March 2007

Liberal candidates

I’m getting old. My old friend Dan Hurley, with whom I conspired when I was politically active in my youth, is running for the Liberals in Winnipeg Centre against NDP MP Pat Martin. Of course, he used to be Stéphane Dion’s chief of staff, so he’s accomplished quite a bit in the interim. (Whereas I post cat pictures and make cracks about the Olympics. Sigh.)

Meanwhile, Richard Mahoney, the twice-defeated Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre, has been asked by Dion to run in Pontiac — i.e., my riding — against Transport minister Lawrence Cannon. I’m ambivalent in that it feels like the Liberals are giving us their urban sloppy seconds, though to be fair to Mahoney he’s got a cottage in the riding. (But ask me some time about the tensions between full-time residents and cottagers.)

Neither of these seats are Liberal gimmes — Winnipeg’s urban core was solidly NDP in recent memory except between 1988 and 1997, and Pontiac has historically vacillated between the Liberals and Conservatives, making it one of the most Tory ridings in Quebec — and they have strong incumbents. We’ll see what happens.

Silent running

I’ve decided that turning off the phone ringer during the day is a good thing, and will do so on a permanent basis. Use e-mail or IM to get a hold of me during daylight hours.

It turns out that most of the calls I answer during the day fall into one of two categories:

  1. Ladies from the Archives, calling to ask a question (usually of the PEBKAC variety, and one they eventually solve on their own if I can’t be reached). Love them to death; hate being tech support.
  2. Callers from one of Jennifer’s financial institutions who don’t seem to realize that (a) unlike me, she’s gainfully employed (so why are they calling her at home during the day?) and (b) even if she did give them her work number, what makes them think they’re entitled to interrupt her job? Better be important; usually isn’t.

So, a source of disruption eliminated. Just because I’m at home doesn’t mean I’m not at work. Got to concentrate, here.

Cats, snakes and emotional impact

In the comments on my last photo of Maya, Mike offered his condolences on our loss, to which he could relate, having had to put a cat down last year. But, he wrote,

It wasn’t quite the same when one of my corn snakes died after clutching though. How do you find it emotionally when one of the garters kicks off, or have you been fortunate enough to avoid that?

Regular readers of this blog — all six of you — will know, of course, that I’ve had more than a few garter snakes expire on me. Here’s what I wrote back:

I agree that it’s not quite the same (much as I’d like to pretend otherwise), but it was still a bit wrenching when a garter snake I’ve kept for years dies after a protracted illness, which has happened at least three times: to my female red-sided garter, who died of a liver tumour; to my male wandering garter, who died of a worm infestation; and to one of my Butler’s garters, who died from eggbinding.

I’m attached to all my animals, even the ones with little or no social interaction (i.e., the reptiles). But while I have to admit that there is a stronger emotional bond with a cat than, say, a corn snake, I’m still affected when I lose a reptile. Even if I’m not affected as much.

Either way, I feel a strong sense of responsibility: if I’m going to keep animals — especially exotic, wild animals — in captivity, I have a duty to ensure their health and, inasmuch as their little reptile brains can comprehend it, their happiness. When they die, I feel as though I’ve fucked up, even if they’re dead from natural causes or old age.

More entries below »

Remembering Maya

Maya's last photo We found Maya’s body at the back door this morning. Her condition had deteriorated with alarming speed over the weekend, to the point where even swallowing water last night had become too great an effort. We feared we would have no choice to put her down when we took her to the vet today; we feared that she wouldn’t even last that long; we feared that she wouldn’t last the night. Some time during the night, in the dark, she climbed out of the basement, came to rest on the doormat, and, at that point, simply stopped.

Continue reading this entry »

Bullsnake breeding

Bullsnake Both our bullsnakes are growing like mad and badly need new digs. The plan was to put them in a new cage together, because we were planning to breed them this year, but we haven’t gotten the new-cage project off the ground yet. But if the other critters are any indication, time’s a-wasting, so we introduced the male and female bullsnakes for the first time this afternoon. Only a little mating activity (some tail wagging, some male-on-female biting), but no hardcore action yet; we’ll give them more opportunities later.

