I was chatting with a friend a few days ago and somehow the conversation turned towards my cat Sapphire. I can't remember how we got there, but it wasn't a surprise. A lot of my conversations with people end up with me telling them something strange about one or more of my pets. There's just so much material from which to choose! Anyway, after telling her all about Sapphire's adventures all those years ago I thought I'd share it with all of you too.
I first met Sapphire in 1973 when a sneaky friend of mine presented her to me as a wedding present. My friend was a Mothers' Helper as they were called back then (I don't know what the term is today), and looked after three children and did various jobs to help the working mum cope. The working mum had come across this batch of dumped kittens and brought them back to her flat. Once the kittens began to grow she realised her decision hadn't been the best one she could have made and handed the job of finding homes for them over to my friend, with the addendum that any kittens left over at the end of the week would be "disposed of". That's all it took for me to accept my wedding present - the term "disposed of" sends chills up my spine. Graeme was a little less than thrilled. Realisation of his future hadn't quite hit him in the face at this time, but he was starting to suspect that I had a unique ability to acquire pets without actively trying to do so and he was worried.
While I was knee deep in wedding preparations I had sent Graeme out to find rental accommodation we could afford and that allowed me to keep a cat. He found such a flat and handed over the deposit and signed the lease. When I sent Graeme on this mission I had one cat that was coming to live with us (Topaz). The rest of my menagerie were rather ancient and I didn't want to disturb their retirement with a big move. They would live out the rest of their lives at my mother's house where they had always been. I told Graeme that an extra cat wouldn't make much difference and everything was fine. In the end we moved in with three kittens, Topaz the tortoiseshell, Sapphire the white cat with a few dabs of grey fur, and Ophelia a neurotic black and white cat.
We lived in the flat for two years with me acquiring more pets along the way. You can read about all my extra pets here The cats lived in the flat nearly all the time venturing outside only occasionally. We then moved to an acre near Mittagong and the cats learned to go outside more often and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Unfortunately for Sapphire sunshine wasn't a good idea. Every summer her white ears and pink nose would get sunburned and after a few years of this she ended up with some skin damage. We took her to the vet and he said it was either a case of keeping her inside at all times or tattooing her ears and nose with a dark ink to proved protection from the sun. We chose the tattooing option so Sapphire could continue to enjoy her new outdoor access. We left her there overnight and made arrangements to pick her up the next day.
The vet rang before we headed off the next day to say that Sapphire had had a bad reaction to the dye and her face had swollen up drastically. He had her on a drip and needed to keep her in until the swelling went down. I agreed and went into worry mode - a common mode for me with the menagerie and later my children. We visited Sapphire that afternoon and she was a sorry sight with her dark, scabby ears and nose on a face so swelled up she looked grotesque. It was hard to believe we'd always considered Sapphire the beauty of the family. The swelling was so bad she could barely open her mouth to complain about the treatment she was receiving and the fact that she was now tattooed and didnt' get to choose the design.
After a few days the swelling went down, Sapphire was able to voice her disapproval of the whole incident again in loud meows. She came home and told her troubles to the three other cats, settled down for a good sleep and continued healing. The scabs on her ears and nose where still there but the vet said this was normal and the scabs would drop off in a few days. He was right. The only thing he didn't mention was that her ears and a small part of her nose would drop off too!
We came home from a day out to find Sapphire with one ear missing and the other tip hanging at a drunken angle over her eye. I rang the vet to seek advice on the catastrophe (excuse the pun - I couldn't resist). He was less than impressed with the phone call. He told me that he'd spent the day performing Cesarean operations on a herd of small heifers where a huge bull had got into their paddock nine moths previously and he wasn't in the mood for jokes. I asked him why I would possibly think it was funny to ring him and tell him my cat's ear had fallen off. I was serious. The vet heaved a sigh and told us to bring Sapphire in straight away. I think he thought maybe the scab had come off and we were confused or something.
We arrived at the vet's carrying a ticked off cat and presented her for his inspection. There it was in all it's glory - an earlessearless on both sides. He apologised profusely and said he'd never seen anything like this before. He continued to play with the ear tip while he talked to us, running it through his fingers, giving it a little flip and catching it. I had to concentrate on what he was saying because I found his absent minded treatment of Sapphires ear very off putting in a ghoulish sort of way. I pointed out that the blood coming from Sapphire's ear where he'd pulled the ear off was a thick, gunky blue. He had a closer look and agreed. Sapphire once again spent the night at the vet's while he tried to figure out what to do next. In the end she came home the next day in perfect health but without ears and a small part of her nose.
Later when I examined Sapphire closely I saw that her skin had turned blue under her white fur. She was darkest blue on her face with the colour fading the further down her body you moved. She now had what looked like Kohl pencil eyes with the skin around them no longer the normal, cat approved pink, but now a dark indigo - very exotic looking. The dye ink had got into her blood stream and stained her skin along the way. How she survived with that much ink in her blood we'll never know but survive she did.
Years went buy and Sapphire lived a long and happy life. She remained blue (and of course earless) and just a few years later, while still a young cat, went blind. Whether the dye had anything to do with that I don't know, but I suspect it did. That was when I gave up rearranging furniture in the house. I used to rearrange the furniture every few months just for a different look. The first time I did that after blindness struck our Sapphire she kept ricocheting off the furniture. She expected everything to be just where she'd left it the day before and when it wasn't she bumped into it. She was often found in a corner of the room meowing plaintively that she didn't know where she was anymore - everything was strange. Rather than have Sapphire resemble a ball bearing in a pinball machine for ever more, I gave up on my decorating pretensions and stopped moving things about.
Sapphire lived until the ripe old age of 18. She remained the boss of the cats and most of the dogs even after losing her sight, and led a happy normal life. She did attract a lot of notice when visitors met the blue skinned, earless cat for the first time. They'd ask what happened and I'd tell Sapphire's story once again. One time the question was asked Graeme's brother piped in quickly answering the new visitor's question of what happened to Sapphire's ears with "They were delicious!" The visitor took a few horrified steps back and I quickly intervened with the true story.
One unexpected outcome from Sapphires brush with tattoo ink was that the vet never charged us full price for anything again. He came out to help with my horse Christie one time when she had colic. After hours of working on her and getting her back to normal, he was packing up his gear. Sapphire spotted him and wandered over to say, "No hard feelings," and pass the time of day with her medical practitioner. She rubbed up against him preparatory to opening the conversation and the vet looked down, shuddered and said, "That cat still haunts me." He proceeded to charge just for the medications used, not his time or travelling. I explained that we didn't blame him for Sapphire's new look, but he refused to take a cent more. For a few years there we had the cheapest vet bills we'd ever had. Sapphire smiled a smug smile when I mentioned this to Graeme and I could almost see her saying, "You're welcome."
I have had occasion to write about the ordeals related to my personal hygiene activities before. I've mentioned showering with a duck (on purpose but reluctantly), almost getting a bath with Billy (definitely not on purpose and very reluctantly!). I have also showered with ferrets unintentionally - they just muscled in on my shower one day and passed rude comments about my weight while paddling around in the water on the shower floor. I've also written about the trials and tribulations of using our toilet here especially during the early hours of the morning. This is mostly due to Billy's presence in the laundry and his determination to become one with the toilet pedestal. Now showering has once again become fraught with potential bodily harm.
When they were kittens Ambrosia and Nefertiti were much like toddlers. They wouldn't let me out of their sight and followed me everywhere I went to see what new and exciting activity I was about to embark on. In their efforts to keep tabs on me at that time in their lives, Ambrosia and Nefertiti both wandered into the shower at various times. That's the disadvantage of a shower curtain compared to a glass screen. Nefertiti visited just once, found the falling water decidedly not to her taste and has remained on the outside of the shower curtain ever since. Ambrosia, on the other hand, visited a few times passing the time of day with me while batting at the falling water before deciding that nothing exciting was going on in there. She's not adverse to a bit of water to play with but in her opinion I took up far too much of the shower recess to allow for free access to the water, so she stopped visiting - much to my delight.
