When The Vikings Came

Shrouded in myth, the Vikings have been regarded as both explorers and warriors but, much of what we know about them has changed including the role they played in helping  our four-legged feline friends make their way around the world.

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Recent studies into ancient cat DNA has revealed that domestic cats hitched a ride on Viking boats  (Photo: Shutterstock) Image ScienceNordic

Researchers actually know very little about how cats were ‘domesticated’ so the first large-scale study of ancient feline DNA presented this past September in the UK is a big first step towards understanding how our beloved house cats came to be. Eva-Maria Geigl, an evolutionary geneticist at the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris, and her colleagues analyzed mitochondrial DNA from the remains of 209 cats that lived between about 15,000 years ago and the eighteenth century AD, from more than 30 archaeological sites across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The first wave of cat expansion is something that most are familiar with – wild cats from the Middle East moved with early farming communities to the fertile Eastern Mediterranean. The cats were attracted by the rodents, who were attracted by the grains being stored by the farmers, and humans seeing the benefits they provided decided to keep the cats around. The discovery of a 9,500 year-old grave in Cyprus containing a cat buried with a human, suggests that the connection between felines and humans go as far back as 12,000 years.

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(Upper right) A human skeleton in Cyprus in a 9,500-year-old grave. Inches away, a cat was carefully buried, as seen in the lower section of the image.  Image – NBC News

During the second wave of expansion thousands of years later, cats descended from those in Egypt (It is generally thought that Ancient Egyptians tamed wild cats about 6,000 years ago) quickly spread throughout Eurasia and Africa. “A mitochondrial lineage common in Egyptian cat mummies from the end of the fourth century BC to the fourth century AD was also carried by cats in Bulgaria, Turkey and sub-Saharan Africa from around the same time.” It is very likely that sea-faring people like the Vikings kept cats on board their boats to help keep the rodent population down said researchers, who also discovered cat remains, with the same maternal DNA lineage present in the Egyptian cat mummies, at a Viking site in northern Germany dating to between the eighth and eleventh century AD.

Upon seeing the results of the first large-scale study of ancient feline DNA at the conference, Population Geneticist Pontus Skoglund from Harvard Medical School told Nature that he “didn’t even know there were Viking cats.” However, according to conservator Kristian Gregersen from the Natural History Museum of Denmark, the Vikings most certainly had domestic cats and that “people commonly wore cat skins by the late Viking Age.”

Interestingly this evidence seems to support the theory that two very popular and robust breeds the Maine Coon and the Norwegian Forest Cat, could have been brought to America and elsewhere by the Vikings. If you are wondering what that journey may have looked like be sure to click on the link or image below to check out this awesome, we wish it were real, flash-video by Joel Veitch.

VIKING KITTENS – by Joel

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Let’s Talk About Your Cat!

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The first Let’s Talk About Your Cat of 2017 is sure to help get your new year started off on the right paw. It features one of Purr and Roar’s followers, and fellow blogger’s, cats from San Diego, California. Thanks to Lisa for sharing the story and photo’s of her beautiful cats Dimitri and Milo!

Dimitri is a 4 years old, classic tabby and white Norwegian Forest Cat and, Milo is a 4 years old, black and white Norwegian Forest Cat.

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Dimitri (left) and Milo (right) hanging out on the kitchen counter

Describe your cats personalities

Milo is Dimitri’s “brother from another mother”—literally! They have two different moms, born 3 months apart, but they have the same father. Milo looks just like their dad. Norwegian Forest Cats are a naturally large breed, and Dimitri is a perfect example of this at 15 pounds.

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Milo (top) with his paw on Dimitri (bottom)

Milo is a little more petite and dainty at 12 pounds. My husband and I forget how big they appear to people (especially Dimitri) because we are so used to their size after living with them for 4 years. The other day at the vet the parents of a little Shih Tzu couldn’t believe the size of Dimitri…he was way bigger than their dog! We’ve also noticed that “regular” cats seem very small to us now. I don’t know if we’ll ever get used to all that fur…especially when they “molt” their winter coats in the spring!

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Dimitri in full winter coat

In addition to their size differences, they definitely have different personalities. Both are very sweet and gentle, but while Dimitri is more independent, Milo is very people-oriented. Dimitri is content to go off and sleep in a quiet spot for hours. He always wakes up in a happy mood and comes looking for rubs and pets. He carries his fluffy tail high like a plume when he walks around. He also likes to sleep flat on his back and curl his paws. All that fluffy white belly fur is pretty irresistible, but he’s likely to flip over and go “brrr” if you try to pet it.

While Dimitri is a cat’s cat, Milo is more like a puppy. He’s very vocal and affectionate…if you talk to him he’s likely to talk back, and if you pet him he’ll start purring. He loves getting pets while he eats his food, and jumping onto laps for a cuddle session…whether it’s a good time for us or not. He’s not shy around strangers, and many workmen who have come to the house have been totally charmed by Milo. He will follow them around, lie on their stuff, and just generally make a cat person out of everyone he meets.

