28 July 2010

Volunteer Tales

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Spay and Neuter"]Spay and Netuer[/caption]

Sunday I completed my third volunteer training session at the animal shelter and I'm now an official volunteer who can come in to clean cages or socialize with the cats. This is the most basic training, and I'll learn more as I volunteer more time and ask to be shown how to do more things. Over the last 3 weeks we've become familiar with how the cats are housed in different areas depending on their health and adoption status.  As you enter the shelter you see the multi-cat "luxury suites". Then there are the rooms of cages with adoptable cats, and a room where the cats with the sniffles need to be isolated and observed or treated before being placed back in the adoptable area. Then there's the areas of cats that are not available for adoption. These may be strays that are held for a certain number of days in case their owner is looking for them, the recent or soon-to-be moms, and the animals that have been confiscated or are in protecitive custody.  

The momma kitty we had seen the over the past two weeks had been moved from the maternity ward over to the adoptable area. The first week she had about 6 kittens. Last week she had 3 kittens. This week she was in a cage alone, waiting for her forever home. Our volunteer trainer thinks her kittens did not survive. But momma kitty seemed very content and was extremely happy to be getting attention and petting. She was like this even on the maternity ward, always wanting someone to pet her. I hope she'll find a home and I think she will because she is gorgeous and very affectionate. 

In the unadoptable area of the shelter was a very friendly black cat who needed some TLC. The note on the cage card said it's owner had died. This poor kitty had fur mats over large areas of it's body, but was still very friendly and even started drooling when one of the volunteers started petting it. The cats on the unadoptable side of the shelter aren't given quite as much lovey-attention as the other cats because they're still adjusting to being in the shelter and are being observed for their behavior and medical status. When I go back I hope to see that it's "hold" period is over and maybe even gotten a "lion cut" to get rid of all the fur mats.  

The three training sessions have been very interesting. We've gotten a glimpse into how the shelter operates, seen lots of rambunctious kittens and a wide variety of personalities among the adult cats. The kittens are all very cute and I hope they find good homes. But it's the adult cats who tug at my heartstrings. All the animals are there through no fault of their own and are fortunate to be getting shelter and good care. But I just imagine that the adult cats feel a bit confused about being in this situation and want to get out of their boring cage and be in a home with someone and sit on a couch or lounge in a windowsill. 

If you or someone you know is looking to add a cat to your family, please visit your local shelter. There are so many wonderful cats to choose from that I'm sure you'll meet your new best friend. 

If you're wondering, I'm not ignoring the dogs that are at the shelter. Learing to walk and provide basic care for the dogs is a different training class. Right now they have plenty of volunteers to walk and socialize the dogs, so I'm focusing on the cats. 

Spay & Neuter graphic courtesy Tangri Adapt A Rescue

26 July 2010

Sammi enjoys the backyard

Sammi outside
Sammi relaxing outside
Sammi continues to build her confidence and explore new horizons. We've taken her outside 3 or 4 times, but she's never been completely comfortable. On the last trip she was calm but just layed in the grass and didn't walk around much. We'd pick her up and carry her to a new spot, where she'd sniff a bit, then lay down. But today, Sammi did not like being left in the house while I took Raven out for some outdoor time. Sammi meowed very loudly in protest, and was not happy that her sister was outside and she was stuck behind the screen door. So her dad put her harness on her and brought her outside. It took her a minute to get used to the feeling of the harness, but she quickly figured out it wasn't in her way and she started walking around and exploring. Our yard is about 80 feet (25m) wide and she explored most of it. Her dad followed her around, always being close enough to pick her up in case she got nervous or tired. We use a lightweight 8-foot long leash to attach to the harness. This gives the cats enough room to walk around, but they can't get so far away that they can get into trouble or jump up the fence. Sammi decided to settle into the plants for a little hiding and enjoying the fresh air in a nice cool shady spot. She was very relaxed and we could tell she was enjoying herself. We were happy to see Sammi feeling confident, exploring the outside, and expanding her world a little bit. This is just one more step in her 3-legged adventure.

23 July 2010

Oopsie Daisy

Sammi on floor
How did I get down here?
There seems to be a problem. I came running throught the door, jumped onto my black step, and was headed for the countertop to get myself a little snack. But all of a sudden I ended up down here on the floor.  It took me a few seconds to realize where I was, but then I figured out what happened. I was running really fast and I thought I would take my first step onto the counter with my left front leg. But my leg wasn't there!  

