Tag Archives: cats

A Brief Exploration of Three of Greece’s 6,000 Islands

I didn’t come home directly from Rome. A friend offered me their couch on the Greek Island of Paros. How could I refuse? Paros itself is a less touristy island, so a great place to get a more authentic feel of Greece. Lots of sun, lush growth, and ubiquitous white architecture with blue trim.

Ubiquitous Greek architecture

Lush greenery surrounding weathered door, Paros

 

 

 

 

 

Every night we enjoyed a meal at a different restaurant, often on the harbour. Each restaurant supports its own local cats who beg for table scraps, and occasionally something extra from the kitchen. I was pleasantly surprised that most cats I saw seemed to be in very good health, thanks in large part to the Paros Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

Restaurant cat patiently awaiting table scraps

 

As is typical of islands the world over, Paros also offers a variety of ferries to other islands. We enjoyed a day-trip to Mykonos via the ancient sacred island of Delos, purported to be the birthplace of the god Apollo. No one lives on Delos and no overnight accommodation is offered. Alighting in the harbour is like stepping onto the set of Time Team or some other archeological adventure. Tourists can wander throughout the site, although some buildings are cordoned off, while others are under reconstruction. The challenge is that the trails aren’t always well marked, some are quite rugged and hilly—and your tour boat has a schedule that won’t wait! Even considering these factors I felt I had a good explore and took lots of photos.

Dolphin mosaic, house of Dolphins, Delos

Terrace of Lions, Delos

 

 

 

 

 

Mykonos is heavily touristy, but despite this, it has a unique and pleasant feel. The harbour is packed with yachts of the famous and conspicuously rich. Even though it was filmed on Crete, the presence of a series of windmills in the main town of Chora brought back memories of seeing the film the Moon Spinners as a child. Little Venice along the harbour features amazing sea views from a variety of restaurants that share a walkway above the sea. Mykonos struck me as a place I’d like to return to sometime, maybe with more time to explore outside the town centre. Lots more Greek islands to explore too! So I suspect I’ll be back.

Little Venice, Chora, Mykonos

Windmills, Chora, Mykonos

 

 

 

 

©Catherine Jenkins 2018 all rights reserved

The Human “Management” of Non-Human Animals

I was as strong in biology in high school as I was in the arts. When, after some trial and error and debate, I finally chose a path, I pursued the arts. When I see the direction biology has gone in the ensuing decades, I’m grateful for the wisdom of my younger self.

When I was in school, the notion was that animals existed as part of a food chain—with humans at the apex (of course). The human ego likes to place us at the top. This is the rhetoric of “Man, the Custodian of Creation,” based on the religious idea that men (and women and everyone between—humans), were placed on Earth as caretakers of what God (or Gods or Goddesses or Mother Nature or Gaia) had created. Given our record, we are clearly at risk of being smote. Whether considering wild or domesticated species, the way we “manage” non-human animals is appalling.

In practice, humans remain at the apex, so that if a human animal is threatened by a non-human animal, even if the human animal is encroaching on the non-human animal’s turf, the non-human animal usually winds up dead. But as we begin to understand how species actually inhabit their territories, we’re realizing that the correlations between animals are much more complex than we’d previously imagined. While we’ve shifted our thinking away from a food chain and towards a food web, these webs are much more complex than we fully comprehend or appreciate. And yet we have the audacity to continue thinking that wild species are somehow ours to “manage.” Through a combination of recklessness and ego, we’re doing a lousy job.

Image by Mansur Gidfar from http://www.bewareofimages.com/

For instance, tigers have lost over 90% of their habitat to human encroachment. Wild tiger populations are down to about 3,200 individuals, and yet they continue to be killed by poachers and because of conflict with human interests. Three tiger subspecies have been hunted to extinction.

