Saturday, October 29, 2016
When Grammy was a youngster, she and her friends were sure they had found a ghost when a large white sheet floated down the porch stair steps to her house. The sheet billowed and made strange eerie sounds as it floated closer to the now frightened children. Only when the sheet tumbled over itself and went thumpity thump thump down the steps did they realize the ghost was a neighborhood dog who wandered in and out of the porch.
While it was easy to explain that event, Grammy and her friends are still wondering about a different ghost. It started the night before Halloween when George - the cat who had become a surrogate father to Grammy's kittens Winston and Little Bit - saw the neighborhood bully cat attacking Winston who was valiantly trying to defend Little Bit.
George charged his 25 pound body into the fracas, allowing the kittens to escape while George fought to his last breath, saving the kittens from a horrible fate. We buried George in the garden and Winston and Little Bit grieved as only cats can do.
That night of Halloween, Grammy awoke to strange sounds in the back yard. The full moon shined splendidly, allowing Grammy to see the bully cat walking across the yard. But he wasn't walking in his usual strutting. Instead he was crouched close to the ground, looking behind him every few seconds, then letting out caterwauling shrikes before moving on. Grammy saw nothing else but she heard the long angry yeeeeechhhhh!!!! of an animal in anger. That was when the bully cat jumped two feet straight up, then came down hard and fast, his feet moving before he'd even touched the ground.
When he did hit the ground, he was already running toward the fence, leaping over it in one panicked hop. The sounds ended.
Grammy never knew what that noise was and she never heard it again but she never saw bully cat again and the kittens lived to be twenty years old. Grammy still believes that night George's ghost came to tell bully cat to leave his kittens alone. Strange things happen to people who own cats.
Posted by Diana for Margaret
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Our neighborhood on the wooded edges of Dunn Creek in Northside Jacksonville, Florida, has been an unofficial bird sanctuary for at least four decades.
The most spectacular display of wildlife around us is the multitude of birds. Blue jays, cardinals, ground thrashers, mocking birds, doves, quail, titmice, chickadees, goldfinches, nuthatches, sparrows, redwing blackbirds, humming birds, grackles, and woodpeckers are only a few of the many birds we see during the year.
Along with the song birds are Cooper hawks who invade the neighborhood to snatch some hapless birds for dinner. At night, owls do their part in controlling the rodent population. Sometimes ospreys arrive to build their nests in tall trees and catch fish in Dunn Creek where alligators bark their "ahh-ruuumph" mating calls. Every spring and autumn, flocks of geese fly in their migration route which is directly over Interstate 95, less than a mile from our neighborhood.
The one group of birds who never land in this sanctuary are crows. The reason for this goes back fifteen years. The air was crisp that spring morning with dust fairies dancing in sunbeams as three crows flew into the neighborhood. Instead of being ignored like some arriving birds or facing the wrath of an indignant sparrow or two, these crows were confronted by angry blue jays, screeching and squawking on the branches of scrub pine trees. The confrontation was close to Dunn Creek more than four hundred feet from our yard. I paid little attention to it and went into my house, expecting the battle to end in minutes with the crows retreating to the woods.
A half hour passed and then an hour went by with the angry bird language never stopping. I left my housework and returned to the yard to discover that mocking birds had joined the blue jays circling the treed crows. While it is common to see individual birds or a pair of birds - normally sparrows - chase intruders from their nests, this day the crows either could not or would not budge from their treetop stands. I continued watching and, after a while, I noticed ground thrashers, sparrows, and wrens joining the blue jays and mocking birds, forcing the crows to backtrack to the next yard.
Concern about my housework vanished as I waited to see what would happen next. Blackbirds and woodpeckers eventually joined the song birds still circling and darting at the crows in quick hit and run tactics. The crows retreated to a large oak tree in my yard.
With the birds so close to me, I tried to break up the fight. I walked around my yard and slapped my hands together, a successful tactic that often scares hawks and other invaders from the yard. This neither inspired the crows to retreat nor prompted the song birds to return to their nests and babies. I clanged two metal garbage can lids together. The birds only shrieked louder and fought with more fury. I picked up a garden hose, turned on the faucet and sent water out in a twenty-five foot stream, then I squirted the water in direction of the birds. Those who got wet ignored it. Those who were too far from the water were never aware of it. The crows were too far up the tree for the water to reach them and inspire an escape.
