Friday, May 31, 2013


Photo:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

I am sorry to say that I have not really been doing my duty to write about snakes during the Year of the Snake, but now I will start making up for that.  And today I will write about an American snake that is called the Copperhead.  You can find this snake mostly in the eastern and southern parts of the country, including in Missouri, where I live.  Except that I hope I never find one because it might bite me, and that would be bad!

The Copperhead got its name because it has a copper-colored head.  But maybe you already knew that.  The scientific name for this snake is Agkistrodon contortrix.  Other common names are chunk head, death adder, highland moccasin, narrow banded copperhead, pilot snake, poplar leaf, red oak, red snake, white oak snake, American copperhead, and (in Spanish) cantil cobrizo.

The head of the Copperhead is triangular, and the eyes have vertical pupils.  The body can be copper, orange, or pinkish-brown, with brown bands crossing it.  These bands are shaped sort of like an hour glass.  The length of the Copperhead's body can be more than 4 feet.

Copperheads like to live in forests and mixed woodlands.  A lot of times, they hang out on rock outcroppings and ledges, but you can also find them in low, swampy areas.  In the wintertime, Copperheads hibernate in dens or limestone crevices, and they often share these spaces with Timber Rattlesnakes and Black Rat Snakes.  The favorite places that Copperheads hide are stone walls; sawdust, mulch or compost piles; wood piles; under decayng stumps, in abandoned building debris, and under large stones.

Sometimes it's hard to see a Copperhead because of its coloring, so people might get bitten when they step on one by mistake.  But usually, a Copperhead will try to get away from people.  They only bite when they are cornered or startled.

Photo:  Ian Jensen

Copperheads are pit vipers, so when they hunt, they wait in ambush until something warm comes by, such as a mouse, and then the snake strikes.  But if a Copperhead is hunting insects, it goes out looking for prey to eat.  One thing that Copperheads really think is yummy is a cicada that has just come out of its shell.  I like cicadas, too, as I have told you several times before, so I have that in common with these snakes.  The only difference is that Copperheads can slither up trees and catch the cicadas up there, but I have to wait for them to fall on the ground.

Other things that Copperheads eat are mice, chipmunks, voles, frogs, lizards, insects, and even small birds.  Like other snakes, they swallow their food whole and then let their stomachs digest everything.  A Copperhead may only eat 10 or 12 meals a year.

The bite of a Copperhead is poisonous, but it will not usually kill you unless you are a mouse or a frog. But even if you don't die from the bite, it can still make you feel really bad.  Symptoms of a bite can include extreme pain, tingling, throbbing, swelling, and severe nausea.  You can also get permanent damage in your muscles and bones.

Some researchers found out that the venom of the Southern Copperhead has a protein called contortrostatin  in it.  This venom stops the growth of cancer cells in mice and also keeps tumors from spreading to other places in the body.  A lot more research has to be done in order to figure out if this venom stuff works the same way in humans.

Copperheads breed in late summer, and then they give birth to live baby snakes.  The normal size of a litter is 4 to 7, but sometimes there are as many as 20.  The mama snake does not take care of the babies.  They just have to start fending for themselves.  Young Copperheads look like adults, except that they have a bright yellow tip on their tails.  This tip is handy because it is good for luring frogs and lizards for the babies to eat.  Copperheads can live to be about 18 years old.  This is longer than most basenjis live, which doesn't seem fair, somehow.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Sallie joined up at a very young age.  She was only four weeks old when she was given as a gift to 1st Lieutenant William R. Terry of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.  She grew up among the soldiers, and they were happy to have a puppy around to take their minds off being homesick and scared.  Sallie was a brindle bull terrier, and she was named after a beautiful girl who lived near the camp.

The only known photo of Sallie,
from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
People said that Sallie only hated three things:  Rebels, Democrats, and Women.  I don't know if this is true or not.  I am just reporting what I read.  Anyway, even though Sallie loved all the men in her unit, she definitely did not like soldiers or civilians she did not know.

