Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Joys of Hot and Cold

In which we venture into obscure realms in search of water, and discover much more than what we sought.

The backyard in snow
It gets cold in the City. The winters, by my standards are bitter, though I understand folks from Chicago-land, or, from even further afield, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, they mock my wimpishness. Well, let them mock, so long as they keep their winters to themselves. St. Louis is as far north as I go. I grew up in more temperate climes, and this is as much as I can take. One morning last week it was three degrees.

That's right, gentle readers. It was three degrees on the Fahrenheit scale. Not thirty degrees, which is two degrees below freezing and plenty cold enough. Three. Uno, dos, tres. Three. In whatever language, that is too damn cold.

Nevertheless, at six in the morning, I stuffed my feet into tennis shoes, wrapped a wool scarf around my head, put on a coat, and ventured outside. The handy desktop weather widget said it was three (three!) degrees. What, you may ask, was the inspiration for this madness? Why armor up and sally forth, when hot chocolate and warm blankets beckoned from a heated house? What madness indeed.

Keeping the colony fed is only one aspect of caregiving for a feral colony. They also need access to clean and safe drinking water. As the temps plunged in the City, keeping the drinking water liquid was becoming a real problem for us. I've written a couple of times before about the challenges of keeping water unfrozen and available for drinking during freezing days. Even changing out the water bowls, bringing a frozen one in and replacing it with a new bowl, full of fresh, liquid water, wasn't ideal. The cats would get a few hours of liquid water, but that's it. I began to consider making a change to our schedule. Maybe I needed to change the water bowl out twice a day, instead of once.

Water is so desperately vital to life. I read once about the challenges faced by birds and other wildlife in urban and suburban areas. Many people will put out seed in bird feeders, and yet forget about water. Sometimes, the article said, birds and other city wildlife must travel miles and miles for drinking water.

Cats, despite their ferocity and resourcefulness, are yet so very delicate and vulnerable in many ways. According to one veterinarian who blogs online, cats can lose up to forty percent of their body weight and survive, but losing just ten percent of their body's water will cause body functions to shut down and result in serious illness. A fifteen percent water loss, he says, will kill them.

So I fretted about the feral cats getting enough water during the freezing days.

It so happens two readers of this blog knew more than I about the possibilities. This is community in action. This is a village sharing resources (in this case, information) to the benefit of all. It turns out the problem has a really simple solution: a heated water bowl.

Robin, a dear friend before she was a reader, found and posted a link to such a bowl. God bless Amazon for being the village marketplace it has turned out to be. I took a gander the water bowl on their site, read the reader reviews, then broke open the wallet and forked over the $25 purchase price. The package arrived in just a couple of days.

Now the particular bowl I bought came with a six foot cord attached. No way was that six foot cord going to reach from the deck up to the exterior wall of the house, where the outdoor lights and electrical sockets are. Not to worry, though, I was prepared. A reviewer on Amazon, who had purchased the bowl for her chickens, had already warned us the cord length was puny. Forewarned is forearmed; I fetched up from the basement the heavy duty, orange extension cord we use for the exterior holiday lights in December. The cord is very bright orange and a hundred feet long. Reaching the socket was not to be an issue.

Out I went then, at feeding time, with a fresh bowl for water, along with the fancy schmancy new electrical bowl as well. The cats looked on, in that way that cats do, as I stood on tiptoe to plug everything in. At first they ignored it, munching happily on their kibbles, heading over to the known bowl for water. I left them to examine it at their leisure, and headed back inside, frozen water dish in tow.

The next day, temps in the twenties, the new water bowl was performing as advertised. While the old style water bowl was frozen solid, the water in the electric bowl was cool, like cats like it, but decidedly liquid. I carted away the outdated, unheated system. I also stood in the yard, away from the deck, still and unobtrusive, watching. The cats were indeed using the new bowl. I watched Miss Cally drinking from it as if she'd never used anything else. I went on back inside, pleased. From the upstairs window I peered out, seeing Skitter, Handsome, and Fuzzy all make stops at the drinking station. Success!

Then came that three degree morning. Of course I had to go see how the new technology was performing. If it could function in three degrees, well, then. What more needs to be said?

Bundled up in my layers of wool, I opened the front door and stepped out into the morning. I'm not normally or by nature an early riser; the spousal unit is always long gone on his commute before I roll out of bed and go hunting for coffee. In my heart of hearts, I prefer the night. Left for long stretches of time to my own devices, my schedule will slowly shift until I'm sleeping late and going to bed shortly before dawn. And so the early morning always holds mysterious suprises for me. Stepping into the early morning is like stepping from the fields we know into a foreign country, or into fairyland.

It was perfectly still; amazingly quiet. Snow white and sparkling over everything. No clouds; the sun not yet fully out of her bed, either; the light from the east pearl and pink and wedgewood blue, edged in gold.  I crunched through the snow, around to the back of the house, to the deck. A flash of red movement caught my eye; I stood still, watching, looking, humbled somehow at the frozen beauty laid out before me. A male cardinal  flitted through the trees in the wild woodsyness of my backyard. He sat on a branch, his red feathers brilliant against the whiteness of the snow and of the morning. We regarded one another with friendly interest.

Sounds carry forever when a world  is muffled by snow. I heard a woodpecker; I raised my eyes to the high branches, scanning. Eventually I found him, clinging to the trunk of a juvenile maple, hammering away, looking for his breakfast. He was so tiny, so perfect.

All travelers who have wandered within the bounds of elfland make mention of the distortion of time. I stood for a long while, enchanted by beauty's unlooked for touch, watching, listening, breathing the magnificence of the morning. Eventually, as mortals must, I came back to myself. My fingertips, inside their gloves, were getting cold; the tips of my toes complaining. I made my way through the snow to the deck, examined the heated water bowl.

At three degrees, on a magnificent, snow filled morning, the water in the cat bowl was still cool and suprisingly liquid. I declared myself satisfied with the purchase.

stlcatlady is a poet, blogger, and freelance writer of shortstories, news articles, and other such oddments, many of which center around her favorite subjecs: cats , philosophy, and folklore.  You may contact her by sending email to stlcatlady1 at gmail dot com.

The link at left is to the specific bowl I bought for the cats; however, there are several other models. A quick Amazon search for "heated water bowl" returns a list of several products from various companies.

Alley Cat Allies also offers a review of a couple of different heated water bowls.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if your birds (and others) won't also be using the water bowl, dodging the kitties as they do.

    When I lived in Dallas with 3 large dogs, standard Poodle, Yellow Lab, cross bred border collie, I heard a ruckus in the yard and went out to investigate. I found my 3 tough guys being stared down by an enormous possum, who had come out for the water on my patio. Apparently the access to fresh water was worth the trouble of dealing with the dogs.!