The stray kitten, a year later

Charlie

It was a year ago today that Dan discovered a small orange-and-white kitten huddled in the field at the back of our 30 acres and brought him back to the house. He settled right in from the start, friendly with both us and Raven, and very quickly won us over, despite some initial reservation regarding adding another animal to the household. Since I posted about him the day he was found, I thought I’d do a follow-up on how he’s doing now.

Stray cat
Nov 10, 2009

When he first arrived, he was starving. He was nothing but skin and bones, so thin you could feel his backbone through his stomach. He had joint problems, his back legs walked stiffly. At the vet’s office, he weighed in at a tiny 3.8 lbs (1.7 kg). He was so small, I’d initially thought he was a three- or four-month-old kitten, but the vet examined his mouth and said he had all of his adult teeth, some of which were even starting to show a bit of tartar build-up, and so was most likely at least a year old. There’s no way to know how long he was wandering around out there, but it was long enough that the poor nutrition stunted his growth severely.

Stray cat
Nov 10, 2009

Despite his obvious hardships, he was still extremely friendly, not the least bit skittish. We got him on antibiotics, bought some high-cal kitten food to try to put some weight back on his frame, and quarantined him in my study for a couple of weeks until we were sure he had nothing bad that the other cats might catch. His runs cleared up, his wet nose improved a bit, and he started to round out a bit. We finally decided to keep him by default – while we waffled over what to do, we’d grown too attached to this charismatic cat.

Charlie

We named him Charlie. Now he weighs about 7 lbs (3.2 kg), and he’s convex instead of concave. It took a couple of months, and a neutering, but the social dynamics have all smoothed themselves out among the other members of the family. Despite being half their size, Charlie holds rank over the other two cats, although Ollie still struggles to come to terms with this fact. He could even cause Raven to vacate a space for a while, the result of a few good swats in response to Raven’s misinterpreted friendliness (they’ve come to an understanding, most of the time). He had a very short fuse when he first arrived, but with lots of love and food security he’s mellowed out considerably.

Charlie

I’ve never met a cat with so much personality. Charlie has two cats’ worth of character packed into half a cat of body. He’s so much a part of the family now, it’s funny to think we ever considered giving him away.

Animals at fireside
His favourite spot during the winter. He spends most of the day there.
Charlie
It took me a while to figure out what was happening when I'd come back from my walk with Raven to find strings of characters and strange windows opened on my computer. He likes the warmth under his belly.
catTV
His new second-favourite spot. Dan just put this up last week. The first day it was there, Charlie didn't move from the window until the birds stopped coming at dark. The birds quickly learned that the cats were trapped behind the glass and no threat.
Charlie and Ollie
He had zero interest in sitting on the screen porch last winter and spring, but once the weather turned nice he started investigating more. He'd spend hours out there in the sun. Now that the weather's cold again, he's back to staying close to the fire.
Charlie and puppy
No fear. This friendly puppy came wandering (had escaped the neighbour's yard) and cheerfully followed us into the house. The other cats disappeared. Charlie barely gave it a second look.
Charlie and Ollie
A rare sight. Usually only when everyone's feeling very dozy. Or chilly.
Charlie and Raven
Ditto. Charlie would like to be friends now. Raven hasn't forgotten those paws have claws, but maintains an uneasy truce.
Charlie
Helping us stack firewood. Or maybe investigating the open basement window hoping to get out, it was hard to tell.

Charlie

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The Dark is Rising – or is it?

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The full moon is Thursday this week. They’re forecasting overcast skies and precipitation for the next several days, so I’m not sure we’ll see it at its peak, but right now, two days before full, the moon is pretty bright, enough that we don’t need to wear a headlamp to walk down to check the owl nets. Moonrise this evening was timed with dusk, and as I was looking out over the lake an hour or two after the sun had gone down, the rising moon caught my eye, hanging behind the silhouettes of the tall trees in the yard. I grabbed my camera and set it up on a tripod out on the deck. Uncertain about what exposure was necessary to capture the scene, I took several at different settings. The above was the one that most closely resembled what my eye saw. All the photos were taken at F/5.6 and ISO800, with just the shutter speed changed – this was at 1 second exposure.

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Some animals can see a lot better in the dark than we can. This is largely due to the structure of the eye. The vertebrate eye contains two types of cells in the retina – rods and cones. Rods are used in capturing light, and cones are used in detecting colour. Humans have more cones than rods, which is why our colour perception is so good. We have some rods, but being primarily diurnal species we don’t need a whole lot. Other critters, on the other hand, who do a lot of moving around at night tend to have more rods than cones – colour isn’t as important at night. Cats, for instance, frequently hunt at night and are known for their excellent night vision. The average cat has about six times more rods in their retina than a human (which translates to about six times more light captured, allowing them to see about six times better). I fancy that this is what the world looks like to a cat at night. This was a 4 second exposure, so not quite six times difference, but close.

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Owls are well-adapted to hunt at night, and may have among the best night vision of any land creature. Their retinas have as many as 10 times the number of rods that those of humans do, so they can see exceptionally well in the dark (this is helped by their exceptional 3-dimensional hearing, which results from their ears being off-centre from each other). Owls also have very large eyes relative to the size of their head – so large, in fact, that there’s hardly any room for eyeball muscles to move them around, and so the eyes are fixed in the skull. To look around the owl moves its whole head, and although it doesn’t have a complete 360 degree range of motion, it does come fairly close. These large eyes provide a greater expanse of retina for light collection, also contributing to their excellent night vision. This was a 15 second exposure. It might as well be daytime, you can even make out the colours of the trees across the lake.

In doing some of these long-exposure photos I often find it astounding how much light is actually available to the camera that our eye just can’t detect. It may look like the dark is rising at sunset, but it really isn’t.