Communion Of Dreams


The debts we pay.

“How far did you drive?” she asked, a noticeable touch of twang in her voice.

“From Columbia. Missouri.”

“That far?” She looked honestly surprised. “Y’all are very, very kind people, to drive that far.”

* * * * * * *

A couple weeks into the New Year, a Facebook friend forwarded a pic to me. It was of a medium sized dog which kinda-sorta looked like a German Shepard.

They’re looking for a home for this pup. She’s here in the KC area.”

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, dog

* * * * * * *

Thirteen years ago, we adopted a stray. A stray we named ‘Alwyn’.

He  was a great dog.

And he did a lot to help heal me, following the closing of our art gallery the previous spring. I was deep in the depressive trough of my bipolar cycle, feeling like I had failed. Having a new pup to love and train helped pull me out of that darkness.

And saw me through the many troubled times ahead, being a care-giver for my mother-in-law through the arc of Alzheimer’s, with all the stresses and demands that included. There’s nothing quite like a brisk walk with the dog for clearing your head. And the routine of it, walking a mile or so every morning, probably helped keep me alive as well as sane.

Alwyn died suddenly and unexpectedly when he was about 8 years old. Since he was a mutt and in good health, we had expected to have him for at least another four or five years. But it was not to be.

I grieved for a long time.

Then, a year or two ago, my wife and I decided that we were ready to welcome a new dog into our lives, and that we would keep our hearts open to that possibility should one come along who needed a home.

* * * * * * *

I passed the picture along to my wife. “What do you think? Her name is ‘Ramali’, and she’s from Kuwait.”

She thought the dog looked like a good candidate.

I got in contact with the folks from Puppy Rescue Mission. Ramali was still available. We decided to apply for adoption.

It took a week or so, with the application, and discussion, and background checks and everything. We had someone come look over our home and make sure it was suitable (fenced yard, decent neighborhood, no evidence that we were running a meth lab or conducting animal experiments, etc). The folks at the rescue were polite, helpful, and thorough. A few days later we drove to Kansas City and picked her up from where she was being fostered. Here she is on the trip home:

Ramali was about 14 or 15 months old, and hadn’t had the best life. She’d come over to the States with a service member, but things didn’t work out. After bouncing around a bit, she came to the attention of the the rescue, thanks to the microchip she had, and had been transferred to the foster home while they sought to get her a permanent place.

On the application for adoption, there were the expected questions about our experience with animals, previous pets we’d owned, and our thoughts about training and discipline. We’d filled all that out with confidence that we’d be able to deal with whatever challenges Ramali might have — both my wife and I had always had dogs, and I had always had a great deal of success at working with dogs to train them, whatever their background. We expected that while Ramali might have some issues due to her previous home life, that we’d be able to work through them without too much a problem.

We were wrong.

* * * * * * *

Well, we were right, for the most part. There were some problems she had that we were able to work through. She was a sweet pup, eager to please, though high-energy. She just needed a stable home and regular exercise, combined with consistent training and attention. Within the first couple of weeks we had gotten past the worst of it, and she was learning to be well-behaved while walking on a leash, or playing, and was making real progress on almost all fronts.

The one problem was her response to cats. To our cats inside the house. To the neighbor’s cats she saw through the window. To cats she saw on our walks. At first I thought it would just take a little work as she adjusted to living in a home with cats, and that as she settled into some stability, the problem would pass with regular discipline. That had always been both mine and my wife’s experience in introducing dogs into a home with cats, or cats into a home with dogs. After a week or two everyone would calm down, and they’d get along pretty well from there. I expected that the same tactics would work with Ramali’s problem with our cats.

It didn’t.

In fact, it got worse over time.

I started reviewing online resources about training a dog to deal with this problem. I consulted friends with experience having both cats and dogs. From all those resources,  it looked like we were doing the right things, and that if we stuck with it, it’d work eventually.

It didn’t.

Finally we consulted our vet of 20 years for his thoughts. After discussion with him, he recommended an animal behaviorist in the area who has a great reputation for working through such problems. We got in contact with her clinic, and after a long discussion they said that they probably could help us with Ramali, but that it was likely to take months or even years to succeed.

