How to be a Cat Caregiver

Yes, cat caregiver is a real term. I recently ran across this term while researching some cat rescue related content and realized that I am a cat caregiver and, even better, a cat caregiver with a free-roaming cat colony. Take that, cat ladies!

According to some of the articles I’ve read on the subject, being a cat caregiver includes feeding, making sure they have access to fresh water, getting the cats spayed/neutered, attending to sick or injured cats as necessary, etc. However, there are a few things I have found to also be true of a cat caregiver, especially if you are maintaining a free-roaming cat colony.

In addition to the above, the following are my tips and tricks for maintaining a successful cat colony;

  1. Just like with indoor cats, let the cat come to you on his own terms. He will either eventually warm up to you, having built trust with you (stray), or he’ll continue to make his rounds through your yard, glaring at you as he walks by (feral). Either way, he’ll be eating the food you left out for him. Don’t take it personally.
  2. Spend as much time giving your outdoor kitties affection as you can. Anyone who doesn’t know better will tell you that cats are just here for the food and that is partially right but, when they are getting fed regularly, are feeling good and cared for, their needs turn more to affection. So much so that they will bypass food you’ve left out for them in search of some good ol’ TLC. Even though outside kitties generally have multiple food resources, it’s not often that they also have friendships with those sources. So, make the time, let them know they are loved. It keeps them friendly with you and with other cats in the colony. The hope being that, eventually, you can find a good home for the ones that are now used to regular human interaction.
  3. Partner with your local SPCA or veterinary clinic. Especially in areas where feral and stray cats are rampant, there are generally spay/neuter programs in place for either free or discounted services and vaccines. A Havahart (have-a-heart) trap is great to have around for those untouchable feral kitties or any random male that shows up looking for a female in season. . . Ooooor if a possum decides to move into your garage after finding kitty food there. It happens.
  4. Reflective cat collars with bells for the cats that are friendly with you/allow you to touch them. Not only does it make them more visible to drivers at night, the bell helps alert birds and bats when they are being hunted so they have a better chance of survival. The bell is also a friendly alert when your kitties are nearby and in need of your attention.
  5. Build a raccoon-proof raised, freestanding house or covered platform for your colony (that they may or may not use). Wrap the bottom of the platform with metal sheeting, which raccoons are unable to grab hold of. Also, be sure to place the structure in an area away from buildings or trees that raccoons could then drop down or crawl over from. Raccoons can climb but they can’t jump so this will keep them from being able to eat all the cat food in one sitting while still giving your kitties easy jumping access to the platform. This is especially handy if you leave town for a few days at a time and don’t want to leave your colony without a food and water resource.
  6. Have a backup caregiver. While the above mentioned platform is an awesome resource, it is no replacement for an actual human overseeing the care of your colony. The platform can make your backup caregiver’s life a little easier but you should always have someone checking up on your colony while you are gone.
  7. Give up on your patio or outside furniture being your own. If there are cushions to sit on, they will be sat upon by your outside kitties. All day. Every day. If possible, buy or create safe, warm spaces for your kitties to snuggle up, especially if you live in an area that freezes over night. Cat bed liners with the heat reflective material inside that reflect the body’s own warmth back to it are a nice, inexpensive option that the cats seem to really appreciate on cold nights.
  8. Create space. Even though kitties of a single colony are friendly enough with each other and get along, they are still instinctually contending for resources. That means creating perceived separation, especially when there are 5 or more cats, to keep the peace. Have several feeding stations around your property where the kitties can come and go with little to no interaction with other cats of the colony, if they prefer. This includes watering stations and bedding areas as well.
  9. Finally, understand that, as much as you try and as much as it may feel like it sometimes, the lives of your free-range kitties are not entirely within your control and protection. You are here as a guardian and caretaker but you won’t be able to protect them from everything, especially cars, vicious dogs and wild animals. Do your best, do what you can, but never blame yourself for something that is ultimately beyond your control. Control is an illusion in all aspects of life and being a cat caregiver of a free-roaming cat colony is no different. That being said, be sure that your local non-emergency and emergency animal control phone numbers are programmed into your phone or kept somewhere handy, just in case.

Obviously, a cat colony is not for everyone as it is a commitment. The cats you choose to care for depend on you. If a colony of free-roaming kitties happens to find you and adopt you as their caregiver, my hope is that you’ll find my advice helpful and that you will be encouraged to assist in any way you can. I believe you will find it quite satisfying and your neighborhood stray and feral kitties will thank you for it, each in their own way.

For  more resources on becoming a cat caregiver, please check out Feral Cat FOCUS of WNY They have a ton of great information on caring for your local stray and feral kitties.

If there are any other cat caregivers out there, let me know in the comments, what would you add to this list?

