Monday, July 30, 2012

If I had an Animal Diary, this is where it would begin.

Last week, when my 19 year-old cat, Risty, was dying, I got to ticking off blocks of time measured in pets. Butch, a wired-haired fox terrier, was my parents' dog before I was born, but he became mine. 

Though Butch was my daily companion from the time I learned to walk, only two times with him are still stark and clear--the story that follows and the day he died. That day, he ran up our front porch steps ahead of me and collapsed in a spreading circle of his own urine. It was the early 50s, and either my Midwestern parents didn't know about Florida mosquitoes and heart-worms, or there was no preventive treatment back then. I'll never know, but Butch was my first pet to die, and in my first decade of life.

At the time this portion of my memoir takes place, we lived in Maitland, FL (north of Orlando.) The Eatonville cemetery separated our rental house from one of the first all-Black towns to be formed after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and was incorporated on August 15, 1887. Zora Neale Hurston grew up there. (Wikipedia),_Florida
My Dad w/ Butch on the back of his chair


Butch and my mother

It was dark and Daddy wasn’t home.
Our radio was next to the bread box, and I sat on the kitchen stool waiting for The Shadow to start.
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.”
I lowered the volume when the scary laugh started, and reached to switch on the stove light. I felt braver with a little light. With my elbows on the counter, and my chin on my fist, I leaned as close as I could to hear with the volume so low. Momma promised to kill me if I started the baby crying again. She’d been upstairs for an hour walking the floor with Kristin.
I turned the radio off after the show ended and, for a moment, the only noise was the clock on the stove ticking, then Butch, my dog, sat up to scratch a flea, ringing his tags. He and I heard the crying at the same time. I thought it was Kristin starting up again, but Butch growled.
Someone was sobbing.
            Butch growled again, and I followed the sound of his toenails clicking across the kitchen linoleum out onto the back porch. My parent’s bedroom was directly overhead so I thought it was Momma crying. She always used to get upset and panicky when Daddy was late coming home.
            I stood next to the washing machine, and looked up as if I could see her through the ceiling. Butch went to the door, whined and scratched like he did when he wanted out. I had my hand on the handle, when I saw something move on the other side of the screen. Someone was sitting on the back step. My heart thumpity, thumped as I put my arms around Butch’s neck and pulled him away from the door. Whoever was there was shapeless against the glow that came from our landlord’s porch light.  
Butch broke away and pressed his nose to the screen.
            “I needs help.” It was a colored lady’s voice.
“Momma?” The door to Kristin’s and my room was closed. I opened it a crack. The hinges creaked.
            “Jesus, Ginny.” Momma hissed from the darkness. “What is it?”
I heard her groan as she got up, then a sliver of her face appeared in the crack.
            “There’s a colored lady crying on the back step,” I whispered.
            Momma flung the door wide. “What?”
            “She says she needs help.”
            “Oh my God. Did you lock the door?”
            “Lock what door?”
            “The kitchen door and check the front one, too. Oh my God.” She glanced back at Kristin in her crib, pulled the door closed, and ran on tiptoes to hers and Daddy’s bedroom. “Go,” she snapped at me, then disappeared into their dark room.
            “Please help me,” I heard the woman say, as I shut and locked the kitchen door, then ran through the dining room, across the living room and locked the door that opened onto the front porch.
            Behind me the stairs creaked, and I jumped nearly out of my skin. It was Momma, and she had Daddy’s 38 pistol.
            “Are you going to shoot her?”
            “Don’t be a fool, Ginny, and turn off those lamps. We’re like fish in bowl with all the lights on.”
            I darted from lamp to lamp while Momma crept down the hallway toward the downstairs bathroom. There was a window in there that looked out on the back steps. I tiptoed after her, with Butch behind me, toenails clicking on the pine floor.
            “Should I call Mr. Durham?”
            “What could that old fool do besides get himself knifed?”
            “You think she wants to kill us?”
            “She could be a decoy, trying to lure us out of the house.”
            “For what?”
            “I don’t know. To rob us.”
            “Momma, if there was someone with her, they coulda just come on in. The back door was open and the screen’s not hooked.”
            Momma shushed me, and opened the bathroom window. “What do you want?”
            “Don’t want no trouble, ma’am,” the woman said. “I just needs help. He done broke my arm this time.”
            “I can’t help you. I’m sorry.”
            “Could you call my sister to come get me? She live just down the road.”
            “Yes. I can do that.” Momma waved me out of the room, and down the hall, then called out the number while I dialed it.
Nearly everyone had a party line, but we didn’t. Momma refused to live this far out in the country without a private line when she was pregnant with Kristin. The same was not true for the colored lady’s sister. It took me four tries to get through.
            “Lordy, I was afraid this was gonna happen,” her sister said. “Whereabouts is she?”
            “She’s crying on our porch steps.”
            “And where might those steps be?”
            “We’re the white family on the other side of yall’s cemetery.”
            “Well ain’t you fine people to help. I’ll send brother right down to fetch her.”
            “I’ll tell Momma.” I started to hang up.
            “He’ll be walking,” I heard her say. “So it will take some time.”
            “I’ll tell her,” I said.
            “Can sister walk back, you think?
            “It’s her arm that’s broke; I’ll have to go ask about her legs.” I put the receiver on the table and skipped down the hall.
            Momma was sitting on the toilet seat with the side of her head against the wall. The gun lay on the floor by her right foot. I stepped up on the side of the tub. “Lady,” I whispered, trying not to wake Momma. “Your sister wants to know if your legs are okay? Can you walk back home with your brother when he comes?”
            “I’ll try,” she said.
            I tiptoed back to the phone, and told her sister.
The phone was on a table under the stairs. From where I stood I could see the lake out the front windows, and a car’s headlights coming along the road. We had the only house at this end of the lake, beside the Durham’s. People wanting to go into the town of Eatonville, which was a half mile to our south, didn’t come this way. Our road was dirt; the main road into Eatonville came in from Winter Park and was paved. Even though there was only the colored cemetery between us and Eatonville, our address was Maitland. Momma made sure of that.
Daddy’s car whizzed by the turn off to our garage. Out the dining room window, I saw his brake lights as he stopped the car, reversed and backed up. He turned in, just missing the grapefruit tree and followed the two ruts into the garage. I went through the kitchen, and unlocked the back door. I wanted to see his expression when he found the colored lady sitting on the step. I pulled the string to turn on the light bulb in the porch ceiling. It shone right through the screen onto the back steps. She was gone. 
Daddy had half our backyard to cross as he wove toward the steps. He shaded his eyes against the light. “Is that you, Ginny?”
“Shhhhh, Daddy. You’ll wake the baby.”
He lifted an index finger and waggled it through the air until he found his lips to press it against. “Don’t wake the baby,” he said.
“Did you see the colored lady?”
He stopped. “What colored lady?” He swayed and squinted at the light. 
I wondered if maybe he ran over her out on the road when a floorboard creaked and I turned. Momma was behind me watching Daddy with her arms crossed, the gun in her apron pocket.
I remember thinking ‘poor Daddy.’ But then I was only seven. The tampering with my love for my father was still incomplete.  