In the oceans, estimates for the number of sharks killed annually from overfishing, finning and bycatch range from 100-200 million. While humans generally fear sharks, this slaughter compares with only 72 attacks by sharks on humans in 2013, only ten of which resulted in death. The Pacific coast off California has seen a marked increase in the Humboldt squid population—an animal in whose waters it would be much more dangerous to intrude. While reasons for this population explosion are up for debate, some scientists think it may be due to shark overfishing, as sharks enjoy raw calamari. Sharks, like tigers, are apex predators; remove the sharks, and the natural balance and environment are shaken, sometimes in surprising ways.

But this isn’t just a pissing match between human and non-human predators. Elephants and rhinos are strict vegetarians, and yet they too are being poached at an alarming rate for their tusks and horns. In spite of sanctions and political pressure, demand continues to grow, along with the estimates of the numbers of animals killed. A shocking 30,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks. In South Africa alone, over 1,000 rhinos were poached in 2013. Consider too that these animals are slow to reach sexual maturity, have long gestation periods, and usually produce only one calf that requires maternal care for at least two or three years.

And these are just a few of the species being decimated by human greed and ignorance. In Canada, we’re acutely aware of the plight of polar bears due to loss of habitat from global warming. Right whale populations are now estimated at about 300-400 individuals worldwide, due to competition with industry and fishing, as well as climate change.

While some organizations, like the World Wildlife Fund and Wild Aid raise awareness through education, support ecotourism as more financially viable than poaching, and work to protect species at risk, other organizations created to caretake wildlife use culling to control populations, rather than supporting natural ecosystems to do this work. I wrote about some disturbing culls a few years ago.

This is the kind of “management” practise that recently led the Copenhagen Zoo to kill a giraffe named Marius, publically dissect him, then feed him to the lions. The zoo refused all alternative offers, and the zoo’s biologist, Stenbaek Bro, argued that Marius was cluttering up the gene pool and that the public dissection was educational. While he’s correct that in the medieval era public dissections were performed for this reason, there is no possible justification now. Anyone who wants to see a giraffe’s anatomy can simply go online or read a book to find the information, without killing another giraffe or traumatizing curious humans.

But it’s not just zoos killing animals. American Wildlife Services are reported to have “accidentally” killed in excess of 50,000 animals since 2000, including protected and rare species. Some organizations are bizarre hybrids that support conservation so their members have plenty of “game” for “sport.” For instance, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation aims, “to promote and protect sporting shooting and the well-being of the natural environment.” This is the kind of statement that assumes that we have a right to “manage” other species and that we actually understand all the complexities of interspecies interrelations.

And it’s not just wild animals at stake. Domesticated animals are non-human animals that human animals have tamed over many generations. We have altered their DNA and behaviour. Recent evidence shows that cats have been domesticated for over 9500 years and dogs have been our pets for 18,800 to 32,100 years. To my mind, a non-human animal that we have domesticated, tamed, is now our responsibility. And yet we don’t act very responsibly. Toronto has an estimate feral cat population of 100,000-200,000. Some of these cats started as someone’s pet, but the someone who adopted them, for whatever reason, didn’t have them spayed or neutered, or abandoned them when they moved. Cats reproduce at an alarming rate (even in the wild, given adequate habitat and hunting grounds), causing the feral population to spike. Organizations like Toronto Street Cat, a coalition of rescue organizations, work hard to neuter these animals, provide them with food and shelter, and find homes for adoptable kittens.

What happens when such volunteer measures aren’t taken? Prior to the 2008 Bejing Summer Olympics, thousands of stray cats were killed. Before the Euro 2012 Soccer Championship in the Ukraine, thousands of stray dogs were killed. And before and during this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, thousands of stray dogs, deemed “biological trash,” were killed. In many cases, these domesticated animals were dispatched in horrifying and inhumane ways. But with millions of stray cats and dogs euthanized in shelters each year, we can hardly boast of a superior record.

