Nature in the Backyard: Coyote

I walked into the bathroom at 10am and glanced out of the window into the backyard. A large coyote came out of the woods into our backyard, running at half speed. He cut across our backyard and headed towards the street. I lost sight of him as he passed on the east side of our house.

I ran to the garage but I didn’t get to see where he went. Based on his direction, he ran up the walk way in our backyard and between the driveway and the garden. I wonder how often this occurs.

It could happen several times a day and we wouldn’t see it very often. I just don’t know if I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time or if it’s a commonplace occurrence. The path the coyote used is a place where Scooter often goes when we take him out.

What would have happened if Scooter had been on the path when the coyote came by? Would I have been able to intervene quickly enough to prevent Scooter’s demise?

Coyote Sighting on Jefferson Township Parkway

Today (9/7/2003) I was riding my mountain bike in a neighborhood on the side of Sweat Mountain (between Roswell and Woodstock) when a coyote crossed the street in front of me. I had just made the loop at the end of Jefferson Township Parkway and was heading back towards Sandy Plains Road.

There are several rolling hills at the bottom of Sweat Mountain. I topped the hill at Township Ct and was cruising down the other side when I heard running in the leaves to my left. The big, sleek coyote came out of the woods and loped across the road to my right, about 60 feet in front of me. A handsome animal, he looked well fed and in the prime of life.

The forests on Little Sweat Mountain, just to the northwest of Sweat Mountain, are being clearcut for a new development. (We fought it but the developers prevailed.) We’ve got deer grazing in our neighborhood now — we live about 4 miles from Little Sweat Mountain. Deer and coyotes are trying to adapt to loss of habitat by moving into neighborhoods. It will be an uneasy adjustment for the critters and the neighborhoods.

Zeus Visits

Yesterday I was working in my office when the doorbell rang three times in quick succession. It’s a signal from Ann that she needs my help in a hurry. I trotted to the garage and got a big surprise.

Ann was in the garage hanging onto the collar of an 80 lb Great Pyrenees dog. This dog (his name is Zeus) was trying to couple with a larger female dog and Ann was trying to keep them separated. The female dog looked like a wolf! Our garage is full of the usual stuff, so there isn’t a lot of room for two big dogs that are engaged in frisky foreplay. Ann had her hands full.

Ann asked me to hold Zeus by the collar and to read the phone number from the tag on his collar to her so she could call the owner. Zeus was not a stranger ? he had visited our home several weeks ago. Ann had called his home to come get him. They told her he is an escape artist who takes advantage of any opportunity to go on an adventure.

I held Zeus by his collar and tried to read the phone numbers on his tag. The she-wolf kept coming into the garage, disrupting my progress ? Zeus would jump up and try to mount her. Reading the small print on his collar tag while he was so excited was a challenge. After about ten minutes of chaos, I finally was able to decipher the small print into a viable phone number. Ann called the number and got Zeus? owner, who said he would drive over immediately.

Ann left Zeus and me in the garage. Zeus was cooperative given the circumstances ? he would lie down when I tapped on the floor. But the she-wolf kept coming back into the garage and Zeus would jump to his feet again. We finally got the she-wolf to stay out of the garage and I pushed the buttons to close the garage doors. I stayed with Zeus, scratching his ears and telling him what a good dog he is. He was very sweet and affectionate. After about 10 minutes Zeus? ?master? arrived. He thanked us and put Zeus in the front seat of his SUV.

I told him Zeus had been well-behaved and friendly. He said Zeus is very smart, if fact smarter than his two teenage sons. He said one of his boys had left the front door barely open, which Zeus opened and escaped to the current adventure. He and Zeus drove away, leaving the she-wolf looking jilted and lost. She wouldn’t let us close enough to check her collar for identification. She hung around for a few minutes and then left.

Scooter Rolls Past 104

Scooter the Siamese cat celebrated his 104th birthday (in cat years) on January 27 — by playing. He sprinted from bedroom to bedroom, chasing Ann and being chased by Ann. Thanks to a boost from a wise vet, Scooter was feeling like a young cat.

