Friday, November 30, 2012

When your cat is hit by a car

Cat sleeping beneath a parked car
Beorn in happier days.
Cars are loud, smelly and unpredictable. Cats of sound mind would know this, and as a result, they'd run like hell when they even saw a car coming. Out of the three cats who live outside on this property, there's only one who is smart enough to follow this rule: Franklin. Just start the car and he runs off at top speed. It's something I like.

Beorn and Jasper, on the other hand, seem to think of the car as the delivery device for the people they love, and as a result, they tend to run *at* the car when it's heading into the driveway. I've been terrified about this for years, and this week, many of my fears came true.

It gets dark in Salem quite early these days, so it's hard to see Beorn in the evenings. I didn't see the incident go down, even though I was walking back toward the house when it happened. From what I can piece together, Beorn ran at the car when my husband was backing into the driveway, and in the process, he got clipped.

Cats that are hurt tend to hide. They seem to think that they'll be killed on the spot if they show weakness, so they'd rather head for the hills instead of asking for help. We only realized that Beorn had been hit when he didn't arrive for dinner on schedule. After a few moments of hollering, he came staggering out from underneath the deck, and I whipped him over to the emergency vet.

Most altercations between a cat and a car result in nasty cat injuries involving gravel and scraping. Wounds are pretty easy to spot because they're typically wide open and bleeding. But, cats can also develop internal injuries that are harder to spot, especially if they're just nudged or bumped by a car. Cats like this may only show up with pain-related symptoms like growling or limping or hiding. This is the scenario we're dealing with right now.

At the emergency vet, Beorn was able to stand upright and hobble about, but he had a pretty bad limp on his right rear leg and he was none too pleased about having that leg messed with. The vet didn't feel any broken bones or dysfunction and Beorn seemed just shaken but okay, so I took him home with some pain meds.

Since that time, I think he's gotten a little worse. He's not eating, so I'm force-feeding him canned food mixed with water. He's hiding and pacing, instead of lying comfortably. And sometimes, I would swear he's hallucinating as he mewls at things that I can't see. He's also smacking his lips quite a bit, which might be nausea or more hallucinating. It's hard to tell.

Tomorrow, we go back to the vet for a followup check and it's likely we'll have a series of x-rays done. At this point, things aren't looking good for Beorn. Cats who won't eat and who seem to be searching for a safe place to hide seem a lot like cats who are just trying to die. I'm hoping we can get some answers, and provide him with some sort of will to keep fighting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yes, we feed the squirrels!

A squirrel feeder in a tall tree at sunrise
This front-yard feeder isn't getting much use quite yet.
Almost 2 years ago, I went to a community meeting held by the Portland Audubon Society, hoping to find out more about how to react to the coyotes I'd seen in the neighborhood. While that meeting was informative and I learned a lot, there was one little side comment that stuck with me, and it's hounded me a bit since then.

The speaker at this meeting mentioned possible legislation that would make feeding coyotes illegal, and in the next breath, he mentioned that he'd like to see similar legislation passed for squirrels. Yup, he suggested that squirrels shouldn't be getting a free handout in Portland-area homes.

I was a little scandalized. I have always loved feeding squirrels, as they reward your little investment of corn with huge leaps through the air and amazing chattering noises. When I lived in Walla Walla, I had two separate feeders, and I'd watch the little critters stuff their cheeks with food as I sipped my morning coffee. With squirrel feeders in place, I didn't have to worry about these guys stealing my bird food, and I liked the idea of helping outdoor animals enjoy a bit more free time. I never even considered that I might be doing something that would, perhaps, be considered illegal.

The idea behind NOT feeding squirrels, from what I can tell, comes from native-species protectionists. Apparently, most of the squirrels we have in Oregon are actually invasive species that came here from other parts of the country, and they don't really need our encouragement in order to stay here.

I can see why we might not want to protect non-native species, but on the other hand, I don't see why reducing available food would help native species to do better. I can't find a native/non-native squirrel feeder on the market. If you feed one, you feed them all. Perhaps my food is helping the natives to survive.

