Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Kitty Condo Deluxe

It is with great pride I  present to you the master planned community known forever more as Kitty Condo Deluxe.  This luxurious, exclusive, gated community features three distinct and individually decorated single room condos with plush terry interiors and optimal floor heating.  The exteriors are a delightful terry texture adding insulation and good looks.  But the fun doesn't stop inside.  The outdoor environs allow for top of the condo lounging for those warmer days and more temperate night conditions.  Super Deluxe Condo 1 even features an exterior love seat - perfect for entertaining.

Stroll along the grounds to find the patio dining areas serving sumptuous gourmet meals three times a day.  Drink fresh from the state of the art ever full water fountain.  Relax in comfort on the grounds of this estate and feel free to pursue your favorite pastimes just steps away through two convenient doorways.

There is no place you would rather be... Kitty Condo Deluxe...

... and fade to black.

I can't believe we did it - and in record time - and without personal injury.  Let me share with you how it all went down.

After clearing out the unwholesome nest of various debris (read all about that here), we set to work measuring and cutting wood.

Here is the space with two of the cut pieces of lumber that will support the shelf top.  That pink flap you see just to the left of center is a kitty access flap.  We will have to make sure the shop vac does not conflict with their use of this flap.
Here is the shelf top, cut to size and awaiting install.
By this point we had taken measurements from many different places in the alcove, attempting to head off the cantankerous house syndrome that means there is no area that is truly square, level or easy to attach things to.  Being veterans of past encounters we figured if we only had to re-cut things twice we would be doing better than usual.

Oh My God!  It fits!  Well in this picture it does.  What you don't see is the re-cut of the west support piece and the repositioning of the north support piece.  It is up, it is stable and can probably support over 100 lbs which means it will likely be able to withstand the potential of 40 pounds of cat.
Here is a view of the top of the shelf.  It is somewhat banged up, but no worries...
That is why they make contact paper.  Now we have a smooth, clean and above all, cleanable surface to manage the inevitable cat puke.
So here it all is put together with the two kitty condos on top and the shop vac, kitty condo and kitty bed on the bottom.  Although you cannot see it from this view, we managed to keep enough space between the shop vac and the cat flap that the kitties should have no trouble using it.

However, all of this will be for nothing if the cats don't like it.  Who knows what goes through their little feline minds that might cause them to reject this labor of love.  I have created some flyers with the above sales pitch but will the advertising sway them?  They have been completely absent from the scene the entire time we were doing the build out so it will be a complete surprise.  What if they like only one of the condos?  What if during the night they locate a cordless drill and dismantle the whole thing?  What if they burst into tears and demand we put things back the way it was?  The suspense is killing me.

No worries.  Here is Ike leading the cat appreciation front.  It happens to be hot the day we finished this (of course) so he did not venture into the condos but leaped right up on top.  Minor glitch, the condo wobbled.  It was like I was afraid of,  we really are going to have to bolt them to the table.

Here is a before and after shot:

Although it doesn't show up that well, we probably reclaimed several square feet of traffic area.  Now things are mostly contained in just the alcove leaving us the rest of the porch to walk through. Success!

Now I just have to finish putting up all the junk I removed...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Front Door Kitty Condo Plans

So, after creating an improved kitty condo for the back door cat, we felt compelled to create the improved multilevel kitty condo complex for our front door quartet.  This was going to require planning, potentially a lot of work and probably a complete redesign of whatever initial plans due to typical unforeseen complications, also known as old house cantankerousness.  The best thing about the front door Kitty condos is that the 'condo' part is already made and what we are really doing is creating the condo environs.  In other words we want to make a spot that will 1) provide easy kitty access to said condos and 2) not get in our way as we try to enter and exit via our front door.

Point number 2 has been a sore spot for us for the last 4 years of the front door cat era.  Their 'things' are always in the way be it food bowls, water bowl, cat condos, cat towels or the occasional dead animal.

The kitty 'footprint'.  Lets see cat towel, kitty condo, cat food bowls all competing with space with the human shoes, shop vac and the empty water jug a cat has knocked down.  There must be at least a foot of space for us to walk through.  What are we complaining about?  Thankfully, no dead rodent to leap over today.
This is the 'before' view of the proposed kitty condo area.  There seems to be a very small and very specific black hole in there that draws in various junk, much like a magpie might take shiny things to its nest.  That rakishly tilted towel is another signature of our fractious felines.  If it is not nailed down, they will rearrange it.

Cats are in many ways akin to teenage humans in their independence, aloofness and as we discovered, messy room ways.  We can lay out a very neat and tidy cat towel placement in the evening and by morning they have mussed it about and rearranged it to be maximally in the way of our coming and going through the front door.  They knock things off shelves and never pick up after themselves.  They have knock down, drag out arguments over who gets what part of the front porch.  They do not like to share their things with one another.  And yet, on a cold morning we will find all four of them in a kitty pile up atop their two heating pads.

This information lets us know that while everyone needs to have their own space, they also need to have a way to cuddle together when the mood strikes them.  They want to be close to each other, but not too close.  Anything we create for them has to be sturdily attached to whatever it is resting on.  Everything we create for them has to be positioned in such a way they cannot rearrange it into the chaos they so love.

We have three kitty condos that are ready for use.

