Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Follow the Dots

Of the three rescued cats I brought to my barn that early fall day, you would notice Polka Dot first. Her abundance of long luxurious fur made her look fat, which she wasn’t, and reminded me of Garfield the cat's famous comment,
“I’m not fat! I’m fluffy!”
(The picture shows her in her summer coat)
She also wore a tuxedo. In cat circles this means black covers most of her body with a white tummy, chest or chin, and usually four white paws. The white area on the face and neck is a variety of shapes and sizes. For Polka Dot these markings were startling. She had 3 white dots,
one on either side of her nose and one on the tip of her nose. Polka Dot had well... polka dots. Three of them.
For a large fluffy cat, Polka Dot had a small meow. But one night that tiny meow was enough. It was later in the winter, after we had moved them into a warm empty stall protected with stacks of hay.
Along the way she had a few more adventures than Lollipop. Lollipop was the shy one who spent most of her time curled up under the table and even Moonbeam, the one eyed wonder who was bold but still careful. Polka Dot seemed to be braver or maybe the more feral one. She was bound and determined to show me how adventurous she could be.
Somehow one day Polka Dot found her way to the rafters in the storage room. It was not too unusual because all the junk that was piled up from floor to ceiling allowed a curious, determined or frightened kitten to make it to the ledge without much trouble. When I got there to feed them I couldn’t figure out where she was. My heart sank. I had them for only a week and I was afraid if they got out they would not survive in a strange place, compromised as they were from their recent spay or neuter surgeries.
Frantically I pushed boxes and junk out of the way, looked under things, even behind the old stuffed chair, but it seemed hopeless. Then finally I spotted her high above me. My breath caught as her tail disappeared through a previously unnoticed hole in the wall. She had found a small space large enough to wiggle through.
I yelled to my husband, “Quick, bring a ladder! Polka Dot is getting out!” Luckily he got there in time and used another piece of wood to gently push her back in, backwards. There she sat eight feet up on a narrow ledge, tilting and unsteady, looking just as scared as I had been a few minutes before.
But that was not the end. I had to get her down. I carefully found a foothold on the table that sat against the wall and stood up on it but I was barely able to reach her. Have you ever tried to grab a scared feral cat! ? I spotted a fishnet hanging nearby on the wall. My son-in-law had hung it there when he moved his fishing stuff into storage. I grabbed it and began to move it slowly toward her. Finally I wedged the frame against the wall circled around her while she sat on the ledge surrounded by the net.
Then, suddenly, without warning, plop, she slipped down into it while I tried to hold on to the handle with one hand. When she felt herself falling she became a whirling dervish flinging her tail and legs and paws everywhere. At that point I began to lose my balance dropped the net to avoid being shredded by cat claws. When it landed on the table she sprang out. With a sideways glare she disappeared back under the table. She took it all in stride as cats do but I was still shaking an hour later.
Another time I arrived with their food and again no Polka Dot to be found. As I tossed things out of the way I mumbled to myself,
“I thought I had plugged all the rest of the holes.” Then I noticed a strange thing, the patio umbrella propped upside down in the corner moved. When I peeked in I saw a small black furry ball wedged down between the ribs, stuck tight with three white dots showing in the darkness. I decided it would not be wise to stick my hand down into it. I picked up the whole umbrella carefully and slowly turned it right side up. Sure enough, she came sliding out and as soon as her little feet hit the ground off she flew, this time under the old stuffed chair sitting in the corner, just a little bit ruffled.
“That was number two” I told her.
It was November and the first big snowfall of the year was in progress. I didn't see her in the barn…again. By now I had moved them out of the small storage room into an empty stall where we stored hay and where I had assembled a small cat shelter. I called it their ‘warm house’. The cats were out during the day but came home for their dinner in the evening.
I got my best-lost-cat-tool flashlight out and walked through deepening snow around the house, barn and arena and toward my neighbor’s property. And then I heard it, a small meow. I shined the flashlight toward the gate and saw a little black kitty face with three white dots poking up above the snow drift. The mouth moved, barely making a sound, but it had been enough.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to pick her up. She would not allow herself to be touched for six more months.
I had left my footprints in the snow behind me as I walked. When she saw me she tentatively put her paw out but she still fell through the drift. By now it was getting really cold and darker. So I called her by name. She could have known her name by then because I talked to her all the time using it. Names are important. When you have been named it is like you exist.
When she heard my encouraging voice and her name she jumped out into the first close by footprint, as I backed up she jumped to the next footprint, following the ‘dots’. She jumped along following me like the proverbial bouncing ball, footprint to footprint all the way to the barn where warmth and her dinner ware waiting. She looked like a little fuzzy black fur ball bouncing along behind me.
I called their names each night when I brought them dinner but I still wasn’t sure if they would come. And because she had learned to trust me she rescued herself that night.

Polka Dot

Rescued August 31, 2009 - Disappeared November 13, 2010

I miss your sweet spirit terribly.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lily-Lou:Who's on First

