Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Cats of Rockhouse Mountain Farm

This is a story I wrote about the spay neuter clinic I help with PR. It ran in the local paper. There are lots of photos which follow. These are the folks who do the difficult work of helping lower the number of homeless animals and seeing they get medical care. These barn cats will live out their lives at their farm in peace. They are fed and sheltered. I didn't post the photo of the vet because I wasn't sure if he would want me to. But he is a wonderful guy who loves cats. He has three but would like six (his wife says three is the limit). We talked about how these wild cats are every bit as deserving of care and respect as our spoiled pets. And we agreed that every single one is an individual.
Here's the story. Lots of photos below.

Once there was a farm. It was a large farm, with fields and woods, a bed and breakfast and a barn. In the barn were cows. And cats.

Twice a day the farmer milked the cows and the cats gathered around the pans of milk. The cats lived a wild, free and dangerous life. They caught the mice eating the farmer's grain. They slept in the hay. They roamed the woods. Every spring there were kittens.

People came to stay at the farm in the summer time. They tamed the kittens and took them home, to live safe lives as family pets. And so the number of cats in the barn stayed about the same.

Then the bed and breakfast closed. The cows were sold. There were kittens born with no one to tame and adopt them. Suddenly there were more cats, the cats were growing feral, and some of them were pregnant.

"I've got a gang for you," John Edge said to Roz Manwaring at the Eaton Village Store while they discussed the Rozzie May Animal Alliance and the low cost spay/neuter services it was offering to the community.There were over twenty cats in the barn at Rockhjouse Mountain Farm. By the time the next breeding season came around there would be more kittens. Edge was getting concerned about the expanding population and wanted to do something about it. He trapped eight male cats and brought them to the Rozzie May Animal Alliance clinic for Tom Cat Day in April. But the travel and strange environment of the clinic was very stressful for these wild and semi wild felines, who would hurt themselves frantically trying to get out of their carriers. Edge brought three more to another clinic. But there were still more in the barn.

The RMAA came up with a plan to help the cats and the farm. If it was difficult to bring the cats to the clinic, the RMAA would bring the clinic to the cats. With Edge's willingness to sponsor the clinic and trap the cats, a clinic was planned for on location at the farm.

First, Roz and John met at the farm and looked over spaces where a clinic could be held. They chose the basement of the Inn. Next, Roz had to find a doctor willing to do this kind of clinic. Dr. Steve Caffrey of Fryeburg Veterinary Hospital said he would love to help and December 10th was on the calendar. Then Roz decided on the RMAA team for the clinic. Head RMAA Tech Stephanie Macomber, and experienced vet techs Kim Zulker and Kristy McNulty were available. It was especially important to have a knowledgeable team running this clinic as these were not going to be easy cats to handle, ranging from almost tame, curious kittens, to the queen of the barn, known as the Tasmanian Devil.

Two days before the clinic,(because of approaching bad weather) Roz and Stephanie delivered the RMAA surgical equipment to Rock House Mountain Farm. The next day Roz delivered 11 cat carriers to the barn.

On the day of the clinic the team arrived in the early morning and set up a day surgery. John Edge started even earlier, offering canned food to entice the cats into crates and carriers. After four hours of surgery altering six females and seven males, with all felines safely on the way to recovery, the team packed up and carried everything back out to the van. Roz and Stephanie returned the equipment back to Albany Town Hall, the RMAA's winter "home."

The next day Roz returned to collect the cat carriers from the barn. The surgical laundry had been washed, dried, fluffed and folded by Edge.

A clinic like this could not happen without the veterinarians and others who offer their skills. Dr. Steve Caffrey, Dr. Scott Johnson and Dr. Kate Battenfelder from Fryeburg Vet Hospital, Dr. Julie Dolan of the Sandwich Vet Hospital, Dr. Kjersten Morrison and Dr, Monique Kramer, from Maine, are on board for future planned clinics.

Also crucial was the support from John Edge, who cared about his barn cats at the farm, was instrumental in supporting the clinic, and who spent hours trapping the cats and assisting the vet techs handling them.

And the RMAA team who volunteered their skills and time for no other reason than to help lower the numbers of homeless cats arriving in shelters.

Why it is necessary to spay and neuter cats? Because cats have an incredible capacity for reproduction. A female kitten will be ready to breed sometime between four and nine months of age. The gestation period is around nine weeks and one female can have up to five litters a year with the average number of kittens in a litter being three. A cat can get pregnant while still nursing kittens and can continue to have litters all during her life. Litter mates will then breed with each other. One breeding pair can quickly overwhelm any living situation. And spaying and neutering lowers the chances for diseases such as Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.

What does the future hold for the cats of Rockhouse Mountain Farm? They will continue to live their lives the way they always have, in the barn at the farm. There may still be a litter of kittens next spring. With a total of 24 cats altered there are still a possible three that eluded capture. If a litter of kittens appears in the spring, they can be tamed and adopted, and the mother spayed and returned to the barn. Over the next few years, the numbers will go down because outdoor cats have a much shorter lifespan than family pets. At some point the farm will have the three or four mousers it needs.

And if you are in need of a good barn cat or two or three, call John Edge. He can help you out.

Kim and Kirsty, vet techs.

Kim with a sleepy barn man cat. You couldn't hold him like this if he were awake.

The farmer was thrilled to be taking care of his cats and he was there every minute helping out.

Here they are getting a feline into position for a sleepy shot. Otherwise, you could not handle them. 

He trapped all the cats for the clinic. Here he is waiting with a rope attached to a crate door, waiting for a cat to go in for the tuna inside.

Stephanie, the vet tech for the Rozzie May Animal Alliance.

And Roz herself, who got the whole thing started and whose dedication keeps it going. She is organizing the surgical kits in preparation for sterilizing later.

