Category Archives: Animals! Animals! Animals!

5 Best Breeds for Van’s Life (Guest Post)

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Last week Devan from the XsyntrikNomad blog shared everything she knows about sharing a van with a cat. This week Rebecca from Pawsome Kitty lets us in on the five best feline breeds for van life.

Van life is quite cool and thrilling, but it is not made for everyone and obviously not made for all breeds of cats. Many cat breeds are generally domesticated and prefer to stay indoors, but there are some of them that would be great company on your wild adventures. Make sure to find the perfect breed that can fit your unique and fun mobile lifestyle.

We’ve listed the 5 best cat breeds for sharing your van life. Check out the rundown below.

Chausie

# 1 Chausie The size of the Chausie often gives an impression that they are big, great, and wild. However, the truth is they are a very tame breed of cats that can enjoy playing outside and can be the perfect company for your next trip. This breed has a bony structure with strong muscles, broad chests, and long legs.

They are great hunters and are very active cats. They can easily cope up with your hunting activities and will accompany you on your adventures. The Chausie is a sweet cat, but they don’t like cuddling.

American Shorthair

#2 American Shorthair The American Shorthair is known to be a stocky, muscular, and well-built breed of cats. They can easily adapt to their environment which means they can be perfect for both indoor and outdoor activities. They are natural hunters and won’t need much maintenance, which makes it easier for you to provide for their needs while you are on the road. If they get nervous, you can always get a cat carrier for them.

Maine Coon

#3 Maine Coon The Maine Coon is known to be one of the largest breeds of domesticated cats. They have a solid, rectangular, and muscular structure. Despite having longer hair than most cats, they have a soft temperament and are known to be intelligent. You’ll love that they can easily withstand harsh weather and can accompany you on all kinds of adventures.

Birman

# 4 Birman Cats The Birman cats, on the other hand, have silky and semi-long hair and small ears that make them easier to recognize. Their size varies from medium to large, and they are a very curious breed. This breed is also very intelligent and can easily follow instructions while you are on the road. They have cool tempers that make it easier for you to bring them along with you on your trips and adventures.

Abyssinian

#5 Abyssinian Last is the Abyssinian. This breed of cats is known to be spirited, loyal, and inquisitive. They are medium-sized cats that have a muscular body. They are not really the indoor type of cats and love to stay outdoors and explore nature. They love playing and investigating the world around them. They are tough hunters and easier to train than other cats.

Van life is amazing, and many people are getting interested in living nomadically. Many will ride through the mountains, go hunting, or simply enjoy life on a beautiful terrain, while sharing these special moments with their feline fur babies.

Rebecca from Pawsome Kitty describes herself this way: Yes, I am that weird cat lady with 200 cats and live in the darkest corner of the city where no one dares to go! Joking! But I am a cat lover and have two tabby cats called Toby, he’s 8 years old and Dory, she’s 3 years old.

Photos provided by author.

 

Traveling Van Cat? ( A Guest Post about Cats and Van Life)

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Basil, the author’s feline companion-in-van life. Photo provided by the author.

Have a cat and want to travel? No problem! With time and patience, most adult cats (and almost any kitten) will adjust to vanlife.

It will be harder to travel with a cat than it is to travel alone, and you will need to make accommodations for the cat’s needs and safety. There will be annoyances, inconveniences, and it will almost always require patience and a good sense of humor.  🙂  If you’re like me, it’s worth every challenge when you love your furbaby.

Know Thy Feline

Hi! My name is Devan Winters from the XsyntrikNomad blog. I am a vandweller and I have two cats. Freddie is a gregarious, hyper, and curious escape artist. He is 7 years old and kind of a doofus. (I say that with love). Basil is 8 years old and a bit of a scaredy-cat. He hisses at people who get near the van (even though they can’t see him through the tint).

Traveling with Freddie was great the first two days. He seemed relaxed and curious. On day three, an internal switch flipped, and he began to freak out. He suddenly wouldn’t leave me alone when I was driving. It was not safe.

After confining Freddie while I was behind the wheel, I quickly learned he was capable of howling for hours…nonstop. After a little more than a week, I knew he was going to struggle to adapt. Nothing I tried would calm him or keep him from desperately trying to get out of the van.  Lucky for me, my adult child is the proud parent of Freddie’s sister and was generous enough to take him in. Otherwise, he would be a very unhappy van cat.

Basil, on the other hand, freaked for the first three days, then settled in. He’s become a really awesome van cat.

After living and traveling with Basil in my van for a while, I’ve learned a few things. I hope they’ll help anyone else considering a feline companion in their van life travels.

LitterBox

Location:  I’ve found the best location is by a door-it allows easy access for cleaning. Basil’s litter box is in the front passenger floorboard. If I ever have a regular human passenger though, the box will move to a location near the side or rear doors.

Tip:  Placing the litter box as far away from where your head rests when you sleep at night is more convenient than you might think, especially if your feline is on a regular late night or early morning pooping schedule.  🙂

The Box:  Through the years I have preferred to use a plastic storage container, about the same length and width of a litterbox. You can grab a cheap one at Big Lots or WalMart. This is a particularly handy option when trying to find a size that fits in the space you have.

If you’re putting the box in the back (or think you ever will) hold on to the lid. You can create an awesome enclosed box by cutting a large opening on one end of the lid. In my experience, this eliminates kicked litter (when your cat covers his business) while minimizing tracking a bit too.

TIP:  If you do this instead of spending more money on a ‘normal’ litterbox, it’s important to make sure your container is big enough for your cat to turn around in comfortably. Pay extra attention to the height of the box if you plan to use the lid. Measure your cat’s height from the top of his head to the floor. Then add an inch or two to that measurement to determine the best height for the container you purchase. 

