I spent nearly a full three weeks in Galicia during September, and it was glorious. The weather was gorgeous in terms of warm sunshine, but the lack of rain was a definite worry, and people were talking about that. Soon after I arrived there was a bushfire just over the valley and I watched for a while as two or three helicopters went back and forth with water scooped up from the Cabe River. Apparently the Galician fire service has a reputation for being 'the business', and they certainly react quickly around here. They went to help in Portugal recently too, when there were terrible fires over the border. Here is a photo which is so bad (apologies) it has a paint-by-numbers look about it. But you'll get the idea!
Chubby Chops has become a permanent fixture around the garden, in case you hadn't noticed, and I noticed that he had a bit of a cold. I will try to embed a video here so you can hear his chest (I kid you not - but you have to be patient!). If the video does work you'll see that he is trying to figure out if I have anything to give him! I spoke to a couple of very helpful vets about what to do and in the end we got some antibiotics into him via some syrup on his food. The verdict was it was probably cat flu and best to try and get it sorted before the winter. I am crossing my fingers that we have succeeded but I won't know until Adam and I are back in Galicia later this month. Thank you Jane for doing dose 5! CC is a sweet-natured fella who seems to know that discretion may be the better part of valour, and is quite the ladies' man.
Speaking of which, Husky was neutered last week. He was a handful to trap and decant from trap to cage, but I managed it just about. He sauntered off in a relaxed manner when I let him go a few hours after the op, and was back for dinner that evening! 1 down, around 4 males to go ... Here he is:
There have been lots of humans around lately and Cristina was Cat Feeder of the Month for September - yay!
We have all been dining on an abundance of grapes and figs, and I know for a fact that the badgers have been joining us in the latter. I have footage on the wildlife camera to attest to badgers, foxes and boars being a bit partial. What a shame cats don't eat figs! We have had a massive crop of them. In making the cat food stretch out however, I have started to adopt our neighbour Josefa's tactic of adding pasta ... more on that, and maybe a photo, later.
Finally, many thanks to some people who have donated to the Butterfly Cat recently. This will help hugely in the purchase of cat feeding stations, which are being built as a I type! Thanks Jennifer, and thanks Jane & Trevor.
Josefa, our lovely neighbour and macaroni chef, commented last week that, yes, there are fewer cats, and yes they are healthier, and yes, there are quite a few ‘intact’ males - but they have no girlfriends! This was music to my ears. I knew it too, but it was lovely to hear it from her. Here's the lady herself and the macaroni she cooks for the cats.
Our impending permanent arrival here with four ‘city’ cats means there will be some changes around here! How I wish the ferals and the Gang of 4 could all mix happily, but there are various reasons why that ain’t gonna happen. One is called Scruffy, and he is our big, long haired fella who loves to protect his territory, was neutered late (not our fault) and has no idea what is about to happen to him! Here’s Scruffy
I think we have to carve out some distinct territories for the two tribes, at least at the start. So it’s all about location, location, location. Currently, the seven or eight (very – they are here all day) regular visitors get fed under the horreo a few metres from the kitchen door. We will all very likely be living in this particular house for at least a couple of months when we arrive, before we decamp to the house across the way that is being renovated. And when I say ‘all’ I mean me, Adam and three long haired black cats who look like a gang, and a semi-feral half Bengal matriarch who is the oldest of the lot (77 in human years) and completely wild herself (she disappears for weeks in London). Which is ironic.
The location to which I refer is the location of feeding. Luckily, we have a few options but we do not have a spare horreo. So I am commissioning a local carpenter to build three of these. They are feral cat feeding stations. Yes such things exist, have been thought about, planned and built, but mainly in the US …
Before impending arrival of the London Gang of 4, we will start feeding the ferals in the new location and hopefully we can minimise any clashes! Clashes are a worry as it may well be that FIV (feline HIV) is endemic in this population and we want to avoid any exchange of bodily fluids through bites.