That’s when we told the rescue that we just couldn’t keep her. It wouldn’t be fair to our cats, who had basically taken up permanent refuge in the climbing tree I had constructed for them last year, any time Ramali was in the house and not shut up in her crate for sleeping at night. It wouldn’t be fair to Ramali, who would have to be kept on a close leash indoors at all times to prevent her from attacking the cats until the training could change her behavior. Ramali needed to be rehomed, someplace where there weren’t cats, and where she could have a sane and normal home life. The folks at Puppy Rescue Mission agreed, and set to work to find her another home.

* * * * * * *

They did find a good home for her, one without other pets. In North Carolina. Arrangements were made for transport. We said we’d be willing to drive her to Nashville (about halfway), where she’d be put up in a pet hotel overnight until the second half of her journey could be done the next day.

We got to the pet hotel about 2.5 hours late, due to a massive traffic jam an hour or so north of Nashville. But Ramali had been a good girl, and stayed pretty calm and relaxed through it all. We got her situated inside the kennel, then were chatting with the owner before we got back in the car to go to our hotel.

“How far did you drive?” she asked, a noticeable touch of twang in her voice.

“From Columbia. Missouri.”

“That far?” She looked honestly surprised. “Y’all are very, very kind people, to drive that far.”

“She deserves it,” I said. Which was true enough. But I had also done it for my own selfish reasons. And to pay an old debt.

I hate to fail at things. But still, being human, and ambitious, I do fail.

Alwyn had helped save me after a previous big failure. Adopting him had been mostly about healing myself.

Adopting Ramali had been about healing her. And though we couldn’t keep her, we’d made progress in healing her. Sometimes, all you can do is be part of the chain; doing what good you can and then passing along the person, or pet, or thing, to the next link in the chain. Driving to Nashville was my way of closing that loop the best I could.

Goodbye, Ramali, now known as Pepper. Have a better life.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

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Proving title.

“A home without a cat — and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat — may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?”
Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson

So, a couple weeks ago I had an idea … which, if you know me or have followed this blog for a while, can sometimes get me, well, not exactly into trouble, but can lead to things not entirely intended. Anyway, the idea was to build a climbing tree for our cats, which might take advantage of the 12′ ceilings we have in our historic home (ours is the next-to-last in that article).

Here’s the (probably) final result:

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Now, for those who may be curious about the process of making this cat tree, there’s more below.

We have a huge slump of an ancient catalpa out in front of the house, near the road. Here it is:

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It’s been a favorite of photographers and children for generations, and overall is doing pretty well. But one large part of it died a couple of years ago, and we’ve delayed removing it. That part is the pair of major mostly horizontal limbs which come out from the tree towards the viewer in that image.

After some discussion, my wife and I decided that the lower limb could serve as the basic structure for our cat tree. So I cut it off, and then trimmed it and started removing the bark, as seen here:

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It’s a little hard to tell scale in that pic, but that limb is about 12′ from base to either tip, and about 12′ from tip to tip.

After removing most of the bark, we somehow managed to get the thing in through the front door and then into our living room. Without breaking any windows. Or bones. This was trickier than it might sound. And did require a bit of additional editing with a chainsaw on some of the various extensions. Of the tree, I mean.

So, we got it into approximate position, then braced it with a couple of chairs. Here it is, with Greystoke (our younger cat — he’s not quite two) investigating:

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Next, we got it mounted to the wall securely. This required some stacked-lumber spacers in order to make sure that the branches cleared the windows and curtains safely. The way I mounted it was to mount the lumber to the wall, then I added heavy hook brackets to the lumber, and cinched the tree down with rope. That way, if it was ever necessary, we could detach the tree fairly easily. Here it is mounted, with a 12″ cardboard concrete tube I intended to use for part of the ‘furniture’:

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Almost as soon as it was secured, Greystoke was wanting to explore:

That's an 8' ladder, by the way. Both of our cats love climbing on it anytime we get the thing out.

