Monday, September 14, 2009

While the Cat's Away...

It only happens when you're away.

  • Five hundred miles away from the farm. 
  • The first trip that Deb and I have taken together to visit family in Michigan for years.
  • A cadre of friends and neighbors carefully selected and instructed on the care and nurturing of all of our animals and plants.
  • Four days into the trip with three days left before our return.
And the phone rings at my brother's home.
My brother's wife: "Deb, it's Pat for you."

I hear my wife give a cheerful, "Hi! How are you doing? What's up?"

"You're kidding, right?"

"Are the animals safe?"

"I can't believe it. Did they catch him?"

"Do they know who did it?"

"No, tell Jack not to chase any cows."

"No, we'll fix it when we get home."

"No, there's nothing you could have done about it. Sorry that it happened on your watch. Thanks for calling."

By this point, I'm dying. This was not anywhere near as clear as a Bob Newhart telephone monologue. "Deb, what in the world happened?"

"Some time in the night last night, there was a high speed chase down our country road. A vehicle ended up missing the turn, went through our pasture fence, into the field, and ripped out another hole in the fence on its way out. Pat doesn't know who did it or whether they caught the guy.  A neighbor rounded up the horses and llamas, but Jack hasn't seen the cows."

Based on what I had to say, and on what I thought but left unsaid about the situation, if St. Peter really has a log book with him at the Pearly Gates, he wore out a few erasers wiping out any brownie points I may or may not have had accumulated over this long and sordid life.  I was mad. That kind of thing isn't supposed to happen in my little piece of  North Woods Paradise.

When we got home, our neighbor who had rounded up our horses and llamas, had taken photos of the scene and provided them to us on disk.  This is what we had greeting us on our arrival home a few days later. The entry point:

And the exit point.

Upon speaking with the County Deputy Sheriff, we learned that the high speed chase had started miles away when he tried to pull over a pickup truck for speeding. The chase extended into the next county where the driver pulled off into a logging road that the Deputy could not get down. They didn't catch the guy that night.

Fortunately, our trusty fence ripped some pieces from the truck, including the license plate. So the Deputy was able to find the owner, who just happened to have a warrant out for his arrest before the chase for nonpayment of child support,but who naturally claimed that his vehicle had been stolen that night, and who "lawyered up" after having been read his Miranda rights, so we could not find out whether he has any insurance to cover our damages. The state victim assistance program also has no funds for covering property damage.

So we will have to foot the bill for new fencing. It was previously woven wire that got bent and stretched out of shape much beyond the two holes, so now we are replacing at least half the fenceline with cattle panels attached to much more closely spaced posts. The new fence may not stop a speeding truck, but it may do  more damage and slow it down some. Whether we see any compensation will have to await trial and jail time.

At least the animals were uninjured.... by the vehicle at least. The horses, while out broke down a section of the neighbor's fence trying to get to their horses, again without any major injury. The cows were safe and sound in a different pasture on our property.

But in the new paddock where the horses were put, our little Arabian filly decided to investigate a passing porcupine and got a face full of quills:

We were able to extricate two from her face before she decided that she had enough of that. So add in the costs of an emergency vet visit to have the horse tranquilized for the remainder of the process. The vet said that the good thing is that unlike dogs, he has never had to pull quills out of a horse's face more than once.
All in all, I guess it could have been much worse. After I get the fence mended and the bank repaid, all I will have to do is try working on ever so slowly re-accumulating those lost brownie points.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hemingway and Our Cats

Last Spring we had a new addition to our feline family, little miss Polly. She was an extra barn cat from a friend's place. What enamored us to her was the fact that she had seven toes on all of her feet, front and hind. It's not too unusual to have extra toes on either the front or back, but it is rare to have extras on all four feet. The term for extra digits is polydactyly, hence her name: Polly.

Anyway, while in Columbia, Missouri, last Summer, visiting my daughter and her husband, I mentioned the cat and they told me that Ernest Hemingway had polydactyl cats, and that they have since multiplied down at his museum in the Florida Keys.  According to the website:

"The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is home to approximately sixty cats. Normal cats have five front toes and four back toes. About half of the cats at the museum are polydactyl. Ernenst Hemingway was given a six-toed cat by a ship's captain and some of the cats who live on the museum grounds are descendants of that original cat. Key West is a small island and it is possible that many of the cats on the island are related. Our cats are not a partiular breed, but appear to be a combination of various breeds--sort of "Heinz 57" if you will. They are all shapes, sizes, colors and personalities."

A ship's captain, huh? I never tried taking a cat in the boat fishing with me, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Well, those extra toes came in handy. Last winter, Polly flew across the top of the lightest snows with her permanent snow shoes. Some darned old Tomcat must have been hiding behind a snow bank, though. After all of these years of owning cats and faithfully neutering and spaying them, we overlooked spaying Polly. So sure enough, this Spring she gave birth to five kittens.

Some had multiple toes, and others did not.

We had no problem at all finding homes for them, and they were a lot of fun raising to a weaning age, but we definitely were never going to let her have another litter.

In theory, that is. I guess our little celibacy talk went right in one ear and out the other. Before we knew it, Polly, failed our deluxe pregnancy tester. She no longer fit through the cat door to the basement:

And sure enough, we came home one day to find six more little ones piled up in the dog bed.
As an author, Hemingway was prolific...  but it was nothing in comparison to his cats.