There is no question about who is on first at my house. Lily has seniority as well as the personality to make sure everyone knows it clearly. It is kind of surprising because she spent most of the first years of her life under a bed. Not even counting the fact that I rescued her and her twin sister Calla from under a bush.
So what I want to tell you about Lily is that she has changed. She is the one in charge but even more amazing is that she has become a lap cat. She finds my lap wherever it is, on a chair in front of a computer, on the sofa in front of the T.V., on my bed while reading. Even as I try to savor my coffee before getting started on my daily activities, she helps me dawdle for a few more minutes.
I rescued Lily with her twin sister Calla from under a bush in Northglen when I kept my horse, Teddy Bear, at a boarding stable. I had to drag them out.They had been born in the barn but their feral mom moved them under the bush after she had been disturbed somehow.
Calla and Lily were sisters in behavior as well as looks. They both exhibited feral behavior for a long time, running from everyone except me. The best thing I did when I first got them was sleep with them. I put them under the covers with me, one in front of my knees and one behind and they slept that way for at least the first week or two. To this day Lily finds her way under the covers most every night. When she jumps up I feel the bed shake, then a ‘paw, paw, paw’ while she tries to pull the covers open so she can slide in and curl up. She is not there in the morning so I don’t know how long she actually puts up with my tossing and turning but she always starts out there.
Their history included relentless running and hiding under my bed when anyone else came near, sitting on my lap (when they were small enough) to watch the mouse (on the computer), their tails and heads moving in tandem, curling their tails around each other as I got their food ready, taking their time welcoming me home when I was gone on a trip, ignoring me for at least a day when I returned. As they got older Calla became a door dasher. Lily never did. Then one day after we moved Calla slipped out and never came back. It took Lily a long time to get over it. She spent most of her time the following months grieving under the bed.
Later, after we had been in our current house for a while two kittens came to be our barn cats. But since they came at the end of November I brought them into the house to keep them warm at night. Somehow they just became house cats instead. I though that adding the two adopted barn cats to the house would be something she would like. But I was wrong, even after a week of meeting them under the doors she was not ready to welcome anybody else into her private domain.
As time went by and the kittens grew even bigger than she was she continued to hiss and growl and even chase them, especially if one of them found their way to the bed. For a long time it was like they didn’t know they were bigger than Lily.
As they say, time heals and they all had to interact.They started getting used to each other. One of the barn cats, Taffy, my big orange tabby got so she was totally not intimidated. In fact, she would lie in the doorway and when Lily went buy, out would go a paw, like “so there! I got ya”
So, Lily she has changed. Now, when I come home after I have been gone a while she welcomes me home, she follows me around the house, meows loudly at me when she wants something, comes when I call her. She likes her new name. I now call her Lily-Lou. It just grew because I named the barn cats Taffy-ta and Cookie dough.
She continues to have a hard time with jealousy. When she takes a swat and hisses at one of the other two cats I clap my hands and say “No!” in a loud voice. I pick up the offended cat to calm them and sometimes put Lily by herself in the bathroom for a while. I know she knows it is not acceptable behavior. I do have to say she has been doing it less and less. One of the other things I have done that has helped is to give her an extra session of petting, using short strokes similar to the way her mother licked her when she was a kitten. You can’t allow an aggressive cat to beat up on other cats. They can learn, but you also can give them more special moments for a while too. That probably helps most.
She is a now a very healthy, elegant 11 year old tuxedo cat. She poses, lies in the sun and is able to ignore Taffy and Cookie most of the time. For a long time when she jumped up on my lap she would raise her tail toward me and lie down. I started turning her around, looked in her eyes and told her I wanted to see her pretty face. She now lies down facing me. Sometimes when I am working on my computer with her on my lap I’ll look down at her and see that she is actually gazing at me with a look of total adoration. And I know she is happy.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Taffy knows who she is. When you see her golden face and eyes surrounded by substantial ruff of soft orange fur you know who she is too; likely descended from the legendary big cats in Africa. Her name, Taffy-Ta denotes her softer side, but her more recent name Tuffy Taffy describes her other side. Because of her early kitten experiences she does not hesitate to use her claws once in a while. Most of the time it has to do with getting her way, more petting, another treat…you know the type. She has long fur but not so that it gets in her way. Her’s is the sort that doesn’t shed. I found out very early on she does not like to be brushed with a shedding brush. I almost always have several little curved claw marks on the back of my hands. She only will tolerate the soft wire brush. Okey Dokey.
She ‘s my conversationalist. Letting me know when she is hungry, upset, scared, wanting some water in her food dish or even some petting. She is not a snuggler, not yet, but she is the one who comes in the house each afternoon for her nap without being coaxed, and then finds the most comfortable chair in the living room after dinner while we read or watch T.V. Her purr sometimes sounds like a croak. Every once in a while I wonder if she has a cat upper respitary thing. She has grown the biggest of my three house cats but she really is a bit of a marshmallow. In the morning she will run around the bed till she is sure Lily, the boss has jumped down. Then if she can she crouches in the shadow and takes a swipe as Lily goes by. She never backs down when Lily hisses at her, she just lays there ignoring her. Ho hum. She gets her morning moments with Mom pretty early, letting me know when the sun is about to come up over the horizon.
Of the three cats she is the one who spends most time in the enclosed outdoor cat yard, mostly at night, catching moths and flies, depending on the season. I hear the click-clack of the cat door in the middle of the night and I know she is in for a while. When she is outside (supervised) she is one busy cat. The other day when she was out in our yard guarding it so that our barn cats could not come into her domain, she flew off the fence where she had been balancing. She was determined to chase Polka Dot out of her yard. Polka Dot had strayed past some unknown boundary known only to Taffy-Ta. She disappeared for a while and I noticed later she was peeking out behind some of the tall grass by the fence, just waiting to pounce, her favorite game.
Lately I’ve tried to entice her to become more of a lap cat by a bit of nose (hers) to finger(mine) touches rewarded by a scrumptious dehydrated chicken strip. It seems to be beginning to work. I got close enough to doctor an abscess that had appeared on her tail the other day. She even has become one of the winners in the nightly, “who gets to sleep with Mom” contest that is played out between her, her sister Cookie-dough and the ‘boss cat’ Lily Lou. Sigh, I hope someday they can all get along.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Warm Homecoming

This is the fall season, the season of cool nights that are harbingers of colder nights to come. We welcome all those energetic activities that surround the big homecoming celebrations around the country. It is all a reminder that there are things to do to get ready for the chill.
I just returned from an out of town trip and received a different kind of homecoming; it was more of a welcome back. My two black and white barn cats, Polka Dot and Moonbeam were the welcoming committee. But talk about energy. Once they caught sight of me walking through the barn door as it got light the other morning, I have never seen such a flurry of rubbing, rolling on the ground happiness, punctuated by quiet little meows of appreciation. Believe it or not, a year ago these two were hiding as far away as they could possibly get in a storage room of my barn. They had just been rescued by the Fort Collins Friends of Ferals from a home where they had been hoarded. They were scared, undernourished and sickly.
Believe it or not these two friendly, ecstatic cats had started out their lives as feral cats.
So today I want to honor National Feral Cat day, October 16th by letting people know that you never know what a little compassion can do. I decided to keep these cats to see if they might be able to be socialized. It has taken a year but I have to say that out of the large number of cats I have been happy to share my life with, these two have the top rating. They are smart, friendly, energetic, respectful, polite and most of all loving. At suppertime, If they are not waiting under my kitchen window all I have to do is call them:
“ Pokey “, I yell, ”Mookie, come for supper” and almost every time they emerge from somewhere, the fields nearby, the neighbor’s barn or bushes near our house and they come running, slowing down to be petted and most recently to be picked up and carried a few steps to the barn where they will be fed. They are adorable.
Since they have grown, the winter shelter I have for them to snuggle up in is now too small. This fall I have been trying to set up a ‘warming house’ for them that will sit inside the barn in one of the empty stalls so they will be warm during the below zero temperatures that are always a part of the winter weather here in northern Colorado. Thank goodness Ally Cat Allies has a wonderful website that gives all kinds of ideas and instructions about how to provide for feral cats in cold weather.
So homecoming also means colder nights are ahead for the cats. The warming house I am putting together is different than the ones that are used outside. It will not be in the weather but it still needs to be warm enough for them even though it is in the barn. I have a large (about 20’X30”) heavy plastic storage container with a lid. It needed to be big enough for the two cats plus the insulation. I like the idea of a lid so I can take it off once in a while to clean the inside and be sure it stays dry. I ended up insulating it with 1” thick soft styrofoam (used in pillows, etc.) laid inside around the sides, top and bottom, secured with duct tape. Then I cut pieces of a heavy plastic sheet to lay over the styrofoam and taped it down with duct tape too so the cats won’t (accidently?) shred the Styrofoam.
I am going to drill a hole in the end so I can string the cord from a heating pad (for pets) inside the box if needed. But best of all I am placing an old comforter inside for them to curl up in. I have cut a 6” door and will tape a flap over it but it won’t have to deal with wind or anything like that. So that is it. I’m hoping to have it done by this weekend in plenty of time before snow flies.
So in honor of National Feral Cat day I offer this idea for an inside barn warming house for any feral cats that might be using a barn this winter.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Moonbeam's Adventure