I checked my watch and realized I had been outside with the birds for almost three hours. Common sense told me to go back inside, eat lunch, and finish cleaning the house but common sense was not ruling this day. Entranced by the birds' bizarre behavior, I continued watching them.
In only minutes, birds who had established nests in my yard began to join the melee. Cardinals who normally do no more than chirp angrily at intruders flew up to join the attackers. Docile chickadees and nuthatches flew past me and darted to the battle fringes to chirp high-pitched protests before withdrawing. To add to the chaos, birds from undisturbed yards flew in to lend their support. I estimated that at least two hundred birds were attacking the crows.
More hours passed and I could not force myself to stop watching as the song birds never relented in their fury. The most devoted and protective parents abandoned their nests and babies to join the fight. Fledglings ran in wild circles across the lawn, squawking and hopping in attack gestures. Doves and quail scurried from bush to bush, shrieking in anger. Titmice and finches spiraled high above protective honeysuckle vines to squawk and then dart back to the ground. The pandemonium was so severe that all neighborhood dogs and cats dashed for cover and cowered in fear. My two cats hid under a picnic table where they trembled and huddled close to each other.
By mid-afternoon, the crows showed obvious signs of exhaustion but they refused to retreat from the song birds' continual attacks. Wondering how the birds could maintain their high energy level for such an extraordinarily long time, I watched them closely and noticed something I'd never before seen in the animal kingdom. They were working together with some sort of intelligence that I thought was beyond their level.
To keep their strength, the song birds had separated themselves into three groups; one group attacking the crows, a second group resting, and a third group eating. Every few minutes, as if obeying some command, these groups rotated, thereby keeping themselves refreshed while the crows had no chance to rest or eat.
After eight hours of battle, the crows made a mad dash to a sixty foot high maple tree in our neighbor's yard while the song birds swarmed after them. The crows, sitting precariously on the top branches of the maple tree, could no longer defend themselves. The song birds charged full force into them.
Two of the crows made a successful dash for freedom in the woods with dozens of birds following to make sure they stayed there. The largest crow remained firm, apparently never considering retreat. He stood on the tree top branch, fighting in desperate self-defense as the birds pecked him without mercy. His body battered from hundreds of wounds, one of his wings broken and dangling uselessly at his side, he cried out in one final defiant shriek, then fell to his death in our neighbor's yard.
Immediately, the song birds became silent and returned to their normal routine. Cats and dogs cautiously crawled from their hiding places and furtively looked around, then resumed their normal routine. Evening arrived and our sanctuary remained quiet and peaceful.
When I described this event to several naturalists, they said they had never heard of such a thing and did not know why the song birds had acted so strangely. They explained about "mobbing" which is done by chickens who at times will, for unknown reasons, attack a single chicken in their group and peck her to death but song birds attacking crows was something new to the naturalists.
The song birds don't seem the least bit concerned with our lack of knowledge about their actions that day. They apparently knew exactly what they were doing since the story of that battle seems to have spread throughout the crow population.
Crows still arrive here in springtime but as soon as they start circling our neighborhood, they are greeted by resident crows flying from the fragmented woods and squawking warnings that must say in bird language, "Get away! Get away from there!"
Without questioning their motives, the new crows obey, leaving our neighborhood sanctuary to the song birds. Never before or since have I seen anything like that war. I still have not found a naturalist who can explain the phenomenon.
Posted by Diana for Margaret
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Cat arrived at our home early one spring morning forty years ago. He didn't stagger to our doorstep as a fragile kitten whimpering for food and love. He didn't play the part of frightened stray or cautious vagabond. No, not Cat.
Cat strutted alert and proud into our yard, demanding respect from me and my husband Bob. A full-grown tom among toms with his square head and Don't Give Me Any Trouble eyes, Cat was all muscle under his tabby yellow fur. He stood tall, at least two feet at the shoulders, and weighed heavy, at least twenty-five pounds.
"He's one of the neighbors' pets," I decided.
"He must have wandered off during mating season," Grampy decided.
"He's on his way back home," we agreed.
We ignored Cat. We gave Cat no food.
Cat gave us no argument. He hopped atop a hard wood table on our porch and took a nap.
With the arrival of dusk, Cat disappeared.
"We will see Cat no more," Grampy decided.
"Cat just stopped at our home for rest and relaxation," I decided.
"Because he'd been too tired to go all the way to his home," we agreed.