Stress and pain

Recently I’ve been feeling more stressed than usual — which is saying something — and I was at a loss as to how to deal with it. So I kicked myself into seclusion for a week: I made no plans to go anywhere, and I turned off the phone ringer, and crossed my fingers that nothing would happen that would wind me up any tighter than I already was. Nothing did, and I’m feeling a bit calmer now than I did a week ago.

Coincidentally, I went back into flare a week ago. I think this has more to do with the season than my stress levels: I was in flare by this time last year. It was manageable until today, when pain levels went up by a couple of orders of magnitude. Flare’s in full force now. Ow.

Maya may have cancer

Maya's X-Ray Maya’s situation is much worse than we originally thought.

To the vet’s again yesterday, where an X-ray was done on her abdomen. If you look at Jennifer’s photo of the X-ray, it’s hard to see what, if anything, the problem is (click through for annotations), but the vet found something: a growth where no growth should be, about the size of a kidney. Almost certainly a tumour, and probably cancer, either lymphatic or intestinal. The former is certainly worse, but neither is exactly good. Whatever it is, it explains her inappetance.

Maya’s prognosis is poor. After four weeks of vomiting and not eating — she’s been losing about a pound a week — she does not have the strength to make her odds of surviving a biopsy any good. (The problem is the anaesthetic.) We’re giving her cortisone in hopes of shrinking the growth. It’s really her only chance of recovering to the point where a biopsy could be performed with a reasonable chance of success. Otherwise, I don’t think we have much choice but to put her down.

Another vet appointment on Monday, where another X-ray will confirm whether the mass is shrinking. That will determine what happens next.

She’s not even six years old, so of course I’m bothered by this.

Take a Valium

So the vet’s opinion is that Maya has been entirely too lethargic — and, more worrisome, not eating enough. Essentially: she may be anorexic. After puking nonstop for a week, she ended up with no real volition to eat, is the hypothesis. She’s gotten pretty gaunt in the meantime.

So Maya’s now getting Valium. You heard right: apparently one of its side effects in cats is that it acts as a strong appetite stimulant. Half an hour after getting the pill (oh fun), she’s actually interested in eating. And, more to the point, eats. Assist-feeding of the high-calorie cat food still continues, but hopefully she’ll get enough nourishment that she’ll stop looking so frail and listless.

Getting her back to her active self is going to take a while.

Jack Graham

With today’s Equity comes news that Jack Graham, the long-time mayor of Bristol (a rural municipality just east of here), died of cancer on Saturday at Shawville hospital; he was 65. I met Jack (and his wife and his son) during my brief journalistic career, and always found him affable, if a bit gruff, and absolutely dedicated to his community — he had a reputation for getting things done for Bristol, let me tell you, from new buildings to highway paving.

Bill 184 and herps in captivity: a first approximation

This entry is about the potential impact of Bill 184, An Act to protect species at risk and to make related changes to other Acts, which was introduced yesterday in the Ontario Legislature, on the keeping of native reptiles and amphibians in captivity in that province. Some of what follows may have application beyond that, but bear in mind that my focus is deliberately limited.

Bill 184 does affect the legality of keeping native reptiles and amphibians in captivity in Ontario, especially if the species in question are listed as endangered, threatened or, to a lesser extent, species of special concern on the list of Ontario’s species at risk. In general, the new Act parallels the existing prohibitions and requirements of the current Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997 (1997, c. 41), but is more restrictive on several points.

The text of the bill is available online as a PDF file. Follow along as I go through some of the details.

But before I go on, a disclaimer: this is based on a quick first look. And, while I’ve worked as a paralegal and am comfortable looking at legislation, I am not a lawyer and anything I could say about this bill could be totally wrong. Don’t base any decisions on what I write here.

Continue reading this entry »

New endangered species legislation in Ontario

New endangered species legislation introduced today in Ontario; see also backgrounder and notice of proposal. The text of the bill does not seem to be available yet.

It will be interesting to see if this new legislation will have any impact on reptile and amphibian keepers above and beyond the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997, which has done double duty as a kind of species protection act to compensate for the quite-dated endangered species legislation last updated in 1984, but which does, I think, a journeyman’s job of regulating human interactions with sensitive species. (Penalties under the FWCA for killing, capturing, or selling protected species have a stiffness equivalent to other endangered-species laws.)

The main issues appear to be questions of land stewardship, habitat protection and the mechanism by which status is evaluated — none of these is addressed by the FWCA.

