Tag Archives: feral kittens

Salvage Catz

 Our 80-something neighbor, Tom, used to live two doors down from us in a house he occupied with his family since he was a kid in the 1940s. A couple of years ago, Tom inherited his sister’s “newer” mid-century house across town. He finally sold the family bungalow, which hadn’t been updated since the 1960s and was sorely in need of some TLC. A guy named Jessie bought the house as a flip.


Small brown bungalow needs updating

Tom’s house

Jessie’s attention was diverted to another project, and Tom’s place sat, gutted, sidingless, and sad, for what seemed like forever. Last summer it became a flop house for homeless people and druggies. Over the fall and winter, Jessie’s crew was back at it, thank goodness, and the house was secured and squatter-free at last. Recently we asked the foreman if we could peek inside, and we were thrilled to see what a nice job they’d done. The house retains its early-1900s charm and general floor plan, but with beautiful wood floors, gray and white paint, and a modern but period-appropriate kitchen. Some family will be proud to call it home.

Updated Craftsman bungalow

Jessie’s house

This house not only belonged to Tom (who taught me how to prune my roses), but another family that I recently learned about. A few months ago I read Midnight in Broad Daylight, the biography of Harry Fukuhara, whose family lived in the house before some of them moved back to Hiroshima just before World War II. It’s a fascinating account—I highly recommend it. I was amazed to discover this personal neighborhood connection to the story.

Jessie’s crew made a debris pile in the backyard, which has been slowly disappearing to the dump. And then—Eric spied something interesting: old glass-front cabinet doors with the original brass latches! Eric asked Jessie if we could pilfer their trash, and Jessie was only too happy to let us lighten their dump bill. So, we sauntered down the alley on Sunday to do some pickin’.

A gravel alley behind old houses

I love alleys. You can see all kinds of interesting things.

Along the way we encountered our tux cat, Crosby, out for a stroll with beautiful Dot, our feral friend. Dot, Dash, and Ditto Morse like to hang out in the blackberry thicket across the alley.

Two cats hangin out in the alley

Alley catz Dot and Crosby

A tabby cat looks out from a blackberry thicket

Dot in the blackberry thicket

We salvaged ten windows for their wavy glass—something you pay good money for these days. (We paid about $400 to put “new” old glass in our kitchen cabinets.) Some were glass cabinet doors, and some were the kitchen’s exterior windows. Coincidentally, the kitchen cabinets and trim are pink, ,just as my kitchen once was.

Back of remodeled bungalow

Is there anything interesting in this pile?

Man salvages old windows from debris pile.

Ooh! Windows with wavy glass!

The windows moved into our greenhouse, because, obviously, you never know when you might need a wavy glass window!

I have no idea what we’ll use these windows and doors for … but now a little piece of Tom and Harry’s house belongs to us. Yay!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

A garland of ginkgo leaves

As you’ve seen at the bottom of my posts, we’ve adopted the ginkgo leaf as our house’s symbol. I think it began when we planted a baby ginkgo tree in our Japanese garden five years ago. The little bugger was a stick only three feet tall 2009. Now, it’s over 12 feet tall.

bough of green ginkgo leaves

Since then, we’ve accumulated a number of ginkgo-themed items, like this vase from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin.

yellow ginkgo vase

And these candy dishes, souvenirs from a visit to Bend, Oregon.

ginkgo leaf candy dishes

And our bathroom night light.

ginkgo leaf night light

I even have a ginkgo print shirt and two pairs of ginkgo leaf earrings. So, we were excited to find an Arts and Crafts ginkgo stencil pattern in the gift shop when we visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park home and studio in 2012.

Now that we were making over our spare room, I had the perfect place to use it. The honey-gold walls needed a little sumpin-sumpin. In my mind I saw a crown of bronze metallic ginkgo leaves circling the room. Sometimes it’s difficult to translate my visions into materials that are available in real life. But this time, Lowe’s had the perfect shade of metallic bronze in their paint samples.

The paint gal shuffled off to mix a quart. When we returned five minutes later, she informed us that they no longer carry that paint. “Then why do you have the samples in your display?” I asked. “The vendor hasn’t removed them,” she shrugged. ARGGHH!!!

With my vision in jeopardy, I turned to the internet. Who makes metallic paint? Sherwin Williams to the rescue! They have metallic paint in all colors of the rainbow. I selected a bronzy shade called “Coconut Husk,” a gold metallic base with a brownish tint.

quart of Sherwin-Williams 'Coconut Husk'

I had never stenciled before, but it seemed like a pretty straightforward process. I was only using one color … what could go wrong? After our floor refinishing fiasco, I’m happy to report: Nothing!

Here’s what I used: the stencil, paint, a natural sponge, blue painter’s tape, and light duty spray adhesive. Plus, a pencil, a paint tray, and a step ladder.

stenciling supplies

First, I measured each section of wall, found the center point, and determined how many stencil repeats would fit. Then, working from the center point toward each end of the run, I held the stencil against the wall and made tiny pencil marks in its registration holes. Next, I took it outside and sprayed the back with a light coat of spray adhesive, and added a strip of blue tape to the bottom edge.

