Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Feline times five - Part 4

So the saga of Cali and her four rambunctious kittens continued.  Cali herself was fitting in nicely with the rest of the household, and had particularly bonded with Merlin, another stray my wife had brought over from her previous home.  The kittens were well on their way to being socialized, and were growing up to be very active and sassy.  There were times I was afraid I'd open the door to the guest room and find a smoking crater where it once was with these innocent looking furry faces looking at me with an, "I don't know what happened" expression.

The plan was to get them spayed and neutered, then try to find good homes for them.  What's that phrase, "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley" which loosely translated means, "What can go wrong will go wrong."   Step one was waiting until the youngsters were old enough to be snipped.  Since they were rapidly outgrowing the guest room, we moved them to the exercise room which is considerably larger.  I then decided to take advantage of AAR's low cost vaccinations and get them in for their shots.  I decided to take two at a time, so first up was the female and one of the gingers.  By this time, the kittens were starting to get names.  The female was Abby, and the ginger on his way to AAR was Rajah. 

I got them into carriers and carted them off.  At AAR, I first took out Rajah's carrier.  This is a hard sided carrier with a metal barred door, which promptly popped open due to a before unnoticed defective latch.  Rajah took off like a shot across the parking lot, and I had a sick feeling he'd never be seen again and would meet a horrible fate.  I left Abby in the car, then took off to see if by some miracle Rajah could be found.  Fortunately, for some reason he was trying to burrow under the chain link fence to the section where AAR kept their animals.  I was able to grab him, and pull him out, then got him back in the carrier, and this time I got the latch to stay put.  Of course this was after in his frantic state his claws had removed impressive amounts of skin from my arms.

A couple months passed, the kittens kept playing and growing, though fortunately it looked like they would be petite like their mom.  The idea of four more behemoths like Merlin was not attractive considering the food bill alone would require robbing a bank at least once a month.  I then was concerned since Cali got pregnant at such a young age, Abby could be next if one of her brothers started physically maturing also at a young age.  So I took her in to be spayed.

Another month, then the next fateful day.  The boys were to be snipped.  By this time all had names.  The second ginger became Rusty, and since the black and white was the entertaining clown of the group, he was christened Jester.  I gathered them up, got them into carriers with doors that I made sure latched, and carted them off to AAR.  Several hours later, I retrieved three groggy kittens who were wondering why they were meowing in soprano.

By this time, efforts to adopt them out were not working.  No neighbors or friends could take them, and an ad in an online pet adoption service only received a reply from a buncher.  These are people who buy animals, or take those who are "free to good homes," then turn around and sell them to labs for testing.  I was sorely tempted to arrange a meeting with this person, then call on my martial arts training to show him the errors of his ways.

So the perpetual question of what to do with them all was answering itself.  We would have to resign ourselves to having twelve cats.  After the boys had recovered from neutering, I opened the door to the exercise room, and let them make tentative peeks outside.  Finally they got bold and left to explore, led as usual by Jester.  Cali wasn't sure what to make of this, since she probably thought her job raising them was done.  As for the older cats?  They gave the youngsters sniffs, then meandered off to eat and nap. 

As time passed, fears of the youngsters being disruptive turned out to be the exact opposite.  Probably because they only had each other for company for three months, and were spayed and neutered before adult behavior kicked in, they continued to get along perfectly.  They slept together, romped together, and never hissed or spit.  Household peace and quiet was another matter.  You could almost set your watch, and place your bets, every morning at 7 and 11 AM on the races between Jester, Rajah and Rusty.  They would tear the length of the house, and sometimes literally bounced off walls to change direction.  The much more lethargic older cats would look up, wonder what had gotten into the youngsters, and hope they would stop soon so the elders could go back to sleep.

Now, a year later, we've decided it was Fate that Cali and her kittens came into our lives.  They are constantly entertaining, and they have had a mellowing effect on their elders, who had been prone to nasty fights on occasion.  Plus they are very affectionate, and seem grateful for the chance they were given.  As Sam Gamgee's dad said in The Lord Of The Rings, "All's well that ends better."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Feline times Five - Part 3

So the good news is Cali and her brood were indoors safe and sound.  This was my first experience with ferals, but fortunately the good folks at Tomball AAR and another rescue group, Tomball Save Our Strays, (TSOS), were invaluable with sound advice.  The most important was to try to socialize everyone for potential adoption. Isolating them from the rest of our cats, (who surprisingly showed little interest beyond cursory sniffs at the door to the guest room then sauntering off in disinterest), was the first step.  Next was getting Cali spayed.  All of our other cats had been spayed and neutered, so there wasn't any danger of her having another litter.  However, spaying does have benefits with a cat's behavior such as making them calmer and there are many health benefits.