When Sallie heard reveille every morning, she was the first to get up and go for roll-call.  Every time there was a dress parade, Sallie pranced along beside the regiment's flag bearer.  When the unit camped out, she slept by the captain's tent.  And when her soldiers went on marches or into battle, Sallie always followed right along.

Some reenactors trying to load their muskets
The 11th Pennsylvania was first formed as a 3-month regiment of recruits from several counties on April 26, 1861.  Later on, the enlistment period was changed to 3 years.  At the Battle of Falling Waters, Virginia, on July 2, 1861, the group earned the nickname of "The Bloody Eleventh."  When their 3-year enlistment was up in January 1864, a lot of the men reenlisted, and after that the unit was called the "veteran volunteers."  The 11th Infantry was also special because they were the oldest unit in continuous service from Pennsylvania.

Here are the major battles the regiment fought in:  Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Siege of Petersburg, and the Appomatox Campaign.  Sallie's first battle was in 1862 at Cedar Mountain.  What she liked to do was position herself at the end of the firing line and bark furiously at the enemy.  If the troops were advancing, she went along beside the color bearer.

11th Penn.V.I. Monument,
Gettysburg, PA, USA
Photo by:  RFM57
During the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 11th Pennsylvania was driven back almost a mile from their original position on Oak Ridge.  Sallie got separated from the unit, and didn't know how to find them.  Finally she lay down with the dead and dying soldiers and guarded them until the Union troops took the field back again.  When her unit found her several days later, she was very weak, but she was still alive.

Sadly, in February 1865, at the Battle of Hatcher's Run, Virginia, Sallie was killed by a bullet that hit
her in the head.  Some of the men from her unit stopped to bury her with military honors, even though they were under heavy fire from the Confederates.

The unit mustered out on July 1, 1865.  A total of 1,890 men served in the regiment during the war, but only 340 came home at the end of it.  Later on, when a monument was built at Gettysburg to honor the 11th Pennsylvania, the veterans insisted that Sallie be included.  The monument is located on Oak Ridge, where the right flank of the First Corps was positioned on July 1, 1863, and where Sallie later stood watch over the wounded and dead.

When there was a reunion of the veterans of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the men posed for a photo near the  monument, and they made sure they left a space so that Sallie could be seen in the background.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


You'll never believe what Mom brought home for me and Mel yesterday -- a brand-new doggy sister!  Her name is Agnes, and she is 7 and a half years old.  She is a Maltese, so she is kind of small and white and hairy.  Mom found her on Petfinder.  Mom was mostly looking for something like a long-haired chihuahua or a papillion or maybe a cairn terrier.  But then she decided to apply for Agnes.

The group that Agnes came from is called New Beginnings.  They got Agnes from another group that got her as a breeder surrender.  So we think Agnes was in some sort of puppymill, or at least she was with a backyard breeder.  Which means she probably had a bunch of puppies.  But now she has been spayed, so she doesn't have to have puppies all the time anymore.

When Agnes first got rescued, she was thin, and she had some bald spots on parts of her, such as her nose and her back and her tail.  But now she has lots more hair.  Also she is kind of pudgy, so Mom says Agnes will have to start eating less.

Agnes is very shy, and you can tell this by the way she is always running away from Mom.  Every time Mom is just walking through the house, Agnes runs away.  But if Mom sits still and talks to Agnes, sometimes she will come up to Mom.  We hope Agnes will stop being so afraid soon.  Mel and I like her just fine, and Agnes is not afraid of us.

When Mom first brought Agnes home, she let her loose in the back yard, but she left a leash on her.  Agnes ran all over the place, and Mom had trouble catching her again, so it's a good thing she still had the leash on.  After that, Mom started holding onto Agnes' leash outside, but Agnes doesn't do anything when she's out there.  She just stands in the grass and trembles because she is afraid.  She doesn't potty in the yard because she is too scared to.  Then she pees in the house, and Mom has to clean it up.

Today Mom is taking Agnes to Dr. Patricia's office.  Then she is also going to take Agnes to PetSmart and get her a collar and some of the food she's used to eating.

