Thursday, August 10, 2006

Miller lifts Heights to narrow win over Cats

They call him "The Big Play Man," Marcus Miller will tell you sheepishly. But you guessed that already just by watching him Thursday night in Shawnee Heights' to-the-wire 32-29 victory over Kansas City-Washington.

The victory ran the T-Birds record to 3-0 for the first time since 1994.

In the course of one defensive-offensive series, Miller --- a 5- foot-7 senior --- intercepted a pass, caught a 47-yard yard hitch- and-go bomb and ran a reverse 11 yards for the touchdown that gave Heights a 20-0 second-quarter lead.

Then to start the second half, Miller fielded a high-bouncing punt at his 13, waited dangerously for his blocking to form, then blew through a gaping hole for the 87-yard TD that put the T-Birds up 26- 7.

"I had to wait a little for the wedge to form, but when it did, those guys just opened things up," Miller said of his kickoff return. "I may stay quiet for a while, but if I can get the ball a couple of times, I can make things happen."

But even with a three-TD lead, Heights couldn't put this one on ice until the final minutes.

Leading 20-0 after Miller's first TD, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the kickoff helped the Wildcats drive only 51 yards for its first score. Then after Miller's kickoff return, Washington's Ivan Harrison raced through Heights' defense for large chunks of his 194 rushing yards in touchdown drives of 76 and 69 yards that cut Heights' lead to 26-21 with 2:18 left in the third.

But then Heights got the game-winning break. It happened when the T-Birds --- trying to kill the clock without leading rusher John Rutherford, who was ejected for responding to a punch --- was forced to punt from the Washington 38 with 8:22 left.

But Washington --- which matched Heights in killer penalties with 85 yards each --- was called for a personal foul on the play. Officials ruled the foul came before the change of possession, and the T-Birds got a first down at the 23.

Monkeypox Outbreak Highlights Potential Risks of Owning and Handling Exotic Pets, Wild Animals, and Birds

In the United States there is a growing trend towards a variety of exotic pets: ferrets, hedgehogs, sugar gliders, chinchillas, foxes, coyotes, squirrels, numerous reptiles, and even skunks. The recent outbreak of monkeypox in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois with one incident in New Jersey illustrates the danger of zoonoses - diseases caused by agents that infect both humans and other animals. This first occurrence of monkeypox infection in humans in the Western hemisphere is probably due to pet prairie dogs and Gambian giant rats, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"The simplest advice, especially for parents of young children, is to use common sense and only keep domestic animals since the behavior of wild animals is unpredictable. For the exotic pet purchaser, an age-old Latin phrase seems especially relevant: Caveat emptor - 'Let the buyer beware'!!" according to the Editor-in-Chief of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, Stephen Higgs, Bs.C., Ph.D., FRES (Department of Pathology, Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, Sealy Center for Vaccine Development and WHO Collaborating Center for Tropical Diseases, UTMB at Galveston). Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases is a quarterly peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. (, the only medical journal specifically devoted to such diseases.

"If you must have an exotic pet, I would recommend that you only purchase captive-bred animals and not buy animals captured from the wild," says Dr. Higgs. "In the past we thought that new diseases usually emerge as the result of human encroachment into wild areas, but it now seems that we are providing new opportunities for these infectious agents by bringing them into our urban environment, and even into our homes. The recent emergence of SARS from civet cats traded in Asia and now monkeypox from prairie dogs is a clear illustration that there are still unknown agents that can infect humans and we do not fully appreciate the risks that these pose to ourselves and our children."


My family has been giving me a hard time, just because I want a crow as a pet.

I think they're worried that a crow would hurt the feelings of our dog and cat, since the crow would automatically become the smartest pet in the family, or maybe even the smartest member of the family.

This is no exaggeration. Crows are little feathered Einsteins compared to most of the animal world.

Listen to what the "Encyclopedia of American Birds" has to say about crows: "The crow, as a family, have evolved the highest degree of intelligence among birds. Experiments with captive American crows showed that they can count up to three or four."

My cat cannot even count to one. In fact, my cat is not quite bright enough to remember how to go in and out of his cat door. He'll stand there for minutes at a time, batting it with his paw, dimly aware that it serves some important function that he can't quite re ... That's right! It's the way to get outside!

Nor can my dog open a box of safety matches. Charlton Ogburn, an author who writes about birds, wrote that one day his pet crow watched him open a box of safety matches. The crow immediately gave it a try, and the crow was able to open the box, remove the matches and close it again, all on the first attempt.

