Archive for the ‘Our Cats’ Category


Sunday, August 15th, 2010

If you recall, we adopted a couple of new cats last November, adding to our feline family. One of those cats is a large orange Tabby named Jynx.  For the longest time after we first adopted him, he would sit up in the cat tree, looking out the window into the world.  Since this was during the winter, we did not fully appreciate why he was doing that.  Was he being anti-social?  Was he unhappy?  After a while, he gradually moved away from spending a lot of time on the cat tree and interacting more with the other cats.  This summer, we came to realize what he was doing when we first got him – he was longing for the outside world.

It started out subtle; the usual eagerness found in cats to be near open doors or windows, taking in the fresh air from the outdoors.  It moved up to standing vigil at the door, regardless of whether the door was open or closed, or perching atop the tall freezer by the door.  Eventually, he started to make escape attempts, working to force his way out the slightest opening.  One time, Daniel even obliged his longings and let him out for a supervised jaunt outdoors.  We eventually took another look at Jynx’s adoption paperwork from Animal Control, and the form indicated that he was previously an indoor/outdoor cat.

Michelle became convinced that the right thing to do was to let him start to be an outdoor cat.  He had noticeably gained weight, and he seemed to be unhappy, forced to remain indoors while longing for the freedom of the wild.  Think of him as a feline “Buck” wanting to run with the other outdoor neighborhood cats.  Oh yes, Jynx has to watch them every day from the picture window in the dining room as they prowl the perimeter of the property, looking for the next small thing to kill.

But, there were a few things that needed to change before Jynx could have his freedom.  First, we needed to update his microchip and get him some tags in the event he went on a too-long walkabout.  Second, he had to be up-to-date on the important inoculations for outdoor cats, namely feline leukemia.  Finally, there was the matter of the fur.  Jynx is not only a big cat, he has long, thick fur that tends to mat up a bit.  Not that brushing him is much of a help, because, unlike the other cats, he hates getting brushed.  Some of the other cats act more like it is an aphrodisiac – which is a bit disturbing to say the least – than a grooming ritual.  But then again, there always seems to be somewhat of  a sensual component to feline grooming.  I agreed when we took Jynx in to get his teeth cleaned that trimming his fur was a good idea.  When he came home, though, the look of shame on his face matched the horror on my own – the vet had given him a notorious “Lion” cut.

But the big barrier to Jynx’s running wild in the end is my reluctance.  My childhood experiences with outdoor cats did not end well for the cats, and we got Jynx as a “replacement” cat after losing Tash.  The thought of putting Jynx at risk by letting him roam about in the neighborhood sent unpleasant tinglings up and down my spine.  Then, I got an earful from a woman at the Bird TLC event about the evils of letting cats run around outdoors and the senseless slaughter that ensues on the local avian populations.  I could nod in agreement because I like our neighborhood birds and it also seemed like a good excuse to oppose Operation Jynx Liberation.

With the first of his two feline leukemia shots taken care of, we allowed Jynx the opportunity for a supervised visit in the backyard during a rare sunny day in our summer of rain and gloom.  Daniel was in charge of keeping an eye on him, but I sat at our lawn table, eating lunch with Michelle and watching nervously.  Jynx was definitely excited to be outdoors, but also working his way around cautiously, taking in all the smells and sounds with an attention to detail found in a military inspector.  After Jynx became increasingly animated and tough to follow around, I aborted the outdoor visit and back inside he went.

We have provided Jynx a couple more supervised visits since then, and I still remain reluctant to let freedom ring for him.  He now has his second shot, and the only thing between Jynx and the world is me.  Time will tell if my reluctance breaks.

Our “clowder”

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

So, it turns out that the proper term for a large number of cats, according to,  is a “clowder,” not a “herd” or “gaggle” as it sometimes may seem.  For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you will recall that back in late August we lost our older cat Tash to a sudden kidney failure.  We waited for a few months before looking for a new cat to take into our home.  Keeping in tradition with all the cats we have, we were intent on adopting a rescue cat or a cat from a shelter.  But what do you do when you are seeking to replace a 23-pound cat?  You get two.  Well, at least that was not our original intent.  We were at the shelter looking at cats and I left a message with my friend Faith, who helped me connect with Tash, and aksed for her input.  We were having a hard time choosing among the dozens of cats at the shelter who could all use a good home.  Faith returned the call while we were still at the shelter.  When we told her what we were up to, she said, “Why don’t you take two; they’re small.”  So Michelle and I looked at each other and said, “Okay.”  That brought us up to five.  It turns out there really is a big difference between four cats and five.   It’s really noticable at evening feeding time in the kitchen. 

