Thursday, January 19, 2012

Now is a great time to design paths. In the snow.

You might not be thinking about garden design right now, but with all the snow our part of the country just received, you should be.  Now is a great time to grab the snow shovel and consider paths in the garden.  Having a lot of snow on the ground is like a fresh canvas (albeit a 3D one) to draw or carve out paths and the locations of other features.  You can even erase them by covered them up with snow.  So, take your shovel, and start creating.  Spend some time looking at the paths you've created, but more importantly use them over the next few days and weeks.  And don't forget, add some curves in your paths!

Paths aren't the only things the snow lends itself to- hills and mounds are fun to create now, without the expense and labor of using soil.  If you've ever wanted to try to add some interest in your landscape with some topography the snow offers a great, and ephemeral opportunity.
No matter what you decide, take some pictures are make some sketches, because the snow won't last forever!

And, by the way, loyal readers of Montana Wildlife Gardener, Junebug soundly defeated Alex and Natalie to repeat as title holder of Cat of the Year.  A post summarizing her victory (the only two-time champion) is coming soon.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Cat of the Year: Voting is Now Open!

Squeak, 1993-2011
It's time to vote for the coveted title of 2011 Cat of the Year. 

The voting was lively last year, with touching comments submitted and several voters expressing very strong opinions, and it is clear that the readers of Montana Wildlife Gardener take the responsibility of voting seriously. We apologize for the delay in getting this year's contest up and running, but we experienced a high volume of veterinary trips and health scares in late December, and we had to incorporate those results into the competition (in the interest of fairness and full disclosure).

We offer the 2011 Cat of the Year (COTY) Award in loving memory of Squeak (pictured above).  We loved Squeak dearly and were very sad to lose her. She died from complications of old age (she was about 18) and went quickly.  As much as we miss her and honor her memory, we regret that she is ineligible for the 2011 COTY Award.  She passed away in May, which means she did not meet the minimum requirement of participating in 50% of the year. But she was a good cat.

Voting will be open until January 15 2012; polls close at midnight.
As you recall, Junebug was the 2010 COTY winning by a landslide, receiving 54% of the vote and easily winning over the electoral college to claim the coveted title. Alex, the 2009 champion, made a strong showing, but ultimately he was no match of the giant political machine that is Junebug (that was a shout-out to Missoula local politics).

Obviously, this has nothing to do with wildlife gardening or native plant landscaping, other than to say keep your cats indoors.

The nominees are listed below (alphabetically).

Alex in the foreground; Natalie staring daggers in the back of his head

Age: 10

Weight: 7.5 lbs

Breed: Turkish angora x Persian

Background: Innocent victim of a hoarder. He was at the shelter for 2 years because no one wanted to adopt an adult black cat. We adopted him in summer of 2007 as a friend for Natalie. Boy was that a bad idea.

Pros: Good attitude. Greets all visitors at the door. Does fantastic acrobatics. Plays hard.  Tries to play with the other cats (they don't play back), and he respects Junebug and her issues.  After the passing of Squeak, the undisputed leader of the house, Alex has assumed a more prominent leadership role.  This despite his age (our youngest cat), and that he is about 56% the size of Natalie.

Cons: Rarely purrs. Bites your toes while you sleep. Sometime bolts out the door to check out the yard (but in his defense he stops after 10 feet).

Accomplishments in 2011: Alex grew one white whisker in 2011, contributing to his more distinguished appearance.  Although he lost his closest friend, Squeak, this year, Alex maintains a cheerful and outgoing personality.
Squeak and her friend Alex, enjoy the sun.

Gregarious, yet modest and unassuming, Alex just likes to be close to people.  He spends the most time in Junebug's room- he loves it there, and he never uses her litter box (see below). His ¾ length tail, though not new in 2011, is always worth some points. He had a strong year overall, but in November we discovered pre-cancerous skin tumors on his trunk and neck.  On the upside, he has been very stoic about this and hadn't complained at all. On the downside, if he had called them to our attention sooner, he might have ended up getting a dental check up sooner and avoided 3 extractions. Alex: it's ok to ask for help sometimes.

Expenses: 2 vet visits, 3 teeth pulled, 5 tumors excised.
Cost per pound: $80

Junebug cleans yet another plate in 2011

Age: 12 (No one expected her to make it this long)

Weight: 4 lbs 1 oz.  (down 1.5 pounds since last year)

Breed: Silvertip Persian

Background: Oh, June. We adopted June from the Humane Society in fall 2009 after she suffered years of horrific neglect.

Pros: Ridiculously cute with a big purr. Cuddly, despite her very bony little arthritic body. Her only two teeth are in pretty good shape (although since she is allegic to her own tooth enamel, we have to give her daily antibiotics to keep those 2 teeth there).  Despite only 2 teeth (both on the bottom), she eats more than the other 2 cats combined.  Given her love for meat, blood, and related, another pro is that she has never tasted our blood. If she ever tastes human blood, well, you can imagine.

Cons: Her litter box improvement actually plateaued in 2010.  Whereas her litter box use has "improved" since adoption it is only because we make sure she is in her room when she has to use it.  Side note- she will only use her litter box if she is in her room, and only if no other cat ever uses it. Fortunately she lives a simple life and it's easy (kind of) to predict her schedule. Also, we can't make eye contact with her when she is considering using the litter box. Oh, June.

She doesn't like to take her medicine (she gets 2/day and 1 every other day).  She is not a cat for beginners. She also helps with the dishes (she will eat anything).

Accomplishments this year: No teeth extractions, and only 2 or 3 vet visits all year (more than a 50% decrease from last year!). Although June is a finicky eater and her canned cat food bills add up, we have switched her over to a more wild game based diet.  In fact, all the scrap we once would throw away, we now save for June and grind it up for her.  She is saving our wallet and the environment.  She continues to improve her grooming habits (well, they are not getting worse). She is okay with home-administered haircuts.  She sleeps by our heads in bed with us every night, and she lets us scratch her belly.
Ventured outside a couple of times this summer (under close supervision).
Junebug went outside in 2011

Editors note:  this is not an activity we condone for cats, but her vet said that June can do anything she wants.

Expenses: multiple vet visits, daily anti-anxiety meds and antibiotics, constant awareness of her litter box routine

Cost per pound: $50, but priceless, really.

Natalie in one of her several beds.

Age: 16

Weight: 13 lbs.

Breed: Domestic long hair

Background: Disemboweled by her previous owners’ dog. Medically neglected. Borderline diabetic (type 2 lifestyle diabetes, I'm calling it what is is). She’d prefer to be the only cat in our house.

Pros: Classic beauty, good stomper, good at polishing things with her declawed paws (including the computer monitor when you are trying to read or write something). Great purr, skilled exfoliator of the human face.  Very helpful when you are reading a book, looking at a monitor or doing anything that she can sit on, sit in front of, or otherwise interrupt (see below). Very friendly with human visitors.

Cons: Diva complex. Not a team player. Generally dislikes Alex and Junebug (who she doesn't recognize as a cat).  Not to anthropomorphize, but it really seemed like she was happier after Squeak died.  I think there was gloating.  Natalie is not very helpful when you are reading a book, looking at a monitor or doing anything that she can sit on sit in front of or otherwise interrupt (see above)

Accomplishments: Natalie continues to be the largest of our cats and had no surgeries this year. Glowing report from the vet (who she hates). She is a wonderful, happy cat, and if not for her utter disdain of Alex and Junebug (and Squeak), this would be her title to lose every year.

Cost: Expensive diabetic food, but only 1 vet visit this year.

Cost per pound: $7.70