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Milo relaxing in his chair

We live in a warm climate and have a sun room at the back of our house (renamed “the cat room”) where we put their cat trees and a toy basket. They love to sit in the tops of their trees and enjoy the breeze from all the windows. Our back yard is home to lots of little lizards and we’ve planted flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies, so they keep busy watching the wildlife all year-round. San Diego is not exactly Norway, but they seem to enjoy the Southern California lifestyle!

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Dimitri (top) and Milo (bottom) checking out the view from the “cat room”

How did your cats come into your life?

All of my previous cats have been rescues, but Norwegian Forest Cats have been my “dream cat” ever since I first learned about them many years ago. I was fascinated by their story…an old, natural breed literally from the forests of Norway. They were always somewhat rare and in danger of vanishing due to interbreeding with domestic short hairs in their surroundings. Cat lovers in Norway began making a concerted effort to save the breed from disappearing, beginning in the 1970s. They’ve been around for centuries (they’re said to have traveled the world with the Vikings on their boats…maybe even to North America, becoming the Maine Coon) but have been an officially recognized breed for only a relatively short time.

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Dimitri as a kitten

It’s very hard to find a rescued Norwegian. They’re rare to begin with and many breeders ask that owners return the cats to them if they can no longer care for them. As much as I admired them, I never thought I’d ever actually have one. After my last rescue kitty passed away, I began looking into the feasibility of getting one…or as it turned out, two. Careful research led me to a highly regarded breeder who was just as discriminating as I was. We flew cross-country so she could meet us and—just as importantly—we could see her home and meet her cats. Then we got on the kitten waiting list. Then we flew cross-country again two more times to pick up each kitten in person (many reputable breeders won’t ship). Getting our boys was definitely a labor of love. It pays to do your research, be patient, and yes, spend a bit of money to work with someone you’re comfortable with and get the cats you want. You kind of have to be a little obsessed to go this route, and while it’s not for everyone, the stars really did align for us.

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Milo as a kitten, with Hello Kitty

What is your first memory or experience with cats?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t crazy about cats. I’ve loved them ever since I could remember. When I was around 5, some of the neighborhood kids came around asking if my family would take in a little kitten. They said his mother had been hit by a car and he was by her side when they found him. I begged my parents to keep him but they said no. The kitten ended up at another house down the street and my mom and I saw him in the yard one day, looking even scruffier than before (I think he had some bubble gum and grease stuck in his fur). He looked pathetic enough for my mother to change her mind and agree to take him in. He was our only family pet and my close companion all through my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. I’d do my homework on my bedroom floor and he’d always sit on my books and papers…or if I was lying on my stomach, perch on my back. He passed away not long after I graduated from college, as if his death marked both an ending and a beginning.

Anything else people should know? 

I proudly admit to being a cat person, and those “I like cats more than people” t-shirts were definitely made for me! Talk about stereotypes, I was even an academic librarian for many years before switching to freelance writing. Cozying up with a good book and a cat or two is my idea of heaven.  I do love all animals though, and have been known to act like an excited kid when I see a cute dog out for a walk or pass by the hamsters at the local pet store. I’ve volunteered for several animal welfare organizations over the years, some that worked with all animals and some that were specific to cats.

Cat rescue work is important but I’ve taken a bit of a break from it as I have to admit I find it emotionally draining sometimes. I used to work at a small cat shelter and found myself getting a little too upset at some of the things I saw, mostly related to what people are capable of doing to innocent animals.

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Dimitri looking handsome

A move from Colorado to California two years ago offered the opportunity for a fresh start. I heard about a local non-profit called the Foundation for Animal Care and Education (FACE) which provides financial assistance to pet owners who are unable to pay for all or part of their animal’s emergency or critical veterinary care. Urinary blockages are among the most common feline health problems that FACE helps people with. I’ve been writing the FACE Foundation blog on a volunteer basis for a couple of years now…just a small way of contributing to such a worthy cause.

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One of Lisa’s favorite pictures of Milo

Having faced an expensive kitty health crisis or two in my own life—including the dreaded urinary blockage—I can certainly appreciate how overwhelming costly veterinary bills can be while you are in the middle of making very important decisions about your pet’s medical care.

If you would like to have your cat/s featured on Let’s Talk About Your Cat, feel free to contact me at purrandroar(at)gmail(dot)com

The Cat that Changed America

P-22 the most famous mountain lion in the world is a both a celebrity and messenger. So far he has managed to: survive the deadly traffic of Los Angeles; stealthily navigate the cities massive urban sprawl taking up residence in an area that represents 3% of a normal size home range for a mountain lion; and, recover from a potentially life-threatening case of rodenticide poisoning. For the most part P-22 has overcome the odds, but his story is a cautionary tale with an important message – one that is explored in the upcoming documentary film The Cat that Changed America.

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The film focuses on P-22, the challenges mountain lions are facing in California and the plan to build the world’s largest wildlife crossing which will help connect mountain lions, and other wildlife, to spaces better suited for them. There is an urgency to get the crossing built as mountain lions are running out of time in California – they are threatened by urban sprawl, inbreeding, vehicles, rat poison and ultimately extinction. If they do not get the help they need now they will most certainly be gone in 50 years

P-22 has helped to create a movement that is shifting our view of mountain lions and, with effort on our part to learn to co-exist with this important keystone species, his story can be a catalyst to help change America and the rest of the world.