We will then move into the ‘new’ house, and hanging around the kitchen door of the old house will be futile. Breakfast and dinner will be served in the purpose built ‘comedors’.
Finally, here we have Cat Feeder of the Month. This is Brett, originally from Cape Town and now living in Nottingham, who clearly has a way with cats. It is true that I am permitted to scratch Jessica’s head and this has progressed to stroking her (!), but she has known me for 2 or 3 years. Brett leant down to feed Jessica under the horreo and she almost nuzzled him. One thing led to another and here she is letting him scratch her head. Bette Davis looks on unimpressed ... Thank you Brett.
There are many, many cats here at present. And they are hungry! And thin, especially Ronny. The weather has been hot and dry and I have been away for a whole 9 days ... feel sorry for the rodents!
Today, they had me surrounded. Word has got out that the cat lady is back and has tinned food, and no one was leaving until I delivered. I think Chubby Chops may be the ring leader ...
Which of course I did, adding some brewer’s yeast (against fleas) into the mix.
I have done a little photo 'census' to show you the regulars we are seeing. Here they are:
Left to right: Huskie, Jessica, Ronny, Tortipizza (she of the bad teeth), Bandido, Bette Davis, Chubby Chops, Clem Fandango (always looks sad and has a new limp).
One of the perks (there are a few, honest!) of this cat business is the naming of cats. And I reserve the right to change them, on a whim! Actually, I don´t very often but the avid readers of this blog (is anyone out there?) may have spotted that Bandido has become Huskie … keep up everyone!!
There has been some sad news this week. Two cats on the other side of the village were killed by some kind of bull terrier type dog. This is obviously horrible, and made more so because the particular family of about 6 young cats are semi-feral and actually tame to the people whose barn they live in. So there they were, feeling safe (!) and this nasty dog comes along who turns out to belong to a relative! Madre mia … at least the true ferals (see all the above) are far more wary.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the village, Nigel and Frank (neutered by us, well, the vet) are living a very sweet existence following Rosa around like two poodles. They fight occasionally, like all couples, but obviously are an item. Both were very feral a couple of years ago and have become almost tame. They give me a wide berth though … not sure why! NIgel (the tabby) was the one that Josefa called 'malisimo' because he was such a bully. And I think he may be about to do Frank an injury here, he's got that look ...
And finally, here is my cousin Robert, here recently with his partner Amanda, feeding some ferals. Thank you Robert!
First of all, apologies for a distinct lack of news, including the lack of a launch of the next campaign, which is definitely on the to-do list but the stuff being added to the top keeps pushing it down! Human affairs have been taking up too much time of late including such things as .... re-basing ourselves here in Galicia. Which is VERY exciting, but also hard work in making it all happen.
Anyway, here we are again. It is a beautiful time of year. There´s been a lot of rain and a lot of sun and a lot of growth of all things green. I have been busy planting herbs (yes Miranda, I am on the case!) in an old washing trough which we have filled with what I hope is wonderful soil from inside the house we are renovating. There are also freshly planted irises and hollyhocks, and a very fragrant yellow jasmine. But enough of plants! What about our feline friends?
I was trying to catch Tortipizza to get her teeth sorted out last time, but to no avail. Funnily enough, she seems a lot better now and we suspect one or two rotten teeth have perhaps fallen out. So she is less of a worry at present and is turning up for mousse-style cat food at 2 pm every day. It´s always great to see her at the grand old age (for a feral cat) of around 7 years. Perhaps there´s a lesson there in what GPs call `watching and waiting´...
I´ll tell you about a trio of cats that have been visiting a lot over the last week. One is a butterfly cat, or calico cat which is nice, because she symbolises our project here. Our neighbours call her La Pintada (the painted one). She is very shy indeed and I have been aware of her for a couple of years but not got near her to get a decent photo, let alone get her to the vet! But apparently she was ´like a barrel´until a couple of weeks ago and now is not, so has a brood of kittens somewhere. She is thin and very hungry and so is coming closer than usual. And I have got a couple of photos of her. We have called her Calypso. Here she is eating with Ron.
