Archive for the 'Cats' Category

08
Feb
2008

Queen Anne’s Metamorphosis

The New Queen AnneQueen Anne OmegaCat – mother of all of our Woodpile Kittens – has turned the tables and adopted us.Since Christmas, when we gave away the last of her kittens, she has taken up residence on our dining room windowsill, where she eats, sleeps, and watches her two growing kittens (from two different litters), Shadow and Blu. The dining room is the “cat room,” so Queen Anne gets to see a lot of antics and, in her own way, participates in our activities.For example, when I play with the kitts I let her take turns swatting at the feather toy through the window. And when she sees me feed her kitts she knows I’ll be out soon with her food.The most surprising change in her behavior: when I feed her she goes crazy-friendly, rubbing up against me and letting me pet her vigorously. Her surly, suspicious demeanor – typical for a feral cat – has been replaced with friendly chirps and kittenish affection. Plus she’s never looked healthier; her coat is thick and clean, and she’s put on a few pounds. Gone is that thin and scraggly alley-cat appearance. If you didn’t know better you’d think she’d just jumped out of somebody’s lap.I trapped Queen Anne in the summer and had her spayed through the Washington Humane Society’s CatNipp (TNR) program. Now that she no longer has to deal with raging hormones and aggressive suitors, Queen Anne has reinvented herself. She’s joined our family, and stays as close to us as she can get. She’s an aspiring house cat living just outside the house. Sticking to the windows, trying to join the party. If we didn’t already have two cats, we’d probably bring her in…Queen Anne on the Sill 

24
Dec
2007

The Secret History of Cricket and Cleopatra

Cricket and Cleopatra look like ordinary kittens. They are not. They have a secret. A secret so special that only a few people know about it. Because you have been chosen, I am allowed to share that secret with you.

The two were born in Woodpile Kingdom. It is in the borderlands of Takoma Park and Prince George’s County – in the Maryland Dimension. Some of their ancestors belong to Sacred Warrior Clans.

Prince Cricket Firecat

Cricket’s Secret

Cricket’s royal name is Prince Cricket FireCat of the WoodpileClan. His clan gifts are fire play and cat acrobatics. He specializes in quick cat karate and action leaps.

His energy runs deep and quiet but ignites like fire, quick as a flash. His ancestors were the protectors of Woodpile Kingdom. He is the last of his sacred line and carries the wisdom and strength of his lineage in his heart. He is dedicated to protecting his sister. She is to be the future Queen of Woodpile Kingdom, as the last sister of the WoodpileClan.

Princess Cleopatra ShyCat

Cleopatra’s Secret

Cleopatra’s Royal name is Princess Cleopatra ShyCat. Her clan gift is finding secret places for meditation and healing. She specializes in near invisibility. She can easily slip from sight, like she was just a day dream, a faint image in the mind that is not really there.

Her energy is nervous and calm. Her ancestors were the holders of the power in Woodpile Kingdom. Cleopatra needs a safe place to live because the politics of Woodpile Kingdom has changed, since there can be no more kitten heirs born. Skyhawks are now stalking the skies.

Cleopatra and Cricket are to find a new kingdom. Their mother’s stories have made them hopeful, but a little cautious. She has spoken of a vision where they are happy in a new home. Cricket and Cleopatra are eagerly looking forward to their new life.

Queen Anne OmegaCat

Queen Anne OmegaCat

Queen Anne OmegaCat is a peacemaker for all the Cat Clans. Her special genes allowed her to have kittens that she could teach blended clan gifts.

She hopes Prince Cricket and Princess Cleopatra will be able to blend their powers and stay close as they grow. Cricket’s fire and Cleopatra’s calm make a perfect balance when they are together. Queen Anne knows they will have to leave Woodpile Kingdom to find their destinies among the Tall Ones. To protect their royal identities until then, she rarely mentions their royal titles.

In a dream vision, she sees a Blended Kingdom where a mom, a dad, and two young ones will honor her children. This kingdom is for Tall Ones and cats. Her vision is fading now. That is her sign that the time is drawing near for the vision to come true.

This December 2007, when bone chilling cold blows deep below freezing in Woodpile Kingdom – threatening their very lives – Queen Anne does a hard thing for a mother to do. She asks the Tall One who has been feeding them, to please take her royal young out of Woodpile Kingdom. With a hopeful heart, she knows once they are gone they will find their true home.

