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Surviving Hurricane Irma With Cats – Part Two


If you missed part one of this story you can see it here.

I didn’t want to leave the house we rented as a shelter. It was too much stress to pack up the cats again and I thought we would be fine where we were but Rose felt the storm’s path made it unsafe and I wanted her to feel comfortable about where we were, so we quickly got our stuff together and put the cats in the carriers. This time we put Chris in the small carrier and somehow managed to get three cats in the big carrier. It wasn’t the most comfortable for the boys but they were okay.

My electric car did not have enough charge to get there so I had to stop at a charging station on the way. Fortunately, that was easier than finding gas.

When we got to Felice and Jeff’s house they had a bedroom set up for us with two litter boxes. We put the cats inside and that is where they stayed. Everbody hid under the bed at first, even Chris, who was way more stressed than I expected him to be.

I’m sure the room was full of smells from the resident cats and that was probably why Frankie spent the first two hours hissing and whacking everyone, even Rose and me. The cats that gave up their room were not happy either.

Surprisingly, it was little, shy Floki that come out from under the bed first.

Eventually, Chris and Frankie came out too.

Watching the weather became old very quick but we would turn it on periodically to see if anything new developed. I tried to hang out with the cats occasionally to help keep them calm but I also didn’t want to be rude and ignore the people in the house.

I got to see Puck use the litter box for the second time in as many days and thought that there was a silver lining in all this.

litter boxes

At one point we heard the storm made landfall at Marco Island, near Naples. That was much farther south than expected and good news for us because a hurricane that moves over land loses its energy. Of course, it was not good for the people in the Naples area.

The worst of the storm was supposed to occur between midnight and 4:00 a.m. Since all the windows were covered there seemed no point to stay up to watch it so we went to bed a little after 10:00. By that time we never saw anything worse than some rain and a heavy breeze.

I guess Rose and I were pretty tired because we slept through the worst of it and woke up around 5:00. We didn’t want to wake anybody so it was more than an hour before I could look outside. When I did I saw little evidence that a hurricane passed us by. Jeff had an app on his phone that said wind speeds reached 105 miles per hour where we were at around midnight. I was amazed it didn’t wake us up. I was also amazed that we never lost power.

The county that we live in, Pinellas, closed its borders. They would not let anyone in until they declared the roads safe to drive on. That meant we had to stay a while before we could leave for home. I spent the time watching the weather and taking pictures of the resident cats. The picture below is the grown-up kitten we wanted to adopt before Floki but Felice and Jeff claimed him first (see here). The cat outside is one of three strays that took shelter in the garage.

At 10:00 a.m I heard the roads were open so we packed our stuff up and put the cats their carriers. This time Felice gave us a carrier so they were all able to ride home in relative comfort.

A tree had fallen over the road out so I had to turn around and go around the block. The damage to buildings in the area seemed minimal, except for an unlucky few. There were a fair number of trees down and lots of branches on the roads but overall it was much better than expected. Almost half the traffic lights were out and everyone here thinks they need to treat them as a two-way stop. I think the most surprising thing I saw was a billboard that looked like Godzilla attacked it.

Forgive the quality, this is a partial frame from a dash cam video.

I went straight home with the cats and Rose went to check on her mother’s house. Her home survived but she had no power. When I entered our neighborhood, I saw two homes at the end of our street with part of their roofs ripped off. There was also a palm tree lying half way across the street. That worried me a little but the only damage I saw to our house was that three large planters blew over and two of them cracked, one of which was already cracked. We even had power and our alarm clock wasn’t blinking so we never lost power.

I brought the cats inside and they were so happy to be back. None of them lingered in the carrier for even a second. It wasn’t long before they were all on the bed ready for a nap. It was like we had never left.

 

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Surviving Hurricane Irma With Cats – Part One


We knew Hurricane Irma was heading our way for a week or more prior to its arrival. What we didn’t know was exactly where it would go or how strong it would be, so we didn’t worry too much about it. I suggested to my wife, Rose, that we should pick up another cat carrier since we only had one large carrier and one small one for four cats. She gave me a reason why she didn’t want to do that but I no longer remember what that reason was.