The Society also mentions, in this article, that squirrels that take food from feeders become acclimated to human interactions, and this can make the animals more prone to becoming pests and/or doling out injuries. This is the same thinking behind the coyote interventions. If the coyotes are fed, they learn to trust us, and this is when a coyote/human fight is more likely to result in an injury or a death.

I get it, but honestly, I've never seen a tame squirrel. I've seen coyotes in the Beaumont neighborhood in Portland that will just stand there as you walk by, not concerned at all, but every squirrel I've seen breaks into a run or starts chattering when I'm visible. I don't see how a few bits of food could change squirrel behavior so dramatically.

So, good or bad, I'm feeding the damn squirrels. I have a feeder in the big tree in front, right next to a branch that's perfect for sitting, and I have another in the back yard, next to the roof of the shed. The back-yard feeder is pretty popular at the moment, but the front yard set isn't getting any action. It's been raining like crazy, however, so perhaps my furry friends are all holed up waiting for better weather. When they come out, I'll be ready with more treats. Just try to stop me!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Diagnosing dog vision loss: How do you know when your dog can't see?

Liam the pug in the sun
Liam basking in the sun.
My new workroom features two glass doors that point right down the driveway to the street. Liam's favorite new spot (not surprisingly) is right in front of those doors. Here, he can rest in the sun almost all day long, and he can keep an eye out for intruders who might be tempted to walk up the driveway unannounced. I keep telling him that pug barks are far from menacing, but he doesn't seem to get the message.

He's been delivering more and more of those pug barks, and unfortunately, I think his vision might be to blame. When our outdoor cats are about 10 to 15 feet away, sauntering down the driveway, Liam will bark and bark and bark, stopping only when the cats are about 2 feet away and he can recognize them. He also barks at my husband at the 8-foot mark, stopping only when the distance between dog and man closes to about 1 foot. Liam has also become more apt to shy away from garbage bags, lawn ornaments and people as we're on our walks, and he only seems to get comfortable when he's nearly standing on top of the things that once caused him fear.

Liam still motors around the house just fine, and he has no difficulty finding his toys, his food or his water dish. Since I live with a blind cat, I'm also not worried about living with a blind dog. Should he totally lose his vision, we would all figure out a way to adjust. But I am a little worried about what's going on here, and what can be done about it.

Liam's eyes are completely clear, free of any blurring or hazing, so I'm not sure cataracts are the issue. His eyes are also not full of tears or unusually dry or red. They look just as they always do, and the pupils are completely responsive to light. I would think a standard exam wouldn't show anything at all, since his eyes do seem to be so remarkably normal.

Canine ophthalmologists often set up elaborate mazes for dogs, asking them to walk through an unfamiliar collection of obstacles to measure vision. These are apparently pretty effective tests, but I would think a dog could use other senses, including smell and hearing, to manipulate those results. But if this vision loss continues, I may have to sign up Liam for something like this. I may try a test at home, in fact, just to see how well he can actually see. If he's just being protective, I won't worry. But if he really can't see, we might need to make some plans for the future.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cat decorating: Ideal number and placement of litter boxes

Two cats playing side and seek
Maggie and Lucy playing a quick game of hide-and-seek.
Managing a multi-cat household can be trying, at times. While cats do tend to entertain one another, devising little games to burn off energy and then sleeping together in a pile when nap time rolls around, each cat seems to have personalized preferences and specialized needs that have to be addressed. Many of these demands have to do with litter boxes.

When I moved into this house, I had hoped we could keep all of the litter boxes in the basement. I set up two boxes down there, one with clay litter for Lucy and one with sawdust litter for Eamon and Maggie, and I placed both boxes in semi-private spaces. My cats avoid litter boxes in high-traffic areas, and they'll bolt out of the box with their work half-done if they're surprised. Placing the boxes in faraway corners would make them happy, I reasoned, and it would make me happy as they wouldn't be anywhere in which I planned to spend time.

