Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dia de los Muertos

Happy Day of the Dead everyone!

(I wrote this on the evening of October 31 but saved it as a draft to print on November 1 but blogger still dated it October 31! Day of the Dead is celebrated November 1-2.)

This holiday means a great deal to me. After my friend Paul was killed in July of 1992, everyone just kind of went their own way. We were all in a fog of grief. In the fall of 1992 a few friends and I were trying to think of a way to get all his friends together again. I had just recently heard of the celebration Dia de los Muertos and suggested that. A couple of friends balked thinking people would not understand and might think it was in bad taste. Harummph, I thought. I went to the local library (remember this was BEFORE the internet) and researched the Day of the Dead. I went back to my friends saying we absolutely HAVE to have a Dia de los Muertos party to honor and celebrate Paul's life (it didn't hurt that Paul was Hispanic--or as he liked to refer to himself "hipspanic"). Everyone agreed and the work began.

I wrote up the invitations and then we went to work making the decorations. Oh it was so much fun. You have to understand that it had just been over 3 months since Paul was killed. Three months seems to be the time in the grief cycle when you are just realizing that you will never ever see that person again. Before that it was easy to think "oh, he's just on vacation, or he's on a business trip". Three months unfortunately, also seems to be the time when most everyone else not dealing with the grief seems to think you should be getting back to your normal self. I'm just sayin it was a hard, hard time.

We got paints and plastic skulls and made papier mache skulls and crosses. This filled our weekends. Below are some of the photos I dug out from the party.

Here is a photo of the altar where we had photos of Paul, some personal items of his, a glass of water to quench his thirst on his trip back to our world and a plate of some of his favorite foods.

Here is a close up of the altar. You can't see but there is a VOTE DEMOCRAT bumper sticker! Yes, he did have some weird food favs including carrots, cucumbers, fried pork rinds, and smarties.

The decorated mantel filled with marigolds. Marigolds are very important in Dia de los Muertos. They have a very pungent smell that mexicans liken to the smell of death. I made and painted the cross (I was also going through a Frida Kahlo period ;-)) and the painting in the middle. I titled it "The Dance of Death".

Here I am with friend Chris N. at the end of a very successful party. Chris and his wife Susan drove all the way up from the Gulf Shores of Alabama to come to the party. Chris's family has a fishing business and they brought up a boat load of shrimp for the party. I don't think I ever ate so much shrimp in my life!! Many tears were shed at the party but the laughter and dancing far outweighed the tears. Paul would have loved it. He did love it.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Month Late

Fall that is. Oh yes, we've been teased by a few cooler days and nights but then Nature decided we just needed a bit more weather in the mid-80s with high humidity while preparing for Halloween! That all changed Thursday and Friday. Heavy rains and wind for two days straight with highs on Friday barely making it to 60. My kind of weather! I can tell you who didn't appreciate all the rain though--

I don't think you can tell from this photo just how wet little Chloe is. All during the day on Friday as the rain just kept coming down harder and faster, I kept saying "oh, the poor kitties, I hope they took cover under the front porch"
Toby seemed to be pretty dry and was much more concerned about getting enough food.

Have you ever gotten beaned by one of these acorns? They can pack quite a sting coming from one of the huge oak trees around here. The winds on Thursday and Friday brought down a ton of these.

Today is a brilliant clear blue day with north winds. Looks like there are only a few seeds left on my dogwood. Friday night also signaled Fall because of necessity for these:

Pulling on socks for the first time this season. Boy do they feel good! Okay, so I couldn't find the matching sock for either pair but they were still comfy! They are called "Soft as Cloud" socks and I don't think there is a natural fiber in them but I don't care--I love them!
Today I feel like cooking so I'm making my Aunt Pauline's spagetti sauce. My family is not Italian, but my Aunt Pauline was married to one--my Uncle Frank Aiello. Unfortunately, they have both passed on but the Aiello spagetti sauce lives! Before my aunt could marry, she had to learn how to cook all of my uncle's favorite italian dishes by his mom. The first step is to brown garlic powder in olive oil. That smells always brings back memories of my Aunt cooking up at their resort in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
I'm cooking the sauce while listening to one of my favorite CDs, Amore: The Great Italian Love Arias. I've also had a hankering for some peanutbutter blossom cookies--you know, the ones with the hershey kiss in the middle. So that is next on my agenda this afternoon. If I have time later in the day I will post the recipe for the spagetti sauce.
So, what have YOU done this weekend? Enquiring minds want to know.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bursting with Pride

I've been a supporter and volunteer of the Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL) since 2002. They are literally a 2-minute drive from my house. I've been a cat socializer and a dog walker. I've contributed money, food, toys, pet beds, blankets, dog coats, and towels over the years. In fact, I'm working hard to pay off my house in order to be able to work there in about 10 years. (I'd be working there now, but even the best animals shelters don't pay enough for me to pay the bills.)

