The Owl House (formerly Wildrun) helps senior and low-income landowners catch and spay/neuter their resident outdoor cats. We find homes for friendly cats and kittens who are adoptable into great homes, and occasionally other cats hat other shelters were unable to accept.
Normally there is a tug of war at the beginning of March between Winter and Spring. This year, Spring is notably absent from the fight, although I understand she plans to make an appearance this week. The many recalls on veggies this year, especially lettuce, have made me determined to get a garden going. I have the raised beds provided to me by the closing of Totalily Water Gardens (their water lily tanks), and many walking neighbors who probably would appreciate some free veggies. Because I never buy seeds from the many seed catalogs that arrive here via postal mail and I purchase my starts from Mountaintop Greenhouses right down the road, I had to find a way to funnel my spring energy. I purchased a potting bench to serve as a rolling roadside vegetable giveaway cart.
I used to have a beautiful tile-topped stand alongside the road for veggies and other free stuff I regularly give away, until the day someone took the word "free" over-literally and took the entire farm stand. I'll lock the cart to the fence when it's out, and I'll bring it in at night, since that appears to be necessary.
I do need to sit down and put pencil to paper to plan the raised beds. Normally I plant haphazardly, and I always regret it. I'll need to order a truckload or two of topsoil to fill the beds. I should have done that, and mixed in some local manure compost, last fall. Last fall, however, our entire region was worrying more about flooding than planning gardens a half-year in the future.
When I have a garden I have a lot more contact with my neighbors. There is always more than I can eat, or weeks when I'm traveling when I need others to harvest, or food rots on the vine. When I'm out weeding, I'm actually outside when neighbors go for walks along our country road. I've been a virtual hermit other than work for the past year, and that needs to change.
Any suggestions on what to plant? I tend to stay away from things that are really cheap to buy (carrots for example). And not only do I dislike eggplant, it attracts flea beetles. I plant cherry tomatoes instead of full-sized ones because they tolerate my periodic absences. My house sitters don't seem to understand that when I leave full buckets of water near a container, that means to empty the ENTIRE bucket on the plants, not just part of it, so everything I plant needs to be able to deal with a few days without full watering. I think they worry about drowning the plants, not realizing that the containers drain so easily.
Kale grows long into the winter, and I prefer swiss chard to spinach when it comes to sauteed greens.
And of course: Flowers.
Suggestions are appreciated!
Yes, there will be cats posts soon. I took two wandering tom cats to the veterinarian today to be neutered. Of course, I forgot to get photos.
It's a funny question, isn't it? It has entirely different impact, depending on how old you are, and how healthy you perceive yourself to me.
Now don't freak out, family and friends. I'm not poised to reveal some illness. This is just the "Question" OK? Thank you muchly; you can pour yourself coffee instead of alcohol now, 'k? No big announcements, here!
Nonetheless, contrary to popular opinion, there are far more life-reviewing milestones when you are older than when you were younger. A lot is made of turning 16, 18, 21, and 30 amid the younger years of your life. But nothing compares with things like job changes at mid-life, your first colonoscopy, the first loss of a too-young friend to an illness, caring for a family member during end-of-life, or just a sudden realization that if you learned you were going to die within six months, you wouldn't just be scared, you would be discontent with how you'd spent a big chunk of your life.
That I was privileged enough to be working for Petfinder, and the networking that took place after launch of the Animal Emergency Response Network (AERN) where lost and found Hurricane Pets were posted, is a milestone in my life I will always count in gold. Mostly I was simply riding a tidal wave created by others, but to look back and see all that has changed since that one year is overwhelmingly wonderful. Previous to 2005, national groups worked mostly solo, promoting their own work. After Katrina, national organizations, shelters, rescues, and even web resources, discovered that trying to go solo meant repetition and failure. A large number of partnerships--even the mere possibility of partnership--that exist now and save thousands of shelter and street animal lives each year--were born from the mud of those hurricanes, the sudden awareness of owners who risked their lives because they refused to leave their pets, the organizations who responded to help those animals requiring rescue, and organizations and volunteers who dedicated months and often years working to reunite left-behind animals with their displaced owners, or find those animals new homes.