She has a thing for the ginger fellas it seems as Señor Chubby Chops is a frequent companion as well. Here he is looking rather relaxed after breakfast. I wonder what the kittens will be like.
It will be good, when the time is right, to get her neutered, and now that she´s visiting for meals this may be possible.
Finally, Bette Davis is our most frequent visitor, having a bit of a thing for Dreamies... in her spare time, she pretends to be a lioness on the savannah. Can you see her face?
A quick visit to the Ribeira Sacra in early spring and we have been rewarded with some days of glorious warm sunshine, and some windy and cold days like today that find us inside watching BBC news 24 by the pellet stove.
There are many feline intrigues underway, as it seems mating season is in full swing. The howling and moaning that is going on early in the morning would suggest there is a female in heat and I think it is the little butterfly cat herself. She lives under the granary of our neighbours and we have not been successful in TNRing her. In fact I don't even have a decent photo of her. She is very wary of us and does not often come here for food. So now her fertility is playing itself out as there are some new males around, loitering around corners and even showing interest in some of the neutered females in a confusion of pheromones.
I watched from my office window yesterday as a whole troupe of males including Clem Fandango, the smaller tabby brother of Nigel, El Bandido (see below) and a ginger, possibly Ron, were going in and out of tunnels in the bracken across the way.
El Bandido is the most persistent Lothario. He has stationed himself in a tactical position at the end of our garden where he can keep an eye on the well-used cat trail that comes and goes to the woods below, ready to pounce on the object of his desire.
He's a new one to us, and there are others as well, like a large white bloke with ginger patches, and a small black male who is far shyer, probably sensibly.
I guess TNR does have some odd consequences, among the 'no-brainer' good ones. The butterfly cat may be the only fertile female around which means she is getting a lot of attention, wanted or otherwise. I hope it's wanted, and let's also hope we can TNR her at the right time, and her kittens!
And now to Tortipizza. One of the reasons we are here right now is because we could not trap her last time. She has some more rotten teeth (we think) and cannot eat properly so we want to take her to the vet, as we did about two years ago for some extractions. Unfortunately, we have again failed to trap her. She is very wary of the trap and even the metal sound of it when I brought it out the shed made her bolt. Now that we have run out of time to trap her on this visit we are trying to feed her up on soft mousse-style cat food, but she takes a mouthful or two and runs away. It must be because eating hurts so much. If she is getting a few mouthfuls a day she just might survive until next time we're here, but we are at a loss to know what to do if we can't trap her. Without her teeth being sorted out I imagine she will starve to death, and what we will notice is that she has disappeared. I can't think of any other way to catch her and get her to the vet - apart from a tranquiliser dart!
More news in April, and in the meantime, here's a photo of a small pila (stone trough) that I thought looked rather fetching against the spring daisies.
We've been here for a week and I leave tomorrow. It has been the coldest winter for years in the area and it has taken a week for the granite walls to actually absorb the heating sufficiently to make it comfortable. Everyone has been complaining about the minus 5 mornings and the heavy frosts. Now, the cold snap seems to have passed and we have the more normal slight dampness, and moderate cold, with the occasional rainy and windy day.
A curious thing about the feral cats here is that during the very crisp freezing mornings they seem to be fine with gamboling about, paws on the frost. When we really don't see them is when it's raining and windy. They hide away completely. Is there some biological reason why they would avoid rain but not frost? Maybe paws are one thing but you cannot get fur dry easily!
One cat we did not see today and were really hoping to is Tortipizza (photo above taken last year). Unfortunately, she has dental problems again and when we arrived was looking thin and was behaving oddly. Just like last time, around 2 years ago, she clearly finds eating very painful, and is making these strange jaw/head movements.
We wanted to see her today to try to trap her to get her to the vet tomorrow. Last time, he removed 7 or 8 teeth and she was right as rain later. Cats have 30 teeth so she can probably get away with having a few more out! My friend Lisa says she has known cats with no teeth at all to be able to eat dry food.