There is a lot of stuff to be moved in and out for these mobile clinics.

I wanted to pack up this little guy and his twin and take them right home. John (the farmer) asked ," So which one is your car?". Sigh. I wish I could take Dancer home too and give him the attention he needs.

I promise more posting on winter activities soon. Today, a new year and a new president in 19 days. It is 0 degrees out and windy so freeeeeeezing. Harper is under the blankets right now and Ramona down by the wood stove. They got a Fling a String for Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ramona Sleeps In

The cats are no fools. They spend most of their day sleeping by the woodstove or under it. And sometimes Ramona doesn't get up for breakfast until 11am. Lazy Girl.

We are amazed and dazed that the huge ice storm passed south of us and left us with power. Southern NH is a disaster with power out to almost half the population of the state. And it's cold. If you don't have some kind of back up heat up here, well, let's just say it is a good idea. In a long power outage we can manage with just the wood stove and I can light my gas stove with a match.

It was about 15F outside this morning and the driveway is a skating rink. Olof put down some of the sand we collected from Town Hall a few days ago, knowing this mess was on the way. One thing about winter here, overnight your secure footing gives way to slippery patches. You develop a new way of walking, place foot, wait, place next foot, wait. I also have crampons that go onto my boots and I often wear them walking to the studio. Especially if I am carrying my new MacBookPro which has my life's work on it.

Today I'll be sorting through the photo shoot of the clinic held in the barn and writing up the story for, hopefully, the local papers. And I'll post it here when I finish. I was thinking of the barn cats last night when the temperature dipped. They have bales of hay to make nests in and I'm sure they did it.

Winter in the North Country is an adjustment. I have learned that daily exercise is important to keep your circulation up and we have winter outfits consisting of polar fleece, lined jeans and smart wool socks. Thank you whoever invented the smart wool sock and cured me of wet winter feet for ever. Dressed right and in good shape, it feels good to be outside in the cold. Otherwise, we'd be huddling by the stove with the cats all winter.

But it's not great snow to get out in yet. Frozen slush. Or what we call New England Hardpack. We take advantage of bad weather to get indoor work done. If we get ahead there will be time to ski when the good stuff arrives.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Changing of the Season

So it is winter, really and truly. Where have we been? Nowhere but here, busy. Getting as much contented nothingness as possible as the snow begins. It is covered in white outside and on clear mornings we see alpen glow on Mt. Washington, otherwise know as the Rockpile. It can turn a shocking pink with our late sunrises. Everyone who can sleeps in, Miss Ramona has been known to be up for breakfast around 11AM. The human beans are, of course, up long before that, hitting the exercise bike and the computers. Gotta keep the tuna coming in, yanno.

I've got projects, good ones. I am finishing up a marketing video for our local scenic railroad and starting on a full length video for them about their winter operations. There's a 1921 steam locomotive and it is spectacular when it comes out of the engine house in clouds of steam. There will be a spay/neuter mission to a barn full of, well, barn cats, next week which I hope to get some photos of. Spay/neuter clinics are going on but I don't need to get photos of all of them. However the barn cat story will illustrate how the group ( is willing to go out and help people with expanding cat populations. This farm for years managed the cat numbers because it was a bed and breakfast. Guests would come, see the kittens and take them home. That kept the numbers to a suitable level. Once the b and b shut down, well, you can imagine how a few breeding pairs can take over. It's going to be a challenging day. We'll see if the farmer manages to catch them all for us.

This little guy was at the shelter on my last visit. The kitten season seems to have slowed down and as many kittens as possible stay in foster care so I don't always know if the ones listed on Petfinder will be there if I go in to take photos. Foster care is better for the young ones. But I will have to make a visit soon since they have a cat listed named Tonka and he is the first one I've ever seen marked XL for extra large. I'll report back after my visit!

Yes, Dancer is still there as far as I know right now. I am sorry that he has not been adopted yet and I check PF all the time, hoping he has been found by someone who will care for him. He needs a special person, he needs attention and understanding, and he needs to get out and play. I have not been able to spend time with him to gauge his personality now but I will try to talk with someone there about him. He was napping during my last visit.

I also have Rosetta Stone for learning French and if I get any free time I can disappear into that quite happily for hours. And I picked up Libba Bray's trilogy, the one that start with A Great and Terrible Beauty. I just love young adult fantasy books and this one is really delicious so I am gliding through the last, huge volume in the series and believe me, I could spend today in front of the wood stove and never look up except for the other things I plan to do today. I can't believe I never picked her books up because I thought they were historical romances. It's the cover with a photo of a young girl in white lace and the title. Because of the title I thought the books were about the Irish revolution in 1920, yanno, Yeats and the Post Office and all that. Or the potato famine. That's it, I really thought the book was about the potato famine, not a wonderful gothic Victorian fantasy complete with a magic country and plots thickening everywhere.

Winter is a lovely peaceful time for us. Everything slows down in the North Country because it has to. You can't go at such a fast pace because the days are shorter, there is no gardening to do and you've got to consider staying warm. We have a lot of indoor computer work to do and the days stick to a plan of get up, drink coffee, exercise, work, lunch, work,dinner, movie, sleep with cats. And as soon as the snow is skiiable, which it is already in some places, we'll be outside in between the work hours on our skis.

So that's it and there isn't much to write about most days except that. Harper and Ramona have adjusted to winter, they sleep more though they still want the door open and they entertain themselves running in and out and yelling that their paws are cold. Olof carried Harper over next door so he could visit Grampa and he liked that, so I will try to do it more often and keep him amused.

If there is anything interesting to write about, I will, but otherwise, stay in touch ya'll. And please excuse me if by the winter fire I lie dreaming.