In anticipation of the films release I recently spoke to Director Tony Lee about The Cat that Changed America and the role he hopes it will play in helping P-22 and other mountain lions in California.

When you first became aware of P-22, and the crisis facing mountain lions and wildlife in LA, what inspired you to tell his story?

I was struck by how passionate and eloquent the campaigners for the wildlife crossing are, especially Beth Pratt, the California Director for the National Wildlife Federation, and Miguel Ordenana of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It was actually Miguel who was the first person I spoke to about the story, which is appropriate as he captured the first photograph of P-22 in one of his camera traps in Griffith Park.

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The making of The Cat that Changed America – Behind the scenes stills provided by Tony Lee

Why do you think it is important to make this film now?

I think the film is very timely, as the National Wildlife Federation and the Save LA Cougars campaign are aiming to raise $10 million by the end of 2017 to fund the development of the wildlife crossing, with the long-term goal of completing the crossing in 2021. They need to raise a total over $55 million for this. My film is part of this much larger campaign to raise funds and raise awareness.

How do you see P-22 and his story changing the way Americans, and the world, view mountain lions and their role in a healthy ecosystem?

I chose the title “The Cat that Changed America”, because P-22 has moved the dial in our thinking about where urban wildlife can thrive, especially wildlife as big as a mountain lion. P-22 is living in the middle of the second largest city in the United States, and one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world. If wildlife is to co-exist alongside us, we also need to change our thinking about what are acceptable places for wildlife to live. We also have a choice of becoming responsible and considerate neighbors, which means changing our consumer lifestyle, thinking about the impact on the countryside and not using rat poisons.

In a feature for the Natural History Network you wrote that this was “an intricate and sensitive story”, as well as a challenging one. What makes P-22’s story different from other wildlife conversation films you have made?

I feel a huge responsibility to tell the story well, and use my knowledge and experience as a filmmaker. Together with Alex Rapaport my cinematographer based in LA, we aimed to tell the story through cinematic language and emotional appeal. This story is different from other conservation films I have made, because it is part of a bigger campaign, and I feel the urgency and the responsibility that comes with that.

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Director Tony Lee with Cinematographer Lance Jeffery

You also mentioned that the 1 hour film was completed in about 3 months. What were some of your biggest challenges making a film about one of the most elusive and shy cats in the world, in such a short time frame?

As a wildlife filmmaker, I know that filming mountain lions, and especially P-22 within the time frame would be nigh impossible. They are called ghost cats for good reason as they are incredibly elusive. So I concentrated on filming the characters connected with the wildlife crossing and studying P-22. For actual mountain lion footage, I relied on existing film captured by Miguel Ordenana and Matthew Whitmire who were part of the Griffith Park Connectivity study, as well as the National Park Service, who had footage and photographs of P-22.

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California Director for the National Wildlife Federation Beth Pratt-Bergstrom

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Wildlife Biologist Miguel Ordenana in Griffith Park

You interviewed researchers, experts and citizens for the film – what about P-22’s supporters has stood out most?

There are so many wonderful quotes and passionate stories in the film; some of the stand outs for me include Miguel’s description of finding the P-22 photograph for the first time, which he likens to discovering ‘Big Foot’. Beth also describes her life changing experience when being shown around Griffith Park by Jeff Sikich and realizing that urban wildlife as big as a mountain lion can live right in the middle of LA. Sherry Ferber’s description on hearing that a mountain lion had been killed on the 101 freeway near her home in Liberty Canyon and how that cemented her bond with these cats, and Poison Free Malibu’s plea to stop using anticoagulant rodenticides as we are poisoning the Earth as well as each other.

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National Park Service wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich

The Cat That Changed America has been accepted at the World International Film Festival in Los Angeles and New York. Are there plans to enter it at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival where the conservation focus will be on the big cats?

Yes I absolutely plan to submit it to the 2017 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. I actually won the Special Jury Award at Jackson Hole in 2015 (for ‘The Secret Life of Your House’, about animals which live in our homes). The award partly inspired me to make this film about P-22. I’ve already approached the Festival board with panel suggestions for their Wild Cats symposium, with the focus being on connectivity and habitat fragmentation facing wild cats.

How important is it for a wildlife film like this to be seen at film festivals?

I think it’s vital to raise awareness to anyone who is interested in wildlife, and especially to those who are unaware or not so interested. P-22 is a celebrity, but many Los Angelenos and people around the world are still unaware of the serious issues facing mountain lions and how they are suffering from fragmentation, habitat loss and the threat of anticoagulant rodenticides.

Besides the film festival circuit where else will the documentary be available for viewing?

I’m currently talking to distributors and channels about broadcasting after the film festivals. I’m hoping that the popularity created by the festivals will stir broadcaster interest as it has done so with other environmental films such as ‘Blackfish’ and ‘Racing Extinction’.

Was there anything that you learned about mountain lions during the process of making the film that has left you in a position to be a better advocate for the species?

Yes, I didn’t know that male mountain lions need very large home ranges – around 200 square miles – they need to be connected to open spaces, otherwise they will fight to the death over territory. It’s our responsibility as Los Angelenos and considerate neighbors to ensure they have enough space to thrive, otherwise they suffer from the effects of inbreeding and intraspecific killing.