Well, Tortipizza did not turn up today and this was the last opportunity, before I come back in March, to get her to the vet. I hope she survives until then. Manolo, our neighbour, has been buying her very soft 'mousse' catfood and that is her best bet, but I will speak to the vet about giving her a steroid in her food tomorrow. That might help with the inflammation. What a worry. She is the last surviving one of the original seven that we neutered in 2011.
Speaking of wildlife, we set up our new wildlife camera last night and were delighted to see some great shots this morning. We knew wild boar (Jabali) came into the garden but it was wonderful to get such a great image on our first try of the camera. What a handsome fella - and on a familiar mission by the look of things. I think he may be heading for the catfood!
We have had a few days of coming up with delicious bait recipes for the traps.
The winning recipe was:
· 'dreamies' (in Spain they're called Catisfactions) crushed with sardines in olive oil and a hint of Gourmet Gold cat food
Foods that did not work at all were:
· chicken nuggets (cooked from frozen)
· processed duck breast
· tuna pate
There was much trial and error concerning traps and recipes alike; and we were successful in neutering three cats in two days which is not bad going. This included two sweet 6 month old females who are black and white and were quiet and no trouble at all during their two nights incarcerated. We put them together in one cage last night and they snuggled up to sleep, and then went back to their siblings and mother this morning after their big adventure in a human house, a car, and a vet surgery.
And, yes, after months of trying to trap him, we caught Nigel and he was neutered today. He has been somewhat of a bully in the pueblo. Josefa says he's 'malísimo' (very bad indeed) because he terrorises the other cats. He is alpha male and that is his job I guess, but Ron and Homer quake in their boots and Ron has had a nasty teeth-of-Nigel-shaped bite mark on his neck. He was probably lucky to get away from that skirmish! He is half the size of Nigel who weighed in at the clinic today at 5 kilos (very large for a feral cat).
Javier the vet says that 'things will change' in the dynamic in the colony and I hope we see Nigel becoming a bit more relaxed; and fundamentally that there are fewer fights and fewer opportunities for viruses to transmit.
Lisa, my wonderful helper on this trip, is posing below with the traps and crush boxes we use. She is a professional pet sitter and dog walker and knows cats really well. It was her second visit, and having someone with her knowledge and patience makes this work so much easier.
The many uses of an horreo, the role of the rat-turner, and the continuing challenge of Nigel's family jewels
An horreo, pronounced 'orrrrrayo' with that lovely Spanish trill of the double r .... well, what is it? It´s a granary traditionally used for storing (hanging) corn for use over the winter. We are very lucky to be custodians of one, and it's a beauty. It is around 3 metres tall, 6 metres long, and about a metre wide. Yep, its long and skinny and has a cross on top. I guess to bless the corn. When we first bought our property here it came with one half of a long horreo. We have since bought the other half but it has a dividing wall in the miiddle. So if you open a door at one end, you see a long space with a brick wall, and the same if you open the door at the other end. The storage section is around a metre off the ground and is built on a framework of stone. In fact the whole thing is built on a stone plinth, witb shaped "rat-turners", yes rat-turners.
imagine you are a rat, and you are sitting where Bette Davis is on the right. You are sure there is delicious corn drying inside the horreo and you are desperate to get in there and have a bit of a nibble, or perhaps move in for the winter and have a family, happy to be living witha veritable feast. Well, you have a problem, because the only way to get up to level of the corn is to go upside down, along the rat-turners, designed to force you to do so. An impossibility apparently.
We love our horreo. It has lots of uses and it has 1929 written on the top of it under the cross. 1929 was the year of the Wall Street Crash and its effects were certainly felt in Spain. The economic crisis that followed this led to the downfall of General Miguel Primo de Rivera's dictatorial government on January 29, 1930, and the second Spanish Republic was proclaimed the following year. Read more here. Perhaps whoever lived here in this house built the horreo then to ensure there was food as times got tough.