I’m a terrible vegan

I’ve been following a plant-based – alright alright – VEGAN, diet for approximately 6 weeks now. There’s, understandably, quite a bit of a learning curve and I find myself focusing primarily on what and what not to eat. There are a number of reasons to switch to a vegan diet and so many of those reasons come from personal convictions about our place in the world and how we choose to coexist with other living beings, both human and those of other species, i.e. global warming, animal rights, the very basic right to life, etc.

For myself, the most compelling reason involves living in such a way that allows me to live as in tune with my true self as possible. That’s where peace and freedom exist, therefore, that’s where I want to exist as often as I can.

Today, I purchased a new pair of sandals and then wore them around the rest of the day while running errands. While I was waiting in line at one point, it dawned on me that the top part of my sandal might actually be leather. In disbelief at my, possibly, obvious oversight, I pulled out my amazingly small computer (a.k.a. my phone) and started doing some research. To my utter disappointment, my suspicion was confirmed; the belly of an unfortunate animal was unnecessarily used in the making of my sandal strap. A synthetic material would have been just as strong, just as comfortable, just as reliable and without the pain and suffering of another. And this after going out of my way to find a coffee shop that offered a mocha that didn’t contain dairy. Words of defeat escaped my mouth, “I’m a terrible vegan.”

I then started thinking back on other purchases I had made throughout the day. What else had I totally blown it on? I had picked up my first guitar not long before. It seemed safe enough but, after further inspection, I discovered an inlay of abalone – another blow to life and my conscience.

I am a terrible vegan.

I am an imperfect person. . . as we all are.

Like probably almost everyone else on the planet, except maybe the sociopaths, I’ve spent much of my life believing that perfection does exist . . . just not for me. It existed for others who were smarter, more talented, more in tune with existence (and themselves) and better looking than I am. Everyone else seemed to have their shit together but me.

I’ve finally, and with much relief, come to the realization that EVERYONE believes they lack where others thrive but, in reality, none of us have it exactly right and none of us ever will and that’s perfectly alright. You might even say, perfectly imperfect (cheesy but true!).

So, yes, I’m an imperfect person for always and a terrible vegan for right now but part of growing as a person is making mistakes and learning from them. These things stick with you and help you make better decisions going forward. Just because I messed up today, doesn’t mean I’ll keep messing up in the same way for the rest of my life. I will continue to screw things up, there’s no doubt about that, but I will not let a mistake define me. I’ve done that for far too much of my life.

Maybe you look back on your life and wonder how it could have turned out differently. Maybe there are regrets that you live with every day; you dated/married the wrong person, you cheated on your spouse, you didn’t go to college when others did, you didn’t try for the job because you thought you weren’t qualified. Maybe you had children too young or not at all even though having children was something you always imagined for yourself. Maybe you’ve let your health go and are struggling to regain it. Whatever it may be, every passing moment is a chance to turn it all around. So, seize the day, as they say! Grow from mistakes and experiences but don’t let them define you. The only moment that exists is the one you’re in right now. Choose to forgive yourself and start fresh. Choose to embrace the reality of imperfection rather than be held captive by the debilitating  notion that perfection exists for others but not for yourself. We are all the other to someone. Choose to live in the present moment rather than one that can not be reclaimed or edited. Choose love for yourself. Choose life.



Maya Angelou was a strip-tease dancer?!

Sweet, pious, beautifully spoken, Mother Teresa-meets-Martin Luther King Jr, “Touched by an Angel” poet Maya Angelou?!

Indeed, Maya Angelou spent a brief four month stint as a strip-tease dancer at the Bonne Nuit Dance Club in San Francisco when her marriage had ended and she was looking for work to support herself and her son. I stumbled upon this little nugget while reading what is said to be considered Maya Angelou’s most deeply personal memoir, Mom & Me & Mom, in which she describes her relationship with her mother and how it shaped the woman she became. While she calls it strip-tease dancing, and although she was scantily clad, Maya never actually took her clothes off on stage for money. In her memoir, Maya mentions how she didn’t want to be known as a strip-tease dancer. She had studied dance most of her life, at that point, and was liberated by it. When she was dancing she felt as if her body “had a reason to be.” But the “prospect of three hundred dollars per week was tantalizing.” She calls her mother and explains her dilemma. To my surprise, and possibly to Maya’s, her mother encourages her to apply for the position. Together, they create a revealing but theatrical costume and Maya hires a drummer to play for her while she dances. Maya quickly becomes the most popular and most sought after dancer in the club with patrons even “turn[ing] their backs to the strip dancers.” She gains regular visitors who come to the club to watch her dance and her performances are even written about by several popular San Francisco columnists who praise her dance skills and  business acumen. A group of her regulars become her future employers, hiring her to star as a calypso singer at their club, the Purple Onion. She goes from making $300 a week to making $750 a week. Her mother tells her, “Now you will see some of the world and you will show the world what you are working with.” This opens up other opportunities to sing as a way to support herself which opens up opportunities to travel and see the world.

