All About Amber, the unexpected cat

Well, I’ve just realised that although she is my number one co-author and she’s been mentioned a number of times on my blog, I have never really written about my dear little Amber’s story here. I guess it’s because I wrote about Sidney once, having started the blog after she died. Birding and blogging was something that helped me get through losing her. One of the first times I finally left the house after she died was to go for a birding walk and I remember how watching chickadees hop around in the trees and mallards at the lake brought me some tiny morsels of happiness again. I felt my spirit lift just a little bit.

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my beautiful Amber cat

Its been two years now since Sidney died. Not long after that, Amber showed up unexpectedly. It’s a long story, but she’d been the neighbour’s cat and she had basically lived outside most of her life. She’d had free rein to go in and out and she pleased through her cat door, but spent most of her time outside.

We wound up finding her with her eye crusted shut and seeming to be in pain as a result. I took her in to the emergency vet (of course it was a Saturday!), where I’d last been with Sidney when she was diagnosed with cancer. Just being in the waiting room and going in the same exam room brought all the memories back. It was not easy, but I had to help Amber!

Amber was diagnosed with a corneal ulcer. Ouch! Treatment involved wearing a cone to prevent her scratching and damaging the eye further, pain medications and eye drops three times a day. And staying confined inside for at least two weeks. Soon, after a check with her regular vet, two weeks became a month so it could fully heal. You just don’t mess around with eyes!

Amber hadn’t used a litter box since she was just a wee kitten and at this point, she was 11 years old. She’d probably never had to stay inside for a whole month before. While I was still deep in grief over Sidney’s death, I now had a completely different kind of cat to take care of. At first, it was not easy.

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my beautiful Amber

The first night, we closed Amber in a room with a litter box, food and water, hoping it would help her adjust to a new life. We hardly slept that night between her constant yowling to get outside and scratching at the door and bumping her little coned head on it, trying to escape. The next couple of nights proceeded similarly and I was beginning to wonder how we were going to get through…

I filled up the litter box with dirt and leaves from outside to make it more like the outdoors she was used to. She picked it up pretty quick after that. I tried taking her outside on a leash to let her get some fresh air and grass she was used to, but she wasn’t the ideal candidate for leash training after being free-range for so long. She tried to dart away many times and I worried it stressed her out too much, so I shelved the idea.

We let her out of the small room as soon as she mastered the litter box, and she started getting comfortable with the rest of the house, and us. I think she warmed up to me a little more slowly; probably because I got upset every time she sat in Sidney’s bed or did something that reminded me of her. It wasn’t easy; I wasn’t anywhere near being ready for another cat and I’d planned to take some time before adopting another.

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a cool, confident cat

But life throws us the unexpected sometimes. She still meowed at the door to be let out and tried to escape every time we came and went, but she came leaps and bounds from those first few nights. Once she was better, I hesitatingly let her back outside. I worried about her getting in trouble, hunting, getting cold, all the bad things that can happen to kitties outside.

Mostly, she proved to be a smart cat from all her years outside. I never let her out at night despite her cries. She came back to our house to eat and slowly, over time, she started spending more and more time inside with us. With her little scratchy meows and headbutts (and being a cat), of course, I fell in love with her.

The first summer she was with us, she presumably got into a fight with another cat. I got home and saw one of the neighbourhood regulars darting away through the front yard and then found Amber crouched down on the ground making a strange meow. I didn’t realise anything was immediately wrong until I brought her inside and picked her up. My partner yelped that she was bleeding and I took action, immediately going for my pet first aid kit.

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Amber lazing outside again after her tummy healed

As I waited at the hospital for her to get stitched up, I cried and cried, only realising then just how much I loved her. Again, I was her nurse, giving her medications and taking her to her check-ups and soon, she became my baby, too. She’s a very different cat than Sidney; being quite adventurous going outside, totally content to hang out on her own but also enjoys being near people, too. Unlike Sidney, she is a spry 13-year old now. She has her own personality; she loves climbing up high, she loves getting head scratches and she loves pushes around boxes like a bulldozer. She is quite talkative and her favourite colour is purple.

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Amber has learned of and now enjoys the many comforts of indoor life

Now, she sleeps in our bed every night. Two years ago, I would never have predicted that. She wanders a lot less than she used to and spends a lot more time inside than outside now. She’s stolen our hearts, too, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Looking after her helped me heal from Sidney’s loss, even though it wasn’t always easy, I will always be thankful for that. I am so glad she accidentally wound living with us and becoming our beloved kitty!