One is a refurbished covered cat litter box that is 18 inches long, 14 inches wide and 18 inches tall. It has seen better days and is probably about 7 - 10 years old.  You can see where I have taped a piece of wood over what used to be the hole for the shop lamp.  The very hole that used to be a vent for this covered cat litter box (you can find my rant about it in this post).  I plan on installing a heating pad for warmth, along with several cat towels for warmth and comfort.
One box is a refurbished storage container with a hole cut out of its narrow end.  It is 21 inches long, 14 inches wide and 16 inches tall.  I have taped a plank of wood across the top to cover the hole that allowed the lamp heat through.
Here you can see inside where I have the heating pad in place.  I will cover the heating pad with a blanket and drape blankets around the box as well.
The third box is an actual pet crate that is 23 inches long, 16 inches wide and 16 inches tall.  Thankfully I did not cut a hole in this one, so no tape needed.  It has its heating pad ready to go.
Here is how I cover the heating pad by nestling it inside a folded towel.
Here is how the whole thing looks with cat towels inside and out.
This one is big enough we will have room for an open air cat bed on top of it.

Now we just need to create the space for the three kitty condos and the shop vac.  The space we have available is a small alcove off the front porch that is 44 inches wide and 21 inches deep on one side and we have about 25 inches of space available on the other side.

Here is what the space looks like with all the crap removed.  Surprisingly the debridement only took about 15 minutes.  Of course now all the stuff is just sitting outside the front porch, but since the area I need to work in is clear I am chalking that up on the win column.

Here is the plan I have created for this space.

This is the view from the top showing the shelf unit we will install in the alcove.

The shelf top is 24 inches wide on one side and 14 inches wide on the other end.  We are harvesting this shelf from our workshop.  I can't remember when we last had to create anything new.  We just move the things we have already created from one place to another.  Right this shelf it is a little longer than the alcove, so we will be trimming it to fit.  The back edge we will brace against the north and west wall of the porch alcove and the front edge will have a support leg.  Below this shelf will be Kitty condo 1 on the right.  On the left side is a space for the bulky shop vac that also needs to live on the front porch.  We want to leave enough room for the shop vac to fit under the shelf without giving the kitties any unnecessary access above or behind it.

Above the shelf and resting on it are Kitty condo 2 and 3.

Kitty condo 2 will be on the right side of the shelf and since it is 14 inches wide it will just fit.  The access to the condo is through the narrow end which will give the cats about 8 inches of space between it and Kitty condo 3.  This should be ample space for them and as a bonus they can also lounge on top of this condo.  Kitty condo 3 is the tallest and shortest of the condos and will fit with its access door pointing toward the front of the alcove space.  The cats will be able to reach it via a six inch front area, which again, given cat agility should be ample room.  Although this condo is somewhat dome shaped on the top, many a cat has perched there before, so we anticipate them using it that way as well.
Both condos will have to be wired on to the shelf in order to keep the brawling quartet from knocking things asunder.  It might seem like large objects resting solidly on a flat surface would not be particularly tip prone, but these guys are a professional disruption crew and God only knows how they might do it.  If there is a way, those condos will be on the floor unless I do the equivalent of bolting them to the shelf.

Seen from the front of the alcove.

The arrangement shows the shelf unit is positioned 30 inches off the floor, leaving enough room for the shop vac to easily be maneuvered in and out.  Kitty condo 1 rests on the floor to the right and there is quite a bit of space for a cat bed on top of it.

So that is the plan and all we have left to do is 1) deconstruct the shelf top from where it is in the shop and refit it to correct length for the alcove space, 2) install the shelf into the alcove space, 3) arrange and secure the kitty condos on the shelf, the shop vac beneath the shelf and the other kitty condo beneath the shelf, and 4) swath the kitty condos in cat towels and heat with heating pads.  Tada.  I only count about a dozen ways this will not go smoothly, up to and including complete rejection by the kitties it is being created for.

stay tuned...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Kitty Condo #1

It's that time of year again and as the chilly weather descends I once again begin to agonize over how comfortable my cats are.  They live outside and very much love that arrangement.  They are free to range around and do cat things and have a constant food and water supply along with the comforts we provide them.  We live inside and very much love not having cat dander, cat hair and the inevitable litter box inside our small house with us.  Not to mention cat poop in the dryer (a trio of incidences in our distant past which involved my currently oldest cat, two pristine, clean and unused litter boxes, an open dryer door full of clean dry towels, all mixed with the typical insanity that is known as 'cat').

Needless to say, we are not about to resolve the cold weather scenario by bringing 5 cats into our two human and two dog household.  With the Border Collie in residence we already have an organic shedding machine capable of creating virtual snow drifts of hair (dust puppies) every day.  Seriously, if you leave something on the floor without picking it up and sweeping beneath it for longer than a week an amazing raft of hair (shed-lock) secretes itself beneath the object causing involuntary flinching when said object is moved. Add five more hair contributing creatures and we have the makings of a horror flick (it lives under the chair!).

So no, I do not wish to live in a fur lined home - and again, I have no desire to increase the poop in the dryer potential...

What to do though?  The oldest cat is now 15 and prone to respiratory issues.  Previously I have used a crate like container and a spot lamp positioned on top so that the heat from the bulb would warm the enclosure.  This worked great the first incarnation when I used a covered cat litter box (now defunct with no cats living inside and thoroughly sanitized) with a hole punched in the top where there used to be a vent (let me digress just a moment here while I struggle with the idea that a closed cat litter box needs a top vent.  A closed litter box is a great idea, much like the lid of a toilet being placed in the down position when a plumbing situation would preclude flushing a used toilet.  This enclosed box that reduces the 'me seeing the nasty used litter' to near zero and the 'me smelling the nasty fresh kitty poo' to something tolerable - this perfectly fine arrangement needs... a vent?  I mean, come on, were the makers of this kitty toilet somehow under the impression that they needed to prevent the build up of dangerous kitty gasses?  Was the fact that the front of the enclosure being totally open not enough to vent the terrible, dangerous, kitty gas?  Were there a number of cat litter box explosions rocking the country that somehow I was unaware of?  Because really, exploding enclosed cat litter boxes would definitely be something the news media would be all over.  I would have heard.  So, let me be clear here - enclosed cat litter boxes do not need a top vent.)

