Why WAS my background black?
Jim Paradis' Menagerie

Jim & Tamara's World of Animals

Jim and Tamara first met as a result of their common interest in animals (Actually, a mutual friend told Jim "You've gotta come meet the crazy lady with the hamsters and all the baby rabbits!"), and they've had a live-in menagerie of some sort ever since. At the moment, the count stands at nine cats, one chinchilla, one rabbit, one gerbil, a peacock, a peahen, and two fishtanks.

There are also a number of animals who have departed from our household, some by happier circumstances than others.

For more pictures of the animals, click on over to my photo album.

The Cats

Athena was the first cat to grace our household. She's a beautiful blue-point Siamese. She's rather crosseyed, and when she's about to pounce on something she'll bob her head back and forth first to try and get a bit of depth perception. She also has a thing for ladders... which can be interesting because we're currently renovating our 100-year-old house. We'll prop the ladder up in the room we're working on, and sooner or later we'll turn around and there she is, perched on top, happy to have a nice view of the world!
First, some background: We got Athena from Tam's mother's family. Her second husband's daughter had cats around and just let them breed and breed... we got Athena out of one of the litters. Well, after she had her third baby, the cats started getting jealous, and so she said she was going to take them to the pound. Well that, of course, was our cue to rescue the whole family! We took all four cats that she had, gave away two, and kept the other two.

Chalkie is a blue-point Siamese who's basically a bigger, chunkier Athena. The two of them make GREAT bookends! 8-). Chalkie likes to be held like a baby being burped -- up on my shoulder. The left shoulder, preferably. And like a child, he can be demanding at the most inopportune times (like, I'm cooking dinner and he'll pad by the stove and look up at me with an expression that says, "Daaadddy, PLEEEEZE hold meee!").

Cleo is a beautiful slate-grey half-Siamese. She's Chalkie's daughter, and she and Chalkie are Athena's parents (yes, it's incestuous... but that wasn't our doing).

Cleo has an AMAZING craving for coffee. When I make coffee in the morning, she practically claws her way up onto the counter to get a snoof... she'll even eat beans and grounds! And if I'm not careful, she'll stick her snoot into my mug and try to get a few licks in that way too...

Ebony came to us one day in the arms of two little girls. They showed up at the door saying, "You wanna kitty?!" Seems they'd found this stray that mommie wouldn't let them keep, so they were trying to give it away. It was all black, and at first I didn't want it 'cause I thought we had enough kitties already. Then I made the mistake of holding her (Pet stores know this, by the way: if they can get you to hold an animal, they KNOW you're a goner!) I said, "well.... let me ask my wife". I brought the whole troupe to her, and she didn't want the cat until SHE held her! She's a beautiful soft little black cat... She's also a little devil of a trouble-cat, always getting into things. She's really small and fast -- she weighs just six pounds soaking wet, and usually she's nothing more than a black streak skizzing across the floor.
As we were driving home one night, we rounded the corner onto our street and Tam looks out the window and says, "Is that a kitten over there?" "Over there" was just diagonally across the street from our house, so we go over and check it out. Sure enough, at the base of a tall stone wall, was a black-and-white longhaired kitten! Tam goes "Here, kitty!" and picks her up. She then looks at me and says, "You realize I just touched it!". So she hands kitten to me to complete the ritual, and we take her in.

She was obviously a house-kitten and not a feral cat, since she knew right from the start what a litterbox was and what a food bowl looked like, and she knew how to play with humans (right down to retracting the claws when batting at our legs 8-) ).

We put up some notices and made some inquiries just in case this was somebody's kitty that they missed... but no response. One fellow I talked to said that the house that we found kitten in front of had a momma who just hatched out SEVEN kittens, and this one looks like enough of a cross between the alleged momma and poppa that this might have been where she came from. After another week of no response, we officially adopted her by giving her a name. We call her "Lunette", because her eyebrow whiskers curl down over her eyes in such a way that it looks like she's wearing glasses ("Lunette" is the French word for eyeglasses...).