P-22’s celebrity seems to be doing for mountain lions what Elsa the lioness of Born Free did for African lions. How do you see your documentary fitting into a new movement towards helping save North America’s Lion?

I like to think that bringing my 25 years experience as a wildlife and conservation filmmaker will help P-22’s cause and help raise funds for the wildlife crossing. In fact I feel so strongly about this film, it’s the first time I have used my own money to solely finance a feature, because I felt so passionate about getting it made. I’m sure that people will want to watch it, but I also see it as a donation I’ve made to the Save LA Cougars campaign in the way I know how to contribute as a filmmaker. Conservation films have been notoriously difficult to get funded, but I think we are entering a golden age for documentaries, and I’m excited to be part of that movement.

Do you think that P-22’s story will help change attitudes towards mountain lions and how they are viewed and ‘managed’ outside California?

Absolutely. P-22 has been described as a conservation hero and ambassador, and in fact, I’ll be putting him forward in that category at Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in 2017. A conservation hero doesn’t necessarily have to be a person like E.O. Wilson or David Attenborough, it can be an animal too, and P-22 is the best poster child for urban wildlife and issues of connectivity.

What is the main message about mountain lions in LA, and in general, that you want people to take away from the film?

If we are to coexist with nature, we radically have to change our lifestyle and our way of thinking, and become part of nature, even if we are living in one of the densest urban areas on Earth. Species are disappearing at an alarming rate; we are Nature’s gatekeepers, the responsibility of the planet at this moment in time rests solely in our hands, and P-22’s story and the wildlife crossing truly shows that charity begins at home, right on our doorstep.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Be sure to visit the films website The Cat that Changed America and share – If there is any story that can help sway people’s interest in helping conserve North America’s lion it’s this one.

If you would like to support the wildlife crossing by making a monetary donation please visit Save LA Cougars

About Producer and Director Tony Lee: Tony is an award-winning filmmaker, television producer and author. Tony has worked in California for 2 years for National Geographic Television and in New York City for Animal Planet. Over his 25 year career, he has produced and directed many programmes in the science and natural history strand for a range of broadcasters. He spends his time between California and England, and has a special interest in big cats. 

Buy It, Give It – Holiday Edition

Here is the 2016 Holiday Edition of Buy it, Give it! With just a few weeks left to pick up those last-minute gifts I have listed some of my favorite picks for the holidays or anytime because you never really need an excuse to pick up some cool cat themed merchandise. Happy shopping!

As always I am including a t-shirt and this year my pick is Friends of P-22, available for men and women, from gurlRun on Etsy. It is a unique print featuring a silhouette print of everyone’s favorite mountain lion from LA

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Olive & Rye Cat Art –  Whatever you decide to go with you can be sure it will be fun and colorful. There are totes, like the Catroyoshka Tote Bag pictured here, mugs, pouches, t-shirts, leggings, scarfs and more

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Olive & Rye also offers amazing custom cat portraits like this one that was done of my cat Spinner

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The perfect stocking stuffer idea from Areaware is the Fauna Pouch featuring a tabby cat print inspired by early style photography

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Socks are always a fun, affordable and practical gift ideas. First pick is the My Cat is Cool as F&^%$ Socks by Blue Q

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For a more family friendly holiday inspired style, also available in kids sizes,  Sock It to Me Jingle Cats

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Just in time for winter, the Cat Scarf by Archie Mcphee available in store or online at Rolo Store. What I really like about this scarf is all the cats are looking up at you

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For the big cat lover the African Cats Pendant by New York designer Alex Woo, its beautiful and charitable with a portion of the proceeds from all sales going to help with conservation of African wildlife and wetlands

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For the cat parent who is looking for a new way to photograph their cat there is the Animal Adventures Pet Photobooth

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or, Cat Selfies by NPW because everyone including your cat are into selfies

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It wouldn’t be a holiday without a special hat and the bonnet by Archie McPhee is the newest in head wear for felines that takes us back to a simpler time

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Get retro with this fun and portable pinball game from Ridley’s Utopia Cosmic Cat Pinball

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For the home Lili Chin’s Exotic Cats Duvet Cover on Society 6

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Cat Nap pillow cases by Xenotees which come in various colors

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For the cat lover who also loves to bake a laser cut cat rolling-pin by SugaryHome on Etsy

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Finally for the literary cat lover, there is Shop Cats of New York – a photographic book of New York City’s most iconic felines

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Saying Goodbye – A Tribute To Spinner

I read the following quote last year and for some reason it sat in the back of my mind. “The trouble is – you think you have time.” It’s a little cliché, but profoundly simple in its meaning and would become more so as the events of the past few months unfolded. I consider myself to be proactive, but like everyone I will put off things thinking I have time to do it later. Time to finish a project, time to make a decision, time to pursue a dream or time to spend with those who are important in our lives – human or animal.

In September the time I thought I had with my cat Spinner would be suddenly cut short bringing everything in my life to a halt, and literally breaking my heart in the process.

