Thursday, July 31, 2008

Louie Gets a Haircut

In preparing for this post, I realized I have never introduced you to my oldest (and favorite) cat. Here's making up for lost time.

Louie, short for Cat Ballou, from the movie of the same name, and his sister Sing (Cat Dancing) came from Parkersburg, WVa, when I lived in Marietta. I had moved there with my two elderly cats, both of whom died during that difficult year of my life, and I found myself without a pet for the first time in 18 years. I couldn't stand it, and as soon as a client told me she was looking to find homes for a litter of kittens, I adopted a pair. I have very few photos of them as young kittens, but here is my favorite of Sing:

Sing's life was cut short, but during the time I had her, she was a terrific cat. When I sent her outside one night during her heat cycle to meet the neighbor's tom cat, she presented me with a litter of 6 beautiful kittens. Louie was their uncle. Sing was a good mom, but when she needed to get away, Louie would watch the babies for her. It was the beginning of his role as patriarch of my feline family, and to this day when I bring home a new kitten, Lou isn't satisfied until he pins down the newcomer and gives it a thorough bath - the "Louie seal of approval."

Louie washes behind Dixie's ears

Usually, I shave Louie down in the late spring or early summer. His long coat rarely mats, but he picks up burs and sheds big clumps of hair, so it is easier to maintain him in a short summer 'do. This year, I neglected that chore until he began looking rather unkempt.

Do you have to take my picture now?
I'm having a bad hair day.

I didn't shave him to the skin, and I left him with a full tail and a "shrug" of hair over his shoulders, neck and chest, just took off the bulk of the hair on his body, plus removing a mat over his hip. Doesn't he look better?

When he was less than 6 months old, Louie and Sing were outside overnight. In the morning, I opened up the back door to call them into breakfast. Sing came home, Lou didn't. Frantic, I called and called to him. My neighbor heard me and said, "Are you missing a cat?" When I replied that I was, he said, "Well, I think it's here, under my truck."

"Alive or dead?" I asked anxiously. "He's alive," came the reply, "but I think he's hurt."

I ran across the field to the next house. There was Louie, under the neighbor's truck, alive but unable to walk. As I called his name, he began talking to me. He had been hit by a car and both back legs were broken, yet he had managed to drag himself up a long gravel driveway and find refuge under a red pick-up truck. He just picked the wrong driveway and truck - my red truck was in my gravel drive next door! The most amazing thing was how happy he was to see me and how he didn't scratch or struggle when I
gently picked him up, even though I knew I must be hurting him. He purred and began kneading me with his paws.

I fixed his broken legs and one healed well, but the other - not so much. During his recovery, I kept him in a large, metal dog crate that was well-padded. Because he couldn't stand in the rear, I knew he couldn't use a litterbox, so I would take him outside and lay him in a pile of loose dirt, where he would energetically scratch and dig a hole just the way he wanted, then struggle to position his rear over the hole. Once, when I helped move him into position, he stopped, gave me a glare, and then moved himself over. "I can DO it mySELF, Mom!" he seemed to be saying.

One afternoon, we were sitting outside, enjoying the weather, when a car sped down the road. Louie sat up and watched that car until it was out of sight, then laid back down again. He has never gone near the road since his injury, as far as I know, and when I start letting a new kitten go outside, I always send it out with Louie, to teach it the ropes.

Louie is 11 now, but still as young at heart as ever. He doesn't let his handicap slow him down at all, and he is still the most friendly and loving of my cats.

His right rear leg is a mess. When you look at it on X-rays, you can't see any normal anatomy, because of the remodeling changes which have taken place, but Louie doesn't let that slow him down. When he runs, he drifts off to the right, so he will take aim at a spot, run towards it, then tack over to the left every so often to keep on track.

He is tending to hold that leg up more as he gets older, but he still patrols the barn and the yard, hunting mice and getting into fights with stray cats that enter his turf. He has chronic tear stains in the corner of his left eye, because of a cat fight injury that left a scar which blocks the drainage duct.

