Friday, August 12, 2011

Rocky Raccoon

We have seen the raccoon in our backyard twice before, although the evidence of his visits appear more regularly. Until he showed up, I didn't know that raccoons were so big, bigger than Scottie, the terrier we used to have, and burly, too. The last time we saw Rocky, it turned into an inadvertent game of tag.

Michael went out to turn on the sprinklers, not knowing that Rocky was on the patio. There was a momentary stand-off while they sized each other up and both considered options. Then Michael decided to get on with his task. Rocky didn't run away; he would sprint three or four feet ahead, then stop to check Michael's whereabouts. Unfortunately for both of them, Rocky's evasive maneuvers went straight towards the backyard faucet, exactly where Michael was going. When Michael got there, Rocky turned around and started his little sprints back towards the patio and our back door. Again, exactly where Michael was headed after turning the water on. There was a moment when I wasn't sure which one would come in the house.

Tonight, things took a different turn. We arrived home about 9 PM and Michael happened to flip on the patio light and glance out. "Lane," he called out, "you have to see this." I hurried to the living room windows, but I could have taken my time. There stood Rocky, hovering over a cat food dish and giving Michael a stare that looked threatening even from five feet away and through glass. After a moment, he turned his baleful eyes back to the subject at hand - cat food.

Just that morning, I had re-engineered the cat food dishes on our patio. Ants had begun invading the two containers, roiling over the food in such numbers that the kibble looked alive. The feral cats hadn't been eating much and I thought the ants were why. I tried putting the dishes up on lawn chairs, but guess what? Ants can climb plastic chairs. My next idea was a water barrier.

I used two cake pans, filled them with water, and set the cat feeders inside. It worked like a charm against ants, providing the cats with food that wouldn't bite back, but it also appealed to Rocky. As we watched, he scooped up kibble in first one hand, then the other, stuffing the food into his mouth greedily, perhaps afraid that we would come outside and chase him away. I say 'hands' because it looked so human, the way his paws powered towards his mouth one after the other. Just think of a movie where a ravenous person falls on a table of food and inhales it one handful after the other. That was our Rocky.

After a few minutes, he seemed to relax; obviously, we weren't charging out at him. In his more leisurely eating style, Rocky scooped up kibble with his hands held together monkishly, then dipped it into the moat of water surrounding the dishes. I knew from textbooks that raccoons washed their food, but kibble? Really?

Inevitably, the kibble escaped into the water whenever Rocky dunked it in and then he would plunge his snout under the water like a child in a shaggy coat dunking for apples. Periodically, he would look up at us with a quizzical eye. Is it really supposed to be this hard? I could almost hear him say.

While Rocky chowed down on the wet cat food, Michael and I went looking for cameras to take his picture, although the photos didn't turn out well through glass and in poor lighting. While trying to take a picture, Michael noticed something else on the patio.

"There's a cat out there," he told me. "Look behind the table." Sure enough, a cat was stretched out in pose of blissful sleep. "That's Blackie!" I said. Blackie, who we think is Baby's dad, is a homely thing. His coat has brown highlights, giving him a muddy look, and his big, jowly tomcat head just doesn't fit his long, thin body. He might might not be a pretty boy, but he was smart, the only one of our regulars we hadn't been able to trap for neutering.

"Oh, Michael, look at him. He's dead. The raccoon killed Blackie!" I knew that no cat would lounge so casually three feet away from a raccoon, and Rocky was that close to him. The raccoon stayed at the first feeding dish a long time, and Blackie never moved. When he had had enough of that one, he repeated his performance at the second one. When he had had enough kibble, he strolled over to the big dish of drinking water and thoroughly washed his hands and face, then strolled into the night without a backward glance at us or at Blackie.

"What are we going to do about Blackie," I asked from the kitchen. "Well, nothing tonight, that's for sure," Michael responded. "I'm not dealing with a dead cat now." "So, what then? I'm supposed to deal with it tomorrow after you go to work? I can't do that," I shot back. There was a long pause. "Neither one of us is going to deal with it," Michael said, "Blackie just got up!"

I ran to the window. There he was, calmly making a snack of the kibble Rockie had left behind. That Blackie is one smooth operator, that's all I can say. Or maybe Rocky and Blackie had already come to an accommodation, one rogue to another.

What a mess I had to clean up the next day; kibble really doesn't hold up well in water. It's been a couple days since Rocky put on his show for us. We haven't seen him and I haven't found any pans of kibble goo on the patio. Tonight I saw Little Mom, Baby's mother, eating daintily from an ant-free dish of cat chow. Mission accomplished for me.


