Saturday, August 23, 2008

Kitten Karma

It was 12 years ago this summer I first took on a proactive animal rescue role. My brother and his then wife had just moved back to Cleveland a year after I had and the day the moving van rolled up to unload, my ex sister in law found a cardboard box on the lawn of their new suburban manse that she didn't recognize. Upon closer inspection she found inside a wriggling mass of kittens. Terribly allergic, her first instinct was to call the local animal control officer who promptly came and took in the litter of 6. When I learned of this a few hours later, I was aghast and went to the depressing shelter and paid $10 per kitten to release them to my custody. I encased them on my porch and socialized them while seeking permanent homes. We ended up keeping two of them -- an all black one we called Willow and a white one with black ears we called Leaf. All the others were adopted.

Leaf and Willow were nice enough cats although I began to notice that Willow started spending more significant periods of time away from home. Eventually I followed his trail when he left home one day and learned he was time sharing at the house directly behind my back fence. Living there was a couple with a young daughter and an array of animals as well. I went over and introduced myself. Mom was Deb, a vivacious, upbeat, lovely woman. She introduced me to her black cat named Blackie who had appeared one day. I looked closely and I said, "No, that's my Willow." After discussing our philosophies about cats -- they don't so much allow ownership as they allow you to care for them until they might choose another option if given the choice, I told Deb she could keep him if he seemed to prefer her home to mine, or she could stop feeding him and I was sure he'd return.

Willow remained there and became Blackie full time. Deb and I became better neighbors, friends and eventually colleages as she began a dog grooming business to supplement the income of the family. I referred dozens of clients to her and her business was very popular. I even sent my springer, Bean, to her capable hands, and he always came back well groomed and smelled fabulous.
When our shared and beloved vet tragically died nearly 3 years ago, we mourned his loss. When Deb's dog Jake, a husky mix, invariably escaped and took a trip around the hood, I'd see Deb and her daughter Hannah cheerfully walking up and down the block calling him.

Last week, exactly a week from the minute I'm writing these words, I agreed to and accepted an abandoned litter of 3 kittens to my house because I was having a garage sale and I would have them there to meet people and possibly be adopted. I was adamant to the woman who brought them they couldn't stay. She agreed. When the trio arrived, they were covered in feces and urine and vomit from the traumatic ride over. They seemed very feral and I was aghast thinking they would never be adoptable.

They smelled so bad even after being washed off with kitten wipes that I gave all 3 a bath. Each of my 3 daughters was given one to dry off in the sun. My middle daughter took the black one and promptly named her Burn. My youngest took the tabby seen in the pic above and named her Flipper. I vetoed it and called her Kitty Fay. The shyest was given to my eldest daughter to dry and was named Shady (I called her Lila). Once they were clean and handled and played with they warmed up and were actually really nice kittens. When the garage sale ended and the woman who brought them returned to get them, I asked her what her plans were. When she said she would take them to the APL, I said, "No, I'll keep them here. I'll find them homes." My girls were thrilled but I said under NO circumstances can they come in the house. NO NO NO.

Late that same night my eldest daughter came down with a look of sadness and shock. She told me one of her oldest and closest friends had called to tell her of a tragedy -- that another friend's father, neighbor on the same block as Deb, had been out on a long bike ride on that sunny Saturday morning and at the same time as the kittens came into my backyard, scared and smelly, he had been hit by a car and died later that afternoon from his injuries. A popular college professor and all around good guy, he was dead, just like that. My heart went out to his wife and children -- how do you deal with such a sudden tragic loss?

Last fall I took Bean to Deb's for a grooming. Sometimes I threw him over the shared fence in our backyards, sometimes I'd walk around the block to drop him off. She shared with me at the time that she had finally been to the doctor about a months long persistent cough thinking it was bronchitis, only to learn it was a spot on her lung indicating Stage 4 Cancer, secondary to the original never found ovarian cancer. Deb's attitude was, I'll beat this thing. She endured a surgery, chemo and radiation, and took time off from her grooming business. Shared clients contacted me for updates and a phone tree began. By early spring Deb felt better, her hair was growing back, and she resumed grooming with smaller dogs or very very well behaved larger dogs as she gained strength.