WARL has gone through a multi-million dollar renovation and is one of the most progressive shelters in the country. They have been getting a lot of much deserved and much needed press lately. The latest was an article in USA Today last week that I'm reprinting here, although I do have to make one correction to the article. They state that New Age music is piped in. Actually, it's classical music:

In D.C., a serene shelter for homeless pets

The Washington Animal Rescue League's shelter was designed from the animal's point of view to promote physical, mental and social healing. This pet is enjoying one of the "cat condos."

Sharon Peters, Special for USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Water cascades soothingly over the skylights. New Age music is piped in. Radiant heat oozing up from the floors and memory-foam Murphy beds that drop down from the wall ensure that the residents suffer no unnecessary discomfort.

Life is serene for the 270 homeless dogs and cats lounging about the adoption arenas of the Washington Animal Rescue League, a recently renovated animal shelter that has spurned convention by elevating the temporary care, housing and rehabilitation of rejected pets to an entirely new level.

"Whatever circumstances landed them in a shelter" — whether they were strays, abandoned, turned over by terminally ill owners or rescued from inhumane conditions — "was traumatic for them," says Scotlund Haisley, the executive director who persuaded his board to support a $4 million renovation. Every detail is intended not to pamper animals "but to simply respond to their basic needs" during the time when they have no home, no family and no ability to see or hope beyond the present.

"The traditional model of animal shelters not only doesn't meet the animals' needs, it works against them," he says. Features that might stress animals and cause them to spiral into attitudes and behaviors that would make them unattractive to potential adopters, from cages and chain-link to insufficient contact with humans and animals, were rejected.

Dogs are assigned, usually in pairs, to glass-block "dens" with clear-glass Dutch doors on top that any visitor can open to offer a pat. Cats get glass-fronted units, each with its own private litter-box area as well as an aperture that allows sociable felines to visit kitty neighbors. There are multiple play areas for dogs and for cats; a perpetual waterfall for cats seeking a running-water drink; and an innovative ventilation system that has essentially eliminated pass-along infections common in shelters.

It has all resulted in calm, well-adjusted animals that act neither frantic nor depressed when visitors walk by, and an adoption rate Haisley says is on track to be three times higher than before the renovation.

A new type of shelter

WARL is on the leading edge of a new generation of shelters aiming to overcome the stereotype of depressing repositories of sad, hopeless pets and increase adoptions. Among them:

•PAWS Chicago opened its brand-new adoption center, smack in the middle of upscale Lincoln Park, on Sept. 6 after four years of planning and fundraising. There are no cages. It features classical music, a fireplace and coffee bar in the reception area, a rooftop garden and natural light.

"We did our research and included everything we could think of that would de-stress the animals and also make this an inviting place for the public," says PAWS' Paula Fasseas, a banker who founded the group 10 years ago. PAWS Chicago had expected to place 1,700 animals this year, but the surge after the opening has put them on track to place as many as 4,000. "I hear every day from people who say, 'We've been wanting to adopt but couldn't go to a shelter because it was too sad,' " Fasseas says.

•At the Richmond, Va., SPCA, soothing shades of aqua, lavender and blue; classical music; spacious "catillions," where 10 or so felines live, climb and lounge in harmony and where would-be adopters enter to watch and play with them; and "townhouse rooms" where dogs relax in cozy surroundings and visitors can enter and hang out with them are among features contributing to a "steady increase in adoptions," chief executive officer Robin Starr says.
The place is so inviting, community people sometimes spend lunch hours there, even without intending to adopt, "and we love that," Starr says. "It's more people-contact for the animals."
Such new-wave shelters provide medical care for the animals they take in and also run large spay/neuter programs for pets in the community, providing thousands of free or low-cost sterilizations.

Most of Haisley's inspiration for WARL's renovation came from unconventional sources. After a holistic vet recommended harp music because it suggests running water, which animals find as relaxing as humans do, Haisley decided flowing water would be integral to the design. And when he was seeking ideas for reducing anxiety and aggression among a population not keen on confinement, he studied progressive prisons for humans.