Me w/ severely permed hair & Mom, Dad & Butch

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I heard from dozens of you that you signed that petition, and I was especially happy to hear from some of "my kids" who remember Sukari, and continue to speak out against the ongoing abuse of chimpanzees.

The Writers Conference is going well. Today is the last day. If I still have a pulse, I'll find something uplifting to write about next week. Meanwhile, here are a couple pictures from Ron LeValley. You know what a fan I am.

Black-footed Albatross by Ron LeValley
Here's an albatross coming in to land behind the boat.

Black-footed Albatross by Ron LeValley
 When albatross come in to land on the water, they use their feet as air brakes.
This photograph was taken offshore from Fort Bragg, Mendocino County, California on July 15, 2012. The camera was a Canon EOS 7D with Canon 300mm f4 lens
To get on Ron's List to receive a free natural history Picture of the Day in your e-mail, go to
Check out archived OMW photos!

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Rockville 15

I don't do this often, but you know how near and dear the subject of chimpanzees in labratories are to my heart. Here's an opportunity to stop the continued torture of 15 chimps, which are now at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisana, an institution under investigation by the United States Department of Agriculture for an incident in which the decomposing bodies of three monkeys were found trapped in a metal chute. In addition, between 2000 and 2008, 14 infant chimpanzees died as a result of traumatic injury at New Iberia.
Please sign this petition the Director, National Institutes of Health (NIH) (Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.,)

Started by: Elizabeth, Washington, District Of Columbia
We request that you use the considerable influence of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to ensure that the fifteen young chimpanzees used at BIOQUAL, Inc., in Rockville, Md., are released to a sanctuary.