Deep in the dark night, with bitter winds blowing, she climbs up on the window sill and peers into the den of the Tall Ones to make sure her kitts are safe. Seeing them cozy and warm, she cries a silent meow, sad that they are lost to her forever. Yet pleased that her plan has worked … the kitts of the royal line are safe, and their new life has begun.

20
Dec
2007

Cleopatra, Cricket Adopted by Local Family

Cleopatra & Cricket in a BoxNEWS FLASH: OUR REMAINING WOODPILE KITTENS HAVE BEEN ADOPTED. A Takoma Park family with two kids fell in love with Cleopatra and Cricket, our remaining wood stack dwellers, and after several visits it was clearly a perfect match. Details and photos to follow. Thanks to everyone who responded to our ads in Craig’s List and CityPaper! If you’re still looking for a feline friend or two, please visit the Washington Animal Rescue League (and check out their state-of-the-art facility) and the Washington Humane Society. Both shelters are filled with beautiful cats & kittens of every size, color, and temperament. There’s a furry little somebody waiting for you!

06
Dec
2007

Woodpile Kittens Seek Special Homes

I am trying to find homes for the cute and quite sociable kittens who live in the woodpile in my backyard in Takoma Park, Maryland. I feed, pet, and play with them twice a day, and although they still live outside, they want to come in!

Blu
BLU is a deep blue-grey male with sable soft fur and a quiet, thoughtful disposition. Like his two siblings, Blu is friendly and will allow you to hold and pet him (especially around feeding time!) – UPDATE: Blu has found a human companion and they’re just crazy about each other!

Cleopatra
CLEOPATRA, a female, is a slightly lighter shade of grey than Blu, but her coat is just as silky. She’s affectionate and mellow, and loves to chase anything that moves. UPDATE: Cleo has found a home!

Cricket
CRICKET, a tiger-striped male, is slightly smaller than his siblings, but more than makes up for it with his spunk and curiosity. He’s probably the most socialized, people friendly of the bunch, and would likely make the quickest transition to house-cat. Cricket is a polydactyl “Hemingway Cat” … he has extra toes that give him extra dexterity and enhance his puckish personality. UPDATE: Cricket is going with his sister Cleopatra to a nice warm home in Takoma Park!

Cats who grew up in the great outdoors can be a bit more energetic and skittish than their domesticated cousins, and they deserve a human companion who understands their special needs and appreciates their distinctive character.

In my classified ads, and in conversations with potential adopters, I avoid the F-word, “feral.” Or “semi-feral.” Because our Woodpile Kitts are not wild. Maybe a bit impatient to find a loving human companion; perhaps a little annoyed at having to stay outside, and certainly anxious when the weather gets nasty.

Cricket in Snow

These kittens are clean, healthy, and gentle. In all the months I’ve been caring for them I have never been scratched. Instead, they sit on my knee and demand that I scratch them. And rub them, pet them, and tease them with improvised toys made out of long twigs and leaves. Cleopatra will sometime reach out and tap my hand, to say “OK, enough petting. Open that can of food!”

And the truth is, tamed strays are a blast. Shadow (from the same woodpile, born to the same stray MommaCat) is my fourth, and, like the others I’ve plucked from various alleys and dumpsters, he’s lean and athletic, super-stealthy, very playful, and tightly bonded to me. He likes my partner Brett too, but since I spent a lot of time socializing Shadow after we took him inside, he sees me as his “alpha cat,” and wants to hang around where ever I happen to be. As I type these words, he’s zonked out, half on my lap, half on the laptop. (Which may not be such a great place for him… see cautionary tale.)

It does take time to build that trust with a cat from outside. But the Woodpile Kitts pictured here are actually far more socialized than Shadow was when he joined us; they are ready. Are you? Call Marcus at 703-898-0770 any time of the day or night for more information. Or email me: marcus(at)bigblackcat.org (substitute the real “at” symbol in the address)

Here’s contact information and a photo gallery of our Woodpile Kitten Colony

Blu AsleepNEWS FLASH – Tuesday 11th December 2007 – Blu was adopted yesterday! His new owner reports that Blu bonded to him in less than half an hour: “He’s sleeping in my lap and purring like mad.” Blu also delighted his new family by demonstrating that he knows what a cat box is used for. I hope this encourages folks who are interested in our Woodpile Kittens but wonder whether they’re tame enough. They’re not only tame, they love people… These little guys want to move inside and be with you!