Mom is not totally sure if we are going to keep Agnes or not.  We were wanting a dog that was more friendly with people and that Mom could take out for walks and that kind of thing.  Aunt Cheryl called this morning, and she said she didn't think Agnes was a good fit for us, and Mom told her she had been thinking the same thing.  So we will wait a few more days and decide for sure what we want to do.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Here's how to make an Ocicat:  breed an Abyssinian to a Siamese, and then after the kittens grow up, breed them to another Siamese.  The second generation will have at least one spotted kitten, and that is an Ocicat.

Anyway, that's how it happened in 1964 with Virginia Daly of Berkley, Michigan.  But she wasn't trying to make an Ocicat.  She was trying to make a Siamese cat with Abyssinian points, and she was very surprised when one spotted kitten showed up.  Her daughter called the kitten an Ocicat because it looked a lot like an ocelot.  The kitten was named Tonga.  He eventually got neutered and sold as a pet.

Tonga's parents were bred again, and they had more spotted kittens.  So after that, Mrs. Daly and other breeders got interested in actually trying to make a new breed of spotted cats.  After a while, they also bred in some American Shorthairs, which gave the Ocicats bigger bones plus a silver color to go with the original 6 colors.

The Cat Fanciers' Association was the first group to accept Ocicats for registration, and by 1987, the cats could get to be Champions at cat shows.  Lots of cat registries around the world now recognize the Ocicat.  It has become a popular breed because it looks like a wild cat, but it has the nice temperament of a house cat.

Here are the different colors that Ocicats come in:  tawny, chocolate, cinnamon, blue, lavender, fawn, silver, ebony silver, chocolate silver, cinnamon silver, blue silver, lavender silver, and fawn silver.  Nobody knows for sure why the cross of Abyssinians and Siamese cats made cats with spots.  I guess it is kind of a genetic mystery.

Many people say that Ocicats are a lot like dogs, which is a good thing, in my opinion.  You can train an Ocicat to do many of the same things that you can train dogs to do, such as fetch, walk on a leash, come when called, speak, sit, or lie down on command.  Also, Ocicats are good at kitty agility.

Cats of this breed are friendly and outgoing.  They are not shy around strangers, and they get along well with dogs and other cats.  Ocicats are curious, playful, and active.  They often bond more with one person in the household than with others.  It's easy to take care of an Ocicat because they have short hair.  Also, they don't have any genetic health issues.

Personally, I think Ocicats are cool-looking cats.  I know some basenjis in Illinois who have an Ocicat brother named Malcolm.  None of our cats are Ocicats.  I would ask Mom if we could have one, but I am afraid she will just say that we have too many cats already, which we do.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Mom used to have an aunt named Winnie, and she was born exactly 100 years ago today.  I thought it might be a good idea to have a party to celebrate this event, and we could serve cake and ice cream and dog treats.  But Mom said that Aunt Winnie had been dead for 13 years, so there was really not much point in having a party that she couldn't come to.

Aunt Winnie was the sister of Mom's dad, whose name was Claude.  They were born near Decatur, Arkansas, in Benton County, which is in the northwest corner of the state.  Most people don't know there is a Decatur in Arkansas, and that is because it is a very small town with only one traffic light.

Here's a picture of Claude and Winnie when they were pretty young, maybe 5 and 7:

And here is the one-room school they went to, which was named Mt. Zion:

When the two of them were teenagers, the family moved back to Clay County, Missouri, which is where their dad (my mom's grandfather) grew up.  Aunt Winnie went to North Kansas City High School, and she graduated in 1931.  Here is a picture from maybe 1930 or 1931.  In those days, women wore funny hats, but not as funny as those pillbox kind of hats from the 1950s and 1960s.  At least, that's my opinion.

In 1937, Aunt Winnie married a man named Donald Humphrey.  We don't know how they met, since Mom never thought to ask.  This picture was taken not long after they got married.  Back in those days, people didn't know how to do color photography, so they had to color the photos by hand.  This makes everybody look a little fakey, if you ask me.

Pretty soon after their marriage, Aunt Winnie and Uncle Don moved to Los Angeles.  Mom also forgot to ask why they did this, but she thinks they probably didn't like the cold winters and hot summers in Missouri.  Back then, in the 1940s, there weren't as many people or cars or as much smog in Los Angeles.  But there were still earthquakes sometimes.

