Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ben bullies Commander

Ben was a greedy piggy bully to Commander at lunchtime today.

When the wind permits, I like to hay the boys outside of the run-in, and have two tubs and haybags set up behind it. Even when there's some wind, it's sheltered there; the ground is hard-packed stone dust so it's not muddy; and the boys tend to clean up every scrap rather than trampling some into the muck and wasting it, as they do inside the run-in.

Normally, they each take a position at their own bag-over-tub station and eat peaceably. But the recent blizzard left a huge sweeping drift curving along the base of the slope up to the run-in, and Ben found it a cinch to block off Commander's access to the inner hay. That drift on which Ben's tail is just resting is only hock-high at that point, but it rises up to chest-high on Commander within a couple of feet.


I was watching from a few dozen feet away, hoping Commander would swing wide into the snow where it was shallower and come up around to the inner feeder; the drift had already been broken through near the fenceline (Ben chasing Commander, perhaps?), so surely he'd follow that path?

Nope. He stood patiently watching the big bully chow down, just waiting. He's certainly smart enough to know how to get there; I guess he just wasn't hungry enough make the hard work of plowing through the snow worth the effort.

So I grabbed a piece of baling twine, looped it around his neck, and took Commander around to the path (okay, spaced-out holes) in the drift, unbaling-twined him, and slapped his ample rump. Off he went, breaking through to hay, glorious hay! I followed him to dry ground, knee-deep even lurching precariously from hole to hole. At least I didn't actually fall into the electric fence.

After a pat for my gobbling Morgan and a snuggle with Ben (not to mention a lecture on sharing which he of course completely ignored), I left them contentedly munching away. It's amusing to see Ben, always an underhorse in every herd I'd ever seen him in before, exercising his royal prerogatives now that he has the little Morgan to push around. For his part, Commander doesn't seem to mind his second banana status; and somehow, if there's any hay to be found, there's always some hay to be found in his mouth.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Warm cats for a cold December day

Chilly day, chilly winds whipping by outside, but inside it’s snug and snuggly. Warmth is where you find it, and these critters warm my heart:

Squash and Peanut:


Ted, Peanut, Squash, Pumpkin:




Tanya and Peanut:



My little old lady is getting very old; at least 16, if not older.

She’s also been getting thinner and frailer over the last several months. Oh, her spirits are still good, her fur is sleek and shiny, she eats -- though a bit more erratically; she goes about her daily routines -- though they’ve gradually constricted; and she’s able to get about the house and do what she wants -- though she can’t jump places she used to, and the other day while sitting she tried to roll back to wash her butt and fell over.

In short, I fear her time remaining is short. She had a yearly checkup a couple of months ago, which confirmed what my hands were already telling me about her weight. She was otherwise in good health. If she goes markedly downhill I will of course zip her right back to the vet, to see if anything can be done, but mostly I’m making sure she’s fed, comfortable, and loved, and making the most of what time we have left together.

Taken a few days ago, and – as is so often the case with my photographs of her – not nearly a true reflection of what a lovely little cat she is:




Schooner and Tomba -- sometimes it's okay

Below, two photos I took yesterday morning of the combatants. As I said before, sometimes these two appear to get along just fine.

When things do get tense, though, it’s always initiated by Tomba. In fact, he’s been showing intermittent fearful hostility recently toward all the other male cats – even Pumpkin. Even humble, meek, rock-bottom-on-the-totem-pole Pumpkin! He has no problem with the girls, either his sister Tanya or my Sally and Sophie.

So, what’s up with that? Why, when he had apparently established himself as king of the household, does he now seem to see all the other male cats as a threat? I have to wonder whether Schooner tried to play with him (the doofus likes to play rough), accidentally hurt Tomba, and that caused Tommy Boy to lose his confidence that he was, in fact, the Big Man around here. So perhaps he’s regressed to that scarey stage of trying to figure out where in the pecking order he belongs.

The other boys seem bewildered and wary but not inclined to duke it out with Tomba for a higher position. Tomba himself may be marginally less wound up than he was a couple of days ago. May be. I just hope he gets himself sorted out soon. As king he would sometimes bully an underling but was a lot less intense about it.

Anyway, the photos. First, with the flash; then, with the flash not firing. As you can see, Tomba’s left eye is a bit squinchy still; it sometimes is completely open, sometimes is like this.


Now, if there were tension simmering between these two at this moment, I doubt we’d be seeing body language like this.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Trouble in Paradise?

Hopefully this will all prove to be no big deal, but....................

Roughly a week and a half ago, Tomba went ballistic on Schooner, yowling and howling and growling and all “Bring it on!” Schooner, bless his dumb-bunny incorrigible curiosity, kept approaching the furious feline rather than doing what any sensible cat would do: flee and hide. Which of course just stoked Tomba’s rage even more. And of course all the other cats were freaking out at the brouhaha, which further ratcheted up the tension.

I was finally able to placate everyone by feeding them, and discovered that Tomba had a watery eye with a bloody tinge in the exudate. Since this was after midnight, I wasn’t feeling well, the bloody exudate didn’t resume after I carefully wiped the eye, and the nearest animal hospital open for emergencies at that time of night is a good half-hour’s drive away, I opted to wait for morning and see what was what.

What was what next morning was a squinchy but not wholly closed eye with both inner eyelids partially showing, and a bit of redness in the conjunctiva. So off to the vet we went, to the reassuring news that the eyeball was undamaged, the conjunctiva may have been nicked by a Schooner claw but nothing was seriously hurt, and a short course of an eye medicine I already had for both Tomba and Tanya* should set Tommy right. And so it has proved; Tomba’s eye is doing fine.

What aren’t doing fine are Tomba/Schooner relations. Oh, it’s not all war, all the time; most of the time, in fact, they seem to be perfectly amicable and will peaceably hang out or pass by within feet of each other; but since the initial episode there have been two or three more keening-fury eruptions from Tomba, as well as a handful of other lower-key cursing confrontations. Schooner doesn’t react with anger, he just partially bottles out with fear-fluffing, but damn his foolishness still tends to approach rather than run. What triggers it? Damned if I know.

So far Tomba hasn’t out-and-out attacked Schooner, other than short charges that break off just shy of actual engagement, and I’m hoping it never comes to that. But I gotta tell ya, it’s a bitch being yanked out of sleep by the wee-hours siren of an enraged cat. I’m hoping I can continue to placate them when things do blow up, and that Tomba will get over this with time, but what do I do if things escalate to full-on fights? The way my home is set up, I can’t keep them permanently separated, other than by caging one or the other. If it came to giving someone up, I have to say that I think Tomba would be quite content as an only cat, but I’d rather not go that route if at all possible.

* T&T have had off-and-on squinchy damp eye (her, right; him, left – the one Schooner apparently got) ever since they came from the shelter; the vet said it’s likely to be a herpes infection, perhaps shelter acquired, perhaps even picked up from one of my other cats, but very difficult to avoid in a multi-cat situation, not a serious problem, and easily controlled with eye med when it flares up and adding lysine to the diet to promote ocular health.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Day, the Myopia Hunt, and yours truly

Thanksgiving Day was a mixed bag for me; I’d been sick for a week with a low-level but persistent bug that left me headachey, fuzzy-minded and dragged-out-feeling. Never blew up into something horrid; never would go away and leave me alone. So although on Turkey Day itself I felt somewhat better, I chose not to inflict any lingering contagion on my brother and his family, and stayed home rather than driving to Melrose for the festive dinner. Don’t feel too sorry for me (I did a good job of that myself anyway); I had tasty takeout and a most excellent Zinfandel for my private feast, so there’s that, anyway.

One thing I did go out for (besides the obligatory horse care), despite my somewhat enfeebled state, was the annual Thanksgiving Day meet of the Myopia Hunt Club. It’s their traditional season-ender (though they do go on hunting for a week or two longer, weather and ground permitting), it’s a huge social occasion, and they welcome spectators, with or without camera. Despite living in Hamilton and Ipswich for the last fifteen years or so, I’d never gone to see it; but this year, what with being at loose ends and having a budding photography business, I figured, what the heck, why not? The meet was at Appleton Farms, a gorgeous and highly photogenic backdrop, only a few minutes’ drive from home and a place I’ve ridden through many times over the years.

I got there in plenty of time to see and photograph the riders arriving, eventually the hounds, and to capture (I hope) the feel of the event. I did not, unfortunately, capture the hunt leaping over any fences. It seems that the field of riders does a ceremonial loop around and over a coop and stone wall flanking a farm lane, in full view of the delighted spectators who line the fence to watch, before heading out to gallop over the countryside on the drag hunt proper. Another photographer told me which way they’d be coming, and I trudged out into the adjoining field to get the perfect angle on them coming toward me over the coop. Alas, they took it in the opposite direction! So I have some good galloping pictures, but............

