Our Radioactive Cat

We have two senior cats. One of those cats, Buck, has had a lot of health issues over the years, including heart problems, digestive issues and a blood clot. He’s likely on eight of his nine lives and can add another health problem to his long list: hyperthyroidism.

Thankfully this can be fixed with an expensive radioactive iodine therapy. He’s such a sweet cat that I thought we owed him a chance, plus the alternative treatments, a special diet or pills, just won’t work well for him.

Waiting for food.

Radioactive iodine therapy involves one shot and several days at a treatment facility to let the radioactivity levels subside. It doesn’t cause the cat any pain, but they can’t be around people or other animals for a few days. When he gets back we have to minimize contact with him for awhile and scoop out his litter into a bucket that has to sit for a few weeks before we can dispose of it.

I’ve never been to a vet as organized and efficient as the folks doing this treatment, Advanced Veterinary Medical Imaging in Tustin. They send a daily spreadsheet update, call frequently and there’s even a webcam in Buck’s cage which has allowed us to watch him beg for food and hide from the vet techs. I really wish our human health system in the country spent a little more money on communicating with patients and families. It would make life easier for everyone including our overworked doctors and nurses.

Mr. Buck came to us over a decade ago as a kitten from a neighbor who found him unconscious in a driveway. I feel privileged to have lived with this feline in all his ups and downs and when the time came to make the decision on this treatment I didn’t think about it long. We’re fortunate to be able to afford it and I felt an obligation to make whatever time we have left with him as comfortable as possible.

Until this absence this week, I didn’t fully realize what a presence he is, the way he bosses the dog, the other cat and even us around. The house is haunted by his absence, by the way he bangs on the window by the bed to wake me up at 5:30 for breakfast, his nocturnal zooms and his conspicuous midday napping.

I Made a Bee Vacuum

Image: Andrew @ortofarms

The bee swarms of spring makes my inbox overfloweth with requests to remove bees from where they take up residence. Mostly I pass these jobs to a professional, but when a friend or acquaintance calls, and the job does not involve a lot of demolition work or hanging on the end of an extension ladder in a bee suit, I’ll say yes.

The process of removing an established hive involves opening up whatever they are in, cutting out the comb and then scooping up the bees that often will retreat to some out of the way spot. This last part, scooping up the bees, can be time consuming, frustrating and potentially dangerous if the bees are in a cranky mood.

For years I’ve resisted making a bee vacuum with the idea that it’s a crutch, somehow an excuse for bad technique. You can use a smoker to herd bees off the comb and, if you’re careful, once the queen is in the bee box the workers will follow. But if a tool makes things go more smoothly, why not give it a try?

There are a lot of different bee vacs that you can make or buy. I built mine using instructions by P. Michael Henderson. It consists of a box with an inlet for a shop vac and another tube to suck up the bees themselves. It has a removable bottom that you can put on top of another bee box once you’ve finished cutting out the comb and putting it in a box. Then you just remove the false bottom and the bees migrate back to their comb.

This past weekend I, along with my friends Andrew and Stephen, removed some bees from a backyard rotating compost bin (a common place bees like to settle in, by the way). We had to Sawzall the bin apart, unfortunately, and by the time we started removing the comb, most of the bees had settled into a hard to access corner of the bin. With the bee vac, we were able to quickly vacuum up those bees and get them into their new home.

Bee vac on top–box with relocated comb on bottom. Image: Andrew @ortofarms

Then, as usual, with this otherworldly creature, something unexpected happened. A cluster ended up on the pavement of the parking garage at the bottom of the apartment building we were removing them from. Somehow some had gotten smashed on the ground–maybe run over by a car? This attracted other bees. There were a lot of bees in the air too. Thankfully it was a holiday weekend and very few people were home and the bees were not at all aggressive. After pondering what to do in this not great situation, I pulled out the vacuum again and, after a few minutes, we had the rogue clusters vacuumed up and added to the box we wanted them in.

We came back after dark a day later and picked up the box and sent them to Andrew’s farm. I don’t have a lot of hope for this hive as it was very small and not very well established. But for this situation, the bee vac came in handy. Not only were we able to extract the bees from a tight spot but we were able to do so quickly and minimize the chance that they would go after people or pets in a dense urban location.