Indeed that enclosed cat litter box not only worked great to reduce the cat litter box explosions in my life, but also worked great after a retrofit as a kitty warming box.  I had two boxes and at the time I had two cats and they worked great all winter long with snuggly warm kitties encased in towel covered and towel lined boxes.  Perfect.

But then of course, I had to go and think about it.  At the time I was using 75 watt bulbs to give off a very strong heat.  Then I ran out of 75 watt bulbs one evening (the bulbs lasted a reasonable time, but cats being who they are liked to lounge on top of the crate and would occasionally knock them off and break a bulb) so I used a 60 watt bulb instead.  I noticed this reduced the 'brightness'.  That got me to thinking - just how healthy was it for my kitties to be constantly subjected to bright light?  Was it throwing off their kitty circadian rhythm?  Did it disrupt their kitty REM sleep?  Does a creature that sleeps 20 out of every 24 hours even have a circadian rhythm or is it more of a flat line?

So I purchased an expensive red heat bulb designed for heat loving reptiles.  That solved the bright light problem and seemed to create a wonderful heat.   The cats loved it.  But what they loved more than being in the crate was resting awkwardly on top of the crate, half of which was taken up by the hood of the lamp, leaving only a small space that a very determined cat could squinch itself into.  They would climb into the crate only when it got truly cold at night.  This top of the crate perching led to that expensive light lasting only one week due to repeated cat toppling.

So I discovered that black light bulbs were less expensive, put out less light that I could see (mind you it did spark me to a fruitless internet search on what light range was perceptible to cats - uhh, better than us?...) and was very warm.  The cats seemed to do fine with this change and continued to perch atop the crate.

Thus ended that cold season and I put the crates away with just a brief foray into researching heating pads for cats.  After all they seemed to like the heat coming up from below ("Hello," my cats said - "care to notice how we awkwardly perch here?  Think that means anything, hmmmm?").  I gave up this search after finding that, 1. Yes, they did make special heating pads for animals, and 2. Special meant expensive.  And so I put it out of my mind thinking I would resolve it the next season.

Fast forward to the influx of way too many cats and cold, very cold, winter weather on the doorstep.  I needed enough warm space for 8 cats, two in the backyard and 6 in the front.  At that time we had not enclosed the front porch space.  For this scenario I created another light box by cutting holes in the top and side of a small storage container and scrounging a couple of human heating pads to go into a couple of other storage containers turned on their side.  The whole complex was swathed with bath towels inside and out.  Three new kitty warming containers for the six kitties worked just fine (here I must point out how utterly frustrating it is to have almost all your bath towels being used for the cats and the ultimate designation of certain towels being forever more labeled as 'cat towels' - more about that here).

But were they comfortable enough?  Thus my husband and I rebuilt and enclosed the front porch by the next winter.  They have a raised wooden floor and slowly but surely we have been finishing out the walls for greater insulation and installing a separate wall socket so we don't have to run power cords under our front door anymore.

This brings us to today and the beginning of the 2012/2013 cold weather season.  It has not gotten really cold yet and does not look like it will be very cold for maybe a couple of more weeks as well.  Me being me, I got to wondering just how comfortable my cats are again and so I have been building and scheming once more.

Kitty Condo #1 

I present for you Kitty Condo #1.  This enclosure uses a medium size metal dog crate insulated with 4 square pillows inside (top, back and sides) along with a thick exercise mat between cat and pillows.

The pillows will be a total loss after this, no doubt, but delaying the need to replace the cat fouled pillow with an easier to clean barrier that also provides insulation was the brainstorm of my dear husband.
Here is the view of the top.  I secured the pillows and mat with loops of string interwoven with the metal bars of the dog crate. 

I must confess that the current arrangement went through several incarnations, one of which was having one of the plastic storage crates inside the dog crate and surrounded by pillows - but that looked 'cramped' I decided after spending an hour putting the whole thing together (I don't want my wittle, bittie, kittie to be cramped!) so I dismantled it and started over.

It is heated by a large human heating pad (on low for now) which is covered by a pillow case.

A layer of bath towel also covers the heating pad to make sure the heat is never overly intense and to cut down on the need to change the pillow case as frequently as well as absorb any 'cat puke' situations.  The towel also provides additional snuggly warmth and changing towels is one of the quickest ways to satisfy the kitty's need for fresh bedding.

The exterior of the condo is covered by two thinner yoga mats, front to back and side to side arrangement.

The outside is also covered by two bath towels.  This kitty condo allows for an interior cat space of about 16 inches high, 14 inches wide and 18 inches long.  The top of the condo is the kitty feeding area.

Mr. Dory the 15 year old seems to love, love, love it and who wouldn't.

He can stretch out, stand up, and do kitty gymnastics if he wants inside his warm dark condo.

The whole arrangement is sitting on top of a table next to my bedroom window, well outside of Border Collie nose range and well within my monitoring area.  His towels are changed once a week and his wet and dry food bowls are within easy reach but not stinking up his crate when he is done eating.  If he weren't such a loner he would probably be inviting his teenage friends over to chill in his new crib.  We are holding off on installing the flat screen TV, cable internet, surround sound audio and mood lighting for now. 

One down and now on to the front door cat comfort challenge... stay tuned.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cat Towels

Photo by: normanack

So, it has come to this.  Our cats have more bath towels than we have.

It didn't start out that way, in fact for most of our lives we lived totally devoid of the knowledge there was such a thing as cat towels.  But that was long, long ago and another lifetime it seems.  Today and forever more we are bounded by cat towels.