Next morning again on our porch sat Cat, still ragged, still dirty. Cat peered through our kitchen window, watched us eat eggs and bacon. I gave the left-overs to Cat. Cat ate the food with the fineness of a gourmet sipping fine wine. I waited to watch Cat bathe himself. Cat did not bathe himself. He did spread his body across the rough porch table and he did fall asleep.
That night Cat left again and the next morning Cat returned again in an even more ragged condition.
I told Cat, "We'll let you in our home as a pet if you clean yourself."
Cat stood in the open doorway and scanned our living room with its overstuffed couch, comfy recliner, big fluffy pillows, and scattered afghans. He returned to his hard wood perch on the porch. He went asleep without bathing himself. Cat was a poor excuse for a cat.
Cat was also a poor judge of character. He ignored me, a devout feline lover. He showered adoration on Grampy who cared little for cats. The more Grampy grumbled at Cat, the more Cat trotted after Grampy.
When Grampy went to work, Cat sat at attention on his porch perch. There Cat slept until four p.m. when his eyes popped open and turned toward the road. At the sound of our puttering Volkswagen, Cat ran to the edge of our driveway. Wagging his tail like a dog, Cat jumped like a dog in excited little hops around Grampy's feet.
Grampy said, "Hey, Cat, how's it going?" and walked past Cat into the house.
Cat strode back to the porch, returned to his perch. With narrow eyes, he denied having compromised his sophisticated feline behavior. Once again arrogant and aloof, Cat resumed his routine of ignoring both of us.
Cat didn't like visitors. At every salesperson or solicitor or animal who stepped into our yard, Cat growled fierce threats. His ferocity sent these unwelcome beings running from our yard.
Summer that year brought an unusual storm grabbing hundreds of tiny frogs into a beach-side waterspout. Inland came the spout. Over our house the spout broke. Rain and frogs fell to the ground. For an hour, Cat became a kitten chasing amphibians through puddles and across soggy grass.
Summer ended and autumn moved toward winter. One shivery morning, Cat looked at me with momentary affection. He jumped from his perch, trotted out of our yard. He went into a nearby woods and out of our lives.
At his disappearance, I realized he had never eaten any cat food at our home. Even more shocking, he never did take a bath.
Was Cat a ghost, I wondered, on holiday with us, I considered, until time to return to his phantasm home for Halloween?
That was forty years ago. The wooden table where Cat sat has rotted away. Cat probably is not coming back, still we keep looking for him just in case. Wherever you are, Cat, we’re glad to have known you.
Posted by Diana for Margaret
When Grammy’s cat Little Bit suddenly showed almost no interest in food and changed from her normal placid personality to an agitated cat prowling the house and screened-in porch, her owner Grammy took her to the veterinarian for a check-up. This satin black feline in her fifth year was in excellent health Dr. Williams informed Grammy and then concluded that Little Bit was going through one of those mysterious cat phases.
Grammy relaxed at the news but Little Bit didn't. The next day, when Dan--Grammy's husband--stroked their pet's neck, Little Bit raised her back end and tipped her tail to one side. Grammy and Dan laughed about their Little Hussy. The next day they didn't laugh when an unneutered grey tom left nearby woods to enter their yard and try to get through the porch screen to Little Bit gesturing an invitation.
Several nights later, Grammy awoke in the darkness of their bedroom to see four round yellow eyes staring at her. Tommy--as Grammy had named the persistent stray refusing to leave their yard--had successfully entered the house and mounted Little Bit.
For the next two hours Grammy and Dan chased this twenty pound cat who easily eluded them or else fought with enough fury to make the humans keep their distance. Tommy apparently had determined how to enter the house but was confused at leaving it even though Grammy and Dan held the outside doors open for him. Not until the humans also opened every window and then hid in their bedroom with Little Bit, did the frightened Tommy escape.
Little Bit returned to her normal personality the next day but two weeks later she once again resumed her bizarre antics. Tommy, who had made roaming the yard his daily routine, once again returned to the porch windows.
This time, Little Bit managed to escape to the back yard where she urinated in several different areas. Standing close by, Tommy faithfully rolled in near-euphoria over each urine spot as Little Bit moved on. Normally fearful of this alien situation, Little Bit evaded Grammy's efforts to capture her and pranced closer to Tommy. Then, when Tommy attempted to mount her, Little Bit snarled and backed away, sending her front paw with claws extended toward the surprised tom's face. After several more attempts, Tommy snarled back and lunged for Little Bit with determination to have his way.
