Sunday, June 29, 2008

Animal Perenting

I had a very good meeting with a friend at Claremont College in the morning and decided to visit the most recent fire in the San Gabriel Mountains, above the town of Sierra Madre. It was in early May and there has been sufficient time for people to get their lives mostly in order. I hoped that the road was open so that I could photograph the grounds and the vegetation. I also wanted to take samples of the grasses that were around the burn area for a painting I have been working on of an area in the mountains that has had several consecutive fires. There have been several studies showing that the deposition of NOx from exhaust from cars contribute to nitrogen loading in near forests. Nitrogen increases the likelihood of invasive grasses which thrive in soils with high amounts of nutrients which contribute to the fires that start and burn so hot at the intersection of forest and urban areas. The USGS has some important studies rarely used by City planners, that urban sprawl causes forest fires. On top of all of that bad news is that the same pollution that causes destruction of forest habitat even from far away cities, the ozone which cars produce is in high enough concentration and fill so much of our world landscape that when people want to get away from it all can't, and may be exposed to higher levels of the lung destroying molecule when they visit the mountains.

Well, with all of that lovely information in my head - hey! I have to live with the Debby-downer brain everyday and it's not easy!!! - I traveled up Santa Anita until it turned into a single lane. When I finally came to edge of the burn I found a turn out where trucks had pushed debris into what was a small turn out.

I was at the beginning of the forest and I parked the car and took out my camera and lenses. There seemed to be trash about my car and plenty of beer bottles from after the fire (not shattered). What? Was there some sort of a party after the blaze?
Another vehicle drove up past me as I walked across the single lane road to listen to the cicadas sing and to inspect the partially burned, but still living oak tree.

What I find in burn areas is a lot of destruction of the surface soils from the water used to dowse the fire by the fire fighting crew. It is like a preamble to the coming winter rains which will continue to lubricate the highly disturbed soils and rock from the side of the mountain. Sands and small to very large rocks fill the gullies and undercut road shoulders, which are ready to move down the hill in a landslide all because the fire fight was to save housing. (See above for why we should not build so close to the forest)

I took these two shots and then turned to take a picture of the oak tree. I crossed the road and saw a bunch of different species of grasses all in one area - COOL! I opened the trunk of my car and started to take small clumps of grasses. One clump at eye height was sitting on top near a giant boulder. There seemed to be new deposits of trash about my car and not from the bulldozers....There was plenty of beer bottles from after the fire (not shattered). What? Was there some sort of a party after the blaze?

As I was pulling the clumps of grass when I heard a strange gurgling sound... coming right in front of me. I looked down - just a bit (why I did not see it before the sound, escapes me) what looked to me to be a DUCK!!!! It had its head in a defensive posture, trying to hide in the clump of grass I was pulling.

So, what does a good biologist do when faced with an animal in a defensive pose? I pulled on its tail and it gurgled some more... and I took it out and found it was not a duck but a chicken. Why in HELL was a chicken up here!????

I looked her over and found that her nostrils had some black inside probably from rooting around in the burn area. WHY FOR HEAVEN"S SAKE WAS SHE HERE??? She was actually quite a large chicken the size of a DUCK!! and obviously comfortable with a human examining her. She was someones pet! I decided to take her home and call my vet. This bird had a respiratory problem . .... She was dumped by some crappy person probably just before I got there.

Dr. Cauble came the next morning and told me she was an older bird, had some arthritis. She was sick with one of three organisms, two of which we could treat. I had her in quarantine in the garage and fed her and gave her water. She was very dehydrated. She had a good night's sleep in a safe place.... but we decided to put her to sleep and call the health department.

I can't watch the animals go. "Chris, I will be inside the kitchen." Dr, Cauble watched over her. The chicken went peacefully. Dr. Cauble took her body with him and he will tell me what the Department has found. They needed the exact spot and time where I found her.

This was a sweet bird. Perhaps she was past her egg laying days like my Miss Chicken. I could not put my bird out to be eaten by dogs, or coyotes, or raccoons. There is so much trust that my animals have in me to take care of them.

After Dr. Cauble left I got a call from my son's friends. Lisa and Gabe were coming over with Zoe. "Is 3 p.m. okay?" "Sure."

I took care of Zoe for two summers. She is a delightful Abyssinian. Last year, I was having work done on my house and decided to put her in the studio. She thought all the spaces under the easels were great places to hide and my son was making his own place in there, too. FRIENDS and PLACES TO JUMP! ZOE was such a happy curious girl.

On her second day in the studio, breakfast was as usual, she gobbled it all down and then returned to her duties at the windows and under chairs. I had an appointment before lunch and returned early after lunch to find Zoe sitting on the rug not moving. I touched her and found her to be HOT! She was lack-luster. My son looked up the address of the emergency animal hospital.

The hospital staff took x-rays and found her food to still be in her stomach from the morning! And something like a blockage in her bowel!!! Her temperature was quite high and they said I should leave Zoe there for observation. I called after an hour and they said she was getting worse! I told my son to call or email Lisa and Gabe about their kitty.

HOLY MOLY! And on my watch!!!! Zoe was transferred to another hospital where they put her on intravenous fluids. She was going down fast! Lisa and Gabe came back early and picked up little Zoe at the hospital. I was devastated and so were Zoe's parents. I had no idea what happened to her. Zoe continued to go down and Lisa and Gabe spent a lot of money trying to save the little cat.... and called the next day and said that their doctor was considering to put her to sleep.... and asked if I would take her... and, I said I would an try to save the little girl.

Then, Zoe made a miraculous turn around and got better. We were all relieved and spent! I wracked my brains trying to understand what happened.. and so, indulge me in my take on what nearly killed this little cat...

Last year, I had two yellow jacket nests to contend with... one of which was out side the studio. I found the nests, of course, by walking near them and being attacked and stung multiple times. I used the safest methods for ridding them but I think what happened was this....

The studio had a ceiling but the people who were renting my house in the 90's while I was in Ohio, took the ceiling out to expose the rafters. This was a wonderful idea because the building was small and claustrophobic. The bad part was that there are ventilation holes between all the rafters. I suspect that a wasp came in and Zoe found it. Lisa said that Zoe is fascinated by insects and eats them. Cats are very sensitive animals and will develop high fevers quickly. This will also shut down the digestive system which looks like one of several serious conditions. Zoe may have even been stung internally by the wasp and the reaction put her in a tail spin. She was put on strong medication .... some of which may have acted like an antihistamine. This may be what saved Zoe....

Well, Lisa and Gabe are moving and cannot take Zoe with them. They asked if I would look after her and I said, "Yes." Zoe is now a new member of my household.

Meet Zoe.

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