We request the 11 chimpanzees, who were leased by NIH and housed a BIOQUAL, until recently to be transferred from New Iberia Research Center, Louisiana, to Sanctuary and the four remaining chimpanzees (Loretta, Ricky, Tiffany and Torian), being housed at BIOQUAL, Inc, be transferred directly to sanctuary.

These chimpanzees, collectively known as the Rockville 15, range in age from just 2 to 7 years old and were likely born in violation of NIH's own 1995 breeding moratorium.

Considering that they are unnecessary for human health research, as detailed in the recent Institute of Medicine report, they should be released to sanctuary where it is cheaper for you to house them, and a much better environment for these chimpanzees to live. Why condemn these intelligent beings to lives of misery when scientists have clearly stated the benefits of alternative research models?

They must not live out their days in a laboratory that has repeatedly violated the Animal Welfare Act.

We ask you to please ensure that the Rockville 15 are retired to a sanctuary immediately.

You can also check out other popular petitions on by clicking here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My death watch for Risty

Risty with her little brother, Blue

The Mendocino Coast Writers conference starts on Thursday and the committee is in a whirl. I've spent the weekend on a death watch. My 19 year old cat is dying--gently--the way she lived.  She caught one bird in her life --by accident. It landed right in front of her, and she let it go when I told her no.

Risty was one of three kittens found living under a dumpster outside Papa Birds (locals remember PBs!) in Mendocino. A woman trapped all 3, and I gave them a home. Risty is the last.

About 6 or 7 years ago, I lost her the first time. That was also during the Writers conference and Suzanne Byerley, co-director of the conference with me, was in town for our final event together. While she was here, Risty disappeared. I searched and called, checked with Animal Control and the Humane society, but the days ticked by, then the weeks. She'd been gone for 50 days when I heard her come through the cat door. I didn't move, afraid to frighten her away but as soon as she saw me standing there, she began to purr. (She weighed only 5 pounds.)
Six or eight months ago, she put her right eye out. I have no idea how, and we tried to save it, but in the end it had to be removed.

Today, we sat first in the sun, then in the shade. I reminded her of her life: how she played with twin fawns, made friends with a wild turkey, and loved to stalk Gilbert, the Canada goose I raised. I told her how much I've loved her, and that her sisters are waiting. She'd been lying very still, which tricked me into thinking the end was near. I went inside for some cream cheese, her favorite thing and, though she can barely walk, when I came out she'd vanished. She's done this every day since taking this turn last Thursday, only to show up again in the evening. This time I saw where she was headed and tried to follow, but her trail is no more than a tunnel through the sword ferns, and the terrain is almost perpendicular to the creek below. I got as far as the first of two downed trees and had to turn around.

On one level, I'm afraid tonight she won't come back. I wonder if that's where Halley went to die four years ago. It is where I found Gooey's body. Perhaps I was right to tell her they are waiting.

I don't have any pictures of Risty when she was young. Back then I only took slides, and I don't have a way to convert them. Here she is, elderly and decayed, missing an eye, deaf as a post. and sincerely loved.

Postscript: July 23rd.
I had dozens of emails this morning, kind, caring, loving notes. I can't tell you what that means. I'm not going to make you sit this watch with me, so I'll just let you know that she's still here. She climbed back up from the creek. I found her lying in a patch of late afternoon sun, and carried her into the house. She even ate a bite or two, then slept in my arms for the next three hours. I put her on her heating pad around 11, then woke at 2 and came downstairs to check on her. This morning she is still mobile.

I am going to have to have the carpets shampooed. For a week, she's managed to get to the side of the sandbox, but not in it. I put down plastic sheeting and lots of newspapers. Now she gets as far as the doorway to the room with the sandbox. Life's best investment, when you have pets, is a portable carpet shampooer.