Now, Ambrosia has rediscovered where I disappear to each morning and has decided to join the party. First she peeks behind the shower curtain to make sure it's me in there and not Graeme. I don't know if Graeme has had words with her on the subject of disturbing his shower, or she just prefers to visit with me alone, but when she finds it's me in there, she springs up onto the shower wall and sits looking at me for a little while. While she is considering the sight of me naked and dripping wet I begin to worry - not because I have body image issues, but because I value my skin in one piece. All enjoyment of the shower has now disappeared and I have to keep a wary eye on the Bengal above my head. If Ambrosia jumps up there before I have washed my hair I am in real danger of getting soap in my eyes as I try to lather up and keep an eye on her at the same time. Then she gets the brilliant idea that now would be a good time to ask for a pat or a tummy rub. She indicates her readiness by flipping over on the timber wall top and attempting to display the tummy area needing attention. I am quick to comply so that her contortions are kept to a minimum, trying to get the pat in before she actually flips on her back because you may remember that Ambrosia has a terrible sense of balance (actually she has no sense of balance to speak of at all) so my showers are now a very exciting activity. When Ambrosia flips on her back on a narrow surface she invariably ends up on the floor with a confused look on her face. The fact that my body stands between Ambrosia's fall and the floor is painfully obvious to me. An excitement I could do without. Ambrosia doesn't seem to mind my wet hands. As I've said before she doesn't mind water at all. Ambrosia, as you can see in the photo, doesn't consider her balance challenged nature and performs all sorts of contortions in an effort to receive a pat or two while I'm otherwise occupied. Heaven help me if I ignore her and she feels obligated to try harder!!! I'm just lucky that the man who built this house felt the need for a very wide top to the shower wall. I doubt he had shower visiting cats in mind when he chose that bit of timber for the top, but I bless him every morning.
I'm not comfortable excluding her from the bathroom while I'm in there. The litter tray lives in the bathroom and Ambrosia wouldn't be above finding somewhere else to use instead if she was denied access, even if it was just to get even for closing the door on her. So it's access all areas, or at least access the bathroom for Ambrosia at all times.
Well, I'm off to have my shower now. Let's all keep our fingers crossed that Ambrosia continues to remain on top of the shower and not come flying through the air towards my very vulnerable body.
I usually have at least one elderly ferret and two younger ones amongst the Spring Rock Menagerie. When one of an older pair of ferrets sadly dies I contact the Ferret Welfare Association of New South Wales and put in an emergency request for two young rescued ferrets. After spending its life with a friend, I find that older ferrets lose interest in going on with life without another ferret to play and share nefarious deeds with. Bringing in two younger ferrets has always renewed their interest in life and they get over the loss of their friend while making new friends. Ferrets only live for a very short time - six or seven years - far to short a time for such beautiful little creatures. So over the years I'd had plenty of opportunity to study the aging habits of ferrets.
Horton has begun showing signs of old age and while giving him a cuddle a few days ago I stopped and considered the signs of aging in a ferret. They aren't quite the same as for dogs and cats although the greying around the muzzle and eyes often happens. Horton is a white ferret so there's no greying to see. He is showing his age in other, peculiar to ferrets ways.
1. Old ferrets like to have long cuddles. By long cuddles I mean all of a few minutes, but in the life of a busy ferret that is a very long time. Young ferrets don't have time for anything but a quick cuddle and even then they are constantly on the move climbing up your chest to sit on one shoulder and then the other while looking for more adventure. You have to get your pats and cuddles in as quickly as possible because young ferrets have places to be and thimbles to steal. Old ferrets stop what they are doing, walk over to your feet and gaze up with that look that says, "Cuddle please." They then snuggle in your arms for a few minutes while lapping up the pats and attention. To tell the truth I think that it's a face saving strategy so the younger ferrets don't realise the old ferret has run out of puff. "You lot go on without me for a while," the older ferret says. "I feel the strange need to cuddle with my human for a bit." Once the old ferret has caught its breath and recharged its batteries it will start to climb down to rejoin the mayhem on the floor.
2. Old ferrets get careless about hiding their stash. Young ferrets will stash anything they can get their mouths around and seek out a well hidden, secret hiding place. As soon as they pick up the new treasure they get a shifty look on their face, slink low to the ground in an effort to become invisible and head for their wherever they have hidden their stash. Ferrets hide their stash from both other ferrets and humans. This hiding place is usually set up early in life and grows over time unless discovered by the humans and cleaned out. Treasures include a diverse range of items including, but not limited to cotton reels (unravelling of course), grapes, banana skins, orange skins, thimbles, small items of clothing such as socks left on the floor, small toys and much, much more. It's fair to say if they can pick it up it's a ferret treasure. Old ferrets don't lose interest in amassing treasure, they still get the shifty look and slink low to the ground once they've picked up their new treasure but they just find the trips back and forward to their old hiding place rather onerous. Horton has begun to stash his treasures on the lounge room carpet in full view of everyone. He's always miffed when I retrieve whatever he's appropriated of mine from his stash or the other ferrets steal his grapes or fruit peels. to place in their stash.
3. Older ferrets make me think twice about sliding them across the kitchen floor. Ferrets both young and old love this game. I sit on the kitchen vinyl floor and a ferret will present itself to me for the game. I lay the ferret on its side and give a push to send the ferret zooming across the floor. once the slide comes to an end the ferret will right itself and scamper back to me for a repeat performance. Soon there is a line up of ferrets all wanting to join in the fun. These days when Horton presents himself I worry about old bones and only give him a small push. Horton just can't figure out why he doesn't travel as fast and as far as he used to.
4. Old ferrets often find younger ferrets very trying. Just like the older generation of any species, older ferrets find the fun and games of younger ferrets too much to take at times. Don't get me wrong, 90% of the time the older ferret is right there in the middle of the ferret chaos enjoying every minute, but occasionally the boisterousness of the younger generation just gets to be too much. Older ferrets then either have shrill words to say on the matter or decide it's time for one of those cuddles mentioned earlier. Younger ferrets don't know what's happened when told off by an elderly ferret. After all they were just being normal active ferrets. I can almost see them shrug their shoulders before getting back to the game while the older ferret removes itself from the game to go commune with its human.
So you see, Horton is showing all these classic signs of ferret aging. He's still fit and healthy and enjoying life to the full in his own old ferret way. Jocie will be the next one to start slowing down, but she assures me she has many young years ahead of her.
That's the thing about a ferret getting old. It seems to sneak up on them when they least expect it and suddenly the need for a long cuddle hits them. It's the downward slide to old age from there.
"The Kittens" Guinevere & Lancelot with Tristan thrown in because he was in this photo. Tristan never met Mum Puss he arrived about a year after Mum Puss went to that big mouse hunting field in the sky.
This story is from the archives. The mouse plague here is almost over thank goodness and I was thinking that if Mum Puss had been alive it would have been over a lot sooner.
Mum-Puss doesn’t care that I’ve done my time at University, gained a First Class Honours Degree and gone on to a successful teaching career, even earning the promotion of Assistant Principal before I was injured and medically retired. She considers all those achievements as useless, cerebral stuff not worth the lifting of a furry eyebrow. Nor has she shown respect for my years as a mother, raising three children who have all gone on to lead responsible, independent and happy lives. Mum-Puss argues that I’ve failed miserably in my parenting duties in one crucial area and she’s going to address this gap in my education if it kills one of us!
For the past couple of months Mum-Puss, our one-eyed mother cat we acquired with the farm (or as Mum-Puss prefers to see it – bought her for a record price paid for a cat and got the farm thrown in), has been gallantly fighting a losing battle to teach the dullest student she’s ever encountered to provide for herself and her family. Who is this dullard? A new intellectually challenged kitten? Her seven year old, thick as a brick son, Lancelot? No, the dumbest student Mum-Puss has ever encountered is me!
Mum-Puss is getting on in years now and realises if her new family of humans is to survive after she’s gone there’s only one thing she can do to ensure our survival – teach the matriarch of the humans, that dolt Rosemary, to hunt and catch her own food. Oh yes, Mum-Puss has heard rumours of my being a vegetarian, but she doesn’t believe that anything that’s grown as large as I have could possibly turn her nose up at a good, fresh mouse.