The following Wednesday, more than four days before Irma’s arrival, its projected path was still heading to Florida so I decided to go to PetCo on my lunch break and pick up a carrier. They were completely out. I was told that all stores in the area were out. It seemed that people were panicking early. Water and gas were almost impossible to find too. I was lucky to have an electric car. I decided to order a carrier from Amazon and chose the guaranteed Friday delivery option.

By Thursday morning the forecast looked like the storm was going to go up the east coast of Florida and since we live on the west coast Rose decided she wanted to ride it out at home. Then we learned we were in a mandatory evacuation zone and we needed to be out by 6:00 a.m. Friday morning. I thought that was a ridiculous demand and looked into it. It turned out the evacuations were to start at 6:00 a.m. It’s funny how misinformation spreads so quickly.

Evacuating was difficult for several reasons. Traveling with four cats, even with the right number of carriers, is not easy. Then there is the fact that Irma was predicted to affect the entire state and nobody knew what part of the state would get hit the worst. So there was always the possibility that the place you chose to go would get hit worse than your home.

Leaving the state was another option but finding plane tickets was almost impossible. We heard some people paid as much as $3,000 for a one-way ticket out of the state. Driving was also risky because most gas stations were out of gas, all the hotels were booked and the highways were jammed. Not a good place to be stuck during a hurricane.

We had options, but not great ones. We considered staying at Rose’s sister’s vacation condo to the south in St, Petersburg but they were ordered to evacuate too. Her other sister, who lives north of us, said we could come there but they have cats and their mother was going there with her cat so Rose worried that there would be little room for us and there would be conflicts with all the cats. I was also under the impression they were in a worse flood zone than they really were.

Our best option was to stay with friends in the northwest part of Tampa. Their house was closest, about eight miles away, and they had plenty of room. Unfortunately, we learned when we got up Friday Morning that they decided to evacuate too. They said the neighbors told them the area was prone to flooding.

Rose called me at work that morning and said she found a place in Historic St. Petersburg on Airbnb. She said it was in an Evacuation Zone C. I Wasn’t sure if that was a good idea since Zone C was only a little better than the Zone A we were leaving, but since there weren’t many options to choose from, I thought that would be better than our home. We have five evacuation zones here and non-evacuation areas that fall outside the zones.

Friday evening I checked the tracking on my cat carrier and it said it arrived in Clearwater at 4:00 a.m. and was out for delivery at 6:00 a.m. It then said it was delayed at noon and delayed again at 4:00 P.M. It said it would arrive by 8:00 p.m. which is the same thing it said at 8:30 and at 10:00 when we went to bed with no cat carrier. So for some reason, this item was put on a truck in the same town I live in and they couldn’t get it to me in 14 hours.

Saturday morning we packed up everything but the kitchen sink and loaded it into our two cars. We then had to pack up the cats, which is not an easy thing to do. The plan was to put Frankie and Floki in the big carrier but Floki was so difficult to catch and contain that we just put him in the closest carrier, which was a small one, and then put Puck in with Frankie. I then put Frankie’s harness on Chris. We thought Chris would be the best choice to go without a carrier because he seems to stress out less than the other cats.

I put everybody in the back seat of my car except Chris. He sat in the front seat next to me.

Bad Cat Chris in car

 

 

He seemed fine for a while but driving outside of a cat carrier was something he’s never done before and I think it made him nervous. He started crying and he wanted to get on my lap. He made driving difficult and I had to pull over and put him back in his seat. He stayed there for a short time and then he started bothering me again.

By that time we were about halfway through our trip and I pulled over again and there happen to be a Petco in the parking lot. I went inside to see if they had a cat carrier. I knew they wouldn’t but I thought it would be worth a try. The guy I talked to was very nice. He told me they didn’t have any but he suggested putting him in a box enclosing the top. He happened to have a box that he thought would be perfect for me. I thanked him and put the box in the front seat and put Chris inside and closed the top. That lasted until I walked around to my side the car. By then he’d already busted through the top. I knew that wasn’t going to work so I took him out and folded the box up, wedged it between his seat and mine, and started driving again.

It wasn’t long before he got down onto the blankets I had on the floor. I was hoping he would lay there but instead, he went head-first under the dashboard. He was in a position that looked dangerous so I had to stop the car again. Finally, he settled into laying on my lap. It was a position that was not great for driving but it was safer than what he was doing so I let him stay there since I only had a few more miles to drive.