25
Nov
2007

Kittens, Marcus Attacked by Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk
Photo: Red Shouldered Hawk by twoblueday – cc: Some rights reserved

Today in our Takoma Park, Maryland backyard, my three feral kittens and I were attacked by a Red Shouldered Hawk that swooped down from the treetops.

The kitts had just eaten and I was sitting on a log playing with them when the giant bird slammed into the dried leaves about two feet behind me. I jumped, the cats scattered, and the hawk, which had targeted Cricket, flew into a tree next door and watched us for a few seconds before soaring off. This thing was huge, with a wing span of well over three feet, and I squinted against the bright autumn sun to see if he had somebody clutched in his talons. Couldn’t be sure…

Dizzy with adrenaline, heart racing, I did a frenzied cat-count as, one by one, they poked their heads out from various hiding places. Cricket was the last to appear; he had scampered into their little shelter and was understandably cautious about coming out. Like the rest of us, he scanned the sky for danger. I had the weird sense of having slipped down a notch on the food chain.

Only MommaCat, who had watched the scene play out from a nearby stack of lumber, seemed unsurprised.

31
Oct
2007

Local Cat Claims Alien Abduction

Momma Cat

NOTE: I recently trapped Shadow’s Mom and took her to the Washington Humane Society to be spayed. The trapping proved a lot harder than I had anticipated, and I was going to describe the whole arduous process here… until I discovered that MommaCat had already contacted the media with her side of the story! Here’s the transcript of her interview with The Cat Tattler…

Cat Tattler: MommaCat, your kittens reported you missing five days ago. Tell us, in your own words, where you’ve been.

MommaCat: I was kidnapped by aliens. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. The Tall Ones are very clever. They set a trap for me, put some really good meat in it, and waited for me to walk right in. But I’m pretty clever too. I went in, but I stepped carefully and ate the meat without stepping on that ridiculous bar on the floor. Then I backed out.

Cat Tattler: So how did they catch you?

Cats and Trap

MommaCat: Well, they changed the setup, added some kind of stick, and a string too. A Tall One put more meat in the trap, and hid behind a tree. I guess he thought we couldn’t see him, but he was so obvious! At first my kitts kept running into the trap to eat the meat and the Tall One ran out yelping and squirting the kitts with water from an alien weapon. Then he fed them so much that they lost interest in the trap and wandered away. I thought the whole thing looked fishy… but it smelled fishy too! Quite irresistible actually.

Cat Tattler: So you went back in?

MommaCat: Big mistake. I thought it was safe: the Tall One disappeared into his giant den. But as soon as I reached the fish, BAM! The stick flew off and a door slammed down! And the aliens took me away.

Cat Tattler: What did they do to you?

MommaCat: Well, they stuck horrible things into my body, I know that. They cast a spell on me and made me sleep so deep! And when I woke up, I could tell they had done, well, nasty things to me. They shaved my, uh, you know– and, let’s just say I’ve been very sore down there

Cat Tattler: !!!

MommaCat: And I think one of them tried to eat me while I was asleep.

Cat Tattler: Really?

Ear Tipped

MommaCat: Oh yes. See? They bit off part of my ear!

UPDATE: After a night of recuperation in our laundry room, MommaCat was returned to the woodpile behind the house. As soon as I opened the trap she bolted for the adjacent woods, propelled almost completely by her front legs, dragging her sore hind legs behind her. Three days later she reappeared, hungry and rather testy with her kitts. But she’s accepting food and letting me sit with her as she eats. She still doesn’t trust us aliens, but she likes our food…

OH AND: The “ear tipping” is done on feral cats who have been neutered as a signal to help prevent them from being retrapped and possibly euthanized.

24
Oct
2007

The Dalai Lama on Animals and Compassion

His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama
Tenzin Gyatso 59, Dharamsala, India
photo: ©Phil Borges from his book Tibetan Portrait – All Rights Reserved

I have been working with some fantastic people at the Washington Humane Society. Bridget, the director of CatNipp, a popular Trap-Neuter-Release program, has helped me in my quest to capture and spay Shadow’s Momma, who still lives in my backyard woodpile raising another bunch of adorable kittens (please adopt one!)