That’s an 8′ ladder, by the way. Both of our cats love climbing on it anytime we get the thing out.

Hello, there!

Hello, there!

I started adding elements to the tree: a couple of simple platforms, and a horizontal bridge which would support a carpeted tube. These (and all the subsequent elements) were mounted using a combination of metal shelf brackets and rope.

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At this point I also started wrapping cotton rope around the branches, to make them more cat-claw friendly/safe:

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The branch on the left was at enough of an angle to let the cats climb it easily. On the right, I decided to put in steps similar to a ladder, but spiraling as they went up to make it easier for the cats to climb:

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Next I settled on a final design for the tube:

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Then it was time to carpet it, as well as add carpet to the ladder steps and the platforms:

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Covering the steps and platforms just required a rectangle of carpet the correct size and some double-sided carpet tape. To do the tube was a PITA using a combination of carpet tape, construction adhesive, and hot glue. I recommend checking YouTube for instructions. And gloves. Definitely you want gloves.

Here’s the semi-finished tree, before I added a final platform on the upper right, or some ‘interactive’ toys/elements:

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The (probably) finished final result again:

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Complete with a suspended ‘bird’, a dangling rope, and a couple of simple wood spinners. Note that Greystoke, instead of being on the tree, is snoozing in his favorite chair below. Typical.

But he has already started climbing on it, playing with things, looking out the windows, climbing *into* the windows …

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Silly cat. But that’s why we built it.

So, all of the wood and most of the hardware used in making the tree was stuff which I already had leftover/recovered from other projects. The tree as shown in the final version (which may get tweaked a bit over time as we see how the cats use it) has about 800′ of rope on it, and that was the biggest expense. All together, had I had to buy both rope and all the wood & hardware, the out of pocket costs would have been about $200 (I actually spent about half that). And it took me a total of about 30 hours labor, in 2-3 hour sessions over the last couple of weeks.

Fun project. I was a little concerned that wrapping it with so much rope would detract from it feeling like a ‘tree’, but it has maintained that organic feeling, even with the other elements I added. I’m pretty happy with the final product.

Jim Downey



The Triumph of Lord Greystoke

A drama in three acts.

ACT I

SCENE 1: A bedspread, The Queen Mel in her comfort. A quiet, rainy summer’s day. Enter the young challenger.

Challenge

ACT II

SCENE 1: A bedspread, The Queen Mel defending her position.

Confrontation

ACT III

SCENE 1: A bedspread, the young Lord Greystoke surveying his new demesne.

Conquest

Exeunt.

Jim Downey



Spirit of 1776

Remember this little fellow?

Kitten

That was three weeks ago. Well, here he was about an hour ago, watching me from a rag bag under my workbench in the bindery:

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Kinda hard to tell from those pics, but he’s grown and is starting to take on more “cat” characteristics, though he is still *very* much a kitten. And my shins have the scratches to prove it.

 

* * *

Been busy: Ammo test results in the Boberg XR45-S

Prep & clean-up took most of a full week. But good to get that test sequence done.

 

* * *

“Spirit of 1776”? It’s a little early to be invoking Independence Day stuff, isn’t it?

Yeah, I know. There’s more than a month before we get to that.

But that’s the number of this blog post, in the running tally which WordPress keeps. Who woulda thunk it?

 

Jim Downey



Trust.
May 12, 2015, 6:23 pm
Filed under: Writing stuff | Tags: , , , , , ,

Greystoke

He doesn’t even flinch a whisker when I pet him while he sleeps in my lap like that.

That’s trust.

Trust almost beyond what I can even glimpse an understanding of. So innocent. So pure.

Welcome, Lord Greystoke.

 

Jim Downey



A tale of two kitties.
October 2, 2014, 9:42 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Humor, Wales | Tags: , , , , , ,

(See postscript at the bottom.)

 

This is Hillary: 20130307_221704

She’s named after Sir Edmund, because when she was young she always wanted to climb things. She’s no longer a youngster, and just turned 14.