When we got there I put Chris in the house first. It was nice because there was an enclosed porch so I could bring our stuff inside without worrying about the cats getting out.

I then brought Frankie, Puck, and Floki inside and opened their carriers. I soon noticed that Chris was nowhere in sight. I assumed he was exploring because that is what he does, but I soon became worried when I couldn’t find him.

cats

It was a small place with not many hiding places so I couldn’t understand where he went to. Rose joined the search and she couldn’t find him either. I went outside to look, thinking maybe there was a way out we were not aware of or maybe he slipped past me, even though that seemed impossible. I was scared at this point, thinking the storm hasn’t even hit and already Chris was missing.

When I went back into the house I was relieved to find out that Rose found Chris. He was hiding in a corner amongst a pile of stuff.

I think the owner wasn’t planning on renting it and had stuff piled around the house.

With that crisis averted, I brought in the rest of our stuff. We decided not to unpack anything we didn’t need to in case we had to leave in a hurry.

The place was actually not bad. It was very old, perhaps 80 to 100 years old, and small because it was a regular house divided into a duplex, but it had potential and the neighborhood wasn’t bad. It was relatively close to downtown St. Petersburg and the waterfront. I’m sure there would be plenty to do nearby on a normal day but this was not a normal day.

There was no sofa or television, which was weird for a rental. There were just a couple of chairs and a table. There was also a bedroom with no doors and a double bed, as well as a day bed on the patio.

We passed the time as best we could. We tried to play cards but that wasn’t easy with Chris around.

cat on cards

I did go out at one point to get ice, which nobody had, and look for a place to charge my car, which did not exist in the place the map showed. While driving I saw a cat in the back of a car. Her mouth was opening like she was crying in distress. I guess this person didn’t have a carrier too.

20170909_130947 cat in car.JPG

One good thing happened while we were there. We witnessed Puck use the litter box for the first time in months. 20170910_053117 Puck peeing

Shortly after this momentous event, I found poop on the daybed.

We spent a lot of time checking weather updates on our phones as well as social media where several people from out of state were hounding us to leave because our life was in peril. I think they thought leaving was easy.

All day Saturday the forecasted track kept moving west with every update. Before going to bed the track was going north through Tampa. Not good.

Sunday morning Irma reached the Florida Keys.  I saw the forecasted track moved West again and had it over water from the keys all the way to Madeira Beach, a barrier island next to St. Petersburg, where it was predicted to make landfall. Traveling over water meant the storm would probably not weaken before hitting us.

That was when Rose decided it was time to abandon our shelter and head north to her sister Felice’s house.

To be continued . . .

Read part two here.

We are Evacuating


When Hurricane Irma’s projected path shifted west on Thursday, we decided we should leave. A mandatory evacuation order helped that decision. Some friends said we could stay with them but this morning they told us they decided to evacuate themselves and are heading north, out of the state.

That left us with few options. My wife’s sister Felice’s house is in Evacuation Zone C, which is better than I thought. When Rose told me her sister’s house was in a flood zone, she was referring to her other sister’s house. Nevertheless, Felice has several cats and her mother will also be staying there with her cat which will make things quite uncomfortable if we come with our four cats. Who knows, some kind of cat gang war could erupt.

Instead, Rose got an idea from our Governor and looked into Airbnb. She found a one bedroom duplex in St. Petersburg’s Historic District. It is also in Evacuation Zone C, not perfect but better than Zone A where we are.

airbnb house rental

From Google Street View

As of now (Friday, 5:45 p.m.) my cat carrier has not arrived. If it doesn’t show up, we will have to bring one cat without a carrier because there are no carriers to be found around here. That brings me to my main concern; losing a cat.  If a cat got out the door here, we are pretty sure they would know where home is, but in a strange place, who knows. None of them are microchipped, which I have been wanting to do but never got around to it, and I have no collars with name tags. Actually, I have one collar and a name tag for Frankie IF I can find it. We are just going to have to be very careful when opening the door at the new place.