Litter and Tracking:  I currently use clumping clay litter, but a pellet is a good option to lessen tracking. (Basil was not a fan, unfortunately.) If you’re not using a pellet type litter, you can assume you’re going to have litter tracking issues. I have a mat by the litterbox that catches some of the litter, but I keep a hand broom right under the seat to sweep what’s tracked. Depending on your cat, you’ll find yourself doing this at least once a day.

Arm & Hammer RONEuY Double Duty Clumping Litter, 20 Pounds (Pack of 2)
Bonus:  If you use a 5-gallon bucket for your business, you and your feline friend can share the litter. I’ve switched to Arm & Hammer Double Duty Litter recently. The brand comes in many varieties, but this variety, in this brand, seems to clump better than my previous brand. I store it in a plastic container with a lid under my bed.   

Hairballs

Hairballs and puke happen. There is nothing worse than waking up to a puke covered blanket. Unless you wake up and step in warm puke. *gag* I have experienced the joy of both, and worse. I have nearly eliminated hairballs using SynergyLabs Richard’s Organics Flavored Hairball Remedy. It works great for Basil.

Food is a major factor in feline digestion. If your cat is throwing up more than a couple times a week, and you’re sure it isn’t a health issue, try experimenting with food. It can be costly, but I have found the premium brands are worth it for Basil. He actually eats less and his poop doesn’t smell quite as bad. I tried a few foods but found Natural Balance ( which can be purchased at most pet food stores) works for us. There are plenty of good quality brands you can buy between the cheap and expensive too.

TIP:  I keep two heavy flat twin sheets (purchased cheaply at Goodwill) in the van at all times . I can’t always wash my primary blanket right away if there is a puke situation. So whether I’m sleeping or out for the day, one of those sheets is always covering and protecting my primary blanket. (In the summer months, I use the sheet alone)  

Food and Water

This should be easy, but it wasn’t for me. Basil likes to tip his water. He’s done it for years. Depending on where you put the food and water bowls, a spill can cause quite a mess. I spoke to a vet and these are some things I learned:

Water Bowl Tipping:  In rare cases, some cats will be sensitive to taste and may not like the water you’re giving them. Try spring or filtered water instead.

The biggest cause of water tipping is this though:  If your cat puts his head in a water bowl and his whiskers touch the sides, he will often tip the bowl in an attempt to drink without scraping his sensitive whiskers.

Ethical Pet Products (Spot) DSO6932 Stoneware 4-Square Dog Dish, 5-Inch, Blue
TIP:  Buy a wide stone bowl like the one pictured.The 4-inch square shape is hard to tip, gives your cat a wide opening corner to corner, and the stone keeps the water cool.

Placement of Food and Water:  Put it where your cat can reach it easily, but not where you might step on it in the dark or when you’re in a rush. My vet also recommends keeping food and water away from the littler box.  (Who wants to eat where they go to the bathroom, right?)

TIP:  Cats actually don’t like their food and water together. By placing the bowls in separate locations, it fosters your cat’s natural foraging/hunting behavior. When you’re in a small space like a van, little things help keep your cat happy and content.

Food Storage:  As I will also be mentioning in the section on behaviors, most cats like to chew through bags. It would save space to keep a bag of cat food crammed in a corner somewhere, but I highly recommend a plastic container with a well-sealed lid (for freshness too). Trust me, it will save you a lot of frustration. Even if your cat doesn’t have this behavior now, the small space and potential feline boredom could create a bag-chewing monster.

Temperature Control

Location:  This is my first consideration, always. During summer months I stay in places like Flagstaff, AZ or San Diego, CA. My summer plans require quite a lot of research on weather in the desired area. I would do this anyway since I don’t like heat either, but it becomes way more important with a cat in tow. I look for places with low humidity and temps that stay below 90 degrees.

TIP:  Elevations of 7,000 feet or higher, the Northern CA coast, and the Pacific Northwest are also (usually) temperate options. US Climate Data and Accuweather are my go-to for historical weather data. 

Regulating the Temperature without Solar:  I have a passenger van so I have windows all around. I love my windows but the first thing I did was limo tint them. On most summer days in the mid to low 80’s (or below), if I open the back and side windows for a nice breeze, and put a sun shield on the front window, the van stays comfortable inside.

On hotter days, I put two sun shields in the front window and hang Reflectix from the top of the windows all the way around the van. I do not fasten it at the bottom so air can still flow. It keeps the van pretty comfortable. In fact, at floor level (specifically under the bed in the cubby hole Basil likes to hide in), it is noticeably cooler.  (Yes. I got on the floor and crawled under to see/feel)

Tip:  Spend several days in your van with your cat in different weather conditions and temperatures. Leave the windows and shades as you would if you weren’t there for the day.  Get a feel for what your cat is going to experience and watch them for signs of heat-related stress.   

Regulating the Temperature with Solar:  I have not installed solar or a roof vent yet so I can only speak from the experiences shared with me by others. According to those who have it, a working roof vent is great at regulating the temperature inside your van. If you can install two, one in the back and one in front, one drawing air out and one pulling air in, even better.

YI Dome Camera Pan/Tilt/Zoom Wireless IP Indoor Security Surveillance System 720p HD Night Vision, Motion Tracker, Auto-Cruise, Remote Monitor with iOS
Monitoring:  I installed a camera and the ThermoPro TP-50 Digital Temperature and Humidity Meter. Using wifi, the camera is accessible through an app installed on my phone. I can maneuver the camera in the van remotely, using the app, and keep an eye on the temperature (and Basil) inside the van. This is a new set-up and I LOVE it. I got the idea from this YouTube video if you want to check it out.

Behavior Issues & A Small Space

If your cat has issues in your current home, you might feel like they’re amplified in a van. In fact, you may discover issues you didn’t know your cat had. Practice patience with them while they adjust to their new normal.

