cats from Gardener
Monday, June 2 2014
This morning at about 9:45am, I was only about 300 feet south of the house on the Farm Road when I suddenly saw Eleanor bolt excitedly into the forest. I tore my headphones off (because I knew I would probably need use of my ears) and charged after her, quickly getting to the plateau (41.928591N, 74.107203W) just southwest of where the Stick Trail crosses the Chamomile. That's where I saw the bear. It was a solitary bear of perhaps normal adult size, but it was exhibiting that troubling behavior Gretchen and I first observed last year of only staying briefly in any particular tree after being treed. His repeatedly coming down from trees gave ample opportunities for Ramona to come into contact with the bear, though he didn't seem to have any aggressive intentions. He just wanted to get away, and eventually he did. Eleanor returned to me first, and then Ramona. Happily, neither had been injured. (I strongly suspect this behavior is an evolved adaptation to hunting with dogs; a bear with this behavior would be much harder for a bear hunter to shoot.)
For about a year now, Gretchen and I have had terrible luck with cats. It all began with Nigel's mysterious disappearance (something that has happened to our cats on occasion). We got a cat named Kiera, but she vanished after a week or so and moved into a plastic igloo at the house with the fussy lawn across the street (and was ultimately was returned to the Ulster County SPCA, so embarrassing Gretchen that she stopped going there as dog-walking volunteer). In January, there was the fiasco with Walter from Project Cat, who spent one of the coldest months on record without any food under the porch of one of our neighbors after prematurely escaping through our dog door. Then of course there was the humiliation of being rejected by the Delhi Humane Society for failing to keep Clarence and Julius (aka "Stripey") up-to-date on their vaccines. Most recently, at our recent party I'd drunkenly agreed to adopt two feral kitten that our friend Anne was saying she was trying to trap down in the City, something I'd failed to talk over with Gretchen. She didn't want two identical-looking kittens or a feral mother with unknown feelings about dogs. For part of today, then, we were both doing our best to graciously unring that bell via Facebook private messages.
The kind of cats we prefer are older and relatively unadoptable, and, having presumably been placed on a blacklist at all the usual places one adopts cats, we are now reduced to obtaining rescued cats on the grey market. Gretchen had done some research and learned of a feral cat colony and associated cat rescue operation down in Gardener having a large variety of available cats, many of which have already been spayed and received their vaccinations. The whole operation is being unexpectedly liquidated so the landlord can sell the underlying property. After cleaning up the mess with Anne, we got in the car and drove down to Gardener.
On the way, we stopped in New Paltz for an early dinner of veggie burgers, fries, onion rings, and non-alcoholic beverages at the big rambling bar & grill called P&G. We've success with such meals in the past, but we showed up earlier than usual (when many of the diners looked to be elderly patrons taking advantage of early bird specials), and the burgers just weren't very good. The buns were stale and the patties weren't as good. Also, and this probably wasn't their fault (since they are not in season), but the tomatoes were grotesque slabs of faint pink. Next time we eat in New Paltz, we're getting pasta and veggie burgers at the Plaza Diner. Though it's been somewhat cool of late, today the weather felt legitimately summerlike in New Paltz, and it wasn't just me walking around in shorts and flip flops.
The cat operation was at a shabby abandoned-looking house next door to the Dollar Tree on Route 32 (which is a busy road). There were a number of vehicles parked in front of the house, though as we parked, we could also see cats. They were everywhere. As we got out of the car, the guy who co-runs the operation with his wife was coming out of the house. Joined by his wife (who spoke with a distinctly Appalachian accent), they immediately showed us the menagerie of outdoor cats. There were all shapes, colors, sizes, and ages, including a fair number of toad-sized kittens toddling about. The gentleman said that the feral colony included at least 80 adults and that it extended into a yard full of junked cars behind the property as well as a nearby barn that he and the lady operate as a store. (I'm not sure what they sell but I immediately assumed it to be a huge perennial rummage sale.) Though he and his wife do what they can to spay the cats as quickly as possible, there's a constant influx of new kittens and even adult cats from people who anonymously drop off creatures they can no longer care for. Still, the gentleman boasted, "this is the healthiest feral cat colony in all of Ulster County," though this was not an easy thing for us to confirm. To me, it was deeply depressing Malthusian dystopia, especially given that soon nobody will be spaying or feeding these cats. Indeed, a great many kittens might be crushed just by the process of removing a shipping container situated near the house. It's already been sold.
Though the kittens were adorable, we'd come for adult cats, something that seemed to surprise the lady of the operation. On way to the door, Gretchen pointed out a small rebel flag that had been affixed to the tailgate of a pickup truck.
Inside, the house smelled of cigarettes and dollar store detergent, though (surprisingly) not of cat urine. It was not particularly cluttered, though it looked like the packing for the impending move had already begun. There were only a few cats in the house, including a completely blind cat who looked like Clarence, a fluffy white-haired cat, a playful black-and-white Nigel-style cat, and the two cats that most interested us. One of these was "Fatso," a morbidly-obese male longhaired take on the yellowish Clarence prototype, and the other was "Criey," a smaller grey female with an amputated foreleg. Criey had been a feral outdoor cat that had developed a severe infection in her paw, but by the time the gentleman managed to trap her, the paw was in the process of falling off, necessitating amputation at the first joint. After that, Criey was brought into the house and developed a bond with Chubbs, who helped nurse her back to health. For this reason, they had to be adopted as a two-cat unit. Given how difficult finding a home for these cats was going to be, it had to come as something of a relief that we were interested.