I’ve had a specific vision of Miss Angelou, a name she kept because she “liked the sound of it” (from the very marriage whose end drove her to become a strip-tease dancer), for most of my life. I’ve come to realize that my vision of Miss Angelou was skewed yet she is now no less angelic in my eyes. On the contrary, learning more about who she was, where she came from and what she experienced in her life and adding that to what I had known of her in her later years just fills me with even more respect and adoration for the woman. She never apologizes for being human. She shuns this idea of perfection that we all hopelessly cling too and speaks only of love, understanding and acceptance. She does not define herself by her experiences but rather allows relationships to mold her. She embraces the imperfections in herself and, by doing so, gives us hope that we can do the same for ourselves. My vision of Maya Angelou never even came close to capturing what a badass she truly was.

There’s a valuable lesson in Maya’s provocative yet short-lived strip-tease dancing career. I believe Maya’s mother,  Vivian Baxter, said it best; “You are going far in this world, baby, because you dare to risk everything.”

Nicolas Cage is a Coppola?!

That’s right folks, Nic Cage is a Coppola. If you’re like a lot of people I’ve talked to, you’ve probably always had a love/unimpressed relationship with Cage’s acting. He’s very hit or miss for me but, although he’s not in any of my favorite movies, he is in quite a few movies that I do enjoy, including his acting in them. Some of those movies include Adaptation., Joe, The Wicker Man, Matchstick Men and, most recently, Moonstruck, which was unexpectedly deep. Of course, I did also enjoy Cage in Con Air, The Rock and Face/Off but that was before I had developed a discerning nature in regard to movies – I mean, I was still in high school. You can’t expect too much from teenager me. I still enjoy those movies on a nostalgic level but, you have to admit, Cage’s acting in those movies is effing terrible.I know a lot of you are probably thinking “What about Leaving Las Vegas?!” Well, I haven’t watched it yet but it is on my list! Don’t worry, I’ll get there eventually.

When it comes to art, you develop a type of trust with the artists. Actors and actresses who consistently choose interesting, endearing, believable, difficult movies and roles for themselves are the ones that build trust with you over time and the ones whom you don’t hesitate to go to the theatre for when they’ve come out with a new project. I believe it was Benicio del Toro that said when you choose a role, you are choosing the movie too so you can’t always pick a role you want to play and expect the movie to be amazing even if the character is. Nic Cage just hasn’t maintained that trust with the roles and movies he chooses so I tend to be wary of his art.

Back to my point, according to IMDB and Wikipedia, Nic Cage, born Nicolas Kim Coppola, changed his name early in his career to avoid the appearance of nepotism. Nicolas, or as his Moonstruck co-star Cher calls him, Nicky wanted to make his own path in the acting world. For those of you still asking yourself why this matters, let’s talk a little about Francis Ford Coppola, Nick’s uncle on his father’s side. Francis is an Academy Award winning screenplay writer and director. You may know him for movies like the Godfather Parts I, II and III, Apocalypse Now, The RainMaker and Patton. He’s part of what is considered the New Hollywood wave of filmmaking where the film vision was the director’s rather than that of the studios. Without the pioneers of this movement, we’d have a lot less of the movies that move us and a lot more Face/Off-type movies. Big Hollywood studios had their specific genres that they tended to gear their films toward and their main objective was sales rather than art. With the directors at the helm of their creative vision, rather than the studios, we started to hear more individualized voices coming from Hollywood in addition to the churning of the Hollywood movie machine which, I believe, a lot of us are learning to or have already been ignoring in search of movies that we see ourselves in. Movies that really touch us rather than just entertain us.

Also familiar to me, and maybe I did pay attention to her at first because of her name, is Sofia Coppola, Francis’ daughter. Sofia is known for her Academy Award winning screenplay for the comedy-drama Lost in Translation. Of course, there is also Jason Schwartzman, Sofia and Nic’s cousin, who is frequently involved in the beloved Wes Anderson’s films and is one of the stars in, one of my personal favorites, Steve Martin’s Shopgirl.

I totally agree that winning Academy Awards is not the definition of being a great artist and Nic himself is a Best Actor winner for Leaving Las Vegas. It can also be argued that not everything Nic’s relatives put out there is gold but the caliber of most of Cage’s movies, especially ones he’s known for in the ’90’s, are not quite up to par with a lot of the art being created by some of his family members so when I read that he was part of the Coppola family, I was a little – okay a lot – taken aback. I respect a variety of Nic’s role choices especially in more recent years and I have to give him props for intentionally striking out on his own to see what he was capable of. We can all learn a lesson from his choice to go after what he wanted in the face of uncertainty. That being said, I still won’t be watching more than half of the movies he’s made and I watch A LOT of movies.