Mum-Puss began her lessons like all good teachers. She arrived at the back door, meowing that special meow that cats use when boasting about a particularly good catch. I went to the back door dreading what I’d find. Mum-Puss sat at the bottom of the steps with her catch lying dead at her feet, looked steadily at me with her one bright eye and suggested that I come and have a taste. I, not unreasonably to my way of thinking, declined her generous offer, scooped the corpse up with a garden trowel and deposited it in a shallow, anonymous grave in the herb garden. Behind me Mum-Puss gazed at my small, but respectful funeral service in disbelief, meowed once more, this time a “washing my hands of this imbecile” meow and stalked off with her tail in the air - the picture of an insulted benefactor.
All was quiet on the mouse front for a week or so. Then, one afternoon while I was sewing away without a care in the world, I heard That Meow again, not the “washing my hands” one - the “come out and share this wonderful treat I’ve caught just for you” one. I trudged to the back door and, sure enough, there sat my feline survival coach with another mouse at her feet and a look in her eye that dared me to even think about interring this fine specimen in my ever growing mouse mortuary. One look in that determined eye and I quailed. I didn’t want a fight on my hands or to permanently loose Mum-Puss’ respect, so I took the coward’s way out. “Puss, puss, puss!” I called, aimed not at Mum-Puss but at Lancelot and Guinevere, her two kittens who have overstayed their welcome by more than seven years now (Mum Puss's opinion not mine - I love them). Lancelot, who believes the only good mouse is a mouse inside his tummy, came hurtling down the yard, skidded around Mum-Puss, dodging a swat of her paw as he went, scooped up the defunct mouse and disappeared the way he came all in the blink of an eye.
Mum-Puss just sat there looking at me with a sad, almost hopeless look on her face. Here she just may have met her match, she was thinking. Never in all her years of training kittens to be self sufficient had she come across one so thick! True, she thought that Lancelot had been a challenge to teach the fine art of mousing; Lancelot isn’t the sharpest pencil in the box (Hell! let’s call a spade a spade – he’s the dumbest cat I’ve ever met). He believes he can force his way though glass by continually throwing his body at it, to hunt birds and is surprised every time his head makes contact with a solid object. You can’t get much dumber than that now, can you? I could see Mum-Puss’s little brain working overtime. She reviewed her teaching methods and decided that “hands on” was the next method to try. She wasted no time in putting her new system into practice, returning the very next afternoon with a mouse still alive, but with all the fight taken out of it. Mum-Puss sat in her usual teaching position, using the bottom step as her lectern, and gently batted the poor little furry offering in my direction.
My first reaction just caused Mum-Puss more anguish. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I don’t suppose I need to tell you that I’m not frightened of mice, rats or anything with less than eight legs, but the poor little mouse, still being alive startled me. I took emotional refuge in yesterday’s successful manoeuvre and once again called the “kittens”. Lancelot once again turned on his “now you see me now you don’t and you don’t see the mouse anymore either” act of yesterday and peace was restored to my world. I couldn’t look Mum-Puss in the eye. She left me in no doubt that I was the slowest, most troublesome student it had ever been her lot to educate, before once again stalking off, mumbling about the need for more funding for remedial classes for the hopelessly slow mouser students.
I returned to my sewing room with relief, hoping against hope that Mum-Puss would abandon all ideas of instructing me in the fine art of mouse catching. As it turned out it was a futile hope. Mum-Puss is clearly a never-say-die cat. She’d taught litter after litter and even Lancelot, how to catch their daily meal just in case the humans forgot to feed them one day (as if they’d allow that to happen!) and if she could teach Lancelot to become a more than competent mouser, surely this poor excuse for a human huntress could be whipped into shape eventually.
With these admirable sentiments in mind Mum-Puss began an intensive teaching program by bringing a mouse to her brick lectern each day and calling me to class. All these mice were alive to some extent or another. I attended class each day dreading what I might find. I couldn’t ignore her call for two reasons, one the mouse might be suffering and need Lancelot’s immediate attention, and two I still had to live with Mum-Puss in her non-teaching hours and I didn’t want to get well and truly on her wrong side. It was bad enough that she thought me mentally deficient – I didn’t want her to think me insolent as well. She just might remember that this is her house after all and kick me out.
I adopted two different tactics to deal with the mouse situation. If it was relatively unhurt I gently picked it up, examined it for wounds and let it go out in the paddock. If it was too far-gone I called Lancelot. You may have noticed that while I answered Mum-Puss’ call neither of her kittens came when they heard it. This is because they knew that if they sabotaged Mum-Puss’ lesson by stealing her teaching aids she’d exact quick and painful revenge, but all bets were off once I’d invited them to class. The first time I picked up the mouse Mum-Puss gave a little cheer of a meow, “Now we’re getting somewhere!” she thought. “This is more like it. I knew no-one could be that dumb and still walking around.” When I set it free on the other side of the fence, Mum-Puss gasped with disbelief. Who had ever heard of letting a nice juicy mouse being set free?! Mum-Puss considered the appalling action she’d just witnessed and came to the conclusion that I hadn’t really meant to let it go. Obviously I had taken it away from her to try my clumsy hand at catching it for myself and had stupidly put it over the fence with me on the wrong side. Mum-Puss gave me points for trying and stepped up her teaching program. She refused to give in. She’d teach me to catch mice or die in the attempt.
Just when she was beginning to wonder if the second of these options was the likely outcome of her quest to turn me into an efficient family provider, Billy the St. Bernard came to live with us. Mum-Puss’ bottom step lectern became a favourite haunt of this oversized dog and it was absolutely useless for her to try to teach from there anymore. Sitting outside and calling me to class wasn’t going to work either, because Billy was only too happy to join the class and change the syllabus to teaching me how to catch cats instead.
Mum-Puss has now retired from the education profession. She’s biding her time. One day I’ll come to my senses and beg her to teach me to catch mice. On that day she’ll generously agree on the condition that Billy goes – she doesn’t care where, just so long as he’s gone. Then maybe, I’ll pay more attention to her instructions, do my homework and pass all my exams. Until that time, Mum-Puss is in retirement and can be found lying in front of the heater or in a warm sunny spot in the sewing room consoling herself that she’s only had one abject failure in her whole teaching career. And when you think about it that’s a pretty good achievement.
Life is once again a bit fraught here at Spring Rock thanks to bad behaviour from the largest member of the menagerie. Billy has fallen in love with our aged kelpie Juno. While I'm the first to admit that Juno is a beautiful lady, Juno is 13 years old and has been a resident of Spring Rock since her surprise birth back in 1998 - far longer than Billy, but for some reason he's just discovered how beautiful she is. He likes to lie down next to her with his big head on her back. a soppy look on his face and strings of drool hanging down either side of his mouth. Juno is permanently soggy and would just like Billy to go away. It's a platonic love (Juno was spayed when she was a much younger kelpie), but a soggy one.
Juno now has a huge bald spot on her rump. Billy for some reason known only to himself likes to spend his spare time licking her and as his head is usually resting on her rump, that's the spot that always gets licked. He's going to get a hairball! I sprayed Juno with citronella, because dogs hate the smell of it, and at first Billy was highly offended that the object of his love had taken to wearing such a noxious perfume and worshiped her from afar - well a few feet away anyway. But it's true love and he rose above the smell and returned to worshiping her up close. Billy still rests his big head on her back whenever he can but at least the licking seems to have stopped. We play tag team time out in the laundry now to keep them separated and give Juno a bit of peace. Billy spends some time in there (complaining loudly all the time) and when I think he needs a bit of a walk and drink etc I let him out, grab Juno (if I can - she's very sprightly for an old girl) and put her in the laundry so she can continue to have peace and quiet, St Bernard free. A bit of cat kibble and Juno's world is perfect - a soft bed, her favourite food and most importantly no overgrown love lorn Billy.