Basil discovered he likes to chew bags. Doesn’t matter what’s in the bag, if it makes a cool crinkly sound, he’ll bite and chew on the corners. From wet wipes to potato chips, he is not particular. I accidentally discovered he will not do this to a baggie. So, as much as the tree hugger in me hates using them, I put everything I can in baggies of all sizes (and I re-use the heck out of them). Anything too big for a baggie goes in a Rubbermaid I use exclusively for this purpose.

Living in such a small space, I also find myself as a bouncing off (or on) point. To prevent lots of scratches, it’s more important than ever to keep those front claws trimmed. Otherwise, scratches happen a lot.

CLASSY KITTY Door Scratcher Hanging Carpet Post with Sisal (Colors may Vary)
It’s also a great idea to find a spot for a small scratching post or scratching board. Otherwise, your seats may fall prey to their natural desire to stretch those paws and dig in with those nails!

TIP:  I strongly recommend using a sisal rope scratcher. Your cat will enjoy the cardboard style scratchers, but they will make one heck of a mess in your van!

Modifying Behaviour:  If you’ve never had issues with your cat before or are new to feline parenthood, yelling at or smacking a cat is completely ineffective behavior control. You probably already know that, but it’s worth mentioning. Cats definitely require a unique approach to discipline.  Because, you know, cats.

TIP:  A Google search is a great place to get advice but make sure you’re taking advice from a reputable source such as a vet website, the ASPCA, an animal products website (like chewy.com), etc.  

Playtime

Don’t forget your cat still needs playtime to expend energy. This is necessary for both physical and mental health. In fact, in such a small confined space, they need it more than ever. Take time every day, multiple times a day if you can, to play with your cat. Throw a ball if they fetch, wiggle a string for them to stalk, roughhouse (if your cat enjoys it), treat them with catnip toys, etc.

Cat Fur and Dander

If you’ve lived with a cat in a regular house or apartment, you already know fur gets everywhere. It’s worse in a van. Keep sheets and blankets washed regularly and shake them out between washes when you can. Basil likes to lounge in the driver seat so hair tends to collect there. A good lint removal brush or roller is essential.

FRESHLAND Lint Roller, 90 Sheets, 5 Count, 450 Sheets Total and 100% Natural Air Purifying Bamboo Charcoal Bag (200G) for Lint Removal, Pet Hair Pickup, and for Keeping Air Clean & Fresh
TIP:  I recommend the Freshland Lint Roller. It’s economical, comes with a charcoal air purifier/deodorizer, and works great. I keep mine within reach from the driver seat.  When I get out of the van to go in somewhere, I can quickly spiff myself up.  

Cat Leash Training

I keep threatening to leash train Basil, but I haven’t really tried yet. I understand it takes time and a lot of patience, but there are awesome rewards. It is best to start training them as young as possible, but most adult cats are trainable. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors and in nature, your cat will love the opportunity to explore outside with you-safely!

Tip:  Microchip! You can get microchipping done for around $45 and it’s worth every penny. Even if your cat is leash trained or not prone to escape, there are still risks, such as an accident. If a window breaks out and there is a lot of commotion, your cat just might bolt at the first opportunity. Mine would. 

Confinement When Mobile

For safety reasons, most people strongly suggest confining your cat to a carrier when you’re mobile. In an accident, your cat is secure, safe, and less likely to get hurt or run off. You’re also less prone to distraction or to have your driving affected by your cat.

In reality, most of us do not participate in this practice. For me, there is no place to fit a carrier when not in use. Even if I found an easily storable/collapsible carrier, Basil has hiding spots I can’t get to, and he doesn’t come when called. Getting him in the carrier before I go anywhere would be a challenge in itself. That said, I still consider it a best practice if you can do it.

Health Care

Finding affordable medical care for your cat while on the road is a huge challenge. It’s best to do any preventative care before you leave. Once you’re on the road, if you decide to use a nationwide veterinary chain like Banfield (inside most PetSmart stores), you won’t have to keep records of everything with you. (You should always carry rabies vaccination paperwork.)

Banfield even offers pet insurance to cover some care, if you can afford (and want to pay) the monthly expense. There is also a line of credit called Care Credit you can take out specifically for veterinary costs.

Tip:  If you travel like me, often staying in one place for a couple months at a time, take time to research local vet options. Look at Yelp and Google reviews, call to inquire about general visit prices, etc. I always start my search with AAHA Accredited Vets. The standards and guidelines they have to meet for accreditation practically guarantee you’ll get a good vet.

Something I Forgot?

I’ve tried to think of everything I wanted to know when I started, while also including answers to questions I am often asked.  If I haven’t answered something you’d like to know about, or if you want more detail on anything, please reach out to me at xsyntriknomad.com.  I will be happy to help you find the answers you need.

**Please keep in mind these are my experiences and my opinions. I’m not always right, but I took extra care to make sure any information linked is true and accurate. I will always make an extra effort to steer you in the right direction when it comes to your animal companion.

Photos (other than the one of Basil) are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those photos, you’ll be magically taken to Amazon.com. Anything you put in your cart and purchase after clicking one of those links will earn the Rubber Tramp Artist a small advertising fee at not cost to you.

Shrieking Shopper

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On Sunday night I did my duty as security guard for the mercantile. I pulled my van between the mercantile and the rentable yurt behind it. I hung my curtains immediately, and no one bothered me.

On Monday morning I woke up early and went into the mercantile before 6am. I used the WiFi to check Facebook and schedule a couple of short blog posts. While I was standing behind the counter messing around on my laptop, I glanced across the room, and under shelves holding t-shirts I saw a mouse butt disappearing into the shadow.

animal, apodemus sylvaticus, brownGet out of here! I shouted at the creature. You don’t live here!