As amazing and heartbreaking as that new beginning was, it was almost 14 years ago. There have been a lot of other "new beginnings" since then that I haven't contributed to as strongly as I would like. And many I haven't contributed to at all.
I'm 56. It occurs to me I only have probably only a decade when I can count on being able to scramble around under bushes, and up to two decades if I actually manage to take better care of myself than I am now (I spend the majority of my time on my butt behind a computer). For those of you in your 80s still hauling cat traps, all the more power to you---unless I make some life changes now, I won't be able to match your example.
Once upon a time, I went to conferences on my own, to learn. I looked carefully for a conference near me (there weren't a lot of them back in the 90s), and I spent my vacation and few available dollars to attend. I went to ever session I could fit in. Then I was lucky enough to get a job where I was sent to conferences to speak or exhibit, and I no longer had to sleep in my car or camp in a tent. However I had other networking responsibilities that meant I wasn't there just for my own edification.
Looking around now 15 years later, I see there are some funky, cool, and cutting edge conferences I'm missing out on, that I really need to attend if I want to stay on top of things. The Online Cat Conference was a real eye-opener. There are amazing people out there---some long-timers who have moved onto incredible new ventures, and a lot of brilliant newcomers.
So I'm off to The Acatemy Spring Symposium next weekend, flying solo, looking forward to wearing probably-non-work-appropriate cat lady clothes and keeping my ears pointed toward new ideas and the inspiration of other women and men working exclusively with cats.
If any readers are going, let me know! It's time to shake the dust out of the crannies of my brain. I want to start counting UP the years of my life by what I contribute, rather than counting down toward a rocking chair!
If you are feeling dusty like I am, here are some upcoming options
And if you are a writer, even if you aren't a CWA member, there's nothing more inspiring than the Cat Writers Association conference to open your mind to issues across all topics that relate to cats, including those beyond rescue.
Are there any I've missed? There were quite a few cat gatherings chatted up during the Online Cat Conference and I didn't get them all written down.
Perla is a marimba. I saw her on a Facebook swap-and-save page, posted as a xylophone. By her surroundings, I worried that she might find her way onto a curb or in someone's garage for kids to play with until she fell apart.
Why would I care about a marimba? Gordon and Christy have been long-time Owl House friends. We worked together to get their two gorgeous outdoor ferals fixed, and their two kittens rehomed. They then adopted two kittens from me. They are both well-known musicians, and Gordon is a world-renowned marimba player and composer; he's probably the only "world-renowned" person I shall ever know, so I enjoy saying it.
Therefore my tug of conscience to save this instrument. I sent the photo over to Gordon to see if the asking price (quite low if it turned out to be playable, but too much if it was trash) was worthwhile, and he was curious about it too, so off I went to a foreclosure-purchased house full of trash and treasure, to pick it up. I almost balked because A) it was much smaller in person than I expected and I wondered if it was even a "real" instrument and B) it was COVERED in spider egg-sacs. Needless to say I did not leave it in my car overnight and she spent the night on the porch. The next day I cleaned off the worst of the webs and brought her inside.
She was dusty, watermarked, and dried out. The bars (keys) had been strung with electrical wire instead of cord.
Christy and Gordon came over bearing pizza. Gordon gifted me with three pairs of mallets, and explained that this marimba was likely from Guatemala. He told me what to purchase to restring it, and luckily I had purchased an acceptable oil to clean it up (Lemon oil, no wax). He explained all the odd pieces and parts. There were nine posts (through which the cord passes to hold the bars up) that needed to be replaced, so he took them home to cut new ones. Good thing, as that's not something I would have been skilled enough to do.
So I cleaned. And cleaned. And look!
I'm still cleaning, oiling, and tightening and replacing screws for the frame. Christy tells me Gordon has completed the posts, but we are due for a huge snowstorm this weekend, so Perla will have to wait a bit to be re-assembled and re-strung. Then we'll get to hear what she sounds like! She will of course be off-pitch. The bars could be sent off to be tuned ($60 an octave), and perhaps I will some day. Basically I just wanted to save her from a possible junking, and it will be fun to learn to play a bit and have her in the house, so I probably won't invest in that. Then one day I'll likely give her to someone who expresses interest in owning her. She's too small for anyone serious about learning to play, but for a child learning percussion or someone who just wants her in the living room, as I do, she would be perfect.