Billy isn't the only one causing problems at Spring Rock. As I've mentioned before, Ambrosia the Bengal cat also gets time out, but in the bathroom. She has become addicted to rushing out the back door whenever she can, often nearly bowling me over in her attempts to get outside. You see outside is where the mouse plague is. Ambrosia has had quite a bit of success at catching mice on the back porch lately. Sadly she has had barely any success at dispatching the caught mice. Ambrosia tends to just play with them until they can escape and start life anew in another area of the backyard. I've had to get involved and take the mice off her. I can't dispatch them either so I put them in a plastic jug with a few bits of cat kibble to eat while they wait for Graeme to come and deal with them. Graeme and I have had words about the cat kibble. I've told him I feel guilty enough about condemning the poor little creature to death in the first place, at least it can await execution with a last meal. Graeme just shook his head and recognised defeat when he saw it.
But back to Ambrosia. Her reason for time out is simple. Ambrosia objects to being on the inside of the shut back door. The mice are waiting for her to come and play with them outside and she can see them from her almost permanent perch on the family room window. The mice like to live dangerously and play right outside the window on the boot rack. This of course winds Ambrosia up into a frenzy of mice catching zeal. When that back door thwarts her attempts to get out there amongst the mouse plague Ambrosia complains and complains loudly as only a Bengal can. She follows me around the house voicing her opinions on women who keep cats with a mission locked in the house. When told to keep quiet she simply yells some more. Occasionally things get to be just too much for both of us and Ambrosia is put in time out in the bathroom. I'd like to say that when she comes out she's a chastened cat who goes about her business quietly, but that would be a bald faced lie so I won't. It's not long before Ambrosia finds herself once again behind a second closed door - the bathroom door.
Thus I fill my winter days.
Billy has just released from the laundry and looking for Juno.
We are in the throws of a mouse plague in the Riverina. Let me tell you it is not pleasant. Being the softy that I am I usually rescue any mouse I find and let it go in the paddocks away from the house so it can live a full and happy life. With the millions of mice in residence on Spring Rock, causing damage everywhere and eating the seeds as soon as Graeme plants the crops, I can hardly continue with my mouse catch and release practises. Tristan, our large orange cat, has had his fill of mice and now basically ignores the hordes around the house yard and its environs. Ambrosia and Neferiti have both caught their first mice recently and are keen to repeat the exciting event, but thankfully few mice have found their way inside the house. They are in the ceiling and wall cavities though and their constant scuffling are drivng the girls crazy. They rush around the room looking ceilingward, trying to figure out how to breach the walls and get to those mice! So added to the mouse plague we can now include crazy cats, bouncing off walls, sometimes literally. Life here is fraught at the moment.
With the increasing mouse population Spring Rock is now playing host to a large variety of birds of prey. Hawks, falcons, kites, kestrels and even an eagle are all seen hovering over the paddocks in search of a small, furry meal.
The mice, who have a nose for an easy feed, have also invaded the chook pen, the aviary and the sheds and this has led to the new visitor we have here. For weeks I just refered to the beautiful bird as a hawk, but I have finally identified the "hawk" who visits the galahs and pigeon and causes such terror in their little feathered breasts, as a Spotted Harrier. I used my Readers' Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds and my neighbour's input (she worked for the Australian Museum recording bird song and identifying the birds). He (or she but with the beautiful plumage I'm inclined to think he) still visits the aviary almost daily. He lands on the wire on the roof and strikes a pose, attempting to look ferocious and gives the inmates of the aviary the evil eye. There really is no need for him to go to all that effort. Just his presence on the roof is enough to cause my birds to hunker down, assume the stuffed frog look and try to disappear into the scenery. I either tap on the kitchen window to let the harrier know that he has been spotted (no pun intended, but it was a good one wasn't it?) and his presence in not appreciated, or if all else fails, I go out to the aviary to tell him in person. I don't get very far before he realises I'm on my way and he quickly flies off for the trees close by. He often returns a few more times in the hope that I'll either change my mind and open the door to his tasty snacks or at least leave him alone. When he is convinced that neither will happen he disappears for thd day. This is the signal for my three birds to go balistic. All the pent up panic is now released to the sounds of screeching, scolding and mad wing flapping. I usually manage to calm them down with a few gentle words, some tasty treat and the assurance that the harrier will never find a way in to their cage.
Lately the harrier has discovered a much easier meal to get is mice and that the best mouse catching site is the lambing shed. He is doing his bit to end the horrible mouse plague by himself. I just wish he'd bring some friends along.
We are still feeding our baby lambs and keeping them in the lambing shed so we don't have to trek the paddocks to find them. We often meet the harrier when we are feeding the lambs. I can just hear the harrier saying, "Are these humans everywhere?" To say he is not happy to see us is an understatement. At the first sight of us the Harrier panics and, even though we are no-where near him and doing our best to ignore him (it's a huge shed), he ends up flying up to the skylights, banging against the fibreglass and finally hanging upside down on a wire in the roof trying to look dead. The first time he did it he convinced me! Graeme went over to investigate and the bird took off, so now we just nod in his direction and let him get on with his dead bird impersonation. Sometimes he is happy to stay there, batlike, for the duration, but more often he waits until we are fully occupied with feeding the lambs and quietly disappears.
So the state of the nation at Spring Rock is:
1 husband in charge of dispatching any poor mouse caught by the cats,
1 wife who is emotionally incapable of killing anything and feels guilty when she hands a live mouse over to husband,
3 dogs who ignore mice completly but will chase cats who are chasing mice,
2 inexperienced cats eager to catch mice but not dispatch them,
1 experienced cat who is all moused out,
3 birds who are too traumatised by the harrier's visits to do anything about the mice,
4 ferrets who have killed any mouse invading their cage,
12 chooks and 2 roosters who are all moused out as well,
14 bottle lambs in residence sharing their shed with countless mice,
1 overworked harrier who wastes too much time eyeing off the birds when his time could be better spent in the mouse (I mean lamb) shed and millions and millions of mice to be controlled by the very few Spring Rock residence who can dispatch mice.
It looks to me like we should be breeding ferrets and letting them run free around the house and sheds. I might broach this subject with Graeme later today. What do you think?
A Spotted Harrier doing its best to look ferocious.
Billy would like to thank everyone who sent him get well messages and kind thoughts. He is finally feeling a lot better. Last night he ate two and a half servings of his kibble for dinner - the first meal of dry food he's eaten since he took ill. He is outside eating another serving of kibble for breakfast as I write and tonight I'll offer him tinned dog food instead of cat food.
Yesterday things started looking up when Billy noticed I was holding his grooming comb. He bustled out to the porch from his sick room (the laundry) and took up his "groom me" stance. He stayed there enjoying the combing until my arm got tired and I called a halt. He looked disappointed that it was over and returned to his sick bed, but it was a definite improvement.
Things looked grim for Billy's and my love affair for a while. While Graeme and I were in Melbourne my neighbour came over twice a day to check on Billy and spoil him a bit. I had asked her if she could check him once a day and see if he would eat something. I only asked for once a day because my neighbour lives about a 15 minute drive and six closed gates away, but she loves Billy and made the effort to check him more often. She's a wonderful woman. Billy was much happier staying home with my neighbour checking on him than he would have been in a cage at the vet's. On her first visit she brought over some steak rissoles to see if she could tempt him, and tempt him she did. Billy scoffed the lot, one at a time out of her hand and looked for more. My friend had to have a complete wash down after the event, but she said she didn't mind, she was just glad he ate something. Billy refused all offers of tinned cat food in the hope that more rissoles would appear. I didn't leave his tablets out for her to give him because Billy resisted taking those tablets quite strenuously and my neighbour is nearly 80 years old. When I got home the tablet insertion into Billy resumed and only tinned cat food was available. I would have bought him rissoles or whatever his little heart desired but it was the Easter weekend and all shops were shut. Billy made it perfectly clear he didn't love me anymore. Every time I entered the laundry he'd duck his head or turn his face away. When I offered him tinned cat food (his former favourite food) Billy clearly said that he wanted my neighbour back as his nurse, and if she brought more rissoles so much the better. She knew how to treat a sick fellow he said, none of this forcing nasty tasting white things down his throat; just kind words and tasty treats. Now that he's had the last of his tablets we are back to our love fest with each other again.