Cat Ballou, an awesome cat

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My Environmental Good Deed for the Day

I changed a light bulb. Actually, I changed two. When I noticed a bulb had burned out in my bathroom, I decided to replace both bulbs in the fixture.

From this:

to this:

These compact fluorescent light bulbs fit into the same space as the old fashioned ones, and with the cover in place, you can't tell any difference.

The color is a little bluer than the incandescents over the bathroom sink,

or the CFL I have in the light fixture by my back door.

Here, the temperature rating of "Daylight" is about 6000 Kelvins. I am still getting used to this look.

In retrospect, I think I would look for bulbs labeled "warm white," "soft white," or "bright white," which are rated in the 3000-3500 Kelvin range, as being a little more natural.

These CFLs give off the equivalent light of a 60W bulb while only using 14W of energy. That's an estimated $37 savings per bulb over the life of the bulb, about 8000 hours, in electricity use. They cost $2 a piece, on sale from $4 each. This is more than standard bulbs would cost, but it would take 10 incandescent bulbs to equal the life span of one CFL.

So far, I have put CFL's in the outdoor light fixtures at my front and back doors and in this one in the bathroom. I have at least two other ceiling lights slated for replacement with CFLs. I'm starting with those since they are the harder bulbs to change.

The draw-backs: CFLs have a slight delay in start time as compared to incandescents. I notice this in my outdoor lights in cold weather, but it is not a big problem. The larger issue is that all CFLs contain mercury. Finding a way to safely disposed of the used bulbs is a problem I will have to deal with in the future.

Oh yeah, and I recycled the cardboard packaging, too.


A rhetorical question: Why, if we can put a man on the moon and make compact fluorescent light bulbs, why do we still use these teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy thumb screws to attach the covers onto ceiling light fixtures?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The lighter side of "designer dogs"

As an apology for my previous rant, I give you the ultimate in designer dogs: Breeds which don't yet exist, but which really ought to, if only for the sake of a good pun.

Collie + Lhaso Apso = Collapso, a dog that folds up for easy transport.
Spitz + Chow Chow = Spitz-Chow, a dog that throws up a lot.
Bloodhound + Borzoi = Bloody Bore, a dog that's not much fun.
Pointer + Setter = Poinsetter, a traditional Christmas pet.
Kerry Blue Terrier + Skye Terrier = Blue Skye Terrier, a dog for visionaries.
Pekingese + Lhaso Apso = Peekasso, an abstract dog.
Bloodhound + Labrador = Blabrador, a dog that barks incessantly.
Malamute + Pointer = Moot Point, owned by, oh, well, it doesn't matter anyway.
Collie + Malamute = Commute, a dog that travels to work.
Deerhound + Terrier = Derriere, a dog that's true to the end.
Terrier + Bull Mastiff = Terribull, a dog which is an awful mistake
Irish Water Spaniel + English Springer Spaniel = Irish Springer,
fresh from the shower
Newfoundland + Basset Hound = Newfound Asset Hound, the dog for financial advisers
Labrador Retriever + Curly Coated Retriever = Lab Coat Retriever, the dog of choice for research scientists.

And finally,

Bulldog + Shih Tsu = ... Better leave that one to your imagination!

Monday, July 28, 2008

This is why we do nest changes

Feather mites!

click on photo to enlarge, if you dare

Ugh! When I opened up SG 25 on Saturday for my Day 20 photo, I found them, or rather, they found me. From under the rim of the lid to the 4 inch access hole, feather mites instantly began crawling on my hands. I knew my martin babies were infested with them, but I was in a hurry that day, so I promised them a nest change for the next day.

On Sunday, I fulfilled my promise. When I peeked in to see the birds, I could see the tiny pests crawling ON THEIR FACES. Gross, gross, gross! Ignoring the ick factor of dozens of mites, each smaller than a pinhead, covering my hands and arms, I quickly moved the nestlings to a clean, grass-lined 5 gallon bucket. Before removing the old nest material, I looked in to see this:

The creepy little things were swarming all over the inner surface of the gourd. I dumped out the old nest material and swabbed down the entire plastic Super Gourd with rubbing alcohol, paying particular attention to the peak of the gourd and the rim of the access hole, including the lid. Mites like to hide in crevices. This is one advantage plastic gourds have over natural gourds; they are easier to clean.

