Cat heaven, part 2

On Friday Leah and I visited our pet sitters Hannah and John again. This time it was ostensibly to give them a spare fall wreath for their door. The real reason was for Leah to see their cats again.

One of the cats is actually a dog. Can you tell which one?

Leah loves these cats, and I know why.

This was the second time we visited Hannah and John’s cats. I blogged about the first time back in February.

At least one of the cats like the wreath.

This is Oreo. He was ready to settle in for a wreath nap.

These cats are extraordinarily friendly, or at least “extraordinarily” compared to our cats. Of our cats, Smokey is the closest in behavior to Hannah and John’s cats. Smokey loves to be petted and pretty much doesn’t care what you do to him (like combing out tangles), but he absolutely does not want to be picked up. Hannah and John’s cats don’t care.

Leah has had cats like these before. Maybe one day she can get another.

Stray cats

Two new stray cats have shown up on the mountain. This time they are staying mostly up at a neighbor’s house across the road from our old house. An orange cat showed up a few months ago. Our neighbor Ann started feeding it (along with foxes and deer). A few weeks ago another cat showed up. This one is a gray tabby with a bob tail. Both are very skittish. Ann says both run away if she comes towards them.

Our little problem cat Sylvester disappeared for three or four days a couple of weeks ago, before the gray cat showed up. Ann said he was up at her house. Leah eventually found him between Ann’s house and her next-door neighbor’s house. She brought him home, and he seemed to settle back into whatever kind of routine he has.

This is the gray cat on our front porch.

This is a terrible phone photo taken at night through the glass of the storm door. This cat looks a lot like Chloe, down to white socks but this one’s socks are longer, more like knee length rather than lower calf like Chloe’s. The odd boxes are foam insulation panels we put around the front porch cat houses to shield the opening from wind and rain.

We don’t know whether the new cats are male or female, but I am beginning to suspect that at least the gray cat is male because Sylvester has started spraying. I saw Smokey and the gray cat in a feline standoff in our driveway Tuesday evening. When the gray cat ran away (white socks flashing as he retreated), Sylvester came up and sprayed where the cat had been. We saw Sylvester spraying Ann’s neighbor’s shrubs Wednesday night when we went looking for him.

This is not a good development. We had problems with Sylvester spraying in the house last year. Our vet diagnosed a urinary problem. This time I’m afraid it’s a sociological problem. He has shown some signs recently of discomfort, which may be a reoccurrence of the urinary problem or something unrelated. Whatever it might be, I hope it doesn’t extend into the house.

Dos coyotes

Wednesday night when I took Zeke and Lucy out for their next-to-last walk of the evening, I saw two ghostly shapes down in the front of the yard. Zeke saw, smelled or heard them right after I did, and unleashed an unholy uproar of barking and lunging. Leah said Sam was inside pacing and whining as this was going on.

They were coyotes. I wasn’t too surprised that they were there, but I was surprised that they didn’t immediately run away. Zeke continued to bark and lunge. I was barely able to keep him from breaking loose from my grip or pulling me off my feet. Still the coyotes didn’t run.

Ordinarily I would have dragged Zeke back up to the house but this time I wanted to scare the coyotes away. It didn’t work. They paced back and forth staring, but didn’t retreat, even when Zeke managed to drag me 20 or 30 feet down the driveway towards them.

After about five minutes I gave up and pulled Zeke back up to the house. I got a big flashlight and a sturdy stick about four feet long, just in case, and then I went back outside. The coyotes were still there, watching. I advanced on them, shouting, “Get!” which I doubt they understood. I did expect them to figure out the meaning from my tone of voice.

They did finally retreat into the woods at the side of the yard, staying just out of sight. I banged the stick against a few trees, and I could hear them running around. Despite what you might think, wild animals make a lot of noise thrashing through the dead leaves on the forest floor.

I went back to the middle of the yard and shined the flashlight into the woods. I could see the coyotes’ eyes reflecting back at me. They circled around to the front of the yard where there is a narrow border of trees between the open yard and the road, and there they stayed. I gave up and went back inside.

It was too dark to take photos, and they were too far away for a flash to work. I might have been able to finesse it given time and a lot of cooperation from the coyotes, but that was not going to happen.

In my admittedly limited experience, coyotes do not stay around when humans appear. The first time I saw a coyote around the mountain was when I walked Zeke into the woods at the top of the mountain and let him run free. He disappeared down the side of the mountain for a while, and then came back up running side by side with a coyote. When the coyote saw me, he immediately turned and fled.

Another time I saw a coyote on Fouche Gap Road ahead of me and the dogs as we walked down into Texas Valley. It also quickly disappeared when it saw me. The next most recent time was about a month ago when I saw one running across Lavender Trail near the bottom of our driveway. It glanced at me and kept going.

One reason a coyote might not flee a human is rabies. Early this month a coyote attacked and bit a runner near Atlanta. According to news reports, the coyote tested positive for rabies. How did they catch it? The runner grabbed it and held it down until the police arrived.

I was pretty sure the two I saw in our front yard weren’t rabid. There were two of them, which I assume would be unusual if one or both were rabid, and they didn’t appear aggressive, only somewhat unsettled but hesitant to leave. My suspicion is that they have a den nearby, possibly in our front yard. There is a pile of trees left from when the building site was cleared, and I have seen (from a distance) a dark area that might be a recess or an opening into the pile. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says that coyotes den in excavated holes or brush piles. One night a month or so ago I noticed two eyes reflecting back from the woodline at the front of the yard. I couldn’t tell whether it was a fox or a coyote, but now I suspect that it was one of the two I saw Wednesday night.