I was really worried when I wrote last week about Billy being ill. I thought I was going to lose him. He was so sick and looked close to death's door. It's taken quite a while for the big fellow to recover and the vet still doesn't know what the problem was. He feels that the huge mouth ulcer and the nose bleeds were symptoms rather than causes. I'm just grateful that Billy is now feeling that life is good once again.
I don't imagine it will be long before Billy makes his way down to the ferret cage to resume exchanging insults with The Gang Of Four. I think they've missed him too.
Billy is sick. He isn't interested in tummy rubs, being brushed, having his bib put on and rushing inside or even exchanging insults with the ferrets. Billy is very sick. He just lies on the laundry floor and lets the Kelpies steal his food.
Last night we made an emergency after hours visit to the vet. Billy had been lethargic all day and didn't eat his dog kibble breakfast. When I fed him tinned food for dinner tried to eat it but jumped back in obvious pain when he tried. I investigated and discovered blood in his mouth. Billy is a very sick little boy. At first the vet thought he had rat bait poisoning because of the bleeding from his nose and mouth and he has very yucky looking eyes as well as taking lethargy to a new level. We have lots of rat baits out at the moment as Spring Rock is in the grip of a mouse plague. The vet says they have been run off their feet with rat bait poisoned pets, but the blood clotting test (the definitive test for rat bait poisoning) proved negative so it's not rat bait poisoning. I told the vet all along that we'd be very surprised if it was because we have made sure none of our pets can get at any of the baits. The thought was he may have caught a mouse that had eaten some, but as I said rat bait is not the problem.
The vet gave Billy a thorough check up and found nothing amiss aside from the fact that Billy just lay there and let the vet poke and prod him all over. He says Billy is a perfect specimen of an older St Bernard, but Billy and I already knew that. We weighed him and he weighed in at 68kilos so he's a good weight for his breed. The fact that we actually got Billy on the scales shows just how sick he is. Every time we've taken him to the vet he has refused point blank to get on the silver platform. Estimates of his weight have always been taken and medication worked out from there. It only took two tries last night and Billy's true weight was finally revealed. He's not dehydrated, his tummy and other vital organs all feel healthy according the the vet and he's not even running much of a temperature.
Billy just lay on the floor and gave me a long suffering look while all this was going on. Billy's examinations always take place on the floor because no-one wants to lift him onto the tiny metal table to save crawling around the floor. He didn't try and make friends with the vet, or tell all our family secrets or any of his usual visit to the vet behaviour. He even let the vet, a total stranger, lift his paws, open his mouth and look inside, generally man handle him for ages and poke needles in various parts of his anatomy. The only objection he made, and that was a very feeble one, was when the vet took Billy's temperature and I think Billy's indignation was very justified. The vet found a large bleeding ulcer in the front of his mouth but no reason for it - all his teeth are fine. There seemed to be no explanation for the bleeding nose or yucky eyes either.
At the moment Billy has been given, to quote the vet, "a massive dose of antibiotics and a big dose of anti-inflamatories". He is to have two doses of the strongest antibiotics the vet has twice a day. The vet said if Billy wasn't better today he will be spending our trip to Melbourne at the vet's so an eye can be kept on him and he can be given his tablets for those two days.
It's all a mystery at the moment and I'm very worried about him. If he doesn't improve the vet wants to do a series of blood tests to see if something shows up. Graeme is starting to mentally add up the bill. I pointed out that Billy is worth it. Graeme said, he supposed Billy was a fixture (his way of saying we would pay what we had to). I pointed out he was more than a fixture, Billy holds a very large place in my heart.
Billy seems to feel a bit better this morning. He's still very sick, but he ate the food I spoon fed him and looked a bit more interested in life. I have just arranged with my neighbour for her to babysit Billy for the two days we're away. I thought Billy would have to go back to the vet's just to be given his tablets and fed soft food, but my neighbour, wonderful woman that she is, is going to keep Billy in a pen in the wool shed where it's quiet and her Kelpies won't object to Billy's presence on the farm. She will feed Billy spoonfuls of food night and morning and slip his tablets in his food. Billy loves my neighbour and she is very fond of him too, so it will be a lot better for Billy than staying in a cage at the vet's. Whether it's a lot better for my neighbour or not I don't want to dwell on at the moment. It's enough to say I'll be buying her a BIG thank you present for her kindness.
I am not going to enjoy my trip to Melbourne very much if Billy's not anybetter before we leave. Graeme is taking me to the Melbourne Museum to see the Tutankhamen exhibition for our anniversary on Thursday. The hotel and tickets have been paid for for weeks now. What with seven bottle fed lambs we are dropping off for my daughter in law to feed, cats to incarcerate in the house because of the rat baits and now Billy being ill, I know I'm just going to worry the whole time - especially about a big, sooky dog back at Spring Rock.
Before I start I just want to say to my friend Jane that I know you want photos. I'm not a person who thinks of photos so all the events below have gone unphotographed and some are just impossible to photograph. If I manage to have my camera and a pet behaving strangely in the near future I promise to add a photo or two to this blog at a future date.
There are times when the behaviour of the Spring Rock menagerie cause me to sit and wonder. Recently I found myself creating a mental list of why's.
Why does Nefertiti prefer to eat in the bathroom? I have cat kibble and water layed on in the kitchen for the tree cats but Nefertiti will do little more than take a desperate nibble when hunger gets too much for her if the bathroom cat dish is empty. Nefertiti and Ambrosia sleep in the bathroom so I consider the bathroom food dish just for late night snacks. Nefertiti considers it the only really acceptable food receptacle in the house. Why?
Why does Ambrosia consider an afternoon spent pulling pin out of my pincushion or sewing an afternoon well spent? Yesterday I left some applique on my chair while I went off to do some much needed housework. When I returned the floor was littered with pins while the edges of the applique shape flapped in the breeze. Ambrosia was nowhere to be seen, but I know it was her. She's the only cat in the house that spends her spare time pulling pins out of things. It takes quite a bit of oral dexterity I must admit, but I just can't see the entertainment value in it.
Speaking of my sewing supplies. Why do ferrets steal and stash my sewing tools. Isabella, the first ferret I ever owned, built up huge stashes of thread spools behind our very large bookcase. She added such essential items as orange peels stolen from the bin and if life was really good to her a banana skin or two as well, but time would come when I couldn't find any thread to sew with and had to go and buy not only the thread but a long length of timber to reach the thread stashed at the end of the bookcase. Most of it was only good for the bin when retrieved (what with the dried orange peel and banana skins stuck to it and all) but some was savable. I used to wonder if Isabella had a large sewing project planned. Every other ferret I've owned has found my sewing supplies irresistible and if not caught in the act will take off with whatever they can fit in their tiny little mouths. They have had a bad influence on Ambrosia who finds my thimbles and thread conditioner boxes too tempting to leave wherever she finds them.
Speaking of ferret and their history, why did Isabella's mate Theodore like to steal and stash shoes? None of them would fit him except possibly as a bed. He was so desperate to stash a shoe he found one day that he ignored the fact that Justin was still in it. Theodore just sore the size 13 shoe and he had to have it. He grabbed the edge of it in his mouth and tugged with all his mite trying to get the shoe (and Justin) under the lounge where he could add it to his collection.
Why is Tristan never happy with the side of the door on which he finds himself. Tristan, as mentioned in an earlier posting meows pitifully until I open the door for him to let him in. He then proceeds to meow and fuss until he's let out. Minutes (sometimes seconds) later he is meowing to be let in again only to stay a few minutes and realise outside is where it's all happening and he needs to be. His world record was the day he came inside, just cleared the open door and turned around as the door closed and demanded to be let out.
