Tuesday, June 30, 2009

SheiKra Update: Before and After

What a difference three days can make. Below is a photo of SheiKra from Saturday, shortly after being dumped on I-4:

Below is SheiKra on Tuesday, learning that he can climb his scratching post but that it's not so easy to get back down:

His little tummy is plump and round now, the fleas seem to be gone, the bloody road rash is healing, and he's more alert and playing. The other boys still aren't thrilled about him, but they tolerate the inevitable.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

June is Adopt-A-Cat Month...Whether You Want To Or Not

June is the American Humane Society's "Adopt A Cat" month, although I usually don't give it much thought because Duloc Manor is maxed out on its feline population. We have two normal cats, Stitch and Farquaad, and a schizophrenic beast named Tooncinator who spends 23 1/2 hours a day under the bed and the other half hour trying to bite us if we dare interact with him. I don't really count him as a pet, since to actually "pet" him would result in a bloody stump. He's like the crazy relative who lives in the attic and who you don't really talk about.

We were plenty comfortable with three cats in our home. Stitch and Quaad have a relationship that's way too close, and Tooncinator...well, he's just sort of there. Thus everything was in a somewhat shaky but acceptable balance Little did I know that Adopt A Cat month was about to become very, very personal to me.

It all started with a trip to Busch Gardens. I'm the Orlando Theme Parks Examiner (Click here to read my articles), and Tampa is close enough to fit under that umbrella, so I wanted to gather fodder for some Busch articles. We have Platinum SeaWorld annual passes that are good for Busch Gardens too. The passes are also good for preferred parking and the ability to stay on the roller coasters and ride a second time with no wait. All in all, we were looking forward to a fun day.

We arrived right at parking lot opening time and were directed to the preferred lot. I loved it, as it's right by the entrance vs. across the street like the regular parking. We had our tickets scanned and lined up at the entrance rope, where they had a band come out to entertain everyone till rope drop time. Our plan was to head right to SheiKra, Busch Garden's main roller coaster. Hubby and I are both coaster fanatics, and we especially like models designed by Bollinger and Mallibard. Thus we were looking forward to a B & M-designed 200 foot climb, followed by a straight-down plummet to earth.

We figured that if we headed to SheiKra first, we could ride it a few times before the crowds got heavy. Alas, that coaster doesn't open until 9:30. Ugh! Thus we went over to the Lion and Tiger wooden racing coasters and rode each of those twice while waiting for the time to pass. We only did a two-fer because we could do it with our pass; those coasters were wicked! There aren't many wooden coasters in Florida, so I forget just how rough they can be. I'll take a metal model any day.

By that time it was after 9:30, so we hustled over to SheiKra. I looked up at its intimidating heights and wondered if my nerves might overcome my love of plummeting down head-first at blinding speeds. I adore Magnum XL at Cedar Point, but unlike SheiKra, Magnum has regular trains. SheiKra's have no floor and the end seats hang out over the track so there is literally nothing below you. Better yet, it pauses at the top of the hill for four seconds before zooming straight down. Although I adore roller coasters, ironically I have a fear of heights. It usually doesn't bother me on rides because I am securely strapped and harnessed in, but I wasn't sure how an open train would feel.

We waited for the front row, figuring we should do our first ride the right way...and I loved it! It actually edged out Manta (also a B & M coaster) as my favorite Central Florida coaster. We did our re-ride, and then I kept dragging hubby on, telling him, "Let's just keep riding it until the line gets too long. Then we'll do something else. I promise." (He was dying to try all the other coasters.) We made it up to nine rides on SheiKra, but on the ninth one I could feel drizzle as we left the station. Sure enough, it started raining harder...and harder...and harder...ugh! There I was with a fanny pack full of stuff, including my cell phone, and DH had his cell in his pocket, and we were getting progressively wetter. Little did we know that we mere seconds away from experiencing new levels of being soaked.

SkeiKra has a second hill where it also stops before plummeting, just like the first one. We climbed it, stopped...and sat there. And sat there. Meanwhile, a monsoon was pummeling us with a rainwater flood. As the minutes ticketed away, we could tell something was wrong. A voice came over a loudspeaker telling us that Sheikra had temporarily ceased operation (thank you, Captain Obvious) and that the situation was being assessed. I eyed the nearby stairs, wondering if we'd have to walk down and weighing the excitement and bragging rights as a coaster enthusiast vs. the chance of getting zapping with lightning.

