Tick talk…

…time to protect your pets

If you spend any time in the great outdoors, walking, camping, rambling, gardening, farming or you have pets that go outdoors, you need to have some awareness of ticks and how they may pose a danger to you and your pets.

According to http://Wikipedia.org/ , ticks are small arachnids in the order Parasitiformes. Ticks, along with mites constitute the subclass Accrinia. They are ectoparasites that live on the outside of their mammal hosts, feeding on blood. According to Furman and Lewis (1984) who provided a comprehensive study of ticks in California, they are among the most important ectoparasites affecting the health of man and domestic and wild animals. They serve as reservoirs and vectors of many organisms pathogenic for humans and other animals, and cause direct harm by their bites, including irritation, anemia, toxemia, allergic sensitisation, and paralysis.

There are approximately 850 species of tick throughout the world. Scientists have classified them into two families, based on their structure of hard (Ixodidae) or soft

(Argasidae) outer covering. A third family, the Nutalliellidae are known only from a single African species.

Ixodidae

These have a hard outer covering called a scutum. All ticks have three pairs of legs in their immature stage and four pairs as an adult. They cannot fly but crawl towards their food source which they detect through sensory apparatus called ‘Haller’s Organ’ which locates odour, heat and humidity. They climb up on tall grass and when they sense an animal is close by they crawl on to it. Geographic distribution of Ixodidae depends on various factors, including temperature, humidity, vegetation and host density (Estrada-Pena 2001). (http://www.researchgate.net/publication/11828266_Forecasting_habitat_suitability_for_ticks_and_prevention_of_tick-borne_diseases ).

Life Cycle

All ticks have four stages to their life cycle: egg, larvae, nymph and adult.

Spring: Adult lays eggs on the ground.

Summer: (Depending on temperature and moisture) Eggs hatch into larvae. The larvae find their first host; usually small bird or rodent. They feed off their host for several days, then detach and fall onto the ground.

Autumn: The well fed larvae now molt into the next cycle and are called nymphs.

Winter: The nymphs remain inactive during the winter months.

Spring: The nymphs become more active and find their second host (usually a rodent, pet or human) and feed again

Once the nymph is well fed it detaches and falls to the ground where it molts and changes into an adult.

Autumn: During the Autumn months the male and female adults find another host (usually a rodent, deer, pet or human and feed and mate, falling back on to the ground. The male tick now dies and the female lives on, laying eggs in the Spring. On average, each female tick lays approximately 3000 eggs.

Before feeding, ticks that infest pets are very small, typically less than 1mm. Nymphs are 1-2mm long and adults 3-5mm. Engorged adults however can be up to 2cm long and 50-100 times larger than when unfed!

Engorged tick

Tick borne diseases.

Tick borne illnesses are caused by infection with a variety of pathogens.

Apparently, dogs are more likely to be affected by ticks than cats,the rationale being that dogs are more likely to get into ‘tick territory’. For pet owners like me that regularly find ticks on my dog and cats it is not necessary to know the particular species of tick, only how to remove them safely. Tick bites are not usually painful to the pet because of the natural painkillers introduced during the biting process. This supposedly increases the risk of the tick avoiding detection during the day long feeding process. The blood loss incurred from a few ticks is irrelevant but if a pet is bitten by hundreds, blood loss can lead to anaemia.

If you notice your dog or cat scratching more than usual, it is more likely to be fleas than ticks

Because of the grooming habits of cats, they are more likely to dislodge ticks than dogs.

Major threats for pets

Almost all tick species transmit one or more tick borne diseases which alter by region. Most vets will be aware of local risks and if presented with a dog or cat that has been bitten by ticks and infection is suspected, they will be able to initiate appropriate treatment. It has to be said that it is mainly dogs that are at risk but cats can also fall victim.

#http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3068133/Invasion-danger-ticks-Europe-Disease-threat-pets-owners-multiplies-relaxation-controls.html#i-fc21ff216011e75a

Heyman et al (2010) discuss the dangers presenting to both humans and animals from tick borne infections in Europe:

Animal symptoms of these disease are often unspecific and early diagnosis of infection is not always easy to make. It is not uncommon for diagnosis to be too late to save a pet and it is therefore important to ensure that they receive appropriate and timely preventive treatment.

Control

There are chemical pesticides that, applied periodically, keep pets free of ticks. Repellents do not kill ticks but keep them away from potential hosts. Their efficacy is reported as being very weak, lasting a few days, if at all.