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Spinner 2006 – He knew how to work a good photo

I adopted Spinner in 2005 from Toronto Animal Services where he had come in as a ‘stray’ (for his back story check out my guest blog post about Spinner on Katzenworld). He was a very special and unique cat – physically he was a handsome stunner with the personality to match. He fit into our already two cat household and became good friends and adopted brother to our beautiful and gentle house-panther Simon.

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Spinner and Simon enjoying the cat bed and the sun

In 2009, our tabby Cleo passed away and in 2010 Simon, both had lived to 18 years old. Simon’s passing was really difficult but Spinner was there to help me through it. When you lose a pet you realize how precious your time is with them so Spinner now the OC (only cat) was spoiled. Spinner was a special cat in many ways, beautiful on the outside with a funny, sassy, smart, talkative, loving personality that won hearts and had me wrapped around his little paws.

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Sleeping in his favorite chair

Spinner was the cat that was always there, literally. He ran to the door when I got home, looked for me when I wasn’t there and slept by my side every night. If I was on my laptop he would settle in between the laptop and me resting his chin on my arm. If I was on the couch he was there and if I moved he followed. He loved to be held, would wrap his arms around you in a hug and enjoyed jumping on your back when you bent over. He loved belly rubs and purred all the time – he sounded like a tiny motor boat. He was a super relaxed cat and enjoyed the attention from people around him. Whenever someone new met him they couldn’t help but fall in love.

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All tucked in for bed – the cold months were made for cuddling

No matter what kind of day you had Spinner made it better and when things weren’t going well, they were made better by being around him. Spinner was my best friend and knowing he was home made coming home better. There was no reason to think that his time would be cut short as his recent senior wellness check at the vet this spring showed all was in excellent order, for a 13 year young cat he was doing great. Then, just after the September long weekend – he stopped eating and I booked an appointment for the vet the next day.

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The first vet diagnosed him with pancreatitis but a trip the Vet Emergency and X-ray the next day revealed that he had a large mass in his chest cavity. The vet said it was likely cancer and due to the location no traditional means of treatment would help. They also had no way to know for sure how bad it was without a biopsy which they were reluctant to do because of the location. Immediately the option was to provide palliative care – which meant fluids, vitamins, sub-q and an appetite stimulant to get him eating and to keep him comfortable. At that point I don’t think the diagnosis fully sank in but I will say Spinner was handling things better than me.

Driving home that night from the vet it started to process and I began to research other options and booked an appointment to see a holistic vet for the following week. In the meantime Spinner perked up the next day and started to eat so I promised him we would try to do everything to help him as long as he wanted – that if we could cure him we were going to do it, he was going to be the ‘miracle’ story you read about. That afternoon emotionally and physically exhausted we had a nap, Spinner squeezed in between me and a pillow and purred – it would be a special memory that I will always hold in my heart.

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Enjoying a spot of sun

Spinner did well for a week but then he stopped eating again. I had tried everything to get him to eat on his own but as a temporary measure the syringe feedings would help him get by as his system started to settle. As long as he was drinking, going to the bathroom normally and maintaining healthy weight the vet said that we could keep him comfortable and in the meantime a trip to the oncologist was recommended for the final opinion on the mass.

Spinner was trying, I could tell and I knew he was trying for me. He had become a different cat in a very short time, he stopped playing and took to sleeping under the bed or on top of it he began spending less and less time with me. He showed little interest in anything except sleeping and taking his food, drinking or using his litter box. There were however many good moments where I was hopeful the support was working to build his immune system and he would have the miraculous cure that I was hoping for. Whatever he wanted or showed interest in he would get – cat grass and spider plant to munch on, his favorite treat of peanut butter and trips outside for fresh air. During this time I was a mess and when I did cry it was a wail – a sound of deep despair, it was the sound that I can only describe as coming from my soul. It was hard to keep it together but I was able to function normally by focusing on caring for him. When I broke down Spinner would often come out from under the bed lay down on the floor, look at me and start to purr – we had many cuddle sessions like this which would last for a short time before he would go back under the bed again.

The trip to the oncologist sadly, did not go as I’d hoped, in fact it was worse than I or the regular vet had thought – Spinner had multiple tumors in his liver, pancreas as well as the one in his chest cavity. The oncologist also found a lump on his shoulder bone which she suspects is where the cancer started. It was a rare and very aggressive cancer and there was no treatment, no cure, keeping him comfortable until he said it was time was the only option and that it would likely be a few weeks. The official word that there would be no cure, no remission was devastating, he was only 13.

In under five weeks Spinner had declined but he didn’t start to deteriorate quickly until late September early October. A week before I made the call to a vet to discuss at home euthanasia he did two things that he hadn’t done in over a month – he went to the window to look outside and he sat on my lap, stared into my eyes then jumped off. I realized that all this time he was preparing me for life without him, even though he slept by my head every night he was sending me a message and the signs were clear. I was worried that I wouldn’t know, but there was one clear sign that would help me make the decision that all pet owners dread and even fear.

He was such a gentle, patient cat and was unbelievable through everything and I never wanted to let him go, however I couldn’t watch him get worse I had to let him go. Six years ago I had to make that choice for Simon and the memory of that experience brought back all the emotions, but I don’t know if that was a good thing. I knew what was coming, the pain, sadness, emptiness… the only difference was I had already started grieving for Spinner before he was gone and it had been happening for weeks.