Coyotes are not native to Georgia. I never saw or heard, or even heard of a coyote when I was growing up, and we roamed the woods a lot. It has been only relatively recently that they began showing up, probably around the same time that armadillos began showing up as roadside kill here. According to the DNR, coyotes are filling an ecological niche left vacant when humans killed off the native red wolf. People, especially natural-world-challenged city people, are typically afraid of coyotes when they see them. They often panic and call the police. That usually leads to having some kind of animal control official trap and kill the coyote.

Since coyotes are not a native species in Georgia, there is no closed hunting season on coyotes. Lately the state has been encouraging hunters to kill as many coyotes as they can by offering a drawing for a lifetime license. The official entry is a coyote carcass. The reason for this is to try to increase the number of deer available for hunting in the state, although it does not seem that the deer population is threatened by coyote predation. In fact, according to the DNR, the deer population in Georgia is about 1.2 million. The DNR also says, “… deer densities in some localized areas have the potential to inflect significant damage to forestry, agricultural or horticultural crops, home gardens, and shrubbery.”

I have mixed feelings about coyotes raising a litter in our front yard. I actually like having coyotes around, just like foxes, deer, raccoons (not eating cat food), possums (not eating cat food), and other wildlife. It would be neat to see the pups in the front yard. But I don’t want to have to worry excessively about having a coyote take one of our cats, as we suspect happened with Zoe, our late white cat.

Maybe I don’t have to worry about that. Maybe they aren’t denning in our front yard. Maybe they were just thinking about it, and maybe all the commotion convinced them to move. The DNR says coyotes usually mate in late winter or early spring. That’s pretty much right now. That doesn’t give them much time to find a new home.

Beating a problem

I’m still working on trim in the new house. It’s a slow process, at least the way I do it. Part of the problem is finding a way to do noisy, scary things without unduly spooking the dogs and cats, but there are other problems, as this picture shows.

This is the door that leads from our kitchen into the garage. You can see the light yellow foam insulation around the door frame. The white strip down the right side is the result of making the drywall even with the edge of the door frame.

This is a problem in a lot of places throughout the house. In some places, when the drywall was cut to fit around the door, there was a ragged edge of torn paper around the opening and that ragged edge turned hard when it was painted. I have to cut that away with a utility knife. In other places the drywall was not screwed down adequately. Sometimes a few drywall screws can solve that problem. In yet other places, for some reason, the framing plus drywall was simply too thick. All this makes fitting door trim more than just painting, cutting to length and nailing.

Our interior doors came pre-hung and sized for either 2-by-4 or 2-by-six walls with about a half an inch of drywall on both sides. In a perfect world, the door frame would fit flush with the wall every time. But anything built by men with hammers and power drywall screw drivers is not perfect.

Using a utility knife or chisel was not getting the job done. Then one day while reading online about trim work, I saw a casual comment about how professional trim installers handle this problem. They use hammers.

There’s an old saying attributed to Mark Twain: “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” It’s true, at least a lot of the time. But then, a hammer can be a useful tool for a lot of things other than driving nails. I have found that the quickest way to even out the door frame-drywall joint is to simply hammer the hell out of the high spots in the drywall. That smashes the drywall down and, if there’s still too much, just turn the hammer around and beat it with the claw end.

It also releases some pent-up anger and frustration at framers and drywall hangers.

So that’s why you can see white around the right side of the kitchen door. This especially offensive spot needed vigorous beating and clawing, so vigorous that the door casing will sit significantly below the adjoining drywall. But, from the kitchen, you won’t be able to see how deep the trim is set into the drywall (the cabinet keeps you from looking at the side of the trim), or the roughed-up drywall. That’s the beauty of trim.

The Mysterious Basement

Smokey and Chloe have discovered the basement door. We don’t really know why they are so interested, but they are. I have observed that if there is a door with a cat on one side, that cat wants to get to the other side, and so it is with the basement door. They passed the door many times before it became such an attraction. They must have seen me going down one day and realized that it was a door to a mysterious place that was not on the same side of the door as they were.

Here’s Smokey considering.

The brown thing at the bottom of the door is there to keep drafts from blowing under the door.

The door does not open, so Smokey tries to open it himself.

A while back Leah said we should let him go down into the basement, and I couldn’t see any reason not to. So we started letting him and Chloe go down there when they wanted.

Our basement is currently a confused jumble of furniture, tools, insulation packs and boxes with unknown contents. It’s hard to get around down there. Just the kind of place cats might like to explore.

I went down one day a week or so ago and found that at least one cat was doing more than exploring. Some cat whose name is probably Smokey decided that the basement was a bathroom.

So the cats have been banned from the basement. Now Smokey passes the door and looks longingly at the door handle, remembering better days.

Smokey knows that the door handle has something to do with a door opening. We use levers rather than knobs. In the old house Sylvester learned to open doors with levers. Back when Leah kept Smokey and Sylvester overnight in the room we used as an office, I had to change the door lever to a knob to keep him from escaping. We had a basement with two separate levels accessed through doors that faced each other at the bottom of the stairs. I had to bungee the levers together to keep him out.

At this point we are fortunate that Smokey has not learned the trick of opening doors, and that Sylvester has not recognized the basement door as something he might want to open.