Some people advocate the use of home made natural remedies against ticks found on cats and dogs. They are certainly not as efficient as the currently available synthetic pesticides but they are reported to bring only partial relief for a few hours. I have heard of citronella oil, lavendar, rosemary, lemon balm and tea tree oil being used but I have personally been reluctant to go down this path given the lack of evidence regarding their safety. There certainly has to be a balance between potency and safety in their dilution. I would never use a pure oil. Natural does not necessarily mean safe.

#www.huffingtonpost.com/ricjard…/pet-aromatherapy_b_877199.html

There are basically three types of products containing tickisides for pets. They are all for external use only and include:

Spot ons: for monthly administration

Tickiside impregnated collars

Shampoos, sprays, lotions, powders (the low cost alternatives). These products should be used to treat the whole body of the pet, not just the area where adult ticks have been seen. This is because the immature ticks (nymphs, larvae) can’t always be seen with the naked eye.

The spot ons and collars are often able to target parasites other than ticks, including fleas and worms. To me, it makes sense to select these types of products, particularly if your pet is not strictly a house pet.

Removal of ticks

To inspect a pet for attached ticks, carefully and thoroughly feel the body surface for any lumps under the hair. It’s important to pay close attention to areas around the face, ears and eyes. There are conflicting thoughts on how ticks should be removed from either pets or humans. Some people advocate spreading oil, butter, petrol, alcohol or even tea tree oil over the tick and wait until it detaches. I prefer to remove them using tweezers. I grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull firmly. After I have removed the tick, I check to ensure the head and body are intact. If the mouth parts are left in the animal they can cause abscess but they usually slough out, just like a splinter. Clean the detachment site after removal of the tick with soap and water and similarly ensure the tweezers are washed, dried and disinfected with a chlorine solution after use. Ensure the tick is destroyed either in an organic solvent such as alcohol or place it in tissue and kill using a hammer or some other heavy device to ensure the outer casing is breached and the tick destroyed.

www2.epa.gov/pets/epa-evaluation-pet-spot-products-analysis-and-plans-reducing-harmful-effects

Furman and Lewis (1984)

Low Gillard P (2012) How to pick your way through the jungle of ectoparastic treatments for dogs and cats Companion 2012 pp 14-18

www.bsava.com/portals/4/knowledgevault/publications/files/companion_january2012.pdf

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Grunting

20/6/2015

Good morning everyone!

I’ve just returned from a working holiday in Spain. I was actually working for myself doing some maintenance on our house near Archidona/Antequera in Malaga province. On the way there to pass some time I wrote some notes for my blog but never got round to posting them because our internet connection there is not too clever. Anyway, I had been watching tennis at the French Open and I was really rooting for Serena Williams in the final. I had watched a lot of tennis from the tournament and had become heartily sick of the squeaking, grunting, groaning and shouting by both men and women but most annoyingly, the women who seem to have taken the concept of the grunt to the nth degree.

Grunting (definition)TN_pig_214B

  • (of a person) make a low inarticulate sound, typically to express effort or indicate assent.
    “the man cursed and grunted as he lassoed the steer”

I think the men demonstrate a more pure form of ‘the grunt’,  it being low and a more obvious (to me) result of effort where the women tend to shriek or scream in a habitual sort of way. Monica Seles has been credited as being one of the first ‘grunters’ and many have followed, notably Francesca Schiavoni, Victoria Azarenka and of course Maria Sharapova.

Maria-Sharapova-grunting

I don’t know if there is an element of gamesmanship in ‘the grunt’ or if there is evidence in the coaching manual that suggests it is of value in some physical or psychological way. Certainly Martina Navratilova has been known to comment on her  opponent’s grunting , suggesting that it interfered with her ability to hear the ball leaving the racket. I just know that I do not enjoy listening to a match that is dominated by shrieks and screams. Imagine Sharapova and Azarenka playing each other? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!!

Dr Victor Thompson, who is a clinical sports psychologist states that grunting is more about the fact that breathing out hard and grunting when taking a shot, as if completing a bench press for example, helps to apply maximal force. Can’t argue with that I suppose but I refer you back to the original definition.