It's a good thing the crow didn't have the manual dexterity to light up a stogie or set fire to the picnic table, because these are the exactly the kinds of activities a crow would enjoy. Crows are like the Beavis and Buttheads of the bird world. They are happiest when pulling a prank or causing mayhem.

Ogburn said his crow especially enjoyed tormenting hikers on a path near his house. As soon as the crow saw a person approaching, it would take up a station in an overhanging branch. When the person arrived at just the right spot, the bird would swoop down two inches from the person's head. This invariably caused the person to freak out, and invariably caused the crow to dance around and laugh hysterically.

This is what I like about crows. They have a sense of humor.

They do, in fact, laugh, or at least crow-owners swear they do. I imagine it to be more like a metallic guffaw, like the kind of bray that Carol Channing might produce if particularly amused.

But a crow is discerning; it won't laugh at just anything. If you try to slip any stupid Jim-Carrey-like material past a crow, your average crow will just stare at you and caw disdainfully.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Yard has cats, picket fence and lots of birdhouses, but no grass

In Andrea MacDonald's dreams about her perfect home, she'd see a butterfly-friendly herb garden and a white picket fence.

Four years ago, MacDonald and her husband, Bill, made that dream come true at their 71-year-old home in Fresno, Calif.

They dug out the lawn in the front yard and planted oregano, sage, rosemary and mint. They added roses, perennials, daffodils and tulips.

They poured a concrete rock walkway, built an arbor, added a birdbath and surrounded it all with a white fence, each picket cut for them by a neighbor. Atop the pillars, they added 15 birdhouses-- some gifts, some purchased, four made by neighbors.

Their efforts (with help from neighbors on their friendly block) created a splendid yard that regularly draws butterflies, birds and admiring looks from passers-by.

It's a lot of fun, said MacDonald, a teacher. It's a happy yard.

The couple was so pleased with their project that a year and a half ago they turned their attention to the backyard. Again, they dug out the lawn by hand and turned the area into large flower beds with pathways of poured concrete rock.

Many rose bushes, dahlias, daisies and cannas fill the beds near the house, and espaliered apple trees climb the wall of the detached garage. Behind the garage is a large garden with tomatoes, beans, eggplants, peppers, onions, basil, cucumbers, strawberries and grapes.

Benches and chairs beckon visitors to sit and enjoy the surroundings. Or visitors can view the most unusual feature of the yard, a mural on the back of the garage featuring two three- dimensional cats flying above a colorful garden scene painted by Marsha Williams, a neighbor.

MacDonald said the wood felines with papier-mache wings represent her cats, Hash and Mandy. The wings allow them to soar above the garden and hunt birds, which they don't do well in real life, she said.

The yard also includes a cabana with trellised sides and roof, trumpet vines and climbing roses poking through the slats. A built- in outdoor fireplace provides enough warmth that the MacDonalds can use the cabana well into fall.

Adjacent is an 8-by-16-foot summer house the couple built on concrete piers. They used lumber, doors and windows salvaged and donated by friends. MacDonald estimated they only spent about $500 on the playhouse.

MacDonald, a Fresno County master gardener, uses a potting bench in the summer house for small projects (she has another bench outside) and keeps her library of gardening books nearby.

ADVERTISING: They won't be smiling like Cheshire cats now

Cheshire is gorgeous. Any fool knows that. Posh and Becks have a house there. Indeed, many footballers and Manchester celebrities have large, eclectically styled houses in inner Cheshire. Wilmslow and Alderley Edge are there. Cheshire is big on the wealth map of Britain.

Cheshire is ghastly. Southern People Like Us know it's the North's mid- Essex, Birds of a Feather country. Adrian Gill went there once - like a rogue deb doing Butlin's in the Seventies - and said, Ooh, the people. Jeremy Clarkson went as Cynthia.

Cheshire Life is a county magazine that takes the positive view; Cheshire is full of gracious living, fine dining and ambassadorial mansions.

The Cheshire Life commercial, targeted at Granada-land's higher demographic, is modestly made. Stills of the kind of press-pack photographs you get in free London magazines flare in and out, while a lady-like voiceover with a corrected-grain Seventies travelogue accent reads a little rhyme about "fashion property, parties, places, heritage, history, county faces", ending on "get a better life, get Cheshire Life". And for generation of made-it Mancs, that's been the deal, until they move to London W8 of course.

The pictures show oldish houses, fiercely smiling couples, deer, a windmill, Princess Anne and food. The food is presented Eighties- style, with colourful piping on a white plate. The Princess Royal is grim and bear it, as usual. She wants to get back to Gloucestershire.

I imagine Cheshire Life has a problem balancing the generations of Cheshire money; the older group that liked a wannabe country-life look and the newer one that wants something more like Hello! with local small ads. Heritage and celebrity, it says on screen, people and places.