Anyway, despite that disappointment, I had a great time, ran into some friends, handed out a number of business cards, didn’t freeze to death though I could have used one more layer – oh, and got some photos! And here they are.

Oh, yes, I did get more traditional sorts of rider, alone and in group shots, but here are three somewhat less orthodox samples:




Thursday, November 18, 2010

From Pee to Periodontal: A Prisoner Swap

Pumpkin has been liberated! He’s now back in population, and loving it. Oddly enough, he still loves me, too, unless he thinks I might be trying to capture him. While he still needs to stay on a special diet – a fresh can of worms now that he’s out, but one I’ll leave be for this missive – he’s otherwise in fine fettle indeed. I expect to have him snugged tight to my side when I go to bed tonight. The humble little roly-poly guy is a happy LRPG.

In his place as prisoner, alas, is Peanut. A distraught and horrified Peanut. A Peanut desperately trying to scratch, claw, climb, tunnel his way out of the cage.

And why is he in there? Because at a recent wellness check we found serious periodontal issues, requiring a future appointment for plaque excavation under sedation, and antibiotic followup at home. Trouble is, getting him to that vet visit entailed catching him at mealtime and stuffing him into the carrier despite fierce resistance. Whoever would have thought a massively obese 18-pound cat could writhe and twist and lunge so vigorously? He almost got away. Only a lucky seizing of random handfuls of blubber foiled his escape long enough for me to shove him into the carrier and force the lid down on his madly surging self. Peanut thrashed and protested all the way to the vet’s; huddled in horror during the examination; and yowled miserably all the way home.

Well. The poor little fat man was utterly traumatized by the whole thing (and who can blame him?); so much so that ever since he’s been wary of coming downstairs for mealtimes. He lurks till he’s sure I’ve left the area before scuttling down to forage for whatever the others have left uneaten. This is not all bad, since I daresay his caloric intake has dropped and he could stand to lose several pounds; but it means that getting him back to the vet’s for the dental work, and then administering a course of antibiotics at home, will be a bitch.

So the plan was formed: Once Pumpkin exited the cage, wait till the opportunity presented itself to get Peanut into the vacated confines, lock Peanut in, and voila! Being able to make an appointment with some confidence that I’d actually be able to show up with the cat? Check. Withholding food and water for ten hours before the procedure? Check. Being able to catch said cat for pilling afterwards? Check.

Accordingly, when Pumpkin won his release after a checkup this afternoon, I left the cage set up in the living room, complete with litter box, water dish, and towel bedding; left the side door open; and waited. About an hour ago Peanut entered the cage, sniffed about, and stepped into the litter box at the end away from the side door. Aha! I slithered from the adjacent recliner, swooped around to the side door, and quickly shut and latched it. Success!

Peanut went berserk. Pumpkin had fretted for a bit, then accepted his fate quietly. Not so Peanut! For the first fifteen minutes or so he frantically tried to fight his way out of captivity, radiating distress vibes that freaked out the other cats. The box got shoved all over the place; the towels got dug up and bunched; the water dish (of course) got tipped, spilled, and pawed into the towel snarl. Now, roughly an hour later, he’s settling somewhat; has stretches of several minutes where he’ll lie still on his towel pile and even lean into caresses through the bars; but is he resigned to his fate? Hell, no! As I write this, I hear intermittent bouts of scratching, bar-rattling and yowling wafting up from the living room.

I’m off now, to spend a couple of hours sitting with him, soothing and observing. I hope to be able to right his water dish and leave him with something to drink by the time I go to bed; to push a bit of food through the bars when he’s less crazed; and to find him calmer in the morning. And I hope like hell they can fit him in tomorrow for his damn teeth cleaning!


Update, the next day:

Alas! Just called the vet’s office to schedule Peanut’s periodontal reaming out. Today and Monday are booked solid; surgery (under which this falls since it involves anesthesia) isn’t done on Tuesdays; it looked as if the first opening would be after Thanksgiving! But I whined as piteously as the prisoner cat himself, and so Peanut is now scheduled for the procedure on the 24th. Happy Thanksgiving, little fat boy!

So will I...? Hell no! Let him out now and I’d never drag him back into captivity. He’s a lot calmer this morning, mostly sitting or lying and whining about how awful it all is, but his struggles to escape have become half-hearted. I was able to give him a breakfast bowlful through the side door without him bolting over me to freedom; to extract the poor tumbled-about water dish, clean and refill it, and return it to the cage; and to clean the box while he was stuffing his pathetic face. Maybe by the time he goes for the cleaning he’ll be sufficiently resigned to his cruel fate to endure the carrier ride and so forth with less angst.


Interlude with camera


And here he is!

As you can see, he’s been rearranging the furniture while I was writing this.


At least the scrabbling for escape isn’t as fiercely desperate and prolonged as it was last night.


One of Peanut’s preferred maneuvers has been the retreat: keep backing and backing and hope it ends well.


Lemme outta here!


Is that a pathetic Peanut or what?





After Peanut's encounter with dentistry, he had to stay on a course of antibiotics for ten days, thus remaining a periodontal prisoner in the living room cage. Physically he did well; but mentally he seemed depressed. He was been eating and drinking, and processing his intake, in good health; but moralewise, I thought the boy could use a bit of a pick-me-up. So I got him a hanging scratching pad, complete with toy, and hung it in his cage. He seemed dubious at first, but the aroma of catnip infusing it, plus his native curiosity, lured him over to it soon enough:



Catnip aroma etc. also lured Squash to check it out. Seeing Squash play with his new toy goaded Peanut to get competitive. Pumpkin watched from a safe distance.



There was a bit of a tiff over toy rights.


Peanut, holding the superior position, won out.


Squash made do with the back of the pad (also enticingly surfaced and catnippy). And everyone was happy.



Final update


Peanut emerged from his prison stay mentally as well as physically healthy, and noticeably slimmer than when it began -- a good thing, given how grossly obese he'd been. He continues to be wary of capture at mealtimes, and slow to come to the feeding frenzy. That, combined with the all-wet-food, only-three-meals-per-day regimen the household is on now, has encouraged further weight loss. He's still too heavy (boy is he solid heavy!) but he no longer looks like a duffel bag with a golfball-sized cat head stuck on it. And as long as he doesn't think I'm going to grab him and stuff him into a carrier, he's snuggly and happy. So all's well that ends well.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pumpkin Update

The Prisoner of Pee is doing much better. He’s gone from many small piddlings to a few near-normal sized outflows per day. This progress has held even now that he’s off the medicine that relieved his discomfort. He gobbles each serving of S/D with quiet gusto.

The last couple of days he’s been feeling so good, he’s become playful. Yesterday I observed that he was restless, chirpy, and staring at a certain spot outside his cage, where a tattered fluffy mouse lay. He’d glance over at me, mew, and look back at the toy.

“Do you want that toy, Punkin?”


“Here ya go, then.” (In through the bars)

Let the good times roll! Pumpkin batted it, tossed it, chomped it, disemboweled it, all the while keeping up a running chirpy commentary on how much FUN he was having. The battered batted mouse did, of course, end up in his water dish and had to be fished out by the human. Later I gave him a fuzzy ball to have a ball with. That one went for a swim too.

Currently there are two fuzzy ball toys in with him, which he plays with intermittently, and as I write this neither had wound up in the water dish today. He’s in good spirits, seems darn near normal, and will probably be released into the wild in another day or two, if he doesn’t backslide.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pumpkin: Prisoner of Pee

Alas, poor Pumpkin!

The sweet little guy is prone to urinary tract problems, thanks to a crystal-forming propensity. Dry food of course aggravates the likelihood, and with the need to keep food always available during the introduction into the household of Tomba and Tanya I’d gotten away from feeding mostly wet food. The predictable result: Pumpkin blocked up again.

I caught him straining in the box one morning, with minimal results, and promptly hustled him off to the vet. He came back after an overnight stay, subcu fluids, and extensive lab work with better functioning plumbing and no infection culturing out. That’s the good news.

The bad news was, he still wasn’t getting a free flow out, was still feeling frequent urges, and was surrendering to them wherever he happened to find himself – including on my recliner-settled lap. The poor little guy found himself swept away into lockup in the half-bath while I zipped out to Petco to buy a cage to confine him for his recuperation.

