Monday, August 27, 2007

Best Cat Toy Ever

My cat, Meeko, has a basket full of toys--feathers, balls, and cat-nip filled goodies, but this "Birds of a Tether" from Hartz is her all-time favourite. She'll be walking through the room, spot the feathers dangling above the ball, then go into attack mode. The weighted ball stops the toy from falling over. Hours of fun. Okay, minutes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Caught in the Headlights: Wildlife on Our Roads

On Sunday, I drove past three dead raccoons--one large, two quite small--grouped together at the side of the road. Whenever I see roadkill, I imagine a possible scenario: After foraging for food, a mother raccoon makes her way back to her children only to be struck by a car. But on that particular Sunday morning, it was the entire family of raccoons who lost their lives. It makes me incredibly sad to see wildlife so senselessly killed (although it's hard to think of a senseful killing).

According to a study by L.P. Tardiff & Associates for Transport Canada, motor vehicles may be the number one predator of wildlife. Some statistics from Wikipedia:

"Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People Newspaper estimated that the following animals are being killed by motor vehicles in the United States annually:

41 million squirrels
26 million cats
22 million rats
19 million opossums
15 million raccoons
6 million dogs
350,000 deer

Often, there's not much a driver can do to avoid hitting animals that venture onto the road, especially at night. Animals react differently--a rabbit's frozen bewilderment as a car barrels toward it; a deer's unexpected jog to the left when we expect it to go right. So it's up to us to take precautions.

What drivers can do:

Ease up on the gas pedal when driving through wildlife areas. Look for the yellow, diamond-shaped warning signs.

Watch for movement at the roadside, and slow down when you see any. It's far better to use your brakes than to use your wheel as swerving may result in the loss of control.

Be aware that wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk.

Watch for the car's headlights reflecting off the animal's eyes. Often drivers will see the shining eyes before they see the animal.

Anticipate unpredictable behaviour from all wildlife.

What governments can do:

Build wildlife underpasses and overpasses. On the Trans-Canada Highway, through Banff National Park, 24 underpasses and overpasses have been constructed--the largest scale wildlife passage in the world. Since 1996, more than 50,000 large mammals have used them, and animal-vehicle collisions have dropped by 80%.

Erect animal crossing signs on high-risk stretches.

Invest in heat-seeking cameras that detect animals and warn drivers when one is ahead, or wildlife warning systems that use alternating sounds and lights to scare animals when vehicles approach.

For more information on reducing the risk, check out this site:

Wildlife Collision Prevention Program

Let me know if there are other measures we can take to keep our wildlife safe and alive.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chowder is a Cover Girl

I adopted my cat, Chowder, in 1990. She was a kitten, the last of three sisters, and huddled in the back of the cage, alone and terrified. Over the next sixteen years, Chowder survived (though never quite accepted) the arrival of my daughter, the addition of another cat, and feline diabetes. She was a long-haired, green-eyed beauty who, with age, became somewhat of a crank.

But I loved her all the same.

Chowder made an appearance in both of my young adult fantasies, Key to Aten and Return to Aten. After the second book was finished, I sent my editor, Nancy Hammerslough, a picture of Chowder. I figured Nancy would like putting a furry face to the name. My editor not only liked the pic, she wanted to put Chowder on the cover of the book.

Now, as she got older (and crankier), Chowder stopped grooming herself, and she wouldn't allow me to brush her for longer than 30 seconds. Whenever she seemed in a mellow mood, I'd cut dense mats from her fur and run a damp cloth over her. I wasn't optimistic about getting a good photo.

Chowder died only one month after the book came out. She didn't know she was a cover girl, but I was pleased that she'd been immortalized (at least until the book goes out of print). And I think the picture turned out pretty good, don't you?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Strays and Snowstorms

After a snowstorm, earlier this year, I began clearing my driveway. Amid the scrapings of shovels along the street, I heard a plaintive "Meow." Then another. My "Kitty in trouble" radar went up, and I searched for the source.

Several houses down, a large, black and white cat peered from atop a garage roof. A neighbour and I rescued the cat, set it on the ground, and wondered how the big guy got up there in the first place.

Then the cat followed me home.

I should have continued shoveling, but instead, I let the poor thing in the house where he proceeded to eat and make himself completely at home. Only problem was, I already had a cat and she was terrified of the newcomer.

The male cat (alternately named Buddy and Benjamin), was extremely friendly, affectionate and intelligent. And he wanted to be boss. After five days, a visit to the vet, 50 unanswered "Found Cat" notices around town, multiple sprayings inside my house, and an incredible amount of stress in my own cat, I took Buddy/Benjamin to the OSPCA (The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

The shelter near my home has great facilities--large rooms, comfortable bedding, clean litters, windows, and lots of cat toys. Despite that, I cried as I filled out the forms and paid the Society to find this wonderful cat a new home. I promised myself that if he wasn't adopted within the month, I'd buy him back and live with the consequences.

During the following week, my daughter and I visited him, and he seemed to have settled in with the other cats quite well. I watched his progress on the OSPCA website (where they had named him "Eddie" for some reason), and by week two, he'd been adopted.

He was only in our house for five days, but he still made a big impression on us. Perhaps not as big an impression as he made on Meeko, our own cat. She still avoids the chair that Buddy/Benjamin/Eddie had claimed for his own.