Just two weeks before his 104th birthday, Scooter was acting like a very old cat. We were worried about him, rationalizing his lethargy by thinking “he’s just old.” Fortunately, Ann knows a vet (Dr. Kimberly Stagmeier) who practices veterinary homeopathy. Ann called Kimberly and described Scooter’s behavior. Kimberly mailed a homeopathic remedy for Scooter. Ann put the potion in his food. He ate, walked three feet, and threw it all up. Even though we were disappointed, we persisted. Scooter kept the next dose down and became a wildcat.

Since that day, Scooter wants to play several times a day. He announces he’s ready with a low, gritty yowl. Then he gallops from room to room, begging to be chased. When he gets to the middle of the room, he spins in a semicircle or finds somewhere to hide. If he’s being chased, he flops over to get a scratch or bucks like a bronco. At other times, he charges the chaser, veering around the clumsy human feet at the last second and rushing into another room. Sometimes he runs to the stairs and ducks down behind the top step, peeping over the edge, ready to attack. He runs with a hopping motion, his back humped up, with his tail bowed. I laugh every time I see it — unless its 4am, when the piercing growl-yowl is not so funny and the sound of a galloping cat does not allow restful sleep.

Ann has developed some hand motions for playing with Scooter. She acts like a tai chi master on speed, and Scooter reacts wildly to her hand signals. He spins, bucks, sprints, rolls over, purrs, and chirps. I play hand mouse with him. I get down on the floor, put my right hand flat on the floor, and move my hand rapidly in a figure eight pattern on the floor. Scooter chases my hand, pounces on it, and holds it with his front paws. If the hand tries to get away, it gets a well-deserved bite. He doesn’t bite hard, but he lets the hand know he’s still a beast that deserves respect.

Sometimes during play he takes a time out. He goes to his litter box, pees, and then blasts out like a car in gravel, litter flying. But even Scooter can’t evade the effects of old age. His balance isn’t as good as it once was. He did his spin move in a doorway and ran head-on into the doorframe. It sounded like someone hit the wall with a hammer. His head is hard but he was a bit dazed by the collision.

During these hard times, when pessimism is rampant and the worst qualities of humanity too often dominate the news, Scooter lives as an example. None of us are too old to play like a child and laugh for a few minutes. It may be the highlight of our day.

2/4/2003

Scooter the Siamese Cat Is 20 Years Old

Scooter the Siamese Cat with Ann on his 20th birthday

April 10 was Scooter’s 20th Birthday — that’s 100 in Cat Years.

For his birthday, he received fresh catnip, several brushings, and escorted outings whenever he wanted.

Pictures of Scooter on his birthday

Getting Scratched

Scooter’s birthday naturally raises the question: How would it feel to be 100 years old?

In many ways, I want to be like Scooter when I’m 100 years old…

When I’m 100, I hope I can run up two flights of stairs at 2:30am and howl.

When I’m 100, I hope that I can walk over a deep ravine on a narrow log without falling in.

When I’m 100, I hope that I have a "Watcher" to look out for me when I’m out in the world.

When I’m 100, I hope I have warm, loving bedmates to snuggle with.

When I’m 100, I hope I can run faster than any human in the neighborhood.

When I’m 100, I hope I’m as thin and flexible as Scooter (he can lick the middle of his back).

When I’m 100, I hope I can remember my old friend Scooter.

May 5, 2002

Scooter the Siamese Cat getting scratched on his 20th birthday

Know Your Blind Spots

Warning: The following narrative describes acts that may be offensive to many people and may be illegal in some states. Please stop reading now if you are easily offended.

Be Prepared

I was mowing the yard, riding our lawn tractor, when I spotted Scooter the cat spraying the corner of our house. (For those of you who do not know much about cats, "spraying" is a polite way to describe a male cat peeing backwards to mark his territory. You can tell when a cat is "spraying" by his tail, which points straight up and vibrates. Since I was inducted into his inner circle, Scooter has demonstrated his prowess to me hundreds of times. I must admit that I am impressed with the physiology involved in this particular feline behavior, peeing on something behind you.) 

I stopped the lawn tractor to yell at Scooter. Yelling at Scooter has no effect on him, but it makes me feel better. Like most cats, Scooter’s reaction to a verbal command that provides no immediate benefit to him is indifference. I cut the throttle and the lawn mover backfired like a gunshot. Scooter didn’t have time to stop peeing before he started running. Another example of superior feline design — imagine being able to start running while you are peeing and not get it all over yourself. Cats are ready to chase or flee at any time (does CAT stand for Clever Anatomical Tricks?).