One of the saddest parts of doing rescue is a result of the best part of doing rescue--you have so many cats you call your friends, even if they now live with countless other people. So you also have more cats who pass over, than the average person.
A lot of adopters stay in touch as supporters and friends themselves. I get updates on our cats' lives. I learn when cats grow old. And I also learn when they pass on. I'm always so honored, and sad, when an adopter lets me know. When they contact me before they have to let their cat go, it's especially touching, because I know there is a part of them that feels like they need to not surprise me with a sudden drastic sadness, or they just want to share their decision beforehand, to verify in their heart it is the right one.
Two weeks ago, Holly lost Jack. Jack, also called Luther-Jack while he was here back when we were Wildrun, was a special kind of cat. He lived here in the house with me as he grew up. He was a kitten from the litter of Espie, an abandoned cat found up on the hill-road behind me, brought to me by neighbors who then also became my friends. Four of Espie's kittens developed kidney disease, and have recently passed away at ages 11-12. Espie's last kitten, Emmi, is currently living on the East Coast, and I have word that her kidneys are doing fine.
Holly called me the night before she was taking Jack in to the veterinarian for his last trip, and she shared all sorts of stories about his life. The most important of these was how he taught her grandkids to be loving and gentle with cats. He was a great friend to her, and she couldn't imagine being alone without him, and asked to come visit that weekend to see if she could provide a new cat here with a home.
Getting calls like this are always bittersweet for me. I never want to hear about a cat passing, but learning that the cat had a wonderful life with an incredible person, and that that cat made a difference in people's lives, makes all the time, money, and heartache spent in cat rescue worth it.
As an extra awesome note, Holly orders her supplies from Chewy. If you are a Chewy.com customer you may know they have exemplary customer service, and even send Christmas cards. Did you know they also sometimes send roses? They reached out to Holly when they learned of Jack's passing, and even reimbursed her last purchase for him.
Holly did visit, and took Sham (now Libby) home with her. More on Libby in another post!
A few days ago, we also learned that Tiger Tom, a cat who had been with us during our Wildrun days for over five years before he was adopted, and had been growing feeble for quite some time, was also no longer comfortable. Georg let me know via Messenger. It has been wonderful watching Tiger Tom's life on Georg's Facebook page. Tiger Tom gave us a tiny bit of internet fame when Life With Cats featured his adoption story on Petfinder 15th Birthday.
Tiger Tom had a quiet life of naps, snuggling, play, and lots of knitting yarn (I'm always impressed with knitters who also own cats. how do you keep the two apart?)
On Facebook, Georg wrote:
Today, Tiger Tom passed away. A piece of my heart that walked around outside my body is now gone.
Goodbye, Jack and Tiger Tom. Thank-you for bringing Holly, Georg and Jazz into my life, and thank-you to your people for letting me know when your story closed.
This summer was a waiting game. I won't go into all the roadblocks that life and work tossed up there--that's just the way things go. But now, with just a few weeks left to summer, and hopefully 2.5 months of above-freezing weather remaining, I'm finally tackling the house-and-cat things that absolutely must get done this year, or I'll spend the winter sunk in the doldrums...again.
New flooring for the downstairs, which is currently a mix of carpeted beat-up pine floor, vinyl in the kitchen, and hardwood in the woodstove room. I'm covering it all with "luxury" click together floating vinyl plank. I considered having it delivered and paying to have it installed, but at an additional $1.99 a square foot for installation, I decided I couldn't waste that much money, so it's DIY time. It was a nuisance to load it and unload it (36 boxes...) but here it is without a $60 delivery fee, and maybe I burned off a few calories.
This flooring will leave the hardwood floor intact and unharmed if anyone wants to rip this up again in the future to redo the hardwood below. I however, need something impervious to water, due to cats, a dog, and my winter tromping from the front door to the woodstove with wood. Primarily the issue is cats. As we know, cats will pee on anything, if they are in the mood for it:
Last night it was the paper towels. I assume this was Puff Puff, since only a lightweight cat could perch on that bundle, and Coraline is pretty good about using the litter box. You'd think after all these years I would have learned never to leave plastic wrap out in any form whatsoever.