At the end of May it had been nine months since I began caring for three rescued cats for the Fort Collins Friends of Ferals. Things had changed a lot. Two of them were still with me. Each time I allowed the cats more freedom I anxiously awaited the results. Trust has always been a big issue with me and I have to admit I had a hard time letting go.
Days were getting longer and nights shorter. And it was also getting warm enough that they didn’t need to remain in the tack room of our barn where I had decided to keep them at night when it was wintry cold so they would be warm enough. My daughter had recently helped me assemble the enclosure I had picked up from another cat rescue group that didn’t need it anymore. It was about six feet high and wide and about 3 feet deep. There was room for a climbing tower and a shelter where the cats could sleep and keep warm enough during the late spring nights. They both still were small enough to fit inside the cozy little cave.
They both had gotten used to the night-time feeding schedule and were meeting me by the back yard fence around the house. They were still shy about coming close to the house. Then they would run toward the barn, stopping now and then to roll begging for a scratch behind the ears or to rub on my ankles. I was delighted that they had gotten so friendly.
But Moonbeam (I call her Mookie now, easier to say) had begun to lollygag! She would play little games and act as if she was not really interested in dinner after all. Her sister, Polka Dot (now called Pokey) allowed me to pick her up and pet her from time to time and I could get her into the enclosure but Moonbeam was still skittish about it. I had hoped to be able to pick her up.
At dinner time one night Mookie was lounging nearer the house than she had before and she seemed to have no inclination to head to the barn. I decided to go on into the house to prepare the family dinner when I noticed she was sitting outside my kitchen window, looking up and meowing. It was a quiet meow at first but soon it became more and more insistent. A little later I heard her again but this time I found her balancing on the fence near my bedroom window. My house cat, Taffy was sitting inside on the window perch checking this brash new intruder out. Since my family was still in the middle of dinner I decided to leave her there and see if she would go to the barn after a while by herself.
When I finally got outside to check she was nowhere to be found. Not near the house or even in the barn. Pokey had eaten her dinner and was settled in the enclosure but not Mookie. I had to trust that she would show up the next morning. Putting my worries aside I went to bed. About midnight a strange noise woke me up. As my eyes opened I realized it was an insistent meow coming from outside my window. When I looked outside I didn’t see her but after shining my flashlight around the yard I caught site of her, halfway up a large tree. And sitting on the ground beneath the tree was the aggressive cat that belonged to the neighbors. So I grabbed my slippers, a robe and my flashlight and headed out the door. Neighbor cat skedaddled home. Mookie didn’t move an inch. By now I decided I wasn’t going to wait up for her.
But sleep was not for me this night, later I again was awakened to a now familiar sound. Plugging my ears didn’t work. I was resigned to another trip outside. But this time with no encouragement needed I got her to follow me back to the barn.
When she scampered into the barn she greeted Polka Dot, touching noses and hungrily gobbled her food, turned around, told Pokey she would tell her about her adventures tomorrow, curled into a ball and went to sleep. It was something I was looking forward to as well. I was just glad she was safely home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An Anniversary

It has been a year since I adopted Polka Dot and Moonbeam. After Lollipop disappeared right after I moved them from the small storage room out into the barn I didn’t know if this day would ever come. But it has. These two cats that had such a difficult and scary beginning have been transformed. I’d have to look back in my notes to get an exact idea when the trials and tribulations came and there were some. But thay made it through and so did I. But you would never know that they were rescued from a hoarder or that they were feral except if you were someone other than me and you tried to pick them up. They don't run away and hide when people approach them anymore. Moonbeam’s eye never recovered its sight. But moonbeam can’t tell. She has not grown too big. She remains the smaller of the two. And although not always the first to make breakthroughs in personality and loss of her fearfulness, she always made the leap of faith with energy and determination eventually. By early summer both Moonbeam and Polka Dot started hanging around the house. In fact one night Moonbeam kept me awake by meowing at my window till I had to get up to entice her into her enclosure in the barn. By September most late afternoons they were sitting outside the kitchen window waiting for feeding time. As I carried their food out to the barn all I had to do was say their names and their tails stood straight up with the little hooks on the end. It made me laugh out loud, it was such joyful behavior. They would stop once in a while and roll around, looking for that extra pat on the head or tummy. Polka Dot was the most demonstrative. She would wind herself around my feet to almost trip me to get her chance of being picked up to be carried on my hip. Even Moonbeam would drop on her side and reach her paws toward me to get an extra pat. As we would get closer to the barn and their nighttime enclosure (that I close every night so they can’t get out to tangle with the coyotes, hawks or owls nearby) with just a little hesitation to make sure the way was clear they streak inside where I place the dishes. They are happy to be inside their enclosure where they feel safe. I worried for a while about them being inside a small space for the night but they don’t try to run out after they eat. The just jump up to the top of their climbing tower and proceed to clean their faces and lick their paws, and to snuggle up together to rest for the night.

In the morning, on the days I feed the horses, when I open the door to let them out I always get some rubbing on my legs to remind me that I am required to stop and give them their morning petting session

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jake Learns the Ropes

Jake had his ups and downs as he was beginning his new job as Cat-in-Charge at the Fort Collins Cat Rescue. One morning when I arrived to do my shift for shelter cleaning he greeted me with a decided limp. Dr. Gloria, our Veterinarian, examined him and discovered he had some infection in his front paw. It looked like he could have caught it in something and tried to pull it out. It even seemed to be dislocated. Ouch!
He healed quickly with all the attention (and medical care) he got. The sore paw may have been partly responsible for his litter box difficulties but that is just my guess. It seems that it was happening mainly when he had been out on one of his many adoptions. According to Judy Miotke, FCCR Animal Care Technician, sometimes new cats that have trouble with litter boxes may need some time to get used to a new place. Also, if they start having trouble after they have been using a litter box successfully for a while it could be a sign of illness. It could be a kidney infection or some other new stress that has come into their lives. Cats are vulnerable to stress too. It is worth it to do a little checking with a vet.
Leslie Quitmeyer, Jakes handler in the FCCR’s “Purrfect Therapy” program and good friend has been working with Jake and LAPP, Larimer People Partnership. LAPP provides training and support to individuals and screening for their pets so that human-animal teams may share the benefits of human animal interactions. In mid-July I heard that Jake had passed his evaluation to do pet therapy with Leslie’s help, through LAPP. Here is what Jake had to say: (I think)
"Well, I wowed the people at LAPP the other day. You should have seen what they did to test me. But it was a piece of cake ...or tuna maybe...First of all Leslie had to carry me a bunch but it was O,K. I was just getting my bearings. But then lots of people touched me all over, I had to walk through a crowd, someone dropped books behind me, (I had to turn around to get a look at what made that noise), and some people came up to me yelling. (I wondered what that was all about, some people do strange things.) I still have trouble sitting on laps sometimes but there is always something interesting to check out, don't ya know?? I had a great time! I really have something to brag about at the shelter now."