Grammy squirted both cats with the garden hose and caught Little Bit while Tommy raced off. An hour later, Tommy with his fur still wet once again sat at the porch window.
This episode, while extremely unusual, is possible with any spayed cat. Just as female cats can have false pregnancy, they also can have false heat.
Since the ovaries are the primary source of the hormones which cause heat-like behavior, one possible consideration for false heat is the incomplete removal of the ovaries. Performing an ovariohysterectomy, especially on a young cat, is major surgery because of invasion of the abdominal cavity and the small size of the uterus and ovaries located inside layers of fat and muscle tissue. If a veterinarian does not remove all of the ovaries, the cat can still go through symptoms of her heat cycle. If only a fragment of an ovary is left behind, this cycle can be created due to the fact that, unlike humans, in animals the primary target organ of estrual hormones is the vaginal tract, not the uterus. In other words, bleeding associated with estrus in an animal is vaginal in origin as are the pheromones, that is the scent which attracts males.
The only cure is for the veterinarian to perform a second operation to locate and remove the fragments of the remaining ovary. The longer this operation is delayed, the more difficult it is to do since the surrounding muscle and fat tissues grow over the evacuated area, making it almost impossible to locate any fragments. Fortunately, this was not Little Bit's problem since she would have shown signs of false heat right from the start rather than waiting until her fifth year.
A second cause for false heat may be a urinary tract infection. When Little Bit had been two years old, Grammy had taken her in for symptoms of early stages of heat. That time Dr. Williams discovered a urinary tract infection. With treatment, both the infection and heat symptoms went away.
Another cause for false heat is the presence of a tumor or overactivity of the adrenal gland which is capable of producing estrogen, the hormone responsible for the onset of estrus. With a personality of extreme shyness earning her the reputation of being the original scardy cat, Little Bit frequently showed signs of fear at anything new or different. Even with this production of estrogen through fear, Little Bit's heat symptoms should have ended when her fear subsided.
Grammy took Little Bit to Dr. Williams for an examination. Little Bit had no urinary infection or any hint of a tumor but she did have tape worms. Such infestation would have been from a flea which feeds on the tapeworm eggs or from Tommy when he and Little Bit had been together. Treatment for this was simple, one pill destroyed the worms and in turn the eggs.
Dr. Williams was concerned since there were other, more difficult-to-treat diseases Little Bit could have received from Tommy. Because Tommy was a stray and belonged to no one, Dr. Williams encouraged Grammy to bring the cat in for an examination.
Grammy found it impossible to capture the streetwise Tommy who came to no human. The closest Grammy could get to him was fifty or sixty feet. Only when Tommy was pursuing Little Bit did he lose his inhibition and allow any human to get within five feet of him before he ran off.
Grammy decided to put Little Bit on a leash and leave her at the far end of the porch with the door ajar. Then, when Tommy came in, Grammy would shut the door, pull Little Bit inside, and let Dan put Tommy into a cat box for transportation to the veterinarian's office.
This did not work out at all. Tommy came through the door as Grammy had planned but when she moved to shut the door, Tommy yelped in panic and darted the fifteen foot distance to freedom before Grammy could take three steps to the door knob.
The next day, Little Bit was back to her normal personality and Tommy showed only slight interest in her, preferring to spend the days snoozing in a sunny spot by the back fence.
Since Grammy couldn't lure Tommy to Little Bit, Dr. Williams suggested Grammy tranquilize Tommy. Grammy set out a dish of sedated food for Tommy who quickly gobbled it. The tranquilizer had a reverse effect, making Tommy all the more agitated and elusive. After chasing him around the yard for two hours, Grammy helplessly watched a docile but suspicious cat hop the fence and wander back to his woods. Two days later, as fate would have it, Little Bit's heat symptoms disappeared along with Tommy. Grammy relaxed, thinking all had returned to normal.
In another two weeks, Little Bit once again showed every symptom of wanting to mate and Tommy again sat in adoration by the porch windows. Desperate, Grammy checked out a live animal trap from the city's animal control unit. That night she set the trap by the porch windows and placed the best of cat food inside the trap. The next morning, she found Tommy--totally oblivious to the delectable food--sitting on top of the trap with eyes of love for Little Bit mewing and pawing at the screen in hopes of another escape.
The second night, Grammy moved the trap to bushes at the far end of the yard, again filling it with savory food. The next morning, she found a raccoon in the trap.