Bridget and some of her colleagues were honored to be included in an intimate audience with His Holiness the Lalai Lama during his recent visit to Washington to accept the Congressional Gold Medal. The video of HH’s remarks is, well, amazing. Please take a look at it, I guarantee you’ll be moved and inspired. With disarming giggles and self-effacing humor he conveys a tightly packed bundle of wisdom about the importance and holiness of all sentient life.

The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, with fans and followers around the world, always describes himself as “a simple monk.” But in his remarks to the Humane Society and a coalition for the homeless, he said “I myself am also homeless.” For most of his life he has been in exile from Tibet, having escaped from a harsh Communist Chinese occupation in a daring trek over the Himalayans in 1959. Since then he has traveled the world tirelessly making the case for compassion, religious tolerance, and autonomy for Tibet.

His remarks the other day were especially poignant for animal lovers – and fairly mind-blowing for on-again-off-again vegetarians like me. With few words and a simple gesture he conjured a vivid image of the misery of farm animals that we “regard as vegetables.” To the Dalai Lama, a plate of shrimp is not a feast, but a tragedy: “Too many lives, too many lives.” Whew. And I had just suggested to Brett that we check out the “ShrimpFest” at Red Lobster… I’m seeing things with new eyes.

His Holiness noted that even his adopted home, India, has been turning away from its traditional vegetarianism “in the name of progress.” He decried the industrial-scale production of animals for consumption:

“We human beings forgot their right … all lives, all descended beings basically have same sense of being. They also have feelings, experiences. Therefore they also have same right to live peacefully, happily.”

These words, coming at a time when I find myself becoming more involved with stray animal advocacy groups, are not only inspiring, but energizing. “All actions out of compassionate motivation become constructive and meaningful.”

Over the course of his amazing life the Dalai Lama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, has become one of the world’s most effective communicators. This is perhaps why the Chinese have their knickers in a twist over the honors the U.S. and other nations have bestowed upon him. Check out this piece he wrote for the Washington Post while he was in town: with laser-like precision and an elegant economy of words he hones right in on the most important issues facing humanity: aggression, compassion, tolerance.

Find out more about the Dalai Lama at his official website, and at the Campaign for Tibet.

17
Oct
2007

Never Teach Your Cat to Use the Computer

shadow_computer1

OK, I thought letting Shadow watch bird videos on YouTube was kinda fun for both of us. And it was really cute when he took an occasional poke at the keys and managed to stop and start the movie. Sometime I’d be writing an email with the furry critter splayed out on my lap and he would reach over and add a few comments, like”fjhguiekcg2y8fdx” or “cccccccccccccddss.”

My friend Brett was not amused. “You’ve gotta be crazy letting that cat near your computer! That is so wrong!” Brett was so right.

trashed_keyboard

I just stepped away for 5 minutes to make a cup of tea, and I returned to find my laptop’s keyboard torn up; Shadow had picked the keys right off with his strong little nails. I growled, and spotted his orange-yellow eyes peering at me from a shadowy corner across the room. He had that “Wha, you got a problem?” look that cats are famous for. Dogs know they’ve done wrong, and hang their heads or skulk away guiltily. But cats remain aloof. If they acknowledge your agitation it is with mild bemusement, mixed with a look of concern that you may be unstable.

These laptop keys are much more intricate than desktop keyboard keys: lots of interlocking parts and tiny hinges. It took almost an hour of study and microsurgery to get everything put back together. I vowed to never leave the computer open and unattended again, but of course I forgot and he did it again, this time leaving a clean gash through part of the “R” key. A kind (cat-loving) Genius at the Apple Store found me a new one.

But I forgot again, and this time Shadow somehow hit just the right combination of keys to delete an iCalendar file that I use to track my time and bill clients. Physical damage is one thing, but lost data is a real crisis, and I got that sick, sinking feeling when I realized that the iCalendar program doesn’t automatically back up those files.

I had been about to do my monthly invoices, and recreating the project charges would take forever (if it could be done at all). I looked everywhere for the deleted file, to no avail. Shadow jumped up into my lap, like “Hey, how about some squirrel videos?” And, through my panic, I had to smile. How could I stay mad at this cute little devil?