Why do Hedwig and Hermes, my two galahs, constantly build and rebuild a nest they've made in the hollow log in the aviary? The log's real purpose was to act as a vase for branches of native trees with seed pods or flowers on it for their delectation. These tasty offering were quickly removed and nest renovations resumed so often that I've stopped using it as a branch receptacle and left them to have it as a potential nest. It's been years in the making though and never seems to be just what they'd envisaged when making their renovations. Such things as seed and water dishes from their birdcage and small sticks are carefully placed in the log. The seed dishes cause a major problem because the dish will only fit in the hole in one direction and no amount of banging it will change its shape - not that they don't try over and over again. Once it's finally in there though it's pulled out within days as a new plan for the nest layout takes shape. The log has never been used as a nest (thankfully). I imagine because it's never been brought up to Hedwig's high standards.
Why do the kelpies prefer Billy's bed to their own? Their bed and Billy's bed are exactly the same except in colour. I've tried changing the bedding around after washing it and the girls are more than happy to settle down on what was Billy's bed and feel that life is good. Billy is then the problem. He wants his bed back. Lately this has become moot. Billy in his later life has decided to abandon to the laundry at night and share the kelpies bed, whichever one it is. This doesn't mean that the kelpies are allowed to relocate to Billy's much more desirable bed in the laundry. Billy still defended that bed too by non-stop barking until I got up and sort things out. The girls don't look too thrilled to have to share there bedding with a huge St Bernard, so I've added his bedding beside theirs so they all have a better chance of fitting in. Juno has assumed a permanently resigned expression on her face while Dione keeps trying to garner more of the space on the rugs. There's not much room for a kelpie or two when Billy plants himself in the middle of the two beds. Billy just flops down, closes his eyes and is snoring before any arguments can be delivered.
There's the age old why do the ferrets hate Billy and Billy hate the ferrets. It was hate at first site with no apparent reason for the animosity. Billy took one look at the ferrets, the ferrets sneered back at Billy and war was declared. Billy has lived here for seven years now and he's seen a number of ferrets come and go. He hates every new ferret with the same passion he reserved for its precedents and each new ferret hates Billy on site. The ferrets don't have a problem with the kelpies and the kelpies actually seem to like the ferrets. After all, the ferrets happily drop some of their cat kibble through the wire cage floor for the kelpies to scoop up. It's turned into quite a symbiotic relationship.
Why is it that when I lie down of an afternoon there is a general rush from all cats present to place themselves right up against my right side as close to my armpit as possible? The first cat there digs in and prepares to defend this prime spot of real estate. The two unsuccessful cats find other spots on the bed close to my body but with an air of settling for second best. The left side of my body usually remains cat free for some reason. Why? Back when Guinevere was still with us she refused to accept defeat if she was beaten to the prime location beside me and would begin washing whichever cat got there first. Guinevere's washing was more of a punishment that a grooming exercise and eventually the very soggy cat subjected to Guinevere's tongue would get up and leave to go dry off on another part of the bed. Guinevere triumphantly took possession of The Spot and I was able to get back to my rest. Tristan used to try tucking his head right under my arm in an effort to give Guinevere a smaller target. It didn't work, she just washed whatever was still sticking out. Thankfully non of the present group of cats employs guerrilla warfare.
These are just some of my why's related to the menagerie. I don't have any answers despite pondering these questions from time to time. There are members of my family who say that every one of my pets was as sane as the next animal until it came to live with me. This sounds far too much to me like my nearest and dearest are attributing my pets’ peculiarities on my influence. I refuse to dignify their comments with a response.
An Asian Leopard Cat on the floor. The safest place for it to be I'm coming to think.
I'm very worried about Asian Leopard Cats. I've never met one you understand, but having lived with Ambrosia, our Bengal cat who is half Asian Leopard Cat, for over 12 months I'm wondering how the pure jungle species has survived. I mean they live in trees right? Living in trees requires a certain amount of balance and fitness to ensure you don't fall out of that tree right? Falling out of trees can't be good for your health, especially if you fall out of them on a regular basis right?
Well, Ambrosia is a klutz. There's not polite way of saying it. She is the clumsiest cat I've ever met. Actually she is the only clumsy cat I've ever met. That's why I worry about the Asian Leopard Cat. Everyone of my ordinary moggy cats and the one Rag Doll and two Persians I've owned over the years have been the epitome of grace and balance under pressure. I even had one tortoiseshell cat who could navigate her way across the kitchen wall,s to impossible to reach otherwise cupboard tops, via the top of the door jam without putting a foot wrong. All these cats have sat on windowsills, tops of lounge chairs, lounge chair seats and any other surface higher than floor level and manage to stay there for as long as they chose. When they did decide to leave they gracefully rose to their feet, usually stretched daintilly, and descended to the floor with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of feline fluidity. Poetry in motion you might say - and nothing less would be expected of a cat. Ambrosia on the other hand, is incapable of remaining on a raised surface without falling off and as the only difference between her and other cat breeds is her beautiful Asian Leopard Cat heritage, I am inclined to think the jungle cat is in serious jeopardy.
With unwavering klutziness Ambrosia manages to fall off said raised surfaces more times than she manages to stay put. If Graeme and I are in another room when we hear a loud thud we no longer go to investigate, we just look at each other, nod and say, "Ambrosia," and leave it at that. Many times during the night after the cats have been put to bed in the bathroom we hear the gentle thud of Ambrosia falling off the side of the tub, top of the litter box cover, windowsill or a slightly raised floor tile. I've now put the cats' bed inside the bathtub in an effort to encourage her to settle down and stay put in protected safety, but without success.
After many months of observing this un-cat-like behaviour I have come to the conclusion that Ambrosia doesn't take the dimensions of the surface in relation to the dimensions of herself into account. She insists on rolling, scratching, stretching or any number of other movements guaranteed to send her floorwards, while perched precariously on a narrow surface. Any other cat could most likely manage to stretch, scratch or whatever on this surface, but you'd think Ambrosia would have twigged by now to the fact that she can't. I suppose watching Nefertiti manage these manoeuvres over and over again while remaining comfortably stable on the raised surface just makes Ambrosia believe it can be done. Well, I suppose it can be done. Nefertiti does it all the time. Tristan who isn't a great heights loving cat, preferring to stretch out on the floor, can even manage to lie on a lounge chair without falling when to mood takes him. Ambrosia sees her siblings enjoying high places and believes it's the God given right of cats to be up high. It is, except for Ambrosia.
One of her favourite spots from which to fall is my old treadle sewing machine in the family room. The extended table at the side of the sewing machine is large enough to accommodate a number of cats but unfortunately far too small to accommodate Ambrosia. She stretches out on the extended table and slowly but surely oozes over to the edge as she contorts her little body in all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes while she enjoys the texture of the old wood beneath her. Without fail she eventually falls off and unlike your normal cat, Ambrosia doesn't land on her feet. This is another worry about those tree living Asian Leopard Cats. If they don't land on their feet how can they claim to belong to the cat family? Once she's sprawled out on the floor she looks up at me with an obvious question on her lips - "What happened?" You'd think by now, after 18 months of meeting the floor unexpectedly (I'm assuming she had this disability since she took her first steps), she'd know what happened, but it always seems to come as a surprise to Ambrosia.
Ambrosia loves to stretch out on my lap while I'm resting on the lounge with my feet up. Even though I'm trying to read or sew I have to keep a wary eye on the Bengal. She invariably begins to thoroughly enjoy snuggling on my lap and begins to think a tummy rub would just add that extra bit of bliss. She then begins to roll on her back in the hope that I will pick up on this subtle hint and rub away to her heart's content. Sadly she always choose to roll towards the edge of the lounge rather than towards the back. Bits of Ambrosia slip off my lap and slowly but surely she begins to sink towards the floor. I have to drop my book or needlework quickly and scoop in the drooping bits of the cat. I've found it easiest to then arrange her on her back and rub her tummy
Just recently Ambrosia has developed an interest in Graeme's morning ablutions. To observe the male of the house going about his morning routine she needs a good vantage point and what better spot that the bathroom window sill? As soon as Graeme enters the bathroom Ambrosia follows, skipping ahead and making her way to the window sill. From here she sits down and watches Graeme carefully. He begins with a shave. Ambrosia finds this interesting but not exciting. She's suspicious of the noise his razor makes so she's happy to keep a good distance between them. Ambrosia sits quietly and waits for further developments to take place. You can see where this is going can't you? Once he's shaved for the day, Graeme brushes his teeth. Once he's bent over the sink Ambrosia moves in for closer inspection and bends over the edge of the sill to get a better look at this strange human behaviour. It only took one mis-step during her study of the human male morning routine, and before he knew it Graeme had a surprised, prickly footed cat landing on the back of his neck. Graeme reacted just as we'd expect him to and Ambrosia is now banned from the bathroom while Graeme prepares for the day. Graeme never gives a pet a second chance.