Initially after we came into the house, all but the blind cat scattered, and they mostly remained in hiding while we were there. It was rare, we were told, for them to see any humans except for the lady, the gentleman, and his father. Gradually Fatso allowed Gretchen to approach him and other cats began darting between hiding spots, but we never got a chance to pet any of them.
While waiting for the cats to acclimate to us, the gentleman regaled us with series of stories, some of which were boasts, others of which were rants, and a few of both that came across as lies. Among the rants was a complaint about various vet bills and a $400 electric bill that was somehow related to conspiratorial business dealings in which the local power company hoped to get involved in fracking (that had its intended effect of eliciting a reflexively-supportive gasp from Gretchen). Among the apparent lies was the tale of witnessing a "white wolf" picking off cats in the field. For me, that had about as much credibility as the witnessing of a "white walker." (This wasn't the first time my knowledge of regional biology unmasked a lie, though in this case "detailed knowledge" would not have been required.) The gentleman had a conversation style that I find infuriating. He talked nonstop without once leavening what he was saying with even the weakest of humor, and all the while he'd look one or the other of us in the eye demanding constant acknowledgement. His attitude to the lady of the house was uniformly sexist, occasionally with a glance at me as though I should be impressed by how under his thumb he was managing to keep her.
Once the lady and gentleman are evicted from their house, the plan is to have a place set up in Kentucky somewhere south of Lexington. According to the gentleman, large houses with several acres can still be had for $20,000 in that blighted land. (Later Gretchen asked me what kind of living one could make in a region of $20,000 houses, and I replied, "he buys and sells junk; you can do that anywhere.")
The cats never acclimated to us, but eventually the gentleman released the household dog, a golden-brown pit mix that would have been about Eleanor's size had she not been obese. Her name was Sandy and she was an absolute delight. She ran around "visiting with" us, interrupted now and then by commands issued by the gentleman (it was no surprise to learn that he was an iron-fisted authoritarian when it came to the dog, though it was one of the few ways he had of showing love). Sandy was very eager to please the gentleman, who claimed that the dog used to belong to the lady, but she'd been too lax. For us, the good thing about Sandy was that she clearly demonstrated that the indoor cats are all familiar with the idea of dogs. Supposedly everybody in the house gets along just great.
After spending a bit too long inside the house, we went back outside to where the younger, thinner feral cats milled about. Being young and not having to hunt for a living, a great many of them were amusing themselves by batting at each other through rolls of mesh or exploring the dark tunnels of rolled-up linoleum. A couple cats seemed to be paying attention to the antics of a pair of human children playing in the adjacent Dollar Tree parking lot.
Gretchen had been shooting me glances as if to ask, "what do we do?" Somehow, despite our better judgment, we came around to the idea that, what the hell, we'd be willing to take Fatso and Criey. The gentleman floated the idea that we could come back in the future to get to know the cats before taking them, but the idea of coming back and hanging out in that house at any point in the future was too depressing to contemplate. So we said we'd be willing to take the cats immediately if they could somehow catch them and put them in carriers. We'd brought a carrier and a cardboard box, but Fatso was too big for either. In the end, the lady of the operation captured and loaded both cats in two large loaner carriers. She was clearly sad to see them go, but both the lady and gentleman had come to trust that the cats would be going to a good home. The gentleman also indicated that Sandy the dog had apparently given us her endorsement, which was crucial. It may not have been as objective as calling our vet and asking about our other animals, but it was the sort of test we could pass.
Some last minute specifics about Criey included her various dislikes regarding sounds. She hates thunder and radio weather forecasts, but she doesn't mind a police scanner. When she's particularly miserable, she cries, thus the name. I think there was also some music that she liked and disliked. As for Fatso, he's not particular about sounds at all.
After the cats were already loaded in their crates, we learned a crucial bit of information that would have killed the adoption had come earlier: that Fatso is cat food vacuum cleaner and will eat from a bowl of dry food until it is empty. Our method of feeding our cats is to leave food out for them, so it was difficult to imagine what Fatso would do to our existing regime. But we had too much adoption inertia at this point to turn back. Soon enough we were driving back north on Route 32, wondering if we'd just made a very stupid decision.
We'd forgotten the signage saying that the Wynkoop Bridge across Esopus Creek would be closed starting on June 2nd, so after we got off the Thruway in Kingston, we drove down US 209 to Hurley like we always do, only to find Wynkoop closed. To get home, we had to drive all the way back to the Kingston traffic circle and then over to Hurley Mountain Road, a fuckup that caused us to drive six extra miles.
We set up Fatso in the upstairs bathroom with various comfortable things to lie on, a fresh new litter box, a bowl of dry food, water, and even a cardboard box to hide in. They both voluntarily remained in their carriers for hours after arriving, though eventually Criey (the three-legger) retreated to a popular new-cat spot: behind the toilet. Meanwhile Clarence, Ramona, and Stripey were lined up outside, fascinated by the apparent arrival of new cats.
The day had been so exhausting that Gretchen poured herself not one but two glasses of Lillet, and I had a bottle of Chimay (a not-especially-good beer leftover from our party having an impressive alcohol content of 9%).
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