Monday, May 30, 2011

How to impress a female squirrel

Spring has finally arrived in Ontario and the squirrel mating season has begun. But how does a young gray-tailed lady know that the black tree rodent posing for her attention on the front porch is worthy of being her mate? The answer apparently comes down to one rather unfortunate challenge:

Who can terrorize my cat the most?

This particular black squirrel has long been a major source of entertainment / annoying itch / enemy who will one day be vanquished (delete as appropriate) for Tallis. It was clear from an early stage that he didn't give a jot about the fact a carnivorous feline was pressed up against the window a mere foot from where he was hanging from my deck rail. Still, until this morning, the squirrel's main objective had been to raid the seeds in my bird feeder and the frenzy my cat blew into was no more than a passingly interesting side-effect.

Today was different. The bird feeder was completely ignored and instead the squirrel danced in front of the window while the newly arrived gray squirrel looked on from on top of the dustbin. Tallis watched, nonplussed, from where she was sitting on my desk. The gray squirrel looked equally unimpressed. Evidently, this was not demonstrating the required quantity of bravado.

Our black friend then leapt onto the wall and ran around the outside of the window frame. Tallis had now moved to her window seat, but couldn't see the squirrel when he was above her. Feeling that his presence needed to be fully marked, the squirrel scuttled down the side of the house and leapt across onto the bug screen attached to the outside of the window pane.

Yoo hoo!

A dance was then performed across the window, complete with a nut clamped in the squirrel's mouth. The addition of the food was quite blatantly to emphasize that while the squirrel had breakfast, my poor cat would be forever without the snack she desired. That didn't stop her trying to chew the squirrel straight through the glass.

In the end, however, the torment was too much. Tallis retreated to sulk in the middle of the room and the squirrel was left still clinging to the window. At length it dropped down and I've not seen it or Miss Gray since. Assuming this bold act of daring was accepted as a feat worthy of a father, this summer could be a tough one for Tallis. We may just have to draw the curtains.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Does whatever a spider cat does

There comes a time in everybody's life when it is desirable to make your cat radioactive.

For many, it is a feeling that a remake of the 'spiderman' movies could be a real hit with one obvious improvement. For others, it stems from a dream to get even with the neighbour's newspaper-chewing dog. For one of my friends, the source was his cat developing an over-active thyroid.

Ramses --known as 'Sir Ramses' by the people who cared for him over Christmas and 'pussy' by his family's newest addition-- had developed hyperthyrodism; a condition caused by tumours (not necessary malignant) on the thyroid gland which leads to an overproduction of hormone. To emphasise his displeasure at this condition, Ramses underlined the inconvenience by having an allergic reaction to every medication designed to treat the problem and ended up in the veterinary hospital. The suggested solution was a dose of radioactive iodine which is absorbed by the thyroid and kills off the excess cells. It only needs to be performed once for a permanent cure. 

There is no mention in the veterinary guidelines of a treated cat morphing into a immensely powerful super villain but, hey, I was optimistic. Especially since said cat was not living in my house. (Though if he appeared at the door, my Tallis could totally take him -- it's what she's been preparing for all these years.)

The 'make your own glow in the dark cat' procedure took place at a hospital 90 minutes drive away. Sick people went in the front, cats were wheeled on a trolley through the back. The nurse who appeared to collect Ramses eyed my car with disapproval.

"When you collect your cat, you shouldn't bring the baby," she informed us, nodding at my smallest passenger who had come along to say goodbye to 'pussy'. "He'll still have quite a high radiation count and that is a very confined space."

Woman, size isn't everything! I covered my car's wing mirrors so it could not hear such comments.

Iodine has a half-life of eight days. Since Ramses ended up staying at the hospital two weeks, he was down to roughly a quarter of his original radiation level by the time we collected him in a baby-free car. Had he been human, there would have been no further guidelines concerning his health. As a cat, however, there was a list of rules that included storing his kitty litter for a further week. Apparently, the radiation levels were still high enough to trigger the alarms at the rubbish dump.

It was after dropping the cat off at the hospital that we all visited the large cats at Killman Zoo. It's good to be prepared.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bugs in bugs

"This is a front wheel drive?"


Chunk. Chunk. Chunk. I watched dispiritedly as the front half of my car was lifted into position behind the tow truck. Resignedly, I noted that this trip was not going to end in a hockey game as originally planned.