I've given up worrying that she will cause herself some injury. I used to race to her side while she was still gathering her dignity about her once again, pick her up and inspect every inch of her little body. Luckily Ambrosia does share the normal cat's supple body characteristics. She may not land on her feet, but she still manages to walk away from every landing. Maybe this is the trick that has helped the Asian Leopard Cat survive in the wild.
Graeme insists that the Asian Leopard Cat is fine and there's no need for me to start a Teach The Asian Leopard Cat Balancing Skills Fund. He insists that Ambrosia's klutziness is more than likely solely an Ambrosia trait - not a species one.
That can't be right can it?
An Asian Leopard Cat in a tree. How long before it falls out I worry.
Disaster struck last week while we were out shopping. Graeme and I entered the local farmers' co-op without a care in the world. I browsed the clothes on special while Graeme headed off to buy dog and cat food and then the bomb dropped. the co-op was out of our cats' brand of cat food, except for the fish flavour. Now you might wonder why this caused such consternation in the Spring Rock household. The fact is the ferrets can't stand the fish flavour. They would rather go hungry than let fish flavoured kibble pass their little toothy mouths. The cats are fine with fish of course, but Tristan, Ambrosia and Nefertiti have never been privileged to taste it due to the ferrets' prejudice re fish flavours. Rabbit, lamb or whatever else Whiskas produces are all fine with the ferrets so those are the only flavours that are allowed to enter our home. Tristan, Ambrosia and Neferiti have never learned what they are missing and keeping them in ignorance is fine by me. If they were to discover that delicious flavour out there they just might strike for better kibble flavours every day.
Graeme who knows what a waste of money it would be to buy the fish flavour only to have it well and truly rejected by the ferrets and have to feed them solely on expensive tinned food until a more acceptable flavour could be purchased came back from his cat kibble hunt to report the bad news to me. There was another brand available that we'd tried before, but this brand had rather drastic effects on the cats' digestive system. The smells the cats emitted would have made a dog proud! Also neither the cats nor the ferrets were keen on this other brand, picking at their food and muttering about how disgraceful it was that inferior quality food was being served. We stood in the co-op weighing up the pros and cons of the two unacceptable options to try and decide which was the least unacceptable. In the end I decided that the other brand in lamb flavour was the better of two bad options. We'd buy it now and buy a Whiskas one as soon as we could and mix the other brand in, a bit at a time, until it was all gone. In the meantime the cats and ferret would have to endure the other brand straight.
We were off to a White Suffolk conference in South Australia in a few days so I mixed the little bit of Whiskas that was left with a small portion of the other brand in an effort to convince our cat kibble munchers to eat it. At first the cats carefully chose their preferred brand by picking up the other brand in their teeth and dropping it on the floor, only munching when their tongue detected the Whiskas kibble. The ferrets just sent all the kibble flying, thus making the kelpies waiting below their wire floored cage very happy little dogs. The dogs don't differentiate between brands. Cat kibble is cat kibble and all three canines love it.
I tried to explain that this was all there was until our next shop after we returned from South Australia. I was ignored. They wasted so much kibble in the few days before we left that by the time I filled up their automatic feeders it was pure other brand. The cats just turned up their noses and tails and stalked out of the room. The ferrets continued to mine for better tasting kibble without success. The automatic feeder meant that all the kibble landed on the ground on in the waiting kelpies' mouths. The kelpies had taken up almost permanent residence under the ferret cage and were having the time of their life. Life just didn't get better than this for two old dogs. I removed the automatic feeder from the ferret cage and reinstalled their ordinary ice cream container with little squares cut out of the side for ferret heads to poke in to eat. At least it was more difficult to scoop out large quantities of cat kibble from there.
We headed off for South Australia after setting up all the pets to be self sufficient for the three days and three nights we were going to be gone. Of course I worried about the cat kibble situation. I always worry about something, and so far cat and ferret attitude to the new kibble hadn't boded well.
Sure enough when we arrived home their displeasure was clearly evident, although I think the ferrets were regretting their form of protest. The cats had dug all the kibble out of the automatic feeder and spread it around the kitchen floor. Here they could at least nibble on some when they were hungry, albeit with a sour look of distaste planted firmly on their feline features. The ferrets on the other hand had tried the same protest manoeuvres with rather drastic results. They hadn't taken wire floor of their cage into account and ended up with nothing to eat. I only hope it took them a day or two to empty their feeder and they didn't starve for the three days. I am rather certain this was the case because when I refilled their dish with more of the other brand kibble they once again turned up their little pointy noses and stalked away. I did notice that they didn't start scattering the kibble far and wide though. The kelpies had placed themselves under the cage with expectant looks on their faces as soon as they saw me heading that way with the kibble in hand, so I was pretty sure the kelpies had eaten well during our absence.
The cats' protesting digestive system now made being in the same room with them rather a trial. They were totally unrepentent, glaring at us and clearly stating that if we forced inferior food on their delicate tummies then this was the price we paid. Windows were kept open, cats avoided like the plague and tinned cat food pressed on them at every given opportunity. This they basically ignored. Our cats have been off tinned food for a while now. I've no idea why, maybe they consider it a winter food like we do casseroles. Who knows?
We arrived home Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday Graeme headed to town for some farm shopping. At the top of his list was Whiskas kibble, farm equipment came a very poor second.
The hairy panic has moved in again. With all the rain we've had this summer it's a bumper crop. I have great visions of convincing florists that the wispy little seed heads are the next big thing in floral arrangements. Once they catch on to this cutting edge idea they'll be beating a path to my door (through the shoulder high piles of hairy panic) and I'll make a fortune!! We've been told on the local news, by a very disapproving agronomist, yes the weed infestation has made the local news, that it's really called witch grass and the habit Riverina folk have of calling it hairy panic is incorrect. We continue to call it hairy panic (panic for short) around here and will always do so. I think the name hairy panic suits it much better and doesn't go offending innocent witches. The house is nearly buried in it. We have to wade through it when we go outside and any attempts to move it away from the house and garden are lost causes. The first light wind that comes up will bring it all back along with a lot more of its friends. Tristan, the red headed cat, hates it.
Hairy panic is a lot taller than Tristan so, when he wishes to come inside for breakfast or morning tea or whatever, he stands outside the lounge room window, buried deep in the panic and meows pathetically to let us know he's ready to pay us a visit. Graeme doesn't appear to be able to hear these pathetic pleas. Maybe Tristan's meow is pitched at too high a frequency for Graeme's ears, but I doubt it. Anyway, it always ends with me having to go out there, wade through the panic and pick Tristan up, brush off the excess panic from his fur, and bring him inside. This wouldn't be so bad, but as I believe I've mentioned before, Tristan hates being on the wrong side of a door, and whatever side of the door he is on is the wrong side. Once in, he catches up on all the inside cats' news - Ambrosia and Nefertiti always greet him like a long lost love, even if he's been gone for only a few minutes. He then has a snack and a drink of water and stays inside for all of ten minutes before he wants to go out again.
His strategy for letting me know his visit has come to an end is to jump on me if I'm sitting down, jump down again, walk a little way away from me while looking over his shoulder at me in a significant way, then returning to jump on me again. Tristan is no lightweight cat. When you've been jumped on by Tristan you are left in no doubt that you've been jumped on. His landings are often accompanied by an "Ooof!" from me as his paws hit my stomach (I tend to lay back on the lounge with my feet up you see). If I'm standing up he winds his way around my legs, doing his best to trip me up so he can jump on me I'm sure. Then heads off door-wards while throwing me that significant look once again and returns to wind himself around me again.
