Monday, August 26, 2019

Letting No Good Deed Go Unpunished (Part II)

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 28, 2019] ©2019

Last week I wrote about helping my neighbors rescue a young cat that had planted itself outside their sliding glass doors and meowed piteously for two days.  They already had a cat and didn’t want another one, but compassionate pet owners that they are, they did make a bed for it on their patio that night, and gave it some dinner. The cat allowed them to pet it and clearly seemed to be asking them to take it in.  Fearing leaving it out a second night given coyote sightings in the neighborhood, they decided to bring it to the Humane Society the next afternoon.

But the cat was spooked by the sight of their cat carrier and fled into my yard, where my efforts to sneak it in to a back bedroom were met with an encounter of the worst kind with 19 pounds of angry white fluff (our bichon-poodle mix). Lily tried to eat the cat who responded by sinking its exceedingly sharp fangs into my hands seven times before I concluded, OK, I get it, you want to fend for yourself.  Lily only has three teeth but they can be used for harm.

Since there was no history on the animal and no tag or chip, the animal had to be quarantined for ten days before being evaluated for the adoption pool, especially given all the bites. I assured the Humane Society that the cat had merely been defending itself from our Cujo-wannabe dog.  

Just a few weeks ago I wrote a column about people not tagging and chipping their dogs and cats.  It would make it so easy for me and my many animal-loving neighbors to get them quickly back to their owners when they escape their homes or yards. 

One of the focuses of my column last week was my engineer husband’s calculation of my odds of infection if cat bites have a 40% risk and I had sustained seven. Ask an engineer a question and you will get a full report. Fortunately, all my bites healed with aggressive home care.

The Humane Society did indeed call me (I was genuinely impressed) after 10 days of cat quarantine to report that since the cat and I were both still topside, it would likely be put up for adoption.

As I was taking a walk several days later, imagine my surprise to see a newly-posted flier for a cat that I knew instantly was The Cat. I’d know those teeth anywhere.  OK, the photo didn’t show teeth but the markings and coloring were very distinctive. 

But the woman who answered the number on the flier insisted that the kitty we had rescued two weeks earlier couldn't possibly be hers because her pet sitter, who was caring for the cat during the two weeks that she and her family had just been away on vacation, had insisted their cat had only been missing "a few days."  I’m thinking the pet sitter is a lying weasel.  The cat showed up at my neighbors’ the day after this family left town. And it was hungry.

I gave her the Humane Society intake number and reiterated I was really sure from the cat's distinctive markings that this was her cat. I even texted her photos I'd taken of it.  I also mentioned that the cat had gone into the adoption pool four days earlier so they should get down there quickly since it was a young, very sweet cat. 

The next day, I got a brief text message from her that they'd gone to the Humane Society that morning and it was indeed their cat, and that her kids were thrilled. She never asked my name or gave me hers. 

Did I mention the flier had offered a reward? Not a word from her about it. I'd never take a reward for returning someone's pet or phone or wallet to them. But I would have asked that she donate the money to the Humane Society who had just spent two weeks caring for this kitty, medically and behaviorally assessing it, and keeping it under quarantine for ten days. Never mind that my neighbors devoted most of their weekend two weeks earlier to caring for the cat and driving it down to the Humane Society, not known for their speedy intakes. I texted this lady the neighbor’s names so she could thank them. She didn’t. (I never mentioned the bites to the cat’s owner since they were my fault.) 

We’re truly glad the cat is home safe, that it didn’t get eaten by a coyote or squashed by fast-moving traffic.  But seriously folks.  All it would have taken was for a tag with a phone number or a scannable chip for this to have been resolved in ten minutes. Are you listening?  Alas, don’t think so.

 How is this not their cat? 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Letting No Good Deed Go Unpunished, Part I

[Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 21, 2019] ©2019

I’ve written recently at how dismaying it is to see so many dogs and cats loose in my neighborhood without  collars and tags – and as it turns out, without chips either. 

A few weeks ago, I kept hearing a cat meowing piteously at my neighbor’s house and queried if their house cat had gotten out by mistake. They texted back that an un-collared cat had shown up and parked itself on their patio furniture clearly wanting food and attention. 

The next day, when the cat was still there and still meowing, they concluded it was lost or abandoned, and not wanting to leave it outside for a second night due to a frightening number of coyote sightings and resultant cat deaths in our neighborhood, decided to take it down to the Humane Society.  Except that as soon as they approached it with the cat carrier, it disappeared through the fence into my yard.  We tried to find it to no avail.

A few hours later I noticed the kitty in my patio. It came right over, allowing me to pick it up.  Clearly someone’s pet and not a feral cat.  I knew our dog was zonked out in the living room so I decided to tiptoe in the house with the cat and put it in my office then text my neighbors to come over with the cat carrier.

Great plan. Utterly failed execution. 

I had barely closed the back door behind me when our 19-pound bichon-poodle mix, Lily, woke out of the Sleep of the Canine Dead sensing an intruder in her midst and came charging into the room. I didn’t want to drop the cat right in front of Lily who, despite only having three remaining teeth, seemed determined to use them for harm.  The cat, terrified, alerted me to her wish to be released by sinking her razor-sharp incisors into my hand, then repeating this six more times until I finally got the message.

Lily and the kitty chased each other around the house until I was finally able to corral Lily in a bedroom.  My wonderful neighbors came with the cat carrier and lots of Neosporin and took the cat down to the Humane Society. The Humane Society said they would be putting the cat in quarantine for 10 days, for both my and their other cats’ protection. I or my estate was to call them if I succumbed from feline-related afflictions before then.  (OK, that wasn’t exactly the way they put it.)