Changes in the air with a side of wind gusts

While Amber is enjoying her giant new cat tree that is taller than I am (providing a good escape from my affection), other new changes are afoot here, too!

I have exciting news if you haven’t noticed yet. I took a leap and got my own domain name. (My first one!) That’s right – this is now fossilsandfauna.com! The wordpress site will still link you to the right page, though, so need to update any links.

There are some new pages to check out, too. There’s a page on birding with my life list and backyard bird list with photos! With my backyard feeder, I am watching backyard birdies even more now. For you cat lovers, I added a page about my kitties.

I was planning a bike ride and birding today, but with a wind warning out and a lot of gusts, I decided to stay home. Then I started a tumblr. If you are there, feel free to add me or check it out. I’m excited for a place to share some quick and shorter content as I prefer blog posts with more than just pictures.

This is all a constant work in progress, so we will see how it evolves over time. I hope you are all well this spring! Since its been a year here, I’m planning a little about me blog post. If you want to know anything, let me know here!

Saying goodbye to the kitten who stole my heart

Just about a month ago, I said goodbye to my little foster kitty, Zip. She was my first one and she absolutely stole my heart. It was bittersweet saying goodbye between losing this little girlie I had come to know and love but happiness knowing she was going home to a wonderful family.

In fact, I am so grateful and overjoyed that she found a family who will look after her with love and care, and give her everything she needs. Because of her special needs, I worried she would never find a good home. Well, I was wrong, because obviously they could see how sweet and lovely she is!

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She’s positively angelic.

I spent lots of time with her while she was in my care. I got to know her different mews, where she liked to be scratched and what games and toys she liked the most. She cuddled up to me in bed every night, purring like a nonstop motor, sometimes licking my hair and wrapping herself around my head. She grew so much under my care and got a lot healthier being in a home.

She has such purr-sonality and she is so gentle, but equally very playful and excitable. Every night around bedtime, she’d get her energy and run back and forth and jump on all the furniture. She jumped like a fox on all fours, pouncing unseen prey.

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So bright and beautiful and always ready for the camera, my inquisitive little one.

Just like every other cat who seems to come into my life, I will love her forever. I think of her often, some days more than others. I will never forget her and cherish my memories. We celebrated her first Christmas and her 6 month birthday! Her family has updated me to say she is very happy and I think fondly of her at home with her family and new kitty brother, who is her newfound b.f.f.! She always loved other cats, it was a shame my own cat did not get along with her.

Looking back, I’d do it all again the same way even though it stressed out my poor Amber so much, she lost weight during the time I was fostering. The good news is, once Zipper went home, Amber gained her weight and returned to normal very quickly! I won’t be taking any more fosters for her sake, but if you are able, I highly encourage you to do so! Especially for those senior kitties or ones with special needs. They need you the most, and they often give the most love back in return. ❤

First foster kitten and I’m in love

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Mutts Comics by Patrick McDonnell, Oct 31, 2016 (http://www.mutts.com/strips-archive)

Last week, I took home my first ever foster kitten. She was  a little bit sick for a while and stuck at the kitty hospital for some time, so coming to my house was the first time she got to run around in a while. She is a beautiful girl and a real lovebug!

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Zipper preparing to pounce…!

Its safe to say it didn’t take long for her to steal my heart. As playful and energetic as she is she is also every bit just as loving and cuddly. She has a pretty loud purr for such a small cat. Every night, she cuddles up with me in bed and one day I woke up in the morning to her grooming me.

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Cuddling up to me. She is not camera shy!

Its funny watching the differences and similarities between her and Amber. my senior kitty. They both like the same toys, but they move at different speeds. But they both kick the toy the same and chase after it, though Amber is only a little bit less exuberant about it. Having Zipper around is also distracting – I’d rather just hang out with her than do most other things!

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Amber is super sweet until she meets another cat. She was the original calico in this house.

However, she won’t be able to stay too long because Amber does not like other cats. She is a single cat home kind of girl. They’ve been separated but it does cause some logistical problems around the house so its only okay for short term, which is too bad because I really love this girl. It will be bittersweet when she finally gets a family to call her own. ❤

 

Back home in BC and observing some familiar backyard birds

Even though I love travelling and its often energizing and inspiring to me, I also love returning home. Besides those comforts of home, its good to be back near the ocean again, to be around familiar birds again and, of course, to see little Amber again.