I eventually get the hint and open the back door for him, after all I can't be sure after the snack and drink that nature isn't calling. Tristan then walks out the door, tail held high, and stops - horrified to see that the hairy panic is still there. I think he expects me to race out there and clear it all off while he's eating breakfast. I can't think of any other reason he's surprised to see the panic is still in residence all over the back porch and path. Tristan then turns his head and gives me a look mingled with supreme disappointment and hope. The hope is that I'll feel so guilty that the panic is still there, threatening an innocent ca,t that I'll pick him up and carry him to a panic free location on the farm (wherever that may be). I disappoint him every time and refuse to carry him back through, so he sits on the back porch surveying the expanse of panic and works up his courage until he can finally bring himself to work his way through it. This he does as slowly as possible expecting the panic to attack at any moment I'm sure, or maybe hoping that I'm watching and I'll take pity on a poor beleaguered cat and lift him up and out of the weedy torture.
Then of course, a few minutes later the pathetic meowing starts again because Tristan is once again on the wrong side of a door. I have hardened my heart to this second plea to be allowed in. I've spent too much of my time acting as doorman to Tristan and have a lot better things to do with my day. Besides, how many doormen do you know who actually carry people through the doors? I don't go get him the second time - well, not until I get fed up with the meowing, not that that takes very long I must admit. Once he's inside this time I refuse to let him out when he says he's visited for long enough once more. So Tristan is kept prisoner for a while. His subtle hints that he'd like to go outside now that I've had time to clear away the panic are ignored while I try my best to go about my day without getting tripped up by a red headed battering ram.
Tristan does manage to execute an escape though. He simply waits until Graeme or I go outside, then he slips through the door, sits once again in disbelief that the panic is yet again present and accounted for while ignoring with supreme indifference all my invitations and threats to come back inside. If I try to grab him, he dashes through the panic like it's not there.
My friend Jane's (http://five-minutes-of-fame.blogspot.com) cat Moggy isn't well. Jane was telling me about having to give Moggy tablets and Moggy's sneakiness in pretending to take it like a good girl then depositing the tablet later on her bed. This story reminded me of a little whippet I used to own named Buffy. I know, I know. How does a person who loves St Bernards end up with a whippet instead? Well, the usual way actually. I rescued her from death (I tend to get a lot of pets that way).
Buffy was a tiny brindle whippet and a funny looking little thing. She had a hair lip and buck teeth, but I thought she looked very pretty anyway. She was graceful and dainty but could run like the wind. I inherited her from neighbours who were going to have her put down rather than take her with them to New Zealand. I also inherited their cat who was sold with the house, but preferred me to his new owners and moved in without an invitation to become a permanent member of the family.
Unlike the cat Merlin (nee Puss), Buffy didn't take well to changing families. She was convinced that I had stolen her from her beloved family and tried to run away a few times to the house in town her owners had rented after selling their house and before flying out to New Zealand. Eventually Buffy realised they didn't want her any more and stopped getting even with me by chewing beyond repair one of each pair of my shoes. Why Buffy targeted me as the one to punish I don't know. She left Graeme's and the kids' shoes alone and only sought out mine, but after she realised home was now with me she became my devoted companion and a very loving little dog. At the time we had Aasta, our Old English Sheepdog (a compromise between Graeme and me instead of a St Bernard) and Buffy and Aasta made a very strange looking pair. They became great friends so Buffy always had a warm body to snuggle up to should she feel chilly, and being a skinny, practically hairless little dog she could feel chilly on even warm days. In winter Buffy could be seen wearing the latest season's second hand baby jumpers I purchased from the local charity shop. These didn't last long because Buffy loved to explore our properties and barbed wire fences often ended up wearing the jumper while Buffy returned home shivering and requesting a new jumper please. Luckily I kept a supply on hand.
Buffy often fought above her weight. Well nearly everything she encountered was above her weight. but she was a fearless little defender of her property. Aasta, a dog of peace, would leave her to it and wait back on the veranda for Buffy to come home from whatever battle she'd charged off to fight. She hated foxes with a vengeance and the first sniff of one on her property would send her hurtling off in search of the intruder only to turn up later with an air of the returning hero along with cuts and scrapes that needed tending. All my scolding and good advice to leave the foxes to our bigger farm dogs fell on deaf ears. Buffy had a mission to rid the world of foxes and that was all there was to it.
One thing Buffy didn't do was take tablets. There was no two ways about it - she just didn't. She lived her entire life without being wormed once. Oh I'd tried. I'd tried all the tricks in the book from pushing the tablets to the back of her throat, holding her little buck toothed face shut tight and stroking her throat to mixing a crushed tablet up in some fresh meat. Nothing worked. Buffy could go indefinitely without swallowing, the drool leaking out the side of her mouth, a wounded expression that I could do such a thing to her, planted on her face. If I tried to block her nose in an effort to make her swallow before taking a gulp of air (as advised by a non-whippet owning friend) Buffy would just suck air in through her long muzzle and there was noway I could stop that. She ate the meat around whole tablets and refused to eat meat with crushed tablets in them. She'd give them a disdainful sniff or two, fix me with a stern stair and stalk off, the picture of hurt feelings. I used to tell her if she contracted a fatal disease that only tablets could fix she was in trouble.
I thought that had happened one day. Buffy had been coughing and choking for a day and obviously suffering a sore throat. If she'd been human I was sure she'd have a hoarse voice. I took her to our local vet who sadly preferred farm animals to spoiled pets. He took one look at the little whippet standing on his examination table coughing gently - looking the picture of misery, and pronounced Buffy to be an obese whippet. Buffy glared at him and was patently saying that no one asked him for his opinion. I looked at the my whippet's tiny frame and asked where? the vet pointed to her chest and said she was carrying too much weight. Buffy gave him a disdainful look and I echoed it. We both knew it was all muscle (well there was no way we could use the big boned excuse in this case). After properly examining her, the vet said that she had trachyitis and she'd need to take tablets twice a day for a week. I shook my head and told him she didn't take tablets. He told me tablets were the only cure so she would just have to. He suggested many of my tried and failed methods so I repeated that Buffy didn't take tablets. The vet pooh-poohed this assertion and said I just needed to know how to do it. I told him I tried all the ways he'd suggested and failed. I even added a few methods I'd tried that he hadn't suggested. He gave me a superior look and said he'd get a tablet down her. He took a long syringe with a rubber thingy with a slit in the end to hold the tablet, popped the tablet in the slit and poked the rubber thingy right down Buffy's throat and pushed on the plunger. Then he closed her mouth and waited until she swallowed. Buffy appeared to swallow, assumed a defeated expression and he let her go.
"There," he said, "That's how you give a dog a tablet."
I looked suitably chastened and was just about to ask if I too could have one of those tablet dispenser thingies when Buffy got a thoughtful expression on her face, gave a ladylike cough and deposited the tablet on the table. She looked down at the tablet, I looked down at the tablet and the vet looked down at the tablet. I could have sworn Buffy had a smirk on her face as she looked up at the vet. I tried not to smile, but I don't think I managed very well. I repeated, "She doesn't take tablets," just to rub it in.
The vet continued to look at the tablet like he couldn't believe it and said, "Well, what are we going to do now?" I had no suggestions to offer, not being medically trained but assured him I'd prefer it if Buffy was cured of her condition (the sore throat condition that was - I had little hope of her non-taking of tablets condition ever being cured). In the end he gave her an injection and said it wasn't as effective as the tablets but would have to do her. On the way home I gave her a big pat and told her I was proud of her. The vet had been so dismissive of my ability to treat a sick pet that he'd put my back up. With one little cough Buffy had put him in his place.
The injection worked well and Buffy made a full recovery. The vet remembered her every time she visited after that. I can't say she was his favourite patient but they came to an understanding and he never again suggested a tablet as treatment.