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** Check out the new photostory: "Elvira's Funniest Home Video" **

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The stories below are attached to photos from some of my life experiences with animals.  Many lessons have been learned from these animals.  New photos and lessons will be added to this blog  periodically, so please check in now and then and enjoy!

 

Elvira's Funniest Home Video

Elvira was a petite, sweet and sassy “tortoise shell” calico cat, who was part of our family for 19 years. She had two interests in human food: spaghetti sauce and sweet corn. I discovered her love of sweet corn one night while I was watching TV and having a snack of left-over corn on the cob. When I started eating, she looked up, stretched, and came over to where I was sitting. She jumped up on my lap, put her paws on my chest, and proceeded to start chewing on the opposite side of the ear of corn I was eating. She chewed down the row of corn while staring me right in the face.

As time went by, Elvira would reliably eat her side of the corncob if I had sweet corn for a snack. One day, I decided this would be a great thing to send to the TV show America’s Funniest Home Videos. (This was before YouTube.) I made all the preparations: set up the video camera, had corn in the fridge, and sat down to wait for Elvira. Once she settled on the ottoman by my chair, I turned on the video camera and went through the whole sequence just as I had planned. Elvira did everything perfectly – right on cue – and we got it all on tape. I was so excited to send it to the show, with visions of the two of us becoming instant TV celebrities due to the uniqueness of our video.

Luckily, I decided it might be a good idea to look at the video before sending it. The video quality was good and everything went just as planned. Elvira was clearly a natural actor with star potential! There was, however, one BIG problem with the video: the ridiculous human co-star. It started with me bolting out of my chair the minute Elvira sat on the ottoman. I proceeded to walk backwards with a strange and manic-looking grin on my face as I loudly threw out clever dialog such as, “I think I’ll just go get a snack out of the refrigerator! Here I go now. Oh good! There’s corn on the cob. I think I’ll go sit in my chair and eat this corn right over there near Elvira!.”

There was a moment in the video where Elvira gave me an odd look, which I am pretty sure had something to do with my particular take on how to perform in that scene. I decided to send it anyway – mainly because I couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculous I looked and how perfectly natural and normal Elvira acted – in spite of my behavior. Oddly, we never heard back from them, and I am pretty sure it wasn’t on the show. I mean, they would have invited us to be there for the showing, right? 😊

Some people say cats won’t do what you ask of them. I think they’ll do anything if it’s an opportunity to watch their human make a complete fool of herself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mom Saves Nimrod, the Might Hunter

     

All sorts of things can happen to little animals on a farm. When you have feral cats residing in your barn, you will also have kittens. Most of the time I was growing up, we were not allowed to have cats as pets in the house. So I was grateful the feral mother cats didn’t seem to mind if we played with their kittens. I named one little gray tiger kitten Nimrod (the mighty hunter) because he was rambunctious – stalking and pouncing on everything. Nimrod had also survived the first test for a barn kitten: getting to the fresh cow's milk we’d put out without getting stepped on by one of the cows. The barn kittens sometimes had early symptoms of Distemper - the highly contagious virus feline panleukopenia (FPV). We’d first notice it as a crusty discharge around the eyes. Left untreated, a kitten with distemper can die.   I was taught to dissolve a small amount of boric acid in boiling water, let it cool, then dip cotton balls in the water and carefully wash the discharge off the kitten’s eyes. I would do this faithfully twice a day for a week or so until their eyes cleared up. One day, I noticed an odd looking opening on the bridge of Nimrod’s nose. It wasn’t a wound; it looked like an opening to a tiny cave. Because I thought I saw something moving in there, I showed my mother. Now, although a good farm wife, my mother did not like to go in the barn and would get up on a chair if a mouse ran across the kitchen (one reason I lobbied for a house cat).  But she helped me with Nimrod.  She figured out the “something” I was seeing at the opening on Nimrod’s nose was alive and probably some sort of larvae. She bravely got tweezers and pulled an incredibly long disgusting looking white worm (AKA fly larvae) out of that tiny kitten’s face. Although overwhelmingly intrigued with this new development in my understanding of animals and their life challenges living in a barn, I was most impressed with my mother for having the courage to remove the thing. I think this was one of my first realizations about how you cannot put a person in a general category (e.g., wimpy Mom) based on one trait (fear of mice). I began to notice my mother and her interactions with animals. I watched her hang laundry on the clothesline while talking to a garter snake sunning on a rock. She’d put sunflower seeds in her hand and birds would perch and eat them. Then there was the day the cow fell in the swimming pool. But that’s another story…      

[Photos: Me holding Nimrod; Mom with birds on her hands.]

                            Gray Bahamian Mama Cat                                                                          

Speaking of mothers... in the Bahamas there is the very small island of San Salvador (AKA Columbus Isle). This is where Christopher Columbus actually landed before realizing it was not the mainland he was aiming for. It is about 10 miles long and has one resort. My husband and I have gone there for a week’s vacation most winters for a number of years. One year there were several feral island cats and one I noticed in particular - a very scrawny light gray tiger cat. I had seen her when we walked back from meals to our room, and heard the staff angrily chasing her away from the kitchen garbage. She had made eye contact with me from the bushes and I noticed she was a nursing mother. Not wanting to cause problems in the eating areas, I brought little bits of fish from lunch back to my room and took them with me when I went out on the balcony to read. Within minutes she showed up and politely waited for me to invite her up on the porch to eat. I was well aware the resort staff would not approve, but could see her desperation. She was not comfortable enough for me to touch her, yet this went on for the few days until we left. The next year, our room was in a different location – far from the restaurant area. The first morning after our arrival, I opened the doors to our little porch and the cat was curled up on the chair. She was so proud to show me how she was healthy, well-fed (and spayed), and ready to let me hold her!  [Photo: Me and my island cat friend.]