I got this note from Carol Lillis:
"... an extended finger of cream cheese, a head that looks then slowly turns away. Memories of happy times, then bracing oneself for what the end of life may look like. And then an hour of renewal and appetite. I call this the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD SYNDROME, when our little friends die a thousand deaths, only to pop up and live again. (Finally) when they use up 13 of their 9 lives, they offer false hope and that is when they often choose to die. Maybe it's a lesson for us to remember, life is just a series of moments, and any one of them can be our last. What matters is that we, like lucky cats, find our way into into open hearts and arms that love, support, nourish and accept us for who and what we are. And that our final hours are blessed with the kind of friends we are to our cats."

I don't know why this is centering the text against my express wishes.
I don't plan updates. There is such hideous stuff going on in the world--larger scale and small scale losses. Mine, in the scheme of things, is very small, which makes all the kind messages more meaningful. I found this quote to share. You, my friends, live up completely to these standards.

Animals are reliable, many full of love, true to their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to.
Alfred A. Montapert.
July 25th

Thank you all for your kind emails. Risty passed yesterday afternoon, the 24th. It was an overcast day. She tried to go outside, but when she saw there was no sun to lie in, I think that kind of did it for her. I'm lucky I was able to spend these last 4 days entirely with her. Now all I have to do is figure out how much to feed 3 cats with Risty's voracious appetite missing from the mix. And there's all that cream cheese.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

TNR Part 2

My mother was a self-proclaimed coward. She refused to stay alone in our house in Winter Park, Florida, for even a single night. When my sister and I were little and Daddy was traveling, she’d hire someone to come spend every night that he was gone. It’s not like we lived in a high crime area. There was no crime in the 1950s. Besides we had guns in the house, which Momma knew how to use, and we had Karlo, our German Shepard.
            When Daddy died in 1985, my mother moved out of their home of 34 years within 72 hours. She’d been planning for this eventuality, and had been looking at apartments in a residential care facility--which my father called equivalent to an outside cell at Sing Sing--in downtown Orlando.
o be out of the house before I had to return to work in Miami, she moved at lightning speed. The day before Daddy’s funeral, she purchased the apartment, and called the movers. She packed the necessities, while I focused on what to do with her pets: two small dogs, and two cats, none of which were permitted to go with her.
Jamie was a Yorkshire terrier, and Sydney was a Silky. The vet she’d gone to for years, kept them kenneled free of charge and found homes for both within two weeks—though not together as they’d always been. The cats were a different story. Both were feral when Momma started feeding them but eventually became tame enough to live in the house. By this time, they were adult cats, who adored my mother, but were shy around other people.
            I lived in a no-pets-allowed apartment building in Miami, and my sister was expecting her second child. The Humane Society was our only recourse.
            To be honest, I didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to give the fate of those cats a lot of thought. It was the Humane Society. Built into the name was the assumption they were humane. All I remember is my mother let her fear of staying alone completely overwhelm the love she had for her animals, something I swore never to let happen to me.
            There’s a reason this memory has surfaced.
            Last week I wrote about our local Humane Society releasing cats into the woods that surround the Shelter. Following that editorial, I interviewed someone who was there the day the two specifically named cats, Mow and Frankie, were ‘freed.’

The hinged screened panel
Approx. 3 X 6 feet
Both sides of the Kitty Cottage have huge hinged screened panels, which aren’t noticeable unless you are looking for them (and a curious feature for an indoor cat facility.) The plan to remove Mow and Frankie had evidently been decided long before the actual night they were released, since each had the tip of one ear removed, marking them as feral cats, and those wounds had healed.
The night the Director (I was told it was Sharon’s decision) decided to release them, they were isolated from the other cats, their collars and tags were removed, the screen door was propped open, and staff left for the night. The person I interviewed was the last to leave and he/she (gender left a mystery to protect this person from retribution) stopped by to check on Frankie, one of his/her favorites. Both cats were still inside, as was a third cat, which was hiding in one of the dome-covered sandboxes. This cat was wearing its collar and tags. I asked if he/she considering closing the hatch when she/he realized there was a third cat. The interviewee answered, no. The decision had been made and volunteers who wished to continue working with the animals did not go against the Director’s decisions.
            The next morning, Frankie and Mow were outside. The third cat--a short-haired, gray and white--was also gone—completely gone, as in missing. It is not among the growing outside cat population.
            This week the Board of the Humane Society submitted a rebuttal to my comment. This is a single paragraph from that rebuttal:

