Thursdays at the Shelter, Snake Edition



Thursdays at the shelter have become Thursdays and Saturdays – it’s too much fun not to go twice a week. My usual drill is cleaning cat cages, which has recently become easier with less stringent procedures (kitties don’t like the smell of bleach and Windex, it turns out). This is great because it leaves a lot more time for brushing cats and clipping their claws, getting them all buffed and fluffed before adoption.

Today there was a new wrinkle, though – L was cleaning the outdoor kennels when she looked down and saw… a Rattle Snake!!!

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It’s been very hot here lately, so the snakes are out of hibernation; people with yards, hikers, anyone who is going to be outside has to be vigilant from now on, both for themselves and their pets. This snake was quietly coiled in the corner, and seemed not to be at all upset about anything.

Enter K.C., the daring Animal Control Officer. Animal Control in Apache Junction has to deal with a wide range of animal problems, well beyond the usual stray dog. Rattle snakes, for instance.  K.C. is an old hand with the snake grabber.

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At one point the snake made a desultory escape attempt, but K.C. was undaunted.

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There’s more than one way to catch a snake.  This method, by the way, is NOT recommended for anyone. K.C. knows snake behavior and knows exactly what he can and cannot get away with. You do not want to get bitten by a rattle snake. According to K.C. you will need a costly airlift to a hospital where you will be given about 50 vials of anti-venom, at up to $2,000 a vial. In the US a snake bite might cost you as much as $150,000.   Why is it so expensive? Evidently it does not have to be.

A rattle snake can get to be as long as 4 – 4.5′. Each year a new rattle grows on the tail. Using these guides, K.C. estimated this snake to be about  five years old. He’s a male snake, fat and happy. The snakes rattle as a warning or in alarm. Otherwise they quietly await their prey.

After capturing the snake, putting it in a bucket and securing the lid, K.C. took it to a distant wash and released it. This snake, at least, won’t end up on the menu at Rustler’s Rooste in Phoenix.

Here’s what a rattle snake in a bucket sounds like:


Eddy’s Body Shop


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About a month ago someone ‘tapped’ the back of Speedy’s beloved 1991 MR2 as he was leaving the grocery store. Then, adding insult to injury, someone in a parking lot backed into the other side of the back end of the car. At first the insurance company deemed it ‘totaled,’ but upon reflection they saw their folly, and gave him a settlement to have it repaired. This led him to Eddy’s Auto Body, which turned out to be like a trip South of the Border.

Thank goodness for GPS, or we might never have found Eddy, who is tucked away at the end of this unimpressive dirt road, rendered one-lane by all the parked cars:

Road to Eddy's Body Shop

The best way to find the road is to look for the Frutilanda sign. There was a row of men sitting on the ledge for end-of-the-day refreshment when we arrived,  but most of them proved camera-shy. (One said, “My wife doesn’t know I’m here.”)(!)  Only this brave soul stayed to be photographed. I love the wheels on top of the sign. By the way, Eddy’s business is not called Colazo Automotive.

Colazo sign

There are a handful of other auto repair and body shops in the same location. I imagine you could dump a complete wreck at the start of the road and end up with a fully restored, gleaming vehicle at the end. Here are some of the other cars that were waiting for Eddy’s attention. They don’t look like much now, but I can guarantee that when he’s done with them they will look brand new.

Cars awaiting attention

Part of the charm of Eddy’s is that it is not like a dealer’s body-shop. There is no counter with a row of associates in identical shirts waiting to check off innumerable boxes on forms. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the service we get from our dealers – but they don’t have the chicken charm that Eddy’s has:

Louis, Eddy, cock

This is one fine-looking rooster!

the cock

As well there was an elegant lady on the premises:

Henof some sort
Isn’t she lovely? That neck! She’s a regular Audrey Hepburn!

It took a while for Eddy to get to Speedy’s car, and once he did, it took a while for him to finish it, in part because Speedy opted for a complete paint job in addition to the body repairs. But the result was worth the wait. The color is exactly what Speedy wanted and it is smooth and shiny and just downright gorgeous.

Here are Speedy and Eddy and me in ghostly shadow form.  Those things that look like they might be scratches on the right are reflections in the mirror-like finish of the paint job:

Eddy, Louis and the MR2

How did we find Eddy in the first place? Well you might ask, because he was not easy to find. Speedy asked one of the auto supply stores to recommend a body guy, and the man there recommended Eddy without hesitation. Now we see why.  We are in complete agreement with Eddy’s associate, whose opinion of the whole business is perfectly expressed in this picture:

Eddy's helper2

Thursdays at the Shelter – Kitty Burrito

Every now and then one of the motherless kittens needs a little special attention. This fellow had a bottom he was unable to clean, so… bath time! Ace volunteer Freida uses Dawn dish soap to bathe kittens. It’s a very gentle process; nonetheless the kittens don’t seem to like it much. Odd.