That was almost two weeks ago. He’s been back to the vet for a checkup and more fluids; is on a med to ease his urges (no, fellow human UTI sufferers, it doesn’t turn his pee orange, but it does give him comparable relief), and has settled more or less philosophically into his life as a prisoner. He’s still going too often, with low to significantly low output each time, but he’s much more comfortable than he was when this all began, and he IS getting urine out. We have him on a straight canned S/D diet to dissolve his crystals, which he’ll be on for a month; after that it’s recommended that he stay on C/D to maintain his urinary health. Not all cats find those foods palatable, but fortunately Pumpkin finds them scrumptious.

I call the vet’s office periodically to update them. If Pumpkin doesn’t improve the outflow in the next day or two, I’ll have him in for another round of subcu fluids, to flush him out.

In the meantime, the poor little guy endures. As do I. Having a cat caged with litterbox in one’s living room is not my idea of premium home decor, but it gives Pumpkin more mental stimulation than anywhere else, since he can look out the slider to the deck to watch whatever birds or squirrels happen to appear, and he has the company of other cats passing through or sacking out near him, sometimes pausing to sniff at him, his cage, or his food bowl (or to dabble a paw through the bars into the bowl, stealing what they can). I spend as many hours as possible in the living room to keep him company. And so life goes on.

What’s that you say? Why, yes. Yes, of course I have pictures. But you knew I would.





Friday, October 29, 2010

My Guilty Pleasure: Mantracker

Oh, my. For years I’ve turned up my nose at reality TV shows. How could anyone ever waste their time on such silliness?

Well, now I know. Now I’m hooked. Now I’m a faithful devotee of the Canadian reality show:

Mantracker. (Warning: Has auto-play video but you can halt it)

And it all began so innocently. I recently upgraded from barebones basic cable to a wider range of FiOS channels, and among them found all sorts of good stuff on the Discovery collection of channels. Between Discovery Channel, Science Channel, and Animal Planet, there were lots of fascinating shows to watch, shows that I could tell myself were educational – yes, truly! There’s How It’s Made, How Do They Do It, instructive stuff like that.

There’s Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs -- definitely fun to watch, and also instructive, yes, they are too!

There’s Fatal Attractions – um, okay, so stories of how exotic pet owners get offed by their beloved critters IS a bit creepy....

Then of course, there are shows like Hoarders (on A&E) and Hoarding: Buried Alive – ah, well, yes, that’s kinda sicko voyeurism, I admit it; but hey! Every time I watch one of those shows, I clean out some clutter, so it can’t be all bad, right?

But then there’s Mantracker. There is no way I can defend that as educational, instructive, or in any way useful. But dammit, what a blast it is to watch! And I adore Terry Grant, the Mantracker himself. The Wikipedia article on the show has lots of information, if you, my Gentle Reader (assuming there's anyone out there), are inclined to learn more.

Well, yes. Yes, one does get to see magnificent scenic vistas amid the wilder areas of our friendly neighbor to the north. Also to see two guys on horseback hunt two people on foot through said scenic wonders. And no one eats bugs. So at least there’s that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ben's bonkericity: Not just his back

Today I tested Ben's willingness to be ridden, now that he's had a massage to ease (hopefully) whatever was bothering his back. It was a perfect day for a test ride: warm and with light winds, rather than cool and stiffly breezy, so one could discount the weather as a factor. No strange horse between him and Commander; no Commander bustling off ahead away from him. I used the recommended pad to lift the pinch points of the saddle off him.

Ben was fine about being caught; fine about being groomed; fine about being saddled; fine about being mounted. We headed down the lane toward the culvert and the fields beyond the knoll.

Ben got to within a dozen feet of where the lane ran over the culvert and stopped. I pushed. He tried to turn away. I insisted. He began to yield.

And a long skein of motorcyclists went roaring and snorting and growling down the highway behind us. Ben turned to look, locked on, and stood rooted, all of his tiny mind focussed on the interruption, ignoring me. Drat!

When they'd finally passed and grumbled away out of sight and hearing, I swung Ben into the adjoining ring, got him moving at a brisk walk, and headed down the lane again. Again Ben tried to say "No" but I legged him on and he went ahead. I steered him out the same way we'd gone on our rodeo ride, around the back of the knoll, across the hayfield, through the gateway into the next field, and up toward the wooded ridge.

Ben was tense and apprehensive, looking for things to be worried about, stopping now and then and needing to be turned a bit to the side and strongly legged to get him moving forward again. Oh, no, he wasn't nearly as hyped as on our blowup ride, but leaving the barn was not something he wanted to do. He got happier when instead of heading down the Lane of Doom I turned him into the adjoining field and bent his course back more or less barnwards. I asked for circles and figure eights (all at a walk, for obvious reasons of Benly sanity, not to mention it was too warm to be doing anything faster on an out-of-shape fat boy whose winter coat has started to come in) and he settled down and listened to me.

We crossed into the next field homewards and zigzagged down its length. Ben was a Good Boy. When we got to the end of the field, where heading to the right would take us home, I steered him left. Ben's resistance to turning away from home and instead crossing over some dug-up ground where an irrigation pipe had recently been laid was minimal, barely one sucked-back half-step before marching on, so after a few dozen strides into the next field I thanked him and turned for home -- at last! Was that a sigh of relief I heard?

Ben was very lovey-dovey when we got back and I untacked him. Having his debridled face brushed with his very own special soft brush was so wonderful he snugged his nose into my chest and blissed out. He was so happy and relaxed, in fact, that when I hayed the boys he didn't even ugly Commander off the pile, merely came up on the other side to dig in.

So there you have it: Ben's barn-sour. He needs to be worked away from the barn, tactfully but firmly and steadily farther, till he gets over his worries about leaving his safety zone.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ben gets pampered; Commander goes commando

After Ben's freakout on Sunday, thanks in part to the comments of a friend, I began pondering whether his back might be bothering him. It shouldn't be, given how little work he's been doing for lo! these many months, and the ideal life of puttering about the fields he leads. Still, he does have kissing spines, which flare up painfully once in a while, and the last time he had the injections for that was well over a year ago. Plus, when I ran my fingers down his back near his spine yesterday, he flinched.

So today Ben got a visit from Lael, his massage therapist, who hasn't worked him over in almost a year -- after all, he wasn't being ridden much, so he didn't need the regular maintenance he used to get. And whaddaya know? He had knots of ouchy tenderness here and there about his body, primarily in the areas of his right wither and left croup. It certainly wasn't as bad as he's been in the past, but it was more than Lael expected from the life he leads.

We checked the fit of the Aussie saddle, on his bare back, with the usual saddle pad, and with the pad plus a contoured foam pad I used to use on him but hadn't lately. The saddle was snug with no pad and didn't rock, seemed to fit fine -- but wait. Under the left panel up in front, if one slid one's hand beneath it in the dip just behind the shoulder/wither, one could feel it pressing a bit too tight. Tight too, though not as much, on the right side. Put the cloth saddle pad on -- about the same. Add the foam pad, and it lifted the tight part just high enough to relieve most of the pressure.

Verdict: Saddle needs restuffing to fit the grazing-enlarged Ben. Till that can be done, he can be ridden as long as I use the foam pad.

Verdict on the Sunday explosion: He's been in greater discomfort than this before without blowing up, so the soreness isn't the whole story; but if he was upset for other reasons, then any nagging ouchiness would just move him that much closer to the edge of losing it.


Meanwhile Commander has decided he wants to go naked -- no more shoes! He's pulled his left front shoe off, taking some hoof wall with it, three times in the last two-three weeks, the first time because he was mucking about in the bed of the creek that runs alongside his fields. That's been fenced off now, but still he's managed to remove that shoe from his increasingly chipped-away hoof. The third shoe expungement happened sometime between Saturday midday when I rode him and Sunday late morning when Rick was grooming him and discovered his oh-no-not again! bare foot. Since he seemed perfectly sound on it, and we were going to be riding entirely on grassy fields, we decided to go ahead -- and Commander was fine for the whole ride, not ouchy at all.

Which led me to wonder, well, instead of asking my poor farrier to reattach the shoe yet again (nailing into what? Is there anywhere in that hoof wall that's still solidly nailable?), maybe Commander could go shoeless? This is always a dicey question with a horse who's foundered in the past. Still, his single bout of founder was four or five years ago; he lives out on grass; what limited riding he gets is on the fields; and watching him move about with both shoes gone, he appeared be be quite comfortable, only taking one yikes! step when he put his newly bare right foot down on a stone.