This did mean removing Cali from her kittens.  Since they were about twelve weeks old and weaned, they were old enough to be on their own.  So I took her to the workout room, and set it up so she'd be comfortable.  I did feel bad, because she had been starting to trust us, then all of a sudden was trapped in the crate, then a couple days later taken away from her babies.  But she had to be isolated since she was still producing milk, and couldn't be spayed until her supply dried up.  That would take a week, during which we spent as much time with her as possible.  After a while she started showing more affection, so the trust was starting to come back.

In the meantime, we bought a tall kitty condo for the kittens.  They sniffed around it, then quickly started climbing all over.  The black and white one was the most active, and soon lead the others in high dives from the top of the condo to the bed in the guest room.  I swear I heard him going, "Banzai!" several times.  As for socializing the kittens, I was told the best way was to spend time with them, but don't approach them. When they were ready, they would approach.  So I would sit against a wall watching them watching me.  I would hold a hand out, which would get tentative sniffs, but they still stayed out of reach.

What broke the ice were shoelaces.  We had determined we had three males and one female.  The female was the first to be curious about my shoelaces.  Finally, she grabbed the end of one in her mouth and started tugging.  After a couple days, the others also thought this was great fun.  At one point I had a kitten pulling on each shoelace end in different directions.  While they were doing this, I would hold pieces of tuna out, which after some wary sniffs, they started accepting.  From there, they started accepting head scratches, and within a week started purring while starting to rub up against us.

In the meantime, Cali was spayed, and after a few days to recover, we decided to introduce her to the other cats in the household.  This was done by simply leaving the door to the workout room open.  Still the older cats pretty much ignored her, with one exception.  Merlin, who had been a stray himself, sauntered in.  It was interesting watching the interaction between him and Cali.  Despite being a mom, Cali rolled over in a submissive position, while Merlin would growl and hiss.  That actually established their relationship, and afterward the two became inseparable.  It was something seeing them together because of the size difference.  Cali is a petite eight pounder, while Merlin is a hulking twenty-five pounds at least.

Poor Merlin had been pretty much ignored by the other cats, so it was heartwarming he finally had a companion.  So at least things were going well with Cali, and the decision was made to keep her.

As for the kittens, the hope was still to foster them for adoption, but Fate had something else in mind.

To be continued...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Feline times five - Part 2

Cali and her kittens wasted little time adapting to their expanded territory.  My wife saw them early every morning gathered around the back door waiting for breakfast, then during the day they either roamed the back yard, or napped in the thicket.  Cali was very attentive and watched the youngins like a hawk.  And speaking of hawks, that was a concern since large red tail hawks patrolled the area, and in the back yard the kittens were much more exposed.  But fortunately they stayed safe.

Unfortunately, there was the major issue, what to do with the feline newcomers?  The kittens were wary of people, and kept their distance though over the course of a couple of weeks they let us get to within a couple of feet before scurrying off.  Cali also didn't lose her hunting instincts, despite a steady source of food on the back porch.  I still found piles of feathers scattered throughout the yard, and you know she was starting to teach the babies how to hunt. 

One other problem, is other critters were finding the food we left out tempting.  Raccoons were the worst.  I often looked out late at night and saw one or more cleaning out the food bowls.  At least they never bothered the kittens or Cali.  The babies especially enjoyed the yard and made it their playground.  But they couldn't stay forever, and being feral, they would in a few months be old enough to reproduce on their own.  And that would create a nightmare.

So the question of what to do with them had to be resolved, and soon.  I called Tomball Abandoned Animal Rescue (AAR), a no kill shelter in town, for advice.  They said they might be able to lend a trap or two, but they were full and even if the feline brood could be caught, they didn't have room.  So my wife and I decided to try and trap them by some means, then keep them in a spare room and foster them for adoption.

That left one little problem... trapping a wary mom and four rambunctious kittens.  AAR came through with some even better advice.  I was told to get a large dog crate, place it on the porch, then cover it with towels and blankets so it wouldn't look so menacing, then finally bait it with tuna. 