The dog-enclosure design that allows visitors to reach in is unheard of in most shelters because of dog-bite concerns, but Haisley believes connecting with people keeps the dogs stable. No visitor has been bitten. "All these animals have been temperament-tested before we put them on the adoption floor," he says. But mainly, "they're just not in the high state of stress and anxiety that exists in most shelters," so unexpected aggression doesn't occur.

A model for the country

Shelter personnel from throughout the country are making pilgrimages to WARL to seek ideas for their own new buildings.

Officials from Montgomery County, Md., where design plans for a new, $12 million shelter were "pretty far along," visited WARL several weeks ago and have now decided to "go back to the drawing board to incorporate features we saw there," says Jennifer Hughes, special assistant to the County Executive.

Now that they've seen what's possible, "we are not going to build the same-old same-old," Hughes says. "Our feeling is if you do this right, you perform your mission much more effectively."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Getting a Second Chance

Wildlife rehabilitators are a special breed of people. Basically, I'm in awe of them. The time and commitment they give to our wild neighbors that are sick or injured is nothing short of heroic. Julie Z. comes to mind. Taking a little animal with you in your purse to outings because it needs to be fed every 20 minutes or so, now THAT's commitment. At a time, I thought that I would like to go through the training to become one. But, I realized that I was way too sensitive. Okay, I'm a wuss. Not dealing with blood and all that stuff, I have no problem with that. But death is a part of life of the wildlife rehabber and I think each little death would affect me too much.

Yesterday, Second Chance Wildlife Center, the largest wildlife rehab center in my county had its annual Open House. This is their one and only fundraiser for the year. My neighbor Karin and I went to support them and to see what animals they were currently housing.

This is Nic, a Great Horned Owl. Nic doesn't live at the Sanctuary. Folks from West Virginia raised Nic, who was injured at a very early age. He goes to various festivals and schools to raise awareness about wildlife.

Yes, even pigeons, the Rodney Dangerfield of birds, get respect and care at the Center.

This poor male box turtle was brought in with an amputated leg. They said he is recovering nicely and will be able to be released. If he were a she, she would not be releaseable since females needed both their legs in order to dig holes to lay their eggs.

These great high school kids come by to volunteer to feed the second season brood of baby squirrels. If case you were wondering, the girl on the right had her face painted with a spider and web.

Some of you may remember that it took a neighborhood effort to bring a very young baby squirrel up to Second Chance some weeks ago. Well, I'm happy to report that he/she survived. They had so many, though, they couldn't tell me which one it was, but given the date we brought the little one in, they could show us the cage where basically all the squirrels of that age were.

This could be our little squirrel-friend. God speed little doodle.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


My mind, that is....Things are starting to get crazy at work preparing for our fall governing board meeting and my association's annual conference the first week of November. We'll be in the Windy City--Chicago. I do love Chicago and hope we have some frosty weather when I'm there.

Also the hot dry weather here has not helped! Well, dry as in no rain, but it is still humid. I just heard on NPR driving home tonight that on the East Coast the humidity levels have risen 2.2% over the last decade. (Have I ever mentioned that I HATE humidity?) I think I have a few times. But hopefully the weather should be breaking tomorrow and the forecast weekend highs are for the mid-60s!! At times like this I kind of shut down and retreat from the world. I have been bad about blogging and keeping up with other bloggers. I just don't really have anything interesting or original to say or comment on right now. My animals are my saviors. It's amazing that the same cats that can drive me to drink (well, maybe not drink...usually sugar) having to clean up cat vomit (Butterball) or cat pee (Greybeard), are the same animals that keep me sane during stressful times. I do love them so...each in their own special way. So, a couple of photos please....

All together now.......Awwwww. Lisa and Chloe. Both cats came over from my neighbor's house. With all my neighbor's dogs and the constant arrival of new foster cats and dogs, it was just too much for these two nervous nellies. They have calmed down and blossomed here at the Possumlady Home for Wayward Cats. This photo makes me laugh as it reminds me of a time when friends of mine were over a number of years ago. We went out to get something to eat and when we returned, my friend Paul (who really dislikes cats), walked past two of my cats who were curled up just like the photo, glanced at them, and said "get a room!" sentiments exactly!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Elephant Sanctuary on CBS Sunday Morning!!!!

Dulary arrives at the Sanctuary

A quick note to watch CBS Sunday Morning tomorrow, October 7. They will have a segment on the Elephant Sanctuary and the arrival of Dulary. Bill Geist will be the narrator. I hope he doesn't make it too cutesy or silly. Anyhow, it comes on at different times around the country, but here in the East it is on from 9:00-10:30 am.

