Coyotes Are Hunting

At 2:20am this morning I was awakened by a long coyote howl from our back yard. A few seconds later I heard the acknowledging howl from far off. Coyote packs send out scouts to find food and relay the information over long distances. If food is found – like an injured deer or meat in the garbage can – the finder calls the pack in.

These are smart animals sharpened by survival of the fittest and by adapting to nature and civilization. Unlucky cats and small dogs who are out all night are especially vulnerable. Be safe with your pets.





Missy’s Mischief: Stuff Happens

I was in my office at 7:45am this morning when Missy, our Siamese/Himalayan cat, looked in the window. She seemed to want me to come downstairs and let her in. I went down to the deck and she came over to jump off the roof. Due to the weekly monsoon, everything was wet and slippery.
Missy was very concerned about jumping down onto the grill, the usual path, which has a plastic cover that was wet. She had some problems getting her footing on the gutter. When she jumped, the landed on the backside of the grill, slipped, and went over the edge of the deck, about a 15 foot drop.
She landed on her feet, but when we got her in, she was shaken and had a chunk of fur missing from her forehead. We are watching her closely.
Our cats keep life interesting. Subtract one from her nine lives.
Here's Missy before her fall:

Missys Face

Here is Missy after her fall:

Missys Face

She might not be as pretty as she was if she has a scar. But she must be feeling OK because she's back to bullying the other cats.

PS: Missy was back on the roof three days later. The roof wasn't wet, so I hope she learned not to go on the roof after a rain.

Nature in the Backyard: Cat Meets Black Rat Snake

Missy the Siamese/Himalayan cat on a leash

I was walking our alpha female cat Missy on a leash when she spotted something strange in the pinestraw bordering our back yard.

I realize that many people would wonder why I would walk a cat on a leash. Missy had never, in her three years of life, been outside until I started walking her, in late August 2008 (3 weeks ago). Our three cats have always been indoor cats, for a good reason. Our cats don’t go out due to the pack of coyotes that patrol our neighborhood; these coyotes have reduced the outside cat population greatly in the last few years.

Scooter, our Siamese cat who died in 2005 at age 23, apparently knew how to deal with coyotes because he went out daily until he was forced into retirement for fighting. But Scooter was street smart and woods wise.

We don’t want our three cats to learn about coyotes the hard way, so we’ve kept them inside. But Missy has been so restless this summer that we decided to give her some new adventures, hoping that she might quit misbehaving (peeing in sinks, knocking the other cats around, etc).

On September 6 Missy and I were strolling on the edge of the back yard when she spotted the black rat snake. Missy didn’t look at it very long because she didn’t know what it was, and it wasn’t moving. I decided to start her education on large snakes. So I picked her up, tucked her under my arm, and walked over to the snake for a close inspection.

Black Rat Snake

Before I go any further, let me offer some advice. Don’t do this!!! The six-foot snake stayed still for about 20 seconds. Then, it decided to move on. Missy’s eyes bugged out and then she freaked.

If you’ve never had a cat that you are holding freak out, you are fortunate or smarter than I was.

Our cats have claws — when they are frightened, they use their claws to accelerate away from the cause of the fright as quickly as possible. Since she was under my arm, I was the launching pad for Missy’s sprint to safety, and her claws used my arm and hand, instead of the ground, to push off.

Needless to say, my right hand was scratched badly. Missy ran to the end of the leash and climbed about three feet into the air when the leash halted her sprint. She was running back to our house. I ran after her to try to get her under control. She hit the end of the leash several times before I was able to catch up to her. I grabbed her behind her shoulders with both hands, held her out at arms length to avoid the windmilling legs with claws out, and got her back in the house.

I returned with the camera to take photos of the snake. I’m assuming its the same black rat snake that has been around our home since 2005 – how do you tell one six-foot black rat snake from another? Since snakes that large are relatively rare in neighborhoods, I think it’s the same snake.

I met this snake for the first time in 2005, soon after Scooter died. It was having lunch at the expense of a nest of cardinals in a rose bush behind our house. You can see photos at this link: large black rat snake visits.