I don’t know if my words influenced the rodent of if it was just the vibration of my yelling that sent it on its way. I didn’t really care why it left; I was glad to see it go.

On Tuesday morning The Big Boss Man handed me three boxes of rodent poison. I put on latex gloves, pulled the cover off each tray, then placed the trays full of poison pellets behind and under lockers and shelves.

The Man is really sad about killing the mice. I’m not too happy about the murder of mice myself, but I haven’t come up with a another effective solution.

Possible Solution #1: Let mice live in the mercantile.

Problems with Possible Solution #1: Mice will shit and piss everywhere. Having shit and piss all over the mercantile would be gross and unsanitary. Also, mice would chew merchandise and use clothing to make their nests.

Possible Solution #2: Catch mice in a live trap.

Problems with Possible Solution #2: Mice caught in a live trap must be released miles from their home, or they will soon return to the original location. I doubt The Big Boss Man is going to drive mice miles down the road looking for a place to release them humanely.

Possible Solution #3: Get one of those devices that (allegedly) emit high frequency sounds that (allegedly) drive rodents away.

Problems with Possible Solution #3: I’m not sure those devices even work. The devices need electricity to work, and one might use more electricity than the store’s solar panels transmit to battery storage. Such a device might cause the store’s generator to run at night, interfering with the quietude of nature and possibly annoying campers.

Possible Solution #4: Get a cat to live in the store.

Problems with Possible Solution #4: Some customers will be allergic to cats and have a bad reaction when they walk into the mercantile. The cat will sleep on stacks of shirts, leaving fur and allergens behind.

Later on Tuesday morning, an extended family from Missouri walked into the mercantile. The boy child was about six, and the girl child was probably ten. Both had blond hair and round checks. The mom and dad seemed wholesome and spoke to the children and each other calmly. This branch of the family—parents and kids—wore matching t-shirts in support of the girl’s friend who had cancer. The grandparents came in a little after the rest of the family.

Grandpa sported a mustache and wore a ball cap and a t-shirt from a Christian fishing event with a quote from the Bible on the back. (Of course, he had on pants too, but there was nothing remarkable about them.) Grandma had permed her thin brown hair and wore glasses and simple, casual clothes appropriate for a walk in the forest. I suppose I’m old because the grandparents seemed closer to my age group than the parents were.

The members of the family were lingering, seemingly looking at every single item in the mercantile. I stood behind the register and daydreamed while I waited for someone to bring up selections for me to ring up.

Suddenly Grandma screamed! It was a high-pitched, scared scream, not angry yelling. Probably a better word for the sound Grandma emitted is “shriek.”

Everyone in the store turned to look at her.

I’m sorry, she gasped. There was a mouse!

She said she’d picked up a t-shirt and as she lifted it, a mouse fell to the floor, then scurried away. She was apologetic, obviously embarrassed, and still terrified. She wouldn’t even go back to the side of the store where the mouse incident had occurred. She handed off the mousy t-shirt to the other clerk and picked out a shirt from a shelf as far away from her rodent encounter as possible.

I identified with her discomfort. I would have shrieked too if a mouse had fallen out of a t-shirt I was considering for purchase. I probably would have left the store and never returned.

I felt for the poor little mouse too. It had probably just eaten some poison and was looking for a softly comfortable place to die. Instead of finding a peaceful death, it was shrieked at and dropped to the floor. I hope my own passing is less eventful.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-apodemus-sylvaticus-brown-button-eyes-208977/.

Coyote Attack

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Folks who live near coyotes and have pets that go outside must be alert and stay with the pets when they’re outdoors. Protecting a pet becomes even more important when it’s a little tiny thing. Coyotes eat rabbits and rodents and other little critters, so when they see a cat or a Chihuahua or a Shih Tzu, they don’t see a beloved pet; they see a much-needed meal. It’s the call of the wild and the survival of the fittest and pets don’t have a lot in the way of self-defense. It’s up to the pet’s people to keep Muffin or FiFi safe,

There are coyotes where I spend my winters. We hear them howl in the early morning and around sunset and sometimes in the wee hours of the night. We see them too. We often see them in broad daylight darting between parked rigs and running through the creosote bushes. It’s against all the rules to feed them here, but we suspect people are doing it anyway because why else would we see them crossing our road in mid-morning?

The Man is careful when he lets Jerico out. Although Jerico weighs 35 pounds and would fight to the death if necessary, he doesn’t spend time outside unsupervised. They’re not your friends, we tell him when we hear coyotes howl and Jerico’s ears perk up.

I went to the laundry room one Friday in late March. I just had a few loads to wash, and the day was sunny, so I decided I would dry the clothes on the line. I’d only been to the laundry room once before (and I’d walked over that time), so I wasn’t sure where to park. I did some driving around before I figured out where to leave the van.

As I was driving, I saw a tiny white Chihuahua outside a rig across from laundry room. I don’t know if the dog was tethered to something or just loose and trained to not run away, but it stayed where it was as a woman strode from that rig, crossed the street, and went into the laundry room.

I parked the van and hauled in my laundry just in time to see the woman fill the last of the six washers. I knew the laundry room was small, so I wasn’t surprised to find I’d have to wait to get a washer. I sat down with my notebook so I could write while I waited. The woman who’d taken the last washer tried to chitchat with me a couple of times. While I answered politely, I was more interested in writing than talking.

After half an hour, the woman took her clean clothes out of the washers and I put my dirty clothes in. She put some clothes in one of the dryers but siad she was going to hang most of her things in the sun to dry.

My clothes had only a few minutes left in the washer when the woman came back in the laundry room. She looked a little dazed. She said her dog had been attacked by something. She said the Chihuahua had a gash in its neck.