The rest of the rhyme's nakedly prescriptive "where to eat, where to meet, where to go, what to buy, where to live, what to drive" makes you think the editorial's going to be deeply advertiser- friendly.

There's nothing more profoundly unsettling for smart metropolitan New Money than this kind of thing - it's well-behind-the-beat mix of snobbery and consumerism - because it's an embarrassing reminder of what really drives more sophisticated milieux and magazines. OK! is below-stairs celebrity, safely distanced, good for a laugh, but this sort of thing is only 200 miles away. It's closer to home. That's why they're so snobby about it.

For the birds

For a bird watcher, the best part of feeding wild birds in the back yard is that you don't have to hunt for them; they come to you.

But food alone won't bring flocks of birds to your yard. These feathered creatures also need water and shelter, which in the depths of winter are more important than food.

Late autumn, winter and early spring are prime bird-feeding seasons because the seeds, berries and insects available in the summer are gone or buried under snow. Water sources are also frozen or dried up, leaving birds searching for water. They also seek places to get out of the cold and wind.

So the formula for attracting a bevy of birds is this: a high- energy menu for breakfast and dinner, a shallow pool of water, and a landscape nearby of shrubs or the thick foliage of evergreen trees.

First the food. Birds tend to feed most heavily twice a day. They use a lot of energy staying warm during long, cold winter nights. At first light, they look for a meal. In late afternoon, they need to eat again in order to get through the next night.

"People love to use the black oil sunflower seeds for food because you get the widest variety of birds with it," says Sherry Little, owner of Pet Vittles in the Spokane Valley.

Black oil sunflower seeds, which are solid black, attract finches, woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches. Many birds won't bother with the sunflower seeds with white stripes.

Mixed bird food is also widely available, and Little includes a house blend among her offerings -- a mixture of black oil sunflower seeds, shelled sunflower seeds, white millet and cracked corn.

"We include corn because the game birds -- quail and pheasant -- like it, and it's a high-energy carbohydrate that keeps the birds warm," Little says.

The Cadillac of bird seed is niger thistle, which has very high oil content. Because it's a tiny seed, feeders are available specifically for this food. It's also expensive, and sometimes it's mixed with other seeds.

Suet and cut fruit such as orange and apple slices also attract birds. Suet mixed with seeds and dried fruit is available in cakes that slide into wire baskets. Hang the suet-filled basket against the trunk of a tree where woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees can grip the bark to eat.

Some bird-feeding techniques are as low-tech as poking half an orange or an apple chunk onto a nail pounded into a tree.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Cats devour sluggish Hawks

Kansas State's Laura Downey, left, kept her eyes on the ball as teammate Cari Jensen slipped in front of her for the dig during Wednesday's match against Kansas. The Wildcats swept the Jayhawks 3- 0 at the Horseji Center in Lawrence.

The Capital-Journal

LAWRENCE --- The birds played more like roadkill Wednesday and the Wildcats ate them for dinner.

It wasn't the scene along the side of a highway, but a volleyball match unbelievably one-sided in every aspect as Kansas State devoured Kansas 30-18, 30-21, 30-23 at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center, garnering its 14th straight win in the series.

So stunned were the Jayhawks by their poor performance that Kansas coach Ray Bechard, normally quick to exit the lockerroom after matches, emerged 40 minutes after the match.

"Oh, I'm sorry you guys had to wait, but obviously we had some things we needed to talk about," said Bechard, after one of his team's most devastating losses in his four years at Kansas. "I am really surprised because we played well Sunday (at Baylor) and practiced well this week, but this was a total letdown. I'm disappointed and the team's devastated. We thought we were poised to give a good effort, but we didn't."

Devastating might be a good word for the Jayhawks' performance, as they fell flat on their face against Kansas State. The Hawks' shock and sadness was evident when no players emerged from the lockerroom for nearly an hour after the match.

On the other side of the net, K-State had every reason to be excited. The Wildcats successfully bounced back from getting drilled 3-0 by defending national champion Nebraska on Saturday, jumping on the Jayhawks from the opening serve. Four early kills by Lisa Mimick punched K-State to a 9-6 lead. Kansas closed to 13-12 before the Cats unleashed a 17-6 knockout punch that closed game one.

Kansas, after amassing only six kills in game 1, was never really in game 2, either. The block combo of Gabby Guerre and Jayne Christen dominated the front line and Mimick and Cari Jensen repeatedly put away kills. The two combined for 27 kills. Meanwhile, as a team, Kansas had 25 kills and a -.047 hitting percentage.