Monday, August 08, 2011

The Doorstop

On the Trail of a Doorstop

Today, one of my cats brought the doorstop from my studio all the way across the house and deposited it on my bed. Made of heavy brown rubber, it is about four inches long, two inches high at the tall end, and an inch-and-a-half wide. DOORSTOP is emblazoned down its slope. This an industrial strength item which one of my cats picked up with his teeth and carried 30 feet or so.

I use the masculine pronoun because our only female cat, Trixie, is 17 and long past any activities except eating and sleeping. Of the three boys, Smudge, Frankie, and Baby, either Frankie or Baby is the likely culprit. Or should I say hero? For whichever one it is surely thinks that he vanquished a worthy opponent and he laid it on the bed in triumph.

I leave out Smudge, a well-muscled three-year-old tuxedo cat with a daub of black on his otherwise very pink nose, because he is the alpha cat and does not need to prove anything to anyone. And he apparently does not want to take any chances with his formal attire; he reigns elegantly over the premises and rarely engages the other two boys in play.

Smudge has dibs on me and likes to recline on my chest, where he rumbles deep, revved up purrs while I rub my chin on his head and cuddle him. This began when he was a sick kitten that I rescued after his feral mother abandoned him. A kitten on my chest compares in no way to a nearly-20 pound cat in the same place. By all descriptions, his snuggles closely resemble the medieval practice of pressing someone to death by piling large stones on their chest until they suffocate. I have never mentioned this to Smudge.

Frankie is Smudge's half-brother from a subsequent feral litter. He has not acclimated to people as well as Smudge, but he would like to overcome his fears. Not too long ago, the Houston Chronicle had a cat story that featured a photograph of a cream-colored, lightly striped Maine Coon cat. It looked like Frankie's twin. Their mother, known to us affectionately as Old Mom, has the same long, lightly striped fur in a styIish gray color. She has never let us close enough to know whether or not her coat is triple thick, soft, and silky, like Frankie's, or whether she has long tufts of fur growing between the pads of her feet, like Frankie does, but my bet is that she contributed the Maine Coon in his genes.

Frankie, who is two, likes me to brush him - as long as I stroke slowly and make no sudden moves. He likes one-handed petting, but becomes alarmed and bolts when there are two hands involved. Or a plastic bag swishes. Or someone speaks loudly. Or gets out of their chair. Or walks near his bowl while he is eating. What Frankie does like is to play with Baby, the youngest cat in our family at a year old.

Baby is a nephew of Smudge's and Frankie's. His mother was in the very first litter Old Mom produced. We call her New Mom, although neither of them will be moms agaIn because we trapped them, and a few other feral cats we feed, and had them all neutered. New Mom is even warier than Old Mom and taught Baby to be as well. He would bolt if he saw us through the window and his gray tabby top on a white bottom made him hard to see, but I kept as close an eye as I could on him. As soon as he started eating kibble, I began my cat whispering and, in a few weeks, coaxed Baby into the house.

We never intended to keep him and therefore refused to name him, a ploy that resulted in him acquiring the handle 'Baby Boy.' The problem with Baby was that he had unexpected charm and daring, and we couldn't give him away. The kitten who hid became the cat who wanted to know about everything in the house, including people. He had classic cat attributes, in particular curiosity and mischief-making. Even as a small kitten, he would take Smudge, or even-heftier Frankie, on in a friendly game of fisticuffs. And he frequently bested them.

aby and Smudge both like to be made up in the clean sheets when we change our bed. On one occasion, Smudge ended up under the bottom sheet and Baby ended up on top of it. And then the two of them chased each other back and forth, like two sides of a coin wrestling each other, until Michael and I dissolved in laughter. They didn't get the joke.

Baby also walked across the curtain rods in my studio, knocked knick-knacks off the top of my kitchen cupboards, and leapt from my dresser, across a huge gap, to the top of a seven-foot tower. Waking up to a loud thud and seeing the tower, with its shelves of keepsakes, swaying back and forth under Baby's feet terrified me, but not him: he continues to do it, usually in the middle of the night.

I have a Cat Game app on my iPad, which Baby enjoys playing. In it, a dot of light dodges and bounces along over any one of several floors, including wood, rocks, and grass among others. It responds to the pouncing paws that dance across the iPad glass so that the cat controls the game quite directly. If Kitty is getting too much dot-action, it slides to an edge and disappears. Baby soon learned to wait for the dot to 'escape' and then ambush it underneath the iPad. Such a good idea, although he hasn't captured the darned thing yet.

Frankie and Baby are my two playful fellows. When I contemplated the DOORSTOP in the middle of my bed today, I knew that either Frankie or Baby had nabbed it. I praised them both for their bravery and put the doorstop securely back in its accustomed spot, then went out with Michael to dinner. It had migrated to the living room by the time we got back home.