“The cat Frankie was allowed to make a choice—to live in the Kitty Cottage or live outside: Frankie is doing well outside. Our staff will continue to monitor and care for her as they do for all our barn (my emphasis) cats on a daily basis. This includes medical care throughout their life (sic) by our veterinarian.”
To administer medical attention to the 11 to 15 cats that are now living in the woods, the vet would have to shoot most of them with a tranquilizer gun. In the two weeks since this situation came to my attention, Mow, who was not mentioned in the rebuttal, has become unapproachable, but Frankie, whom they claim “likes to be petted by her friends, but is fearful of others” comes running when visitors stop by, and lets herself be tickled and picked up. There was no mention of Mow in the rebuttal for good reason.
            Commitment number 2, in the MCHS's Summer 2012 newsletter states: “Finds Homes for Family Pets When the Unforseen (sic) Happens.” And on page 2: “We never give up on the animals in our care.”
            My recent interview uncovered another detail. I knew Mow was one of the adoptable cats featured in our local paper, but what I didn’t know when I wrote the comment, which is also my July 10th blog post, was that Mow was given up for adoption by her owner.
            That’s when the memory of trying to do the best I could for my mother’s animals came back. Think how heartbroken Mow’s owner must have been when forced to give up her pet. How would any of us feel when we put our trust an organization, which claims to ‘never give up on the animals in our care’, only to discover they have given up on our pet, the one raised from a kitten to live its life safely inside? This is the cat, who on March 1st was advertised as a sweet, young lady, a strictly inside animal, but in June was ‘freed’ to live, hiding in a log and terrified—for as long as she manages to survive in the forest surrounding the Shelter. 

MOW by Frankie Kangas
note the clipped ear

Mow on March 1, 2012

Connie Korbel, editor of the Fort Bragg Advocate News and the Mendocino Beacon has invited your comments.

Frankie visiting friends on the inside
Frankie getting a tickle from a stranger

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What We Leave Behind

Rhododendron occidentale
is the only native azalea that grows naturally
west of the Rocky Mountains in the United States

Someone said the 3 Bs of inspiration are Bed, Bath, and Bus. I sleep with a pen and pad by my bed; for an inspirational quick fix, I soak in the bathtub. For a leg up on a novel, I prefer a train to a bus.            
Another quick fix is watering my plants. Yesterday it was my poor pitiful native azalea, Rhododendron occidentale. It’s been in the ground for about 15 years, has never bloomed, and is leggy.
In the wild they grow in riparian areas, tolerate sandy soil and periodic flooding. I planted the poor thing in my clay-based soil and, when I think about it, supplement winter rains with a good soaking.  
The blooms can be white, with a yellow petal, the buds are a coral color—not that I’ve ever seen one on my plant. They are deciduous and smell heavenly.
When I brought the azalea home 15 years ago, I planted it near a red alder, another riparian species. Over the next decade the azalea languished and the alder grew and grew. Clumps of sword fern took hold in semi-circle around them, and eventually dwarfed the azalea.
Last year I had the alder taken out, only to have wild onions invade and cover every square inch of exposed soil. I spent hours digging them up, one tiny bulb at a time. I cut back the sword ferns, mulched and fertilized the azalea, and watered it all through our dry summer. This year the onions were back with a vengeance, but the azalea also has new growth. The leaves are green and supple. There are no flowers, but for the first time, I’m hopeful.
While I watered, I remembered all the care I’ve taken to keep it going. I don’t think there is another plant in the yard, I’ve held as high hopes for which reminded me of house-hunting 22 years ago.
Thirty-two years ago, I discovered and fell in love with the Mendocino Coast. From that brief visit on, my goal was to live here. I took an early retirement from my airline job, went to graduate school, and used one of my last free passes to fly out and look for a house. 
I created a rating guide for each place the real estate agent showed me. I assigned stars for places based on whether they possessed what I considered most important: trees, the ocean, a lake, pond or creek, a view, a garden, and remoteness from neighbors. What the house itself looked like was way down the list. I didn’t care as much about what I lived in as what I would be surrounded by.
One of our stops was a house near Pudding Creek. It was a plain little place, well inside my price range. This was late June so, although the yard was full of large robust rhododendrons, none were in bloom.      
An old man met us at the door. Inside was dimly lit, so it took a minute for my eyes to adjust, and to see his wife lying on the couch. She was pale and clearly quite ill. She’d lain there for some time, I guessed, since the sofa was made up with a sheet, pillows and blankets.
I nodded and she nodded, then her husband showed us through the house, often with his hand on a wall for balance. It was a small, tidy, dull little house, full of family pictures, dated furniture and assorted mementos. It wasn’t going to get more than a single star: too close to its neighbors, not enough trees, no to-die-for view, but I muttered ‘nice, isn’t this lovely,’ at each doorway.
After the tour, the old man led me to a stool at the kitchen counter, turned on a little lamp and opened a photo album.
“I . . .,” he said, and corrected to “we have 26 species of rhododendrons.” The pictures were of each species in full bloom: pinks, purples, reds, and whites.
I thought my heart would break.
This old couple had reached the end of their time together in the home they’d shared for 50 years. She was going into hospice, he into a nursing facility, and the house to a stranger. He wanted me to appreciate all the care and love they’d put into their rhodies, the only truly priceless things they had to pass on to the next owner. I looked at every picture, and when I got back to the realtor’s car, I started to cry.
Even if I had loved that house, if it had scored five stars, I don’t think I could have bought it. I didn’t want to be the one who made them move out, and away from their flowers.
I remembered all this while watering my poor azalea. I looked around. In the 21 years I’ve lived here, I’ve protected every tree, removing only 4—a dead bishop pine, two Doug firs to make room for an addition, and that alder. The forest that surrounds me is virtually intact. And I realize I was wrong: that old man wanted to sell to someone who would love his rhodies the way he had, and I would have been that person. I hope that whoever comes after me will love this forest, filled—at that very moment with the song of a winter wren—and will take care of my azalea.

