Something Is Wrong with Sam

Our cat Sam looks at me as he sits in the window nook of the kitchen of our house on Halloween in Octobe 2014

While he devoured his breakfast like normal yesterday morning, last night Sam wouldn’t eat his dinner. After what we just went through with Emma and given how lethargic he was, we decided to take him to DoveLewis, an emergency vet here in Portland. They ran extensive blood work (which all looked fine) and x-rays (which weren’t alarming but also not conclusive), so I’ve stayed home with him today to monitor him. If he doesn’t improve he will spend the night at DoveLewis getting fluids and an ultrasound tomorrow.

Boo vs. Emma

I thought that when we adopted our dog Ellie in 2009 it would be our most difficult introduction, as our three cats were not used to dogs, but it turned out to be our easiest. Our toughest would be in July of 2013 when we adopted a shy little kitten we named Boo. When we met he was so terrified he literally shook so we took his introduction to the other pets even slower than normal, keeping him isolated for a couple of weeks, then slowly allowing him more and more time in the house at large.

With the slow introduction Boo gained confidence each day, which was fortunate, as we fell in love with the little black-and-white cat rather quickly. But one hurdle remained: Emma.

The Watcher

I spent most of that first month with Emma while my wife was with Boo, as Em was not happy with the arrival of the little fellow. Em had become my little buddy after Scout died early in the year and that bond helped when we started giving Boo short stints in the house at large. She’d follow him around everywhere he went, staring him down, and hissing if he got too close. You can see her in the background of the picture above, watching Boo from the base of the cat tree, while he plays with one of her beloved strings.

Boo vs. Emma

We’d let Boo out until you could see on his face that he was getting a little overwhelmed, and then we’d take him back into his secluded room where he felt safe and then Emma (and to a lesser extent Sam) could feel comfortable in their space too. A few days later and she was still staring him down, while he was mostly trying to avoid eye contact, but desperate too to fit in. When it was time for Boo to go back to his room, I’d shower Emma with as much attention as she could tolerate, and she relaxed a bit more each day.

Our cat Boo looks at me as he sleeps on our cat Emma, one of the first times she allowed the young kitten to do so

A few days after the above staredown Boo and Emma were sleeping on my couch when Boo came in and nestled in between them, and I was delighted to see Emma not get up. By the end of August, a few weeks after Boo was given full run of the house, I came into my office and saw Boo using Emma as a pillow. She had long let Sam do this but it was a first for the brave little Boo (I apologize for cutting off her foot at the edge of the frame, but I was shooting quickly while trying not to wake her).

Our cat Boo sleeps with his faced pressed into the stomach of our cat Emma as they sleep beside me on the love seat

But my favorite moment of their introduction was in October when Emma had been sleeping beside my legs as she so often did. Boo came in and at first just curled up beside her, then he got a little more bold and put his head on her. But I was startled when he suddenly put his arms around her and just buried his head in her stomach. This woke her up and I was sure she was going to get up and go into the other room, but instead she stretched her arms down his back and cradled him. He turned his head for a little air and she spooned him and they fell asleep together.

That was our Em.

A closer view as our cat Boo sleeps with his faced pressed into the stomach of our cat Emma as they sleep beside me on the love seat

Emma’s Third & Final Home

Our black cat Emma relaxes on the bed

We adopted Sam and Emma shortly before Christmas in 2007, two weeks after our cat Templeton died. We were her third home, her previous family had adopted her as a kitten but a year later felt they had too many cats and had been unable to find a home for her. I took this picture of Emma two days later on Christmas Eve after she joined Sam in quarantine in our guest bedroom. Initially we kept them in separate rooms until their health tests came back, but Emma was pretty miserable in isolation and it was a relief when she could join her new little brother and they could keep each other company while still being kept separate from our cat Scout.

With Templeton and Scout, my heart was open to loving a new cat before it was finished breaking for the departed one, and so it is with Emma. We went to the Oregon Humane Society this morning to look at some of the younger cats, as Boo could use a playmate. The young kittens got adopted right before we got there but we had a chance to meet a sweet young cat that we are considering, though we have some concerns she might be a bit too shy. An outgoing young cat came up for adoption after we were there that we will meet in the morning, but perhaps she will be too much for Boo (and especially Sam).

It’s so hard to know. After all Boo was a terrified little thing who shook like a leaf when we met him, yet you’d never know it now by watching the confident little fellow who is taking over the household, despite being the youngest by far.

There’s no rush. Whoever we adopt will come to a good home, we just hope it’s the right one.

A Game of Strings

Our black cat Emma sits beside a shoestring, waiting to play

One of my favorite pictures of Emma, taken last summer. We discovered early on that she loved playing with strings, when she was young if you sat on the ground and dragged an old shoelace around you, she’d circle you until she was exhausted. Later she’d learn to predict your actions and try and jump over you to cut the string off at the pass. Throughout her life you’d find her sitting by one of her shoelaces, not wanting to miss out on the chance at a game of string.

String got more complicated when we adopted Boo as he also loved to chase them but with the exuberance of a young cat, something Emma didn’t always appreciate. I’d sometimes play with both of them, a shoelace in one hand for Emma and a shoelace in the other for Boo. If two-handed string was an Olympic event the gold would have been ours. Eventually though Boo would want to play with whatever string his big sister was playing with, so it was fortunate they learned to play together.

In the picture Emma is sitting at the entrance to my office, at the end of her life this is where she chose to hang out most of the time (not in the doorway, though, just a bit over to the left). She didn’t have the energy to play string towards the end, a clear sign of how sick she was getting. Sometimes she’d chew on it if you laid it across her paws, especially a ribbon from one of the Christmas presents.

When I look at the picture I’m struck by how lovely she was and the beautiful life we lost. But I’m reminded too, of the beautiful life we shared.

A Mouthful of Bullfrog

An American bittern prepares holds a large bullfrog in its mouth

Normally I’m pretty good at spotting bitterns at Ridgefield but I saw them on only three out of ten visits to the refuge over the Christmas break. I worried I was losing my touch until I found this bittern on Christmas Eve slowly working the channel beside Rest Lake. I suspect the real reason I haven’t seen as many this year is that the grasses in this area, normally my best spot for seeing them, have been cut lower in places, eliminating cover for both the bitterns and the animals they are hoping to catch.

The bittern snagged a large bullfrog from the water as you can see in the top picture. In the picture below the bittern has swallowed most of the frog with only the rear feet sticking out of its mouth. The bittern has protected its eyes from the frog’s claws with a nictitating membrane, a common tactic in the chaos of swallowing something that doesn’t want to be swallowed.

An American bittern swallows a large bullfrog

New Year’s Day

A male bufflehead dives under the water to feed

I started 2015 the way I ended 2014, visiting my favorite little wildlife refuge. We had a cold snap that froze some of the smaller ponds and this male bufflehead was one of two that were hanging out with a flock of American coots working a small section of open water near the road. Like other diving ducks, bufflehead flatten out their tails on the surface of the water and push themselves forward into the dive, using their beaks to break the surface tension of the water.

Lovely way to start the year.