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Amber in a favored spot, likely watching the birds, too.

Though not technically in my backyard, before I left, I had been watching the osprey closely. They were appearing to have begun settling in and were spending more time at the nest despite some unwelcome visitors, including a third osprey and bald eagles.

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Osprey, the sea-hawk (male), keeping watch over the area. He stayed here for a long time, possibly keeping watch out for that third osprey or other threats.

I saw them mate a few times and hopefully the female will lay eggs soon. I finally learned how to distinguish the male from the female osprey: a female has brown speckling across her breast where the male is fully white. I’d been puzzling over this for some time.

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Osprey in flight

My backyard is full of both familiar and new birds and spring activity. Where months ago, I’d seen a Pileated Woodpecker in a tree in the backyard numerous times, I heard a pecking on the tree and looked up. Instead of a woodpecker, I spotted a little Red-breasted Nuthatch in the very same tree.

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Pileated Woodpecker

I then regularly spotted the nuthatch in the tree. I wonder if perhaps he was using an old nesting cavity from the woodpecker? He seemed to be working hard every day, though, so maybe he was building his own. I love watching these little nuthatches scurry up and down the tree trunks as if gravity didn’t exist.

Its exciting to spot new birds and explore new territory, I also find a great joy in seeing regular visitors and observing their behavior and patterns. I like getting to know the locals.

 

The Bushtit was a new bird for me and was tricky to photograph as she looked very busy out gathering nesting materials before the threaten of looming rain came in the afternoon. I found her challenging to identify because of her rather non-descript, or drab, plumage.

 

Not only birds, but other animals are preparing for and taking care of young as well. I watched this Eastern Gray Squirrel nimbly climb from the ground, up a tree trunk, then across tiny branches across to another tree only to hang upside-down in order to dine on some flowers. She’d seemed to plot out the safest path to her food-source, avoiding exposing herself on open ground for too long. She was very efficient about it, which is not at all surprising considering this invasive species has found great success here.

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Eastern Grey Squirrel foraging in the trees

I am sure spring will bring other interesting wildlife and beauty, birds new and old alike, and greater opportunity to get outdoors with longer and warmer days. There is much to look forward to!

Why your pet should have ID – especially your indoor cat!

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Have you ever seen a cat wandering around a neighborhood and wondered if it might be lost? Have you ever seen a dog wandering a neighborhood and known it was lost?

How is anyone supposed to know whether a wandering cat is lost or not? This is exactly why more lost dogs than lost cats are found and returned home. Here are some facts about lost dogs and cats:

  • In a study comparing the frequency of lost dogs and cats, 93% of lost dogs were found while only 75% of lost cats were found (Source)
  • In a study on lost cats, 53% of lost cats were found. Of the cats found, only 19% had any form of identification and 40% were indoor-only cats. (Source)
  • In a comparable study on lost dogs, 71% of lost dogs were found and 48% of lost dogs had some form of identification (Source)

That is quite a difference between lost dogs and cats and staggeringly low numbers of cats with identification.

As a quick experiment, I tallied up the lost cats on a local facebook page and came up with: 79 cats were lost from October to December 2015. Of those 79 reported lost, only 18 were reported found. That is a 23% success rate. Of course, it is likely some of those cats were later found and not reported so the actual number is probably higher. But its still disheartening.

Fortunately, you can get your cat identification to increase their chances of them returning home in the event they are lost.

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This kitty frequents my backyard and I have no idea who he belongs to, if anyone.

Microchips are usually inserted under the skin between the shoulder blades, no anesthesia required. The chip contains a unique registration number not unlike a barcode that can be read with a scanner. The most important step is to register your pet with the microchip company and provide your updated contact information with it. Read more about microchipping from the Humane Society.

Tattoos are often done inside the ear and are a special code which will be registered with your pet’s details (color, breed, health issues, required medication, anything else relevant), their vet and your contact information.

Keep in mind microchips and tattoos are not magical cat locator beacons or GPS trackers. The information associated with the unique tattoo ID or microchip MUST be kept updated. If you move or change phone numbers, you must update the information with the database or pet registry that has your pet’s information.