The people around us were flipping out about their cell phones and whatever else they had in their pockets, and one poor girl towards the back was screaming and being ordered to "shut up" by her unsympathetic companions. I focused on trying to cover my fanny pack as best as I could. Normally, being a seasoned Floridian theme park goer, I wrap the contents in plastic. I'd gotten lazy lately, and now I was paying the price. Finally, after several more minutes, the coaster started moving again, and a new sort of hell started as the rain hit our faces like hail pellets. I kept my eyes closed and reminded myself that it would all be over in a minute or so and that sudden rainstorms are part of the joy of living in Florida and a fair trade-off for a life free of winter blizzards.

We made it into the station and were given two front of the line passes each for our future use, along with our fellow riders. I thought it was a nice gesture, since Busch can't control the weather. We hustled over to a nearby store, where I bought a dry t-shirt (which I had been planned to anyway) and shorts (which were not in the plan, but I wasn't driving more than an hour home in sloshy jeans).

We donned rain ponchos and hustled to the car, planning to stop at Sonny's BBQ for a nice lunch. We see their commercials all the time, but they don't have a location around Celebration. We'd noticed one just off I-4 so we figured that would be convenient. I contacted Onstar to ask how to get to I-4, and they gave me directions for a different way than the one we'd come. That was fine with me, as long as we got there eventually.

We were tooling down the road at 55 m.p.h. when a flash of movement caught my eye. A kitten! A tiny black kitten! It appeared in the right lane, and darted towards the center. I was sure it was going to be splattered, but somehow it decided to change direction and ran to the shoulder. Unfortunately, there was a 10 foot concrete wall. It tried frantically to climb it, and I knew it was just a matter of time before it ran into traffic again. I whipped over onto the left shoulder, since I was in the left lane, jumped out, and ran towards the frantic little fur ball. He must have exhausted himself, as he was now plastered motionless against the wall.

The kitten was so close but yet so far, as there was no break in traffic in sight. I-4 is only slightly safer than the Daytona racetrack. Finally a few cars noticed me and slowed down, and one woman stopped in the right lane so I could get across. As I ran, the jackass behind her suddenly whipped around her on the shoulder, heading right for the kitten. I started screaming at him, but he just gave me a blank stare as he nearly ran it over; thank god it was against the wall. As soon as he passed, I swooped in and managed to grab the soaking wet, shivering little creature. Now there just remained the trick of crossing the road one more time.

Hy husband had emerged from the car and was standing helplessless on the other side. Eventually I saw a tiny break and ran like I was in the Olympics, making it safely with my precious cargo in tow. Hubby took over cat care duty as I lept into the driver's seat to try to figure out what to do. I was reasonably sure that the kitten hadn't been hit, since I'd seen it running and trying to climb the wall. It was bleeding, but that appeared to be from road rash since someone had obviously tossed it out onto I-4. Besides the tell-tale marks, there was literally no way an animal could have gotten to that stretch of the expressway on its own. Someone must have tossed it out right at the moment I saw it appear in the traffic lane.

I knew we needed to get it to a vet, but it was Saturday afternoon and we were in totally unfamiliar territory. Onstar to the rescue! I called to see if they could find a nearby vet, and they started calling listings until they found one that was open for the next hour. We rushed off with the poor little kitty in tow; he was wet, bloody, shivering, and literally skin and bones. Thankfully the doctor was able to see him. He gave us two types of medication and said that the poor little baby seemed like he would pull through the ordeal.

We headed back to Duloc Manor with the kitten in tow. I've rescued lots of strays in my life, and back in Chicago I knew no-kill shelters where I could bring them to ensure their safety and adoption. In Florida, no-kills are fewer and much farther between, and now is a terrible time anyway since people who are getting foreclosed on are abandoning their animals left and right. With three cats already, I knew I should try to find somewhere to take the kitten. I figured we could even foster him till a rescue group could find him a home. But in reality, I had risked life and limb to save him, and I hated the idea of giving him away and probably never knowing where he ened up. If we fostered him for a rescue group, I'd just get attached and end up keeping him anyway, so why deny the inevitable? Before the night was over, I realized that June had indeed become Adopt A Cat Month for me.

We christened him SheiKra; it was either that or Onstar, since both were responsible for our being in that place at that very moment to save him, and naming him after my favorite roller coaster just seemed fitting. Riding over and over and getting caught in the monsoon had set me up to find him, so in a way he owed his life to SheiKra. Now we just have to go through the ever-so-fun process of waiting for our other beasties to adjust to him. As you can see by the last photo in the series of pictures below, he is adjusting to life in Celebration quite well.

Below, three photos on Rescue Day:

One day later, the two photos below show how SheiKra has settled in (the big cat in the last photo is Stitch):