For the most part, she’s been in good health, though in the last year she started losing her eyesight, and just recently she’s had some minor strokes. The results of this are that she’ll just get confused for a while, sometimes tend to walk in small tight circles, and occasionally throw up. But our vet says that she’s not in any real pain, and as long as she continues to bounce back from those episodes, there’s no reason why we can’t keep her and love her with a little extra care. We’re used to caring for people and pets which need a little additional attention, so it’s no big deal.

This is Mel:

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As you can see, she also likes climbing on things. But she’s named ‘Melyn’ for the color of her eyes. It’s Welsh. Yeah, as you might gather from St Cybi’s Well, we enjoy Wales, and my wife has been learning the language for a decade or more. Mel’s about 4 years old, and a bit more of a rascal. The two cats get along tolerably well.

Our bed is on top of a stack of drawers. One of Mel’s favorite games is to pull open those drawers. And in particular, the one which is right where my foot needs to go when I swing my leg out of bed. This is especially fun when it’s the middle of the night and I’m just getting up to go to have a pee (ah, the joys of middle age … ). I’ve cracked the side of my bare ankle on the side of that drawer too many times to count. But even *I* will learn eventually, so I’ve gotten into the habit of swinging my leg out even further, and then sweeping it in slowly so as to push the drawer closed if it has been left open by dear Mel.

Sometime last night, Hil seems to have had another minor stroke. And after getting down from the bed, threw up. Fortunately, she did so on a small throw rug (hmmm … ). It woke my wife up, so she dealt with it, and then took Hil in to where the litter box is, thence to the water bowl in the bathroom. Since Hil was a little confused, and my wife wanted to get back to sleep rather than sit and watch the cat while she decided whether or not to have some water, she just left Hil there. This is fairly normal — give Hil a reference point, and she’ll manage to sort out where she wants to go eventually.

Usually, by the time I get up in the morning (I get up first), Hilary has made her way downstairs and is politely waiting for breakfast. Mel is more … demanding. And serves as a very effective wake-up clock if I try and sleep in. As the saying goes, there’s no snooze button on a hungry cat. So this morning we went through the usual routine. I got up, swung my leg over, closed the drawer, and put on some clothes. My wife told me that Hillary had had an episode earlier, but that she had dealt with it. Mel noisily demanded breakfast.

So I went downstairs, Mel close at heel the whole way. Got the catfood out, took it to where their feed bowls are. Mel dug in, but Hil wasn’t to be seen. I checked around, didn’t see her downstairs, but figured that since she had been sick in the night, she might not be hungry and was probably curled up somewhere in the upstairs, would come down when she felt like it. No biggie — I could check on her later if she didn’t appear.

I got coffee, and went about my wake-up routine. Normally this includes getting in a walk, but today we have heavy thunderstorms and I am not THAT dedicated to getting in my exercise. Same for my wife, who thought she’d just catch a little extra sleep after her disrupted night.

After an hour or so of coffee and reading online, including a lot of attention from Mel but no sign of Hil, I figured I’d pop upstairs, see if I could find Hillary, and see how she was doing and whether she wanted some food yet.

I went upstairs. My wife was waking up, doing a little reading in bed. She said she hadn’t seen Hil yet this morning. I checked around upstairs in all her usual haunts. No luck.

Hmm.

Yeah, you guessed it. I thought to check the drawer below our bed, which I had closed without looking earlier. There she was, happily snoozing in amongst the clothing.

I brought her downstairs, got her some food. Mel watched, yellow eyes glinting. And I think I detected a slight smile on her face, as well.

 

Jim Downey

A postscript: Hillary had another and much larger stroke about 12 hours after I posted this. She passed away peacefully in the early hours of the next morning.



All mixed up.

It’s been a confused Spring. The redbuds are just coming into color, while the Bradford pears are in full bloom and the magnolia trees are already shedding their petals. That’s all mixed up.

* * * * * * *

Our vet was here (yes, he only does house-calls) this week for the critters’ annual check-up and shots. We started with our oldest cat, who is 13 this year.

After going through his routine, sitting on our kitchen floor still holding the cat, he looked up at me and said: “Not bad for a body designed by nature to last just three or four years.”