Being able to pee on something behind me would have been most useful in my youth. When I was a young teen, one of my friends had a trick that he thought was hilarious. While we walked through the woods, Kent would fall behind me and soon I would feel a strange sensation, warm and wet, on the back of my legs. By the time I would realize what was happening, it was too late. Like many of his friends, I learned that given the opportunity he would pee on you and then roll on the ground laughing. If only I could have peed backwards….

Payback

I woke up from a good night’s sleep and went to the bathroom to answer the call of nature. As I was leaving the bathroom I caught the unmistakable scent of fresh cat scat. I looked on the floor and in all the corners of my bathroom — nothing. I could still smell the bad air. I looked behind the toilet, in the shower, out in the hallway — nothing. The smell was still there. The bad smell seemed to be following me! I looked up at the sink and the countertop — nothing. But something caught my eye when I glanced in the mirror. I turned sideways and, stuck to the back of my t-shirt, was what looked like a small candy bar.

Scooter’s litter box stays in the basement. He conscientiously travels to his litter box whenever the call of nature dictates. Sometimes when he makes a deposit, however, the deposit does not clear completely. When we hear him running up the steps, we know he is probably trying to shake off a residual. We then perform a “cat scan” to identify and prevent subsequent problems. When we are sleeping, we are not aware of Scooter’s activities and thus are unable to protect ourselves with a cat scan.

On this particular morning, I remember Scooter jumping on the bed and snuggling up against my back in the early morning hours. Between that time and my waking up, Scooter transferred his unwanted baggage to the bed, where I rolled on it and it became attached to my nightshirt.

Watch your back

Scooter has been on restriction for more than a year — he lost his freedom to go outside unescorted — for fighting. (To be more accurate, for badly losing a fight requiring extensive medical expenses. Scooter, at 7 pounds and 19 years old, should fight in the super-senior light-weight division, but he chose to fight in the young cat heavy-weight division. Scooter’s forced retirement from fighting has quite negatively affected the revenues of local veterinarians and, apparently, the stock market.) So Ann or I have to take him out and keep an eye on him while he sniffs, sprays, eats grass, and drinks water from the garden hose. When he’s ready to go out, he goes to the kitchen door and yowls as only a Siamese cat can.

Scooter likes to go out soon after sunrise. This is a problem in the summer when the sun rises early because Scooter will yowl and walk on us in bed until someone gets up to take him out. He has learned that the squeaky wheel gets the grease so he will continue to be obnoxious until one of us takes him out. During the day when he wakes up from one of his many naps, he will follow us around yowling until we take him out. When he goes out in the summer, he often wants to take a nap in the driveway, like he did before he was on probation. Now, because watching a cat nap does not improve our productivity, we have to interrupt his nap by picking him up and bringing him in, which aggravates him greatly. Lately, Scooter has been unhappy with us and we’ve been unhappy with him.

A black-and-tan coonhound recently moved into our neighborhood. Ann, Scooter, and I were in the driveway when the coonhound came for his first visit. Scooter ran into the garage but we could see this coonhound is not a cat chaser — cats and coons must not smell alike. The next day Ann was out with Scooter. He was drinking water out of the garden hose when the coonhound came down the driveway. Ann watched as the coonhound walked up behind Scooter and sniffed his butt! Scooter’s hearing and eyesight are on the decline (so are mine) but he sensed something and glanced left and right. He didn’t see the dog!

Finally, Scooter must have felt the dog’s presence because he looked straight back. Seeing a large black hound dog so close behind scared him badly (remember the classic blues song "Hellhound on my Trail"?). That experience changed his disposition and attitude completely. He became quite polite, sweet, and appreciative. Anyone want to borrow a brown-nosed coonhound?