Jake jumped into his therapy job with enthusiasm. One time at the Columbine Rehabilitation Center he put his investigative skills to work the minute he was brought into the first room. He explored each corner and sniffed the hand of each new person who reached down to pet him. He was always calm. The first person who met him was Coleen. She was delighted. Her face lit up, even though Jake was a little more interested in exploring than sitting. She even gave him a new name. He is officially ‘Pretty Kitty” at the rehabilitation center and he did look very handsome decked out in his red harness The bright red against his rich silvery grey coat made him look even more lustrous. As usual, he knew he was a star. Waving his tail as he walked down the hall you could tell he already had it figured out, he ‘owned’ this place too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Cat Circus Comes to Town

Think for a minute about circuses. My first memory comes out of a blurry past. My family happened to live near a railroad track in our small-soon-to-be-large town in the Midwest. We actually watched the circus train unload and the parade of elephants pulling equipment to a nearby empty lot. That along with the actual performance amid sawdust with the clowns, high wire acts, wild animals and acrobats, cotton candy and popcorn keeping us enthralled.
Last week while seeking for things to do with my grandchildren I came across a listing in the newspaper for the AMAZING ACRO-CATS CAT CIRCUS and I was hooked right away. Not for my grandkids, but for me.
No train, no elephants, no wild animals but described as amazing and acrobatic and highly entertaining! It sounded like great fun. To think that cats could perform high wire, bowl, leap through circles (no fire though) and perform in a rock band just seemed like a rockin’ good time. To see the cats, a major love of my life, but to see if they could actually do these things was intriguing. I had to make a deal with my husband so he would go with me but I knew it would be worth it.
The venue was not an empty lot but a small charming funky theatre in old town Fort Collins called the None Such Theatre. When we arrived the lobby was full of cat lovers. The Fort Collins Cat Rescue was also present to hand out information next to two very acrobatic kittens in a cage that were available for adoption. Also the Cat Circus trained rescue cats for their stars so they always had one or two needing homes on site.
The theatre sat about 50, and there was a stage filled with things like climbing poles, wagons ,a set of drums, a guitar and piano (cat size of course) but arranged around the outside of the stage, and piled on the floor behind curtains were 15 or so cat carriers. Soft music blended with the voices of the patrons as they started to fill the seats. One by one the cats were brought in and put into their carriers.
Tuna, a large short haired white cat was the first to appear from his carrier. With a click on a clicker and a swing of her arm the handler directed the cat toward a small lamp sitting at the front of the stage. The house lights had dimmed and the crowd leaned forward and craned their necks to get a glimpse. Tuna took his time sauntering to the front of the stage. Even though interested in the people and faces and stuff crammed onto the small stage it was clear she knew what her task was. As her handler tapped and pointed she lifted her paw and turned on the light…so the show began.
Along with the multi-talented cats we were treated to a ground hog driving a car, a chicken doing a high wire act and 5 little mice with hats on scurrying across a high wire.
I was wondering, and I imagine you are too about what percent of the time they did their tricks. I would say 98% of the time. That is not to say on the first try! The cats had been clicker trained with treats (yummy chunks of chicken). They emerged from their carriers, ran to center stage, and on cue balanced, leapt, rolled, pushed toys, answered questions (by raising a paw) and generally looked as if they were having a great time. Only once did a cat run into the open lobby next door but she came back when she heard the click. None of them tried to run out the door.
To train one cat to do a trick is a challenge but to get four up in front along with the chicken was a true feat. But that was exactly what happened. White cat on guitar, long haired white cat on the drums, grey on the piano and then Tuna, the star of the show on the cow bell, along with the very attentive chicken playing a tambourine. Believe it or not they all played in unison. I got the biggest kick out of the drummer. She would lean forward reaching her paw out, signal for her treat and with a sign from her trainer sit back and hit the sticks for the drums 4 or 5 times then lean forward again. So with a few slight breaks for treats the Rock-Cats created a rock and roll song. I don’t think it had a name.
You probably need to like cats to have enjoyed the Cat Circus. But it was on hour of delightful antics by the cats as well as an energetic performance by the owner Samatha Martin and her assistant. We all left shaking our heads in amazement and with smiles on our faces.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Jake is a T.V. Star (On Animal Planet of course)

It’s funny how things happen…for Jake it has been a series of lucky breaks, certainly brought on by Jake himself. From stray cat picked up by the Larimer Humane Society, to failed adoptions that brought him to the folks at the Fort Collins Cat Rescue, to the decision for him to become a Shelter Cat, and finally to a new job as a therapy cat he has brought joy and comfort to folks who love him instantly and are delighted by his antics.
Korats are known for bringing good luck with them wherever they go. And so Jake has. He has lead a charmed life but it has not stopped there. Last week it resulted in STARDOM!
Believe it or not Jake is a TV star. I was absolutely floored when I discovered that one of my posts published in this blog “Writing Outside the Barn” caught the eye of Animal Planet. They run a terrific program called Cats 101(and Dogs 101) that highlight different breeds or activities of certain cats. (or dogs) It seems they were looking for stories about Korat cats and presto, due to our modern technology and Google they picked up the post, “Jake’s Story” published a few months ago and languishing in cyber-space, waiting to be noticed. In that story I surmised Jake was a Korat cat. Sarah, director of the Fort Collins Cat Rescue was contacted. Leslie (Jakes handler) and I had planned to take him to a rehab center that very day so I took some photos and Sarah e-mailed them to Animal Planet.
I have done a little searching myself and now am convinced he is a Korat cat because of his thick silvery coat and his heart shaped face with round green eyes and large ears set up high on his head. What really convinced me though were his small oval paws with blue to lavender colored pads.
So the next thing you know a crew from Animal Planet arrived to tape him for a program about Korat cats. Jake first visited the library where he was read to by children in the Readers to the Rescue program. His next stop was at the Fort Collins Cat Rescue where he got a breather for a while and was taped playing (bossing) around his companions, especially Princess Gray, one of HIS girls.
His last visit was a nursing home, where though he was tired and may have been a bit impatient with the cameras and sound crew hovering around and following his every move but he stuck to his job. He charmed the residents and at the same time continued to explore all the enticing sights, sounds and smells. At one point he was encouraged to spend some time in the yard but it was clear he liked being inside with his people. They were fascinated by him and all who wanted attention got some from him.
In all his visits, from the library to the nursing home, his quiet, dignified presence was calming while at the same time exemplified royalty and high position. In his native Thailand Korats are often given as good luck charms on royal occasions, especially weddings. Jake’s performance made us proud.
I wasn’t at the shelter when Jake returned but Leslie, his handler, told me he was ready for his home base, and had had a very big day. He needed one of those famous things cats are well known for, a nap! I will fill you in on more of the details of Animal Planet’s visit soon (there is lots more to tell) plus I will let you know when his episode airs (P.S. You can find the The original Jake’s Story at the March post. )

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Enclosure

The first night I closed the door on them it was very cold. It was as cold as it usually gets here in northern Colorado in the springtime. Even the barn stays cold. It was a good thing I had placed an upside down dog crate inside the enclosure. It took up about half of the floor space but had plenty of room inside for two young cats. The other half of the floor space was occupied by a cat tower with three levels the top one of which placed them above the wall of the stall just where the wire began. That way they could see over the edge to see what was going on in the barn and who was coming in. It was about 8 feet tall,6 feet wide and 4 feet deep. I had set the enclosure up in a vacant stall where we kept grain, oats, beet pulp and wood shavings in large bundles for the four horses we were caring for. But it was cold that night. I was glad my daughter and I had put the enclosure together a day or two earlier when it looked like spring was really on its way.

I had gathered up an old tarp and several thick horse blankets and tucked them around the crate and underneath it. According to Ally Cat Allies straw was the best insulator in the winter because it stayed dry. Blankets and such often got damp and then did not offer the best insulation. But I had no straw available at the moment. I also read that I could place a layer of empty egg cartons around the structure and that would help. But I wasn't convinced. I needed something more. I found a heating pad made for animals that had a thick wrapped cord that needed to be placed inside a cover. I was able to string it from a plug that also included the cord that heated the water so it wouldn't freeze.