Probably a coyote, I said.

She said she hadn’t seen what had attacked her dog, but said again its neck was wounded.

I don’t think a javelina would attack a dog, I said and the man who’d just started his clothes washing agreed. He said he’d never seen a javelina in the RV park.

What’s a javelina anyway? the woman asked.

It’s an big, ugly, pig-looking thing, I told her, but I don’t think one would attack a dog. It was probably a coyote, I repeated.

I’ve never seen a coyote around here! she exclaimed. I hear them, but I’ve never seen one.

I see them all the time, I told her. They run around during the day out here.

I don’t know if the coyotes stick to my park of the RV park and not hers of if she just never noticed them skulking around. Their coloring does help camoflauge them in their desert environment, so maybe they’d been near her place but blended in so well she hadn’t recognized them for what they were.

She said again she hadn’t seen what attacked her dog. I don’t know if she was in her rig and her dog was in the yard when it happened or if she was hanging clothes with her back to the dog. She acted as if she didn’t want to admit a coyote had attacked her pet, but as I told her, I don’t know what else could have attacked it that way.

I also can’t explain why a coyote grabbed the dog strongly enough to leave wounds but didn’t kill it or run away with the Chihuahua in its jaws. Maybe the dog was particularly fiesty and fought back hard. Maybe the woman approached just soon enough to twart the attack. Whatever happened, it was the woman’s–and the dog’s–lucky day because the dog lived through the ordeal.

The woman said she’d put Neosporin on the woud, but was concerned about rabies. I suggested she cal the local animal shelter and ask for advice. At that point the washers were stopped and my clothes were clean. I loaded up and headed home to hang everything on the clothesline.

The next morning when I went to the office, the park manager said she hadn’t heard anything new about the little dog, so we assumed no news was good news. I suspect the woman is going to keep a closer watch over her dog from now on.

I took the photo in this post.

Animal Collages

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The Crafter's Complete Guide to Collage
My friend sent me a copy of The Crafter’s Complete Guide to Collage by Amanda Pearce. I felt like I’ve already mastered many of the techniques included in the book, such as the use of found objects and basic composition. However, I was fascinated by the chapter on paper collage, especially the section dealing with the grain of papers, mixing textures, and ripping versus cutting edges. The chapter made me think in new ways about using paper.

Then I was in a thrift store and found a stack of those wildlife cards marketed to kids on the 1970s and 80s. I was rummaging through them, considering the collage posibilities when I saw a naked mole rat! A naked mole rat! The Lady of the House had recently told me the naked mole rat is the favorite animal of The Man of the House becasue the critter seems to have to ability to live forever–or at least they don’t appear to “go through the gradual (and eventually rapid) process of self-destruction that we think of as aging.” The odds of finding a good photo of a naked mole rat in a thrift store seemed slim, and I felt like maybe the universe was prompting me to create some art for The Man of the House.

Will you humor me while I talk about my process?

Of course, first I cut out the photo of the naked mole rat. Then I went through my papers and found some colors I thought would go together nicely. I tore the edges of the papers for added visual interest, then glued the papers onto a piece of canvas panal board I’d picked up at a different thrift shop. I glued the photo of the rodent onto a button then glued the button onto the board to lift the photo slightly off the surface.

The words in the talk bubble are in reference to the lyrics to the song “Fame” (from the movie Fame). In the song, lyricist Irene Cara writes, “(Fame) I’m gonna live forever.” I thought it would be funny if a creature that doesn’t age (in the way most of the world understands aging)  was singing about living forever.

The stars were the last addition to the piece, necessary, I thought to perk it up and pull all of the elements together. I knew The Man of the House wouldn’t like glitter, but maybe shiny stars weren’t going too far.

After I finished this gift for The Man of the House, I wanted to make something for the Lady of the House too. She is a big fan of the blue-footed booby, and I just so happened to have a photo of two of them I’d cut out from a magazine some time ago.

Again, I tore the edges of the papers and glued them to the canvas board. I cut as close as possible around the edges of the birds, then glued them down next. Blue stars added a little bit of dazzle, as did the sparkly blue squares on the bottom corners. The blue “sun” is a button, and I glued a light blue bit of bling to a white heart. Of course, the little song the birds are singing to each other is a takeoff of the old standard “Tea for Two.”

By the time you read this post, The Man and Lady of the House will have received these gifts. I hope they go over well.

 

 

Strays

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Dog on Concrete RoadI was on my way home from a festival where I’d sold my handicrafts and shiny rocks. I’d just turned my van into my neighborhood when I saw a dog racing down the street ahead of me.

The people where I live take the county leash law very seriously, and I never see dogs running loose around here. As I drove very slowly behind the dog, I looked around for its person. There were no humans in sight.

I stopped the van and got out. Hey dog! I called. The dog whirled around and looked at me.

Here doggie! I called calmly, and it ran right up to me and let me pet her. What a sweetie!

She wore a collar, so I checked for a tag. She had a county registration tag, but nothing wih a name or phone number on it. She was obviously somebody’s dog and I didn’t want her to get hit by a car on the nearby highway or be torn up by the neighborhood pack of coyotes, so I decided to try to help her find her people.

I opened the van’s side door and moved some things around. As soon as there was space, the dog jumped right in.

I called the office of the place where I live. The manager answered the phone, and I asked her if she knew of anyone whose dog was missing. She said the dog had been running around for a while and other folks had called to notify her.

I’ve got the dog in my van, I told her, then asked if there was a nearby animal shelter where I should take it.

She gave me a phone number, which I called. I talked to a woman whose position I still don’t know. Was she an animal control officer? Was she a local pet rescue volunteer? I still have no idea.