I suppose the argument that the grunt is now an acceptable part of  modern tennis is that the game has changed and it is played at a faster pace and the balls are hit harder, hence added exertion. Well, Martina  used to hit the ball pretty hard but I don’t recall her grunting too much.

wimbledon logo

Wimbledon 2015 is almost here.  I have attended the tournament many times. My sister and I used to have a holiday for the first week of the tournament and go down to SW19, staying at the Trochee Hotel  . We would be up and in the queue for tickets at 4am, always being quite near to the front and guaranteed tickets for the Show Courts. We had some great times sitting in the queue, meeting people from all over the world and sharing our love of tennis through great conversation. On more than one occasion we have procured tickets or entry into Wimbledon from our place in the queue, even at one time sharing a spot with some photographers after an AA man got us in for nothing. Saw the great Bjorn Borg that day. The emphasis is more on the public ballot nowadays. You can still queue but you have to be there for days rather than hours for a chance of success. They were great times and we saw all the tennis greats of the 70s 80s and 90s during our visits. We would have our routine for getting the most out of our day. Firstly, get tickets we wanted, second, hightail it to the Champagne and Pimms tent to partake of a little liquid refreshment, usually a couple of Pimms but sometimes Champagne. This would be followed by either an ‘Oscar’, which was a 12inch long hot dog or smoked salmon sandwiches and the inevitable strawberries and cream. I remember paying £5 for 5 strawberries but would have paid more because it was just part of our visit. Those were indeed happy days. We stopped going when it became apparent that in the future we would have to queue overnight (and miss the luxury of the Trochee Hotel) and that we would probably have to take out a mortgage to be able to finance a weeks trip. Our visits now are confined to the rare occasion we get tickets from the ballot.

So, Serena won the French Open but I’m not sure she’s playing well enough to win Wimbledon. Time will tell. Good luck to everyone who’s taking part and anyone who’s going, have a great time. Come on Andy!

Kk

Gone but not forgotten

Beccs and Henry

I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t take care of my pets. I do. However, I do want to briefly tell the story of two beautiful cats who both disappeared in Spain. It seems this happens all too often.

When we first decided to spend more time in Spain, I bought a cat. This was as much for a practical reason as personal as we had had some issues with mice getting into our Spanish house, particularly in the winter time. So I wanted a handsome cat who would be an efficient ‘mouser’. I went to a local cat breeder and bought a lovely little kitten who was a cross between a Persian Blue and a Bengal, a ‘mistake’ according to the breeder but to me, exactly what I was looking for. We called him Beamish Eustace Cadwallader Catt or Beccs for short. He was typically playful, mischievous and loving (when he wanted to be) and a notorious paddler and dribbler. You definitely needed protection from the latter because you could end up wet through. He spent his first few months in England but once he had received all his vaccinations and been neutered, we took him to Spain. He was great on the journey there and walked proudly in a harness when we stopped for breaks, the only cat we have ever had that has done that. Mostly they just lay down and look at you as if to say ‘no way’!

Anyway, when we got to Spain there were ups and downs with Beccs. He was black and suffered in the heat and also we found him not to respond well to tick treatment. The vet said that it can affect a cat’s liver, so we had to go for a more holistic approach in a collar. He proved to be an excellent hunter, rabbits being his specialty but we never had any further problem with mice. This could have been as much to do with the new doors that we had fitted on the house but of course, Beccs did have an impact. He was also an excellent climber and loved the trees in our garden and also the olive groves that surrounded our property. He liked to wander and occasionally remained out for a whole night. On the occasion he didn’t come back after two nights we set off to look for him and over a number of days continued to search when he didn’t return. We informed the local vets just in case he was found and taken there but sadly, we have never seen him again.

It was always a worry to find that the Spanish do not like black cats and consider them unlucky. In fact our neighbour did not like Beccs and took great exception to him ‘doing his business’ in her plant pots. That always amused us because the whole area could have been one big toilet but he chose our neighbours tiny patio and her best geranium pots. I do not like to think of him ending up slung down a well but I would not put it past some people.

For a nation of supposed animal lovers there are a worrying number of dog, cat and donkey rescue facilities in Spain where stray animals end up. We have seen on more than one occasion animals abandoned at the side of the road, left to starve and eventually die often because of lack of water. I saw a man drive to the end of our road, dump two dogs that he encouraged to stay by leaving them two baguettes and then drive off. One dog turned up at our house who had obviously been abandoned probably because of the large tumour that it was supporting on its’ belly. It was beyond treatment but I fed it and gave it water before it wandered off to die somewhere. Horrible.