Photo by Jamie in Bytown

What are cat towels you ask?  Well, to all intents and purposes they start out as regular human bath towels.  They will spend anywhere from several months to sometimes only a week in this part of their life cycle, but at some point on the towel horizon, they devolve into a steadily worse condition known as cat towel.

Here is transition of a human towel into a cat towel:

1. It starts as a newly purchased towel. It is freshly washed and folded and sitting on the bathroom shelf.
2. This freshly laundered towel is used, rewashed, dried then folded and is again sitting on the bathroom shelf.
3. Repeat part 2 until the following occurs:
  •  A defect such as an unraveled seam or a mysterious hole or stain appears.
  •  The towel is used to mop up something off the floor and acquires a hole or a stain, or has become 'tainted' from being on the floor too long or mopping up something too foul.
  • The towel gets randomly recruited into cat use because there are no other towels available, or maybe just because it was easier to get to this one than one of the actual cat towels.
  •  A case of mistaken identity (the towel looked too much like another cat towel).
Now that it has been designated a cat towel, this towel will be used in the following manner:
  • used to line or cover a cat crate.
  • placed on the cat floor area.
  • placed on the dog floor area.
  • placed on an interior floor area because it is wet.
  • used to block drafts under the door.
  • used to dry the washed car.
  • used to mop up something foul.
Once used in this manner, the cat towel will languish in an unwashed state in a special cat towel laundry bin (or lumped in a pile beside the bin) outside on our back porch.  This period of languishing can last for a matter of days to weeks and then the cat towels are subjected to the following rigorous cleaning method:
  • The towels are taken to the furthest part of our yard and shaken vigorously to remove cat debris, leaves, and various substances we will call 'cat cooties'.
  • After shaking, the towels are left to further disinfect in sunlight, sometimes for days and perhaps even through several rain storms.
  •  The pretreated cat towels are loaded into the washing machine and washed on hot along with    bleach for one cycle.
  •  The towels are washed for a second cycle on hot.
  •  The towels are rinsed for two cycles to remove all detergent/bleach.
  •  The towels are dried in the hot dryer, then folded and placed on the special 'cat towel' shelf.
The cat towels will continue through the use and cleaning stages until they become so thin and threadbare you can read through them.  This whole cycle can take place over the course of a year or two to sometimes less than a month.  Eventually the towel is deemed too icky to actually use or clean and is thrown away.

Photo by: Djprybyl

This vigorous disinfection of the cat towels is so that - just in case we would actually have to use a cat towel for a human reason - we will not be inflicted with cat cooties.  Cat cooties are an undefined lingering 'catness' that no reasonable person would want on their body.

Our cats love the arrangement and so do our dogs.  There are probably no creatures in a 500 mile radius that appreciate thoroughly laundered towels as much as our crew.  If you put down fresh cat towels our feline crew will come running to roll decadently on the fresh new towel.  They will actually fight each other in order to lay claim to an especially wonderful towel. They get fresh cat towels at least once a week and the only thing that delays this is the overwhelming arduous burden of actually washing a load of cat towels.

To keep the washing scenario to a minimum we have lots and lots and lots of cat towels.  But because the process of washing cat towels takes so much effort, there are always lots and lots of cat towels desperately needing to be laundered. After all, it would be inhumane to leave our cats without a towel while we laundered cat towels and when we replace the used cat towels with those freshly laundered ones... well, we have just created more cat towels to wash.  Such a vicious cycle.

Photo by: Duffbert

Our dogs appreciate the cat towels as back porch towels that they use to wipe their feet on prior to coming inside (not that they actually wipe their feet, but the standing on the towel while you whine to get inside serves sort of that purpose).  They get cat toweled off when they come in from particularly wet or muddy prancing in the backyard.  They lounge on cat towels placed on the back porch in sunny areas.  They snuggle into cat towels on 'cold' days when we somehow can not hear how much they would prefer to be back inside because we are having something they would like to eat.

Photo by: Rockinfree

We don't actually use the cat towels to dry off our dogs after a bath.  Apparently dog cooties are not  harmful like cat cooties and we willingly share our towels with them without prejudice.  Mind you, immediately after toweling off the dog you don't want to mistakenly rub that towel anywhere on your body unless you want to wear some fur.  I just mean that we wash the dog towels the same as people towels.

Photo by: Hills_Alive

All this cat towel business means I purchase new towels at an alarming rate.  I can assure you there is very little difference in survivability from a high quality towel versus an economic towel in our system.  Before the cat towel era, I used to purchase high quality thick, plush bath towels and these by and large became in time, cat towels.

These days I don't purchase the most bottom of the barrel cheap towel because I would like to towel off with something thicker than a tissue paper and softer than steel wool, but I generally purchase just one step up from the cheapest.  Yes, some better quality towels remain human towels for longer, but it all ends in cat towels. Sooner or later it all ends there (sometimes for reasons of mistaken identity, much sooner than reasonable).  I can also say that the better quality towels linger in the cat towel sector for longer.  Sometimes I will run across one of the veterans and reminisce with it.  "Remember when you were brightly colored, thick and un-marred?" I say to the battered remains.  I may be the only person on the planet that suffers from towel nostalgia.

Photo by: shellac

I know that it is said that couples develop an interior language all their own.  I can certify that this is absolutely true.  When I or my husband say cat towel, we both know exactly the 'not fit for human use except in extreme need, yet totally necessary to our lives' item we are talking about.  Someday I expect to see it defined in the dictionary.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Short Legs

A Westie's legs are very short.  So short in fact the Westie breed is one of the 'little people' of the dog world.  His body is average sized; he has a big head and impressive jaws; he is in all ways a mid sized dog except for one.  A Westie's legs are very short.  