A collar with a tag is a really great thing to have even if your cat has a tattoo or microchip. That way, if someone finds your cat, they can call your number right then and there and check with you directly if kitty is supposed to be outside or not. Because of the direct link the finder can make to the pet parent, I think collars are a great option. So does the Humane Society!

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Yet another un-collared cat in my neighbourhood.

While many people think that their cat will never adjust to wearing a collar or will fuss or be picky about it, give it a try and you’ll be surprised. I was told my neighbour’s cat would never wear a collar and would manage to get out of it. Three months after giving her a collar, she is still wearing it today. And in fact, a study on 538 cats found 73% of cats successfully wore their collars over the six-month study period, much to the surprise of their parents.

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breakaway collar

If you do get your cat a collar, make sure it is a breakaway collar! If your cat gets their collar stuck on a branch or gets their leg stuck in it and they do not have a breakaway collar, they could strangle to death or get seriously injured. A breakaway collar, however, is designed to “break away” – the buckle detaches if the cat gets stuck and yanks away, thus allowing them a safe escape.

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a breakaway collar

Also be sure you know how to properly fit the collar. This guide has excellent advice and a video on how to correctly fit a collar on a long or short-haired cat.

If you have an indoor cat, consider getting him or her an orange collar as presented by the Kitty Convict Project. That way, if kitty escapes, people who find him will hopefully know he belongs inside. Or you can have “indoor-only” engraved on your cat’s tag. It is so important for indoor cats to have ID as it is the best way to get them back home safely.

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Amber is a happy kitty wearing her collar

Does your cat wear a collar? Do they have other ID? If not, please think about it! Don’t let your pet become another lost pet statistic. Ask your vet about it and check with local humane societies or rescue groups. They often offer special pricing for microchips or tattoos. Collars and tags are relatively cheap. My local animal pound offers engraved tags for free. Its worth checking if maybe your’s does, too.

On getting gifts from a cat & river otter spied in the sea

I have been cat sitting for a neighbour recently and she is a bit of a roamer and goes outside. While I would personally never let my own cat outdoors unsupervised, I have to respect the parental choices. This week, we passed a milestone of sorts.

I know now she is getting very fond of us as she brought us home a gift the other day…a spotted towhee. So I feel a little guilty looking at this photo of one I managed to snag the other day, but I do love cats, too, so I can’t be hard on them for doing what I know is only natural instinct. While I love and understand her sentiment, I am not too keen to receive another gift anytime soon.

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Spotted Towhee

Not only do I love cats and birds, but I love all animals and wildlife. Even the raccoon who are increasingly visiting my backyard and spooking me after dark. Although I admit I wasn’t very impressed when I found some of their worm-infested feces in the yard the other week. Anyway, onto nicer things…

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watching a river otter eating a crab

Recently, I was lucky enough to get to watch a river otter while I was at the beach. (Yes, that’s right, I recently learned river otter live in both fresh and saltwater!) Many people around me seemed either oblivious or indifferent to this beautiful creature tucked away on the rocky shoreline. While baffling to me, that was quite all right with me as I got to enjoy the moment myself. Its quite funny how some people don’t seem to notice these things around them. I sat watching for quite some time as he (or she) nibbled away on a crab and then deftly climbed down to the waterside and swam away quickly around the coastline.

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river otter on the coast

 

A few weeks before that, I was lucky enough to see a presumed family of three river otter at the inner harbour downtown. I first saw them on the shore and later saw them as I walked back around swimming down the channel and then climbing up onto the wall in the photo below. It was quite amazing to watch them gracefully climb over land and swim in the water.

Only river otter are found in the Salish Sea , although there have been a few rare sightings of sea otters around Victoria in the past. Here is a great page about the difference between sea and river otter. Sadly, in the 18th century, sea otter were hunted to extinction in the region for their pelts but have made quite an incredibly comeback since becoming a protected species. I feel very fortunate to be able to see such beautiful animals so close to home.

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Bald Eagle at the sea

The bald eagle is, of course, another example of a remarkable success story. They were also near the brink of extinction last century and now have soaring populations in BC. I can say that I have seen more bald eagles in one year living in BC than I have ever seen anywhere else and I have grown a real sense of appreciation for these raptors.

These animals serve as a reminder of our responsibility to be stewards to them and the earth. If we don’t, who will?