As you may also recall from my blog post about Tash, one of the things I realized with considerable heartache after he passed was that I had hardly taken any photos of him during the three years he was with me.  So, I committed to start taking more photos of all our cats.  Some of them are much easier to photograph than others.  Our new long hair Tabby, Jynx, is quite the ham.  He also has the habitat of lying down in some rather odd and sprawling positions, and likes to get into things; all of which make him a good photo subject.  Our other new cat, Kobuk, who is a beautiful chocolate-point Siamese, doesn’t care much for photos.  He just stares at me with this cocked-eared stare that we call “The Look.”  One of the first photos I took of him was shortly after he had his teeth cleaned, and his left foreleg had a near-bald patch of fur where they had to shave for the IV.  The two brothers, Bolshe and Menshe, are often easy photo subjects.  Menshe can often be found waiting longingly at the window for birds to stop by.  Bolshe, while engaging in a lot of silly behavior that does not photograph well, does have a tendency to curl up in a tight little ball while he sleeps – great fodder for the camera.  Harriet, our lone female and quintessential Black Cat, is extremely cute but often difficult to photograph; not only because she is so dark and makes for a tough exposure, but tends to not stay still long enough to get close for a good shot.   Here are some of my recent efforts:

Of course, with the new cats comes new cat dynamics.  Jynx fairly quickly learned to get along with everyone and settle into the new environment, making our home his own.  He quickly bonded with the cat tree, which still remains his favorite place despite finding other havens to lie around or play.  Kobuk on the other hand has been a bit slower to adjust.  It took a while before he would come out from under the bed and integrate, and for the longest time, he would take off in a run if you looked in his general direction.  He is warming up quite a bit now, and generally gets along with the other cats … except Harriet.  For whatever reason that we simply cannot fathom, Harriet and Kobuk have issues.  It started with Harriet stalking Kobuk when Kobuk was still scared and getting use to this place.  Now, the roles are reversed and Harriet is extremely defensive around Kobuk.  We have purchased a water sprayer to help defray any such shenanigans when they occur when we are home.   For when we are not at home, we purchased a product called “Feliway,” or what we call the “Opium Den in a Box.”  Imagine those Glade plug-ins that you put in your electrical outlet, but this is instead a pheremone that is supposed to help the kitties mellow out.  We used it before when Michelle and I first moved in together a few years ago, when we had some integration issues between her cats and mine.  We stopped using Feliway when we found that our cats completely stopped doing anything but lounging around near the stuff.  They were even slow to get up when we called them for evening dinner.  So far, we have not seen similar results and hope that it helps to mellow out the two cats with issues while we are away. 

Which led me to think more about ways to figure out what all of these cats do when we are not at home.  If only there were some way to see what these guys are up to while we are at work.  We don’t have a need for a Nanny Cam or anything like that in the house.  We do have a video camera, but it is fixed on the inside of our bat house, waiting for spring and for the bats to return.  So, what to do … then I thought about using the technique I have used to create time lapse videos of landscapes and applying them to the inside of the house.  The video below is the first capture of the “secret lives of cats.”  Note that I forgot to disable the auto focus on the camera; I simply did not think that it would keep refocusing when on a fixed target.  There are plans for more time lapse efforts in different parts of the house because, as you can see in the video, there must be some activity going on somewhere else.

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Steller visitor

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009
Steller visitor

Although it is a bit early for us to get our usual avian visitors, we have been getting a few visits lately from Steller’s Jays.  It appears that the meal of choice for these members of the jay family is peanuts in the shell.  And these guys are very particular about the size and shape of shell they are looking for, as they like to place a minimum of two in their mouths at a time.  The first shell has to be small enough to toss to the back of the mouth, leaving room in the beak for at least a second shell.  I have even seen one jay try to fit three.  Once loaded up, the jay will fly off to some nearby location to store the shells, and quickly return for more.