* * * * * * *

There was recently a bit of a flap over the appropriateness/quality of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, prompted by a new stage production of the play.  I’m not a Shakespeare scholar, but I know this sort of thing pops up from time to time, due to changing societal norms about marriage, sex, and violence. This paragraph from the linked article sums up the current qualms:

Romeo and Juliet itself hasn’t aged well. The story follows Juliet Capulet, who is 13 when she meets Romeo Montague at a party, falls head over heels in love with him, and marries him within a day of meeting him. Romeo’s age isn’t specified in the play, but the quickness with which he throws over a former flame for Juliet doesn’t suggest a particularly mature man. Maybe this works on the page, when we’re not forced to watch actors and actresses who are clearly in their 20s and 30s behave like early teenagers. But the effect is embarrassing and unsettling for today’s theater audiences, perhaps already fretting over suspended adolescence and stunted millenials.

* * * * * * *

It was a rough week in Boston. To say the least.

And, like much of the rest of the nation, I was distracted almost to the point of obsession by the latest developments in the news, and how it all played out. Part of that distraction manifested in following discussions on several sites, including one of my favorites, MetaFilter. Which is where, last night after the second suspect was captured, there was a sentiment expressed which I found to be curious and challenging. This sentiment:

I won’t feel bad for feeling bad for this kid. And while he is legally an adult, I think back to when I was 19, and I sure as shit wasn’t making adult decisions then. YMMV. He did something unspeakably horrible, yes, but, he is still a human being. Maybe they were psychopaths, but we don’t know yet why this happened. Right now, this was a senseless act of violence, and I want to know why this happened. I want to know the motive that led to a friend of mine holing up in his basement two houses away in Watertown while this shit went down. I cannot rationalize this, but I also grew up in a peaceful suburb, and not, you know, a wartorn Soviet nation. If I believed that people were just born evil, I don’t think I could survive in this world. Again, YMMV, but compassion is helping me cope with this.
posted by Ruki at 8:01 PM on April 19

And a bit later, this one (an excerpt):

This young man was once someone’s cute 8 year-old. Somehow, somewhere, that adorable hope that we see in every 8 year-old was replaced with something sinister, and he made terrible decisions that caused death and pain. And now, even if he’s only given life in prison, his life is OVER.

I am sad that a life that had such potential has gone so badly awry. I am sad that his mother, who surely had great hopes and dreams for her children, is seeing those dreams shattered, is dealing with the grief and maybe even guilt of both of her sons turning to violence and terrorism.

Maybe it’s because my sons are so close to him in age. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, grieving that a young person has thrown his life away without really understanding the consequences of doing so. I don’t know. But I hurt for everyone involved – the people who died, the people who were wounded, the elder brother who should have known better, and this 19 year-old kid who had the world at his feet. It sucks all around, and I don’t know what else to do except feel great sorrow over the entire situation.
posted by MissySedai at 8:29 PM on April 19

* * * * * * *

From the closing paragraph of the Romeo and Juliet article:

But beyond that, the vision of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths uniting their families is an adolescent fantasy of death solving all problems, a “won’t they miss me when I’m gone” pout. There’s a reason that, in the best modern riff on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Maria lives after Tony’s death to shame the Sharks and the Jets, her survival a seal on the truce between them. Dying is easy. Living to survive the consequences of your actions and to do the actual work of reconciliation is the hard part.

* * * * * * *

“You guys grow ’em long,” continued our vet, as he released the old cat. “The last one lived to what, 19?”

“I think so. We’ve been lucky.”

* * * * * * *

It’s been a confused Spring. The redbuds are just coming into color, while the Bradford pears are in full bloom and the magnolia trees are already shedding their petals. That’s all mixed up.

Soon I’ll have the garden tilled. Just yesterday I placed my annual order for pepper plants, which will be delivered in a couple of weeks. That’s still too early to plant them, but I’ll be able to ‘harden them off’ in the shelter of the carport until the latter part of May. Then they’ll have a much better chance of thriving in my garden. I’ll do what I can, but at some point they’re on their own.

 

Jim Downey