The stencil was easy to align vertically because I simply abutted its top edge to the picture rail, using the tape to hold it in place. I carefully pressed the entire stencil onto the wall, making sure all the delicate pointy ends were firmly adhered. Then I dipped a corner of the sponge in the paint—not too much—and daub, daub, daubed until the exposed wall was uniformly covered.

stencil adhered to wall

closer view of stencil application

Kitten Break!

When I was stenciling near the windows, I saw our three feral kitten friends tiptoeing by under the hedge. I rushed to meet them on the front porch to take their pictures. Here are the Morse triplets: Dot, Dash, and Ditto, now nearly a year old.

three tabby kittens

They’re still basically wild, but they interact with us a lot, hanging out with us when we work in the gardens, and showing up every evening for happy hour treats on the back porch. Lately I have been able to pet Ditto while she eats Fancy Feast from my hand, and Dot and I play a game where I walk my fingers toward her and she gently bops my hand. What little sweethearts!

Break’s Over

Removing the stencil was easy—I simply pulled gently from one corner. I painted three or four repeats, and then washed the stencil in the kitchen sink to remove built-up paint.

washing stencil in sink

Respray, retape, move the ladder, repeat. It took a lot of daubing over a couple of days, but at last I was done and I could step back and survey my work. I couldn’t have been more pleased. The effect was exactly as I’d imagined: The ginkgo garland took the room right back to 1913!

finished stencil

another wall with finished stencil

We love how the light picks up the subtle sheen of the stenciling, and how the border softens the transition from the picture railing to the wall. Now, all we have left to do are install the new window coverings (on order), buy more bookcases and a new ceiling fixture, have the room rewired, and finish the closet. Hmm … we’re not as done as I thought we’d be! Will we ever finish anything??


The kitten project, part 2

As National Cat Day comes to a close, I want to update you on our kitten project. Also, this is a rare opportunity to point out that occasionally we actually do complete something.

We captured Ditto a few weeks after Dot and Dash. Spaying, neutering, and vaccinating three kittens wasn’t cheap. The next time we do this, we’ll seek out a budget spay/neuter clinic. We could have saved more money by skipping the vaccines and boosters, but we wanted to give these little ones the best possible start in life. As outdoor cats, they will face challenging times ahead, even if they have a 24-hour buffet bar.

From left: Dash, Dot, and Ditto.

Three tabby kittens

As much as I hated to think of them going back to being porch cats, these kitties were not destined to become indoor pets. They stayed with us for seven weeks, and during that time, despite interacting with us daily (and enjoying first-class hospitality, I might add) none of them showed the slightest desire to be our buds. They allowed me to touch them only when my finger was coated with Fancy Feast. When I bent my face down close to the cage, Dash stretched upwards to put his sweet little face up to mine … and spat at me. I got his unambiguous message.

One night we decided we’d let them explore the living room, knowing that we could lure them back into their cage with food. We closed off the other rooms and let them out. They promptly disappeared under the furniture like hamsters. Dot and Dash refused to return to the cage until the next day. Three days later, we forcibly prodded Ditto out from the lining of our box spring and threw a blanket over her. So ended the run-of-the-house experiment.

We could have let Dot and Dash go a few weeks ago, but once we caught Ditto, we wanted to make sure they bonded as a family again. I don’t know if that was important to the kittens, but it felt important to us. Then, with Ditto’s spay stitches removed, it was time to set them free.

Kittens' gage is open

The hadn’t seen the outdoors since the beginning of September. Summer had turned decidedly fall, and they shivered—with cold, or anxiety? Dot made her break first.

Dot leaves the cage

Ditto ran to catch up with her sister.

Ditto leaves the cage

Dash thought about it for a bit … then he was gone, slipping between the porch rails.

Dash leaves the cage

They beat a trail back to their former lair under the house next door. We hope they will move into the cozy kitty chalet that Eric built. If they don’t, surely someone else will.

A-frame cat shelter

I was going to write this post the same day we let them go, but I was so sad, I couldn’t do it. I feel better now that we routinely see the trio cavorting on our porch and sleeping on the swing. They seem happy, although they’re as skittish as ever. The mere appearance of our faces in the window sends them skedaddling for cover.

Duke was upset the day after the kittens were gone. He hung his head and led me to the spot where their cage used to stand in the dining room. I assured him I knew the kittens were gone, and that it was okay. We miss their antics (especially the wrestling matches accompanied by growls and squeals), their rapt expressions as we talked to them, and the thuds during the night as they tossed toys around.

Dash, Dot, and Ditto … be careful out there. Holler if you need anything.

Dash, Dot, and Ditto


The kitten project

Reading this blog, you might think all we do is renovate our house. Sawing, sanding, painting, visualizing, shelling out money. Yeah … it feels like that. Obviously, if we were that dedicated, we’d have finished the kitchen six months ago. Sometimes we get sucked in by a different kind of rehabilitation project. Something a little softer and furrier.