I told the woman on the phone my location and described the dog I’d just ushered into my van. She said other people had called about the dog, whose name was Milly. Her person hadn’t answered his phone earlier, but the woman knew where he lived. (I suppose this information was found via the county registration on the dog’s tag.) The women on the phone gave me the dog’s address, and I said I’d drive Milly home.

As I pulled out onto the main highway, I saw a most unusual sight. Two travelers were walking on the side of the road. The guy had long salt and pepper hair pulled back into a low ponytail, and the woman had dread locks in a neat bun on the top of her head. Each carried a big backpack and held a leash hooked to a big dog. Both wore clothes made drab by long wear and road dirt. These were traveling kids, although I could see in their faces that these folks were well out of their 20s.

Seeing them there was strange because my winter home is truly in the middle of nowhere. It’s 10 miles from the nearest small town, 50 miles from the next small town, and ninety miles from the nearest Wal-Mart. These folks were over 100 miles from the next city in the direction they were headed, with practically nothing but tribal land between their current location and the city. Of course, they could have been headed somewhere on the tribal land; surely there are Native American traveling kids on the highways and backroads of the U.S. Maybe these two were almost home.

In any case, I didn’t have time to stop for them. I was trying to get the stray dog home, and the travelers and I were headed in opposite directions. I decided I’d look for them upon my return and continued on my dog rescue mission.

I found the street where Milly supposedly lived and a mailbox with the correct house number. I had a leash in my van, so I hooked it to Holly’s collar, and we went together to find her people. The houses were laid out in an odd configuration, and I had trouble finding the right one. I knocked on a door without a number and an elderly woman with thin hair and unfortunate eyeliner answered. I politely asked her if this dog was hers. She said it was not. I told her the address I was looking for. She was unsure of the location, but told me where she thought it was.

From inside the house, an unseen man hollered, She’s looking for Marv!

Marve doesn’t have a dog! she called back impatiently.

I thanked her for her help, and Milly and I were on our way.

I drove just a little ways down the street and found the number I was looking for. It was Marv’s house, if the painted rock labeled Marv and Betty was to be believed. Maybe Marv had gotten a dog without alerting the neighbors.

I leashed Milly again, and we walked up to the door. I knocked. The door was opened by an elderly woman I presume was Betty. Like the woman I’d just spoken to, she wore jeans and a sweatshirt, but Betty’s hair was a perfectly white frizzy poof surrounding her head like the nimbus of a saint in a Renaissance painting.

I politely asked her if this was her dog. She said it was not. She said she currently didn’t have any dogs. I explained I’d been given her address as the home of the dog, but she firmly maintained that Milly did not live there. I thanked her and took Milly back to the van.

I called the woman who’d given me the (mis)information about where Milly lived and told her the dog’s person didn’t live where she thought he did. She asked me if I could meet her ten miles away at the animal shelter. I agreed.

When I arrived at the county complex housing the shelter, I leashed Holly yet again and walked over to the entrance. The woman I’d been talking to was waiting for us. She was middle age, blonde, and dressed Saturday afternoon casual. She told me she’d called Milly’s person again, and he’d answered this time.

He’d been drinking, and I woke him up, she told me.

Apparently, when she asked for his address, he couldn’t tell her. Get up and wash your face, she’d told him, and figure out where you live!

I felt bad about leaving Milly in the dark concrete kennel, but she did have the company of a fuzzy white dog named Buddy.

I don’t want anything bad to happen to her here, I told the woman, meaning please don’t euthenize this sweet dog just because her person is a dumbass and lets her run around.

Nothing bad’s going to happen to her here, the woman said. If you leave her running around out there, she might run onto the highway…The woman shuddered and didn’t spell out what might happen if Milly were to run onto the highway. She didn’t need to spell it out; I know cars and animals can be a dangerous combination.

I left Milly, trusting the woman to get her home. I suspected the woman would also give Milly’s person a stern lecture on the dangers of letting her run free.

Gray Concrete Road Beside Brown Mountain during Golden HourI was almost home when I thought about the traveling couple again. I wonder what happened to them, I thought moments before I saw them sitting on the side of the road just past my turn. I purposefully missed the turn and stopped my van near them.

Where in the world are y’all going? I asked as I approached them on foot.

As I suspected he would, the guy named the city 100+ miles away, then asked hopefully, Where are you going?

I live over there, I pointed. I could tell they were disappointed.

We heard there’s a truckstop about a mile down the road, the woman said hopefully. Do you think you could drive us there?

I don’t think it’s a truckstop, I told them. I think it’s just a gas station. But yes, I can drive you there.

They loaded in their packs and their dogs, all the while tickeld that a Grateful Dead rendition of “Scarlet Begonias” was coming through the speaker attached to my phone.

What are y’all doing out here? I asked as soon as the van was rolling.

That’s a long story, the guy said. I’ll let you tell it, he said to the woman.

She kept it short. They were looking to settle down, she said, and they had friends in the nearby small town. They’d come to stay with the friends who had immediately started acting weird, so now they were heading back to the city.

I pulled int the gas station’s parking lot and handed the woman a few bucks. She was very thankful, as was her guy, who lifted his shirt to show me the word “LOVE” amateurishly tattoed high on his stomch. (Yes, that part of the encounter was as awkward as it sounds.)

I briefly toyed with the idea of offering to drive them to the city, but I really didn’t want to make a 200+ mile round trip that overcast afternoon, especially the part where I’d have to come back alone. Besides, they were old enough to have been around the block a time or two. I think they’d been on the road a while and (hopefully) knew how to handle themselves.

They unloaded their packs and their dogs, and they thanked me again before I drove off.

I hope all the strays I picked up that day eventually made it home safely.

 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/dog-on-concrete-road-688835/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/gray-concrete-road-beside-brown-mountain-during-golden-hour-163848/.