August 4, 2001

That Darn Old Cat

Scooter the Siamese Cat backed into our herb garden, pointed his tail at the sky, and peed — on the herbs we use to flavor our food. Then he walked over to the catnip patch, rubbed his face against the catnip leaves, ran a half circle around the yard, climbed up the tree beside the deck, and jumped onto the deck. We like to see Scooter climb the tree to the deck — he is nearly 18 years old (that’s 90 in human years) and it shows that he can still get around. Tree climbing has become a necessary survival skill for cats in our neighborhood since the coyotes moved in. Our neighbor two houses down had six cats not long ago — now they have two. In the past we often saw stray cats traveling through the neighborhood; we haven’t seen a stray cat in months. The only good news for us is that Scooter doesn’t get in fights any more — there are no cats left to fight!

Several months ago we replaced the deck on the back of our house. To jump from the tree to the new deck required learning a new maneuver for Scoot and we hadn’t seen him "make the leap," so we were encouraging him. Ann was on the deck calling down to him to come up; I was on the ground watching. He climbed about eight feet up the tree, stopped, and quickly backed down the tree. He ran about 20 feet, stopped, and frantically started cleaning his fur. I was mystified by his failure to jump onto the deck, so I walked over to the tree and looked up. Around the tree trunk was a large spider web, with a big spider right in the middle of it. Scooter had detected the spider web, probably with his whiskers, and backed out. I can relate — I hate feeling a spider web on me, especially if there’s the possibility of a spider crawling around on my head or back. Scooter only weighs seven pounds, so a big spider could be a real problem — like you or me having a fanged, venomous rat stuck on us.

Scooter hates getting wet almost as much as spider webs. One sunny day last autumn Scooter had been out and away from the house for about two hours so I went out to check on him. I walked into the back yard and heard a squirrel clucking the predator alarm in the woods behind our house. Concerned about the possibility of a coyote, I stalked slowly along a big gully that runs down to the creek deep in the woods. I stopped to listen and heard a leaf rustle. I stopped for a moment and saw movement in the gully. Scooter came into view walking up the gully. He would take two steps, stop and shake a leg, take another two steps, shake another leg, and so on. As he got near, he scented me but he wasn’t happy to see me — he was pissed off! He was wet and mad about it. He had fallen in the creek! He didn’t want to be seen in such a sorry state — he found a sunny spot and licked all the horrible water off his fur. My guess is that some leaves were covering a pool and he thought it was solid ground.

Scooter prefers to lick something wet like grass or leaves when he is thirsty and outside — he is uncomfortable drinking from a large body of water. He probably can’t hear very well when he laps water from a lake or creek, which makes him vulnerable to attack. Also, if he is ambushed from behind while drinking from a lake, he is trapped. I prefer to think that he is genetically predisposed to avoid deep pools of water. His ancestors were jungle cats, where crocodiles inhabit the rivers. A cat would be a nice snack for a big crocodile, or a prize catch for a small one. Along with getting wet, he despises getting cold, but once he really surprised me.

One dark and dreary winter night several years ago we were having a sleet storm. (It was before Scooter was put on permanent curfew for fighting at night. At that time he had a cat door to the outside and could go out at any time. Almost every morning at daybreak he would go out for about an hour and then come back to the bed with us.) On this particular morning, the howling wind woke me up right at dawn. I couldn’t sleep and for some reason I went downstairs. I looked out on the deck and saw a most unusual sight. Scooter was on the deck, stretched out on the railing, facing into the wind with sleet bouncing into his face. The temperature was about 25 degrees, and the wind was blowing about 20 mph, which means the wind chill was about zero. Scooter seemed to be enjoying the blizzard — I had to go out and pick him up to get him inside. He had ice frozen in his fur.

Why does a cat get underfoot while you are walking? Scooter takes that annoying cat quirk to new depths. When you are carrying something that blocks your view of the floor (like a television) down the stairs, Scooter will run to get right in front of you. And STOP!!! Just before you step on him, he will squall and you will stumble. Once we had two strong guys come up to my office on the second floor to carry a heavy filing cabinet to the basement. Scooter always hides when strangers, especially large men, come into the house. As soon as they picked up the filing cabinet and got to the top of the stairs, Scooter ran out of the master bedroom and got under their feet.

Not long ago I had a client meeting with me in my home office. She told me that she is allergic to cats. I told her that our cat is deathly afraid of strangers and that she would never see him. Within minutes Scooter trotted into my office, started rubbing against her legs, and wanted to jump in her lap! I had to call Ann to come get him and carry him away. He protested vigorously. My client was starting to have an allergic attack as she left.