Searching the internet, I learned that cat bites have a 40% chance of infection and tend to be far more serious than dog bites.  I decided that at the slightest sign of infection I would head to Urgent Care but would keep my multitude of wounds well cleaned, slathered with Neosporin, and wrapped in the meantime.

My husband, Olof, was out of town at the air show in Oshkosh. That night, I emailed him:  If a cat bite has a 40% chance of infection, do seven cat bites have a 280% chance?   Shortly thereafter, an reply arrived back entitled in pure Olof engineer-ese:  “Cat Bite Calculation.”

Dear –

You reported earlier that the probability of a cat bite becoming infected was 40% (i.e. 40/100 or 2/5).  Therefore the probability that the bite will NOT become infected is 1 – 2/5, or 3/5. But you didn't have one bite.  You reported 7. 

The probability that two bites won’t become infected is the probability that the second won’t, times the probability that the first won’t, or 3/5 x 3/5 = (3/5)2

The probability that three bites won’t become infected is the probability that the first two didn’t, times the probability that the third didn’t (i.e. (3/5)2 x 3/5 = (3/5)3).

I’m hoping that by now you’re seeing a pattern.  The probability that n bites won’t become infected is (3/5)n; and when n = 7, the reported number of bites you have, the probability is (3/5)7.

(3/5)7 is approximately 2.8%, which is the probability of no infection if the probability of infection of each bite is independent and equal to 40%.  Alas, this means that the probability of getting an infection is 1 - .028, or about 97%.

Fortunately for you, this logic applies only if the chance that one bite will become infected is independent of the chance that any of the others will become infected, which is certainly not the case.  If the cat's mouth is pure, the chance that any will be infected is much much less than 40%, and the chance that none will be much higher than 3%.  Conversely if the cat has a potty mouth, no math in the world will save you.  You're doomed.


[To be continued next week]

The perp

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 7, 2019] ©2019

By all accounts, this has been a particularly bad rat year.  The pest control companies, reportedly, are in hog, er, rodent heaven.

Unfortunately for us (at least as far as the rodential population is concerned), we have a prolific orange tree, a rat’s food of choice.  Walking outside in the morning, our brick walkway is littered with hollowed out orange rinds, the remnants of the previous night’s rat-chanalia.   And this, by the way, is one of my biggest issues with them:  how hard would it be for the little slobs to just roll the rinds into the bushes and let them quietly biodegrade?  I’m not an unreasonable person. 

Eating dinner on our patio in the evening last year, Olof and I watched the rats scurrying back and forth along the top of our six-foot wrought-iron pool fence and escaping into the orange tree.  At one point, it occurred to us that it could actually be the same three rats running around in an endless circle just to annoy us while their friends filmed it for rat reality TV. 

Summer is our outdoor entertaining season.  You’re trying to have a classy dinner party and one of your guests says, “Um, I think I just saw a rat.”  It’s tempting to deny it with a breezy “No more wine for you!” but in the end we just had to admit defeat and turn our furry friends into a party game.  “Person who sees the most rats gets an extra dessert!”  After a couple more glasses of wine, everybody kind of got into it. Or they have plenty of rats at their own place. Or maybe they’re just drinking more because they can’t believe they’re at a La Jolla dinner party counting rats.

Over the years, we’ve tried pretty much every rat-ridding tactic out there, including the pricey pest control folks who trap them humanely and maintain that they drive the rats out to the country and let them go. They actually say this with a straight face.  We’ve also used the finger-breaking steel spring traps and finally moved to the inhumane rat poison that we use now.  I admit that on the Judgment day, there will be a lot of beady-eyed creatures squeaking “Yes, that’s her!”  But I did ask them nicely to go away.

In a previous Bad Rat Year (a term that will never cross the lips of the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce), I was on a first name basis with the Vector Control folks who taught me how to fill the centers of 18-inch-long 4-inch diameter sections of PVC pipe with rat poison (so the neighborhood cats can’t get to it), and secret them around the yard. 

But in recent years this has become problematical in itself.  We are frequently visited by tiny inquisitive grandchildren, who, just like rats, would be attracted to shiny blue pellets. Ditto for our dog, Lily. 

Lily, self-appointed Vanquisher of the Furry Peril, likes to hang out near the orange tree and bark at rats scurrying along the pool fence.  Alas, it doesn’t actually get rid of them, but it’s very entertaining to watch.

We’d really like to be more humane in our e-rat-ication efforts but there would not be enough alcohol on the planet to make up for spending our weekends driving rats out into the country.  Besides, what else would we do with them?  (Well, there IS that one neighbor…) 

Still, the rat situation got so totally out of hand that last year we removed all 800+ oranges from the tree and donated them to the orphanage in Tijuana. But we really like orange juice from our totally organic oranges.  Surely there was some way we could work this out with the local rodential population? 

This past year, our new lawn guy suggested putting metal sheeting around the base of the orange tree. No one had ever suggested this to us before.  Not aesthetic for sure, but it makes it harder for the little varmints to get up there.

Harder, but not impossible.  They could jump from the top of the wrought iron pool fence a distance of about a foot onto the tree.  Jumping back to the fence might be more problematic but that’s assuming rats have sequential logic.  Our lawn guy trimmed the tree back to require them to be Olympic-class long jumpers.

In order to assess our success, we posted a chart on our refrigerator documenting the dramatically lessening numbers of hollowed-out orange rinds on the bricks each morning.  It’s all very scientific.  Fewer rinds, fewer rats.  Unless, of course, they’re hiding the rinds just to toy with us.  We wouldn’t put it past them.

So this year, we’re actually having orange juice for breakfast instead of staring at our orange-less tree.  Sorry, rodentials, but you’re just going to have to find new real estate.

 It's actually amazing how well this works

The least the little slobs could do is roll the
chewed out rinds into the bushes!