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.