I made the call to the vet to look at booking an appointment and even though I knew it was the right and compassionate choice it did not make it any easier. During my initial call I didn’t commit to a day or time instead I took a day to decide and had a conversation with Spinner. I told him that I loved him and that it was OK for him to go home, that he would see Simon, maybe Cleo to and any of his friends he knew before he came into my life. I was sorry I couldn’t help him and I would miss him more than I could ever say – we should have had many more years together.

I stayed home on Spinners last day, which was beautiful and sunny. He had one last meal in the morning and I told him that he would no longer have to endure syringe feedings. We had a nice visit outside in the sun where he walked around the garden sniffed the flowers, plants and fresh air. When he was ready he walked back inside to rest. Some of my friends who had known Spinner came by for a visit and to say goodbye and of course Spinner being a social cat made sure to come out and greet them all.

The vet arrived at the scheduled time and as we prepared and went over how everything was going to transpire, Spinner calmly lay on the same pillow where he had slept every night for the past month surrounded by his friends and with me by his side. Surprisingly I had stopped crying earlier in the day and this strange calmness came over me. As I spoke to Spinner and gave him tons of kisses he purred. He purred right up until the sedative took effect and his eyes closed. On October 13 at approximately 8:30 pm he took his last breath and his heart slowed to a stop.

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Our final moments together – Spinner was beautiful and peaceful

Before we wrapped Spinner up in a towel with his favorite toy mouse and placed him in a fleece blanket lined basket that the vet provided I noticed something. His eyes had shut completely and there was a single tear in the corner of one of his eyes. I wiped it away and we gently wrapped him up placing him in the basket. A part of me knows he did not want to leave and I like to think that the single tear was his way of saying goodbye, that he was just as sad at having to leave me as I was having to let him go.

The next days following were hard, very hard and the reality of his loss hit me. His absence was at times unbearable and knowing he wouldn’t be there when I came home was really difficult. It has been up and down since, some days it is fine and other times it hits me, but I guess that is all part of the grieving process. While it does get better there are some losses you never really get over, they stay with you, take a part of you and even change you, I know this was one.

Spinner will be gone a month next week and before now I hadn’t been able to write about him or determine how to pay tribute to a very special cat whom I adored beyond words. I am lucky to have tons of photos and video of him, so I put together this video to showcase his beautiful personality and moments throughout his life with me.

Spinner I hope you are watching and with me still, thank you for being part of my life.

Special thanks to Dr. Banks of Midtown Mobile Veterinary Services for taking the time to talk to me about at home euthanasia and providing the information that I needed to make a very difficult decision and to Dr. Ellis for her professionalism, kindness and compassion with Spinner on his last night.

When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors

If you are the most famous mountain lion in LA (arguably all of North America), have safely crossed two of the busiest freeways in the U.S., been immortalized in a now iconic photo in front of the Hollywood sign by Steve Winter, and, have become the spokes cat for your species and the center of a national campaign to help wildlife, you would think that you had nothing left on your list to accomplish. If however you happen to be P-22, it’s only logical that you end up gracing the cover of a book.

P-22, Mountain Lions, Los Angeles, LA, Hollywood hills cougar, National Wildlife Federation, When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors: People and Wildlife Working It Out in California, Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, Save LA Cougars, Wildlife Crossing, Save Mountain Lions, Urban Wildlife, Griffith Park, Living with Wildlife, The cat that changed AmericaWhen Mountain Lions Are Neighbors – People and Wildlife Working It Out in California, by Beth Pratt-Bergstron, is a book complete with stories of how humans and wildlife are attempting to co-exist in a man-made world that continues to leave less and less room for wildlife. It is a must read if you want to know what is going on with wildlife conservation in California where the book is focused, but you don’t have to live in California to appreciate it or the message.

The enormous pressure wildlife faces from humans and human development means they either learn to adapt to survive or, as we have seen with many creatures, vanish. We are bombarded almost on a daily basis with these negative and depressing stories which for many, including myself, can be very overwhelming. Instead of focusing on those aspects which we often feel helpless to change, When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors does the exact opposite by highlighting the inspirational – what is being done to help wildlife and what can work if we decide to take action. Today it is not only the scientist and researcher making a difference it is people like you and me, the everyday citizen who will ultimately play a key role in helping wildlife prosper and survive.

Being one of my most anticipated reads of this year, I reached out to author and California Director for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Beth Pratt-Bergstrom to talk more about her book, wildlife in California, the handsome cover boy P-22 and the campaign to get the worlds largest wildlife crossing built.

Lets start off with where you at with the Save LA Cougars Campaign (which for readers who don’t know is the national campaign to raise funds to build a safe and desperately needed wildlife crossing at LA’s 101 freeway)

It is going forward, the crossing is going to get built and there is a lot going on. Right now we are at the planning and compliance stage, which is funded through early 2017. We need to raise 10 million by middle of 2017, then balance by mid 2019 to have the crossing built by 2021.

We are having P-22 Day and Urban Wildlife Week October 16 through to the 22 to raise awareness for the crossing fundraiser and to announce leadership gifts – big online fundraising. Before hand I will be hiking the same route P-22 took (40-miles) from the Santa Monica Mountains to where he has been living in Griffith Park. This event will be a big milestone in the Save LA Cougars campaign.

