Wild Things

One of my favorite past adventures was in Columbus, Ohio shortly before we moved to Tennessee.

One of the curious things about living in a place the vast majority of one’s life is the propensity to take it for granted.  For me, making friends with someone who was more connected to the Columbus scene introduced us to some experiences we would have missed completely.

These images are from one such experience.  Our friend learned of a behind-the-scenes tour available at the Columbus Zoo and organized a group of people to divide up the fee.  Even better, much of the money went to a Cheetah rescue program.

The animals we met were the animals who travel with Jack Hannah when he appears on television.  Jack himself was off at his Montana home, so we didn’t get to meet him.  I don’t think any of us felt like the experience was diminished by his absence; after all, it’s the animals who are the stars.

What was so cool about the experience is that these are animals who are used to educate people about endangered species and who have been handled enough to be touchable.  How often do you get to go to the zoo and pet a Lemur or cradle a baby Wallaby?

There are two things about the program I particularly like.  First, they are very serious about trying to save the extremely endangered Cheetah.  Not only do they operate a breeding program, but they also use the funds raised to donate Anatolian Shepherds to farmers where Cheetahs are still wild.  The Anatolian Shepherds protect the farmers’ flocks from the Cheetahs and, inversely, protect the Cheetahs from being shot by the farmers.  It’s a novel approach to solving a root cause that’s win-win.

At the Columbus Zoo, you can buy a children’s book about an Anatolian Shepherd raised with a Cheetah and those funds go to help save the Cheetahs too.  This is a somewhat ironic twist on the plot.  At the Columbus Zoo, instead of scaring the Cheetahs, the dogs provide comfort and confidence to otherwise skittish cats.  I don’t recall the story of what made them decide to raise the first cheetah-dog pair, but the result was a happier cheetah, so they have been raising puppies with the captive cheetahs ever since.

The puppy friend we met along with the cheetah babies there that day was a frisky yellow lab who didn’t seem to quite understand his place in the food chain next to his best friends.

The second part of the program I particularly liked was the number of rescues who were part of it.  The tortoise, the puppy, and the Python were all rescued critters.  In the case of the tortoise and the python, the Humane Society wasn’t equipped to deal with them.  The python had been released in a Columbus Metro Park and was at risk of freezing to death when it was rescued.  What a beautiful snake it is!

Kittens and a Year of Blogging

This is my 366th consecutive, daily post.  Since it was leap year, I figured I had to get to 366 to say I’d completed a year of posts.  🙂

Collectively, I’ve written over 250,000 words in the course of blogging for one year.  That’s over 1000 pages worth of words.  If I would have said I wanted to write 1000 pages, I probably would have quit after the first 100 or so.

Here are my lessons from a year of blogging:

  1. In the end, it’s about people.  I didn’t expect to meet people through blogging, but I have.  I keep writing because all of you keep reading.  I look for you, I watch for regulars, I peak at your blogs when I have a few minutes.  You matter to me.  Please come back.
  2. I can only write one day at a time–one word at a time.  Thinking about the collective volume is fun after the fact, but not the goal.
  3. The delete key is my friend.  I went from an average of 1200 words a post to setting a limit of 500 words.  Although it initially took me much longer to write 500 than 1200 words, I think we’re all happier.
  4. Sometimes, you do have to think about more than one day at a time.  Scheduling posts ahead of time when I’m traveling has kept me going.  Had I not figured out how to do this, I would have given up on my goal of one post a day about a month into blogging when we spent 2 weeks in Germany.
  5. Every post can’t be my best post ever.  I started with the expectation that every post would be an improvement over the last.  What’s “best” depends on the subject and what people are interested in.  Sometimes I have the need to think about the meaning of life.  Sometimes I have the need to improve my photography skills.  Which one is better?
  6. Some days, I’m writing right before bed, falling asleep as I write, trying to get the morning post scheduled before I pass out on my keyboard.  Those aren’t going to be my best posts.  For each post to be my best ever, I’d need to quit my day job and do this full time.  I don’t love blogging enough to give up food and shelter, so I’ll just apologize for those posts now.  For me, it’s more about establishing the discipline of meeting my commitment to post about 500 words a day every day.
  7. At some point, I will have to consider the possibility that I’ve said enough in this forum and it’s time to move on to the next.  For now, I’m content to keep posting.
  8. Kittens are irresistible.  And since these kittens are indirectly responsible for Tisen coming into our lives (they are foster kittens–my sister-in-law inspired me to foster dogs), I thought they would be a good photographic subject to celebrate the completion of this milestone.

It’s been a good year–thanks!

Faster than a Foster Cat

My sister-in-law likes cats.  However, she and my brother, like us, are at a place in their lives where they don’t want to tie themselves to an animal for the next 15-20 years.  My brother often jokes about looking for animals with a short life expectancy for this reason.

My sister-in-law, Megan, being more practical, has come up with an ingenious solution to the problem of how to have pets without having a long term commitment.  She provides foster care for a local cat shelter.

Megan has fostered numerous pregnant cats who gave birth under her watchful eye as well as taken in young litters with no mother.  Keeping kittens with no mom fed, emptied, and cleaned up is a big chore that has to be performed diligently and regularly.  It’s not for the faint of heart.

Megan nurtures these kitties through the tough part of their early lives or supports their mom in doing so.  When they are weaned, healthy, and confident, they are returned to the shelter until they find permanent homes.  Megan takes a break from fostering if she has a heavy travel schedule or needs a break and then takes on another set when she can.

Other than the heartache of getting emotionally attached to animals that you will eventually hand off to someone else, it’s the perfect way to have pets without taking on permanent ownership.

Chibs and Clay, named by the shelter (perhaps by a fan of Sons of Anarchy?), are the current kittens staying with my sister-in-law (see photos).  Chibs needs to see Clay do something before he is willing to give it a try.  Even when he finally joined Clay in my lap and laid there purring, when something moved, he would dart off again to hide.

Getting even these few pictures was quite a chore.  First of all, they were doing something cute and my 100mm prime lens was on my camera.  While I really like this lens, I could have used the 400mm of my telephoto zoom given Chibs’s skittishness.  But, I started shooting and gradually crept forward, crawling across the floor slowly and shooting every few seconds so I didn’t lose out on a decent shot because I was holding out for a better one.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Rapid fire shooting mode is a must.  The faster the better.
  2. Focus, focus, focus.  Rapidly moving critters in low light make this difficult.  I often end up with out of focus faces and sharply focused feet or rear ends or backgrounds.
  3. A little more depth of field is better–otherwise, I end up with just the eyes in focus and then the surrounding face is too soft (see the second photo).
  4. When flash is not an option, the animal is fearful of cameras, and the light is low, I just have to live with a shallow depth of field.
  5. Most animals will not pose.  Bribing domestic animals with treats and toys can be helpful, but requires an assistant.