Do Cats Teach? 

In 2007, after my 19 ½ year old cat Elvira died, we adopted two calico cats. They informed me their names were Fiona and Twig. By the time Elvira left us, she had completely given up catching mice, so we were pleased to see Fiona wasted no time assuming her duties as house mouser. Twig had different interests. If she saw a mouse or chipmunk, she’d pick it up like a tiny precious kitten and let it loose in the house. It would hide under furniture or in the radiators, and when it came out, she’d chase it for fun. Things went fine for these little rodents until Fiona saw them and promptly ate them. This photo was taken one day when I saw these two intently focused on some activity under the radiator. Fiona had a tiny mouse, who was slightly injured but could still try to get away. Fiona would bat the mouse toward Twig, indicating she was supposed to go get it. Twig would literally jump straight up in the air backwards away from the mouse. Patiently, Fiona would retrieve the mouse and bat it toward Twig again, who would jump backwards. This was patiently repeated many times until the mouse revived itself enough to hide under a large piece of furniture. Exasperated, Fiona gave up teaching, and ate the mouse later when it finally came out. Twig still does not hunt mice… and still brings in healthy chipmunks so she can chase them around the house. There is no question in my mind Fiona was trying to teach Twig how to kill a mouse. I never thought I’d say this, but apparently you can bring a cat to a mouse, but you can’t make her eat it.

                                                                                                                               

 

One Evening with a Deer

One night in November, my husband Gary and I took a walk after dinner. We took our usual route: up the access road from our house, down West Lake Road about a mile, and back. We wore reflective vests and carried flashlights because it was starting to get dark. We live in the woods near a small lake in Cazenovia, NY.

After we reached the turn-around point, we switched to the other side of the road to walk back home. On that side of the road, there was a deep drainage ditch at the bottom of a steep rocky ridge. There were paths where deer would come down the ridge and cross the road on their way to the lake. We’d gone about 50 feet when I heard a rustling and what sounded like an animal in pain. We stopped and looked for where the sound was coming from. I doubled back and saw a deer struggling to get up and falling back down in the ditch. I went over to her slowly and started talking to her, hoping to calm her down so I could see what was wrong.

She’d been so quiet when we walked by on the other side of the road and we had not seen or heard a car hitting something or screeching to avoid an animal. I tried to think of other possible reasons for her distress. It was the wrong time of year for her to be giving birth, and the fact that she was struggling in a ditch by the road made it pretty obvious what had happened. She kept trying to get up and her legs would just crumble beneath her. It was clear she had broken her legs - probably hit by a car.

This was before cell phones, so I asked Gary to go to a nearby house and ask if he could use their phone to call the game warden. There was no way I was going to leave this terrified deer alone. I sat right down in the ditch and started talking calmly to her and stroking her head. She settled down and stopped struggling to get up. I talked to her about how she was hurt and told her I would stay with her until we got help. Gary thought we should both walk home and call, but I told him I was staying with the deer. He went to see if he could call from the nearest house. I looked at this deer who was calm now and not scared of me. She let me pet her head and looked at me with those huge eyes. She seemed to understand and accept my efforts to comfort her. I continued to tell her I would stay with her until we got help. After a while, I came to understand she was dying and wanted me to stay with her until she left.

Gary came back to report there was no one home in the only house nearby and that he thought we should just go home and call the game warden. He said the deer was probably covered with ticks and was in pain. She should be “put out of her misery.”   I considered this. Why would I sit there in the dark and the cold, by the side of the road with a dying wild animal who was covered with ticks? Did I really think I had some special connection with this wild animal?

I started to get up, and heard the deer try to move. I turned, and saw her looking at me as if to say, “How can you leave? You promised me you would stay with me.” It was love, and bewilderment that I might betray my promise to her. I had told her I would be there with her so she would not be alone and scared while she died – and she was calling me out on my promise. I told Gary he could walk home and call someone, but I was staying with the deer. It didn’t make sense to him; I understood, but I stayed.

I talked to her about what had happened and how I hoped she had enjoyed being a deer. She just looked at me and kept her head in my lap. We talked with pictures in our heads about how she’d be leaving her body and I’d stay and comfort her until it was time to go.

After about 20 minutes, she had stopped trying to get up or move her legs. My husband drove back to where we were and a truck came with the game warden. The warden came over to check the deer to see if she could be helped. She never stopped looking at me. The warden told us she had broken her legs and probably had internal injuries. He went to get his gun from the truck. The deer lifted her head and looked into my eyes. We had a moment – a whisper of unconditional love and gratitude for our little time together. She laid her head back down on my lap and closed her eyes – gently passing on before the warden got to his truck.

© Copyright Pamela LipeRevercomb