So the two remaining cats I had agreed to keep in my barn were set for this night. This night. Why was I anxious? Why would I give their comfort a second thought? You may wonder if I was going overboard. I couldn't help but think about something I heard in seminary. When you want to be helpful in crisis or dangerous situations or just to help in a conversation with a person who was grieving the words were "Do no harm"

So if these cats were feral shouldn't they get used to cold weather as if they were in the wild? If they were feral weren't they wild? I don't think so, not anymore. I'm in the company of people like Cleveland Amory and others. As humans have evolved we have changed many of the creatures who did live on their own in the wild years ago. But as soon as they were tamed or domesticated, the ones who were able to fit in and provide something for the humans, weather it was food, transportation, safety or companionship they changed from being the self sufficient animals they were in the beginning to something that retains their original integrity but is different from it. So I think we have a responsibility to help them survive, even the feral cats. I think mine were strays or abandoned because after some time they became socialized, at least to me.

But the nagging question is how much do you help them before they are no longer who they are or who they were meant to be. I don't know yet. But what I do know is that in my barn, I will do my best to see they have a chance. I will attempt to do no harm.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Calla and Lily

A few years ago when I lived in Thornton, I surprised myself and my family by bringing home twin kittens.They were barncats but I didn't rescue them from the barn. I found them under a bush.
I saw them first when I went out to groom my horse and saw them burrowed into the spaces between bales of hay in the barn. I boarded my horse 'Teddy Bear' there for a while so I saw them daily. One day I didn't see them anywhere.I looked for them for several days.There were lots of hiding places. Eventually I found them under a bush in front of the house, quite a ways from the barn. It was a pretty nice fall season till it wasn't. In Colorado things change fast.One day it is a warm beautiful golden day the next day snow comes in sideways.I worried about them.
We have always been a home with animals, our own variety, plus those belonging to our kids when they had to find places for their animals from time to time.
Once we captured a neighbor's cat that had been left behind to fend for itself when they moved to Florida. It had disappeared as they were ready to pull out of their driveway in their U-Haul. They were devastated. When we found her we packed her up, took her to the airport and shipped her to them. I do things like that.
As time went by and the cold fall began to turn quickly into a colder winter I thought more and more about those kittens under the bush.
The day I thought about which ones I would take home if I could, I did. I chose two black and white mirror image twins. Lily had white on the right side of her nose, Calla had white on the left side of her nose. They were inseperable. Twins were a big thing in my family since I was a twin and my husband was also. I named them after my mom's favorite flowers.
I remember I had to stick my hand under that bush several times before I was able to grab and hold on to one of them. I carried one struggling black and white form after the other to the cat carrier in the car. I felt bad, they had no idea what was happening. Whatever grabbed them was not their mom. Being carried into Pet Smart while I bought up their furnishings wasn't that much fun for them either. Even the admiring smiles of other pet lovers didn't faze them.
Calla and Lily were characters. When Lily groomed her sister she would actually chew her whiskers off. I had to watch her all the time! When they both fit on my lap they sat and watched the words move across the screen on the computer in tandem. They were pretty good editors! I let them come up on my bed, come under the covers and snuggle. They slept there, one in front and the other behind my knees for a week (or so). No wonder I woke up stiff.
That was ten years ago and we live in Fort Collins now. And I only have Lily with me. She is still a character. It has been two years since Calla got out one day and never came back. The other day Lily caught sight of one of our barn cats through the window. Moonbeam looks a lot like Calla. In the past whenever Lily saw a strange cat outside she made a huge racket hissing and growling. But when she saw the other black and white kitty she sat transfixed, not a sound. Then when the cat moved out of sight she ran from window to window looking for her... meowing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Searching for Shadow

This is not one of those regular run of the mill lost and found animal stories. It is about people, about us, all of us who have decided that taking care of pets is a calling. And at the same time accepting the reality that we are not in control of their lives. They are animals that have their own way of being. Their own ways of living lives that are happy and sad, tragic and fulfilling. My sister said to me one day, "we do not own them, they are on loan to us." And as long as I can keep that in my mind I can be reconciled.

This is actually about Cookie. Cookie is her pet name, a name given to her when she was a kitten by my grandchildren. But as I have watched her grow up I have named her Shadow. She sometimes moves like a squirrel, low and low to the ground, her wild tortoise-shell coat with black front feet, half her face and long silky tail with brown blended stripes make her very difficult to see, especially at night. And this is good because of the three 'house cats' I have now, she is the one who takes her time coming home for dinner. Once in a while she stays out all night, or till she can sneak into the house through the back door I have left cracked a bit. Then when I find her in the morning I heave a sigh of relief.

She is the one who becomes a door dasher when there is too much kid commotion from grandchildren or dogs that are often sharing space in the house. If that happens she usually shows up after I walk around the fields with a flashlight. That is thankfully what happened recently after she had been missing 3 or 4 days while I was out of town.

But the most memorable time so far was once when the minute I walked out of the house to look for her I heard a strong "whooo whooo" 'goes there' question filling the night air. This was only the second time in two years I had heard the fabled owl that lived close by. I had not seen it before and I was disturbed as well as excited. I was looking for Shadow, my hunter, to get her back into the house.I had a new high-powered flashlight with me that had such a strong beam I could see all the way to my daughter's house that was situated on the other side of the barn and riding arena.

It was one of the coldest nights of an already cold winter and just the end of November. It was forcast to be below freezing that week. A true arctic front had powered its way into northern Colorado and our front range community. I walked my regular pattern, front trees by the road, back around the barn and toward the new house, in snow deep enough to leave tracks.

But tonight I also followed the voice of the owl. It seemed to get louder as I walked north. Then I saw it in the beam of my flashlight...the pale grey and white form sitting on the highest point of the roof of my daughter's two-story house. His head turned toward me not at all distressed by the spotlight thrown on him.

After my startled moment I found my own voice and informed him there were lots of rabbits and mice around, he didn't need a skinny 7 lb. cat for his dinner. He then lifted his huge wings and flew north, away from the farm toward a line of trees in the distance. I was awed.

Swinging the flashlight quicker now I trudged through the snow toward my house calling 'Shadow...dinner...Shadow...dinner'. I made one more circle of the barn and arena, and all of a sudden there she was, rubbing my legs and purring.

And I had that same old conversation with myself..wondering again how I could keep the delicate balance of allowing her to be a cat, a hunter and still protect her from being the hunted.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Our Dog Mollie

Our Dog Mollie
Edited from the memory page for Home to (Kathleen Cooney D.V.M. and Associates)

Mollie was the ultimate Bassett hound from nose to tail. In her lifetime of 14 years her vigorous tail pounding (or wagging), nose-glued-to-the-ground sniffing, rock-n-roll back scratching, melodic 'opera' howling, house shaking snoring, 'friendly' cat stalking (Oh, just to get a sniff..)and first rate trash-can-dumping, she disarmed (and charmed) everyone with her big brown eyes and sincere expressions of apology for any clean up that had to be undertaken.

She spent her doggie life not with just one family but as a loyal companion for two families. She joined our son's family when he was first married and Mollie came along as an attachment. Her sweet comforting presence during several moves and the addition of three more companions, now 6 yr. old Kyran and 4 yr.old twins Chase and Avery was patient and always entertaining.