Once they are clean it’s time to wrap them up in a towel to dry. Freida goes a step further and cooks up a heating pad which goes around the towel, keeping Mr. Kitten toasty warm as he dries. I may be wrong, but I don’t think there’s anything cuter in the whole world than a kitten burrito.

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Thursdays at the Shelter – Unsung Heroes


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2017-11-02 shelter gift wagon

The last dribs and drabs of ‘stuff’ for the tag sale are arriving at the Paws and Claws Care Center in Apache Junction. Most of the year the donation wagon is filled with food and accessories for the animals. Toys, litter (for the cats), towels and bed linens for the beasties are the most common donations after food. But lately we have been receiving all manner of goodies for the tag sale – it promises to be quite an event!

When I started at the Shelter I asked my boss if we could keep a list of people who brought things in and write each of them a thank-you note. Turns out there are far too many people supplying the Shelter to undertake such a task. Some days the wagon has to be dragged to the back and emptied more than once a day. There is no end to the generosity of the community when it comes to the Shelter.

Case in point:

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A lovely retired gentleman turns up now and then with cat pans that he has fitted out to accompany kitties home when they are adopted. What a lovely thing to do! He told my boss that he had a done a lot of fun things in his life, but that nothing gives him more satisfaction than shopping for good deals on cat items and assembling the Adoption Boxes.

Meanwhile, cat life at the Shelter is a bit calmer than it has been for the last couple of months. We had a kitten season that would not quit. One day I counted close to 40 kittens, some with their mums, some that had been found.

brand new kittens

This gentle little girl had five babes. They look like little worms in the photo – they were only 2 days old. Her kittens have been adopted, and just this week Mama went to her new home.

kittens in a basket

Nothing is much cuter than a basket of kittens. These were photographed thru glass, so it’s not much of a pic, but you get the idea.

fuzzy kitten

Same for this little fuzz-nut. He is a quite adorable, active kitten.

Now we are down to perhaps a dozen kittens, and only a dozen or so adult cats. They are all beautiful. Each has a unique character and they can be quite amusing. We have a bony black mama with long silky hair, very affectionate. She was terribly thin after nursing her babies, but now that she’s on her own she’s gaining weight and looking silkier and more beautiful every day. When she meows she opens her mouth very wide – it is the funniest thing to see. The mew isn’t loud, but her red mouth in contrast to her black face is full of drama.

Louise in cat ears

Sooner or later each cat goes home. Some stay for several months, but eventually the right person appears for each one. It’s heartwarming to see the love and support people have for their animal shelter, and their generosity. These are the unsung heroes of the Animal Shelter, the people who bring gifts, the people who take home companions.


Tempting the Devil


I guess writing about Monsoons last time brought bad luck. On July 10 a particularly heavy Monsoon hit the Valley and did quite a bit of damage. You can see a video of some of the damage in our town here. I’m very sad to say that the pile of sticks that was a house under construction is the new house that Speedy and I are building. Here is a slide-show of valley-wide damage (with, inexplicably, a family’s swimming photos at the end).

For us, the good news is the mess has been cleaned up and the men are back at work – but it was a set-back. Here is a video I took just the day before of some of the trusses being installed  (apologies for the loud generator on the audio – you may want to turn down your volume) – all that work blew down later the same night. As they say in Italy, pazienza.

A week later, Monsoon waters washed away a family, killing 10 people. I wish the Raya family could have had our luck. Yes, we lost some building, but no one was hurt. I guess you could say we were fortunate.

Monsoons can be vicious and violent. They are not something to take lightly.


After the First Monsoon


Monsoon Season begins on June 15 in Arizona. If you are thinking ‘monsoon’ like the monsoons in India, think again. The Phoenix Valley gets, on average, a hair over 8″ of rain a year. Mumbai, on the other hand, gets a hair under 80″. But when you live in a desert climate, any rain at all is more than welcome. This is especially true this year when we have broken high temperature records more than once and the trees and cactuses are clearly suffering.

Yesterday, after a record-setting 116 F, our first monsoon rains arrived, with the usual exciting crash-boom. Unlike the brief winter rainy season when rain can settle in for half a day, monsoon rains uniformly arrive at the end of the day, and generally don’t last very long. Today we heard the first thunder at 5:45 p.m., and by 6:30 Speedy was standing in our community’s pool with his drink, his snack and his book.