So I talked it over with my farrier, the pros and cons, and we're going with no shoes for now. Ken will trim his feet tomorrow, to tidy them up, and we'll see how he does. I may put some Venice turpentine or other hoof toughener on his soles. Come winter he may well need to go back into front shoes (he does great with no hind shoes), but if we can give him at least a couple of months to grow out his hooves, perhaps he'll hang onto his shoes when they do go back on.

Sigh.............. It's always something with these critters, isn't it?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ben Goes Bonkers. I Survive.

And it all started so well....

Well. Actually, it didn't start entirely well. Commander's former owner, Rick, had come to the farm to go for a ride this morning, bringing along his girlfriend Carol and Carol's mare Lanny. While Carol tacked up and warmed up Lanny, Rick and I got the boys ready. We mounted up and headed out, with me on Ben leading, on a cool, cloudy, breezy day.

We weren't fifty yards from the barn when Ben refused to go forward over the culvert past the pond. We argued for a bit; then Rick went ahead on an eager Commander; Carol and Lanny fell in behind them; Ben and I brought up the rear.

We headed out past the knoll and across the hayfields beyond. Ben felt tense under me, an attitude not helped by Commander's tendency to break into a happy little trot up ahead, especially ascending a gentle slope to a tree-lined ridge. Ben's catchup trot included some nervous headshakes and -- dammit, was that a crowhop? I let Rick know we were edging into dubious territory, Ben-brainfry-wise, and he curbed Commander's enthusiasm to a walk. Ben trudged unhappily at the tail of our little procession, frequent snorts and an occasional headshake or neck snake betraying his unsettled state.

In retrospect, it's all my fault. I should have told Rick to steer Commander rightward, along an open field, instead of letting him ride the bold Morgan down a narrow lane walled by dense underbrush, with trees crowding in, pressing a leafy green ceiling down low upon us, dangling thin whippy branches in our way. Ben was tight with tension by now, but soldiering on obediently, until we had to slide leftward of a sapling half-fallen across the lane, brushing against it as we went by.

Ben was almost past the blockage when something -- a rebounding branch? A smell of deer/fox/coyote in the underbrush? An overwhelming blast of "I've had it I can't take it any more AAARGGGHHHHH"? -- lit his fuse and he exploded. In an instant he was bolting, plunging, fighting to get his head free and down for a fullout buck that would send me flying into the underbrush we were careening into the fringes of.

Yikes! Damn! I'm not quite sure how I stayed on, stayed with him, in the adrenaline-charged blur of the next few seconds. (It sure didn't hurt to be riding in my ultra-secure Australian stock saddle.) Somehow I got his head back up, his headlong flight stemmed, and enough of his panicked brain refocussed on me to halt him before he rammed through the bushes or crashed into Commander (we'd passed a horrified Carol and placid Lanny in a heartbeat).

Phew. Holy guacamole. When we'd all caught our breath Rick and Carol offered to call it a day on the ride, but by golly I wasn't about to let a near-death experience spoil our fun. We decided to put Ben in the lead, figuring his going last, with a strange horse between him and his best buddy Commander, was part of what was freaking him out. With some tactful urging my snorty high-headed Thoroughbred marched dubiously but obediently forward, out of the narrow Lane of Doom (which fortunately was opening up at that point anyway), and away to the fields beyond.

I don't mind telling you, for the rest of the ride I put the reins in my right hand and kept my left hand on the bucking strap that's clipped to the front of the saddle (which I hadn't had time to grab when the balloon went up). Often I spoke soothing and encouraging words to my still suspicious Thoroughbred. Where it was open enough to allow it, Rick brought Commander up beside Ben to offer buddy security. Ben continued feeling tense the farther away from the barn we got (and oh, yes, he knew exactly which direction it was, even in fields I'd never taken him through before) but he listened to me, he behaved, and bit by bit his tautness eased, his walk regained its swinging fluidity, and his head came down from Danger! High Alert! to its usual relaxed level-necked carriage. By the time we got back to the barn you'd never know to look at him that He'd Almost Died!!!

Well! That wasn't what I was expecting when we tacked up, that's for sure. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable ride, and I've invited Rick and Carol to come back any time they like for another hack out -- hopefully minus the high drama.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tanya snuggles; Tomba social-climbs

Tanya's making more progress, I am happy to report. She's venturing farther and more often into her new world. She frequently visits me, or at least pokes her head around the doorframe to check on me when I'm at the computer or proofreading.

And last night was huge. Last night, sometime in the wee hours, I awoke to a feline leaping up on the foot of the bed and walking up to me. It was Tanya! A purring, snuggly Tanya who wanted loving, then nudged the edge of the covers as if....

Yup. She wanted under. I held up the edge and she slipped in and snugged herself against me for a few minutes before departing for her under-bed hangout.

Tanya's out on the landing as I type this; Squash is approaching from the litter boxes; there's some hissing and small growling; then Squash slips past her to go downstairs -- and she doesn't retreat to the bedroom. And here's a look at her, with Tomba being nonchalant in the background.


Meanwhile, Tomba is asserting dominance over the residents. Oh, not viciously, nobody's getting damaged. Most of the time he and the others get along as if they'd always lived together. But now and then he'll smack-talk and paw-smack one or another of the residents, just to let them know he's a big shot. No one seems inclined to argue the point.

Even Schooner, the endlessly intrusive and annoying, is allowed into the personal space of the mighty Tomba.


Even Schooner, the endlessly blithely oblivious, has enough sense not to push his luck and actually carry through on his dim stirrings of "Hmmmmm.... maybe he'd like to play with me?"


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tough Love for Tanya

It's been a tough week for Tanya, but the end appears to be justifying the means.

A few days ago, I took the third floor away from her. Other than brief, infrequent forays from her top-floor retreat she wasn't making any progress toward integration. So I got her out from under her preferred bed, released her to flee to the basement, brought the two litterboxes down to the bit of hallway at the foot of the stairs (sigh), and closed the door.

Then a couple of hours later I went back up to investigate some odd noises and let Schooner out of there.

Poor girl! It must have been horrifying for her, losing her safest lair in this jungle of strange cats. For the first two days she fled from hiding place to hiding place, and had a haunted look when I saw her (usually to deposit a handful of kibble near her, then back off and watch to see that she ate -- a process often complicated by Schooner's eager intrusions). Daily I dithered over giving in and letting her have the third floor again.

The third day, though, showed some small signs of progress. She spent a larger amount of her hiding time camped under my bed -- a higher structure than her third-floor refuge, and much more exposed to the other cats. When they went near her, she didn't hiss or growl (or hardly any).

Over the last couple of days things have moved significantly forward. I've seen her several times actually out in the open! With the residents within a few feet! And nobody died! Last night I came out of my bedroom to find her sitting halfway down the stairs, Schooner at the bottom, and

OMG!!!!!!!!! She just looked into the office as I was typing this! Sat gazing at me for several seconds, and at Sally and Peanut beyond me, then turned and sedately walked back toward the bedroom!

Anyway, to resume what I'd been writing:

Tanya looked at me, let me come down a couple of stairs, then scurried away past Schooner for the basement. But that was much bolder than she'd been just two days before.

She still does retreat when I approach, but her slink is less craven -- more of a scuttle. I should note here that every time I've been able to touch her and pet her, she's responded with purrs and moving into the caress, so I think it's the frightening gestalt of her new existence rather than specific fear of me that moves her to retreat if I walk toward her. Crawling on my belly, I can get much closer.

She's back! Lasted a few seconds longer this time. Now she's under the bed, under the headboard, with Peanut lying under the foot of the bed. Both look relaxed.

To resume: Tanya's now tolerating the residents being within inches of her. Yesterday I fed her kibble under my bed. Tomba moved in for some; I gave him a separate pile. Schooner bustled in ("What's up? Food? For me!") and got his own little pile. Everyone ate quietly within a foot of each other. The last 24 hours have seen a real jump in her comfort level.

Hoo boy! Just went hands-and-kneeing partway into the bedroom. Tomba plunked himself before me for some loving. Tanya, three feet away under the bed, saw, meeped, considered, and started toward me. "Love me too" was in her eyes. She got to the edge of the bed.

Schooner thrust by me through the doorway, in between me and the retreating Tanya. Curses! Foiled again! Tomba continued soaking up scritches, till Schooner proved sufficiently annoying for him to thwack the impudent boy and chase him out. While those two were engaged elsewhere, Tanya and I communed. Hesitantly, she came closer... closer... her head emerged from under the bed... I reached out my hand and she dived into the chin and cheek scritches.

Schooner came back. Tanya turned away. I departed, elated with the amazing progress just achieved.