And this doesn’t even touch the millions of non-human animals killed each year in the name of “sport,” or “fashion,” or “science,” when better alternatives are often available. This doesn’t even touch the contentious issue of the billions of non-human animals raised and slaughtered for food for human animals each year.

Although human animals have enormous egos and a strong sense of entitlement, it is abundantly clear that we do not have the necessary knowledge to “manage” non-human animals successfully. And yet we like to pretend that we do. Part of the oil/tar sands rhetoric is that this destructive industry will put nature back just the way it was when they’re done. Unfortunately, we don’t know how to do that.  A recent short film, How Wolves Change Rivers, underscores how much we don’t understand about natural systems and ecological balances, how much we don’t understand or appreciate the complexity of the natural web of life. When we do such a lousy job of managing our own population, how are we possibly qualified to manage the populations and habitats of other animals?

 

© Catherine Jenkins 2014 all rights reserved

What I did on my summer vacation (and what gives me nightmares)

I remember dreading this first-day-of-school assignment, because we did the same thing every  summer. We went to the cottage, which I enjoyed on some levels, but it forced me away from my Dad and my friends, which I didn’t enjoy. I loved the daytime, being outside, swimming, lying on my grandmother’s quilts on the lawn reading comics and eating watermelon. But at night, the sheets were clammy with humidity and it was far too dark. Inevitably, I’d wake in the depths of the night, unable to see my hand in front of me, and get so scared I’d start crying. For years, all my nightmares were of being hunted by malicious forces at the cottage. Having spent months up there as an adult, I’m happy to report that the place of the cottage in my dream world has shifted to one of light.

This past summer, for the most part, I stayed in Toronto; the brief time I was at the cottage, my allergies were awful, so I avoided a prolonged stay. This summer’s highlight was certainly the band reunion, and everything leading up to and away from that.

In August, I made my annual foray to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL). I was late booking, so missed one play I wanted to see and was unable to book my usual B & B, although I did have a visit with Lynn, the owner. I had mixed feelings about my last-minute accommodations, but I enjoyed the birds’ nest behind one of the window shutters. The chatty chicks were nearly as big as their parents and beginning to venture into the huge maple a few feet away.

A small part of the Niagara peach harvest.

A small part of the Niagara peach harvest.

This year, I didn’t visit as many stores or spend much money, and I think I enjoyed NOTL even more as a result. For the first time, I was there during Peach Festival and I think that’s something I’d like to repeat. Three blocks of the main drag, Queen Street, were closed to traffic, allowing vendors to sell locally grown peaches and peach baked goods. In the evening, tables were set up along the street for gourmet dining and local wine sampling. The festival was alive with music; folk, rock, jazz, salsa—even bagpipes. The street felt very different, more relaxed, in part because I could wander back and forth as things caught my attention. The weather was fantastic, beautiful, clear and sunny. At one point, the local biker gang buzzed through town, about thirty of them, so hard not to notice. An interesting contrast. Lots of people were out enjoying the weekend; I even saw Shaw Festival actor Patrick Gallaghan out with his wife buying baked goods.

I’d intentionally left my Saturday evening free, thinking I might indulge in a gourmet meal. But I didn’t feel like it, so instead, I went on a Ghost Walk of NOTL with Lady Cassandra. This was a significant year for such a walk, as it’s the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. For six months during 1813, the Americans occupied this small, but strategic, town, then called Newark. This summer, NOTL flew the vintage fifteen-star American flag alongside the Canadian flag, to mark the anniversary. Historically, there’s a lot of pain in this soil. When the Americans left, they razed the town, leaving about 400 residents, mostly women, children and the elderly, without shelter in December. Many froze to death. This cruel civilian attack was condemned by both the British and Americans. It also laid the course for reprisals, including the burning of the original White House. While the town was rebuilt, many lives were lost, some brutally, during the war years. And the losses didn’t end with the conclusion of that war. The room I stayed in is occasionally haunted by its former occupant, a young woman who committed suicide after her American husband was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg in the summer of 1863 during the American Civil War. Abagail reportedly doesn’t haunt romantics, so I was left in peace, however, those of you who know me well know that I’m highly impressionable when it comes to spooky stuff. I don’t do horror movies because the images haunt me for weeks or even months. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well and yes, I had to check under the bed a couple of times because I kept getting flashes from an Evil Dead movie trailer.