Short legs are good.  Being low to the ground gives good balance and traction.  Having a regular sized body on short legs aids in making hairpin turns.  The Westie's short legs are thick and sturdy and great for driving his powerful front claws.  Short legs allows a Westie to 'go to ground' and get into holes and burrows where varmints live.  Short legs are good.

A Border Collie's legs are very long.  So long in fact the Border Collie is one of the 'gazelles' of the dog world.  Her body is long and light and might have some Suluki ancestry which makes her fast.  Oh she is so fast.  A Border Collie's legs are very long.

Long legs are good.  Having long legs allows you to make long strides which takes up a lot of ground with each step and leap over things in your path.  Long legs and a long body allow a Border Collie to make tight hairpin turns.  A Border Collie's long legs are strong and springy and allow her to fly.  Long legs are good.

I never really thought that much about legs.  I certainly did not spend a lot of time pondering my dog's legs.  Sure the Westie had short legs, but he was totally okay with that and very agile.  He might not have been the fastest dog running in a straight line, but he could turn on a dime, a fact that used to cause our Mini Schnauzer all sorts of frustration.

Dogs like to chase things and they also like to be chased.  Unlike a human children's game, the one who is 'it' is not the one who is chasing.  The 'it' is the one being chased.  If you catch me then you can be 'it' otherwise - I get to stay 'it'.  Oh, how the dogs really, really want to be 'it'.

For the Schnauzer and the Westie the match was fairly even.  The Schnauzer was faster on the open straight path, but the Westie was able to make incredible hairpin turns, leaving the Schnauzer yipping in frustration as he shot past the turn the Westie performed.

Zoom ahead a few years and now the game is between the Westie and the Border Collie.  The Border Collie has steadily been losing the 'it' position since as a puppy she could not outrun the Westie.  He was able to outdistance her and make his famous turns to outsmart her.  What he didn't count on was that she was not always going to be a little girl.

Suddenly it seemed that everything came together for the Border Collie.  Not only could she run fast, but she had learned from the master and could make these incredible hairpin turns.  She got to stay 'it' more and more.  Since he was not able to catch her very often anymore, the Westie stopped trying very hard.  He would run for a few steps and then just give up.  He didn't seem to be upset about it, but he wasn't going to waste his time.  She could stay 'it' for all he cared.

It turns out the 'it' game is not very fun unless someone will chase you.  She would circle back after he stopped chasing her and initiate a wrestling match.  How dare he not chase her!  Then she decided she was not going to be 'it'.  The Westie was 'it' and he needed to run from her.

The Westie did not want to run and he certainly did not want to run with her chasing him.  She could catch him easily now and he did not want to admit she was better than him.  He decided to win by not playing the game.  This did not please the Border Collie, so she decided to force the issue.

We were in the garden together and the Border Collie began to run full out around the yard.  Every time she passed close to the Westie she paused to snap and wrestle with him.  This annoyed him and he began to move from the outer edge of the garden area to a center area near a large fig tree.  As the Border Collie made her circuit this time she did not pause.

This time she took aim at his long side and ran hard into him, leaping only after she had made contact.
This blast did not just knock the Westie over, it rolled him over several times and he ended up smacking into the trunk of the fig tree.

The Ufff he made sounded painful and he struggled to get back to his feet.  Since I had witnessed this heartless attack I was shouting at the Border Collie and making my way toward the Westie to see if he was okay.  He was shaken and snorting and angry, but also scared.  The Border Collie was not stopping her mad run and was zooming from one end of the yard to the other, faster and faster, oblivious to my yells.

I straddled the Westie because the Border Collie was making another pass and I could tell she was aiming right for him again.  She had a gleeful look in her eyes as she came near.  I crouched down to further shield the Westie with my arms and as she came close I swatted out at her to drive her off.

Just as I swept my arms out toward the Border Collie, the Westie decided to take matters into his own hands, or jaws as it was.  He surged forward toward the Border Collie just as I swatted at her and my arm ended up in his mouth. He bit down hard. 

I screamed and he let go immediately.  I sat down and he jumped into my lap trying to console me.  He was absolutely horrified that he had bitten me and was looking deep into my eyes trying to apologize.  Of course I told him it was okay and he was a good boy.  I picked him up and carried him inside, leaving the now tired and panting Border Collie outside.

Once the Border Collie discovered this new way of 'playing' with her pal, she wanted to do it again and again.  We intervened when we were outside and chastised her for this action, but we couldn't be there all the time and she learned to do this when we were not there to put a stop to it.  But eventually these bashings did stop.  We were worried, but it turns out we didn't need to be.  The Westie had a plan.

The Border Collie is running and barking at the edges of the yard but then she pauses.  The Westie looks up and I look up and it starts.  The Border Collie begins to run full out.  As she starts to zoom down the path way the Westie starts to run toward the patio.  He knows that depending on where he is when she starts the chase he may need to change course several times.

He must not be in the open when she comes close.  He must not be broadside to her nor can his back be turned to her.  He is in the middle of the garden when she starts and he runs to the orange trees and places his back to them.  She zooms close on her first pass and he turns and makes a fake lunge toward her as if he will chase her.  He must make it look good so she will make a full circuit away instead of circling back too soon.  The distance from the orange tree to the patio is long and completely open.  Once he commits to it he will have no cover.

He snaps and starts to chase her which delights her and she takes off the opposite direction.  Seeing this he makes a hairpin turn and uses his momentum to launch himself toward the patio.  He is running full out but his short legs don't cover much ground.  She is at the back of the yard and turns, seeing him in the open.  She streaks across the yard and leaps over a garden bed to gain ground.  She is running full out.  She is not just running toward him, she is running at him.  She will hit him if she can.