Unfortunately, I forgot the ultimate rule regarding boxes: There should be a box on each floor.

Leaving the boxes in the basement led to an unhappy Lucy. This makes sense, as she's blind and getting all the way downstairs and then back up again is a lot of work for her. When mealtime is near, she sometimes doesn't want to make the trip, and she'd just let fly wherever she happened to be standing.

My solution should make the both of us happy. I have a litter box on the main floor, but it's right by the front door. She has a box she can use, but should she need (ahem) an extra amount of time in order to do something monumental, it's likely she'll head downstairs to do so, as she's likely to get spooked upstairs. At least, that's the hope.

I should also mention that some experts claim that households should have one more box that could be used as a spare. Technically, with three boxes and three cats, I'm one short. For me, having four boxes is overkill. When I had three boxes and two cats, one box was consistently ignored. Some cats might be pickier than mine, but I've never needed a spare.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dealing with cat bullies: Managing a colony of outdoor cats

Franklin the feral cat resting on top of the hot tub
Franklin rests on top of the hot tub.
The new neighborhood is home to several outdoor cats, and it seems as though this house was once primo turf. The first few weeks I was here, I noticed many different cats wandering through the yard, and most of them took off at a fast clip when they realized new neighbors had moved in and claimed the land. Most of these pet cats aren't too eager to fight.

There is one cat, however, who seems to be an exception.

This brown-and-black tabby (which I call "Marble," because he has a whirled pattern on his sides) has decided that my yard is his yard, and all of my cats need to clear out to give him room. He stomps into the yard from the alley behind, and the fighting begins.

The first fight took place about 2 weeks ago, when Jasper took on this cat right at the fence line. The punches were pretty fast and furious, but Marble was a little afraid of me and took off a few short moments after he saw me.

Round 1 goes to the Dion household.

The second fight happened on or around the same day, and this time, Marble came into the yard in the thick of the night and went after poor Franklin right by the back door. I've never seen Franklin fight, and I'm not sure he knows how to fight, so he just screamed for help. Marble took off again, as soon as I opened the door.

Round 2 goes to Marble.

The third round took place over a period of about 48 hours, when Marble and Beorn got into a series of three separate fights. These were nasty, silent fights in which both cats had their claws dug in and their teeth bared, and they weren't spending any energy on making noise. These are absolutely terrifying. I broke up all three of these fights with a water gun, and Beorn had a bloody ear after the last round.

I'm calling this one a draw.

Dealing with a neighborhood bully like this is hard. I can't ask his owners to keep him inside, as I'm clearly not keeping my cats inside. I can't train him not to fight, because I want him to keep out of my yard and think of me as frightening. In order to train him, I'd have to be his friend, and this runs counter to my goals. I can't even train my own cats not to fight, as Marble is the aggressor in most of these cases. I don't want them to be attacked and feel unable to fight back.

Over the weekend, I blocked the hole in the fence to the alley with some dead plants, and I've been training the dog to pee on that spot both in the morning and at night. The one time I saw Marble, I squirted him with water as he ran away. So far, he's not been back. If he does come back, however, I'm filling that squirt bottle with lemon juice and cayenne pepper.

Cat fights can be loud and unpleasant, but they can also be deadly. Tiny puncture marks from claws and teeth can harbor bacteria that can lead to infections. If those aren't caught and treated, cats can die. I don't want my cats dealing with this, of course, but I also don't want Marble to deal with an infection, either. I'm prepared to get a little nasty just to ensure that it doesn't happen.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A rant about cat sales

A truck used for selling cats
Yup, they're really selling cats out of a mobile home.

It all started with a pretty innocent trip for groceries. Turns out, I could have picked up more than basic meat and veggies. Smack in the middle of the Fred Meyer parking lot on Sunday, this man set up shop, selling Persian kittens for $1,000 and up.