It's pouring outside (again) so staining the house or the raised beds--other chores on my list--will have to wait.
Here's the before shot of the black painted floors, covered with cheap erugs.com rugs that will get split up into different rooms once this project is complete. We'll see how this goes!
Cat guardians know cats will rotate their favorite sleeping spots now and again. Oliver will sleep on a particular chair for several weeks--I'll know to look for him there first. Then suddenly he has claimed the top spot on the cat tower and that becomes his home for the next few months.
Perhaps I model my behavior after cats, with them living all around me. As a remote worker, I can set up my "desk" anywhere I like. Sometimes it will be on the actual desk. Othertimes, I camp comfortably on the couch for a few weeks. Today, I moved back to the kitchen table, which I purchased and repainted specifically because it was large enough to accommodate at least two laptops and keep my coffee well away from either one of them.
The table was a $50-buck-side-of-the-road purchase off my neighbor. Unfortunately my paint job on the top was not impervious to the idle digs from claws of walking cats. I had some adhesive vinyl planks kicking around when I purchased them as a possible backsplash for my kitchen sink area (I decided they were too dark). Now they are the cat-proof surface of my table. Like most of my cheap fixes, I'm sure I'll regret it one day when they start to curl and I have to peel them off. But replacing them with new planks will be far easier than sanding and repainting a doomed table top.
All of this is my long-winded way of saying that once again I'm trying to blog. Despite the day-to-day activity in my life, and a large number of really great virtual friends, daily life has become rather mundane. I couldn't put my finger on why I was so uninspired, shadowed by a tinge of loneliness. It occurred to me that I used to have the same life, with a feeling of fulfillment, back when I blogged daily, and read the blogs of others. You'd think I'd have more time when I don't blog. Sadly---not. Because I blog in my head throughout the day, and then have a fog of guilt hanging over me that I haven't put it in writing. I'm guessing there are quite a few bloggers like myself that always expected they'd one day write a Great American Novel, so writing in their head is a fact of daily life--even though that Novel never came to be. Suspending the habit is simply not an option.
Cats and kittens are also a habit that, fortunately or unfortunately, a cat person cannot suspend. Unlike writing in your head, however, the cat habit has outside influences---people call and say "help!" I've exercised "keeping my head down" any number of times when I've had to accept that my resources were tapped, but when friends of neighbors call, saying "no" really isn't an option. Chances are good, those friends and neighbors have helped me in the past, and will again in the future. There are top-of-the-list folks in everyone's life.
Therefore, the Mountainview kittens came into the Owl House via a neighbor's son (also a neighbor) who had that worst of all scenarios, the death of a child, at the same time as a little spitfire of a stray calico bore kittens under his home. The kittens moved into my den. Taking in feral kittens during work-travel season is a recipe doomed to fail. Feral kittens need constant attention during their socialization period so they grow up friendly. These kittens must have really good "friendly genes" because they have been a delight--taming up sweetly despite my distraction.
Two were adopted as soon as they were neutered, by the family of a man who was once a student worker (!!!!) in the Biology Department at Ithaca College where I once worked. We hadn't seen one another in about 18 years. We are Facebook friends. He saw the kittens, and they made the three-hour trip here...twice! Once to choose kittens, and once to pick them up after they were neutered.
These three are left:
One black-and-white female has learned how to flummox the home-made coyote-roller at the top of the half-door, so my temporary fix is an aluminum foil door extension. I may need to purchase a real commercial roller in the future. I can't imagine the short piece I need would be that expensive (relatively).
Many time I wish I'd discovered rats are the amazing animals they are, before I started a cat rescue. A rat rescue would be much easier to manage, I think!
The "Mountainview Kittens" as I call them, since they came from under the porch of a home high on a hill with a gorgeous view, are coming around nicely.
I was determined this morning to get up and get moving. The weather will be rainy all weekend and I have so many indoor things I could get done. First, breakfast for ALL the kitties, and a extra-special KMR-warm-water-and-pate-food slurry for the kittens, who are eating regular food but may as well have an extra dose of hydration and kitten-based nutrition, since I have it on hand.