Self-portrait in Abagail's Rest. Spooky.

Self-portrait in Abagail’s Rest. Spooky.

And, oh yeah, I went to three plays. With the number of actor friends I have, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never seen the classic, Guys and Dolls. I was surprised that I knew at least half the score. Although I’d heard Bugs Bunny described as a Damon Runyon-esque character, I’d never understood the parallel until seeing this play. Wow. Talk about a culturally influential show! Peace in Our Time, a later Shaw play, wasn’t, in my opinion, one of his best. Although full of social and anti-war comment, it lacked the level of wit I generally associate with GBS. It felt very heavy handed and static. Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, on the other hand, was lovely. A thrilling satire that skewers Victorian morals, it contains such immortal lines as: “I can resist everything except temptation” and “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” I really enjoyed the acting, staging and costumes in this production. The music choices between acts were…unexpected: Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Rufus Wainwright’s “Art Teacher” and Katy Perry’s “Firework.” While I kind of understood the significance of the first two, the final choice seemed to overwhelm the play’s finale, but that is a minor complaint. If you want to visit Shawfest, all three plays continue into mid-October or early November.

This was the second time I took transit to NOTL and it just doesn’t work well, so I’ll probably go back to renting a car. The GO schedule doesn’t take curtain time into consideration, so play-goers may have to cab it from either St Catharines or Niagara Falls. Of course, the  other advantage of a car is that I can stock up on local fruit and wine before heading back to the city.

Morning Glory

Morning Glory

At home, my balcony garden really took off this year. As well as violas, morning glories, marigolds, portulaca, begonias, impatiens, and sweet potato vines, I tried a gerbera daisy for the first time. It’s been sending up bright new blossoms all summer. The quality and range of floral colours have been lovely and it’s been really gratifying to have bees visiting my sixth-floor balcony. Additionally, I tried growing vegetables this year. I started them indoors from seed, probably a little late. I have about a dozen tomatoes, half-a-dozen cucumbers, and an uncertain number of peppers coming along. It was more successful than my previous attempt at a balcony vegetable garden, and I learned a few things, so plan to try again next year.

CNE midway at dusk

CNE midway at dusk

My friend James and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) and did some of the usual things and a few new things. We saw an intimate performance of the Flying Wallendas’ high-wire act. We missed the Super Dogs, so we checked out the miniature horses instead. We also walked through the cat show, which consisted of a variety of over-bred felines, mostly sleeping in their carriers. I was really taken with the Savannah cats, until I found out that they’re a cross between a wild serval and a domestic cat, only recently accepted as a new breed. Although a striking and affectionate cat, I don’t know why people can’t just leave wild cats alone to do what they do in their natural habitat. I was also really glad to see a large booth for Ninth Life Cat Rescue, an organization that rescues cats from death row in shelters, housing them until they can be adopted. If you’re considering feline companionship, personally, I think adopting from a shelter is a more responsible way to go. We wandered through the international pavilion, watched people on midway rides, and, after much consideration, I ate a deep fried Mars Bar, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

In other news, I completed the revised draft of Pairs & Artichoke Hearts. I got some great feedback from one of my first readers, and there’s some further work I’d like to do before sending out queries. I was also able to get back to writing my PhD dissertation; last year’s car accident did a number on my cognitive abilities, among other things, but I feel like my head is finally fully back in the game. I drove for the first time since the accident, even at night and in the rain, and nothing bad happened. I attended four funerals and a wedding, the ratio perhaps a sign of age. I did some non-academic reading, including Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 (all 925 pages), as well as some hybrid hardboiled science fiction, and some comic books. I went to a few movies, notably Red 2, Iron Man 3, and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.