"You want to come inside and see some pretty kitties?"

That's what the man inside this mobile home shouted at me when I got a little closer with my camera. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I was snapping a photo only because I had planned to post a rant and rave about him on the web.

This thing really hacks me off.

This morning, when I ran a quick search on Petfinder for cats close to the 97301 zip code, I came back with 1,971 hits. That's worth repeating: There are close to 2,000 cats in the Salem area that I know need new homes. Many more are hiding in vacant houses, in private homes or in private shelters that don't use Petfinder, all hoping someone will choose them and take them home. No listing I saw asked for $1,000 in exchange. Even the few Persians I found through this site weren't associated with such high adoption fees.

I know. I know. Purebred cats may "cost" more because they come with extensive paperwork, and they can be used in breeding programs. I am well acquainted with this, as I have a purebred dog myself. However, reputable breeders do not sell their cats out of mobile homes in the middle of a parking lot. They breed only to better the breed, and they do so rather rarely. Kittens are a rarity, and there are long waiting lists for these kittens. People must sign contracts and endure home visits before they can take the kittens. These little guys are also health tested before they're sent to their homes.

Reputable dog and cat breeders follow all of these steps. Guys who sell cats out of mobile homes are unlikely to do anything like this. I'm pretty sure I could have walked out with an armload of semi-healthy cats, no home visits or contracts required, as long as my check didn't bounce.

In addition, reputable breeders rarely ask for adoption fees that are much higher than those charged by a rescue organization. Buy a pug from a reputable breeder, you pay about $800. Adopt a pug from the Humane Society, you pay about $600. The purebred is more expensive, but not by much. This guy's price of a grand is, from what I can tell, about double or even triple what the rescue organizations charge. That seems like greed to me.

I'm thankful that this man didn't seem to have any customers. Perhaps people didn't have an extra $1,000 in their wallets after buying food for their families. But he must have had at least one sale in the past, as he seems to think he has a winning business model. Otherwise, he'd be selling somewhere else.

All I can ask you is this: Please don't support breeding programs like this.

Just don't do it.

Every kitten sold deprives another of a home, and every kitten sold means another win for a guy selling cats out of a mobile home. We can all do better.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dealing with outdoor-only cats

Jasper and Beorn looking through the back door
"Why can't we come inside?"
Beorn, Jasper and Franklin are semi-feral, outdoor-only cats. They have heated beds, warm and enclosed spaces, litter boxes and fresh water. Every night, they're escorted to an enclosure and shut in for the night, to ensure that they don't get into fights with the neighborhood cats. In essence, they have basically everything a little cat might need in order to be happy and healthy in the world. However, I find that they spend a lot of time looking inside the windows.

This house has windows in many of the doors, and often, those windows are quite close to the floor. Beorn and Jasper have become excellent guilt-trippers, sitting by these windows all day long and meowing at me as I walk past. It breaks my heart, even thought I know I'm doing the right thing by keeping them outside.

Franklin is feral, so he doesn't want to come inside at all, but Beorn and Jasper are inveterate peeing machines. Give them the option to pee on something, and they'll do it. I have no idea where they picked up this behavior, but I do know that it's something they can't be trained out of. I spent many, many, MANY months trying to do just that and I had absolutely no success.

These guys are also really territorial, apt to fight with any cats they view as interlopers. Within about two weeks of moving to a new community they had asserted their dominance and now I see few, if any, neighborhood cats strolling through the yard. Before these guys arrived, it was common to see five or six strange cats in the yard every day. Since these cats are territorial, I don't know what they'd do to the indoor crew. Lucy, in particular, would be at risk since she is blind and pretty much unable to defend herself against attackers. If I let Beorn and Jasper inside, the indoor cats are likely to be seriously injured in the process.

So while it's best for the health of the cat community, and the health of my husband and I, for these cats to stay outside, and I can remind myself that they have it pretty good outside, these cats still seem to get me with their pleading eyes. I wish I could make them stop.