Ralphie also came to us by way of Tam's mother. Ralphie was a gray tabby fat-cat that Mom had taken in, and when Mom got sick she wanted to cut down on her animal population. Since I always loved to give Ralphie a hug when I visited, we were glad to take him. He's a big fat scardey-cat, and it's fun watching him try to run away from something while he's on a hardwood floor. He can't get enough friction to move his big fat bod very fast, so he slips and skids as he tries to come up to speed.
Puck & Voodoo
We got Puck and Voodoo for the express purpose of breeding with Ebony. There's a story to be told here, which I'll get to someday...

The Little Creatures

This is our collective term for all of the various mammals that we keep in cages. Currently we have a chinchilla, a gerbil, and a rabbit.
Chinchilla - Primrose
We had three chinchillas: Primrose, Haydn, and Bayberry. Primrose and another unnamed chinch were gifts from Tam's best friend in Anchorage (the tale of their arrival is a story unto itself!). Haydn was a gift from another friend (we love chinches, but we're not about to pay $80-100 for one at a pet store!). Bayberry is their son. Unfortunately, we lost Bayberry and Haydn in the past year, so Primrose is the only one that's left.

Chinchillas are interesting creatures. Like cats, they can defy the laws of physics. Their native habitat is in the Peruvian mountains, and they're rock-hoppers. They get around by bounding from place to place, and more than once I've seen them do a complete 180 in mid-air and apparently reverse direction without pushing off against anything. Apparently Isaac Newton never vacationed in Peru.

Rabbit - Wilfred
Shortly after Shaku died and our lives got back to some semblance of normal, we were at our favorite pet store buying the usual six cases of cat foot. It was getting close to Easter time, so of course they had their rabbits out front. In the bottom cage was a big, beautiful black rabbit. We reached our fingers in and petted it... it had the most amazing soft, short coat we'd ever felt on a rabbit. He was sweet and personable too. He carefully sniffed us, started licking my finger, but didn't bite or anything. As we were loading up the car, Tam turns to me and says, "I want that rabbit!" I was a little less urgent, but I did kind of want a lapine companion in the house too, so we got the rabbit.

We didn't know it at the time, but Wilfred turned out to be a special breed known as a Rex (no killer rabbit jokes, please!). He's quite personable and loves to hop around his room, but he's a little standoffish about being petted and cuddled and whatnot. Sort of like a cat. Needless to say, he fits into our household just fine!

The Birds

Peafowl is the generic term for these members of the pheasant family. Most folks know about the male peacock. Lesser known is the female peahen, because she's not much to look at compared to her flashier mate.

We got one of each, peacock and peahen, as chicks in the summer of 1994. By summer of 1995 they'd outgrown the cage we kept them in in our basement, so we erected a pen for them on our land in Phillipston. Since 1995 was a bad year for us and we got very little done in Phillipston that year. Specifically, we weren't able to build a winter shelter for the birdies, so we brought them back to Worcester and cobbled up a pen for them in our garage. We'll bring them back to Phillipston for the summer soon.

Have you ever heard the noise that peafowl make? I'll digitize it and put it up one of these days, but in the meantime suffice it to say that it's a cross between a honk and a wail. And it's LOUD! The only reason I'm not worried about the neighbors' complaining about our keeping peafowl in the City of Worcester is that their kids are loud enough to drown out the birds!

The Fish

We've got two tanks of fish. More stories and pictures to come.

Residents Emeritus

Waiting at The Rainbow Bridge

Sometimes, unfortunately, an animal companion must depart our household. Most often this happens when the animal dies in our care, and this is never an easy thing to take. There is always the nagging feeling that we could have done more to extend our friend's life or make their passing more comfortable. Then again, there is sometimes the agony of knowing there is nothing one can do, and one must simply accept the course of nature as it comes.
Haydn and Bayberry
We lost two of our chinchillas in recent months: Haydn and Bayberry. Neither had an easy death, unfortunately.