We often get hunting dogs in the season who have become separated from their owners. These can be a nuisance sometimes, particularly if they don’t have trackers on them as they just hang around for a while and eventually stray. Even the dog rescue centres don’t like taking them because they are expensive to feed and difficult to re-home.

Next, Horace went missing and then came Henry and Lewis.

Henry

Each Wednesday we used to go to a local market. I used to pick up pig’s ears for Horace and a few other bits and pieces. Often it was just a good chance to have a natter with fellow Brits and have a ‘menu del dia’ at a local restaurant. We were just walking into the market , past the dog rescue centre’s charity stall when I spied a strange looking man stood next to a cage which had four or five kittens in it. I was drawn to the cage and in it found some pathetic looking

Curious Henry...checking out my bottom drawer
Curious Henry…checking out my bottom drawer
If you went to the loo he'd end up in your pants! Eyes improving greatly.
In the pants Henry
Henry's tail
On the bed Henry. Check out those markings and that beautiful tail.
Sitting Pretty
Erm…these are potatoes! Where’s the meat?

creatures. The guy told us he had 34 cats at home and these were just some of the offspring. A little ginger kitten just stood out and eventually we agreed to take him home because we thought we could give him a much better chance of life. We called him Henry. He was in a pitiful state…underweight (he had worms) with sticky eyes , a runny nose and a cough.

Our first priority was a visit to the vets. Cats and dogs in Spain tend to be taken from their parents at 4 weeks and they are introduced to solid food very quickly.  Henry was quite adept at sucking in tinned meat but he wasn’t getting the nourishment he needed. He also had a bad eye infection and a chest infection. The vet was not sure he would survive. I often wonder how anyone could keep so many cats or dogs and keep them all healthy. In this case it obviously hadn’t happened and the vet said all the animals would have the eye infection that was so serious in Henry. Fortunately, after antibiotic treatment and a better diet and lots of love and attention, Henry began to grow and develop the makings of a beautiful cat. His markings were quite striking and his tail the longest I’ve seen on a cat, with striking ginger and white hoops. He became great friends with Horace and they spent hours teasing each other, each giving as good as they got.

From the beginning it was obvious that Henry was going to be quite an efficient hunter. Rabbits were also his favourite but he would have a go at anything. He found a snake on the terrace once and enjoyed teasing it for quite some time. Who needed  a mongoose…we had Henry. he was a bit of a night owl, going out last thing but he knew where we slept and when he wanted to come in he’d rattle those shutters until we let him through the window.

We got him chipped, vaccinated and his own Spanish passport and took him to England for a long holiday. Every one fell in love with him and his character and temperament. He would talk to you and tell you (in his own way) exactly what he wanted. Mostly, he was endearing and he just made you love him.

Eventually we decided we needed a proper vacation and arranged a holiday in Australia and New Zealand. We were going to be away for four weeks. Our friend  agreed to look after Henry as he would be friends with her cat, Tilly. Oh how I wish we had sent him to a cattery. He may not have been as happy but at least he would still be here. Apparently he wanted to be outside so let him out. Did she hear him when he wanted to come in? Did he get lost? Did someone take exception to his noise?…he was very vocal when he wanted to be in, was he involved in an accident?. Whatever happened, Henry was never seen again and it spoiled my holiday when we received the call to tell us he had disappeared. We learned the hard way that our pets are better off in the security of a purpose built facility when we are away.

Kk

Horace…woman’s best friend

6th June 2015

Spain, Horace and Henry.

I could write a book about our experience of buying a property in Spain. In order to pursue our dream of a place in the sun we downsized and sold a beautiful river front property here in England and I have asked myself many times since if we had done the right thing. I will talk more about many things Spanish but for the moment I want to talk about Horace.

I am not, never have been ‘a dog person’ but with our move to Spain I felt that having a rural property it might be prudent to have a dog to act as a guard for us and the property. Enter Horace. We were at a friends house in Martin de la Jara and her neighbour came round with a small basket containing four or five tiny puppies only a few days old. Of course you ooh and ah at their fluffiness and vulnerability but I went a step further and for thirty euro bagged myself a puppy that she insisted would be ready to leave its’ mother at four weeks. I was quite horrified at this but apparently its the norm in Spain for both dogs and cats.