I took more time off than I’d intended, but the upside of that is now I’m eager to get back to schoolwork! And that’s a good thing.

© Catherine Jenkins 2013

Sept – Oct 2003

Ten Ways Cats Age More Gracefully Than Humans

(In no particular order and in no way claiming to be a definitive list.)

  1. SkyeBeing quadrupedal, rather than bipedal, cats are much less likely to trip, stumble, fall down and not get up again, break something.
  2. While people are often aware that they’re slowing down, physically or mentally or both, cats are not conscious of this. Mice may move faster, but cats definitely don’t slow down – they’re just being their usual cool selves.
  3. Even when cats lose a faculty, such as sight, it has limited impact on their functioning. A blind cat reads as well as it could before going blind and can still find its food dish and the sunny spot without issue.
  4. As with people, elderly cats may sleep more hours than they used to, however cats normally sleep about eighteen hours a day anyway, so who’s going to notice?
  5. Because of their high metabolism, if a cat becomes morbidly ill, it usually dies quickly, rather than suffering the lingering demise humans seem so practiced at.
  6. Unlike people, cats are very in theMoon moment. They don’t fall into reminiscences deluding themselves about the “good old days.”
  7. Cats rarely complain about aching joints, diminishing faculties, lack of appetite, etc., even though they may experience these.
  8. The existence of a cat is a very immediate thing – now they’re here, now they’re gone. There’s no property, money, or material goods for survivors to quibble over and no lawyers need be involved.
  9. Whereas people often become more prickly with age, dropping masks of decorum, cats often become even more cuddly, happy to be warmly on your lap, purring all the while. (Notice I said “often” in both cases, not always.)
  10. Cats never think about going to the gym, diet (other than liking or disliking a given food), heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, life insurance, critical care, what’s to be done with the remains etc. and they CERTAINLY NEVER consider plastic surgery, chemical peels or botox injections.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2003

May – June 2004

If you’re not interested in cats, or at least in pets, I suggest you stop reading now.

As some of you know, I’m a cat person. In my entire life, I think I’ve been sans feline company for a total of about three months. I’m the kind of person that while I’m walking along the street, cats will trot out to greet me. On occasion, they’ve sought me out when in need and I’ve rescued a few from short brutish feral lives.

I’ve also suffered some feline losses the last few years, as age or illness has taken its toll. Moon passed away in my arms at twenty-one-and-a-half. Charlie died rather unexpectedly of cancer when he was only ten. That’s left me with Skye, the last of my Peterborough brood, who for a couple of years was a single cat. He’s now twenty, blind and requires additional nursing, but he’s a happy boy, full of purrs and cuddles and with a hearty appetite that rarely fails him.

About a year ago, with the aid of my friend Lorena (a very serious and talented cat person), we rescued a cat who, through an unfortunate series of circumstances, had been left alone in the apartment across the hall from me. Dashiell, as she came to be known, was a lovely little cat, who was unfortunately easily frightened and consequently sometimes responded aggressively. (And yes, she was named for Dashiell Hammett, who’d also seen some of the darker side of humanity, but successfully turned it into something creative.) Things between Dash and Skye never really settled down. She teased him and he got upset. Over time, her behaviour was starting to tell on him, wearing him down. I thought Skye was on his way out. I had friends stopping by to check on him whenever I had to be away for a whole day. Then my household underwent an unexpected tragedy that has bloomed into a very positive outcome.

About a month and a half ago, I came home late one afternoon. Dashiell hesitated, but she did come and greet me, jumping onto the piano to say hello. I still didn’t have my jacket off, when she let out two very loud, pained screams, swooned, lost her balance and fell to the floor, where she continued to cry out, writhing in pain. I was shocked. I didn’t know what was happening, what to do. Then she stopped. There were a few twitches of whiskers. Then stillness. I felt, I listened. There was no heartbeat, no breathing. It seemed utterly impossible. This was an active seven year old cat, who’d been fine only a few seconds earlier and now she was dead.