The first time I ever saw a Steller’s Jay was in Mt. Rainier National Park.  I was visiting my friend Ben Hohman, who lives in Aberdeen on the bottom of the Olympic Peninsula, and we were visiting the nearby Cascade Range giant.  It was a clear, sunny day, and we had stopped at a pullout.  The Steller’s Jay was there, hopping around, busily checking out possible food sources on the ground, then up to a rock wall, then over to a branch on a tall pine tree.  The jay froze long enough for me to capture an image of him with Rainier in the background.  For years, it was my only sighting of a Steller’s Jay.  All I had to remember of their vibrant, glistening deep blue feathers was that shot.

Then, many years later, Michelle and I purchased our current home near Jewel Lake in Anchorage.  We had the usual visitors to our bird feeders last winter: black-capped and boreal chickadees, nuthatches, and gross beaks.   The cats came to love this aspect about our new home, a bird feeder ledge just right outsdide the window where the cats could watch, chirp, and sometimes pounce (with no success other than producing a solid “thump” on the glass and scaring the birds away for a time).  Then we started to see the tall, dark blue, inquisitive and very crafty Steller’s Jays.  (Although, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Anchorage is on the outer edge of the  Steller’s Jay range.)  It did not seem to phase the cats that these new visitors were considerably larger than the other birds, and sometimes almost as big as the cats themselves.

Our most recent visitor was particularly busy.  When he nearly exhausted our already-low peanut supply on the ledge, I went out to dump some more on to the ledge.  I was not even back to the window from the inside when he was back again at the feeder, busily picking through the new selection.  After five or six visits, I went and grabbed my camera to snap a few shots.  He came back about three more times before Menshe jumped up to the shelf on the inside of the window, spooking him off.  I expected the jay to return once he realized that Menshe was not a threat, so I stood and waited, hoping to get a shot of Menshe looking out the window at the jay on the feeder.  After about ten minutes, the jay did not return.

I know that winter will soon be upon us, and the myriad of other birds who visit our property will return for their usual frenzy feeding.  In the meantime, I will take comfort in and enjoy our deep blue Steller’s Jay visitors.  I will take comfort in knowing that we are providing them a means of surviving, while they provide us company and great entertainment.  One of these days, I hope to see where it is – and it is not too far away – that they fly to store those peanuts.

Farewell, Tash

Monday, August 24th, 2009
Farewell, Tash

We lost a loved and valued member of our family yesterday morning.  My 13-year-old orange tabby, Tash, died after his kidneys completely shut down and I had to make the very difficult decision of ending his discomfort and steepening decline.  I held him in my arms, his favorite way to be held, as I felt him breathe his last breath.

Many of those who have visited our home knew Tash, because he really stood out.  As one friend put it, he was a “presence.”  Of course, he was a large presence, weighing around twenty pounds. But he was also loved by guests because he had a strong personality and was always inclusive toward everyone.  Not everyone knew Tash’s story, though.

Tash was rescued in late 2005, early 2006 when his original owner, an elderly woman in Valdez, passed away.  I have been told by those involved with his rescue that Tash was among thirty or so cats in the household.  When his original owner died, no one found out about it for several days, as she lived alone and was rather isolated.  Tash was one of two cats who stood guard over her body until friends and eventually paramedics arrived.  He had sat there so long, his 28-pound body had left a depression in the carpet.  When they took his owner’s body away, he tried to leave with the gurney.

I met Tash through someone associated with Friends of Pets.  He was in foster care, and was in need of a new home.  I had just moved from renting to owning, and I wanted to adopt a cat.  During my first visit with him at his foster home, he was rather aloof.  I went back for a second visit, and he was more engaging.  Then I took him home to my condo for a day visit, and we really seemed to hit it off.  I made the decision to take him home for good.  (And along with him came the much younger, then only 10-months old, Harriet.)

I knew that Tash was an older cat, and I knew he was looking for a place to retire in a nice, quiet home.  I had no idea of how attached I would become to him.