We use it for storage of course. It has all sorts of useful stuff in it, none of which I can name right now, but it is a fabulous dry space for that. It runs east/west which I guess means it gets the southern sun on its side all day and avoids the wet weather, which tends to come from the north-west.
It is great as a feral cat feeding station! I wonder what the original owner would think of that. Probably not a lot! I have been trying out strategies to keep the males from fighting each other over food, and one such strategy is to place bowls on either end (on top of the rat-turner) so that any diner, particularly male and not NIgel, can see Nigel coming. He is a brute and I have tried to catch him to get him neutered but to no avail. He keeps looking at me like below, as if he knows I want his cojones.
Not that I do of course, literally. We need to neuter them all, and would given time and money. A bonus would be Nigel being a bit less alpha and forgoing violence. He is horrible to the gingers. Vincent, newly named and below, looking at the camera, seems to be struggling with a kind of snuffling and great hunger. He doesn't look too bad physically but is grunting out a miaow that does not sound good and is finding it hard to eat dry food. Nigel chases him unceremoniously off, as he does with Ron (middle below looking understandably nervous), and one who looks like his much smaller brother, as yet nameless. It's important to neuter the males as well as the females as the males spread the serious viruses by flighting and biting each other.
All will have to wait however, as I am going back to BrexitLand tomorrow. My friend Lisa and I plan an all-out campaign in a month's time though. We will try to TNR 5 or 6. Nigel, we will be bringing roast chicken! You don't have chance. I hope we can also catch Vincent and see if his teeth need intervention. I will leave you with two very happy photos. One is Frank Sinatra relaxing in his new locale (on top of Josefa's wall) and the other is Xena, who always looks so incredibly healthy she is almost, ahem, fat. In this photo she could be about to draw her weapon in the OK Corral. Both neutered and both thriving.
We've just had a couple of gorgeous weeks in the Ribeira Sacra. At this time of year it can be sunny and warm and reach 29 or 30 degrees. Just look at the hibiscus flowering!
Work is calling me back to London. The bonus of going 'home' is that there are 'cats you can cuddle'. And I always look forward to seeing Zaldi, Zita, Scruffy and Mizuki, the London (pet) cats
You can't cuddle the cats in the village. Frank Sinatra (more on him anon) is the closest it comes, and that means weaving around one's legs and trotting after Rosa with his tail in the air. But I think if you tried to pick him up you'd be shredded! One thing that is very sweet, is that Bette Davis purrs loudly when you feed her. Isn't that gorgeous? Zorro still hisses, and Nigel (yes, NoNeck is now Nigel - thanks Rachel!), well, he looks at you, slightly cross-eyed, in his 'stunned-mullet', yet endearing green-eyed way.
What with Josefa feeding them macaroni, and Adam feeding them cat food for another 10 days, the colony should be fine. In a month's time the plan then is to really get stuck in to some neutering, with my friend and erstwhile feral cat expert, Lisa. There are at least five young cats to get on with as well as a few males including Nigel and Ron.
I worry about Ron. He is thin and has some damage to his neck. Did Nigel have his teeth sunk into that neck? He is frightened of Nigel but doesn't appear to see him very quickly when it is frankly very obvious he is there (skulking under the car, or sitting on top of a pile of wood). Here he is catching some rays next to the new shed. Failure to keep one eye open at all times is a great error! Adam is going to feed him up for the next while.
Nigel really is the Alpha Male, and it is a good thing the magnificent Zorro is now neutered. He is bigger than Nigel, but doesn't seem to want the Alpha job. I think they may actually be brothers, and it is fascinating to see the fur rise up on Nigel and the tail bush out, as he staggers around (what's that about?) using his stand-over tactics to attempt to push Zorro out of the area. Zorro seems to be unconcerned, being bigger and looking stronger, but I suppose without the hormones screaming 'Dominate, defend, prevail at all costs!'. Zorro's response seems to be instead, 'Leave it out mate, I'm just here for the Friskies!'.
