Animals

Wild Bill’s Cat Hatch

Version 2

When my friend Wild Bill was working on our farm, crafting new barn windows, we tugged on his sleeve to help us with another fix. (Yes, this story is a bit dated. Sorry.)

Martin asked Bill if he could remove a section of roof adjoining his office, and seal off the crawl space overhead. (For you new readers: in its former life, Martin’s office was a milk parlor. Also known as the “Mouse House” on this blog.)

Anyway…

The breezeway between the barn loft and milk parlor has probably been a critter thoroughfare for decades. But it became problematic when we renovated the Mouse House, and Martin started squatting there during the workweek.

Commonsense suggests that the attic-like space harbors raccoons, possums and the occasional barn cat. But there are days when it sounds like a pack of bears are slam-dancing overhead. (I thought Martin was exaggerating until I heard the thumping and pounding. It was disconcerting; I left quickly.)

And on occasion, something dies up there; the putrid smell of decay lingers for weeks. (If you’ve had a critter expire in the walls of your house, then you’re familiar with this odor.)

So we asked Wild Bill to fix it. But we didn’t consider the potential complications.

Bill opened the roof and spotted the narrow entry point — a ramped, inaccessible passage — barely visible with a flashlight.

That’s when Martin spoke up: “How do we know that all of the cats are out of there?”

Bill shrugged in that “what’s one less barn cat?” motion.

But Martin and I weren’t keen on entombing a barn cat — even fat, useless Felix.

We needed a feline head count, but our cats are notoriously absent when strangers are present, so Bill and his assistant left for lunch.

Then I hollered for each cat. I tracked down 4 out of 5.

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Olive and Toulouse emerged as I inspected the breezeway.

Our one no-show: Mel. My favorite cat.

Wild Bill returned while Martin and I debated the odds that Mel was hiding overhead. Trapping Melbert seemed risky and we suggested abandoning the project and trying again in the spring.

Bill realized that we were cat-crazy clients, so he came up with a clever solution: he blocked off the passageway, but fashioned a hinged door.

A cat hatch.

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Then he sealed up the roof again. Attached to the seemingly inaccessible hatch: a string that dangled down through a tiny hole drilled through the breezeway ceiling. A tug on the string opened the door; release the string and we could hear the hatch shut with a satisfying thump.

“If you hear a cat up there, just open the hatch,” Bill said. “Then, when they’re all accounted for, just cut the string.”

Brilliant.

If you visit our farm, you’ll see the bright orange string. It dangles down in front of Martin’s office door… in memory of Wild Bill’s handy work.

As for Mel?

He sauntered out of the bushes, right after Bill’s car rolled down the drive.

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Hairy Day

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There are a few hard-and-fast rules to horse clipping:

  1. Never clip a dirty coat.
  2. Always use sharpened blades.
  3. Allow plenty of time.

I violated those rules today.

Actually, I attempted rule 2; I replaced my heavy-duty clippers with new blades. And commenced cutting.

Jazz made his feelings about the project abundantly clear:

Touch me with those things and I’ll take out a kneecap.

I didn’t plan for such truculence. And, with slim pickings in the barn medicine cabinet, I pulled the bottle of tranquilizer.

Jazz’s response:

Wow, I am sleepy… but touch me with those things, and I’ll take out a kneecap.

I’d allotted just 60 minutes for this chore (see rule 3). Desperate for results, I plugged in the little clippers fitted with dull, rusty blades.

A ridiculous prospect.

I had 10 minutes to work before I checked my watch and thought: Time’s up! Everyone, put your pencils down…

The school day was done.

Horse people, here’s what happens when you ignore rules 1, 2 and 3:

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Look, I attacked Jazz with a paint scraper.

 

Fortunately, there’s always a chance to follow rule #4:

If at first you don’t succeed… sedate, sedate again.

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The sound of autumn

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Circa, 2014

Last week, I heard the distinctive sound of fall.

No, not rustling leaves, but the steady, whirling brrrrrrrrrrr and the rattling clickety-clack from neighboring properties.

The sound of clippers, mowing through miles of horse hair.

Last week, spurred by warm weather, horse owners everywhere uncoiled their clipper cords, sized up their blades, and cleared store shelves of blade wash and coolant spray.

Most horses who work hard in cold months need a haircut; otherwise, cooling down takes hours. (Blankets make up for what’s been removed.)

In the best of circumstances, body clipping is a loathsome chore. A royal pain in the butt.

Why? It’s time consuming. The clippers easily clog and the motor can overheat; the blades dull with use. And if you don’t cut with meticulous care, your horse will look mouse-chewed and shabby.

For the human, it’s an itchy task; a raincoat and slick pants will help repel hair, but bits always find their way into underclothes.

Last week I heeded the sunny, warm days and contributed to autumn’s song.

But clipping Jazz wasn’t just onerous, it was perilous.

He’s a thin-skinned, squeamish Thoroughbred, so I sedated him last year. And planned to do so again. Unfortunately, Jazz currently has a skin infection (“rain rot”) which leaves tiny scabs. Removing them is uncomfortable — I tried in advance, but Jazz was intolerant. So I planned to clip them off, assuming sedation would override his discomfort.

I was wrong.

When I steered the blades into his scabby patches, dozing Jazz tried to kick my lights out.

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Sedated looks are deceiving…

But once you start clipping a horse — especially one freshly-bathed and temporarily tranquilized — you gotta finish. I spoke soothingly to Jazz, growled, hollered and tried cutting as gingerly as possible. Sometimes he’d issue a tail-swish warning, other times he’d just let hind foot fly.

Eventually, Martin restrained my horse while I plowed on, cursing a lot and dodging sporadic kicks. When done, I felt like a boxer who’d lost a match.

Jazz was quasi-clipped. The barn looked like a crime scene.

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Two days later I attached fresh blades and hacked off Rocky’s wooly coat. A veteran show pony, he was far more compliant.

When done, I stood back and admired my work.

Rocky looked much better than Jazz.

As though the rodents had spared him.

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