Rarely have I felt at such a loss. I didn’t understand what had just happened and didn’t know what to do. I was conscious that I was in a state of shock and needed to do something. Reality check. I phoned two friends, left two messages. Sat with Dashiell’s body, waited for the phone to ring. Lorena called back first. In recollection, the message I left her was essentially a demand to tell me what the hell had just happened. Fortunately, she recognized that shock makes people say odd things, or perhaps reveals more primal traits. I needed an intellectual understanding of the event and she was able to supply that. She checked a few details and then told me it sounded like a heart attack. Apparently some cats have congenital heart problems and tend to die early from them… kind of like some people. Somehow having a rational explanation helped. My other friend, also a cat person, called back and explained he’d had a couple of cats go the same way. The sense that I was in The Twilight Zone was fading through a combination of rational understanding and caring conversation.

Although I’ve experienced a few sudden human and feline deaths, because they’re so out of the blue, there’s no expectation, no mental preparedness. There are substantial heapings of shock, anger and guilt to be gotten through before one can even begin to approach grief. When I can see death approaching, somehow it feels more natural, it’s easier to slide into grief. But as Neil Gaimen so aptly stated in the character of Death from The Sandman comics, “You get what everyone gets. You get a lifetime.” And that might be a second or it might be a century. Then you’re off to wherever… Heaven, the ether, Summerland. Somewhere light and safe and loving.

As with her namesake, Dashiell died during late middle age. Although I miss Dash and am sorry that her life was so short, there was an odd sort of completion to her death. She died the day the apartment across the hall was finally reoccupied.

The unexpected upside of Dashiell’s demise has been twofold. Firstly, Skye rallied. He’s rallied like I didn’t think possible! He’s more active, eating voraciously, has gained back the weight he’d lost and his fur’s looking better again. In short, he’s a happier guy because he’s not being harassed.

The second unexpected event took place about a week and a half ago. I got an e-mail from Lorena describing the circumstances of a cat she’d rescued. This cat had obviously been well loved until recently, when his owner was taken to hospital by ambulance, seemingly never to return. The landlord had emptied the apartment of everything including the cat, who’d been out on the street for three weeks and was having a rough go of it. Some of the neighbours were feeding him, but having not been raised feral, he was used to a much easier, less competitive lifestyle. Lorena had taken him home, where he was settling in, but was a little uneasy with her clowder of cats.

Without much coaxing, I adopted him, with the proviso that Skye would also have to approve. I didn’t want to subject him to any further torments. By the time I had this new cat in my building, I knew his name: Monte. And once you know a cat’s name, he’s yours. Although Monte’s only about two, he’s very laid back and non-confrontational. He’s curious about Skye, but doesn’t want to get into anything with him. Essentially they avoid each other, although even that’s beginning to break down. Skye sleeps at the head of my bed, Monte at the foot. Skye’s still purring, his appetite’s good and he’s become even more active and interested in exploring. Monte does his best to stay out of the way, although Skye, being blind, occasionally stumbles into him. They’re curious about each other, but it’s a very peaceable household.

As is written on a little framed picture my brother once gave me, “Home is where the cat is.” For me that’s certainly true. My home would feel very empty without a feline presence. I’m hoping to get them up to the cottage for a little change of scene and scent for a while this summer. (Not to mention that having a little eau de chat around the place helps keep the mice at bay.) I don’t know how much longer Skye will hang on—after all, he is twenty—but I’m glad Monte’s here now. He’s a wonderful addition to my little family and with his relaxed persona, I’m sure he’ll be around for a long time to come.

P.S. If you’re interested in adopting a feline, I urge you to select a shelter with a no-kill policy. Information on Toronto Cat Rescue and the Lakefield Animal Welfare Society can be found on my links page.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2004