Frank Sinatra doesn't come around at all these days. Rosa, who lives in another part of the village (50 meters away), feeds him, and I left her with some steroids (thank you Lisa) and antibiotics at the end of August, to try to clear up the nasty sores on his front legs. Well, that worked a dream. He is looking really good. Here's a pic.
And finally here's a photo of TortiMiniMe, who also tends to stay around the ruined street and the macaroni feeding station. Here she is on what Adam says is a Roman cart ...I think he means Roman-style!
If you're a feral cat, the space between you and human beings is a big issue, and one which has to be assessed and managed continually. They say that if kittens are not socialised with humans by the age of six weeks, they will be feral. But what does that really mean?
I guess it's about trust. If a kitten is exposed and handled by human beings at a young age, it learns that this will not endanger it. If they don't get that exposure, they don't trust humans. This is true even if you feed the cat regularly as it grows. The crucial window of socialisation has gone.
But there are degrees of feral-ness. I can get within a metre of Jessica if I am putting down some food and she is standing by ready to eat it. Others such as Ron (eating with Jessica and Bette Davis below) and this other ginger peeking out from behind the wooden chest (also below), are extremely guarded and will bolt if you come within 4 or 5 metres of them.
And there are some middling cases. Zorro, for example hisses at me when I go to feed him. Here he is with one eye on me while drinking water.
He is clearly conflicted as he really 'puts in the hours', investing his time in being present, staking a claim to the rich pickings of this particular hunting ground by hanging around under the car or under the horreo, until I come outside with some cat food. And then just as I pass him to put it in the bowls, he hisses. Much as I admonish him for biting the hand that feeds him, I do understand that he is actually both frightened of me and appreciative, all at the same time. How confusing for him!
The boys seem to be more feral than the girls. This is curious. The boys probably have a wider roaming range and therefore form less of an attachment to their village than the girls. Perhaps that's it; or maybe the boys have more to fear from humans. I suspect the odd aggressive male has been chased off by the odd human now and then. Certainly our neighbours do comment on how 'very, very bad' (malisimo) certain large males are when they bully everyone else.
Maybe the males have to be more guarded, generally. They have to watch their backs, that's for sure. They have a clear pecking order and if they do happen to be the alpha male (NoNeck probably at present - here he is, peering at me from behind the rock) there will be regular challenges; and if they are somewhere else in the pecking order, they are under threat from above and below, unless they are on the very bottom of that league table. Hard to get a good night's sleep either way! And best to keep one eye open, and one’s back against the wall. Perhaps you end up being guarded and suspicious about felines and humans alike.
As a feral carer you can use this knowledge to advantage. For example, TortiPizza is regular as clockwork with her 3 pm visits. She turns up when all the others are having a nice siesta in the jungle-like abandoned finca. She doesn't want to compete with the others, so she is clever enough to turn up at odd times to ask for food. But just say there is someone like Zorro around, he will push his way to the bowl I've put down for her and she will run off. However, if I hover between him and the bowl, she will come back and eat, happily. The reason is that his 'proximity tolerance' to me is around 4 metres; hers is around 2. Therefore, if I stand around 2 metres from the bowl, she will eat but he will not. Cool huh?
Of course the same dynamic can be unhelpful. If I want to trap a male to get him neutered, you can bet it will be the more relaxed (and already neutered) females who will explore - and hoover up - the tempting treats on offer, nonchalantly skipping in and out of the as yet unset trap. It may indeed seem like a game in which the human puts the delicious morsels carefully in the trap, Bette Davis or Jessica gobble them up as soon as back is turned, at which point the human shoos them away to put more delicious morsels in! What fun.
Short memory, given they have experienced that trap as the beginning of the TNR process. But I guess it's an affirmation of the fact that they don't think anything really terrible happened to them in that process!
Adam and Janey, London and Lugo