It looks like the storm will be at its worst around Sunday evening here so we decided to wait until Saturday morning to leave. We probably could wait until the afternoon but there seems no point in delaying further.

I think we will return when things die down a little, possibly Monday afternoon, I don’t know. I am almost afraid to come home because I don’t know what we will find. Everything could be fine or there could be minor damage or even major damage. Looting is also possible in a neighborhood where everyone is gone. Fortunately, we don’t have much that people would want.

I will try to post again from my phone if I can. If I can’t I may update you on Chris’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Thank you all for your concern and wish us luck.

The Story of Casper, The Friendly Cat


“Some day soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead – when I exist in no one’s memory.” – Irvin D. Yalom

I think writing about my cats helps keep their memory alive, perhaps indefinitely, which makes me feel good, but there is another cat, one who belonged to someone else, who I feel deserves to be remembered. I thought about Casper while reading a post on Rumpydog called The Damage That Ignorance Can Do. Part of the story was about people moving and abandoning their cat. It reminded me of how Casper was abandoned, not physically but emotionally. He had no home where people cared about him. I suppose I should start from the beginning.

Casper the Friendly CatThe year was 2004, long before Chris was born. We had three cats at the time; Princess, Sneakers and Vinny. That summer a white and black cat started coming around. I think he saw our cats on the patio and thought this would be a good home for him. He would stand by the patio door and ask to come in.

I started going outside to pet him. He was very friendly and loved the attention. At first I thought he might be homeless so I would feed him when he came around. Sometimes he ate a little but mostly he was just there for the attention. A couple of times I let him on our patio when no other cat was around. We had no idea if he was sick or not so we didn’t want to risk exposing our other cats to him.

Chuck and Casper the Friendly Cat

Pay no attention to my haircut. This was the first and last time my wife attempted to cut my hair.

Chuck and Casper the Friendly Cat

We lived in a nice, quiet neighborhood. Our house was on the east side of the street. Across the street and one house to the south was where Casper lived. Next door to me on the north side lived a couple just a little older than Rose and I named Nancy and Dutch. Nancy was very nice but very quiet and soft-spoken. When our cat Vinny first came around as a stray, we started feeding him and soon discovered Nancy was feeding him too. Dutch was a big, burly ex-biker with an outspoken personality. He had a bit of a short fuse but he also had a big heart and would do anything for people he cared about.

We were affected by a few hurricanes that year. Two of them passed almost directly over us but their strength was diminished because they had hit Florida from the east coast and moved across the state before hitting us on the west coast.  Even so, we were still confronted with very powerful winds. During one of the hurricanes, I looked out the window and noticed Casper huddled against the front window of his home. His owners had evacuated and left him outside. I called Dutch, grabbed a towel and the two of us went over to retrieve him. We wrapped him in the towel and brought him to Dutch’s garage where he rode out the storm.

Our cat Vinny

Vinny

Some time in October, Rose and I were out for dinner when we got a phone call from Dutch. He said a pit bull was loose and had torn up the screen on our patio trying to get at Vinny, who happened to spend a lot of time out there. Fortunately Dutch chased the dog away and I fixed the screen the next day.

By then Casper was a regular visitor although I hadn’t learned his name yet. We had a trampoline in the back yard and sometimes he would have a nap on the perimeter of it (it had a safety net) while he waited for someone to come out and pay attention to him. Unknown to me, he was on the trampoline one afternoon while I was taking a shower. I heard a lot of barking in the back yard and since this was about four days after the attempted attack on Vinny I was a bit concerned. I hurried out of the shower, quickly put on a pair of shorts and went to see what all the commotion was about.

It was a pit bull, probably the same one that tore up our screens. This time he wanted Casper. He couldn’t reach him on the trampoline but Casper didn’t know that. He panicked, jumped down and made a run for it. He made it to Dutch’s yard and the dog pounced on him.

I ran out the patio door as quickly as possible but I was not exactly dressed to fight a pit bull.  I was screaming at the dog the entire time but he was singularly focused on killing the cat. Dutch had his trash cans nearby so I grabbed a lid and threw it at the dog. It caught the wind and turned, causing me to either miss or just graze him but it did distract him long enough for Casper to scramble up a tree. Unknown to me, Vinny had followed me out the door and now became the new focus of the crazy pit bull. He lunged for Vinny who, thankfully, dodged the attack and scrambled up the same tree as Casper.