I had only driven about ten minutes when the problem started; a juddering from the engine that shook the car. My engine warning light came on and started flashing. I didn't actually know that light could flash but, under the circumstances, I felt a conservative translation would be 'STOP OR YOU WILL DIE'. I bounced into a parking lot and optimistically tried shutting everything down and then turning it back on. Hey, I was a Microsoft Windows user too once. The resulting vibration might have been a seat feature if the car felt remotely safe to drive.

I called the CAA.

I rode with the tow truck across town to the VW garage, resentfully eyeing all the other vehicles around us.

"If we see another yellow beetle, could we just stop and switch them over?" I asked sadly as I spotted a grey bug parked by the curb.

"No problem. I know a guy who'll get you a set of keys for it for $150."

.... all in all, it was probably a good thing we didn't spot car like mine. I wasn't sure what my bill from the garage was going to be, but I was fairly certain it wasn't going to fall below $150.

The price of the repair was a particular concern. In all likelihood, I would be selling the car by the autumn and, at 10 years old, it wasn't going to be worth all that much. An added complication was that I had brought it into the country on a temporary import, so it would be preferable to sell it back in the USA rather than pay tax and duty on it in Canada. That meant that it had to be able to reach the border. I didn't like the idea of pushing.

I sat anxiously at the garage while I debated what my cut-off sum was; the amount at which I run from the room, denying all knowledge of having ever owned a car or evening knowing how to drive. I decided it was somewhere close to $1000. Around the price a serious engine malfunction would probably cost. I knotted my shoe laces tighter.

Miraculously, it turned out to be the ignition coil. Not cheap to fix, but not $1000 either. What was more, the garage had one in stock and fixed it within the hour. I had been hesitant about going to the VW dealership; as a general rule they are more expensive that a generic garage. The fact they were open until 8pm, looked at my car immediately and fixed it on the spot made it all worth while. The only bad news they gave me was that my spark plugs and wires also were showing wear and the oxygen sensor (emissions detector thingo) also needed replacing 'in the next few months'.

I'm pretty confident that'll mean after September.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


There are several surprising things about Killman Zoo.

Firstly, it is home to one of the largest collections of big cats in Ontario.

Secondly, despite this first point, it has almost no signposting. My GPS unit point blank didn't believe it existed and tried taking us to a school instead; the only location of note it could detect in the rural fields around Hamilton's tiny airport. Google maps did acknowledge the zoo's existence and took us down a rough gravel track where we eventually saw a small square sign directly opposite its entrance. The website for the zoo describes it as "truly one of Ontario's best-kept secrets". Evidently, they're completely serious about that.

Thirdly, several of the cages contained two cats of different species. A female lion and tiger shared a run and a cougar with a lion. Everyone seemed okay with this....

Finally, it has possibly the most unfortunate name for a place containing large carnivorous animals. Since its founder was a man named Murry Killman, the origin of said name is understandable, but I think in such a circumstance I might have changed my name to Willnotkillman.

The animals are housed in cages that look like they've been cobbled together out of salvaged wood. In fact, the whole area has the feel of a animal rescue centre, except for the fact the pens contained GIANT MAN EATING CATS rather than, you know, raccoons. On the other hand, maybe Hamilton is frequently plagued by wild jaguars and the zoo is just very good at rounding them up. It would explain why the local Canadian football team is known as the Tiger-cats.

In addition to lions, tigers, cougars, jaguars and panthers, the zoo is home to a bear, emus, pigs, turkeys and a whole bunch of bunny rabbits. Evidently, there had been some concern for the fate of said fluffy bunnies, since there were large signs all around the zoo stating 'we do not use live prey'. Since there was one pen that was labelled 'African porcupine' but now seemed to consist only of rabbits, this precaution might have been introduced for the reverse reason than most would presume. 

The cages themselves appeared not to be terribly big which left you with the mixed feelings of pleasure at being so close to the animals mingled with concern for their welfare. However, a closer inspection showed that the cages interlinked to give a more respectable sized run, and each cage had a door into one of the large open areas that were alternately occupied by the zoo's inhabitants. Nevertheless, the website indicates that not everyone is satisfied with this solution since it lists warnings to PETA and Zoo Check that Killman Zoo is private property.  To me, the cats looked healthy and one suspects if they were very unhappy, those cages wouldn't hold them for long. Undoubtedly though, any such containment is a hard moral call.

With me on this trip were a couple of friends and their eight-month old son. While we all admired the cats, the baby's all time favourite site was .... a tree. This was likely due to the meanness of his parents in not letting him stroke the large tiger. With one hand on the tree bark, he looked at me and grinned.'


 I raised an eyebrow. I see the logic kiddo, but your generalisation is too great.