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If you live in LA be sure to check out P-22 Day and Urban Wildlife Festival October 16-22 – Image P-22 Mountain Lion of Hollywood Facebook.

Interestingly there has been a study released that has confirmed what we have been saying – there is empirical evidence that if we don’t do something now and help mountain lions in California, in 50 years it certain they will go extinct. So it’s like ‘we told you so’ it’s both good and bad, we have to get the crossing built we have no time to lose. The best worst case scenario is mountain Lions go extinct in 50 years if we don’t, this is based on facts from modeling but it doesn’t take into account other mountain lion fatalities from vehicles and rodenticides poisoning. In the case of rodenticides people are seeing what mountain lions and other animals have suffered and want to make change. In California there is something here, a value and call to action, and I hope other people in other places can do the same.

When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors is positive in its message and very accessible – meaning anyone can read it. How important were these aspects when you were writing the book?

The goal was to make it about the positive as all of us are exposed to so much of the negative, I get battered down with the bad news, so I wanted it to focus on what was working and how you get people inspired. For instance, I was inspired by Born Free and being taken whale watching by my dad – It is the good news that inspires people. This also helps getting people who aren’t already converted as it is easy to get burnt out.

It was also important to make it accessible –  not academic. We want people to learn about science, but we do this by tricking them into learning about it. It is difficult for science based organizations like NWF and researchers to be non-scientific like when I first mentioned to National Park Service wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich about ‘P22 dating’ he said please they (mountain lions) don’t date…but they eventually got it..that it makes it easier for to the average person to relate to the predicament P-22 is in, which is the lonely bachelor looking for love.

Besides being an awesome cover boy, mountain Lion P-22 plays a major role in the book

The book is actually the reason why I work on the Save LA Cougars Campaign – it was a very different book initially, then when P22 came on the scene it changed the whole book. I thought that this was the story it was about urban interface. P-22 shouldn’t be where he is but I had this great epiphany – who am I to judge if this is the only way the cat can live? We need to share our human spaces with wildlife, if we don’t share our spaces they aren’t going to be here. The study of wildlife in urban environments say they are stressed…but so are people! it doesn’t mean that wildlife can’t live there. This is a big shift and it’s catching ground a lot, LA is leading the way. I use it as a challenge – if LA can do it what’s anyone’s excuse.

P22 is a modern lion in many ways, including being socially savvy, he fits perfectly into a media obsessed culture

He is the reason that the film The Cat that changed America is being made. The headline is a modern story that people can relate to on social media, it is about having a day-to-day relationship with wildlife and he has shown that wild predators can live rather peacefully with us. People can relate to P-22, it has set this model and the world has been watching. In my mind he is the cat that changed the world, people are asking ‘what’s going on in LA with a mountain lion…and they are OK with this?’.

He is figuring out how to adapt to human interface  – not every mountain lion could be this successful in Griffith Park, but P-22 is a modern cat and has worked it out. He also shows us they are individuals and have personalities like people and that is a game changer, he is the right cat for the right time to be an ambassador for his species. You have P-22 who has adapted to LA, and LA who has adapted, and for the two to coincide is remarkable.

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P22 last year looking good after recovering from a bad case of mange – Photo National Park Service

There is the message in the book that mountain lions aren’t the big scary threat that media so often makes them out to be

I am all for anthropomorphism, they are not exactly like us but they are like us, however there is a balance  –  we want people to be familiar with their typical behavior but also know when to be scared. We want people to learn about them and to know that mountain lions aren’t waiting ready to jump out of the woods at any moment at people. If you become familiar with these animals and build a relationship that is a good thing. I think that’s where science has done a disservice in the traditional mode in teaching us that they are just as numbers, but you don’t want to go to far into familiarity and have people feeding them and petting them or thinking they are pets – they are not pets.

So it’s a fine balance and we want the public to establish a relationship with them but doing this by maintaining a distance recognizing that and respecting that they are wild animals as well. We tend to go to far down either extreme when we over-estimate or underestimate the risk – they are cute or they are vicious murderers – no they are not in fact, they rather not eat us. It’s a fine balance that we need to strike if wildlife is going to have a future – it can’t be hands off and it can’t be that we are in utter terror all the time.

Predators like mountain lions were demonized by the first settlers, why do you think that mentality still exists even when we know more about them today?

I try to sympathize with people who didn’t know anything about them. I live in mountain lion country, every wild animal that lives in California is in my yard, bears, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, etc…but I live in a secure house, have a fenced yard and I don’t have a farm. So I sympathize to a point and I get why it was dark and scary at the time of the first settlers, although if they had listened to Native Americans it would have been different.

If you don’t know about mountain lion behavior and see a snarling cat near you although he is probably not a danger, you are going to think he is. I think it (fear) is innate in some people, however most are fascinated and in awe with wildlife  – seeing wildlife is remarkable for most people. I don’t know why at this point the fear still exits giving the relative comfort we live in and the given the risks we should be frightened of everyday… we actually should be shuttering in our feet everyday about cars more than mountain lions. It is a very emotional thing, wolves are also a great example of how these myths have persisted. They have been demonized for no reason and this hatred has persisted even though when you look at rate of attacks on humans which is almost nothing and livestock depredation rates disease and domestic dogs take out more.