I'm excited!!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fluffy, Furry.....Thursday

So it doesn't have the same ring as "fluffy, furry Friday" but I actually FELT like blogging tonight. Go figure.

Let's see....who shall we write about tonight. Hmmm, how about Greybeard. Yes, Greybeard it is.

My name is Greybeard. Fear my pee*

*To be explained later.

Early January of 2005 was pretty mild. I remember grilling on New Year's Eve. Windows and doors were open and I was at the end of my 2 week break from work and running over to my local animal shelter helping out during the day. Every once in a while I would catch a flash of gray (grey?) in the back yard. Oh, great, I thought...another cat. I immediately called my neighbor thinking it was one of hers but, unfortunately, it wasn't. When I could get more then a glimpse I could tell it was quite a thin cat and he looked old. If he saw me though, he would bolt. He clearly tried to stay away from the other cats but with food and water on the front porch he really had no choice. I would see him wolfing down food only to (again) catch me looking at him from behind the storm door and he would hiss and run off.

Then we had a cold snap with a snowstorm predicted on a Saturday in mid-January. I got up really early and by 7:00 a few flakes were already falling. When I got in my car to run my errands around 8:00 I saw the gray cat crawling out of my window well. Oh, I felt so bad. It was really cold the night before and all he had were a few leaves in a window well to keep him warm. Off to Petsmart!! I bought a small insulated dog house and a big fluffy cat bed to go inside, brought it home and put it right next to the window well out of the wind and snow. And, just as an added incentive, sprinkled some catnip inside. Next day I saw little cat footprints all around it. That made me feel better. I just hope it was the gray cat using the house.

Winter gave way to spring and I was out in the yard a lot doing spring clean up. I would see the gray cat sitting far away, but he was watching me. If I stood up and looked at him though, he would hiss and run away. So, I named him-- Greybeard. Spring gave way to Summer and it got to the point where he would no longer run off the porch if he saw me watching him. Then, I started walking out the door on the front porch. It took a few weeks but he no longer ran away when I was actually ON the front porch just a few feet away from him. Then he let me put some tasty wet cat food down in front of him. He would start eating and I slowly moved to pet his head. He would stop eating, hiss, then continue to eat. This went on through September when it got to the point where I could sit crossleg on the floor of the porch with him laying a few feet from me. Then, one night in October as I sat crossleg on the porch floor, Greybeard walked over to me and started purring and rubbing up against me. My heart skipped a beat! THEN, he actually crawled in my lap, curled up and just looked up at me, purring the entire time. Tears were streaming down my face as I thought of this poor cat who obviously was not feral, going without any kind of love or affection for so long. After that night, I could basically do anything with him--pick him up, lay him on his back, carry him around, (check his little dodads to make sure he was neutered), with Greybeard just purring his little heart out giving me his complete and utter trust.

In December of 2005 we had an early winter. The first week was cold and sleety. I had little igloos on the front porch for the cats but Greybeard would not go in them. I would come home from work and he would be covered in snow, sitting on the front porch waiting for me. I never wanted to bring him inside because as loving and trusting that he was with me, he was the exact opposite with any cat. Hissing and lashing out if a cat got a little too close to him. But, I tried. I had to keep an eye on him but he SO wanted to be inside that it seemed like he was tolerating the cats more easily.

BUT, Greybeard has a major problem. He is old and mostly deaf. He is also incontinent. It's not like he sprays to mark his territory. He just walks to a place, squats and pees. He uses the litter box about half the time. The summer I just don't let him in except for a few hours after I come home from work. But, when it's time for bed, I have to put him back outside. This past Friday night he was curled up and looked SO peaceful I gave in and let him sleep and went to bed myself. I woke on Saturday and noticed Greybeard was no where to be found. That's odd, he is usually either in the kitchen or living room. Then, I noticed the light on my phone was out so I check the power strip that I had it plugged into. The power strip also has a light and that light was off. I picked it up and urine came pouring out of it. GREYBEARD!!!!! Oh, I was mad. Then, I thought, oh my God, what if he got electrocuted and dragged himself somewhere to die. But, I found him under my bed acting like nothing was wrong. He has been outside ever since. I just talked to my neighbor and when it gets too cold for him to be out, she will let me borrow one of her caged cat condos where I can put a litter box on the bottom and has a couple of ledges for him to sleep and a place for food and water. Yea, like I have the space for that. But, you gotta do what you gotta do.

What? Is there a problem?