About that time, World War II got started, so Uncle Don joined the Army.  We don't know where he was during the war, but probably he was in Europe someplace.  Once again, Mom failed to ask important questions while there was still somebody around to answer them.  

Anyway, after the war, Uncle Don mostly worked as a roofer.  This was very hot work, because lots of times he was on top of roofs, putting tar on them to keep them from leaking.  In the meantime, Aunt Winnie worked as a bookkeeper.  

The job she had longest was at the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce.  She worked there for 21 years.  The office she worked in was on Rodeo Drive, where there are lots of shops where only rich people can afford to buy anything.

Every year around Valentine's Day, the Chamber had a big, fancy dinner, with a bunch of famous people there.  Aunt Winnie got to go to these events, which she helped plan and did all the bookkeeping for.  She usually bought herself a fancy dress for the dinner, or else she made herself one because she was very good at sewing things.

Aunt Winnie didn't retire until she was over 70.  She was always afraid of running out of money, even though she and Uncle Don had both worked all their lives and saved lots of what they earned.  They didn' have any children or pets to spend money on, and they didn't go on any trips.  Well, except they came to Missouri and Iowa almost every year to visit relatives.

Uncle Don died of a heart attack about 10 or 12 years before Aunt Winnie died in 2000.  After her aunt  died, Mom went out to Los Angeles and spent 3 weeks going through everything in Aunt Winnie's house.  Mostly, she just had to pick out some things to send back to Iowa to Uncle Don's relatives.  Also, Mom saved some things for herself.  It was really hard to get through the whole house in only 3 weeks because Aunt Winnie was a hoarder, and there was stuff packed into every corner and closet and drawer.

So those are the main things I am going to tell you about Mom's Aunt Winnie.  Mom says that even if Aunt Winnie were still alive, she would not want anybody to make a big fuss or spend any money to celebrate her 100th birthday, and that is mainly because she was a very thrifty person.  Except that "thrifty" was not the exact word that Mom used!

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Ever since she started working at the garden center, Mom keeps buying plants.  I think this is a bad thing to do because if you ask me, the money should be spent on dog food and dog treats instead.  But of course, Mom just ignores my opinion and does whatever she wants to do.  I have no control over her at all.

Anyway, since she has these new plants, I thought maybe I would write about them in my blog because I don't really have anything else to write about today.

Plant #1 is a ficus tree.  Lots of people have ficus trees sitting around in their houses or offices.  It seems strange to grow an entire tree indoors, but people do it, for some reason.  Mom's ficus is different from the more usual kind you see.  Mom's ficus is what's called a Banana Leaf Ficus.  It is called this because the leaves are long like bananas.  But they are not curved like bananas.  Also, they aren't yellow and you can't eat them.

Mom liked this ficus tree because it had interesting roots that were wrapped around and around, and they were growing way up out of the pot because they didn't have anyplace else to go.  Mom thought she could separate these roots and make them grow over rocks and look very interesting.  But this turned out to be lots harder than Mom thought.

The pot had to get cut off of the roots, and then the roots were so thick and grown together that Mom had to spend a lot of time hacking and cutting them to try to spread them out a little.  Now the ficus tree is in a bigger pot, and it has a few rocks between the roots.  It is going to spend the summer outside on the patio, unless the weather gets really, really hot.  And in the winter, the ficus tree will come inside, where it is warm.  If you live in a place like Florida, you can actually plant your ficus in the ground, and it might grow as tall as 20 feet.

Plant #2 is a Japanese maple that was grown as a bonsai.  This tree is 8 years old, but it is very small because it was kept in a small pot, and it was trimmed back a lot.  Mom is interested in bonsai, but she doesn't know a whole lot about the subject.  So she bought this tree, and she is going to mess around with it and see what kind of classic bonsai shape she can make it grow into.

First, Mom wants to repot the tree into a smaller pot, and she wants to trim its roots back some more.  And also its branches.  If she ruins this tree or kills it, that will mean she wasted about $45, which would have bought some very nice doggy chew toys.  But sadly, Mom never thinks about important stuff like this.

