Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review- The Merry Maines Go Country

Shortly after Heath came home I went to Amazon.com and looked up all things Maine Coon. I think the best thing I found was the Merry Maines books by Garnet Quinn. I read the first three on my Kindle, and I highly recommend them (although not necessarily on Kindle. The stories are great, but there are many proofing errors.) I was so excited when a fourth book was released in December. The Merry Maines Go Country is now available on Kindle, but I got the paperback (and it looks like the price is currently discounted!).

The Merry Maines stories are basically cozy mysteries. In order, they are The Merry Maines: a Shaggy Cat Story, The Moosery, The Merry Maines Sing a Song of Sixpence, and The Merry Maines Go Country. I recommend reading them in order. They are sweet stories with happy endings and wonderful cats, definitely G rated. I'm not going to give many story details. What I like about all these books is that they are obviously written by someone who knows cats, cat shows, and Maine Coons, in particular. Garnet Quinn does allow her feline characters the device of speaking to each other. It works well in these stories. The cats are the main characters, and we get to know them well. She nails the little quirks of Maine Coon personality. My only minor complaint with the newest story, is that my favorite cat characters don't get much face time in this book. I love the many cats who have been introduced, but somehow this story seems less intimate with the characters than the previous books. I want more Hawkeye and Bhu Fan. I do love the new character of Turey. I hope his character is developed in future books. This newest Merry Maines book introduces new human and cat characters. It seems like there is plenty of potential for more stories. I hope Garnet Quinn will keep writing them. All in all, I recommend a visit to the MerryMaines cattery for any lover of cats, Maine Coons, and cozy stories.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Unbelievable

I came home from work at lunch time on Friday. Heath was in the kitchen to greet me as usual. What was not usual was that he just lay on the floor rather than getting up to come demand attention. My mental alarms immediately went off. Sure enough, he got up to walk, and I had a limping cat. I'm always worried my agility dog is going to do something to come up lame and hurt, but the cat!? Cats aren't supposed to do that. It was pretty obviously his left hind leg, and I thought it was the hock. It was bad enough that I didn't waver too long in deciding he needed the vet to check it out. Since he was putting some weight on it, she didn't think it was broken. We decided to have him rest it and wait for Monday for x-rays if there was no improvement. He got an injection of an anti-inflamatory for his swollen hock and pain killers. Then I brought him home and put him on "crate arrest" for the weekend in one of the big dog crates. He felt pretty sorry for himself. I'm happy to say that after two days rest he appears to be back to normal. Thank goodness it doesn't seem to have been anything worse than a sprain. That cat is using up his nine lives rather quickly!
Who me? 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Pics




This weeks pictures are all Instagram photos taken on my iPhone. The best camera is often the one in your pocket. It's always handy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bonding

Brother and sister continue to become closer friends. I have no way of knowing if they remember each other.  Maybe they just get along because they are both Maine Coons of the same age. I like to think that they know they are litter mates. I think there is one particular benefit to having had Heath come home with us three months before Cali. They are as bonded to us as to each other. They seem very fond of each other, but both are also very attached to the humans in our house. They play together. I've seen more signs of little things, like Heath stopping to lick Cali on the forehead and Cali coming over to sleep with Heath (which he allowed), showing their growing bond. They remain aware of each other, but they also spend plenty of time doing their own thing, including spending separate time with the people in the house. I think we are very lucky to be living with these two wonderful kitties!

hey sis?... get off 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Walking the cats

video
I've been teaching the Coons to walk on a leash. Actually, I can't take much credit with Heath. He just sort of does it. I have no plans to ever walk them outside. It's just more of a training exercise for fun. The first video is Heath's first time on leash back in September. All I really did is have some Greenie cookies and he followed me around. Now I know that when most people walk a cat the idea is mostly just to follow the cat. After many years of dog training, I felt like I should have some say in the matter. So I went about it the same way I would train a puppy. I give reinforcement for the cat's choice to be in position next to me. Heath did better than some dogs do the first time!

