Cats and snakes in the wild

Bob writes, “I just heard the debate on KQED’s Forum regarding the Sharp Park Golf Course. One of the speakers said that cats may be the principle killer of the [San Francisco Garter] Snake. Do you know if this is a valid statement and if so what is being done to stop the cats?”

Bob’s referring to the debate over Sharp Park, a golf course owned by the City of San Francisco (but is located in nearby Pacifica) that serves as habitat for the endangered San Francisco garter; I covered the story on here and here.

But he’s also talking about the impact that feral and domestic cats have on local wildife populations, which has been an increasing concern among conservationists. No matter how tame, cats are born hunters; if left outside, they will do what they do best. And with 100 million cats in the United States alone, that adds up to a lot of dead wildlife. From the fact sheet Facts on Cats and Wildlife: A Conservation Dilemma:

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Better photos, worse photos

Doofus 1

Here’s a picture of Doofus, taken while I was messing around with my new lens. Not that the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D is itself new per se: it first came out in 1988, and is old enough that its instruction sheet refers only to film cameras. But it’s relatively inexpensive (and even at that I got a reasonably good deal on a new lens via eBay) and it generates really good results. I’ve been thinking about a new lens for a while, but it’s taken me a while to make up my mind about which one to get first. Looking forward to taking pictures of something other than our cats with it.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been using the Canon PowerShot SD 780 IS (see previous entry), and not always when I should — i.e., at home, indoors, without a flash, in low light. Let me tell you: four years shooting nothing but digital SLRs really makes you forget how much noise is in an image generated by a compact camera with a tiny sensor in low light with high ISOs. Really, it’s an outdoor camera. I have to remind myself of that.

Doofus encounters memory foam

“Well,” said a friend upon watching the above video, “that’s one way to keep the cats off the bed!”

(We added a memory foam topper to our new king-sized futon bed. Hilarity, as you might have inferred, ensued.)

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Cat vs. paper

I know some cats like to shred rolls of toilet paper and paper towels, but the Doofus is particularly fanatic about it. You cannot leave any toilet paper or paper towel roll out anywhere in this house, for any length of time, before he silently and methodically tears it apart. None of my cats has ever done this before, so I’m insufficiently trained, but Jennifer’s cat in Baie-Comeau, Fritz, did this as well. Every so often (like today), I slip up and have to clean up the confetti.

Caturday: It’s tussle time!

Tussling cats 3

I know what you’re thinking: “Enough with the astronomy bullshit, Jon. Give us some goddamn cat pictures!” Well, okay. I took a bunch of pictures yesterday of our gruesome twosome, who decided to have fun wrestling on the kitchen floor. They tussle all the time — it’s one reason why there are clumps of cat hair all over the house — but I hadn’t had my camera ready to catch them in the act. I wonder why they looked so guilty afterward.

Caturday and the passage of time

Snuggling cats

In honour of Caturday, here’s a recent picture, taken by Jennifer, of Doofus, who continues to grow, and Goober, who is merely enormous. He’s catching up, as you can see.

Speaking of cats, Jennifer got a strange e-mail the other day. It went like this (typos intact):

Hello I am sorry to hear that your meow passed away. Please do not feed any of your other cats choclate. The same thing can happen to dogs if you feed them choclate goods. Unfourtanly the cat wouldn’t know any diffrent. It is quite possable that your cat has pased away due to the cookie. You can consult your vet to ask what choclate can do to a cat or dog for a clear reasion why. Since you in to since you would under stand the ingreadent that would effect the pet. sorry once again.

Nice, eh? “Sorry about your cat dying. By the way, it’s all your fault.” I don’t think you can find a better definition of asshole out there.

But here’s the thing. Our boy Brian (that’s his name) is referring to this picture of Maya appearing to eat a chocolate chip cookie. The problem for his nasty little theory is that it was taken in November 2004. Maya died in March 2007. It’s kind of ridiculous to argue that chocolate chip cookies are so toxic to cats that a single bite can kill them — but that it’ll take two and a half years to take effect. Asshat.

This is an example of something I’ve been noticing lately about some of the e-mail I get about my sites. No matter how old a blog entry or a page is, some people write in as though it went up yesterday — there’s no sense, in other words, that any time has passed. To take another example, the Ringneck Diary is five years old, but I still get e-mail from people who write in as though it’s current and ongoing. The present participle, in other words.

I wonder if I need to make things more clear. But then, an awareness of the passage of time is not our boy Brian’s main problem. Tact comes to mind. Decency. And, you know, literacy.

Caturday: kittens and snakes

Cat and snake

When people find out we have both cats and snakes, they ask whether the two kinds of animals get along. If the snakes ever got out — and I haven’t had an escape in almost six years — the cats would almost certainly make quick work of them. But through the glass, it’s a little different.