The tiger and white (male) is quite bold. One of the black-and-whites is next-friendly. Then the two yellows. The final black-and-white is the most shy, but even she purrs when I pick her up. They still will need understanding homes, since they were feral for quite a few weeks.
We have five new spring spitters in the Owl House.
My nearest neighbor's son, who lives about two miles down the road from me, had a calico stray show up last fall. She presented him with kittens, at the same time he was dealing with a very serious health issue with his little girl. My neighbors, who had "adopted" one of my TNR'd feral barn cats, Bandit (by being nicer to him than I was so he preferred to live at their house), asked if I could help, since catching kittens was the last thing their son needed to deal with right now.
Feral kittens next door - YouTube
The calico is a wonderful mom--too wonderful in fact, because they inherited those wise calico genes and were quite wary. However because they also obeyed her perfectly when she called them to dinner, she called them right into the drop trap this morning. I had to fill her stomach with two cans of wet food and tuna so she would stay out of the trap herself, before baiting the drop trap, which I had put out a few days earlier for them all to get used to. I tried to catch them last night, but only two would come out, and only while mom was inconveniently halfway under the trap herself. This morning, two ran right out to eat after I hid on top of the deck with the trap below me, and I went ahead and sprang the trap to be sure to get at least two. I expected momcat to be peeved, but she was merely worried.
I reset the trap and retired to the porch with my travel mug of coffee for a good solid hour. Mom stayed silent and wouldn't call the remaining three kittens. It suddenly occurred to me that it was getting warmer and I had the first two kittens in the car with all the windows up, so I quietly went to my car to lower them all. When I returned, mom cat seemed to think it was a good time for the remaining kittens to come to breakfast. She went down to the trap and began to call. The final three ran right out and all of them went under the trap. I didn't really want to catch the momcat, because I didn't like the idea of an adult freaking out under the trap along with three tiny kittens, but I needn't have worried. When the trap came down, the kittens went ballistic, but mom just kept right on eating. I was able to fish the kittens out by unlatching the top, scruffing them when they came near my corner, and putting them into a standard trap I had waiting. The first two had been fairly docile, but these three more-shy ones were quite the spitters.
I picked up all the equipment I had brought with me, packed up the drop trap, put plenty of food out for the mom-cat, and left a note that I had caught all five, that I would make an appointment for mom-cat's spay, and to please keep her well-fed. I would have preferred to take her with me, but now that the barn facility is closed down and I still have one remaining upstairs house room to renovate, I didn't have room for two large cages.
I had further evidence of the great mom-skills of the calico when I first arrived at the house this morning. The owner was already off to work. I discovered that after he had left, mom-cat had caught a huge gray squirrel. It was laying on the door mat while she and one kitten began to make breakfast of it. It is because she is such a good hunter that the homeowner, who lives far up on a country hill, would like to keep her. I think her scrappy nature probably appeals to him as well. He has seen her chase foxes out of the yard, and of course he is now rodent-free. Happily it appears she targets mostly mammals rather than birds. And of course now instead of six outdoor cats, there will be only one. I'm just as glad not to have to find a home for her, since she does lash out with teeth and claws when she has a mind to do so. This habit might disappear once she is spayed, but one can't be sure. The homeowner, on the other hand, seems to appreciate her attitude. It seems she already has the perfect home, and I won't be surprised if she squirms her way inside the house the way she squirmed into his heart as well. So we now have some little ferals to fuss over.
Debra and I punched the online submit button a few weeks ago, and The American Cat Project is now officially a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization.
Why did it take so long? I've told the story before, but my cat rescue work (when I was all alone-io) was part of my wildlife control work, decades ago. I preferred to do the work for free as an individual, because that put the landowner or business I was helping, and myself, on the same level. "I'm willing to do this for free for you, and in return, you need to invest time as well, or be willing to allow shelters on your property, or feed the cats." This worked very well, and it was a model I liked. I wasn't a "rescue," I was just a person willing to shell out personal funds to help neighbors.
The wildlife control work ended when I left my job at Ithaca College and I no longer had the flexibility to check traps before and after work, and on my lunch hour. Cat rescue went on. The adoption of Dude to Debra and her family in Waverly brought the two of us together. Debra began tackling the cats in her area, and we began overlapping our efforts.