We took the pup home and decided on the name Horace. He was from the start, quite a character. He came with us everywhere, slept in our bedroom and when he was eventually house trained, at 7am he would wake us up by placing his paws on the bed under our nose. He didn’t have to do much else because he had the smelliest feet imaginable. John would take him out for a wee at this point and then he would high tail it back to the bedroom and I’d lift him onto the bed where he’d snuggle down til after I’d had my cup of tea. Then it would be walk time. He loved his walks and from the off he used to chase rabbits. That’s all he did, chase them. He was fast but not fast enough to catch one, however it was the chase he enjoyed. He did catch one once but I rather think that there was something wrong with the rabbit! He picked it up and brought it to us but didn’t do anything more than lay it at our feet.

One of the funniest sights we used to mention every single day was when we were walking behind Horace as we made our way up the hill. His backside used to sway as he walked, strutting really and showing off. He was definitely a show off. As soon as we got back from our walks he used to stick his paws in his water bowl and cool off his (big) smelly feet.

He got run over once. We don’t really know the circumstances. He rarely wore a collar and we let him run free outside as we weren’t on a road we felt it would be safe. I guess as he got older, he got braver and went beyond the boundaries of our land. Anyway we took him to the vet. He was peeing blood and was salivating copiously because he was in shock. The vet put up an IV immediately and identified some bruising and grazing and probably some internal injuries. He frightened me to death. I cried because I thought he might die and I didn’t want to be without him, He was my baby and I loved him.

He got over that trauma and we tried to keep a better eye on him. We were out walking once and the Policia Rurale told us to put him on a lead but we never did. Horace liked to be free. He never went that far, certainly not after he was injured, at least not until September 10th 2012.

In rural Spain we are blighted by hunters who regularly during the season come to properties around us to shoot rabbits and game. Every weekend morning you hear the shots ring out and when we go walking the hunters activity is evident by the dead bodies that we come across. I don’t know why they don’t pick up the dead rabbits, unless the ones we see have only been injured and have died at a later time. Many times we have fed and watered hunting dogs that have found their way to our house after having become separated from their owners. Most of them are huge things that can run for ever and ever. You can always tell the most valuable ones or those that are loved because they have trackers on and their owners will always come and find them.

I don’t like hunters. One of them stole my dog. We were busy working on the house. Horace was with me on the terrace but he followed my husband as he went to lock up. I raced after him because I didn’t want him getting shot by the hunters who were present at an old ruin about two hundred yards away. The door was open, Horace got out and although I followed him, he was gone. I called and called him but he was gone and the sight of him haring off towards the ruin was the last time I saw him. I went back inside, put on my shoes and went to look for him. By the time I got to the ruin the hunters and Horace were gone.

My neighbour, who is a policeman said ‘he was a lovely, friendly, dog and someone has obviously taken a liking to him’. I couldn’t believe anyone could be so blasé about a dog napping. I was distraught and made posters and put them everywhere. People didn’t understand why I did it. The local garage owner refused my request to put a missing poster in the shop. Horrible man!

So, that was it. My little dog, best friend and companion was gone. I still miss him every day and every time we go back I sort of expect him to have escaped and come back to me. We all live in hope of something don’t we?

Have you ever had anything like this happen? It;s not a one off thing in Spain. Tomorrow let me tell you about Beccs and Henry two more mysteries.

San Andreas

June 5th 2015

We went to the cinema last week, so we did…

San Andreas: Directed by Brad Peyton 1h 47min

This film stars Dwayne Johnson as a Los Angeles Fire Department search and rescue pilot. When a critical shift in the San Andreas fault takes place resulting in a series of massive earthquakes and almost total devastation along the West Coast of the USA, the predictable storyline unfolds…

Brad’s estranged wife Emma (Carla Guggionio) is caught up in the disaster as is their only daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) who is under the care of Emma’s ‘new man’ in a journey across the city.

As the building crumbles around her, totally spoiling her roof top lunch with Kylie Minogue, Emma calls the only person she knows who can help her and locate their daughter. While Emma is rescued, Blake does not fare so well abandoned in a car in a collapsed building she has to rely on two (English) brothers to rescue her and try to make their way to safety. The worsening situation (can it get worse than total destruction of two cities?) provides the platform for the remarkable special effects and the journey to survive.

I watched this film at an Odeon cinema with my husband and son. I was quite comfortable but they both complained about the comfort of the seats and close inspection did reveal htose that were well ‘bottomed’ and clearly past their best. You have to wonder though how the owners can do much about improving the environment when only 12 people attend the prime showing of a film on opening night (28/5/15).