Mr. Grumpy Needs a Home

Have a place in your heart and home for a sweet little cat? Got a text from some cat rescue folks I met recently:

Grumpy, our foster, is very far from grumpy. We had been feeding him in an alley near our home and thought he was feral, but when we trapped him we discovered he is friendly! He is the sweetest boy; a true lap cat. He is about 2 years old (estimated). Grumpy would love nothing more than to spend his most of his time snoozing on his owner’s lap. He isn’t super frisky or active, but he does play with wand toys. He is friendly with other cats, non-aggressive. When confronted with aggression, he hides rather than fights back. So he would benefit from a calmer environment, maybe a single person or a childless couple, who spend a lot of time at home and want a best friend like Grumpy. He could be in a multi cat household as long as it wasn’t more than a couple cats. He would be an excellent companion. He is very loyal, loving and snuggly.

Grumpy was neutered at FixNation, received shots, flea treatment. will be given dewormer treatment, and he tested negative for FelV/FIV1. One notable characteristic is his distinct limp – it’s likely he had an old injury on his front left leg which caused this. He had x rays and exams by two vets- there are no visible or palpable fractures, and there is no muscle atrophy, meaning he still uses the leg. So even though he limps, it won’t require any further treatment. He gets around just fine.

He is a special cat who has been through a lot (likely dumped on the street by a previous owner) and he needs a wonderful home. For any potential adopters, we will want to do a home check either in person or by video, and have a meet-and-greet at our home so we can see how they interact with Grumpy. Any renters will need to provide landlord’s contact info so we can verify that pets are allowed. A few character references will also be required, or I can take your word for it if you’ve known someone a long time.

Send me an email at [email protected] if you’d like to adopt Mr. Grumpy and I’ll put you in touch with the rescue folks. If you can’t adopt Mr. Grumpy please send this post around.

A Litter Box Enclosure

With great hubris, allow me to toss my thinking cap into the realm of litter box design. I say hubris because only the cat that has the right to hold an opinion on the form, location and orientation of any litter box.

Commercially available litter boxes I believe, and I think our cat friends would agree, are made for the convenience of humans and the profits of the pet store industrial complex. Nobody talked to the cats about them. Most are too small and they’re all ugly. For years we’ve been using a 28-inch by 15-inch plastic storage bin. It worked fine from the cat’s perspective, but stray litter gets kicked around and behind the box, staining the bathroom floor and walls where the litter box resides. Frankly, it’s gross.

So I set about to make a larger box in which to house the same plastic tray. Essentially, I enclosed the plastic tray with an open topped box with a circle cut out so that cats won’t have to jump over the box (they are in their senior years). The tray fits inside an inner shelf to prevent loose litter from falling down into the bottom of the box.

I had grand visions of a neo-classical litter box temple housing the aforementioned tray but this vision got simplified in the interest of ticking off a long requested project on the honey-do list. My table saw and router table made fabrication quick and easy.

In some ways we’re the worst possible test for this litter box concept. We have two cats who have never had an indiscretion outside the litter box in the over 11 years we’ve had them. I’m aware that some cats react with horror and anger at an ever so slight change in litter box placement or aesthetics, as if even an errant moon beam hitting a slightly moved box will cause a fit of piss fueled revenge.

Should this box fail in any way I promise to be a good blogger and post an immediate update. Wish us luck.

Backyard and Backwards Beekeeping

I did a natural beekeeping Zoom talk for the Pasadena Public Library last month and they’ve posted it in the YouTubes for all to see. Fun fact: if you watch until the Q&A you’ll notice that my desktop computer is installed in our closet thus making my Zoom background a pile of folded sheets.

In the talk I give a brief intro to bee biology and then go over the way I keep bees here as taught to me by “backwards” beekeeping guru Kirk Anderson.

Beekeeping resources I mention during the talk:

HoneyLove.org: local non-profit that provides hands-on education and resources for backyard beekeepers.

Principles of Beekeeping Backwards, a manifesto by Charles Martin Simon: https://www.beesource.com/threads/principles-of-beekeeping-backwards.365763/

Xerces society: for information on native bees and how to provide habitat. https://www.xerces.org/

Backwards Beekeepers how-to videos on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL23D3FtWNSvrs1NDKjpDWolmVfDgcJTKX

Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives: The Easy and Treatment-Free Way to Attract and Keep Healthy Bees by Rob and Chelsea McFarland

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping by Dean Stiglitz and Laurie Herboldsheimer (believe it or not a good intro to natural beekeeping practices). Not to be confused with the Dummies Guide to Beekeeping.

Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide, Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies by The Xerces Society (Author), Dr. Marla Spivak (Foreword).

Help I’ve got bees in my wall!
Henry Balding Balding’s Bees (213) 422-8444