Once I was done with my chemical warfare, I lined the bottom of the gourd with a generous handful of cedar shavings, made a bed of pine straw, and topped it off with some dried grass. I put the young birds back quickly, although not quickly enough. One agitated chick gave a loud "squawk" of protest and an adult bird responded by dive-bombing my head. It was a near miss, but I got everyone back in safely.

Three week old Purple Martin nestlings in a fresh, clean bed.

I did take a moment for a hands-on photo op. This is the guy who squawked his complaints and got me in trouble with the adult birds. But, how could I handle him and not take the time to appreciate his beauty?

click to enlarge and see a mite on my hand

Isn't it amazing how this gorgeous birdlet has emerged from the oogly, naked hatchling he was just 21 days ago? And, in about 7 to 11 more days, he will transform into a magical creature of the air as he takes his first flight.

Only a couple of more pictures to go before the photo series is complete. I can't disturb the nest after the young are 24 days old, so I will get final pictures on Monday and Wednesday.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

There's No Such Thing as a 'Doodle: Clearing up breed misconceptions

Stand back. I feel a rant coming on. I'm on my soapbox again, disturbed by the recent trend of so-called "designer dogs."

Labradoodles. Golden-doodles. They're not recognized AKC or UKC dog breeds. They are mixed breed dogs, the cross-bred offspring of Labrador or Golden Retrievers and poodles, usually Standards but sometimes Miniatures. For some unknown reason, the 'doodle craze is sweeping the nation.

Now, I don't consider myself a dog bigot. Some of my best friends have been mixed breed dogs, so don't think that I am raging against the Great American Mutt. What I resent is the fact that responsible breeders of retrievers and poodles have spent years breeding the best to the best to perfect their lines, and now opportunists are throwing together any old Lab with a friend's Poodle, sticking a cute name on the puppies and selling them for $1000 to $1500 dollars. Why on earth would you spend that kind of money on a mixed breed dog when there are hundreds, if not thousands of mixed (and pure) bred dogs dying in shelters every day for want of a good home? All they need is a cute name.

I like Labs and Goldens and Standard Poodles. They are all great dogs with reliable looks and traits, but most 'doodles I have met seem to have taken the worst of both breeds and combined them in one body. You can't predict the outcome of the results of a mixed breeding.. It's not like every 'doodle looks or acts the same. I have seen some that look like Standard Poodles, some that look like curly-coated Labs, and some that look like mutts. Many of them are ill-mannered. I have one 'doodle patient who is nearly 100 lbs, looks like some sort of Irish Wolfhound mix and is completely out of control every time it comes into the building. (In the interest of fairness, I know plenty of out-of-control retrievers, too.)

A client came to me distressed because his Golden Retriever, who he was planning to breed, may have been accidentally bred by a Pit Bull. I assured him that even if she was pregnant this mixed litter would not spoil her for future breedings. (Somehow, long ago, a rumor was started that once a female dog was bred by a male of another breed, she was "ruined," and that all future litters would be contaminated, that she could never have "pure" puppies. Bunk!) "Oh, good," he said, "because I want to breed her to a poodle. You know, you can sell those Golden-doodle puppies for $1200 apiece." Sigh. Now, why couldn't we slap a cutsie name on the accidental litter, call them "Golden Bulls" or "Pitreivers" and market them as a designer breed? It is the exact same thing.

Of course, 'doodles aren't the first attempt at duping naive people into spending good money on a mutt. The 'poo dogs started it years ago. Cockapoos and Yorkie-poos, Malti-poos and Shihapoos, Peke-a-poos and Lhasapoos are all mixes of Cocker Spaniels and Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese and Shih Tzus, Pekingnese and Lhaso Apsos with Miniature Poodles. Oh, yes, and don't forget the Schnoodle (Schnauzer-Poodle.) The 'poo dogs were designer breeds long before that phrase was invented.