I have felt rotten over doing this to Tanya, but it's working out to be the right thing.

Tomba, meanwhile, is right at home. There's still a wee bit of posturing with the others now and then to establish social status, but he eats with the rest of the scrum, hangs out without fear, and has chosen the second-floor landing as his preferred observation post. When he wants some loving he stalks over to me and requests it. For Tomba, life is good.

For Tanya, I now can hope that it will also be good soon. Phew!

Sophie update: X-rays showed no bone involvement. Prescription: Tincture of time. Condition: Daily improving, to the point that this morning there's hardly any limp left.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

T&T Update

The news is mixed. Tomba continues to warm to me, and is doing well overall with the residents. Tanya is not making progress.

The big guy is spending more time outside the closet, though he still prefers to spend almost all of his time on the second floor. He will flee if I approach, but then stop and, often as not, come over to me for attention. Today I was able to clip his claws (which badly needed it). He was not happy about it but endured the process, then fled back into his closet hidey-corner when released. Later he resumed his sporadic coming over to me to be made much of. I've been able to lure him downstairs for breakfast (kibble scattered across floor) with the residents in the last few days, at least

Aha! Tomba just passed the doorway of the office where I'm sitting, coming down from the third floor (litterbox use probably) and headed onward to the first floor.

Anyway, he seems to be doing very well. There have been a few incidents where he and a resident have gotten up close and personal, leading to growls, low-whining yowls, and (on his part) some fast thwacking, but nobody's been harmed, and he will nose-sniff with others peaceably. No doubt he and the residents (notably Teddy and Peanut) are working out the status rankings.

Tanya continues to spend almost all of her time hiding under one bed on the top floor. She has created a nest in the stuff I stuffed under it and can slither into it, out of sight, but when I flop down onto my belly between the beds and talk to her, she'll creep out, meep at me, and hunch close enough to be petted. Purrs at me, too. I bring food to her twice a day, a handful of kibble in the morning and a small bowl of wet food in late afternoon. She has a water dish a short distance outside her refuge and the litterbox a few feet away. She looks quite healthy, her coat shines, her eyes are bright.

Today when she hunkered over toward me for petting I was able to extract her and clip her claws -- as badly in need of de-scimitaring as Tomba's, and a process she found even more distressing than he did. Still, other than trying to slither and squirm out of my grasp she endured it, and later in the day again crept near enough for scritching. But she will not come out from under the bed. It's impossible to say what she does when I'm sleeping or out of the house, whether she comes downstairs at all, but she does not seem to be trying to integrate into the household.

I'm torn. On the one hand, I'm tempted to move the litterboxes down from the third floor to the foot of the stairs, extract her from her refuge, and close the door to the top floor -- force her to deal with all that she's hiding from. On the other hand, it's only been what, two weeks? since she arrived, and perhaps she will make progress on her own if I don't push it. On the third hand, she's not moving forward; if anything, she's given ground in that she doesn't appear to be leaving the third floor at all lately, as she had done earlier in brief wary bursts.

It's unfortunately possible that she will never be able to deal with my multi-cat household, at least to the point of joining it. If so, is life as she's currently living it enough for her happiness? I do visit her several times a day. She seems to enjoy the attention (including belly rubs) but her face never makes it nearer to me than the edge of the bed. Is that enough?


Tanya makes a fool of me:

Well! Right after postingt that update, I went looking for T&T. Found Tomba in the bedroom closet -- in the end opposite from his usual corner, just to confuse me.

So who was it who went slinking down from the third floor? Tanya! Tanya, whose spotted coat and white feet are very similar to Tomba's, especially seen at a quick glance as the feline glides swiftly by.

Currently the timid Tanya is hiding in a corner of the basement, under some shelving, a large wicker basket and a bundled-up tarp partially concealing her from the horrors of her strange new world. It's encouraging that she feels driven to venture out, however briefly, however limited her explorations.

Guess I'll hold off on blocking her acess to her top-floor refuge for a while.

Monday, August 16, 2010

T&T: One down, one to go

Tomba's okay with the new life. Tanya still isn't.

Tanya's still hiding out, still growls softly if one of the residents comes too near. She flees if she thinks I'm too close. But I suspect if the residents weren't around she might be approaching me, because when I reach under the bed to her she allows her chin to be scratched, in fact she purrs and burrows into it. Tonight, when I laid my hand flat in front of her after some petting, she draped one large paw over it and rested her chin on that paw, purring, her eyes slitting shut. Even her flight slink is less craven.

Tomba's coming out of his closet lair to me now. This morning he emerged and sat among the residents, within feet of, say, Ted and Schooner, till I got out of bed, then retreated downstairs ahead of me at a sedate pace. I'll kneel or sit on the floor by the closet door and chirp. He looks, considers, and walks out. Twice today he's strolled out confidently and library-lioned beside me, wallowing in stroking and skritching. He let Schooner sniff his butt, and a bit later sniffed Schooner's butt. I'd say he's about 90 percent of the way to feeling right at home.

Just now, after his attention wallow, he stayed outside the closet, allowing me to go fetch my camera and set to work. And voila! Here he is. Isn't he handsome?

Ecce Tomba:



Saturday, August 14, 2010

Update from Feline Central

Sophie went to the vet this morning for a checkup, despite being marginally improved. She tolerated palpation and manipulation with very little protest; apparently whatever is making her limp and trail that hind leg isn't painful enough to elicit much of a reaction to direct touch. Verdict: Soft tissue injury; continue her confinement and limited movement for another 48 hours and see how it goes. So it's back to the office/hospital ward, with the accordion gate in the doorway when I'm in there, and the door shut when I'm not.

Sally is not pleased with this turn of events. Sally does not like being kept out of the office. Sally has tried burrowing under the obstacle. Since the barrier is merely propped in place, not fastened to the wall, this resulted in the clatter-bang toppling of the gate with her halfway under it. Exit Sally, pursued by a barrier.

Today Sally decided if you can't get under, go over. I'll go take a flying leap at it, she said to herself, and so she did.


You can see the ubiquitous Schooner in the background.

Sally's ensconced now on top of her beloved bookcase, triumphant.


Meanwhile, T&T continue adjusting to their new reality. Tanya shuttles between hiding under the recliner on the first floor and hiding in the closet on the second. But at least she's getting out and about. Tomba mostly hides too, but is bolder. Yesterday he came out to greet me when I sat down by the closet door, then headed for the stairs to the first floor, passing within a foot of Peanut, Teddy, and the ever-present Schooner on his way. Nobody offered threats of violence. Well, Peanut did dare to move in on Tomba for a sniffing and got a hissssss/thwackthwack for his impudent imprudence, but he could have gotten that from Teddy if the orange boy'd been feeling cantankerous.

There's still a goodly distance for both to travel before they're fully integrated into the household, but so far it's been remarkably smooth sailing.

Well, except for the furnace disassembly.

Friday, August 13, 2010

T&T Held Hostage: Day Eight -- Together At Last

Tanya and Tomba are together now, crouched in the same hiding place, and it's all because of my hardhearted cruelty.

Tanya wasn't budging from her top-floor lair. Despite my best efforts to win her trust, woo her out, and in general get her to leave her under-bed lair, she stayed put. Let me pet her? Yes. Eat (at least some of) the food I brought her? Yes. Come all the way out from under? No. Other than quick dashes to the litterbox within feet of her refuge, or poking her head out far enough to drink water from the bowl between the beds, she wasn't going anywhere.

After a week of letting her mull over her new life, I decided it was time she made a move to come to better terms with it. So I stuffed pillows, bedspreads, and so forth under both beds, leaving her one end of one bed for a hidey-hole. This, as you may imagine, perturbed her. Tanya in fact fled downstairs in mid-stuff. She made it all the way to the basement, where she discovered to her horror that the behind-the-furnace retreat was blocked off. I caught her in mid-scuttle for the stairs back to the upper levels, petted her a bit, then released her. Scuttling resumed.

Since the cruel contraction of her former refuge, Tanya has experimented with various hiding places. I've spotted her several times lurking under the living room recliner, for example. At this point she's settled on joining Tomba in my bedroom closet -- a shallow but several-feet-wide lair with lots of hanging clothes to conceal her tubby body, and a pair of sliding doors I leave a few inches open at either side for easy access.

Tomba's done some exploring, and I've seen him in a corner of the living room under the same table where he found refuge after his extraction from under the plenum. Mostly, though, he hangs out in the bedroom closet. He and Tanya migrate between the two ends and the middle section; if one is in an end, the other is in the middle.