My 15 year old azalea
Some day

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


TNR is Trap Neuter and Release. Last week I wrote an editorial comment for our local paper about our local Humane Society shelter's program of TNR. This will be the longest post I've ever done, which may be the TMI --too-much-information part.

Cat eating bird

Late Monday afternoon, a friend and I went out to the Mendocino Coast Humane Society to photograph the “feral” cats that they have been releasing from the shelter. Coincidentally, Monday’s mail contained the MCHS’ fundraising newsletter with their mission statement printed boldly at the top of the first page. It reads: “—we are here (to find) secure, loving and permanent homes for the homeless pets in our community.”
For a community the size of ours, we should be proud of our Mendocino Coast Humane Society (MCHS). The main facility is nice and the “Kitty Cottage,” which I saw for the first time on Monday, is truly beautiful.
            I’m always saddened by the plight of animals, especially those at our mercy, so I was there after-hours with an ulterior motive. Friends in this community, who have dedicated their time and a great deal of their financial resources to help stray and deserted animals, alerted me to the fact that as good as our shelter is, it has a policy related to abandoned cats that I find appalling.
            Also from their newsletter: “We are a No Kill Shelter. We provide shelter and food for all medically treatable animals for as long as it takes to find them a loving home.”
Apparently, there a few holes in this policy.
            It has been creditably rumored that to maintain this no kill policy, animals deemed un-adoptable are routinely transported to a kill facility—like animal control. I understand this on one level. Some animals have been so abused and traumatized by their relationship with humans that we’ve destroyed any chance of successful rehabilitation.
            I said “creditably rumored” because our Humane Society is a secretive, closed-door, autocratic organization. However, since they are licensed by the city and get some of their funding from the city (our taxes) they are required to hold one public meeting a year. The last one was over nine years ago. Their Board goes to great lengths to keep out anyone who doesn’t agree with their policies—including volunteers, some of whom are routinely threatened with denied access if they dare to raise concerns.
 I am not a volunteer, and have had limited, but very negative experiences with their policy-makers. Most of my encounters have been with staff, and research-related. Those times, the Shelter Director and Board member, has always been helpful, and appears dedicated to her job of many years.
As a city licensed, publicly-funded, 501(c)(3), non-profit facility, the community served by the Humane Society has a right—and an obligation—to know what is going on with regard to their “Barn cat” program—which, by letting nature take its course, is another way of keeping their no kill numbers at a minimum.
  Cats deemed feral are routinely released into the woods that surround the facility. These cats are first kept in the Kitty Cottage to bond them to the location, then set “free.” One of the cats, Mow, was recently advertised in the Fort Bragg Advocate (3/1/12) as “a very sweet young lady who has lived strictly indoors all her life.”  This “strictly indoor” cat is now living in the woods with the tip of an ear cut off, the shelter’s way of marking a feral cat.
            A week ago, I sent out an e-mail about the release of Frankie, a cat advertised in a March 2011 “Take Me Home” flyer, as “a handsome 1 year old boy who has overcome his shyness as a kitten to become a really friendly feline.” Frankie was adopted as a barn cat but was seen killing birds. He was returned to the shelter and subsequently “set free.” I’ve gotten a couple of responses to that email informing me that Frankie is happier outside at the shelter. Perhaps he is, but that isn’t the issue. There is an excellent facility in Sonoma County called Forgotten Felines. They deal almost exclusively with feral cats. (As does the national organization, Alley Cat Allies.) Here is how Forgotten Felines defines feral:
  • Total Feral: A wild cat with no previous human contact or only negative contact.
  • Semi-Feral: A shy or fearful cat that has had some positive human contact.
  • Converted Feral: An abandoned domestic cat that has reverted to semi-feral behavior.
Monday afternoon, when my friend and I arrived at the shelter, two cats came running. We could pet them, pick them up, and tickle their bellies. There was nothing feral about either of them.
From the parking lot, we walked around the Kitty Cottage. Other cats appeared: some were indeed too frightened to approach—which made me wonder if this was result of conversion to feral from living in the wild where, out of necessity, their survival instincts take over and they become hyper-vigilant.