If anything, I expect changes to differentiate between levels of endangeredness, above and beyond what has already occurred in the regulations. See the list of species at risk in Ontario.

I’ll follow up when I have a chance to look at the bill itself.

Maya on the mend

Maya asleep Maya is finally on the mend. She’s not quite back to her old self yet; for the past week she’s been doing little else but sleep, and we’re still syringing high-calorie cat food into her to make sure she gets enough nourishment. But it’s been a long ordeal for all of us.

When Jen left for New Brunswick on the 3rd I was left to look after the cat myself for the week. I was pretty apprehensive about this — I’d never, for example, given a cat a pill before — but was reasonably game. I mean, hell, I’ve pulled retained eyecaps off water snakes. How bad could it be?

Continue reading this entry »

Persona’s problems

Persona is my ISP. For the past two days I — and every other Persona customer — have been suffering from seriously degraded connectivity: about half the addresses I would try to reach would simply not resolve. DNS seemed fine, but ping averages were occasionally high. Five different calls to five different tech support agents yielded a different answer each time (the core router was frequently fingered), but the final answer seems to be that Persona was having issues with a new upstream provider that they switched to on Monday. Everything seems fine this morning, though, so I’m crossing my fingers.

Health care in the Outaouais

Proof that health care in the Outaouais does indeed suck: Gatineau’s hospital scored the lowest in L’Actualité’s report on 86 Quebec hospitals, with a score of 32 per cent. Hull’s wasn’t much better, at 42 per cent.

Note, however, that the hospital in Shawville scored 87 per cent. We’re enough of a health-care bright spot in this region that our doctors and our hospital have their hands full with patients from the city — exactly the opposite of what you’d expect from a rural hospital. Of course, when you recall that a large number of Gatineau residents simply cross the river to Ontario for their medical care, you quickly realize just how dire the situation must be.

The hospital spokesman protests that the data are out of date and that the situation is different. This is the usual bureaucratic defence: our more recent, internal numbers are different and show we’ve improved. Of course, the public numbers usually run a year or two behind, so it’s a perfect defence: no matter how bad the numbers look, you can always say they’ve improved, so long as no one remembers what you said last year. Sir Humphrey would be pleased.

More evidence of an early mating season

You may recall that I had decided to retire Pretzel as a breeder, and planned to move her to a separate cage before breeding season. Well, heh heh, you know, a funny thing happened: breeding season came about six weeks early, before I’d gotten around to moving her out. Trouser pounced on her on March 3. (Apologies for the late report: I’ve had a bit of a week.) I’ve never seen it earlier than April — but then I’ve never gone without hibernating them before. You’d think that not hibernating them might depress the libido, but apparently corn snakes have other ideas. Now what?

No pictures of the event; I’ve got enough photographic evidence of his (and other snakes’) prior copulatory shenanigans.

Previously: Black pine snakes, giving us something to talk about.

Nikon D40x

Nikon D40 Nikon has just introduced the D40x, a camera very similar to the D40 but with a few added features: 10 megapixels instead of six; three frame-per-second continuous shooting instead of 2½, and a minimum ISO of 100 instead of 200.

As a D40 owner, am I suddenly annoyed and envious, in the tradition of everyone who owns kit that has been ostensibly superceded? No. For one thing, this is an intermediate model between the D40 and D80, not a replacement. But there are two main reasons I’m not bothered:

  1. The D40x costs $250 more (in Canada) than the D40.
  2. The D40x’s enhancements are not the ones that would have been of interest to me; I’d still have to upgrade to a D80 to get those enhancements (not that I need them yet, but still).

So I’m still perfectly happy with my camera kit. I still have much to learn before I start to feel I’ve outgrown it.

More interesting for my purposes is the announcement of this 55-200-mm telephoto lens with vibration reduction for only $340 — only a $100 premium over the similar lens without VR.

More: Engadget, Gizmodo, Let’s Go Digital.

Sicker cat

Maya has not improved, so today she went to the vet, who pronounced her severely dehydrated and put her on a fast IV drip. Her illness is presumably viral, rather than something she ate, but in the past three days she’s gotten herself into a negative feedback loop: vomiting begets dehydration (especially if you can’t ingest water orally), dehydration begets more vomiting. She looks like hell at the moment, but she should be on the mend shortly.