I saw an interview once on one of those news magazine shows with the founder of the designer dog movement, the guy who invented the Puggle (Pug-Beagle mix.) He stood in his huge metal pole barn, discoursing on his latest two or three way crosses ("This is a beagle-poodle-terrier mix. I'm calling it a Jack Poogle" - or some such nonsense.) As I looked at the rows and rows
of metal cages, three or four high, each containing a small dog, I thought to myself "Puppy Mill!"

I was sorry that the interviewer didn't ask him pointed questions about his factory, for there is no other word for the production line he had going on in that building. How could he possibly know the personalities of the female dogs he was using? Puppies learn a lot from their moms in the first 6 to 8 weeks of life. How could he possibly handle each puppy in every litter, getting them accustomed to being held by people? How could he possibly get them all out of their cages every day to run on the grass and learn to walk on tile and carpet and hardwood floors and stairs, to expose them to cats and vacuum cleaners and small children and a thousand other things that dogs will have to cope with throughout their lives? The answer is, he can't. These are things that good breeders do every day when they have individual litters, and the public resents paying for it. Yet, the puppy mill guy or the backyard breeder out to make quick money gets big bucks because his puppies have a cute "breed" name. What matters more in the life of a dog - having a good foundation in behavior, socialization, and manners, or being created as a fad?

All this came to a head the other day with two different conversations I had with people about dog "breeds." The first was a puppy that was a mix between a cockapoo and a poodle, and they were calling it - wait for it - a "Cocka-poo-poo." Ridiculous! The second was a woman who was telling me about her mother's new litter of puppies. Seems she had adopted a purebred Yorkshire Terrier from an animal shelter and bred it. (For shame on the shelter, for letting an intact purebreed dog out of their building!)
She was raving about this new breed: "Yorkie-wa-wa." I couldn't hold my tongue, and told her there was no such breed, what she had were Yorkshire Terrier-Chihuahua mixes. (Or is that "Yorkie-hua-hua?" No matter, it's still not a breed.) "Well, it's a designer breed," she insisted. Sigh (again.)

While I'm on the subject of cute names and breed misconceptions, there is no such thing as a "teacup" anything. "Teacup" is yet another cutsie name attached to the smallest of the small. There are so-called "teacup" poodles and yorkies and I even saw a "teacup chihuahua" recently. When you breed for the tiniest of dogs, you are asking for medical problems - hydrocephalus ("water on the brain") and portovascular shunts (abnormal blood vessels of the liver) and other life-threatening birth defects. But, everyone wants a teeny-tiny pet they can put in their purse as a live fashion accessory (Thank you, Paris and Brittany!) and no one questions where these micro-dogs come from. No one wonders about the lives the parent dogs lead, shut up in cages and cranking out litter after litter till they die from exhaustion or dystocia (difficult labor) or are killed (I can't even say "euthanized," since that implies a good death) when they are no longer useful to the breeder. By the way, owners of tiny dogs: Don't bring me a "teacup" something and then tell me it is "too small" for vaccines or heartworm preventatives or to be spayed. It might be small, but it is still a dog, and it needs the same health care as a Great Dane.

These are things I can't say in my daily practice, since people will be offended and take their pets away. Still, they are things which ought to be known, and things which I have long wanted to share with others, so you were elected. If you have hung on through my rant, I thank you, and I reward you with a cleansing photograph of a terrific mutt: My buddy, Hooper.

"I am NOT a mutt; I am a German Malusky, a designer mix of German Shepherd, Malamute, and Husky, thankyouverymuch."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Step up and see the show!

Thanks to my computer guru, who shall remain nameless, but whose blog you can read here, I have added a slide show to the side bar. This is the story of how those photos came to be.

This year, I had a surprise nest of Purple Martins here ---

in a Super Gourd on a shepherd's hook about 5 feet off the ground. The Purple Martins who live here either didn't read the rules that martins like to nest 10-15 ft in the air or else were desperate for a place to call their own.

Originally, this gourd was supposed to house Tree Swallows, who elected to use the wooden nest box I had planned as a trap for House Sparrows. When they rejected the plastic gourd, it was used to trap an unwelcomed starling. After I removed the starling, a young (SY = Second Year) Purple Martin took it over and sang diligently for days on end, hoping for a bride. The season was getting on and all the other martins had eggs or nestlings, while Mr. Lonely Heart was still single.