Night after night presented defeat and Grammy was becoming concerned. Little Bit grew increasingly agitated and determined to get outside. She ate almost nothing, slept only in short spurts, and paced along window ledges where she yowled in pathetic sounds.
Tommy displayed a greater determination to enter the house for Little Bit. He ripped a small opening in one screen and, on three separate occasions, almost dashed into the house when Grammy went outside. Tommy also showed more aggression toward Grammy, lunging his paws in her direction whenever she approached Little Bit. Besides the inconvenience of spraying the outside walls of the house in a dozen different areas, Tommy was becoming something of a threat to Grammy.
Grammy knew by now she had only another day or two left to capture Tommy since Little Bit's false heat paralleled the real thing almost perfectly, even in the length of time. On the final morning, Grammy watched Tommy rubbing against the screen which separated him from one of Little Bit's favorite beds. On impulse, Grammy decided to lure Tommy to the front yard while Dan sneaked out back and tossed Little Bit's blanket into the trap.
Grammy went out the front door. Tommy followed her and hopped to the roof of their garage. There he howled and hissed at her and flexed his leg muscles as if getting ready to jump on her. Grammy circled the yard while Tommy remained at a safe distance with threats to attack. When she saw Dan carry the wailing Little Bit into the house, Grammy wasted no time joining them.
From her kitchen window, Grammy watched Tommy sniff the air and wander toward the trap. Meowing in adoration and confusion, Tommy circled the trap, then hopped inside. The trap door clang shut and Grammy ran in triumph to claim her prey. She found Tommy snuggled up to Little Bit's blanket with his eyes displaying both fear and disappointment.
In spite of all his troublesomeness, Grammy felt a sense of sympathy for this cat hugging a torn flannel blanket while his exceptionally long tail dangled outside the trap door. Grammy pushed the door open enough to let Tommy claim his tail, then she transported the hapless cat to the veterinarian.
"You're lucky," Dr. Williams told Grammy upon completion of Tommy's examination. "I was concerned he might have Feline Leukemia. If he did, he would have given it to Little Bit when they were together."
Since Little Bit was a house cat, Grammy had not seen the need for getting her vaccinated against this disease. Now, Grammy changed her mind with realization that even the most watchful cat owner can find her pet dashing outside and into trouble. Some trouble can be fatal.
Because Tommy did not belong to anyone, Grammy was able to place Tommy with a farm family that lives a good distance from Little Bit. There Tommy is able to retain his natural ways and not be a disturbance to anyone.
Grammy learned a number of lessons from this rare affliction. First, she had Little Bit vaccinated against Feline Leukemia just in case a less lucky escape might happen. Grammy also learned that this problem won't resolve itself. Just as in real heat, when Little Bit did not become pregnant (which was impossible), she continued the false heat cycle again in another two weeks. Grammy determined that Little Bit was in her fourth cycle when Tommy was captured.
A big and powerful cat, Tommy was becoming a hazard to Grammy with his growing determination to get to Little Bit. How much he would have fought to mate Little Bit cannot be answered. Grammy doesn't want to go through another experience with another cat to find out.
Apparently there had been some sort of bonding between Little Bit and Tommy during this experience since Little Bit displayed signs of loneliness at Tommy's absence. The smallest sound from the area next to the porch windows brought Little Bit running where she sat and searched the yard. Not finding Tommy, she laid down only to stare through the screen. Every day at the approximate time when Tommy had arrived in the yard, Little Bit sat in the windows and watched the area where Tommy had hopped over the fence to present his overtures of romance.
When another tom cat of less than a year in age wandered into the yard, Little Bit managed to escape her house. She chased that frightened young tom around the yard and up a tree. There, on a flimsy branch while the tom screamed in panicked yowls, Little Bit flaunted herself until Grammy intervened. Fortunately, Grammy knew the owner of this cat and--after rescuing it--she returned the still trembling feline to a concerned neighbor. It took Little Bit almost three months to return to her normal personality.
False heat is not a common occurrence but it is something to consider when a female pet exhibits strange behavior for no apparent reason. Most cases of false heat last a short time, such as with Little Bit's urinary tract infection. The long time span of false heat that afflicted Little Bit is extremely rare. In his twenty years of practice, Dr. Williams had seen only one other case, that one involving a dog.
Now, at seven years of age, Little Bit still goes through irregular periods of false heat, none of them lasting more than two or three days. A cause for Little Bit's continuing false heat has never been determined.
Posted by Diana for Margaret