He is running harder now, sensing her approach.  He must make it.  He is almost there. 
He. Is. Almost. There.

At the last moment he darts under one of the patio chairs.  He fits under its seat perfectly and does not even have to duck.  Safe at last.  She on the other hand has to put on the brakes.  She cannot fit under the chair unless she gets down on her belly.  He has won; he is still 'it'. 

According to the Westie's rule of life, if you cannot change something then you should learn to cope with it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cat-a-blog: Part 2

So now we come to the current cats and hopefully I will not have to update this log with any other additions for many, many years.  Unfortunately, applications are still pouring in.  If only the people in our neighborhood could get a grasp of what happens when you don't neuter your pets.

Here is a 'cat math' equation.  Take one female cat.  If she is not neutered then she will have a litter of kittens when she is 9 months old.  After her first litter, she will have another litter in six months.  I am going to say she will always have a litter of two kittens, a male and a female.  I am also going to presume that each of her female kittens will always have a litter of two kittens, one male and one female.  Now this scenario is not life like in that cats routinely have litters of many more than two and many of those kittens would be female.  However, it is life like in that many of those kittens will not reach adulthood, so by and large this is somewhat accurate, given the high mortality of kittens and young cats.  We will call this a minimalistic equation.  The actual totals could be much higher given adequate food supply and minimal predation or accidents.

From 1 to 53 in 39 months
This chart shows how one female cat can have five litters in 39 months.  If each litter produces just one fertile female then in 39 months the total number of litters from all cats will equal 26.  Providing that two cats from each litter survive, the total number of cats in 39 months will be 53.  

The good news is that if you love kittens then lucky you!  There are several instances where litters of kittens are born in the same month or just a couple of months apart.  In fact on the 39th month there are 5 litters born at the same time!  That is why I ran it out to 39 months because I didn't want to leave those five mothers all about to burst with kittens.  And just to think - this chart is inaccurate because the numbers are actually too low!!!  There would in reality probably be lots and lots of more kittens!!!

So really, please - for the love of God neuter your cats.  If you have a little bit of extra money then neuter a stray cat.  Most cities will have a 'trap, neuter, release' program where for very low cost you can bring in feral cats for neutering.  Some cities have programs where it won't cost you anything.  If you take just one female cat out of the breeding pool then you have reduced the population of homeless cats by a minimum of 53 in just 39 months.

And don't just think that it is only the females causing the problems.  We have a very tough time with our cats because of wandering tomcats trying to stake out territory.  You would think since all of ours are neutered the tomcats would leave them alone.  Apparently the un-neutered male cat doesn't care and harasses our females anyway.  This leads to fights, nasty cat pee sprayed in our front porch and loud cat altercations at all hours of the night.  Unaltered male cats don't live very long - estimates say they last about 2 years.  They are typically suffering from abscessing injuries and have poor immunity to various cat diseases.  Considering the sorry state of many tomcats I see in our neighborhood I think they are responsible for much of the disease transmission in cat populations.

It was precisely because of a cat math problem that we came to our current cat situation.  Back in 2008 we had our lowest number of cats in years.  Just two which was a welcome relief from the masses we had been caring for prior to this.  I have already shared the story of Wilbur in Cat-a-blog Part 1, but Dory came to us in 1998 due to an un-neutered female cat.


14 years ago Dory arrived as a stray.  His feral mother brought us two litters of kittens, both to buildings in our back yard.  Her first litter we got acquainted with rather late in their lives when we found them living under the floor of our shop.  We made friends with the kittens, but the mom would have nothing much to do with us.  To our horror, in about a months time after meeting the kittens when they were about three  months old, they all disappeared.  We know one met its fate on the road in front of our house, but the others just vanished.   Mom cat stopped hanging around and we put the whole sad affair out of our minds

A few months later we found a second litter of kittens in a shed behind our house.  We found these kittens when they were just days old.  The mom was no where to be found when we first met the litter.  There were four of them and one of them had something wrong with his back leg.  The leg seemed to be turned the wrong way.  I picked him up and adjusted his leg back into the correct direction then left him with his siblings.  Mom cat must have not liked that we touched her kittens because when she returned she moved the kittens to a new location.

A couple of weeks went by and we found the kittens in the shed again.  I found them because one of the kittens was crying very loudly.  It was the one with the bad back leg and he was about half the size of his siblings.  My guess was that he was not able to get to mom as well as the others.  I found him under a shelf area in the shed and the rest of his siblings were in another part of the shed.  I put them together and planned on checking them every day.

To our horror, the very next day we found the mom cat dead in the street in front of our house.  Another victim to traffic.  We brought the kittens inside and began trying to care for them.  They were old enough to eat wet kitten food and feeding them and tending to their needs became our full time task.  We became quickly overwhelmed with their needs and gave the three largest to a humane organization to foster and find homes for.  The little guy with the bad back leg I did not let go because I feared they would take one look at his puny size and his lame leg and decide to end his little life.

He was so tiny he fit in the palm of my hand.  He was solid grey, blue eyed and very loud.  Every few hours I would give him a tablespoon full of wet kitten food and he would then spend about a half hour doing his best to eat.  He used mouth and front feet together so he was a mess each time.  We kept him in a laundry basket and our two Schnauzers would look over the top adoringly at him.  Every day I would turn and massage his little leg and foot and exercise it as well.

We named him Dory, and he grew stronger and larger by the day.  His leg began to work normally but I made sure to massage and adjust his little ankle each day.  He played with our Schnauzers and I am pretty sure he considered himself a dog.  At first I was reluctant to let him outside unsupervised since I felt his back legs were weak and I was worried he might not be able to run fast enough if he encountered danger.  One day when he was out he suddenly decided to climb a tree right next to our back porch.  Up he went blindingly fast then onto the back porch and then the roof.  I panicked thinking he would not be able to get back down so I was hunting for a ladder when suddenly he was by my side.  Then he ran and scrambled back up the tree, porch, then roof again.  So much for his lack of speed.