Madame

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Madame was a very small dog, although not the smallest I’ve ever met. While she was extremely cute, I didn’t immediately realize she was the traffic-stopping kind of adorable.

The job hadn’t originally involved a dog. The job had started out as a favor, or, more accurately, a mutually beneficial situation. My friend and her family were going away for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I was welcome to stay at their house while they were gone. I was welcome to luxuriate in their heat and their running water and their WiFi and their multitude of television options. In exchange, I’d make sure their cat had food and water and a tolerable litter pan. I wouldn’t have to leave the house for days at a time if I didn’t want to.

I was sitting on my friend’s couch when she got the email that brought Madame into my life. I was working on my blog and my friend was doing her paying job even though it was supposed to be her day off.

What does this woman want? she asked aloud in exasperation.

The woman in question was a former co-worker. My friend said the woman only contacts her when she wants something. This time she wanted my friend to care for her dog while she was out of the country for the holidays.

My friend said her family had kept the dog once years before. She was an old dog, my friend said, and not much trouble.

I’ll be here anyway, I told my friend. If you don’t mind the dog being at your house, I can take care of her. But tell your friend I want $10 a day.

Caring for a dog meant taking it for walks, which meant I couldn’t stay in the house for days at a time. I wanted a little monetary compensation for my trouble.

My friend said the dog had no teeth and ate wet food. I definitely want $10 a day if I have to feed her wet food, I told my friend. Picking up dog feces is bad enough, but a combination of feces and wet food is a lot of grossness to deal with. Yes, if wet food was involved, I definitely wanted monetary compensation.

The dog’s person was a little desperate. No one else she asked had been able to care for the dog, so she contacted my friend. I don’t know what she would have done if I hadn’t been available. I suspect she would have paid a kennel more than $10 a day. I suspect Madame would have been miserable all alone in a tiny cage.

I said I would care for Madame.

I met her on the morning of Christmas Eve. I arrived at my friend’s house early, while she and her family were still packing and preparing for their trip. Finally, they headed off to the airport, and Madame and I were alone.

Madame was a tiny chihuahua, black, although I’d imagined her as tan and looking more like a pug. I don’t know how old she was, but her muzzle was quite grey. She had big chihuahua eyes and big chihuahua ears, and her mouth was a little twisted due to her lack of teeth. She had stick-thin legs and a large pink bow on her collar.

When it came time for our walk, I found her comically thin leash and hooked it to the metal ring on her collar. She walked well on the leash, didn’t pull, altough I’m not sure if I would have noticed if she did. Like most dogs, Madame liked to stop and sniff. Sometimes if I was ready to move on and she wasn’t, she’d plant her feet and give me an ugly look. I could have easily picked her up and whisked her away, but instead I tugged gently on the leash and talked sweetly to her until she came along.

We were almost back to my friend’s house, walking on the sidewalk, when the car stopped in the middle of the street. It wasn’t a busy street, which is probably why the driver felt it was safe to stop, but still. Most people don’t stop their cars in the middle of the street.

That’s the smallest dog I’ve ever seen! the driver called out to me.

She’s pretty small, I agreed.

The driver and the passenger, both women with grey hair, both women who looked quite a bit older than I am, were gushing over Madame’s cuteness.

Is she full grown? the driver asked me.

Oh yes, I said. She’s actually quite elderly.

There were more declarations of cuteness, and I was polite, but I was ready to move on and get back to my limited-time house life.

She’s just so small, the driver said again. And she’s full grown? The driver was having a difficult time believing Madame wasn’t a puppy.

Oh yes, I said. She’s an old lady dog!

I’ve walked cute dogs before, but none of my other charges have ever brought traffic to a halt.

Is this dog cute enough to stop traffic? I took this photo.

Eek!

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I knew I was behaving like a stereotype, but I couldn’t help myself.

I was standing on the living room couch, shrieking at the top of my lungs after seeing a mouse skitter across the floor.

animal, apodemus sylvaticus, brownI don’t know how it happened, but at some time during my 16 years of life, I’d developed a fear of all things rodent. I didn’t think hamsters and gerbils were cute (although for some reason I could tolerate guinea pigs). I didn’t think mice were cute either, and rats were straight-up deplorable.

Once when I was about twelve, my family was leaving my grandmother’s house late in the afternoon. My grandmother lived on the outskirts of a small town surrounded by crop fields. She had a huge front yard, and I don’t know how many acres in the back. There was plenty of room for wild critters to live all around her.

On this particular day, as my family was about to walk out onto the back porch to say our lingering good-byes, we saw a horrible site. In the utility room accessible only from the porch, rats come pouring out of a metal trash can close to the door. I’m not exaggerating when I say “rats.” These animals were not mice. These were pointy-nosed, long tailed rats. There was not one thing cute about them as far as I was concerned.

I may be exaggerating when I say rats were pouring out of the trash can. In my first recollection, there were at least a dozen rats jumping one after another from the trashcan and running around helter-skelter as if they were trying to desert the proverbial sinking ship. But could there have really been twelve rats in my grandmother’s utility room? I know there was more than one rat, more than two, definitely more than three. I know I must be correct if I say there were between three and twelve rats running willy-nilly in the utility room and on the porch.

My grandmother kept a clean house, but she said she’d been having problems with the rats in the utility room. I think my uncle hadn’t been around to burn the trash, so the rats had taken over the trash can. My grandma moved the trash can into the utility room thinking the rats wouldn’t venture in there to get the garbage. WRONG! The rats had no problem going into the utility room to get to the trash. They must have made their move into the can while we were in the house visiting. When they heard us near the back door, they rushed out of the can in search of better hiding places.