Overall, I counted eight cats. Three were untouchable, but five came close enough (4 to 6 feet) to receive a treat, and three of those (including Frankie) let my friend pick them up and tickle their bellies.
At the back of the Kitty Cottage, we found food and water—guaranteed to attract raccoons, possums, and skunks if left uneaten. (Since staff had gone home and we were there until nearly , it’s unlikely that it all gets eaten before nightfall.) This is also means that once their vaccinations expire, these cats are exposed to diseases including rabies.
            Mow, the cat advertised as adoptable in the paper on 3/1/12 was not approachable, but stayed nearby. This population will, over time, live up to the tag the shelter has given them. In the meantime, they are living in a diminishing habitat. They are killing the wildlife and, in time, the wildlife will kill them.
            MCHS is calling this is a “barn cat” program, but there is no barn, or any other way for these cats to get out of the elements, or escape predators.
            The larger issue remains: who is making the decision to release these cats, and what guidelines are they following? Of course there are cats that can never live with a family, or are inappropriate house pets, but there are other recourses beyond opening up the Kitty Cottage door and shooing them into the woods.
            Cats are territorial. Problems can arise when a new cat is introduced to an existing colony. A new cat can find itself picked on by the other members of the colony, or the new addition can pick on an older cat and chase it from the territory.
            While researching this article, I had a long and informative conversation with a representative at Forgotten Felines. On their website are guidelines for successfully turning an un-adoptable cat into a barn cat. There are protocols for this but it means keeping the cat in a cage in the barn for a month before releasing it. (All that information is out there, if the Board and staff of MCHS didn’t bristle at suggestions from outsiders.)
            Another suggestion from FF was to fund-raise for fencing. Releasing un-adoptable cats into an outside sanctuary would be okay, if they were truly inappropriate for adoption, and were released into a space safe secure from predators. If the Humane Society pursued that option, they might well set the gold standard for dealing with truly un-adoptable cats.
            The MCHS needs a more transparent governing body with an open mind to help from the community, and someone able to tell the difference between a frightened cat and feral cat. The cats might all, with a proper chance, become wonderful pets, good barn cats, or at the very least, live out their lives in a safe environment.

The Challenge (from the American Bird Conservancy website)
There is no question that birds are better off when cats stay indoors. Exact numbers are unknown, but scientists estimate that every year in the United States alone, cats kill hundreds of millions of birds, and more than a billion small mammals, including rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks. Feline predators include both domestic cats that spend time outdoors and stray cats that live in the wild, sometimes as part of a colony.