Mollie lived with me and John off and on during this time and then for good about 5 years ago. She was one of several pets we inherited from our kids temporarily for one good reason or another. It always seemed that one of our pack of family animals needed a place to bunk for a while. Mollie always fit in, entertained us and sometimes drove us crazy with her tendencies to find the open gate, garage door or distracted person so she could get out. She always seemed to figure out how to find her way into the neighborhood to visit friends and to follow any and all the tantalizing scents that were abundant.

The last few years she had lots of help in that we were blessed not only with our son's three but three more,6 grandchildren within 5 years. Our daughter added another set of twins, Cory and Tyler plus the youngest, Amber, who arrived 2 years ago. Mollie was always the best ‘baby sitter’ around, letting babies and toddlers sit on her and crawl over her. Since she was a very large dog with very short legs they couldn’t push her around very easily. She always knew her own mind.

The most consistent way of getting her to come home after she slipped out any available door was to yell treat! And she would come running, her short legs propelling her forward and her ears flapping in the breeze, a big grin on her face. She had lots of dog and cat friends including her buddy, Corondo (Siamese cat) that she knew the longest and dog ‘cousins’ Magic, Bailey and Annie as well as a cadre of cats including Dante, Romeo, Calla and Lily, and most recently Taffy and Cookie.

She had an unpretentious personality and made herself at home anywhere she was. But she had her moments. One time when she went on a trip with her my son's family she was caught standing on the dining table gobbling up the salad, a tossed salad!! We heard her howl every day before dinner. She seldom barked but when she did it sounded like it originated out of a cave. It was deep and resonant, enough to discourage any intruder.

In those years we had our black lab/cocker spaniel, Magic. So when Mollie and our daughter’s Vizsla Bailey visited we joked that we were having another ‘3-Dog Night’. Soon Annie, another Vizsla, was added to our daughter’s family. No more ‘3-Dog Nights’.

After my husband, John and I retired we moved to a horse property. Mollie loved it. When she slipped out the gate that anyone could have left slightly unlatched she got to stop traffic on the road in front of the house during rush hour. She needed to check out the road kill and often visited her boyfriend Buddy, a boy Basset who lived across the road. Buddy’s family finally just put Mollie inside the fence with him until we came and got her.

Mollie’s health was pretty stable through most of the time we had her. She did suffer from arthritis and pretty early she developed fluid filled sists that occasionally needed to be checked out and drained or removed. About a year ago one of them became abscessed. We put her on antibiotics and she got better. We learned that she also had developed a heart murmur.

Then she had another episode and we thought we might lose her. We tried another round of antibiotics and put her on pain pills. She bounced back for a while. During this time I tried to clean and doctor the abscess as gently as I could. But it would not heal. I even put a large ‘bandage’ on it (on her rump)pretty much every day. But soon when I got the bandages out she would see me coming and she would tremble and crawl under the nearest table. She also started to hide in a walk in closet or in a bathroom.

She still howled for her food even though she began to leave most of it in her dish. As most of you dog lovers know the time to let a beloved animal go is very hard. But for a while when I was caring for her it seemed she was still happy being a dog. I realize now that her most recent escape into the neighborhood included a visit to Buddy across the road and may well have been a good-bye visit.

My goal for her was that she would just have a good time. Other family members had said their good byes. But I held on, I just wanted her to know we loved her and we wanted her with us for as long as she could manage it.

At this point I called in well known veterinarian Kathleen Cooney who came out to evaluate her. She agreed to do in home euthanasia if and when we wanted her to. I was so grateful for Kathleen’s help during this time. Soon Mollie did let me know that she was ready. Kathleen's compassionate help meant everything to us. Mollie went peacefully while lying in front of our fireplace. I read a good bye note that her first ‘mom’ had written and John and I cried as we listened to 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow'. Her first family had made the decision to donate her to C.S.U. They felt it was a fitting way for Mollie to give so that other dogs could live healthier lives.

When our young grand kids have asked, “Where’s Mollie,” we have told them that she had been very sick and had died but that she was in heaven, a place that we couldn’t see but a place where she could run like she used to, where she could play with her cat and dog friends and where she would wait for her humans, a place filled with love. And that was enough.

But she had wiggled her way deeply into my heart as I accompanied her on her way to the Rainbow Bridge.

Thank you, Kathleen, for giving me the chance to share just a little about this very ordinary but very special and beloved member of our families.

October 13, 2009 Pam (Grammie Pammie), Anjie and Jamie, Kyran, Chase and Avery Wolf; Jennifer and Miles, Cory, Tyler and Amber Thorland; Pam and John Wolf; Buddy, Bailey, Annie, Denali, Lily, Cookie and Taffy
P.S. After she died John left the gate to our back yard open in her honor.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Jake's Story

You will know immediately when you open the door to the Fort Collins Cat Rescue who owns the place. Don't be fooled by the volunteers rushing around making it sparkle (and smell good too… well, pretty good). A majestic grey cat with riveting green eyes will stop you in your tracks. This is Jake. He has taken up a position on the most recently donated monster cat tower and the tallest softest spot in the room. Just know this: he is checking your credentials. You speak to him and THEN and ONLY THEN can you proceed to check in if you are a volunteer (like me) speak to the receptionist about adopting one of HIS charges or keep an appointment with Sarah Swanty, Director (and second in command to a-hem, you know who!)
Jake could be a Russian Blue, a fairly rare breed or maybe a Koret. Korets are known as good luck tokens in their native country of Thailand. This reputation for good luck is a legacy that goes back to 1300 A.D. and has somehow found its way across the centuries to Fort Collins. We like to think Jake is a Koret and has brought good luck to the FCCR. The recent Chat Amour fundraiser earned 38, 593.59. We will need to investigate a little more on this. But for now we just love him.
We don't really know where he came from because he was 6 months old when he was picked up as a stray by the Larimer Humane Society. Maybe he is a registered Koret that got lost while visiting relatives in Fort Collins. Well, maybe not.

What we know is that four families have taken him in to their homes. And we know he was brought back each time. It was clear, Jake wanted to be the center of attention. He had higher aspirations than to be a house cat. He wanted to be in command of a bigger enterprise, a place that brought in and found homes for every cat that came through its doorway.

But that is getting ahead of my story.

His first family included a young girl 3 years old or so and a couple of dogs at least. He seemed to fit in well at first and had free run of the house. Then one day all of a sudden he didn't get along with the middle sized dog. We are not sure what happened but he won't talk about it. After that he began spraying walls and missing his cat box. So, as I mentioned, he's not talkin'. The last straw was when he became a door dasher. So reluctantly his family said good by to him and returned him to the Humane Society shelter. He had been with his first family about 3 months.

So cage life again for this fellow who really knew how to burn bridges. But still he radiated charm and within a week was re-adopted. But as you know sometimes charm can't override bad habits. He was surrendered 2 months later.
By now he didn't know it but he had used up his options. He was facing euthenasia after he failed his evaluation process. Humane isn't in the Humane Society's name for nothing. Pity was taken on this handsome youngster and they called the FCCR to see if there was a chance we could work with him to help him become adoptable and to see if maybe some behavior modification would help.