Plant #3 is called a staghorn fern.  This is a silly name because stags do not have horns, they have antlers.  So the name really should be a stagantler fern or maybe a cowhorn fern.  But I did not name this plant.  I'm just saying.  Anyway, it likes to grow in the rain forest or some such place where it's humid and there are lots of trees.  You don't need a pot or any dirt for a staghorn fern, because it just grows right on a tree.  Or at least that's what it does in the wild.  Mom's staghorn fern is growing on a board.  The grower tied it on there with some moss behind it.

Mom decided it would look cool to hang her fern from our oak tree, so it would kind of look like it was growing there.  She tried to put a string around the trunk of the tree, but the tree is too big, and Mom could not get a string tied around it without anybody to help her.  So Mom drove some nails into the tree and tied the fern to them.  Mom apologized to the tree for hurting it, but I am afraid the tree will still be angry, and it might decide to fall on our house sometime and crush us to death.

Plant #4 is a little tree that Mom planted on Monday.  First, Mom had to dig up our dappled willow because it turned out to be like two-thirds dead this spring.  Probably, Mom did not water it enough last summer during The Drought.

Our poor little almost-dead dappled willow

Anyway, Mom decided to buy a new little tree to put in the front yard, so she got one that is called Harry Lauder's Walking Stick.  This is a very strange name, but there really was a guy named Harry Lauder, and he was an old Scottish comedian who used a crooked walking stick when he performed.  So this tree, which has crooked branches, got its name from that.  Most of these trees have green leaves, but some have red, so Mom bought the one with red, even though it cost about $30 more, and she could have used that money to help pay for my surgery bill instead.  Mom will just never learn, if you ask me.

So on Monday, Mom spent a lot of time digging up the dappled willow, which she decided to try to save by planting the alive part in the back yard.  It doesn't look very perky, so we don't know if it will live or not.  Then Mom planted the Red Walking Stick in the front yard.

We hope that it will be a happy little tree, which it might be if Mom waters it enough

Monday, May 13, 2013


Well, like Mom told you, I had to have important, majorly expensive surgery, and now I have a very sore tummy.  I don't recommend that people or dogs or cats have their stomaches cut open because it hurts a whole bunch afterwards.  Mom says it will stop hurting after a while, and that I will heal up and be just like new again, but I think she may be lying to me.  In the meantime, she is giving me pain meds, and that is good.

At first, I didn't feel like doing anything, even eating.  But Mom started putting some smelly fishy cat food in my dog food, and then I got more interested in eating it.  Also I have agreed to eat my medicine in cat food, but not in the boring dog food we have.

Yesterday morning I felt good enough to start licking my incision, and I licked it a lot because it seemed like something that needed licking.  After breakfast, Mom got out the Cone of Shame, and now I have to wear that stupid thing all the time, day and night.  When I wear the Cone of Shame, I keep running into stuff such as doorways and stair steps, and I feel very awkward.  I can't wear a Bite-Not collar because the smallest size we have here is too big for me, and Mom has never ordered a smaller size.

We don't know how many stitches I have.  We think I might have staples instead of stitches.  Mom would like to get a better look at my stomach, but I don't feel like rolling over to let her do that because it hurts.  In a couple of weeks, I have to go back and get all those stitches pulled out.

So anyway, that is my news, and I hope you are feeling sorry for me, because I need all the sympathy I can get!

Okay, here's a little bit of kitten-news.  On Saturday, two of them went to their Forever Homes.  The two were Edward and Etienne, and they got adopted together.  Now we just have the girls from that litter available.  They are both on Petfinder, so maybe someone will decide to adopt them soon.

The other day, the kittens decided to have fun by unrolling the toilet paper.  Then they tried to look innocent, like they hadn't done it, but we knew the truth about them!  Now Mom has to keep putting the TP in the bathroom cabinet or else on the back of the toilet.  I can't believe how complicated these kittens make Mom's life.  I don't know why she keeps them around.  None of us dogs would ever behave so badly!