved “scruffing” Mona, and Mona’s frantic response to scruffing led our vet to pronounce that Mona is definitely feral.  And last night I thought I’d try gently petting Mona’s nose through the cage, but that made Mona freak out.  Frankly, I’m a bit afraid to open the cage to feed her and change her litter, but that needs to be done, so I’ll just have to get up the guts and do it.  Mona will stay in that cage as long as we all can stand it (up to ten days) while she recovers from being spayed, and then we will release her into our yard where she hopefully will live out her days.  Jim and I will feed her, and our neighbor probably will feed her too, and our neighbor is more than happy to let Mona live in the basement of her barn.  So Mona is feral, and her life won’t be as easy as the lives of her kittens, but the good news is that she won’t have any more kittens to worry about; she can focus on taking care of herself now.

And to think this long strange trip all began with me hearing a tiny “mew” in our yard the night of June 8.  I’m glad that we saved six lives, and prevented countless more kittens from being born into a tough world, and I love love love Moses and Millie, but I don’t ever want to do this again.  I have so much respect for those people who dedicate themselves to trapping and neutering stray and feral cats; I could never do what they do.  It would drive me crazy, quite literally.

And I have a renewed appreciation for those awesome people who choose a career as veterinarians.  Both Dr. Reiner and Dr. Sager have been so supportive of this operation, and have donated their services to the cause of these homeless cats.  Jim and I could never have afforded the unexpected expense of the care of these kitties, and are so grateful to these two doctors for helping us through it.

This will be my last post about cat trapping.  I’m sure Moses and Millie, and perhaps Mona, will find their way into other happy cat-related posts in the future, but I never again intend to write about or practice cat trapping.  Ever.  And on that note, here are some photos of the babies that we have saved.  (I wasn’t going to post a photo of Mona in her caged misery, but then I realized that it’s important for all of us to know that feral cats live a miserable life.  Please, please, please, spay and neuter your cats!!!)

 

Moses and Millie
Moses and Millie
Mille
Mille
Moses
Moses
Moxie
Moxie
Mona
Mona

Oh my goodness

So, as much of a softie as I am when it comes to animals, I have learned one thing: next time I see a stray cat in our yard carrying a kitten in her mouth – I’m going to pretend that I didn’t see it.  (You know I wouldn’t really, but it makes me feel better to say that…)

Six weeks and two days after finding dear sweet Moses in the yard, and four weeks to the day after trapping his adorable sister Millie, the cat trap project is still underway and consuming way way too much of my limited free time.  Two more of the five siblings have been trapped and have gone to a fabulous home, but there is still one now ten-week-old kitten and Mommy Cat at large and avoiding all attempts at capture.

We’ve trapped two skunks, a neighborhood pet cat (shhh, don’t tell anyone), and a baby opossum, but that ten-week-old kitten eludes capture.  And Mommy Cat?  Well, turns out she was too long for the first trap we used on her – the trap that she walked right into without fuss – and she managed to escape that trap and is now “trap shy.”  Bah humbug.

If we don’t catch that kitten soon, it will be well and truly feral and will not be able to live with people.  And if we don’t catch Mommy soon, she will most likely get pregnant again, and the cycle will start all over again.  Oh, please, no.

But while all this cat trapping (or not trapping?) drama has been going on, we have been enjoying getting to know Moses and Millie.  Two cuter kittens there never were!IMG_3259 IMG_3331 IMG_3340 IMG_3343 IMG_3344 IMG_3370 IMG_3376