Great theory... but the reality... well, it actually worked.  I waited until night when all of them were frolicking around, then set the trap.  Fortunately, they made a beeline to the saucers of tuna.  All except for one, who crouched down a few feet away unsure of what to do.  So the choice was to wait and hope the straggler would go in before the others finished and wandered out, trap the four already inside and hope the last one wasn't so panicked on seeing her mom and siblings trapped she took off and was never seen again, or hope another night would work out.  Well, the last kitten finally dashed in.  I dashed myself to the crate, slammed the door shut and latched it, and waited while everyone inside completely freaked out.  They were literally running around like hamsters on a wheel around the sides and top of the crate.  But finally they settled down, and I called my wife to help me move the crate inside.

The great Texas Cat Wrangle was over. 

But then came once again... now what?  The crate was too large to fit around the corner to the exercise room where we originally wanted to keep everyone, so the guest room was sacrificed for the common good.  We removed all the furniture except for the bed, which was covered in a thick shower curtain and an old comforter.  A litter box was set up along with food and water.  Then I opened the door to the crate, and left to let them adjust.  All were crouched down quietly in the crate, no doubt wondering what had happened.

At least they were safely indoors.  But the question remained... what to do with them?

To be continued...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Feline times five - Part1

We have cats in the house.  Lots of cats. Seven to be precise, all part of a package deal when I re-married four years ago.  For the most part they are pretty mellow, though there have been times of flying fur when for no apparent reason a couple would get into it.  Seven is considered to be plenty of cats.  Fortunately the house is fairly large so it doesn't feel overrun by them.  Still, it was a major decision to add even more last Summer.

The circumstances were quite unexpected.  The process we went through was educational, stressful at times, but in the end very rewarding for all.  It began one afternoon when my wife noticed a scraggly mostly white cat, no more than a half grown kitten, wandering in the backyard.  Since one of our pleasures is making the backyard a habitat for birds, the last thing we wanted was a feral stray thinking it had just stumbled on a buffet with feathers.  So we chased it out, while hoping it belonged to someone down the road and would amble back to where it came from.

No such luck.  The cat returned a day later and was chased out again.  On its third appearance, I felt it was either feral, lost, or abandoned, and took pity on it.  So I left out some food and water on the back porch, which the cat consumed with vigor.  I figured if it knew food was available, it would leave the birds alone.  This went on for several days, and it soon became apparent the cat was not afraid of people.  This ended the idea it was feral, and was more likely either lost or abandoned.

I contacted a local animal rescue group, and first found out the cat was a Dilute Calico.  It was mostly white, with Calico markings on its head, feet and tail.  I posted an ad on the Internet about a lost cat, but no one replied.  By this time the cat was getting friendlier, and started rubbing against the legs of whoever was providing food.  We also determined it was female, and starting calling her Cali, short for Calico.  Yeah, I know, not too original.  I figured when she wasn't in our yard, or resting under a lawn chair on the porch, she was staying in a thicket next door.  But despite all the food, she was still painfully thin.  The reason became apparent a couple weeks later.

I was out back, and spotted to the side of the house three kittens, one ginger, one tabby and one black and white.  They were hanging around the air conditioner, but scattered under the fence to get to the thicket when I approached.  The reason they were by the ac unit was a partially consumed bird had been stashed there.  I guessed the kittens were no more than seven weeks old and not old enough to be hunting.  But where was the mother?  Cali looked way too young. 

Before going back into the house, I glanced at the gate, and saw the black and white had lodged himself underneath.  I helped him out, and he ran towards the thicket, then stopped and flattened himself on the ground.  But despite being feral, he still let me pick him up and pet him for a few seconds.  However, there was another issue.  Cali on her own was ok, and we were thinking of making her an outside cat.  But the kittens were another matter.  I called my wife at work and said, "We have a problem." 

A couple days later, I looked into the thicket, and found another problem, and an answer for who the mother cat was.  The problem was a second ginger kitten, so now they were up to four.  As to the mother?  Two of the kittens were being nursed by Cali.  She was the equivalent of a teen mom, tossed out by her owner to fend for herself and raise the kittens.  That explained her thinness, since anything she ate was being used to provide milk for the kittens.  However, it was also clear that the kittens were being weaned.  Unfortunately, Cali's idea of solid food for them was still birds.

Fortunately for the bird population of Tomball, that was about to change.  For another week, while Cali spent a lot of time in our yard, the kittens stayed in the thicket.  It was ideal habitat since the brush and scrub trees were so close together predators such as coyotes would have a rough time getting in, and hawks and owls would not see anything.  Plus the landscapers in the neighborhood had piled up trimmed tree branches over a depression in the ground so it made a den big enough for all the cats.