This is the first time my mom saw me miss the counter so don't feel bad for me. I'm very agile and capable with only three legs. I jump on all the perches, run down the hall and jump on the bed, play, and bop my sister Raven.  It's just that sometimes I forget about my missing leg and try to use it. This time things didn't work out exactly as I expected, but I was fine. After making it look like I really meant to miss the counter and check out the floor, I turned around and jumped up on my step and hopped onto the counter for a few bites of food. But next time I'll have to slow down and remember that my leg isn't there.

19 July 2010

Raven's Ticket Gets Punched

Raven's Naughty Punchcard

Raven got her Naughty Kitty ticket punched today. She earned her Naughty Kitty ID card about a year ago when she climbed to the top of a bookcase and knocked a glass thermometer off the shelf. She wasn't hurt, but left a mess to clean up.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="176" caption="Speaker with scratch marks (click to enlarge)"]Speaker[/caption]

Today, the first of her 10-punch ticket was punched. She was caught in the act of taking a vigorous scratch at her dad's stereo speakers. We know she enjoys scratching the speakers and we tried to make them less appealing by putting double-sided adhesive tape on them. Today, not only was she scratching alongside the tape, she had pulled one piece loose and was licking it!

We thought she liked the upright stretching and scratching motion  so we made a carpeted scratching board that leans against the wall just opposite the speakers. We even play there to encourage scratching. But despite having plenty of "approved" scratching areas, it's obivous she's been visiting the speakers quite often while we're not home to catch her. Not only has she been visiting them, apparently she's taught Sammi that the speakers are fun to scratch. As I was looking at the damage, Sammi came over and reached her one front leg up on the speaker and took a good stretch.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="176" caption="Carpeted Scratching Board"]Scratching Board[/caption]

I'm not sure how we're going to discourage scratching at the speakers since it's obviously become a habit. It's not in the photo, but the left side of the speaker is just as scratched as the front. The cats have usually been very good about learning where to scratch by our saying "no" when they're being naughty and taking them over to an approved scratching area for some scratching and play. But the speakers must be too tempting with their tall, vertical surface with cloth that lets them sink their claws in.

I know two kitties who will be getting their claws trimmed tonight to try to limit the damage to the speakers - which they know they can scratch when we're not home.

Raven has many years of curious-kitty playfulness ahead and I hope her 10-punch ticket will be enough. If not, we'll have to find a 20-punch Naughty Kitty ID Card.

18 July 2010

Volunteer Tales

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Spay and Neuter"]Spay and Netuer[/caption]

Today's volunteer training session at the shelter was more hands-on. Our shelter has two types of housing for the animals. The "luxury suites" are the indoor multi-cat rooms that have a cat perch or maybe a donated living room chair, cat beds, scratchers, and toys. They have the pretty towels & beds, and a regular litter box.  This is "marketing" to make people comfortable coming to the shelter and see cats in relatively low-stress living conditions. But the majority of cats are housed in stainless steel cages. There's one adult cat or multiple kittens per cage. Each cat cage is a cube about 3 feet on each side. There are three compartments, each with its own front door, and holes where the cats pass from compartment to compartment. The larger side has a little upstairs shelf. The narrower side has upper and lower decks. The upper deck is for resting/hiding, the lower deck is for the cardboard litter tray. I'll try to get a photo, but the drawing below gives you an idea of what each cage looks like. 

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="86" caption="Cage drawing"]cage drawing[/caption]

Today we learned how the cages are "refreshed", which is different than being cleaned. The cages are thoroughly cleaned each weekday morning, and sanitized if needed. Refreshing a cage inclues: 

  1. Cleaning the litter box. This doesn't mean cleaning like you or I would clean the box at home. I call my cats' litter box their zen garden. It gets scooped three times a day and cleaned immediately if I see they've used it. The sides get wiped with a disinfetant wipe, and the litter gets raked smooth. But at the shelter the litter box is a thin, collapsable cardboard tray. And you don't scoop & toss litter because litter costs money, and the shelter has an impossibly tight budget. Instead, you pick out any solid waste and dirty litter, saving as much as possible for reuse. Also, there can't be much more than a single layer of litter pellets covering the bottom box because that would be wasteful. And if the cardboard litter tray is wet with urine but isn't falling apart, it stays in the cage until the morning cleaning.