“You’re very pretty but you’re shallow beyond belief.” – Dell, Comet (2014)

Comet (2014)

Rated R Sci-fi/drama

Writer and Director:  Sam Esmail
Cast: Justin Long, Emmy Rossum
Cinematographer: Eric Koretz
Music: Daniel Hart

We only get to watch a movie for the first time once. Comet is, for me, now one of those movies that, while I’m grateful for the experience of this “time-based art”, it’s an experience I wish I could recreate as a new experience every time I watch it.

Although characters not uniquely driven by their fears and desires, sometimes catching fleeting glimpses of happiness possibilities, Kimberly and Dell are honestly and refreshingly flawed – even equally so. So often we see the story and growth of just one primary character while Comet affords us the satisfaction of experiencing the growth of both primary characters.

We experience this growth against a, usually, subtly surreal backdrop that allows us to remove the constraints that we would normally impose on these two, and on our own perspective, as they move throughout their world. Their world is familiar but different enough to allow for freedom from assumptions. The landscape is breathtaking and even brought tears to my eyes in moments when it was suddenly thrust into the foreground as an integral part of our characters’ stories.

Many of the dialogue scenes were shot in such a way that made me feel like I was watching a stage play – as if I were sitting right on stage with the actors, intimately observing both their joy and their turmoil and even feeling as if, like the landscape, I were participating in it. It reminded me of a monologue; even though you are aware that there are many beside you, you feel as if that character were speaking directly to you, beckoning you to see yourself in them.

And that’s really the point, right? Art beckons to us the same way that love does; to see ourselves in the other and to love and accept the other the way that we love and accept ourselves or, for many, to love and accept ourselves the way we love and accept the other.

We see ourselves in the highs and lows of Dell and Kimberly’s struggle to find the balance within so that balance can also be felt without, with the other. We seek out and hold on to tiny moments of true connection with another and, hopefully, like in the case of Dell and Kimberly, observe  growth spurts within ourselves through that connection. Complacency and criticism come so easily and expectation, negative or positive, distorts the beauty of reality, displacing the peace that exists in the here and now. Choose now, not five minutes from now.

For my Netflix friends, Comet is streaming as of today.



I was almost eaten by a mountain lion tonight . . .


Okay not really but I convinced myself I was going to be. I was able to sneak in a quick hike after work but didn’t really take into consideration the fact that the days are getting shorter now and ended up walking in the dark with my iPhone as my flashlight. I learned, about 6 weeks ago, that there are mountain lions on the  mountain that I love to hike most (Bogg’s Mountain in Middletown, CA) and that they are especially active between dusk and dawn – HUNTING between dusk and dawn. So, now, anytime I’m hiking and it’s starting to get dark, I start imagining that a mountain lion is stalking me from between the trees just passed where my eyes can still focus.

I am well aware that my fear is irrational, although not completely unfounded because it does happen, it’s just really uncommon. These mountain lions are definitely not looking to eat me and, as I was explaining to them out loud on my hike tonight, eating me would just be disappointing; I’m just blubber and clothing; not tasty at all.

The information about safe hiking posted at the CDF station warns, in regard to mountain lions (who are a vital and cherished part of the mountain’s eco system), not to hike at night (strike 1), not to hike alone (strike 2) and to make lots of noise while hiking so that you don’t accidentally sneak up on a mountain lion and it accidentally bites your jugular in response. Since I was skating on very thin ice, as my scared little brain was so enthusiastically explaining to me, I decided to at least make some noise.

I started humming. That didn’t seem loud enough. I started singing and making random noises. Then I started talking to the mountain lions, as I mentioned earlier, that I was convinced were lurking just feet away; “Mr. Mountain Lion, you should probably know that I am not delicious . . . Mrs. Mountain Lion, I am totally not worth your time. I bet you’re used to eating tasty deer . . .” and so on. I’m not COMPLETELY crazy; I know the big cats don’t hang out together unless it’s baby making time, I was just addressing both genders so as not to disrespect either one – okay so maybe I’m a little crazy.

I decided to go back to singing and ended up “writing” a song . . . aaaaand decided to record it. I’m sure it’s a brilliant masterpiece as I don’t have a clue how to write songs but the part I’m certainly most proud of is when I had a moment of panic, completely forgetting that I was still recording, and sung, ” . . . la la la – this is NOT loooooking goooood -” I immediately started imagining what was left of my remains being found and the sense the ranger would try to make of my singsongy ramblings.

I did get a really amazing picture out of the whole situation. It was early in the hike when I should have realized I’d be walking in the dark in about 10 minutes but, stubbornly, pressed on anyway. Here’s to commitment – and a little bit of crazy.

Sunset from Bogg's Mountain

Sunset from Bogg’s Mountain