I knew Cali would be more challenging, so the biggest change was to use a much higher value reward. For Cali I used turkey baby food, something I was pretty sure she would want. Although she is not inclined to just follow me around, I use the same technique, encouraging her to walk up by my leg and giving her the treat when she is in that position. It doesn't take long for them to see the value in that location.
video

You can see that with Cali in this first training session, I have baby food on my finger and I show it to her to encourage (lure) her into position. Heath has already learned to walk up to my position, so one of the things I have added with him and will teach to Cali, is for him to target my hand. I have treats in the hand opposite from Heath. I show him the flat of my hand on the side I want him to come to and reward him for touching his nose to my hand. This means he can wander and lag a bit, but I have a way to ask him to join up with me. We'll see how this continues to work and what kind of progress the Coons make.  It's early days on this journey!
video

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Pics

Heath continues to make an excellent recovery, and the siblings are playing together like old friends. The first two pictures were taken on my Nikon D5000. Then I played with them in iPhoto. The last two were taken on my iPhone and then played with and published on Instagram. I'm tacarlile on Instagram.




Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Getting to know you - brother and sister reunite

Heath and Cali met up on Saturday. I was so curious to see what would happen. I have to say that their reunion has gone well. Cali was really funny. She took one look at Heath and was *in love*. Heath was not quite so impressed, but given that he was really not feeling his best a little grumpiness is understandable. Cali set out to win him over. While Heath was lashing his tail and looking cranky, Cali went into total cuteness mode. Her relaxed posture and rolling on her back made it plain that she was no threat to Heath. She used that back rolling to slowly scoot closer. What a flirt! Basically, Heath had no chance against his sister's determined campaign to win him over. While they haven't yet progressed to curling up together, they keep track of each other's whereabouts and seek each other out. Heath isn't quite ready for mutual grooming and body contact, but there has been lots of play between them. I don't know if they really remembered each other, but it was as good an introduction as I could have wished for. I'm sure that as Heath recovers from his surgery they are going to be very close. This is the first time we have ever had sibling pets. They are so much fun!

I'm too cute to threaten anyone.

Where did my brother go now?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Shaping cat behavior or How to get the new kitty out from under the bed

Cali arrived on Thursday and promptly made herself at home under the bed in the office bedroom. That's normal cat behavior, so no big deal. But I really wanted her out from under the bed sooner rather than later. I heeded the good advice of experienced breeders to let her have the space to hide until she was comfortable enough to come out. I also made plans to apply some positive reinforcement to encourage her to join the family. Friday, she stayed under the bed while I periodically went up to visit her. Each time I would pull her out from under the bed with no objections from her. She loved to snuggle and visit. When I left, she headed back under the bed. 

Now here is a key point you have to remember about shaping animal behavior using positive reinforcement. The animal decides what is reinforcing, not you. Heath is easy. He loves food. Even crunchy Greenie treats are very reinforcing for him. The opportunity to play with toys is a good reward (reinforcement) for many cats. It was quickly apparent to me that one of Cali's top rewards is cuddling and be loved on. Not many cats necessarily find this rewarding, but she loves it! I put that information to work. By Friday evening she was very comfortable in her zone, the office bedroom. I began bringing her down to the family room to sit on my lap for cuddles. As soon as she wanted to leave I would return her to her safe zone in the office. I decreed that from then on all petting and loving would occur outside the office. She was comfortable there. I wanted to reward her for choosing to be in other areas of the house. Friday night she came over the baby gate to explore while the household was sleeping. On Saturday her comfort zone had expanded to include the entire upstairs. She spent a lot of the day at the top of the stairs or on the stairs where she has a good view of  most of the main floor of the house. She spent most the night on our bed! She only returned upstairs when the dogs started moving in the morning. Today was the same. She likes the top of the stairs. This is great progress. She is still a little uncomfortable with the level of noise in the house and the dogs, but she is coming around quickly. I also took all food out of the office today and fed her in a main floor bathroom. All good things now happen in the main parts of the house. 

Cali and Heath met up on Saturday and for now I will just share that it is going well. I'll save the story of their meeting for Tuesday. Cali was pretty funny! Heath is doing really well in his recovery from his VBO surgery. He has no neurological side effects which is great! We are focusing on keeping him from being too active just yet, because he really is feeling good. 

You call this positive reinforcement? I just call it kitty fun!

Of course I'm just as beautiful as my brother!

Don't bother me. I'm following doctor's orders to rest and recover. 



Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Pics

I love this picture. Teenage son loves his kitties.

Cali settling in.