  2. Replacing the wet or dirty newspaper or towel that lines the cage floor.

  3. If the cat has a little bed, making sure it's clean or replacing it with a clean one.

  4. Refilling water bowls and making sure the bowl is clean.

  5. Adding a little extra dry food to a food tray if there are several kittens in a cage or if a cat looks a little thin.

  6. Wiping the cage and removing obvious dirt and litter dust.

After each cage was clean, we spent a little time giving the cats some attention. Mostly we were cleaning cages overflowing with kittens, and they all wanted lots of cuddling and attention.  Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to let the kittens play in the adjacent room where they would visit with a potential adopter.  After sweeping the floor and puting the dirty towels in a pile for transport to the laundry, it was off to the next room of cages. 

Two of us refreshed about 24 cages in about 1-1/2 hours. Then we learned how to use the commercial laundry machines and took a peek at one of the momma kitties and her three kittens. They're very cute now that their eyes have opened. At my visit last weekend I counted about 6 kittens, so several did not survive. 

On a very positive note, we did watch our trainer counsel a couple who were adopting a cute orange kitten. Our trainer was very happy because the kitten was one that she had been fostering. 

This week was another eye-opening experience just like last week. Our shelter is new, and first-class in terms of modern sheltering. But this is no luxury hotel. The cats are well cared for in terms of food, water, litter, and safety. But it's a stressful way for the animals to live. It will be difficult to remain a bit detatched from all their cute little faces and reaching paws. But if they weren't sheltered, they wouldn't have the possibility of finding a new home. 

Spay & Neuter graphic courtesy Tangri Adapt A Rescue  

17 July 2010

Whiskers Are Wonderful

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="227" caption="Whiskers"]Cats Whiskers[/caption]

I collect my cats' whiskers. I know that sounds like an odd thing to do, but it amuses me. 

Whiskers are a specialized type of hair and are part of a cat’s senses. Whiskers are thicker and longer than normal hair. They are set deeply into the skin and are connected to muscles and nerves. This makes it possible for a cat to move its whiskers and use them to feel, sense, and respond to their surroundings. 

Whiskers are used to measure the size of an opening, to help sense what’s going on at a distance by sensing air movement, to help feel and locate prey when it’s right in front of the cat’s mouth, and to communicate. 

A calm cat holds its whiskers out to the side a bit. A curious cat who is investigating what’s in front of him will push his whiskers forward. A scared or angry cat will pull its whiskers back against its cheeks. 

A cat usually has 24 whiskers on his face, 12 on each side, in four rows. The top two rows can be moved independently from the bottom two rows. Cats also have whiskers above the eyes, on the chin, and on the back of the front legs. 

Whiskers naturally fall out and are replaced. A cat's longest whiskers are as wide as its body. If a cat loses weight and becomes thinner (narrower), its longer whiskers will fall out and be replaced by shorter ones. 

Since whiskers are not just hair, but are a specialized sense organ, they should never be pulled or trimmed. 

In our house, finding a whisker is considered good luck. It’s easy for a whisker to get swept or vacuumed up, so you have to be on the lookout for shed whiskers. Sometimes we find them in the cats’ favorite beds. Sometimes they’re just lying in the middle of the floor. You never know where you might find a whisker, and that's part of the fun. Figuring out who the whisker came from is easy if you have different colored cats. Raven’s whiskers are black and Sammi’s are white. Smokey's were gray. It was harder to tell Felix and Ed's whiskers apart. They both had whiskers that were black at the base and white along the length. Ed's tended to be shorter & thicker and often had a kink at the base. Felix's were longer and finer. 

Cats Whiskers photo credit.

11 July 2010

Volunteer Tales

Spay and Neuter Your Pet
Spay and Neuter
I'm going to start a new type of post about my experiences volunteering at the local animal shelter. There are many volunteers who have devoted countless hours helping animals, so I don't pretend to be volunteer of the year. But I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences from the beginning of the process. Hopefully this is something I can stick with and not be overwhelmed by the dire need of all the animals. I'll try to keep the posts positive, inspiring and hopeful, but I'm sure some frustrations and sadness might creep in.  

I will begin each post with a reminder of what I think is one of the most important messages we can all spread: Pet overpopulation, unwanted pets, and euthanazia of millions of cats and dogs every year can only be decreased if people spay and neuter their pets. 