Over the years, he developed certain traits, certain habits, and certain ways of communicating.  In particular, he had a voice that let you know that he meant business in no uncertain terms – after all, he was the cat and you merely the human, there to do his bidding. Early on, I came to learn that he had a thing for showers.  Every time I would take a shower, he would sit outside on the bathroom rug and squawk at me, with this very insistent, loud voice he had.  He would squawk at me with that voice pretty much any time I sang or whistled.  I never knew if he was singing with me or telling me to stop.

Shortly after moving in with me, after he got over his uncertainty about joining me on the bed at night, he developed a habit of crawling up to sleep in my armpit that stayed until his final days.  He always was the first to greet me when I came home, no matter what time of day (or night) it was.  Sometimes I knew he was greeting me because it was that time of day to feed him his evening canned cat food, and he would be very persistent with that voice of his until he got fed.  When I held him, whether he was in bed at night or sitting with me on the couch in the evenings, he had this deep, resonating purr that you could really feel and hear.  (When he sat with me on the couch, he did not just sit on my lap, he climbed up and extended his forearms onto my shoulder – I called it “climbing the mountain”).

Tash also had a thing for the ladies – he was always in the middle of things when I would have members of the Alaska Wild cheerleader squad over to photograph their team head shots.  He sometimes had to be in the photos, like one I took of a client, Stephanie, who wanted to produce a calendar for her husband in the 40s-50s pin-up girl style.  Any time there was a female portrait client, he would find his way in there.

Tash almost always joined me in my office when I would sit and photo edit at the computer.  He so liked sitting under the corner of the desk (I have a glass, wrap-around desk with a high top that is open below), that we placed a cat bed there for him.  He would also sometimes sit behind me on the floor, so he could make sure to catch me as I am on my way out of the office.  Most of the time this would be late at night, and I would have to tell him that it was time to go to bed.  Shortly thereafter, I would hear his claws (he still had all of them, and dutifully used the scratching post to sharpen them) clicking on the hallway floor as he made his way to the bedroom to join us.  In the last six months or so, he also took to sitting on my chair in the mornings.  Perhaps he also knew this was a way to get attention, as I always went in the office to check email and web statistics first thing after breakfast.

In this last winter and spring, Tash also learned something new.  We have a large picture window with a ledge bird feeder on the other side.  We call it our Kitty Big Screen TV.  All of the other cats had long realized this entertainment potential and had spent countless hours watching and chatting at birds.  This last winter, we put Tash up there (he could not make that high of a jump), and he finally learned what the other cats had been doing there.  We set down a dining table chair next to the shelf so he could find his own way up there eventually.  At first, he would just squawk at the birds with a shorter version of his regular meow.  Soon, though, he learned how to make the “bird chirp” noise that most cats know how to do.  It was such a treat watching him learn about this whole new world at such a late age.

There are countless things that I will miss about my boy, Tash.  He was stoutly loyal to me, and among our four cats, the one who always wanted to be with me and missed me the most when I was out of town on photo assignments.  I will miss him sleeping at my arm pit at night, climbing up to be with me at the couch, miss his cranky sounding meow, miss the look on his face when you scratch the top of his head – his ears would go out and look like Yoda ears, and he would close his eyes.  I will miss how, when I held him, he would scratch his jaw against my beard or corner of my glasses.  I will miss that comforting purr that put me to sleep so many nights over the 3+ years he was with me.

As Michelle told me, you always lose the ones you love too soon.  Based on his original diagnosis with a loss of kidney function, our vet led us to believe that with proper diet (which Tash went on immediately), Tash would be with us for at least another year or so.  It took just less than a month.  Such a sudden loss leaves me with a palatable tinge of regret, especially when I learned that I only had a handful of photos I had taken of Tash in the whole time he was with me, and none with just him in the shot.  So much about being with Tash was being close to him, holding him; quiet moments that did not make me think of taking a picture.

I think now of all the many wonderful things that made him such a special cat.  I think of all the things that I knew he enjoyed, that he will no longer be able to.  I know I gave him a good home, and, if cats really can be aware of such things, I know that he knew he was loved.  I will miss him, this wonderful cat who was the first pet that was mine as an adult, who found a home and helped me to build my own home for the first time.  Farewell, Tash, my loyal and beloved friend.