After that he spent much of his time outside on the roof and via an open soffit vent, in the attic of our house as well.  His arboreal years gave him a strong muscular upper body.  He still has his upper body mass to this day although he now spends much of his time in the space under the porch or under various items we have next to the house.


He still likes dogs more than cats.  When our Schnauzers were alive he loved them and they were very affectionate with him.  It took him some time to warm up to the Westie, but that was because the Westie loves to chase him.  They get along great and are super friends, but if Dory ever runs then the Westie is hot on his tail, snapping at him.

Now the Border Collie is just rude and always putting her nose where it doesn't belong.  She would love nothing more than to herd him around and Dory wants nothing to do with her.   

The Front Door Cats
Now one might think it strange that we would divide the cats into a geographic location seeing as how cats tend to go where they please.  This however is the case at our house in that our 14 year old guy is the undisputed owner of the entire back yard and our four others are content with hanging out near our front door.


Ike is from the original litter that started us down the multiple cat business trail again.  He arrived as a skin and bones urchin with his mother and sister in June 2008.  It was obvious that he had never been around people before because he was very timid and at first would run if he saw us.  Food overcame his fear and eventually we were able to pet him if he was eating. We did not call him Ike, but rather Beaner which was a take off on his mother's name Bino (pronounced Beano).  Typically we name strays the first thing that pops into our head.

How Ike got his name is a story with the kind of drama that seems to surround cats in our life.  Just a few weeks after these kittens were getting comfortable with us an approaching hurricane caused us to have to evacuate to higher ground.  The reports of this hurricane predicted a 25 foot storm surge and since our house is just a little over 20 feet in elevation we packed our valuables and left for my father's house in town that sits at a respectable 50 feet of elevation.  Our valuables included our dogs and cats and we intended to take our three strays as well.  They however had plans of their own and were nowhere to be found.

On the last trip from our house with the storm winds already howling my husband found little Beaner wide eyed and nervous by the front door.  He had just about got his hands on him when a strong gust of wind rattled the eves and Beaner ran off.  We spent the storm devastated that we were unable to save our little wild trio and were certain they would not survive given the predictions of high water.  Low and behold when we finally made it back to our house two days after the storm, little Beaner came crying out to greet us, dry and safe.  He was renamed Ike in honor of surviving the storm.

Ike has become our front door big gun.  Perhaps it is because of his starved beginnings, but if we let him he would be willing to be one of those 30+ pound cats.  His very bright ginger color with his beautiful orange eyes match his bright and sunny disposition.  One of the more distinctive things about him is his tiny little voice.  You will hear this high pitched 'meew' and expect to see a small cat, but there he is the incredible hulk.  His one obstacle between looking truly large is his very small head.  When he is at a more appropriate body size you don't notice his tiny head, but when he gains weight his head remains tiny like some sort of shrunken cat head. 


Sandy is the other original kitten of Bino's who arrived so tiny and skeletal I was almost certain she would not make it.  It was very touch and go, especially since any slight movement or noise would cause her to scatter away from the food we were providing them.  I can remember creeping up on a window that overlooked where we had placed the food and holding my breath while I watched this tiny little thing who was only about half the size of her brother.  I really did not hold out much hope that she would survive.  But she was a lot tougher than she first appeared.

She also started out with another name, Beanie, which was just another derivative of the mother cat Bino's name.  She was really attached to her mom and that was one of the reasons we never took Bino in to be neutered.  We were afraid this would cause little Beanie to disappear.  She was slower to warm up to us than her brother, but once she did she became quite affectionate.

After hurricane Ike rattled our cages about these cats we were somehow more invested in them due to the anticipatory grief we had suffered while contemplating their demise in the storm.  The fact that they survived sort of sealed the deal with us accepting the fact they were ours now.  I renamed her Sandy because, let's face it, Beanie is a pretty lame name and since Ike got a new name I felt it only fair that she get one too.  She really likes her name and will come when called.

Her best qualities are her amazing little body that is only the size of a six month old cat.  She is like some sort of miniature cat except she too would love to become a very fat cat.  I owe it to her early starvation.  It is harder to keep her in good weight because what is a normal portion size for a normal size cat is way more than she actually needs.  She sometimes gains so much weight she looks like a little football with legs.  She also has this exquisite little voice that to me sounds like she is saying 'meep, meep' when she cries.

Her favorite thing to do is push open the front door any time it does not latch completely.  She has absolutely no fear of the dogs and in fact pushes her head boldly into them so they can 'pet' her.  She likes to sit with me when I am at the computer and she loves to play with my hand when we are lying on the bed.  Her idea of play is to 'bite' and 'kick' my hand and dare me to try to take my hand away.  Her bites and kicks are deliberately mild unless I tense my hand or try to disengage.  She also increased the amplitude when she gets excited.  This means our 'hand play on the bed' usually ends with scratches.


Zoe is one of the kittens born to Bino during hurricane Ike which makes her a half sister to Ike and Sandy.  Her mom was very reluctant to let us see these kittens.  My husband had spotted one when they were about six weeks old and he said it seemed to glow.  I think it must have been Zoe who was solid white when she was little.   We did not actually see her until she was about 10 weeks old and in fact we though that Bino only had 2 kittens.  Then suddenly there was this white kitten.  We kept waiting for the other shoe to drop thinking that Bino might have God knows how many kittens she was hiding from us, but thankfully it was just the three.