YouTube Shadow

Happy ending: iCalendar does have multiple undo’s, and I was able to reverse the kitten’s mischief. Now I back up my iCalendar manually every day, and close the laptop every time I step away. It’s a hassle. And I probably could retrain him to eschew all computers. But I still love surfing the web and watching crazy YouTube videos with my Shadow.

13
Jun
2007

Little Black Kitten

Shadow at eight weeks

My neighborhood is home to several families of feral cats, and I recently discovered a grey tiger-stripe and her little black kitten living in a woodpile in my back yard. I started feeding them, and though the mom remained wary, the kitten was still too young to know better, and let me pet him while he ate. After licking the plate clean, he playfully pounced on a twig I teased him with. Perched on a stack of old 2×4′s a short distance away, his mother watched our nightly antics with a mixture of suspicion and mild interest.

The first thing I noticed about this spunky kitten was his huge feet. Real waffle irons. Extra toes maybe? I’d had a “mouser” years ago and really loved his quirky personality and manual dexterity. Cats with extra toes are called “polydactyl” (latin for ‘many toed’) or “Hemingway cats,” because Ernest Hemingway had a bunch of them – in fact their descendents still live in his home-turned-museum in Key West. There’s much lore surrounding these mutant felines: back in the day, they were thought to bring good luck to ships, so residents of English ports would give their extra-toed cats to captains and crews headed for Boston. That may explain why the largest numbers of America’s six- and seven-toed cats are found in the Northeast; they’re rare in other parts of the country. And almost non-existent in continental Europe where, legend has it, they were burned as “witch’s familiars.”

Well I’m no witch but I’ve been without a familiar for two years now and, yeah, I grabbed the little fella. My partner and I have been “socializing” him for five days now, and, considering he was completely feral, he’s made great progress. At first we couldn’t even approach him – but step by step he’s becoming a housecat. The first (and crucial) sign that we had a winner: he took to the litter box right away. Not surprising really: I’ve observed wild cats defecating, and they prefer loose soil. But it’s still a relief.

Another big milestone was achieved when he let me brush him with a baby brush. He still loves to play, and as he gets more confident he’s demonstrating amazing (sometimes alarming) acrobatic abilities. And he grabs things! I mean really grips things! With the SEVEN toes he has on each paw!!! Two of them seem to form a thumb, an opposable thumb. Wild Thing.

Shadow’s seven toes

Shadow in a flowerpot; reminds him of home.

For the first two days this frightened but curious creature peered out at us from the darkest places in the kitten-friendly detention cell we’d created for him. My partner suggested we call him “Shadow.” I like it.

TOE-COUNT UPDATE: After several careful inspections we’ve determined that Shadow has six toes on his front feet and seven on his rear feet, for a total of 26 toes. Because most cats only have five in front and four in the back, Shadow is eight toes over the limit. What’s going on here? Is this a trend? Are cats evolving hands?

26
May
2007

US cat ‘predicts patient deaths’

From the BBC:

oscar the catA US cat that is reportedly able to sense when a nursing home’s residents are about to die is baffling doctors. Oscar has a habit of curling up next to patients at the home in Providence, Rhode Island, in their final hours.

According to the author of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the two-year-old cat has been observed to be correct in 25 cases so far.
Staff now alert the families of residents when he sits down next to their ailing loved one.

“He doesn’t make many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die,” David Dosa, a professor at Brown University who carried out the research, told the Associated Press news agency.

‘Premonitions’

Oscar was adopted as a kitten at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre.

Cats often can sense when their owners are sick or when another animal is sick
Thomas Graves, feline expert
The cat is said to do his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses at the home, but is not generally friendly to patients.

Although most families are grateful for the warning Oscar seems to provide, some relatives ask that the pet be taken away while they say their last goodbyes to their loved ones.

When put outside the room, Oscar is said to pace up and down meowing in protest.

Thomas Graves, a feline expert from the University of Illinois, told the BBC: “Cats often can sense when their owners are sick or when another animal is sick.

“They can sense when the weather will change, they’re famous for being sensitive to premonitions of earthquakes.”

A doctor who treats patients at the home said she believed there was probably a biochemical explanation, rather than the cat being psychic.

Story at BBC NEWS here.
Published: 2007/07/26 10:32:34 GMT

© BBC MMVII

UPDATE: The nursing home’s physician answered questions online about Oscar’s knack for predicting patient deaths. Transcript here.