My volunteer adventure begins

Like many communities, our local government has massive budget shortfalls and animal services were on the chopping block. The best I can tell from reading the county budget statements was animal services budget was cut, nearly 1/2 of the staff positions were eliminated over the past two years, and the shelter hours and services were reduced. Thankfully, the government realized the shelter has a strong volunteer organization and decided it was worth keeping the volunteer coordinator position and all services that were being provided by the dedicated volunteers. 

We've often donated to our local animal shelter by giving money or pet care items, but I've never given my time. This was due to a combination of having to care for senior & ill pets and not wanting the additional emotional turmoil of visiting animals in a shelter, only to go back another day and know many were put to sleep. But the situation in our house has changed. We're not able to donate financially as much as we did before. But we don't have any elderly or terminally ill pets now, so that emotional drain isn't there. Knowing the shelter was in serious need of more volunteers to help the staff, I thought this would be a good time to attend a volunteer orientation meeting and learn what opportunities were available. 

Wow, what an education I got. I didn't know that the volunteers are essential to the daily operation of the facility. The county staff does the "official" and "legal" work, but they don't have enough people or time to care for the 300-500 animals that are in the shelter. So, volunteers help with feeding, cleaning cages, socializing the animals, walking the dogs, assisting the public looking to recover lost pets, helping the public look at adoptable animals and choosing the right one, keeping the laundry and dishwashing moving along, fostering animals, doing public outreach, and the list goes on and on. Volunteers and donations are also providing the "non-essential" items such as dog & cat toys, treats, gallons of hand sanitizer, fabric softener for the laundry, blankets, cat scratchers - pretty much everything that isn't food, water, medical care for the animals, or basic office supplies. 

My first training session today was an introduction to how the shelter works, what volunteers can (and can't do), and getting a tour of the facility. We got to see the parts of the shelter that the public doesn't see - the kennels where the newly surrendered pets are, the "maternity ward" of new kitty moms and litters of kittens, the animals in the medical area, the cages and cages of cats confiscated (rescued) from a recent hoarding case, and other inner-workings of the facility.  I'm training to work with the cats, so we didn't see much of the dog kennels - but we heard them! 

It was an interesting and educational session and next week we'll be starting hands-on training with the cats.  I'll let you know how hard it is to put the cute little fuzzballs back in their cages at the end of the training. 

Spay & Neuter graphic courtesy Tangri Adapt A Rescue  

03 July 2010

4th of July Name Game

We're joining in the fun and playing Frankie's Name Game, sharing how we got our names.

We adopted Sammi (left) and Raven (right) from a local SPCA. Sammi was named Samantha. She was 10 years old and responded to her name, so we didn't think it fair to change it. Her life was already in chaos having been recently surrendered to the SPCA to have her paw amputated. We decided it was best to keep her name and just use the fun version "Sammi".

Raven was named Bella. That name did not suit her at all and she didn't seem to respond to it, so we didn't have any concerns about changing it. She has beautiful medium-length, feathery black fur, so we named her Raven. Her new name fits her to a tee, and we can call her "Ravies" for fun.

Since we found this game on a doggy blog hop page and it's for the 4th of July, we thought it fitting to include our Golden Retriever Bentley and one of his handsome 4th of July photos. This photo was taken in July 2009, just before he passed away in August, 4 days after his 17th (yes 17th) birthday.

Well now I'll feel bad if I don't at least mention everyone else. The three former Indulged Felines were Felix (the wonderful cat), Smokey (solid gray), and Edward Lionheart (a big goof with a big heart). The three Indulged Hamsters were Gizmo, Rusty, and Zippy. Gizmo and Rusty were just cute names. Zippy zipped around his hamster cage. You can click on those links to see their cute little faces.

This badge was made by Sugar the Golden Retriever.

02 July 2010

Raven Gets a Full Pardon

Despite our earlier suspicions that Raven was a furry little predator who helped herself to a fish out of water, we've just learned that she was not the fish-eating bandit. Mr. Goby went missing around June 15th, and circumstantial evidence pointed towards Raven as the lucky recipient of an unexpected fish treat. But tonight we found Mr. Goby. Sadly, he was very dead. Mr. Goby was successful at jumping out of the fish tank. Unfortunately, he got trapped in the mesh cover of the tank (it's a filter that's used to help new coral adjust to the bright light of a new tank) and died. Lucky for us he dehydrated quickly under the bright, hot light and didn't become smelly.

Rest In Peace Mr. Goby.