I pitied the poor guy. Purple Martin colonies tend to have more males than females, and it is not unusual for young bachelors to spend their first summer alone, but that doesn't stop me from feeling sorry for them.

One day, I peeked into the gourd and found a nest with eggs. Surprise, surprise! Mr. Lonely Heart had found himself a girl after all, and they were working on a family.

Because this gourd is low and easy to inspect, I have been taking pictures nearly every day since hatching, and have put them together in a slide show.

You may notice there are 4 eggs, and on Hatch Day, you can see three hatchlings and a pipped egg. What you can't see is that the embryo in the fourth egg didn't make it. On closer examination, the eggshell was really thick and heavy, which is why (I assume) the chick couldn't get out.

I still have about 4 more days that I can inspect the nest and take photos before the young get too close to fledging, so I will add more shots as I take them. The adults shown are not the ones who belong to this nest, and I hope to add photos of SY adults and HY (Hatch Year) juveniles to make the show complete.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

A visit to my pond

One of the best things about my home is my pond. In fact, one of the main criteria when I looked for my place was the presence of "natural water," and this small farm pond was a major selling point in my eyes.

Besides being stocked with bluegill, catfish, a few large-mouthed bass and some huge grass carp, it is home to turtles and frogs, a dragonfly haven, a source of water for birds and mammals, a "fishin' hole" for my relatives, and a playground for my dogs.
Despite the heat, I spent a little time there today. I had promised the girls a play date, and Holly, for one, was dying for a swim. Grace wades, but refuses to go further out than chest deep.

"Fetch a stick" is a favorite game. Holly leaps in like an Olympic diver, and retrieves every stick thrown.

Grace waits at the edge, hoping to steal the stick from Holly.

"Mom!! She took my stick again!"

Here are a couple of quick videos showing off my girl's skill. (Turn up the volume to hear Purple Martins calling in the background.)

Many birds enjoy my pond. You can hear the Purple Martins overhead in both of the above video clips of the dogs. Red-winged Blackbirds nest in the cattails along the pond edge, and lately I have had visits from a female Wood Duck. I really hope she will nest nearby one year. All three of my resident swallow species, Barn and Tree Swallows and the martins, drink and bathe here, as well as using it as an insect hunting grounds.

The martins love the many dragonflies who inhabit the pond. Bats, too, will visit in the evening, and in the summer, I can set my watch by their appearance.

For quite some time, I have been lucky enough to have a visiting Green Heron at the pond, but he's pretty shy. My glimpses of him are usually limited to the sight of his backside flying away as I approach or rarely, a glance as he lands before the shrubs block my view.

He must be getting used to my company, or else he is desperate for a meal, because today, he flew in after the dogs and I arrived and stayed put through some vigorous canine aquatic action. I tried stalking him for pictures and spooked him away twice, only to have him return both times.

I caught some very shaky video before I finally flushed him for good, sending him over the barn to the neighbor's pond, where it apparently was quieter.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bird Banding at New River Gorge

One of the favorite events at the New River Gorge Birding and Nature Festival is the banding demonstration, held on both Monday for the full week group and those doing the first half of the week, and on Thursday for those coming in for the second half of the week. These days are designated as "Birding by Butt," but plenty of us stood on our tiptoes to see this handsome Brown Thrasher displayed by bander Bill Hilton.

Mist nets are set up to catch whatever birds happen by. Here, a Tufted Titmouse thinks evil thoughts while receiving its band.

"As soon as you turn my bill loose,
I will bite you where it hurts, Human."

Notorious biters, everyone groans when a Northern Cardinal becomes ensnared. It takes a minimum of two grown men to extract one cardinal from the mist net.

Bill's special passion is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, as he let us all know by his T-shirt.

While many people are licensed to band birds, relatively few are allowed to handle hummingbirds, which are so small they can't manufacture bands for them. The bander has to hand-make each piece of hummingbird bling, and sometimes has to create homemade tools to help him get the job done.