I don’t want to make light of the damage even these brief rains can do: sometimes the rain comes down in torrents. Because the ground is so hard and dry here, the water runs off. During and after a heavy monsoon the run-off can flood low areas of road, and even wash cars away. Last year area golf courses suffered great damage when the rains brought down trees and boulders from the higher ground and deposited them on fairways.

The sky is always dramatic after the rain, especially as the sun sets. The birds are doing what they do at twilight – making a racket, flying home for the night, or, if they are the nighthawks that frequent our neighborhood, swooping and diving as they catch new hatches of insects (they are hard to photograph, for me, anyway).


I watched the doves as they got their last meal of the day,  the odd-looking fruit of a nearby saguaro (which will turn quite red and look very silly in the near future). Then they gathered for their evening flight to wherever it is doves go at night.

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dove on wallA

doves alightingA

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It was a lovely evening, a fine beginning to Monsoon Season. Bring on the rains!

Thursdays at the Shelter

I had envisioned writing frequently about the exciting events at my favorite animal shelter, where I volunteer once a week. But it turns out you can say only so much about cleaning poop out of cat pens, and I pretty much exhausted that with the first post on the subject. Yesterday, however, was a day quite out of the norm.

“Good morning,” I said to Karla when I arrived. “Puppies!” she replied.  Huh? Turns out in the last week the shelter acquired through various means 22 puppies. To put this in perspective, since the first of the year we’ve had exactly 2 puppies that I know of; they were born at the shelter to a pregnant stray.  Well, is there anything cuter than a puppy?? Kittens are just as cute, and yesterday we had 4 new little kittens with their eyes barely open, tottering around the way kittens do and squeaking their high-pitched mews. But I was so thrilled with the idea of 22 puppies I never even thought to photograph the kittens.

There were small puppies:

puppies-004puppies There were dirty puppies in need of baths and a mani-pedi:

puppies-003puppies-001IMG_8956and there were some larger puppies who were full of puppy curiosity and puppy kisses and puppy yips:

bigger puppies-001bigger puppies-002and then, because who can resist a pair of baby blues, I offer you this gorgeous dog:

pretty blue-eyed dogBut wait! There’s more!!

A few days ago Animal Control brought in a tame parrot (at least I think it’s a parrot – if you can identify it, I’d love to know for sure). At the shelter there is a back room where sick animals are sometimes kept, as well as animals that are awaiting reclamation by their owners. This little fellow was as smart as could be – he knew how to open his cage. Even I have trouble opening these cages, but he figured it out in short order.

When my fellow-volunteer Holly saw the scene below she said, “that’s not good.”

bird on cat cageFortunately no harm came to either bird or cat. Each displayed a modicum of interest in the other, but there was no action. (That cat, by the way, is a big burly tough guy – at least he wants you to think he is. In spite of his cuts and bumps, he is a lover.) Four of us spent about half an hour trying to catch that darn bird to put him in a cat carrier from which we thought he would not be able to escape. He would have none of it. I don’t know who was more exhausted, the bird or the women trying to corral him.

Help came in the form of the bird’s owner, who arrived with the bird’s own cage, a delightful Victorian fantasy in white wire. We set the bird cage on top of the cat cage and stood back – birdy hopped on the outside of his cage, gave us a last knowing look and went inside. He’d had enough, I suspect, and I know we had.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you volunteering at a shelter is all cat poop and dog hair. Sometimes there are puppies and feathers, too.

The Flying Boys of Costa Maya


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costa-maya-mayan-flyer Recently I went with two friends on a cruise of the Western Caribbean. It was my first cruise, and was an eye-popping experience, from the the size of the ship (1,112 feet


long) to the enormous quantities of very good food provided daily, to the variety of entertainment on board (an ice show! imagine!! It was a really excellent one, too!!!), and the variety of excursions we were offered on shore.

Our second stop was in Costa Maya on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

Image result for map of costa maya

Recently a port was built to accommodate cruise ships, which includes a shopping village, and which is a jumping off point for excursions to some delicious less-developed Mayan ruin sites such as Chacchoben, which we visited. The Mayan ruins are a subject for several other posts – they are as fascinating as they are ancient and mysterious.


As you can see from the Google Earth screenshot above (thank you G.E.) the area around the cruise port is sparsely developed.  There’s been more growth lately, but so far most of it is centered around cruise ship arrivals and tourist dollars. (That off-center T in the water is the cruise ship dock.) I gather when there are no cruise ships the little village is closed up. It does not seem to be much used by locals.