Life for outdoor cats is risky. They can get hit by cars; attacked by dogs, other cats, coyotes or wildlife; contract fatal diseases, such as rabies, feline distemper, or feline immunodeficiency virus; get lost, stolen, or poisoned; or suffer during severe weather conditions. Outdoor cats lead considerably shorter lives on average than cats kept exclusively indoors.

Free-roaming and feral cats also pose a health hazard to humans from the spread of diseases such as rabies and toxoplasmosis. In April 2010, the Volusia County Health Department in Florida issued a rabies alert for 60 days following two unprovoked attacks on humans by feral cats within a month. Two cats had tested positive for rabies in the area. The CDC states that “Unvaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized immediately.” Even in ‘managed’ colonies all cats cannot always be vaccinated, and infected animals may be even harder to catch in a timely manner before they infect other animals or humans.

This interesting American Bird Conservancy video was filmed in my old stomping ground. My husband has a house at Ocean Reef, and I was on the Board of  the Tropical Audubon Society when I lived in Miami. GR

There are a many companies that supply kits for building outdoor enclosures for cats.
This is just one of them.

This is Mow, originally advertised as
"strictly a housecat"
This is Frankie, returned to the Shelter for killing birds, deemed unadoptable,
and released into the woods behind the Shelter

I don't know the name of this cat, but the 'dreadlock'
hanging from her side will eventually
come off leaving an open wound on her side.

“Holding this soft, small living creature in my lap this way. . . and seeing how it slept with complete trust in me, I felt a warm rush in my chest. I put my hand on the cat's chest and felt his heart beating. The pulse was faint and fast, but his heart, like mine, was ticking off the time allotted to his small body with all the restless earnestness of my own.” Haruki Murakami

“I hated cats. I was a dog lover," Des says with a shrug. "What's the point of a cat? They're not affectionate. But that's because it's not my cat. I mean, your wife wouldn't jump on my lap. That's because she's your wife, not mine. Until you have your own cat, you really don't understand.”
Rescue Ink, Rescue Ink: How Ten Guys Saved Countless Dogs and Cats, Twelve Horses, Five Pigs, One Duck,and a Few Turtles


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Igor celebrates 25 years of safety

Shirley McGreal, directory of the International Primate Protection League, did my first guest blog back in August 2011. Shirley was instrumental in helping me when I first started researching Hurt Go Happy, and has been working to save primates from research facilities, protect them in their natural habitat, and conduct investigations into illegal trafficking in primates for decades. The IPPL is headquartered and operates a sanctuary in Summerville, SC. Shirley sent this beautiful story by Jim Tatum. I thought you might enjoy it.

By Jim Tatum
Summerville Journal Scene ®
Published Thursday, July 05, 2012 3:54 PM

Igor, the oldest and most popular Gibbon in residence at the International Primate Protection League’s sanctuary in Summerville, recently celebrated a happy milestone – his 25th anniversary of coming to the sanctuary.

From more than two decades of lonely, abusive existence to a life of peace, contentment and worldwide popularity is a long, rough road.

But Igor, the oldest and most popular Gibbon in residence at the International Primate Protection League’s sanctuary in Summerville has successfully made the journey -- with a little help from a lot of friends.


IPPL recently celebrated a happy milestone in Igor’s life: his 25th anniversary of coming to the sanctuary. To look at Igor, one would not be able to guess either his age or the circumstances of his former life. He’s gentle but a little guarded, meticulous and deliberate in his movements, but still possessed of the poetic grace with which gibbons are so gifted.

Yet a look into those liquid brown eyes belies a peace hard fought and well earned from sheer survival of living in hell for more than two decades.


Please visit the International Primate Protection League website

IPPL on a rare snowy morning

Dr. Shirley McGreal

"Recognize your phylogeny. You are a Great Ape. We're more related to gorillas than most warblers are to each other."

Audrey Schulman; Three Weeks in December; Europa; 2012.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Quick word from our sponsor: I'm so honored

 Lost in the River of Grass is the book of the month selection
for this 900 member group on Goodreads.


YA Reads for Teachers (And Any Other Adults!)

For the entire month of July, I will be answering questions (and telling the true story) about stealing my husband's adventure and giving it to Sarah and Andy. I hope you will pop in occasionally during the month.