Kittens are extremely interested in snakes, and will examine them at close range. Goober, when young, sat on a lot of cage lids, which required us to upgrade them to something stronger (he broke the 50-gallon tank lid, which is now held together with fishing line; fortunately, the box turtle it now houses is not much of an escape risk). And snakes that have never once bitten a human being, such as Trouser (our male anerythristic Corn Snake) and the Baird’s Rat Snake, were striking at him as he watched. After a while, though, he grew out of it; adult cats (at least the ones we’ve had) aren’t as interested.

But now it’s Doofus’s turn to harass and bother the snakes, who are now freaking out at him

’Tis but a scratch

So, the Doofus was de-nutted on Wednesday. Didn’t seem to slow him down any: by the time I saw him that evening, he was just as psycho as he normally is, if a bit wobblier. He’s still a playing, bouncing machine. I guess just being a kitten has more of an impact than whether or not he owns a pair of testicularities.

Cut his balls off, quick!

For Caturday, a couple of items about the new kitten, which — in case you haven’t heard — we’ve named “Doofus.” (“Spazz” was already taken by the female blue-striped garter snake.)

  • He’s more than doubled his weight since his arrival.
  • He attacks shadows on the wall. I’m tempted to take a picture of him in mid-air and LOLcat it thusly: “Ranger cat fights da shadowz.”
  • We wake up with strange and unexplained scratches. Devious cat is not to be trusted.
  • He set off a minor panic earlier this week when he peed on the guest bed. We’re crossing our fingers that it was a case of overexcited loss of bladder control.
  • He goes in to get fixed on March 19. Given the foregoing, that cannot happen soon enough. Snip snip, settle down.

A cat update

Grooming So far, the cats seem to be getting along quite well; Goober’s acceptance of the new kitten is actually better than expected, and certainly better than we’ve seen with other cats. The kitten did manage to give his right eyelid a scratch, which necessitated a trip to the vet last week. There we learned that Goober was now in excess of nine kilograms (20 lbs) — a couple of kilos more than we thought he was. Hopefully, the presence of the new kitten — who incidentally is a playing machine who likes nothing better than to pounce on me in the middle of the night — will help him work off a bit of the excess flab.

And no, we still haven’t settled on a name. We have some candidates, but nothing’s stuck yet.

Back up to full complement

You knew that, once Maya died, we wouldn’t be a one-cat household forever. Jennifer doesn’t work that way. So say hello to our new arrival: a two-month old male kitten. We’re not sure what to call him yet; I’m open to suggestions. He’s courtesy one of Jennifer’s co-workers, who had a litter on hand. Extremely playful and looks to be well-socialized, if a little shy and jumpy so far (which is to be expected). Goober’s responding to the intrusion better than the average cat would. (He’s never looked so huge in comparison, at more than six times the kitten’s weight.)

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.

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.

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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.

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?

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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.

Sick cat

Maya has come down with something; she’s been barfing for two days. A trip to the vet may be in order unless her stomach settles down. Over the phone, the vet suggested administering Pepto-Bismol through a syringe, and if you know Maya you can guess how well that went.

Having a cat barf for two days straight isn’t as bad as it sounds, especially when there’s nothing left to bring up. (Hardwood floors help.) Having a cat miss the litter box when she’s trying to pee just once — now that’s something unpleasant.

Tired of all the cat-blogging yet?

Goober in the kitchen Goober got a clean bill of health from the vet yesterday. Paw damage is superficial and will heal up eventually. He’s lost about a pound and a half since his last checkup, which doesn’t sound like much, except that it’s 10 per cent of his body mass: in human terms, that’d be like losing 18 to 25 pounds in a week. But he had weight to lose. Every day he seems to gain a little more vitality, and Maya hisses at him a little less.

Cat retrieval aftermath

Goober returned from his week-long adventure with surprisingly few scars. He’s got some blisters on his toes, and he’s lost quite a bit of weight. We’ll have him into the vet on Saturday as a precaution, but it looks like he’s got a cold: he’s running a bit of a temperature if his ears and paws are any indication, and he’s also sneezing and coughing up phlegm even more than usual (remember, we named him “Goober” for a reason: he’s always been a bit of a sneezy cat).

Goober, drying One thing we were able to do reasonably quickly: give him a bath. Goober was quite filthy, covered in the grit and soot and grime that he no doubt picked up from spending a week in the junkyard of a gas station-slash-snowmobile dealership. Our usual method of bathing cats involves a pitcher and the tub, since we don’t have a handheld shower head, but we manage. We missed a few spots, but at least he’s cleaner, if not totally clean.

He’s not eating as much as he used to. He’s been spending most of his time sleeping, which isn’t a surprise — he might be sleeping off his cold as well as his exhaustion.

Maya, however, is pissed: after more than two years of living with Goober, it takes one week apart for her to start hissing and growling at him. I think she got used to having the place to herself.

Found him!

Found him!

We spotted him a few moments ago mucking about the yard of Bean’s, the service station/snowmobile dealership across the lane from us. We ran over and cornered him inside an old freezer unit, where, with a couple of employees helping us, Jen was able to retrieve him.