In April of 2007, it visited again. A week later, I discovered where it lives: snake condo.

This snake started hanging around our home soon after Scooter, our beloved Siamese cat, was no longer around to claim our yard as his territory. I hope it stays around because it is safe here.

An intriguing question: Does Missy’s reaction mean that cats have an innate fear of snakes? (Do people?) Please leave your opinion as a comment.

April 10: Scooter’s Birthday

On April 10, 1982, a pretty Siamese cat gave birth to a litter of kittens. The runt of the litter was named Scooter. The owners of the cats gave Scooter to Ann as a gift.

I met Scooter on my first date with Ann in 1991. I was not a cat person, but it didn't take long for Scooter to change my attitude about cats.

Scooter left his physical body soon after his 23rd birthday in 2005. His magnificent spirit lives in my memory. Ann still cries about losing him. He brought us much joy and some tears.

Our three young cats have assumed some of his traits. Sweetie is a great lap cat; in his later years, Scooter stayed in my lap for hours when the weather was cool while I worked at my computer. Blue, a runt herself, loves to play and is very smart, just like Scooter. Missy is a fierce warrior and fears no cat; Scooter loved fighting (and the local vets loved patching him back together).

Here's a picture of Scooter. If you would like to read about his life, click on this link:


Caught with Her Pants Down

Missywanted posterYesterday Ann saw Missy in the sink of our half bath acting suspiciously. After Missy jumped out of the sink, Ann investigated. Missy has peed in the sink!

Today Missy jumped up on the counter in my bathroom and got in the sink. Ann was watching her — she called me to come see. Missy was peeing my my sink!

We have rarely ever seen her use the litter boxes. We thought she was just shy. But shy is not really her nature — she’s a big, strong, rough bully with the other cats. Apparently she has discovered a way to use the bathroom for private matters.


Missy as a young cat

My Little Chickadee and Sweetie

I was absorbed in my software development work on Tuesday when Sweetie Wildcat came by. She stops by my office dozens of times a day. She will stand on her hind legs and tap me with a front paw to get a scratch. If she doesn’t have any business somewhere else, she will jump in my lap for a nap or to rub against my chin. If she has obligations (like eating or chasing and being chased by Blue and Missy), she will move on.

On Tuesday, she quickly circled and left. It took a moment for me to recognize that this was atypical. I glanced down at the floor and saw something unusual. On closer inspection, I found small feathers. This is very unusual because our cats are not allowed outside. I hurried downstairs to investigate.

I caught up with Sweetie in the basement. She had something in her mouth. I yelled at her to stop and she ran into the back bedroom. She went under the bed when I tried to grab her. I got down on my knees and confirmed that she had a small bird in her mouth. I changed my tactics from trying to grab her to politely asking her to drop the bird. After a few seconds she decided to drop her prize for me and I reached carefully under the bed and enveloped the little bird with my hand.

When I stood up, I saw that she had caught a chickadee. Apparently It had managed to get through the eves of our porch and Sweetie had snagged it. (It must have been quite a chase because chickadees are quick — but so is Sweetie.) The chickadee still had some fight left; it immediately bit one of my fingers with its small beak. It was a bit wet from cat slobber and bleeding slightly from some scratches, but it still had some spunk left. That it was even alive is amazing given that it had been caught by a cat with very sharp claws and teeth, and who knows how long Sweetie had paraded around the house with her prize.

Ann was meeting with a furniture rep in our dining room. I stopped by to show them why I had run down the stairs after Sweetie a few moments earlier. Then I took the little chickadee outside and carefully put it on a branch in our holly bushes. It was unsteady for about 30 seconds and then it flew away.

I hope the chickadee recovered from its big adventure and lives to tell the story of escaping from the orange monster many times.

Sweetie was feral kitten when we got her (you can read her story at this link: Fast Food Kitten — Sweetie Wildcat Arrives). She is an amazing hunter, as the lizards that venture into our greenhouse have discovered. She would be a terrific barn cat.

April 3, 2007

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.