I was enchanted with this little white kitten which gave proof to my belief that Bino had siamese heritage.  Not only was this kitten white she also had blue eyes.  I must admit that we had a different name for her at first due to not knowing if she was male or female since we saw her so seldom.  Her original name was Bart (just another one of those 'first thing that pops into your head' kind of names).

We never intended to keep 'Bart' or her other two siblings.  I even made up quite an attractive poster of her that had several pictures of her as well as listed her outstanding qualities.  I displayed this poster at my office and tried to encourage people to adopt her.  I felt certain that her siamese markings and blue eyes would make her an easy 'sell'.  No such luck - not even any interest.  It was probably due in part that we were not able to offer these guys up for adoption early because we had to tame them first.  They were already months old when we first got to see them and it took a couple of more months before they accepted handling and being inside the house.

When it became apparent that there was not going to be another home for Bart we accepted our fate as owning another cat and renamed her Zoe.   She has a quirky personality that is quick to be irritated.  You get exactly two pets with her before she screams in irritation.  She loves to rub up against walls and hates to be picked up.  She is definitely Miss Bossy Pants and is always getting into arguments with Sandy.  She really is disgusted with the dogs and lets them know it.  All in all, Zoe has served as a reminder to me that you can't judge a book by its cover.  She looks like a dream and you just want to pet her, but she insists that life be lived by her terms.


Mini is the direct sister of Zoe from Bino's second litter.  She was the first of the kittens we routinely saw because she was very attached to her mom and wanted to go with her everywhere.  Since we saw her more than the others she was warming up to us and we felt destined to be very friendly.

Unfortunately tragedy struck early in her life.  At some point when she was only about four months old she received and injury to her back leg.  We did not know exactly what happened to her, but it is likely since it was cold that she made the mistake many cats and kittens make.  We feel certain that she must have been sleeping on a car engine and was injured when the car was started.

We went from seeing her each day to barely seeing her at all and each time she saw us she ran away on three legs, with her back leg held at an awkward angle.  We were anguished over how to help her and the best we could do was to provide her a warm place and food since she was too wild to handle.  There are few things more helpless than having to witness the suffering of some creature you have come to care about and being powerless to help.

Apparently the injury to her leg was not as grave as we first thought and in a couple of weeks she was holding the leg normally, but still putting very little pressure on it.  She eventually recovered fully except that she remains very skittish and easily startled.  There really was never any question in our minds about finding her a home once she was injured.  We realized that her socialization was seriously affected so we resolved to keep her with us. 

She is quite a complicated and smart cat.  She is always the last to arrive when we are feeding the others and she would much rather we pet her than she is interested in the food.  But she wants the affection on her terms and runs if we move too suddenly.  She also refuses to come into the house and will have nothing to do with the dogs.  She has a very suspicious nature which makes it hard for me to do things like apply flea treatments.

Temporary Cats

I felt it only appropriate to list the cats that have passed through our lives as temporary family members.  In some cases we know the end of the story and in others we just have to guess.


She was responsible for this whole big multi cat mess we currently have, gave us two litters of kittens, would not let us do more than barely pet her and then she was gone, never to be seen again.


He was a tomcat, but a very mellow and friendly guy who did not harass nor beat up our cats.  He and Bino had a thing for one another and I suspect he was the father of her second litter of kittens.  We only got to know him for a few weeks and it was obvious he was already a veteran of many cat fights.  He might have been about three years old, but they were a hard three years.  We were saddened to find him one morning in our backyard, lifeless on top of our compost pile.  He is another sad reminder that un-neutered male cats do not live very long.


Toby was a goofy Manx cat who decided we needed another cat at a time we were already caring for eight.  He was friendly as could be which made us feel certain that he had another home.  Whether that was the case or not, within just a couple of weeks of coming around he just stopped leaving our place and became a permanent fixture.  Our cats did not mind him and he was not in any way aggressive with them, so we just let him hang around.  He was a type of Manx who had no tail at all.  I read up about them because I was curious about his anatomy.  I found out that often these tailless Manx can have all sorts of digestive troubles and this seemed to be the case with Toby.  He got sick one day and seemed listless and then within a couple of days developed a skin infection.  We took him to the vet and it was decided that he was too far gone with too many issues so we had him put to sleep to end his suffering.


This was the third kitten from Bino's second litter and thankfully we were able to adopt him out to a wonderful home.  Mike is now named Tigger and he shares an inside home with two older cats.  His new mom adores him and he sleeps with her each night.  He is huge like Ike except his head fits his body.  His mom says he weighs about 15 pounds and loves to sun himself on a back screened porch.


This was the last of the 'joiners' we have had to deal with.  At first from afar we did not even notice there was another cat because his coloration was just like Ike.   Up close it was obvious because he was much smaller than Ike, the other cats did not like him, and he had extra toes.  This gave him his first name 'Poly' which was short for polydactyl.  We were not amused by the addition of another cat after we had worked to bring our number down to five.  He was however a very friendly guy which spoke of him having another home.  Yet, here he was very skinny and very, very hungry.  Either he had gotten lost from his first home or else his first home had decided he no longer needed to be fed.  What were we going to do?

Thankfully his multi- toed condition made him more interesting to potential adopters and that along with his beautiful ginger coat and light blue eyes sealed the deal and a friend adopted him.  She gave him the name of Omar and he is very happy in his new home.

Now hopefully that will be all of the cat updates I will have to make for a while.  If the universe is listening I would like to say - yes, we understand that for some reason we need to have a whole bunch of cats, and yes, we are not making anymore pronouncements of 'getting out of the cat business'.  We would just like to ask could you please stop sending these guys our way?  Certainly by now there must be some positive cat karma built up enough that we can stop at five cats for a while.  Thanks.