We are creating new myths and P-22 is part of that story telling, that is what matters now. We have science to back it up, but how we actually feel about predators like P-22 matters more than the science so he is forging new grounds for mountain lions.

Your book (and Heart Of A Lion by William Stolzenburg) are part of a new movement giving people a new way to look at these animals

There is a whole new genre about animals in general it is really challenging preconceptions about what an animal is  – books pointing to science telling us what many of already know. I am a person of science so you do want the rigorous science but I am glad it’s coming out. Look at Black Fish, that was science based and looked what happened the Sea world model collapsed and people look at killer whales differently. Challenging the preconceived notion that animals just eat and mate and have no emotional lives beyond that – it’s basically what animal lovers already knew but it’s great to have the science behind it.

Your book features a lot of other wildlife in California as well as how people are helping

P-22 is definitely the lead story but I could have done 10 volumes because there are so many great stories. The take away is the wildlife crossing is a grand sweeping and visionary, it will be the largest in the world when built – other stories illustrate what stuff  you can do in your backyard and business, it’s not just all about grand projects – we collectively make a difference for wildlife doing some easy things. For example the Facebook Foxes, they made a home on campus for the foxes and it is one of my favorite stories. They don’t pet or feed them but they just accepted them as part of the campus and the foxes have adapted are comfortable, it’s a success story.

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Move fast and fox trot – (photo credit @mzajko) Facebook Foxes page

Another favorite story is the Marine Core who raise baby desert tortoise and train 30,000 Marines a year on tortoise conservation when they come through boot camp. So many simple stories like city of Martinez who let the beavers stay…regular citizens doing things, it shows it’s simple things we can do collectively to make a huge difference for wildlife. We are restoring habitat in our own backyards that has been lost and the conservation impact on that can be high if we all do it.

Like Leo Politi Elementary the school that transformed a concrete pad into a wildlife friendly habitat, it’s a great story – save wildlife and ourselves. It’s like if mountain lions disappear and the Eco-system is out of whack and what’s next – we have collapse. The school built a community and it benefited kids, test scores went up and their health improved and even their parents got involved – it built a community. It connected wildlife and people they are the perfect illustration of how all of it works together.

The message is people in California want wildlife in their cities, but other cities are doing things to like Chicago who passed an ordinance to looking at non-lethal solution for urban coyotes, Austin Texas where the NWF has a community wildlife certification program, Baltimore is a certified wildlife city doing a lot with city gardening. I think there are a lot of signs of hope and it seems to be catching on, lets hope it becomes a real movement.

What is up next now that your book is out and P-22 Day is scheduled?

My job is a mix of programs, research, fundraising and continuing working on projects for cougars, foxes, pika, fissures and frogs to push more initiatives forward and help to fundraise. My sweet spot is engaging people and getting out in the field, I want to be out there to get people involved, but the biggest project is getting the crossing built but we are going to get there.

Will I write another book? I’d love to, as I have many more stories, it will just be under different circumstances when I have more time!

What are your personal experiences with mountain lions?

I have seen them four times, most out while hiking, but I have been very lucky and seen one collard and up close. My favorite sighting was one with parents who moved 2 miles down the road from me. My mom has a bird bath and one night they called me up to say they saw a mountain lion take a drink from the bird bath and I said no they don’t do that in full view people, this happens for 2 nights. On the third night I go back and sure enough there the cat was! It was remarkable but sad as the drought at the time was so bad that he had to go to a house in daylight to drink. He wanted nothing to do with us, he just wanted water.

Finally what are your thoughts mountain lions outside of California

I see signs of hope that other places are recognizing the importance and benefits of predators like mountain lions and wolves but there is still  a long way to go, but I am seeing signs of hope. Wildlife is also making tentative first steps (like the cat that is profiled in Heart of A Lion) my hope is that other places come to the realization that it is possible to live among predators, we can achieve balance and they need to be an integral part of the landscape for Eco-system health.

Values are shifting and we will get there for practical reason like the study that shows if you bring mountain lions back you can help prevent Lyme disease. I am hopeful even though it is sometimes hard, but I do think people no matter where you live, have an awe and connection to wildlife that will prevail at some point.

I really do think views are changing we already see that in some places and, I think this will be a non-issue in 50 to 100 years in most places.

When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors is an inspirational and educational read. It is filled with interesting accounts and stories (including what African Lion poop has to do with bears in Yosemite) for the dedicated city-dweller or nature lover, no matter you live. It is part of my Recommended Reading List and can be purchased at online retailers like Amazon.

If you are looking for ways to support the wildlife crossing you can make a donation to the Save LA Cougars campaign. If you live in LA be sure not to miss P-22 Day Festival and Urban Wildlife week October 16-22.

Cat Dance

Why go out dancing when you can stay home and watch this? Spanish Dance Troupe Ballet Zoom performs their version of ‘Cats’. Your dose of retro ridiculousness. Can’t figure out if the kittens are very happy though, maybe a little confused. Happy Caturday!