With both cats out of reach and me still yelling at the dog, he ran off. Just then Dutch came outside with a baseball bat and helped me retrieve Vinny from the tree. While we were doing that, Casper was climbing higher into the tree and would not come down.

I left Casper there and went back inside to get dressed. Together, Dutch and I walked north between the houses looking for the dog. We almost reached the end of the block when we saw, on the street behind our houses, the reunion of dog and owner. I noticed their back patio had screens that were completely shredded and the fence around the yard was broken so any dog that made it to the patio had unrestricted access to the rest of the neighborhood.

We walked over to him and Dutch got in his face and said, “If I ever see that F*%#in dog again I’ll kill him!” Amazingly, the man seemed unfazed and proceeded to argue with Dutch. I could tell Dutch wanted to punch the guy but he restrained himself with much effort. I know if Dutch was in my face yelling at me I would be very cooperative. I chimed in that the dog tore up my screens a few days earlier while he was trying to get my cat but he didn’t seem to care about that.

After several minutes of arguing, we left to see if we could get Casper out of the tree. He had climbed pretty high and seemed content to stay put. I walked across the street, I believe with Rose who was home by then,  to see if Casper’s owner could help. A girl, perhaps ten years old, answered the door. We told her what happened and she followed us to Casper’s tree. It was then that we learned his name as she called him to try to coax him down. It didn’t work. Casper was safe in that tree and he was not coming down. I did get some information out of her though. She told us that they had a dog that would harass Casper so he rarely went inside the house.

About 7:30 that evening I got a flashlight and went back to the tree. This time I was able to talk him down. I noticed that Casper had some cuts from the attack but he seemed okay otherwise. I carried him home and give him to the little girl, hoping someone there would take care of him.

Later, I called animal control. I was hoping to prevent the dog from doing something like this again to Casper, Vinny or anyone’s pet. It surprised me to find out that unless the dog attacked a human there was not much they could do. The woman I spoke to was nice though and she did file a report. A few weeks later she called me and said those people had moved out, which was a relief.

Not long after that indecent our kids were witness to the aftermath of a horrible accident on the way to the bus stop. Apparently, the male member of the Casper household had struck and killed a woman who stepped out in front of his truck. I don’t know if that contributed to relationship problems but soon after that the woman and daughter moved out leaving him alone to take care of Casper. The poor cat got very little attention before this and now he was virtually a stray.

By early to mid December the weather had become cold and Casper had developed a limp. I felt bad for him because he was stuck in the cold and I knew his owner would not take him to the vet.

I propped my garage door open enough for Casper to get in and then closed the screen sliders almost all the way so a would-be criminal would not easily notice my garage was not locked. Inside I put a warm blanket along with food and water. I also had a chair out there and I would sometimes sit and pet him while he laid on my lap. Rose and I tried to contact Casper’s owner about his condition a couple of times but got no answer at the door. We then left him a note that went unanswered.

I wanted to adopt him but we felt like we couldn’t just steal our neighbor’s cat. Don’t get me wrong, taking a cat from a neglectful owner was not the problem. The problem was the first time Casper looked out our front window his owner would see that we had him. We needed to find someone willing to take in a cat in need and eventually talked Rose’s mother’s boyfriend into taking him. The only thing left to do was bring Casper to the vet.

We made an appointment for the following Monday and Rose took him while I was at work. The vet said that Casper was suffering from advanced Feline leukemia and recommended he be put to sleep. So on December 27, 2004 a beautiful life ended because of neglect. I felt as sad as if he were my cat. I felt even worse because he was on the verge of finally having a good life with a human that would give him the attention he deserved.

There are many other Caspers out there. My hope is that anyone who reads this will do just a little to help them. Just one thing. Adopt a pet if you can. If you can’t, you can volunteer at a shelter or at least give to a local shelter or TNR program. If you have outside cats, let them in, better yet, keep them in. At the very least get them vaccinated and don’t forget to to pay attention to your pets. Food and water is just not enough.

If you know a pet that deserves their own story I would be happy to read it. Please leave a comment or a link. I also want to know what you think about Casper.