A few things were tried and seemed to help, like longer play times, a bigger litter box, different kinds of litter; then longer and longer play-times till he got what he wanted! YES FREE RUN of this busy happy place for cats. And he was better about his litter-box. Although I have to admit he did still miss the box once in a while...but at least he was trying.

By now so many people had seen him there was a waiting list to adopt him. So away he went. But a month later he came back. Same problem. The second in line to adopt him were sure they could work with him. But the evaluations, work, lessons still didn't stick.

What to do now. High level conference. What was he trying to get across? Everyone put their heads together and realized he wanted to stay with his buddies and buddetts. And his fan club was growing. Deep inside this complicated feline angel was the desire to comfort, to entertain, and to be in charge. He loved people and what was in his heart was to soothe anxiety, bring back memories, and provide a purrrfect companion for those seeking comfort.

He wanted to become a therapy cat. He could visit and purr and pose to his heart's content and could spend lots of lazy hours a week being a very special lap cat. And so now he is (or is on the road to being) in training to do just that. This guy had used up 4 of his chances and we don't know how many of his 9 lives. But one thing does stick. The FCCR never gives up. It could be a forever home or it could be a forever job. In Jake's case he knew all along. We just had to figure it out.

Stay tuned for Jake's escapades as he learns the ropes and starts a new job.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cat Celebrities!

My name is Jake! I am adorable!
I'm an entertainer and a lover!

I am resident greeter at the
Fort Collins Cat Rescue I will be the first
to check you out. Or in...Whatever...
I'm looking for the softest lap!
Come and visit me and
choose the perfect companion
to take home.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Follow the Bouncing Ball

Of the three cats I brought to my barn that early fall day, Polka Dot was the one you would notice. First of all even then she had such a lot of fur that I couldn't help thinking about Garfield the cat's, comment that he wasn't fat, he was fluffy. Well Polka Dot really isn't fat, she is very fluffy. But the second thing you will notice is that her markings are about as unusual as you have ever seen on what is called a Tuxedo cat, black and white, mostly black with a white tummy, sometimes feet and tip of tail but the chest and neck are what distinguishs them. On this white area Tuxedo's have lots of interesting spots. But Polka dot has 3 dots. One on either side of her nose and one on the tip of her nose. Polka Dot has well... polka dots.
She had a few more adventures than Lollipop, the shyist or Moonbeam who had one eye and was bold but still careful. One day Polka Dot found her way to the rafters in the storage room. It was just getting dark when I noticed she was nowhere to be found in the room. And at about the instant I spotted her high above me. But the worst thing is that I saw her back end. She had found a space large enough to wiggle out that opened into the barn.
This was after these cats that were discovered in a cat hoarder's house during a T/N/R event had been with me barely a week. I was afraid that if she got out and ran she would not have been able to find her way back. I yelled for my husband who was feeding the horses at the time to grab a ladder and get up there to prevent her from getting through. Luckily he got there in time and used another piece of wood to push her back in.
But that was not the end. I needed to get her down. The only possible way I could do that was to grab something to catch her with and push her off the ledge but I had to stand on a rickity table. Nearby on the wall was a fishnet that my son-in-law had hung there when he had moved his fishing stuff into storage. It was purrrfect! but it was like chasing a butterfly. Finally I wedged the frame against the wall with her within the netting. Then, plop she slide down into it while I held the handle with one hand and tried to grab the other side. to catch it. When she felt herself falling she became a whirling dirvish with tail and fur and claws everywhere. I dropped the net and when it landed on the table she sprang out safe at last. She took it all in stride.
Another time I arrived with their food one morning and she was nowhere to be found. I thought we had plugged all the rest of the holes. But then I noticed that the upside down patio umbrella that was propped into the corner was moving. When I tilted it over to check it out I saw a large furry ball wedged down between the ribs, stuck tight. All I could see were three white dots in the darkness. There was no way I was going to stick my hand down into it so I carefully picked up the whole thing and turned it right side up. Sure enough, she came sliding out and as soon as her little feet hit the ground off she flew under the old stuffed chair sitting in the corner.
After these two episodes she settled down. As time went by little Polka Dot became big sister to Moonbeam and she also became the friendliest reformed feral/hoarded barn cat I have ever seen.
After the first big snowfall of the year I didn't see her in the barn. Moonbeam and I were frantically looking for her. I got my flashlight and walked my regular path when Iwas looking for one or another of my cats when I heard a tiny tiny meow. As I shined the flashlight toward the gate between our neighbors property and ours I saw a little head poking up above the snow drift. She could see me but she wouldn't follow. I knew I would not be able to pick her up yet so I walked through the snow, leaving footprints. As soon as I reached her and she saw me she tentatively put her paw out but she would not venture out into the snow. However when she noticed that the snow was pushed down by my feet she jumped out into the path I had made. She jumped along following me like the proverbial bouncing ball all the way to the barn where her dinner was waiting for her.

Now, when I drive home and turn into the driveway I can see two white tummies in front of the dark doorway of the barn. They watch for me to come home.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On 'Homer's Odyssey'

It was way last November that I walked into the Barns and Noble bookstore and saw the display of new books on the first kiosk. Ten or fifteen copies of two new books were being prominantly displayed. One was a dog story, it was like the book Marley and Me:.....The Worlds Worst Dog, which I loved, by the way. The other book captured my attention immediately. It had the picture of a cat on the front cover, a very strange looking cat. The title was intriguing too, "Homer's Odyssy". I wondered about what Homer had to do with a cat story. And then the subtitle, "A Fearless Feline Tale Or How I learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat" just made my hand reach for a copy. I had to take a look at it. The Author was Gwen Cooper, someone I had not heard of. "Hummm", I thought, "An unknown author has really made it big with a book about, of all things, a cat". But even more amazing, I discovered this was a blind cat.

As an aspiring writer who has a lifetime of animal stories inside my head it was encouraging to see that the trend of animal stories was continuing. Maybe I had a chance . But as I soon learned after picking it up and looking at the back cover and then inside the front to see who the author (or agent) had chosen to write the endorsements that this book likely was not only the story of a cat, it was clear that it was about the willingness of the author to share her trials, failures and fears reflected in the mirror of a cat that had no eyes.

Among the authors I was most familiar with named on the back cover were Temple Grandin, an extraordinarily gifted spokesperson for animals, Rita Mae Brown whose cat was detective Sneaky Pie Brown in stories that had delighted me often and most recently Susan Richards whose 'Chosen by a Horse' lifted my spirits and reminded me of my abiding reverance for those noble creatures.

So then I opened the book and read the introduction. It described how the blind kitten was rescued and then, standing in the middle of the isle I became totally absorbed, in ADD fashion. I was in hyper focus. I wasn't even aware people were stumbling over me. When I finally moved out of the way and apologized I felt guilty enough to consider buying the book (after all this was not a library) but burdoned by a small budget for gifts this year I decided to put it on my Christmas list instead.

Well, I didn't get it for Christmas but a couple of weeks ago I was telling one of the directors of the Fort Collins Cat Rescue about it. I volunteer as often as I can to help clean the center and socialize the rescued cats. She exclaimed that she had gotten it for Christmas and was reading it at that moment. Imagine that!