One afternoon, after I set some food out for Cali, she faced the thicket and made this chirping sound.  A minute later, this furry train of the four kittens came under the fence and made a beeline to the porch.  We promptly got more food dishes out, and the kittens had a feast.  So all were being provided for, but the big problem remained, what to do with all of them as a permanent solution?

See part two for that gripping tale.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The other woman in my life

Yes, another woman has come into my life.  She has a soft voice, but she nags constantly.  Yet I don't mind because without her I would not have any direction.  As in literally no direction.  But the best part is my lovely wife approves of this relationship.  Now if anyone is expecting titillating details, I'm afraid they are in for a disappointment, as the story isn't as sordid as today's title indicates.

It all began back in April, when we accepted an invitation to a wedding in Whitehall, Michigan.  Whitehall is a lovely resort town on the shore of Lake Michigan, with one drawback.  It isn't the easiest place to get to.  After going over our travel options, we decided to fly into Chicago O'hare, then rent a car for a pleasant four hour drive to Whitehall.  As with most travel plans, the reality was completely different.  The flight was fine, the drive was another matter.

We rented a shiny new Toyota Corolla, but despite my careful perusing Google Maps ahead of time for the best route to Whitehall, a type of sixth sense made me splurge for a Garmin GPS unit in the car.  I should say that I have absolutely no sense of direction, and unless I have detailed maps that I've memorized, heaven knows where I'll end up.  And I have had issues with Google Maps in the past.  So for renting the Garmin unit...

Best. Decision. Ever.

The default voice for the Garmin was Jill.  It was easy to program in the address of the hotel we would be staying at, and I figured since it was noon, that traffic getting out of Chicago would be fairly light.

Worst. Assumption. Ever.

It's a fairly short drive from O'Hare to the freeway, and from there about a 30 mile drive to get out of town.  Unfortunately, Chicago is determined to be the traffic jam nightmare of the known universe.  The traffic was at a near standstill for no apparent reason except for way too many vehicles and way too little road surface.  I wasn't sure if there were other reasons, such as a wreck up ahead, the entire city having an early start on getting out of town for the weekend, or more folks had been invited to the wedding we were going to than we thought and all lived in Chicago.

Fortunately the weather was clear and mild, though a torrential thunderstorm wouldn't have made any difference.  After guiding me to the freeway, Jill was silent until saying, "Keep left."  I didn't pay attention until realizing my lane was about to split off to a different freeway, and I had to get over a couple of lanes.  I'm usually as calm in heavy traffic as someone trying to defuse a bomb while blindfolded, so I put on the blinkers, and eased over while hoping whoever was next to me would take pity and let me in front.

Finally after a couple of tense hours, we were out of Chicago, and after discovering the car actually had more gears than just first, finally picked up speed and were on our way.  After getting to Whitehall, Jill really proved her worth.  Whitehall is a lovely town, but for navigation the assumption is you are a native and can ignore the almost complete lack of details like street signs.  Google maps would have been completely useless because of this, so Ms. Garmin was allowed to take complete control of my life.  And yes, with my wife's approval, though there were times we doubted her sanity.

We would be directed down roads for what appeared to be no other reason than Jill just wanting to be on that road.  At one point, my wife said, "She's crazy!"  I did have some apprehension that we had rented an insane GPS unit from a Stephen King novel and were being led to our doom.  But we learned patience, and Jill always got us exactly where we wanted to go.

Unfortunately, no technology could do anything about the horrendous traffic once again, in the middle of the day, when we returned to Chicago.  Nor do anything about my nerves of wet noodles in said traffic.  But on the flight home, we decided to get a Garmin unit of our own.  We first used her, (I still selected the Jill voice),  on a trip to San Antonio, which has a street pattern best described as Chaos Theory.  Which meant I often heard her saying, "Recalculating," when I missed a turn.  But in the end she was always right.  After all, she is a woman.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Planes and Things

After neglecting this blog for way too long, I thought I'd start back up with one of my favorite subjects, airplanes. Last weekend I ventured to the Wings Over Houston airshow at Ellington Field south of Houston. This was y third show, and as always it was a treat. The main sponsor, as before, is the Commemorative Air Force, though I still prefer their previous wonderfully politically incorrect name, the Confederate Air Force. This group of volunteers is passionate about locating and restoring old planes, mostly from WWII. Since they are based in Texas, Wings Over Houston is an ideal place to show off the results of their efforts.