"When all three of your left sides hit a negative efficiency then you're going to be in for a long night," Bechard said. "We didn't take care of our side of the net tonight and do what we needed to do to be competitive."

Chains want sales to go to the dogs - and cats - drugstores marketing pet products

There's plenty of potential in pet products--for the savvy marketer. "Your pet is eating more often than you're shampooing your hair," Rob Bevis, pet buyer, Hook Drug Division, pointed out.

Some chains are capitalizing on the opportunity. More need to do some work to compete, as the sales figures indicate: Sales of pet food and pet supplies remained flat at chain drug stores in 1993.

But the opportunity remains. A pet department can provide drug chains with greater profits and interesting traffic-building opportunities.

According to a May 1992 survey from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), 53 million dogs and 62 million cats live U.S. homes, and thanks to a continued increase in the number of cats per cat-owning household, cats are extending their lead. The number of birds has reached 14.6 million, while the number of freshwater fish (89 million) and marine fish (5.6 million) has also increased.

"Two hundred thousand households took part in this survey," said Claire DeNicola, director of public relations for the association. "There are thousands of different cat and dog products in the marketplace--no one store can sell them all. But, we find that pet owners are putting more emphasis on their animals."

The competition

Grocery stores remain the leading outlet for dog food, treats and chew items, but since 1990, they have lost business to other channels. According to the APPMA, grocery stores account for 62 percent of dog food purchases, while drug stores trail discount stores, feed stores, pet stores, veterinarians, pet food warehouses and warehouse clubs, with only two percent. Meanwhile, cat owners purchase 72 percent of their cat food in grocery stores and only 2 percent in drug stores.

Chain drug store retailers fare a little better in other categories. For instance, 9 percent of the total households surveyed purchase flea-tick products at the drug store, while 6 percent purchase rawhide chew items. Chain drug store retailers sell 4 percent of the food treats and 7 percent of the toys.

When examining cat households, percentages at drug stores don't change greatly. Two percent of the households purchase cat litter from drug stores; 9 percent purchase flea/tick products; 8 percent, toys; and 4 percent, treats.

One for the birds

BIRDS can bring great beauty and interest to the garden as well as reducing the pest population, but city living can leave many breeding pairs short of a home. Do your bit for birds this spring and buy a nest box to suit the species that visits your bird table. Most boxes are designed to provide the right sort of des res for individual species. You can choose either a natural material that will blend with the environment and encourage the birds to move in, or something a bit more colourful to suit your garden's style.

Britain's official nest box, pounds 16.95

This ingenious box (left) is created from woodcrete, a material that ensures the best thermal properties for rearing chicks or winter roosting. There's a choice of four colours and three hole sizes for different birds.

Give your birds a stylish home that can be hung where cats find it hard to reach. These solid wooden homes from Digit ( are painted in bright blue with a hardwood iroko roof. The range also includes a delightful painted bird house in pine with a pitched galvanised roof, suitable for robins and sparrows. Call 0870 120 1630 for a free catalogue.

Oak interchangeable box, pounds 15.99

For a material that is environmentally sound and resists attack from squirrels and magpies, consider this oak box (right) from Wildlife World (08707 572 233). It's designed to be suitable for different types of birds.

With its panel fitted, blue tits, great tits, marsh tits and coal tits can make it their home, or, when it is removed, robins, wagtails and wrens can move in. Once the box is in position it should not need maintenance and will weather with the elements. A lovely choice for gardens on the edge of the greenbelt.

Open nest box, pounds 9.95

If robins are your favourite feathered friends why not offer them an open-fronted box that lets the light in.

This design is particularly attractive to robins and you will be thrilled when the fledglings learn to fly.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Couple let dozens of cats live sheltered life

NOT A MEW BREAKS THE SUNNY AFTERNOON SILENCE in Michael and Judy Sowders' living room. Yet at least 30 cats snooze on couch arms, lounge on stereo speakers and pose like sphinxes on windowsills.

No odor announces them. They're still as statues, content to nap in the sun, until Michael and Judy arrive. A few blink and shift positions. Others stretch. Some rise and quietly pad across the furniture to rub their heads against Michael or jump onto Judy's shoulders and purr.

"Before I got involved with cats, everyone said they were independent, aloof," Michael says as Asa, a dark-striped cat, snuggles against his chest like a baby. "I haven't found that."

Another 70-plus cats roam the comfortable house Michael and Judy built high on a forested hill overlooking Sandpoint and Lake Pend Oreille. The 102 cats eat $400 worth of high-quality catfood every month and soil $30 of cat litter. They've pushed Michael's debt to local veterinarians past $1,000.