Bayberry was the first to die; we noticed one day that he seemd to have tangled up his fur on the wire hanger from which we suspended their salt block. Upon closer examination, we discovered to our horror that it was not just his fur but his flesh that had gotten tangled up in the wire. When we de-tangled him, we discovered that he had torn his belly open. Surprisingly, there was little blood and no apparent organ damage, and we might have been able to get him into surgery. Unfortunately, we were at the same time dealing with my mother's terminal illness, which left us with little time or energy to nurse a gravely-ill chinchilla back to health. This meant that we had to have him put down. Naturally, we made this discovery late at night and we couldn't bring him to the vet until morning, so we put him in an isolation cage overnight so he could have some peace and quiet. Of course, the vet had no experience putting down a chinchilla, and had to guess at the correct dosage. We can only hope that Bayberry's passing was a peaceful one.

As for Haydn, we are not certain, but we think that he died of some kind of illness. Even with an exotic-animal vet close by (Tufts Veterinary School is in the next town), the state of chinchilla medicine is somewhat primitive. Haydn had been drooling and not eating well for a while. This indicated a problem with his teeth. Chinchillas are rodents with continuously-growing teeth that must be worn down by constant chewing and gnawing. Tooth problems in a chinch are often symptoms of other problems, but you won't know until you've fixed the teeth. It cost us $140 to have his teeth floated, and even afterwards he still seemed to be in pain and had difficulty eating. He died a few days later; apparently, the tooth problems were only part of an overall decline.

Shaku's name comes from a traditional Japanese unit of measurement, which is slighly less than one foot (English measure). Since the rabbit was about that size, it was an appropriate name. Shaku was an animal that we rescued from uncertain fate several years ago. A friend of ours found him on the road half-dead; he'd been hit by a car or somesuch. As a matter of fact, she thought at first it was a Siamese cat by the markings and coloration. She took him to the vet and had him fixed up, but she couldn't keep him. Since we had lots of cage space (we collect leaky fish-tanks for use as animal cages) we took him in. We were glad to have a "Siamese bunny" to go with our Siamese cats.

Shaku lived a long and healthy life with us, but eventually his turn also came. He had been declining in the past year. His eyesight had been failing, he got more and more stiff-legged, and he took to lying on his side more and more. Finally, when we were away from home to attend to my dying mother, the heat in our house failed and the temperature dropped to freezing. While a younger, stronger bunny might have survived this, Shaku could not in his weakened state. We found him dead in his cage when we returned home. He was a delightful little handful of a rabbit, and we'll miss him.

In good hands

Other times, there is the realization that the animal's temperament is not suited to our houseold and that he or she would be happier in a different environment. The decision to give away an animal is only slightly less difficult than the decision to euthanize, and we spend much effort trying to find good homes for our creatures.

Timbrel was the daughter of Ebony and Puck. She was born on the first day of spring (March 21), 1994. She is an only kitten (this is actually the second time we bred a cat and had only one kitten). Timbrel was somewhat of a surprise. We bred a black cat to a black cat and ended up with a chocolate-point Siamese! This is a throwback to her grandfather (Puck's father) who was also Siamese. We think that Ebony also has some Siamese in her, but we don't know her pedigree so we can't be sure.

Like some other temperamental Siamese we have known, it became clear that Timbrel's personality was not suited to our household environment. Between the constant noises and upheavals of the renovation and the clashing temperaments of the other cats, Timbrel became very difficult to get along with. A good friend of ours had fallen in love with her when she was a kitten and had made a standing offer to take her. We took her up on it, at least partly because we knew that hers would be a much quieter, laid-back environment for Timbrel. Last we heard, she is adjusting well to the new household.

More to come...

We have 52 acres in Phillipston, MA that we're eventually going to build a house on. When we finally move out there, we'll be able to go wild collecting all kinds of animals that might bother our city neighbors 8-). Right now we want to get a couple of llamas, maybe some goats and turkeys, more peafowl (they come in all colors; we want to collect the set!), and who knows what else! Watch this space for further developments...
Back to Jim's Homepage

Copyright © 1995 Jim Paradis