Although Scooter misses the freedom of the cat door and lets us know about it at every opportunity, we had good reason to restrict his freedom. No more being awakened by cats yowling and having to run outside at 2am to break up a fight because Scooter has found a unwelcome feline on his territory and he is telling intruder how badly he is going to beat his butt. Scooter is a little cat with a very loud voice — common with the Siamese breed. It is a most unpleasant wake up call. The migration of coyotes into our area is another reason we don’t want Scooter out at night. Oddly enough, Scooter has never accepted that we won’t let him out at night. He sleeps until dusk and then goes to the door and loudly demands to go out. I believe that the human distinction between day and night is not obvious for cats, because they can see so well in the dark.

Last year the very loud pre-fight yowling of two cats getting ready to tangle woke me up from a deep sleep. Scooter, with no way to go outside, was in the bed with us. I went to my bathroom — the two cats were about 20 feet below my bathroom window. Soon after I arrived, the rough stuff started. The awful sounds of a fierce fight ensued, and I could feel the impact of their struggle as they tumbled through one of Ann’s flowerbeds. The fighting continued across the yard and into the woods. The next day I went to the scene of the fight — about 18 feet of flowers were flattened and shredded. Chunks of white fur were scattered all over the ground. Cats can be sweet, lap–loving animals or incredibly vicious, and they have the tools to be killers: lightning fast reflexes and 16 built–in switchblades backed up by sometimes poisonous bites. They can be very destructive to each other (the dark secret about cats — they hate most other cats!). I don’t miss the days of rushing Scooter to the emergency vet to get him sewn up. I was especially glad he wasn’t mixed up in the fight I heard that night.

Scooter doesn’t have to be outside to create havoc while we are sleeping. One day I said to Ann "I’m glad Scooter doesn’t every throw up while he’s on the bed." (He eats grass in the yard and comes in and regurgitates on our carpet far too often.) Well, you know what happens when you make a statement like that — it doesn’t take long for it to boomerang. About 4am I was awakened by the violent heaving of a cat about to spew on the middle of our bed. I grabbed him behind the front legs and started running for my bathroom. (It takes great skill to pick up a cat and run with him when he doesn’t want to be picked up. He gets very sticky, like a porcupine, and will scratch you like a thorn bush if you don’t have exactly the right hold.) So I was barely awake and running with my arms extended straight out in front of me holding Scooter, who was heaving and had all four legs wind milling with his claws out. I ran into the bathroom and dropped him in the bathtub. Then I tried to compose myself, feeling some relief about saving the bed from the puker. Of course, Scooter kept jumping out of the tub, indignant about the rough treatment. It was only after I walked back into the bedroom and stepped in something wet that I turned on the light. The trail of cat barf on the carpet extended from the bed to the bathroom.

When Scooter really gets upset because we won’t let him out at night, we race to burn off his excess energy. I call him to the basement — he knows what I’m up to — and as soon as I think I can get the jump on him, I run as fast as I can to the second floor. It is amazing how Scooter the old cat can get to the top of the stairs on the second floor first. He delights in outrunning me.

One morning — when he had a cat door to the outside — Scooter woke me up as he came in from an excursion at daybreak and snuggled against my beard (furry things stick together). I could feel moisture from the dew on his legs. I went back to sleep. That morning I got a haircut. When I returned home, I looked in the mirror to check out my haircut. I saw something strange just inside the top of my ear. I looked closely and it was a TICK!!! Scooter had brought it in and it had crawled over to me. (Several times I’ve had dozens of chiggers bites, from the same source.) I was not elated when I realized that I had gotten a haircut with a tick in my ear. My barber didn’t mention it to me, but I’m sure he had something to talk about after I left.

April 9, 2000

P.S. Tomorrow is Scooter’s 18th birthday. Unfortunately, the last three months have not been the best for him, health wise. He’s finally acting his age — he’s moving more slowly, making fewer trips to the deep woods, avoiding fights, and not hunting anymore (the same could be said for me!). We hope warm weather will see him return to good health. Perhaps he hasn’t used all of his nine lives.