<a href=”http://cliparts.co/clipart/2360904“>cliparts.co</a>

I must also pass comment on the price and quality of the popcorn. It’s marketed as fresh but apparently it’s bought ready popped in huge bags. Sometimes I have known it to taste quite stale (perhaps after several night of only 12 people going to the cinema). We bought the salted variety but in truth it is not the same as it used to be when you had the option of having melted butter added. I believe two things brought that to an end:

  1. Health and Safety gone mad again. It became an issue for staff to be responsible for heating the butter and adding it to the popcorn without burning/scalding themselves.

  2. …and this is related to the first point, people complained that the popcorn was soggy after the butter was added. From my experience I believe that this was because the butter wasn’t heated to a high enough temperature, so some water/condensation remained in the butter vat and got transferred to the popcorn.

Of course, there could be other reasons but I like to believe I’m right! We bought Tango to drink. Nothing worse than drinking a gallon of cola at the cinema and then not being able to sleep. Anyway, point made about the quality of the popcorn; potentially stale and way too salty (bet it breaches guidelines for healthy salt intake which I believe is 6g daily). Back to the price. A large combo which is not as large as it used to be, was about £10. So, the trip to the cinema for three of us was £42. If we had done without the snacks it would have been just £12 but they have to pay for those new seats right?

Did I enjoy the film? Yes, I did. The storyline was predictable but the special effects were outstanding and must have cost about the same as a small country. However, it was true escapism and if like me you can take a film at face value and not unpick it too much, it’s worth seeing. KK

Chooni…the meanest black cat in the world, but we loved her!

Chooni was my first rescue cat.

I was teaching at our local University. Every day I would stop and greet the girls in the office and over a period of time it became the norm. We would set the world to rights, discuss the merits of Bombay Sapphire gin as opposed to Gordons, the latest diets, holidays and what was in the news. Anything but work!

One day one of the girls asked me if I had cats. I said no and asked why…and there I was, reeled in again. Nicky had taken in a cat for the cats protection league (CPL) http://www.cats.org.uk/adopt-a-cat and was looking for a new owner. It was a black neutered female that ‘had a bit of attitude’. I was okay at this point, not wavering or anything. I just said, ‘I’ll ask my sister, she has cats and loves them’. However, Nicky continued to tell an emotional story of the cat who had been found on one of the very busy avenues in our town, injured, pregnant and bleeding. She was only very young and obviously uncared for. Emergency surgery was performed and she survived but the cat now needed a home. Nicky couldn’t keep her as she already had one cat so the home she was providing was only temporary. I was shown a picture of this pathetic skinny thing and I felt so sorry for it I did say ‘if you can’t find anyone else, I will take her home’. Of course, that was it, the deal was done. Within a week we were cat owners. 

And so began 12 years of Chooni (named after a nurse from the popular ER series). She was not an easy cat to get along with. To say she had attitude was an understatement. Her troubles of the past had obviously left their mark. She could not stand to be picked up and appeared to suffer pain if you attempted to do so. She was a very typical cat in that she picked the time when you could pet her. Her favourite time for contact was when we were in bed and she would come along and curl up on top of my husband’s head. She was a very fussy eater and we only had to shout ‘chicken Chooni’ and she would come running. No cat would move faster. Her love affair with chicken was total and we indulged her to the end.

Chooni kept on eating chicken. In fact, she began eating more and more of it but began getting thinner and thinner. I didn’t see it at first but when her coat began to dull and her energy disappeared, I looked at her as if I had never seen her before. The truth is, I don’t really know how long she had been ill but ill she obviously was and when I picked her up and she didn’t resist I was really alarmed and I took her immediately to our local vet. She said that Chooni had a gastric tumour and she was really beyond help. The vet said that it was usual for the cat to keep her appetite and instead of nourishing her, her endless eating was just feeding the tumour. Options? None, really. Take her home for a bit longer or put her to sleep now. I could not see her suffer. We had had her for almost 13 years and she had had a good life. I stood crying and held her while the vet administered ‘the injection’ and remembered…

It never fails to astound me the patience that cats have and their ability to focus on one task for such long periods of time. Chooni’s particular favourite was moles. She would sit for hours at a time waiting for moles to appear on the river bank or lawn and then she would pounce, play with them for hours and leave them for us to clear away. Her other favourite thing was mice and the sound of her crunching them on the patio was the most nauseating thing to hear first thing in the morning. I particularly detested the only bits not eaten which were left at the door each morning. Nothing worse then standing on a mouses’ stomach first thing! Perversely, watching her play with the mice she caught, was fascinating, amusing but cruel. RIP Chooni.