He’s filthy, but alive. And not a moment too soon: the overnight low is now forecast for -31°C.

And now he’s acting like he never left …

The cat came back, my ass

Since my last report, Goober came back to our back porch twice to eat the food we’d set out for him: once between 12 and 2 PM on Saturday, which Jen missed because she was asleep (we’ve been getting very little sleep lately), and once at 1 AM on Sunday, when Jen spotted him but couldn’t catch him — as soon as she opened the door, he was off.

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Worried sick is not just an expression

When I found out that Goober had disappeared, I did not know where (or how far) he had gone, whether he had been picked up by someone or was still out in the cold somewhere, or even whether he was still alive. Those with more experience with wayward cats — including Jennifer, David and many other friends and coworkers — said that frequently cats would come back after a few days’ adventuring, and that this was likely to be the case with Goober. After all, he’d been fixed, so he wouldn’t wander as much as a tom; and since he still had his claws, he could defend himself as needed. So, odds were, he was alive, all right, probably having the time of his life, and would turn up eventually. I could appreciate the likelihood, but — as is so frequently the case with me — what I can appreciate intellectually and what I feel are frequently at odds.

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One of our cats is missing

The computer finally got fixed yesterday, so all is well at that end.

Cat with mouse But there’s a new problem: Goober got out either Monday night or Tuesday morning, and we haven’t seen him since. If you’re in the Shawville area, keep an eye out for him, would you? Jen is used to having cats come back after a few days; I’m not, so I’m a bit more frantic about this than she is. Actually, “frantic” is a bit of an understatement. So is “apoplectic,” for that matter.

Saturday night animal fun

Saturday night: the corn snakes get busy; Jennifer comes home from an open house — well, an open barn — smelling like cow, at which point Goober, who must have spent some of his youth in a barn, immediately tries to eat her hair.

How cats file

Somebody please explain when cats learned how to file. We pull plastic springs out from under the fridge and stove, but toy mice from under the living room shelving. They’re sorting their toys as they lose them?

Devil cat

Kittens in the second half of their first year are nothing but trouble: think kittenish freakouts in an adult cat body. Also, they haven’t figured out their limits yet. Getting a cat to stop doing something is no small feat in itself, but it’s an extra challenge with Goober. He simply doesn’t know fear. I’m not kidding: he doesn’t even run from the vacuum cleaner. Try training a cat like that. Yell at him and he doesn’t even flinch.

We’ve been trying to make him leave the snakes alone. Maya’s quite inured to the presence of wriggly things inside cages, and doesn’t make any serious attempts on them. Then again, she is pretty listless. But Goober hasn’t gotten used to them yet. Time and again, he’s pouncing on top of their cages, freaking them out to no end. Scaring my poor critters!

Trouser, my male corn snake, who’s never struck at a human being, took a swing at Goober through the glass a while back (obviously, before hibernation). When we moved the female hognose snake into a 15-gallon tank (larger digs), he scared her so much that her hood stayed flattened all day. Put her off her feed, of course. These are captive-bred snakes, well accustomed to human contact, and even they know that cats is trouble.

Today, whilst farting around on the computer, I heard a snake’s tail vibrate in a cage behind me. Snakes don’t have to be rattlers to buzz their tails when they’re scared. I looked around, and there was Goober, sitting on top of the (empty) corn snake cage, bothering the Baird’s rat snake as he was dangling off the inside of his lid. (He does that.) A yell, a swat, and a timeout in the bathroom for Goober.

I keep telling myself that it’s natural for his age, and that he’ll grow out of it.

Tonight he got into the catnip in one of the kitchen cupboards. Spread it all over the kitchen floor. How is this going to be a disincentive to him jumping on the counter?

Right now he and Maya are tussling and bouncing off one another. That’s better, cats: beat each other up. (Actually, it’s surprising how well they get along with one another.)

And now we have a fish. Who knows what’s going to happen next.

Cookie monster

Cookie monster
Originally uploaded by mcwetboy.

Our cats are incorrigible mooches — the incorrigibility depends on what they’re mooching. Chocolate chip cookies? That was a surprise …

You have no idea how impossible it is to eat a meal unmolested in this house.

A cat update

“Goober” seems to be the name that is settling upon our new arrival; we’ve bounced it and a few other ideas off other people and “Goober” gets the best reaction. He still has a head full of phlegm and a runny nose — he’s getting antibiotics as a result — so the name is not exactly inappropriate at the moment.

A bit of excitement earlier this week as he started shitting in inconvenient places, but, since we moved one of the litter boxes to the bathroom and the food dishes to the kitchen, based on suggestions from the Googling around we did on the subject, wayward shitting has not reoccurred.

He’s also got a voracious appetite and is just as pathetic a moocher as Maya is.

Note: Entries prior to November 2003 did not have categories assigned to them, and are not included in category archives; please consult the monthly archives.