The negative impact of being a "rescue organization" is that part of the public (not all!) has expectations that the organization is now responsible for fixing things--and they themselves do not. "Don't you care about these cats? If you did, you would do something. It's not my responsibility at all--it's yours" Honestly, I would have preferred to just keep working as a "neighbors-helping-neighbors" effort because that made it clear from the start that our work was a partnership.
NYS, however, passed regulations (good!) that require anyone who is placing rescued pets in new homes--even if no fee is charged--to be registered with the state. To register, the group has to be a federal 501(c)(3), a NYS incorporated organization, and a NYS charity. All of this is good. It will help the state get some sort of handle on so-called rescue groups that seem to be selling pets rather than adopting them, or who are not providing adequate veterinary care. It will also dissuade people who want to set up less-than-reputable rescues from doing so, and it will encourage new reputable rescues to set themselves up legally, up front. And quite honestly, people like myself really do just need to buck up and get all their ducks in a row, instead of flying by the seat of their pants.
NYS's step does mean that a "neighbors-helping-neighbors" non-incorporated TNR (trap/neuter/return) group is no longer legal, if some of those rescued cats and kittens are being placed in new homes--even if the kittens are land-owner surrendered, and even if those kittens are adopted out without a fee.
Personally, I had to really sit down and decide if I wanted to do this any longer, if I were going to have to be part of an incorporated charity and the additional responsibilities that come along with that. I did call NYS Ag and Markets and ask if I were just a land-owner, and people dump cats on my property, and I get those cats vetted and find them homes, if I had to be registered as a rescue. They said "Yes." Since ignoring abandoned cats and kittens isn't something I can do, and I'm not going to be leaving this property for an apartment anytime soon, there really was only one option.
So here we are! Debra, Bill, and Lori are officers, and I am a director. Because I work in the pet industry, I felt I ought not be an officer, to prevent any conflict of interest in where AmCat might head in the future. The American Cat Project was state-incorporated almost two years ago, mostly due to Debra's hard work, but due to illness in both Debra's and my families, things stalled. Debra and I finally got together on St. Patrick's Day and got everything organized and submitted for the 501(c)(3). Now that it is freshly in hand, we can submit the state charity form and the rescue registration, with their associated fees.
To clarify, "The Owl House" is not an organization. It's the name of my farm. I moved the cat-housing space in from the barn to my renovated upstairs of my house to help meet possible future care requirements the state may set.
The name of the organization is the "American Cat Project" which is a spay/neuter group composed of several foster homes. We will shortly be setting up a PayPal link for AmCat (the link on this blog in my personal PayPal account) and all future donations in the new AmCat account will be tax-deductible, to be used for veterinary care for cats. I also will be sending in-kind donation receipts from The American Cat Project to anyone who ships food or gifts for the cats here to my address, going forward. If you are a friend or family member and you send me gift money via my own PayPal account, I will be checking with you directly to check to see if you actually meant it as a donation to AmCat.
I don't see us listed on the IRS charity search yet, but the last time I checked with them by phone, they said it can take up a to a fiscal quarter for that to happen.
Here's to a brand new step! Thank you, Debra, for getting us going!
On Saturday, I drove to Norwich to meet family for a visit to my mom's grave and a lunch together in remembrance. We all brought flowers to brighten the winter, and one of the little cats that my friend Donna gave me (she gifted us her entire inventory of these kitties when she and her husband Tim closed their shop) has been guarding the spot for a year now. He looks just like Oliver, one of my mom's last cats.
On the way home, I stopped at mom's favorite pet shop, where she used to browse for gifts for her cats, and also for her aquarium hobby. Creature Comforts is a wonderful spot for cat scratchers. They have the best prices that I'm aware of, and have lots to choose from.
Nothing but scratchers! The large ones are two for ten bucks.
They are great in the cat rooms, because they have two sides, so can be flipped over when one side gets ratty, and are disposable. I use the beat-up ones to help start my wood stove fires. They can be a bit messy with the little bits flying around, but since the rooms are swept twice a day, I find this really only is an issue in fancy living rooms rather than cat adoption areas.