He worries about money, but not as much as he worries about cats. They don't deserve to die because they're homeless, he says. That's why he turned his home into the Life-Time Friends Animal Sanctuary.

"There's a need in the area," says Dr. Bob Stoll, one of the Sandpoint veterinarians who has allowed Michael to accumulate medical bills. "Michael is for real. I walked into his house and there are 90 cats, healthy and happy. It's almost an eerie experience."

Three years ago, Michael and Judy had one cat, Buffy. He was mostly Judy's. She'd discovered the warmth of pets as a teenager when her parents brought home Sandy, a cocker spaniel.

Judy had no pets of her own until 1989. She and Michael had been married eight years. Their neighbor moved and abandoned his cat, Jake. Judy took him in. Michael wasn't interested. He'd never had a pet.

Judy, a speech teacher in the Lake Pend Oreille schools, bonded with Jake. After he died, she adopted another cat, Muffin, from the animal shelter. Muffin ran away, so Judy adopted Buffy. Michael built homes and paid no attention to the cats until 1999 when Buffy returned home bleeding from a night in the woods.

Cats don't complain, so Michael and Judy let Buffy care for himself until he couldn't anymore. Buffy died at the veterinarian's office.

"We hadn't realized the cuts were so bad," Judy says.

Buffy's death haunted Michael. He suddenly understood that Buffy had been alive and that life meant the cat felt hunger, pain and the need to belong.

Mo The Woman In The Know: High-fliers and fat cats galore

ONE of the things I most missed when I was living in a Government flat was not having a garden. I could not sit out in the sun, and I could not look at the birds. When I moved to Hackney one of the first things I did was put a bird table in the garden.

Unfortunately, you don't get as many birds as you used to, but it is still a joy to watch them and to have this little bit of nature in your grasp.

In line with the results of the Big Garden Birdwatch - undertaken by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in January - I am getting more pigeons than I used to.

These rather plump birds perch very nervously and are very ungainly as they pick at the remnants of my breakfast toast. I presume their nervousness is well founded, given the large number of equally plump cats and foxes that inhabit this part of East London.

Although the number of birds is declining rapidly - the RSPB report that in 1979 an average of 15 starlings would be seen in one hour in a garden and it is now down to an average of 4.5 - interest in birds is growing. In 2001 52,000 people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, sitting in their gardens for an hour watching for birds. This year the number taking party increased five-fold to 262,000. That's really good news.

The most commonly-seen birds are starlings, sparrows, blue tits and blackbirds. I seem to get more pigeons than sparrows, but they are probably better adjusted to the polluted urban air of my garden.

Cat wars

Low life Cat wars Jeremy Clarke

For his birthday, I got my landlord a carrier-bag full of lion dung. I'd heard a programme on Radio Four about how to keep cats out of your garden. This chap was so fed up with cats using his garden as a latrine he'd sought help. Like my landlord, he would ideally have liked to catch his neighbours' cats in gin-traps and then suspend them by their necks from his washing-line as a deterrent to others. But the radio people got a spokesman from the Cats' Protection League on to suggest some humane deterrents, all of which he tried for a week.

In his heart the Cats' Protection League man was against deterring cats from doing anything. But he reluctantly conceded that there were a few unimaginative souls who abhorred cats. At the end of a week's trial, the most successful of his largely futile suggestions was to spread lion dung in the garden. The zoo keeper from whom I obtained the stuff said that since the radio programme he'd been inundated with orders. He couldn't say whether it frightened cats or not, but he said it did wonders for roses.

My landlord isn't a keen gardener or anything; he hates cats on principle. It's an obsession with him. We have a simple choice, he says. We can have cats in the garden or we can have wildlife. What chance do our song-birds have, he says with mounting anger, with 7 million cats in the country? The noun 'cat' is always suffixed by an obscenity, the only time he ever swears. Finding yet another dollop of cats' faeces adorning the lawn, however, renders him temporarily incapable of the power of speech: rhetorical, profane or otherwise. When he can speak again, he sometimes invites me outside to inspect it and comment on the volume. Which admittedly can be surprisingly prodigious.

Since moving to the town from the country, I admit I have been staggered by the sheer number of cats knocking about and their insouciance. They act as if they own the place. I don't see them, as my landlord does, as an axis of evil, but I keenly support his low-intensity war against them. His last humane deterrent was an elaborate mesh of fishing-line stretched tautly between pegs in the front garden. I helped knock in the pegs. The only victims of this so far, however, have been the landlord and myself on Jubilee night. Previous ineffective humane deterrents have included plastic bags tied to the shrubs, plastic windmills and pepper.

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