Tomba is more at ease with his new life, he's still not socializing with the residents but he's a lot calmer about things, and he will actually creep out of the closet to have at the food I bring him, even when one of the residents (hi, Schooner!) hangs about watching. He very much enjoys the head skritches, body rubs, and general making much of I give him, responding with robust purrs. Tanya is still torn on whether being petted by me is a good thing or not, but I can usually evoke a purr with concentrated chin-tickling. Both cats have absolutely refused to show any aggression to me, even when they're desperate to get away and I'm preventing it, blocking their way or (gasp!) even holding them briefly. They simply slink harder. Not that I often restrain them; mostly I just visit them in their hiding places and pet them at arm's length.

All in all, though, this is going much, much better than I'd expected.

Meanwhile, Sophie is on the disabled list. Late last night I noticed her limping badly, barely putting weight on her left hind. Careful gentle palpation evoked no protest or flinching, so I felt reassured that, whatever it was, at least nothing was broken. I did call the 24-hour emergency animal hospital in North Andover to run it by them, see if they thought I should bring her in (at 1:00-ish a.m., a good half-hour's drive away, sob) and after a thorough discussion of what was going on, we decided she could wait till this morning when my regular vets' office opened.

Meanwhile, so that Sophie wouldn't have to attempt navigating the stairs to relieve herself, I brought a couple of litterboxes back up to the living room where she was. Darn it! I'd just moved them out a day or two before, after catproofing the basement, and now.... back again. Sophie was glad of it, though; very soon after I laid down the tarp and settled the boxes on it, she clambered in and released a flood.

Called SRH Vet this morning; discussed what I'd observed last night and Sophie's marginally better ambulation this morning; decided to hold off bringing her in and instead confine her to a small space, since that's the treatment, I was told, she'd be prescribed anyway given the review of symptoms. Could be a wrench or sprain; could even be a dislocation; but tincture of time in such cases, aided by limits on motion, is the way to heal her. Also, their X-ray equipment, having just been upgraded, was refusing to function properly, so they wouldn't be able to look inside anyway. We've left it that I can call tomorrow if I want her seen and they'll fit us in. I'll see how she's doing tomorrow morning; if she's not clearly improving, off we go.

So now Sophie is here with me in my second-floor office. She has her own food and water dishes, her own litterbox, her own floor cushion on which she's sleeping as I type this, and one of those wooden accordion child-saver gates across the doorway. The other residents -- especially Sally, who claims the top of the office bookcase as her favored roost -- are annoyed that they can't get in, but have given up trying to burrow under the barrier.

Oh, and if all this weren't enough, my Morgan, Commander, has pulled off a front shoe and I had to swaddle his foot with vetwrap and duct tape to protect the hoof wall till my farrier can take care of it. What next? She asks plaintively.


Update, a couple of hours later:

I should mention a bit of behavior by the fat little girl that is most encouraging: She's dipping and sipping.

Sophie for most of her life has had a habit of sitting at the water dish, dipping a paw daintily into the water, then lifting the paw to her mouth and licking the drips off it. She was doing that last night and is doing it again tonight.

I'm assuming that if she were in strong discomfort she wouldn't engage in that little idiosyncracy.

Watching her move from food dish to water dish to cushion just now, it appears that her limp is a wee bit less pronounced than it was even a few hours earlier. Still quite lame; still doesn't want to swing the leg well forward under her body; but a smidgen better.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

T&T Held Hostage: Day Five

I never knew a cat could purr and growl at the same time. And what an odd sound it is.

It's all Schooner's fault, of course.

Tanya and Tomba have become separated. Tanya's staying under the bed on the top floor, despite the heat that's built up there over the last few days. I keep the ceiling fan running on low, to stir into the still pall of atmosphere what little cool air-conditioning struggles up that far. Tomba is mostly hiding in my bedroom closet, lurking well-hidden behind the racks of clothing whose hems hang inches from the floor. I surprised him this morning on the stairs from the first floor; he was a step or two below the landing, startled to discover that I was out of bed and advancing toward him from the bedroom. He stared at me for a moment, then scuttled away downstairs. But the bedroom closet is his chosen lair.

Despite their continued insistence on hiding, both cats are warming toward me. I can reach in under the clothing to skritch Tomba, getting small head surges and purrs in return, and I do so several times each day. This evening I gave him a few minutes of a good body-scratching and stroking, and he very much enjoyed it. He will still flee if he thinks I'm hunting him, but he's purring strongly now when I caress him.

Tanya very nearly came out from under the bed this evening! I'd been spending time with her off and on all day, ten or fifteen minutes at a pop, just lying on the floor between the twin beds talking and kissing and chirruping to her, letting one hand slide in under the bed. She'd shift herself toward me, let me skritch her, then slither back.

This evening I lay there for a long time. We went through several rounds of advance and retreat. She began purring a few minutes into the session and continued rumbling at every distance. Once she hitched herself so far toward me that her face emerged from under the bed, as far as her eyes! Too daring; too soon; as I started to stroke her neck she backed away out of reach.

But she wanted my attention, that was clear. I lay quietly on my side, making small encouraging sounds, and otherwise not moving (darn near drifted off to sleep, in fact, despite the discomfort of my position). She scrunched closer. Got some head rubs. Inched closer, offering her side. I reached in as far as my awkward position would allow (the bed is too low to fit more than my arm under it) and rubbed her side, then her belly. Heaven! Nirvana! Yes YES YES!!! Belly rub! I withdrew my hand. Tanya mulled it over, still purring strongly. She swung herself toward me. I waited. She hitched a few inches toward me. I waited. She inched closer yet. I waited. She purred and purred and purred and....

A solid weight, concentrated in broad little paws, landed on my hip. Tanya looked that way. Her steady purr mutated into a rumbling low whine-edged growl. She shifted away from me as Schooner walked up along my body and plopped down into the narrow space between me and the bed. He stared under the bed at her. She stared back. He jumped up onto the bed in back of me, then meandered about over both beds, his sturdy body making the bedclothes rustle with his passage. She retreated farther into safety. The bizarre purr/growl, soft but clear, continued.

I told Schooner what I thought of his ill-timed arrival. He looked happy. Schooner believes that everyone loves him and is always pleased to have him around (hisses and swats bounce right off his cheerful confidence), and of course his human must naturally be delighted to see him! Go away? Why would I say that? So I gave it up for the night, content with the progress made.

A side note: The residents are getting along better now with each other than they did before T&T arrived. I guess there's nothing like an alien intruder to make a family pull together, eh?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

T&T: Lurking unmolested

The other cats, when the newbies slink down to the lower levels, look but don't touch. Tanya occasionally growls, very softly, if someone examines her too closely and she has no line of retreat, but that's about it for declarations of hostility. T&T spend most of their time under the beds on the top floor. Sometimes they venture to the lower levels. I've found one or the other huddling in my bedroom closet, well-concealed by hanging clothes, and been able to do some chin-scratching then. (They like it, yet still they scuttle away from me when I cease cornering them. Oh, well.) Tanya's also occasionally tried hiding under a bureau, or even behind the cluster of plants next to the second-floor slider. But mostly the third floor is theirs.

Unfortunately, that means that the residents have stopped using the litterboxes in the bathroom off the third-floor bedroom, formerly their preferred facilities, and now focus on the temporary setup in the living room. UGH! I've moved a couple of boxes down there and regularly clean them, but it is NOT PLEASANT. Tomorrow I'll be checking the behind-furnace holes, to see if the foam I sprayed in yesterday has filled them. I've also devised ways to block off the hidey-space behind there and other places where T&T could huddle beyond my reach. Tomba can have the under-shelf corner in the basement where he first hid, if he likes; but I'm not letting them have anywhere that's inaccessible.

Assuming I get the basement cat-hiding-proofed to my satisfaction, the litterboxes will be going down there tomorrow. None too soon!

Oh, yeh, also: Twice I've been able to get hold of Tanya and drag her passively resisting body into my lap for some loving. She does push her head into the skritching; she does purr at times; but she also wants to ooze free, and scurries away when I release her. That's all right; she'll come around eventually. The wary Tomba isn't ready for that much enforced affection yet.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

T&T Held Hostage: Day Two

They've made progress!

They've progressed from the first floor to the spare bedroom on the third/top floor of the townhouse.

At some point overnight (or early morning; I tend to get up at the crack of 9:00) both Tanya and Tomba made their way up two flights of stairs, past assorted agog observers, to new hiding places. I'd seen both cats making independent slinking forays around the first floor last night when I spent some hours in the living room, quietly reading and watching TV, occasionally talking and chirping to them, so I'm assuming that they independently explored upward till there was nowhere else to go.