Stumpy … my Tweetie Pie

3rd June 2015

Stumpy

Was it murder?

I want to write about something that happened quite a few years ago that was the result of a favour I did for a sick woman. It is something that I and a considerable number of other people have never forgotten.

It was 1990. Life was good for the family. We lived in a beautiful cottage with gardens extending over the banks of a river to the water’s edge. It was an idyllic setting. I was nursing at the time and worked as a Sister on a cardio thoracic unit. My husband was in engineering, often working away from home, my daughter in the Navy and my son…not at University as I had hoped.

Whilst at work one day a member of staff brought a patient to my attention who was crying and distraught following a visit by her husband. She was due to undergo open heart surgery the next day and so it was really essential that she remained calm and in a positive frame of mind before the event. I went to talk to her to try and determine the cause of her anxiety and to try and restore the settled state she had been in until her husband’s visit on this particular day. The problem was soon shared. Her anxiety was caused by a canary. Apparently the couple bred Gloster canaries and one had hatched while the woman was in hospital but it had ‘deformities’ she said, so her husband was going to kill it, as was the norm, because it was no good for showing, selling or breeding.
This had really upset her. So, to cut a long story short, I ended up saying I would take the stricken canary home and keep it myself. Now I didn’t and still don’t know anything about keeping birds. The cottage we lived in had had an aviary when we first moved in but it was the first thing I  had my husband dismantle! Anyway, I made a promise to take the bird but after the end of my shift, thought no more of it. Obviously, the husband, having been informed of my pledge to take the canary, had thought about it a lot! The very next day I was handed a list of things to buy before the bird was delivered that evening. So, I bought a cage, dispensers for food and water, seed, sandpaper and cuttlefish and waited…

What a delight! The canary made me laugh immediately. He was tiny and yellow all over apart from his head which supported a beautiful crop of brown feathers resembling a Beatle haircut. We transferred the bird from a cardboard box to the nice shiny new cage. He landed on the sandpaper lined floor and it wasn’t long before he was flying up to the lovely clean, round perches and trying to settle. It was impossible, he just couldn’t balance. He fluttered around a bit on the floor and we were able to see the full extent of his disability. He had only one claw on his right leg and none on the left. He rested on stumps and elbows. When I eventually got him home, my husband immediately christened him ‘Stumpy’.

Gloster Canary with distinctive Beatle haircut! Note in this picture the canary’s claws are intact.

So, Stumpy entered our lives. It was apparent his ability to balance was severely limited and this was overcome when my husband made him some flat, wooden 2×1 perches and placed them at various levels in the cage. He was much happier after this and after a short while started to sing and fly about the cage as happy as you like.

He provided us with much laughter over the next several years and provided a talking point whenever anyone visited us.

There were two problems:

1. He was messy.
2. Sometimes we’d get up in a morning and find the cage door open and Stumpy fluttering about the floor or on the worktops.Should we call him Houdini?

We had to put up with the latter and blamed it on Molly, the previous occupant of the house who had died there. It became a joke and every creak we heard, door slam or extra flush of the loo that occurred when we were all in the same place…and Stumpy’s cage door frequently being found open, we blamed on Molly and laughed about it. Was it a coincidence that there was an aviary at the house when we bought it and Molly kept many birds in there, flying free?

One day, I came downstairs ready to go to work. John had already left. Stumpy’s cage door was wide open and Stumpy was in the utility room behind the fridge. There was seed and droppings everywhere so I presumed that he had been out for quite some time. He was a little devil to catch once out but I was mad at the mess, late for work and I couldn’t risk him being out all day so I put all my effort into catching him, placed him back in the cage and made sure, as I always did, that the door was closed securely. I opened the conservatory door and the windows and put his cage and stand in there before feeding and watering him and quickly hoovering up before going to work. I didn’t give Stumpy another thought.

I didn’t know that by the time I got home, Stumpy would be dead, killed by the heat in the conservatory allegedly. John found him in his cage, on his back with his pathetic little stumps in the air. We presumed my thoughtlessness had killed him and I am eternally sorry for that. At least we had extended his life by a few years and it had been a good one.

The story was told and re told in the village and I became the infamous canary killer. People still mention it to this day.