Along with being parents of a boxer and six cats, we also feed numerous neighborhood stray cats. They live tough lives, but one thing they don’t need to worry about is where to find food and water. I don’t know why there are so many cats in this neighborhood. Do the tenants of nearby houses and apartments “forget” their cats when they move? Do people come here to dump unwanted cats? Or do all the unneutered pets just keep providing the neighborhood with more offspring?

Occasionally we pitch in and neuter a needy cat. (We can’t afford to do them all.) For instance, several years ago a friendly young marmalade cat decided he liked hanging out at our house. He showed up daily, lounged on the counters, slept in my chair … and began marking his new territory.

Marmalade cat

“Oscar,” we said, “If you’re going to move in, you’ll need a simple outpatient procedure.” One hundred fifty dollars later, Oscar was neutered and vaccinated. A few days later I was chatting with a friend down the block. “Have you seen that little orange cat who runs around here?” I asked. “Yeah,” she replied, “He belongs to my mom’s roommate. Someone neutered him!” She must have read the look on my face. “Was it—you?”  (Oscar’s—actually Oliver’s—owner wanted to neuter him anyway, but was too down on his luck to pay us back. He moved away a week later and we never saw Oscar/Oliver again.) Since then, we’ve been careful to interview the cats thoroughly to ensure that they are truly homeless.

We acquired Checkers and Lacy the same way. Adopting a cat is easy around here. Just step out on the porch and make a friend.

Checkers and Lacy

A few weeks ago, I was amazed to glance out the window and see three tiny tabby kittens frolicking on our porch. “We have kittens!” I cried. And a very young tuxedo mama cat, already back in heat. Soon thereafter, mama and one kitten ceased coming around. We were determined to trap the remaining two kittens before they disappeared, too.

Two tabby kittens on the porch

tabby kitten Dot

We baited our live trap and waited. It didn’t take long to hear a loud bang and commotion. Rats! We’d caught the wrong cat! The next day we saw our own Fred (below) dining on the bait with his front paws carefully placed on the far side of the trigger plate. He exited just as carefully. (Fred is one smart cat, and not about to let someone else eat the yummy Fancy Feast.) We decided not to risk traumatizing innocent cats with the snap trap.

Headshot of tuxedo cat

Instead, we set up our large wire crate on the porch, with a string attached to the door and run through the window to inside. We set the food and water bowls in the crate.

crate and string trap

We let the kittens eat there a few times so they got accustomed to the set-up … then, Eric pulled the string and—bingo—we had us a couple of kittens! And they were NOT PLEASED.

In fact, the poor little things were terrified. But awfully dang cute.

kittens climbing the cage

The female (we assumed) had a little black spot on her nose. The male had a tabby streak on his nose. So, because we’re writers, we named them Dorothy Parker and Dashiell Hammett—Dot and Dash.

These kittens hated us. (It’s really hard to use “kittens” and “hate” in the same sentence.) But these kids were WILD, and they wanted nothing to do with humans. We estimated they were about 12 weeks old, which may be too old to be tamed. Their first week with us produced nothing but soft hisses and baleful looks from the back of the cage. Eventually Eric was able to place his hand next to Dash, the braver of the two, and even touch his back a little. But that ended when Eric tried to pick Dash up and all hell broke loose. Dash retreated to the sleeping box and has not come out to greet us again.

Our other cats pay little attention to the youngsters, but Uncle Duke is fascinated. He lays by their cage and is front and center whenever we interact with them. Duke formed a strong bond with Lacy and Checkers just this way.

Boxer Duke lays by the cage

If they won’t be handled, how did we get these uncooperative guests to the vet? Easy! We swapped out their sleeping box for a cat carrier a few days before their appointment. They loved hiding in it, so they were packed and ready to go at appointment time. Just as we’d suspected, Dash is male and Dot is female. They were a little overwhelmed and not feeling so good after their vet visit and day surgeries.

two tabby kittens in a cat carrier

They bounced back quickly and are now more active than ever. It’s sleep all day and party all night. We manage to sleep through the banging around, and when we get up in the morning, the cage is trashed and they’re exhausted. Hard to think that these little angels would draw blood if I got too close.

two sleeping tabby kittens

In the two and one-half weeks they’ve been with us, we’ve made only small progress in taming them. Both will lick wet food off my extended fingertip (as long as I stay outside the cage), and Dot is easily coaxed into playing with dangly toys. But they still won’t allow us to touch them and they skitter away when we approach the cage door. I’m unsure what their fate will be. We already have six cats, and we can’t take in any more. Our vet tech has shown some interest in adopting one or both, but I’m not holding my breath. They will need a lot of patient work to become domesticated. The Humane Society doesn’t accept feral cats. I suppose we’ll return them to the porch and freedom, but that’ll make us a little sad.

Meanwhile, who should show up out on the porch? Kitten No. 3 is back! We’ve named him/her Ditto, because soon we will do this all over again.

Tabby kitten No. 3