In addition to restoring planes, they have modified existing aircraft, mostly the North American T-6 trainer from the mid 1930's, to resemble aircraft that no longer exist or if so, cannot be restored to flying condition. These are usually Japanese aircraft from the war, and many of these modifications have been used in movies. For the airshow, these and restored American planes from that era are used in a spectacular flyby. To add the drama, this airshow has pyrotechnics, so a recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor is accompanied by some pretty spectacular explosions in the field next to the runway.

What really made this show special was the flight demo of the only flyable B-29 bomber in the world. Since this is the plane my dad flew in during the war, that made the demo even more special. I know if he could have been there to see it he would not have been able to contain his emotions.

After the B-29 landed, I got up for a closer look. Amazing how a 70 year old design can still look impressive. For a small fortune, it's possible to arrange a flight in it. I had this vision of Dad making that arrangement, then taking over the controls and muttering, "This thing had better have a full load of bombs because I have some old scores to settle."

The show wrapped up with a military demonstration team. Unlike the last two years, neither the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels were available, so this time it was the Canadian Air Force Snowbirds. Any attempt to refer to them as the Flying Caribous would probably have not been appreciated.

Anyway, they put on a good show with very precise maneuvers. They use ten planes, so that is a lot of coordination. The only downside is the plane in question is the ancient CT-114 Tutor, a trainer that entered service in 1961, and with the exception of the Snowbirds, is no longer being flown. Since it is an indigenous Canadian design, I suppose it is a matter of national pride that the Snowbirds keep using it, but it is not designed for high speed flight. This somewhat limits what the team could do. But still, they were a delight to watch.

The only downside was the return drive, which should have taken an hour, took three because of road construction. Since I drive an ancient car with a stick shift, the stop and go traffic was sheer torture. I should be getting some feeling back in my clutch foot any day now.

Friday, May 27, 2011


It was a year ago that my Mom passed away peacefully. Like my Dad, she was at least at home, and also like him, the end came with her still functioning well physically and mentally. For the last 29 years of her life she lived in her home state of Indiana. I visited numerous times, and at first it was strange because I had always associated the place my parents called home with the house I grew up in back in California. But I soon grew to like the house, especially after my parents added their personal touches.

For Mom that meant keeping the place tidy, while for Dad it meant practically rebuilding it. Dad was a do it yourself type, and loved any projects that involved his hands. Plumbing, electrical, woodworking, painting, auto repair, it didn't matter, he could do it all. Though in the case of the house, (which is old), he often wondered what he had gotten himself into.

Mom was more than happy to leave home projects like that to Dad, especially when something wasn't going quite right and he had to be creative with swearing in case either myself or my siblings were around. But she was a workaholic in many ways. She worked for much of her adult life, including almost her entire time in Indiana at the local hospital. She didn't retire until she was 82.

Her heart issues kept her from having the energy she wanted, but that didn't slow her down. A family joke was at her services, her ghost would first vacuum and dust the church, scold any of her children if they were slouching in their seats, and then tell everyone her favorite pet stories.

She loved animals, and two were among the joys of her life. When I was in high school, after finally outgrowing the boyhood pets of assorted turtles, fish, lizards and an undetermined species or two, (none of which lasted more than a few years), I pestered Mom about getting a dog. She wasn't too keen on the idea, but I persisted and one day answered an ad in the paper about six mixed breed puppies. I picked out the shyest one, who won Mom over and became the legendary Ruffles.

Mom spoiled that dog rotten, but was rewarded with unconditional love and affection. When Ruffles finally passed on, Mom was inconsolable and never stopped talking about her. Then came her second special pet, a little feral kitten named Pixie. Pixie quickly learned how to wrap Mom around her little paw and found out in return just how good Ruffles had it. Whenever Mom and I talked on the phone the conversation always included Pixie's latest adventures. Considering she is pretty rambunctious, there was always an adventure.

Mom would always ask about our cats, even though she never met them. I know she would have called weekly, if not more often, to hear the latest about the stray cat and kittens that ventured into the yard, and ended up being adopted, (details in a blog post to come).

I'll always miss Mom, but there is the comfort that she is reunited with Dad, and her family members who went before her. And I'm sure Ruffles was at heaven's gate to greet her, though hopefully not with supper dish in her mouth as the dog did have a hearty appetite.