Yes, this is actually a preferred sleeping position. Silly boy.

Watching videos for cats on YouTube.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Surprise!

Today is the big day. Heath is having his ear surgery. It has been a very tough week for me. We suddenly and unexpectedly lost our Australian Shepherd on Saturday. With just the three small dogs and the cats there is less poop to pick up, less hair in the house, less noise. And it just feels like less. There is a gaping hole in my heart labeled Annie.

Today should be a turning point towards good things and healing. I am so looking forward to Heath's ears being healed and putting those issues behind us. Tomorrow when he comes home, there will be a surprise for him, and I'm really hoping he likes it. Today I met up with his breeder and brought home his sister Cali (previously called Gigi) to live with us!
This is the last time we saw Cali, back in September when we picked up Heath. She is the pretty gray (black smoke) and white girl on the left. Heath is on the right.

Through no fault of anyone, Heath has turned out to be a very expensive cat. When his breeder offered a second kitten, even my husband couldn't bring himself to say no. (the man is crazy about Maine Coons as it turns out. Shhh, don't tell him I told you)  Although Heath does great playing with the dogs, I'm really hoping he will enjoy having his sister as a playmate. Logic tells me that I shouldn't expect them to remember each other after three and a half months, but I really hope that they do! Now you know why this blog is about TWO main(e) things.
I'm a princess. I'm not as brave as my brother, and I'm not at all sure about having moved to a new home and family. I am a sweet lap kitty. I'll adjust in a few days. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Plans and Setbacks

My plan was to show Heath at cat shows that are relatively local to us. The setback has been that Heath has ear polyps. Due to the polyps, his ears have been infected basically ever since he came home. I want to be clear that this is not a genetic problem, but just one of those random things that happens with living beings. His breeder has been absolutely wonderful to work with. She is one of those people who give breeders a good name. Purebred animals bred by responsible breeders are no more likely to have health issues than random bred animals and should have less of issues we are able to test for. I think mutts and domestic shorthair and longhair cats are wonderful pets, but if a purebred is what you want, you should know that your chances of having a long relationship with a healthy animal are excellent if you choose a responsible breeder.

We decided shortly after getting Heath that we loved him and were going to keep him despite the realization that his ears were a problem. (My husband is the best!) I've done a lot of research about ear polyps in cats. The cause is unknown. A middle ear surgery called ventral bulla osteotomy, which involves scraping the polyp out of the middle ear, is almost always completely successful and curative. Heath has bilateral polyps, meaning he has them in both ears, a very rare condition. He will be having VBO surgery tomorrow. I am praying for an excellent outcome and looking forward to putting the issues with his ears behind us for good.

Lasting complications are rare. I hope he will still get the chance to try for success as a show cat, but if that is not to be then I know we will still have a great time with Heath as our pet. He is such a character that one way or another I'm sure he has big plans for his life!

After this week, and bringing Heath's life up to date, my plan for this blog is three posts a week. Tuesdays will be general updates on Heath's life. Friday will be pictures from Instagram. Do you have an iPhone? I love the Instagram app, and Heath is my most frequent subject. Follow me @ tacarlile on Instagram. Sunday's posts will be about training or living with a Maine Coon.

Please pray that Thursday's news will be all good.

I'm not coming out if you're messing with my ears!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Welcome!

I've decided my newest interest is worthy of its own blog, so join me here on my journey with my Maine Coon kitten, Heath. Many, many years ago, my husband and I occasionally showed our pet kitties as Household pets. Heath will hopefully be our first "real" show cat, but getting him to the show ring is an adventure.

Back in August, we decided it would be fun to take the kids to a cat show. We hadn't been to one in many years. Heath and his siblings were entered in the show. Daughter and I fell in love with him, and wouldn't you know it, he was available! And yes, the breeder would love it if we showed him in the Premier division (for spayed and neutered cats). So in September, at 5 months old, Heath came to live with us. He is registered as Furensics TC Chocolate Heath Piece. My goal was to show him enough to earn his Grand Premier and have some fun, and also to experiment with applying my learning of the use of positive reinforcement with my agility dogs to have a fun and fabulous relationship with this big, gorgeous kitty and see where it takes us. Our journey was just beginning, and I'll share it with you.

Welcome to my new blog!