On July 4th this came from her:
Hi Friends and Family,
I began to feel very sick this past week and after a few days in the hospital I have a small recurrence which has caused fluid build up in my left lung and so this Monday I'm having the same surgery that I had on my right lung which is doing well. I'll be going back on chemo but have chosen a treatment course that won't cause me to be as sick as the last one. Our attitudes are good here and I adore my oncologist so continue to be well cared for. The hope is that I will take a few months off from work and once again return to my life. Ovarian cancer is a chronic condition so one has to just be positive and peaceful. I will send updates and know that with so many wonderful people pulling for me and sending prayers and positive energy that I'll be back on my feet in no time at all. May this find you all well and enjoying summer.

Love, Deb

Then 3 weeks ago I got another email that things had taken a turn for the worse and she had moved into a lakeside hospice that allowed Jake, her geriatric husky mix, to live with her. HOSPICE! We all know what the means.

On Thursday this week my daughter and I joined hundreds of others at the funeral of our neighbor. Thursday night, still reeling from that event, I learned Deb had died sometime the night before.

On Friday evening (gosh, that was just last night!) a woman who had contacted me several times about wanting to adopt Burn because she liked that the kitten was a dynamo, came over with a friend. They each adopted a kitten but Burn was passed by. Oh the stories I could tell you about people coming to adopt rescue animals!

I couldn't let Burn stay outside in the cage I had kept the trio in all week all alone! So I brought her and her food and water and litter box onto the porch. That wouldn't be in the house, just on the porch.

When I went up to bed, late and on a very sultry night, after letting the dogs out for their final constitutional, I was pretty sure I had gotten Burn wrangled onto the porch.

1/2 hour later as I was in bed enjoying the breeze generated by 3 different fans, suddenly a little black kitten jumped up into my bed and began purring and rubbing against me and being oh so very affectionate and loving. OMG, she was in the house. We all know what that means.

I hope to have further updates on little Burn and how I hope her antics will give hope and laughter during a week of sadness and loss.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Behavioral Mutations

Lily, Trip & Bean

Accept, as I do, that among the wonderful features of the creatures that they are, dogs are creatures of habit and habits can be formed in a variety of ways. Further, since they inhabit our homes and lives, it is our job and responsibility to shape them into what we want (using positive methods of course). It seems to me a wise thought that once shaped into your minimum standards, that you use powers of observation to note mutations as they might occur and decide if they are

a) beneficial or useful or desired in which case you randomly reward them;
b) neutral/don't matter and no one gets hurt and you can reward or ignore; or
c) behaviors that probably should be redirected/reformed because someone can be annoyed or worse -- it can be downright dangerous for either dog or others.

I realize because dogs are a major passion of mine, I spend extraordinary amounts of time, often even brief glances throughout my day, observing my own pack of three -- Lily (nearly 9), Trip the JRT (nearly 7) and Bean the ESS (just turned 5). If I had to give you a quick summary of their personalities, I'd say Lily is the protective and moody but ever so loyal and loving large mix; Trip is a clown and I still haven't ever seen him meet a dog he didn't like (whether that other dog liked him); and Bean is loyal, true, and not too smart but very well behaved dog. They are of course much more than that, but their essences are as above.

I noticed a few weeks ago a new habit that formed when feeding time came around. I can't say what started it, but now that it's there, I'm trying to pay attention to each meal (twice each day) to see how, why and what it mutates into (let me just preface it by saying that it definitely fits into "b" above).

Here's the scenario:

When it's feeding time, the dogs scoot to their "assigned" location: Lily by the fridge; Trip in a crate in the dining room/office; and Bean on the dining room/office floor by the doorway into the kitchen. Two bins of their food (Lily eats Flint River Ranch Senior Plus and the boys eat Flint River Ranch Fish'n'Chips) are stacked near where Lily eats and either my oldest daughter or I feed them. Trip gets 1/2 cup, then Bean gets his cup, and Lily gets her 1.5 cups. Trip dives into his food, and here's where it gets interesting -- Bean just lays there staring at his food even though he's given an "okay" cue which means he can eat and he used to do so, but the mutation started where he just lays there and stares at his bowl as Trip is chowing his portion; then Lily gets hers and starts digging in. Bean (you can say "okay" as perky as possible a dozen times to really assure him that it really really is okay to eat already you odd little dog) just stares. When Trip finishes his food, and he makes the slightest move to leave the crate (I have really carefully watched this from many angles without interfering), Bean makes one slight little growl and then dives in. It seems the real "okay" cue for him is the movement of the Jack Russell Terrier finishing up his meal (which takes very little time I might add...about 45 seconds).

So I'm going to keep watching. And waiting for the mutation. If I remember, I'll update the blog to report on the action.

Dogs really are such odd little creatures!