Tanya is currently ensconced in a cat castle next to one of the twin beds. Tomba is under one of the beds. Tanya let me put my hand inside the cat castle to pet her. Yes, yes, I realize that putting your hand through a small opening into an enclosed space in which a scared (or at least worried) cat is hiding is just asking for it to come back shredded, but I'd observed how Tanya reacted to stranger touching while similarly tucked away at the shelter. She was fine then, and just now she actually enjoyed it enough to position her head for maximum chin-skritching. Did I even hear a hint of a purr? Tomba is less sure he wants anything to do with me and I'm not going to push him.

Just went upstairs to check. Tanya's now under the bed where Tomba had been and Tomba's under the other bed.

Schooner continues to be mightily curious about the newcomers, willing to get within inches before retreating. The others have an air of "What the hell is going on here?" to varying degrees but no one's outright distraught, everyone's eating, and it's been remarkably quiet overall. I'm really surprised, in fact, at how little craziness there's been. I guess my guys are accustomed by now to strangers showing up in their territory. It helps that T&T aren't the least bit aggressive.

Checked again. Now they're together under one bed. And so I leave them, and you, Dear Readers, for now.

Friday, August 6, 2010

No, really; what WAS I thinking?

Tanya and Tomba are now upstairs, thanks to an hour of titanic effort by the animal control officer and my heating contractor.

They hadn't come out of hiding, that I could tell, all night. Their food was barely touched. Checking behind the furnace, I could just see Tanya, who retreated when I slithered into position to look closer.

Wait, what? Slithered into position? Titanic effort by...? Oh, yeh, if you've never seen how my furnace is set up, what I'm about to tell you wouldn't make much sense. So here's the deal: It's clear (and confirmed by my heating contractor) that the builder of my condo installed the furnaces in the complex, then poured the floors and built the walls to enclose them afterwards. Result? Insanely tight clearances all around.

Here's what I mean: beyond the water heater is the furnace/central air, and a sheet metal plenum on the floor next to it leading back to a vertical plenum. At the rear of that floor plenum is a small space between the back of the furnace and the vertical plenum. Zig a zag into that little space and you find a narrow space between the vertical plenum and the basement wall. And that's where T&T had gone to hide.

Or so I thought.

I slithered in, as I say, on my belly atop the floor plenum, flashlight in one hand, and spotted Tanya, who retreated as far as she could into that zigzag space, but I was able to glom onto her and haul her out (snagging my shirt on various exposed nailheads in the studs) and plunk her into a waiting carrier, where she huddled, meeping softly. I went back in for Tomba.

He wasn't there. True, the back of the zigzag space was beyond the reach of my flailing hand, but it wasn't beyond the reach of the car-trunk-sized snow shovel I carefully probed the space with. No large blubbery cat retreated from the probe, not did I feel its edge nudge a large blubbery mass.

I searched the whole basement. No Tomba. I searched again. I probed again. No Tomba. Ack. Finally I called Animal Control and lucked out -- Matt was in, and promised to come over on his way home, in about half an hour. And so he did.

And he couldn't find Tomba either. We searched the whole condo. No Tomba. Matt even contorted and squeezed his six-foot-plus self into the zigzag space for a better look, but nope, not there. He was about to go get a Havahart trap from his van when I mentioned something I'd seen while I'd been slithered in: inside the tiny zigzag space, butted up to the floor plenum, was a rough hole in the concrete floor leading to a space under the plenum. A small hole, seemingly no larger than a large cat's head. "He couldn't possibly have fit in there, could he?" Heh. With the help of a mirror on a stick we found that, yes, indeed, he could fit in there. And had.

But Matt couldn't extract him. The hole was too small for a cat-holding hand.

Now what?

Now we take apart the floor plenum. Which means cutting the plastic pipe clamped to it. Yikes.

While Matt sawed away, I ran upstairs and called my heating contractor, Dave Wile. For a wonder, I got him. For an even greater wonder, at after 4:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, having heard why he was needed, he cheerfully agreed to come right over. And did so.

I stood back and let the pros have at it. In such cramped spaces it wasn't easy, and there were an amazing number of bolts that had to be undone. At one point, while Matt lifted the near end of the plenum a half-inch off the floor (as far as it then would go) I crouched on the concrete, peeked under the plenum's edge, and saw poor terrified Tomba staring back at me from what the poor fool had thought was a safe haven.

They never were able to get the thing entirely disassembled, but at last Matt thought he could get it high enough to reach under and extract the cat. He squeezed and contorted himself into the space till he was straddling the floor plenum, Dave lifted it as far as it would go, and......................

Voila! Extracted cat!

Matt carefully backed out of the space and handed Tomba off to me. I bundled the horrified blubbery mass into a carrier and took him upstairs to the living room, releasing him in the corner where Tanya was already hiding under a small table. He dithered a moment or two when I opened the top of the carrier, then flowed out and into safety.

Meanwhile, Matt and Dave were repairing the havoc wreaked in pursuit of the wretched fellow. I thanked them profusely, with words and in Matt's case with a 12-pack of Ipswich Ale; in Dave's case with a check for his ridiculously reasonable service call fee. In a trice the place was put back together, the rescuers were gone, and I was left with two gobsmacked adoptees hiding in a corner, seven resident felines recovering from the horror of strangers in the house, and the three litterboxes that used to be in the basement now resting on a tarp in the middle of my living room, to stay there until (a) I could get some spray foam to seal up the gap in the concrete floor, and (b) the adoptees adapted to life beyond the basement. Until then the basement is off-limits to the felines.

What was I thinking?

Why did I decide to adopt two more cats? Not even cute little kittens, oh, no; these are pudgy adults, 10 and 13 years old, in fact; surrendered to the local shelter when their elderly owner had to go to a nursing home, and needing to go together to whoever would be willing to adopt them. When I first met them on a visit to the shelter, they'd arrived just a couple of days before and were hunkered down, quietly terrified. On a subsequent visit, a couple of weeks later, they were amiable but not effusively friendly. All in all, despite their having lovely spotted shiny coats, they weren't going to be easy to place.

So after several nights of lying awake thinking about what a wrenching upheaval to their happy life they've been through, and how uncertain their future was, I offered to take them. Hey, I've only got seven now; two more would still keep me in single digits! Double digits is my tripwire, my STOP sign at the tipping point into crazy cat hoarder territory. What, you laugh? Hey, it works for me!

I don't like trying to integrate an adult cat into a household of adult cats; kittens are much easier. With adults there's a lot more sturm und drang, I've found. And yet....

On my second visit the two were in the front cat room with several other adults. Inquiry revealed they'd been nonconfrontational when introduced and in fact avoided any threat of hostility rather than threatening back, so I figured they weren't likely to get in fights with my resident felines, who in their turn, based on history, were unlikely to do more than swear and curse at them. So maybe, with patience, it could work?

The adoption coordinator for the shelter and the animal control officer both know me (I've adopted two kittens previously from the shelter) and when I asked about taking Tanya (altered female) and Tomba (altered male) they were quick to say yes. So this afternoon I took two empty carriers to the shelter and came back with two full ones.

Back home, I decanted them in the finished basement, where three of the litterboxes are. Tomba zipped right into a corner under a set of shelves with stuff in front of them, where he could hide, and stayed there. Tanya upon release has hidden, explored, hidden, explored; got as far as up the stairs and out on the first floor to the edge of the kitchen and living room before retreating.

Schooner, my youngest, soon came down to investigate. He was puffed up and wary but not actively hostile. I reassured him and he got a bit more confident. Tanya and he actually sniffed noses as she explored and he investigated; Tanya didn't focus on him and he was tentatively curious. If everyone will be as good about this as Schooner (but they won't be) this will be a piece of cake.

After hanging out for a while, talking softly and chirping, I went upstairs. Have let three of the resident cats sniff my stranger-scented fingers. They were wary but curious; no one hissed. And that is how their arrival went. Let us hope they will settle in without too much drama.


Update, two hours later:

So far, so....... well, they're both still hiding in the basement, in separate spots. One or another of the residents goes down now and then to check them out, then comes back up, sedately. I don't hear any screams while they're down there. I did hear some hisses from Tomba a while ago, when I was sitting on the basement floor (carpeted, thank goodness) chirping and talking to T&T, and Peanut went close to Tomba's hiding place to check him out. Peanut retreated after a bit of cautious looking, and that was that.

I go down there every now and then to spend a little quiet talking time with them, come close enough to look at them, let them see me, then in a bit go away again. It seems best to let them come out when they feel comfortable with it. I'll probably put food and water down there for them until I see them regularly upstairs.