A hummingbird waits its turn in a tube made of a rolled-up 3"x5" card. To take measurements, you slide the appropriate part of the hummer out of the tube.

Measuring the wing length of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Banded hummingbirds are paid for their appearances with a nice long drink of nectar.

A banded hummingbird rests in the palm of a hand before taking off to continue his daily business.

No hummingbirds were harmed in this process.

So, if you weren't hooked on the New River Birding Festival already, here is one more reason to attend.

Monday, July 14, 2008

History and Mystery Combined

Egypt has the pyramids, Guatemala has its ancient Mayan ruins, and England has Stonehenge. Ohio has its own unique prehistorical culture - the earthworks of the "Moundbuilders."

Thousands of years ago, the Adena, Hopewell and Fort Ancient Indian tribes of Ohio built a number of different types of earthworks - conical mounds, platform mounds, and ridges or other shapes - that were used for burial or ceremonial reasons. A few of their sacred places remain in Ohio to this day.

Most mounds are named, often for the original family who owned the land the mound occupies. This one, along the Ohio River between Chilo and Neville in Clermont County, has two names.

I have always referred to this neglected mound as the Edgington Mound, because of this sign visible from Rt 52, which names it for the previous landowners.

However, when I stopped by to take some closer photos, I found this hidden plaque, naming the mound for Ruth Adomeit, a benefactress.

If Ruth's "generous donation" is being used to "make preservation possible," I think she needs to check the books. There is also a conflict on the age of this mound. the first sign indicates it is from the Adena culture (the earliest of the three periods) and this plaque says it represents the Fort Ancient period, the most recent.

Mounds are usually kept neat and are often marked with a simple sign courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society, as at Shrum Mound, in Columbus.

Everyone is always tempted to climb the earthworks.
Shrum Mound has a well-worn path.

Mounds can have whole parks and memorials built around them.

Seip Mound, on Rt 50 in Ross County, has interpretive signs that explain the function of the mound and markers delineating the remains of the surrounding houses.

A trail leading to the mound tempts hill-walkers, but the signs request you stay off the earthworks.

Frequently, a modern day cemetery has been built around an ancient mound, connecting the ages. This unnamed mound is in a cemetery in Newton, between Cincinnati and Batavia.

In other places, mounds are in public areas. In Marietta, the Quadranaou, a large, rectangular, plateau-like mound is part of a community park.

No one complains if you walk on the Quadranaou Mound, but climbing Conus Mound (not pictured), also in Marietta and the centerpiece of the Mound Cemetery, will get you a $500 fine.

The earthen ridges that made up the walled path leading from Quadranaou to the Muskingum River were removed, but the boulevard that took its place is still referred to as Sacra Via, the Sacred Way.

Believe it or not, this rough hillock in the Prairie Oaks Metropark in western Franklin County is a long-lost Indian mound, unnamed, unloved, and uncared-for.

The grandmother of all Ohio mounds is this one, Serpent Mound, off the Brush Creek in Adams County.

Serpent Mound is "the largest and finest serpent effigy in the United States." Nearly one quarter of a mile long, it represents an uncoiling snake. It was originally excavated in the late nineteenth century.

A very old image of Serpent Mound shows the coiled tail at one end. The oval shape at the other has been assumed to mean many things - the serpent swallowing an egg, the earth or the sun, among other interpretations.

The head of the Serpent is aligned with the summer solstice sunset, and other parts point to the winter solstice and equinox sunrises. A powerful place of mystery and worship, climbing on the earthworks at Serpent Mound is most strictly forbidden.

The Serpent Mound is best appreciated from above. Being severely acrophobic, I was only able to make it to the first level of the observation tower.

But, the view was worth the terror, to see the Serpent undulating before me

and in back of me.
Following the paved walking path, you can see the coils of the Serpent as it writhes its way across the land.

The Serpent's Head,
and tail.
There are many more earthworks in central and southern Ohio, some well-known, and some hidden. I try to visit them as I travel about the state, and wonder at what lies beneath them and what prompted their makers to create these enduring mysteries.