I read it straight through in just under a week, which is a record for me. It is the first time in ages I had even finished a book. My thoughts as I first explored its pages at the bookstore were confirmed. It is a tender, insightful, funny and charming story about life's common experiences, challenges, and even transformations that often occur in surprising ways. It is about growing up, leaving home, going back home, making decisions, learning patience and endurance, never giving up, facing your fears and more than anything understanding that there is something inside that you can't see but that propels you outward to take a leap into the unknown, like a blind cat (?), to risk, to live the one life you have been given to the fullest.

Gwen Cooper says it like this (sort of:):"Homer taught me that the love of one person who believes in you...and who you believe in, can inspire you to attempt even the most improbable things. (Even I could write a book and be published:-)(Even a blind cat can confront a burgler and survive alone (with 2 other cat friends) for a week in an apartment one block from the World Trade towers on Sept. 11)There is great joy in great risk and there is a lot of difference between unlikely and impossible and finally, nobody nobody can tell you what your potential is."

This will join my list of absolute favorite books. of all time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


It seemed at first that it was an unlikely name or even unkind but the cat with one good eye was the one I named "Moonbeam".

She was the smallest of the three I brought to my barn that day at the end of August. Black and white like her sister, but instead of wildly fuzzy she was sleek and shiny. The other memorable thing about her was that as small as she was from the beginning she was built like a linebacker.

As she began to get used to her new location I noticed she was the one who first ventured out from under the table in the packed storage room of the barn. Moonbeam seemed to function just fine with her one good eye.There was no indication that she was in pain or the eye was troubling her. Although it troubled me.

I started asking questions at the Cat Rescue. I would describe it and ask if it they thought it might be infected and could cause infection in her other eye or even migrate to her brain. (Oh my!) They understood my concern and gave educated guesses based on their experience with other feral cats but they did encourage me to do some research. The computer was still a inconsistent ally but after a few attempts I discovered it could be a corneal ulcer. It could be treated but in order to do that I would have needed to be able to catch her. I hadn't been able to even touch her and it would not be till January, 4 months later that I would just be able to pet her.

After the first few days turned into 4 or 5 weeks the one-eyed cat named Moonbeam began to live into her name. She was not so timid as she was careful. She began to play with the toys I dangled in front of her. She was as quick as her sister, jumped and twisted just as high. She displayed a calm confidence and like the moon her light was strong but not insistent. Still she was feral enough to hold back from my gloved fingers till the treats I tempted her with could not be ignored.

But I continued to worry about her eye even though it didn't seem to bother her. By January she had become comfortable enough with people, horses, and dogs traipsing through the barn so she didn't run and hide. I felt she could at least be observed. A vet from the cat rescue graciously offered to stop by to get a glimpse of her. At the same time I had been able to get pictures that showed her eye clearly. The news was good. She probably had had a herpes virus which is common in cats that had lived in unhealthy conditions and in close quarters with other cats. The eye looked like it had healed.

By now the spunky cat with the chunky little body that flew through the air chasing bird toys and that shuddered with apprehension at the first light touch of a human hand had accepted her home. She found the ecstacy of a rub behind the ears and a caress along her back, the food and warm place to sleep and all the hay in the world to play in with an occasional mouse or two to chase was good. She really didn't know one eye was all she had. It was all she needed. Life was good.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Silent Purr

It has taken me a while to figure out Lollipop. She is a Calico cat that I named Lollipop because of the large round circles of brown and black against her white coat. She hisses at me when I get too close or surprise her. She connected with me once when I mistook her behavior as accepting and tried to pet her. It wasn't. I got three nasty claw marks on the back of my hand. But there was no growling, just that stare I have been seeing everyday, two or three times a day for the last few days. She and the other two cats I have agreed to take care of in my barn have taught me about feral cats.

When I open the door to the small storage room where they have to stay till they get acclimated I see her, with her feet tucked beneath under her in a 'catly' meatloaf position, the other two crouched behind her. Usually she settles as far away as she can, under the folded table or scooted behind the work boots and outdoor umbrella stacked in the corner.

She doesn't take her eyes off of me. The tip of her ear and corner of her eye have had bits of blood on them since she has been here. And her nose looks recently bumped. She looks pretty rough and I wonder what she has gone through in her former life as one cat among many that were recently rescued from a hoarder. A hoarder is usually a well meaning person who doesn't have a clue about and is unable to care for the animals that live and breed continuously in houses, basements, garages and worse. The animals often live in unhealthy conditions without adequate food, water or vet care, getting sicker and sicker.

Today though as I watched I noticed them begin to groom each other. A small sign of a beginning trust and sense of safety. No one else has gone into their room. They do hear the muncing and stomping sounds of the horses, barking dogs and voices of my grandchildren as they play in and around the barn. I wonder about her, whether she is getting enough to eat.

Her companions, Polka Dot and Moonbeam are far less shy about coming to get the food I bring them. In fact if there is some left on her plate when they have finished theirs they crowd her out and eat her portion as well. When they do this she does nothing to stop them. Temporarily I have been giving them canned food morning and night to give their nutrition a boost. But typically some cats are grabby and some don't get what they need. Horses do this too.

I started pushing her dish right under her nose with a small stick and distracting the other two. Even then she eats tentatively, her head lifted, eyes on me, alert as if in the wild. Sometimes she uses her paw to pick up the food. I have never seen that before. I do leave dry food for them and have to hope she gets enough. I haven't even been able to get a close enough look at her to see how thin she is

As time goes by her companions begin to play with the toys on strings I dangle for them. I tried to entice her several times but found that rather than wanting to play she lashed out at me.
Finally she began to venture out from behind the table to jump up on the old stuffed chair sitting in the room. She even stayed there when I opened the door.

Her responses were subtle. I needed to watch her carefully. But I read somewhere that if I looked directly at her she would feel threatened. She did seem to relax a bit when I was careful about this. And so slowly, very slowly she seemed to get more comfortable. You just don't know what these animals have had to survive but one thing I do know. She was brave enough to close her eyes when I talked to her. And eventually she grew what looked like a smile, what a cat often looks like when they purr. And then it came to me, it must be her way of purring.

So I talked to her a lot (I talked to them all whenever I was with them). I told her she was beautiful and that she would be o.k. And she would smile and close her eyes.

After 6 weeks or so I allowed them to venture out into the barn and then out into the yard and pastures nearby. I had set up a screen door (locked) on their room to the outside to give them a little air and sunlight a little longer each day and so they could be more familiar with the area. I hoped it was long enough to have replaced their former memory of home. This was their new home. This was where they were fed.

Lollipop came in and out of the barn. Once I celebrated when I saw her with a mouse in her mouth. After exploring by themselves during the day I often saw the three of them on the highest bale of hay in our hay storage room where they often curled up together. I still kept a close eye on them and because of the coyotes, fox and owls tried to close the barn doors at night. I didn't always see them. One day I realized I had not seen her for a day or two, not unusual, but then it was 5 days, then a week. And it slowly dawned on me she probably would not be back. She had been the most timid of the three so my hopes were not high. I had accept that and let her go.

But I learned from her that sometimes purring is something you may not hear, it might be something you see. And like lots of things in life if you pay attention, even if it is to a cat, or a dog or even a child, it might surprise you to find that somehow you have made a difference. And if only for a minute or a few weeks a life could be blessed, and a cat could be content.

And I know for a while Lollipop was safe and not hungry anymore. I will always remember her as the cat with the silent purr.