I liked their spotted coats but didn't realize till I looked over the health papers that came with them that they're both Ocicats! A breed I've admired for a long time, never thought I'd own as they are quite pricey! One website I looked at said $500 to $900 for a kitten. Although these two, with their white markings, are pet quality only, wouldn't qualify for showing. But who cares? I think they're lovely.


Update, two hours later:

No problems, other than that the newbies have now taken up residence in the blind corner behind the furnace and refuse to come out. I've left canned and dry food and a bowl of water in the floor space between the furnace and the water heater, and closed the basement door so that the other cats can't get down there to steal their food. That was about an hour ago that I left the canned food (tuna), and so far they haven't touched it. I did check with a flashlight and spotted a bit of Tomba staring back at me from his crouch beside the furnace. Hopefully by morning they will have at least eaten something. Seems to me, since they don't come out when they hear me coming down the stairs (or go back and hide, I don't know) that I should not bother them again tonight. I'm leaving the lights on down there so they can see where they're going if they do come out.


Update, four-plus hours later:

Some small amount of dry food, and maybe a bit of tuna, had been eaten on last check. Around 11:00 I went down and sat in the basement reading for about an hour. After a while, Tanya emerged from a different hiding place and slunk back to the furnace. Tomba didn't appear. They will have the basement to themselves for the rest of the night. Tomorrow I'll open the door and leave it open for several hours, and see what happens.

I do hope they'll get over their fear soon and move upstairs; it's not much of a life, hiding behind a furnace.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Huzzah! The Greenheads Are Gone!

Hurrah! At last, the greenheads have run their vicious bloodsucking course! Since they appear to have died off now, I've been able to leave Ben and Commander out during the day, yay! But alas, there are still plenty of other flying pests to annoy them, and yesterday when I walked into their paddock, Commander saw me and came charging in from the field, circling tight around me and trying frantically to rub his head on his human: "Get these mosquitos offa me!"


I took pity on the boys and put them in the barn while I cleaned the run-in and refilled the water tub, then put them back out for the night. Before turning them out, I gave each one a good grooming -- Commander loved it so much, he even stopped eating hay while I worked on him -- and flyspraying. That Morgan's a right smart fellow; he normally gets put out first, and he'll zip directly into Ben's side of the run-in to gobble as much as he can of Ben's hay before the big guy gets there and turfs him out.

They do love their run-in. Why shavings in a run-in, you ask? Because Commander took to treating it like a regular stall, peeing as well as pooping, and, well, it just was unbearably gross without putting down shavings to absorb the mess.


They have access to their far field, but spend most of their grazing time on the near field, even though it's eaten down to lawns and roughs by now; it's closer to the run-in, to shelter from flying biting annoyances.


Ben, poor sensitive fellow, hates the bugs, and if I try to drag him out of the run-in to the field (with a loop of baling twine around his neck) he'll often race back in as soon as he's released. Same same with Commander. But they do get out and graze, more now than during the past few weeks of greenhead grief, and it's a treat to see their shiny bay coats illuminated by the late low light:


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Memories of a stray cat

A long time ago, I rescued a stray cat that was living -- no, existing; it wasn't much of a life -- in a small fenced-off space at the end of the alley in Boston where I then had an apartment. It took several days of feeding, inching closer each day as the little thing grew in her trust of me, till I could snatch her up, stuff her into a carrier, and bring her to my vet.

She was filthy. She was half-starved. Her long fur was so matted she had to be shaved over most of her body. Worse yet, she'd broken one hind leg above the hock some time ago and it had healed up bent outward, so that she walked on the inside edge of the paw. My vet almost cried when he saw that; he said if he'd gotten her right away he could have fixed it, but by now it was too late.

Well! That wee Piglet (so named for her enthusiastic appetite) could get around just fine on that crippled leg, could run like blazes on it in fact, and she settled in with me and my other cats quite happily. Her body filled out; her fur grew back in to a rich soft brown tabby and white; and she proved to be an affectionate, gentle cat. We were all so happy.........

Until, after several months, things started to go downhill. Piglet began losing weight, despite continuing to eat voraciously. Her energy diminished. She began spending long stretches of time lying by the water dish, alternately drinking and just resting her head on its edge.

A visit to the vet confirmed my fears: Piglet was ill. Specifically, she was diabetic. We discussed whether to try her on insulin; but my vet's considered opinion was that euthanasia was the kindest option. And so I said a sad goodbye to my little rescue. It grieved me, yes; but it comforted me to know that I had plucked her from misery and given her a happy life for its last few months

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gentle Giants

"Gentle giants" -- that's a term commonly applied to draft horses. They are massive, true, though some breeds are no taller than many riding horses; but the largest among them are awesome, almost overpowering in their physical presence when you are close to them and can measure your own puny insignificance against their immense height and girth, their unimaginable strength. If they wished to, they could crush you like a bug.

And yet they don't. Though draft horses, like any other equine, can rebel against their human handlers, or panic and bolt (as a team did in Iowa during a July 4th parade, with tragic results), mostly they bear patiently with the small two-legs that buzz about them, commanding their obedience and ordering their lives.

It is fortunate for humanity that they are so biddable, and not just in terms of safe handling. For most of recorded history draft horses have pulled the plows and wagons of agriculture and transport, skidded logs out of the forest, hauled ore from the mineheads, mowed fields for the hay that fed them through the winter, dragged graders down dirt roads, and in multitudes of ways powered the human milieu that selectively bred them to their massive greatness.

Today, of course, draft horses are irrelevant to the functioning of society. The internal combustion engine put paid to their usefulness in almost every sphere. There are those who still use them for logging; folks like the Amish still use them for agriculture; but by and large, their day as the motive force for civilization is done.

Most people, if they think of them at all, think of the Budweiser Clydesdales. Though the best known of promotional hitches, they're not the only ones. I've seen up close and personal the Hallamore Hitch, a team of eight Clydesdales who pull a gigantic antique wagon at fairs, expositions and parades across the Northeast. I've stood in the stands at the Topsfield Fair, mere feet from the team as they trotted past, harness jingling, wagon wheels rumbling, feathers at their fetlocks floating, and felt the floor beneath me shudder with the seismic power of their thundering hooves.

It's at agricultural fairs and farm shows that you'll also find an old amusement of rural America still alive and thriving: horsepulling -- where a team of horses is hitched to a given weight and must pull it a given distance. It's uncommonly exciting:

The contest is run one of two ways: using a dynamometer, a machine used to measure horsepower, or with weights on a stone boat or sled. A horse pull is an elimination contest, with successful teams moving on to the next round until there are only two teams left. The winner of the last round is declared champion.

Horses must stay within the boundary lines drawn in the dirt or will be disqualified from the round. Hookers are assistants whose job it is to hook the horses to the sled or the dynamometer. Once they have done this they are required to stand back and not speak to the horses or drivers. It is against the rules to slap the horses with the lines or strike them in any way.

If you've never watched a horse pull you owe yourself the experience. To witness the power of these 2000-pound animals strain against the harness and pull thousands of pounds of dead weight twenty-seven and a half feet (the official distance) is an amazing sight.

Outside of such venues, though, one doesn't often see the gentle giants of the draft world. But there's a farm near where I live that boards horses, and last fall I had the privilege of photographing two massive buddies in their field.

The gelding is a Belgian, one of the more popular draft breeds; a friend of mine, in fact, for many years had a Belgian which she used for trail riding. I saw him standing out in the field, enjoying the mild autumn day.


With him was a mare, almost as large as her large protector.


What was the mare's breeding? Her mane and forelock were as long as a Friesian's but she did not look like a purebred.


They eyed me for a while, perhaps wondering what I wanted and what it might mean for them. Finally they decided to come investigate -- or rather, the gelding did, and his friend followed.


All the while I was observing them the mare, shy and wary, kept the gelding between us. Or perhaps it was the Belgian who made sure to stay between his companion and any possible threat.


Was she curious? Yes. Willing to approach the stranger? No. But still.... curious.


The Belgian clealry was most tenderly attached to his lady, and made frequent small gestures of affection.


I do not know, will never know, the mare's history; but at some point in her life, she was no more than a number to the human(s) who owned her and branded her number 35.


Whatever her past, her present was easy, comfortable, and happy. The eyes that watched me cautiously held no terror of the human, only a shy hesitancy.


Are draft horses' heads big and boxy? Yes; they're a far cry from the delicate elegance of, say, the Arabian. But they have their own majestic beauty.


And their eyes are as lovely as any equine's, anywhere.