This faux village has a central square, and in the middle of the square is a 30 meters tall pole with climbing rungs. Wikipedia gives a detailed account of the history of the Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers). It originated some hundreds of years ago at a time of great drought. The ceremony was developed to appease the gods and bring back the rain.

The dance is usually performed by five young men (the ones we saw were ‘apprentices,’ aged 18-22, but they looked pretty darn professional to us. Six marched in, four climbed the pole). They march into the square, one of them playing a small flute and banging a teeny drum (note the yellow cords hanging down).

Then they begin to climb the pole. This is heart-stopping – it seems impossible that they can climb so high, and that they can perch on the teeny structure at the top, which can revolve.


Once they are at the top they haul up their ropes in a very particular way and wrap them around the pole. Then four of them address the cardinal points of the compass, while the fifth stands in the middle. In our instance there were only four, and they all flew.


The four tied their ropes to their legs and stepped into space, slowly spinning around the pole as they descended in a stately and controlled manner. Impossibly, the drummer/ flute player continued to play both instruments as he flew down.

It is done in a very particular way. They must circle the pole exactly thirteen times. Thirteen times four (number of flyers) = fifty-two, the number of years in the ‘calendar round’ (see the Wikipedia article for more detail). Here they are, gracefully descending.

I apologize for not getting them all the way down for you, my camera ran out of battery (grrrrr).

It was an amazing thing to see, looking far simpler than it is, I think. The Danza de los Voladores has been named an Intangible Cultural Heritage by Unesco in 2009. As a result, the Mexican government has a responsibility to protect and promote the Dance. If you have a chance to see it, don’t miss it.

Thursdays at the Shelter



This is what it feels like some days at the shelter:


Actually, this lovely cat is just a talker (or singer, if you prefer). She has a lot to say off and on during the day. If I translate correctly, she is saying, “Help, there’s been a terrible mistake! I don’t belong here!! Look at me. I’m accustomed to pearls, a tuffet, and tuna for supper.” At least I think that is what she’s saying. She doesn’t have a card on her cage yet, which I imagine means she is waiting the requisite 10 days for an owner to reclaim her. When the waiting period is up she can go to the home, or castle, she so obviously deserves. Until then, she just offers her opinion on everything. She adores being held and scratched, so clearly she is, or was, a well-loved pet.

But I digress.

I wanted to tell you about the wonderful calm and fun there is at the shelter over a holiday, when the place is closed. Instead of the usual rush of preparation before opening to the public, cage cleaning, exercising and playing with the animals is done at a more leisurely pace. Sure, the staff wants to get out early – they need a holiday too! – nonetheless they are more relaxed, the animals are more relaxed (some exceptions) and the volunteers are way more relaxed.

For instance, there are 4 little feral kittens in the back room. They are too young to adopt in any case, but they are too frightened and shy to bring up front for the public to see. One in particular, a teeny little smoke grey, arches and hisses if you so much as look at him. While this is quite alarming behavior from a full-grown cat, it is just adorable and funny when the threat is coming from 3 ounces of fluff. Part of my assignment has been to handle these little ferals as much as possible. It is really fun. They begin by hissing and end up purring. Then when I go back in 5 minutes the whole exercise is repeated. The hope is that they will eventually become tame enough to forget the hissing part and just go immediately to the purr. During my regular volunteer hours there is often not enough time to give to these little guys. Yesterday there was plenty of time, and plenty of fun was had by at least one of us.

Black Friday was decorate the shelter day. Jenny put up the scrawny little artificial tree and we decorated it with beads, ornaments and small lights. The best decorations are the cards, though.


Here are Margaret and Jean hanging the cards. Each one says either Cat or Dog at the top, and then underneath is written something that the animal would like to receive for Christmas – maybe some hot dogs (yes, good dogs get the occasional hot dog treat after their walks), or some small balls with bells inside, or some cans of food, or some litter, perhaps a wee sweater for a small stray. Shelter friends come and choose a card, and then return later with the requested item, or perhaps something completely different and equally useful. It’s a fun way to give to the shelter, and the shelter sure appreciates the gifts.

Probably a shelter near you does about the same thing, or wishes they did. Why not surprise them over the holidays with something for the beasties in their care? One of our cats requested “three blind mice (stuffed of course).” I am sure Santa will oblige.

Here are three kitties of the dozen or so at the shelter right now:


This black beauty is full of fun and tricks (note the rumpled state of the cage).


We all fervently  hope this little comedian will one day grow into her ears.


This cat is a dreamboat – loves to be held, loves to purr, loves to be brushed – in short, just loves.

Please visit your shelter over the holidays and leave a gift – you’ll feel so happy.