I had never seen a live wild rat in real life, but I was certainly terrified by these. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was terrified. I was not just uncomfortable, not just bothered, not just scared. I was losing my shit. I was acting bat-shit-crazy. I was unreasonably, illogically terrified. I was immediately screaming, sobbing, bawling. I refused to leave the house and walk five steps across the porch, down the concrete steps, and across the carport to the family car. I simply refused.  My father had to carry me—still sobbing—to the car. I was too old—and certainly too big—to be carried, and my dad was not accustomed to indulging such foolishness, but he must have known I wasn’t going to leave if I had to rely on my own two feet.

The fear I felt was primal and deep. I was not just a little scared. I had moved into the realm of phobia.

(More than three decades later, a friend said maybe my fear of rodents was some sort of ancestral memory left in my DNA by people who had avoided the Black Death by avoiding rats due to a fear of them. This theory makes as much sense as any other reason I’ve come up with.)

On the day the mouse was in the house, I felt the same primal fear. I was afraid, and I wanted to be as far away from the mouse as possible. I didn’t weigh my options, consider my choices, then decide the sofa was the place to be. No, there was no careful thought process. I simply jumped up on the couch and began shrieking.

What was I afraid of? The only concrete fear I can name is the concern that the mouse was going to run up my leg. Is that even a thing outside of slapstick comedy? Has any mouse anywhere ever run up a human’s leg? Does flight ever bring a wild animal into closer proximity to the flailing, screaming bigger creature? Doesn’t the concept of “flight” necessitate movement away from danger?

In any case, there was no good reason for my fright.

It’s just a little mouse, said my annoyed mother.

It’s so cute, said my animal-loving sibling.

I’ll set a tramp, said my practical father.

I stood on the couch long after I stopped shrieking, long after the mouse had hid itself somewhere safe. My family didn’t understand, but to our reptile brains, sometimes the tiniest thing is really the biggest and most important.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-cute-little-mouse-301448/.

Half-Wild Beach Cows

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When I was in middle school, my parents went on a camping kick.

I suspect it was my dad who decided the family should go camping. Why would my mom want to camp? It only made extra work for her: making sure everyone in the family had packed everything s/he needed for the weekend; packing every ingredient for every meal, as well as appropriate pots, pans, and utensils; listening to the children complain; gathering and packing necessary bedding and towels; washing sand out of everything when we returned from the beach.

It was to the beach we went on our first few camping trips. This beach was not a white-sand beach in Black White MosquitoFlorida or the ruggedly beautiful coast of Oregon. No, the beach we frequented was the nasty oil-slicked beach of the Louisiana Gulf Coast where the water was brown, trash washed up on the sand, and the mosquitoes were huge. This beach was ugly, but it wasn’t very far from home, and camping there was free.

Our first camping shelter was an old-school canvas tent. I suspect my dad got it, like so many items from my childhood (scratchy wool blankets, BAND-AID® brand adhesive bandages in bulk, Mercurochrome) from a discard pile of mythic proportion from his days in the National Guard.

After a few trips to the beach, my dad liked camping so much, he decided to buy a tiny camper to pull behind the family truck. He bought the camper from an old couple, and it was only after he got it home that he discovered the pressboard it was made from was mostly rotten. My father dismantled the camper down to the frame, then replaced every bit of wood and every scrap of insulation before putting it all back together again.

As far as I was concerned, he could have saved his energy. I had no desire to camp. There were no showers at the beach, no hairdryers, no flush toilets. To young teenage me, the beach was barbaric.

I can’t remember how many times my family went camping at the beach in our refurbished camper. I only remember the night of the half-wild beach cows.

A friend of the family had come with us. She was in her 60s, flamboyant, liked board games, and was patient with my sibling and me. I have not idea why she wanted to spend her weekend at the beach.

The family friend was supposed to sleep in the screen ten, but my dad built the campfire too close to it and melted the screen. No way could she sleep in a tent with a huge hole in it; the mosquitoes would have carried her away. Instead, she had to sleep in the camper with us.

It was already tight quarters in the camper at night. The kitchen table folded down into a double bed; that’s where my parents slept. My younger sibling slept in a bunk that folded down from above the table. (My mother was afraid my sibling–a tween at the time–would  roll out of bed and meet death on the camper’s floor, so she crocheted a huge net to stretch across the bunk.) I usually slept on the cushioned bench across the front of the trailer, but on this night I was relegated to a pile of blankets on the floor so our elderly guest could have what barely passed for a twin bed. If I was uncomfortable–and I was–I wonder how our rather large friend managed to stay on her narrow bed.

animal, black and white, cattleNo one was sleeping well when the commotion started outside, but we were soon wide awake. We heard animal noises and hooves hitting the ground, and it was all very close. It was so close, we began to hear and feel thumping on our camper. The camper swayed and rocked as one or more big somethings bumped it.  In the distance we heard humans yelling. What could possibly be going on out there?

My dad must have grabbed a flashlight and shined it out the window in order to report: cows. They were half-wild beach cows, let loose to graze, I suppose, although there wasn’t much in the way of tasty grass where we were parked. It must have been open range out there, and the cows were allowed to move about freely on the beach.  We had come into their territory, and they seemed none too happy about it.

I don’t remember how long the attack lasted, but we couldn’t get back to sleep after the cows moved on. I don’t think any of us got much sleep that night.

In the early daylight of the next morning, when we emerged from our little trailer, we saw the aftermath of the visit from the cows. Tents and temporary clotheslines had been knocked down. People must have spent a long night in cars to escape mosquitoes and marauding bovines. What else can you do when half-wild animals knock your tent on top of you while you’re sleeping in it? My family had been lucky to have a sturdy camper to keep us safe.

 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-white-mosquito-86722/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-black-and-white-cattle-close-up-551618/.