Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Rescue's Tale: Racecar's story

 Racecar (her actual name), is a lucky cat rescued from a high-kill facility in Devore, CA. Though I volunteered to be her long term foster almost two months ago, significant health problems have delayed her transport up to me. Racecar's story is an example of what rescues face every day; that the process of saving an animal only starts with the pull from the shelter.

A Rescue's Tale: Racecar's story - Palm Springs Animal Welfare | Examiner.com:

'via Blog this'

Acro-Cats in Seattle now thru Sept. 1!

The famous Acro-Cats, featuring the Rock Cats, are halfway through their Seattle gig! Don't miss 'em, you never know if or when they'll be back. Now playing at:

Stone Soup Theatre
4029 Stone Way N
Seattle WA 98103
(206) 633-1883

Aug 19 thru Sept. 1

Get tickets here

Donate to Pinky the Rock Cats' guitarist Cancer Fund

Friday, August 17, 2012

The relationship of cat intakes to warm weather at King County Animal Shelter

A friend recently sent me this interesting email, illustrating what I've always suspected: there appears to be a strong relationship between shelter intakes and the weather. 

Subject: Lost Cats and Heat

A week ago I received an unusual call from Eric Swansen, Managing Director of the Regional Animal Services of King County. He had looked at the statistics of lost cats and thought there was a temperature relationship...more cats being brought to the shelter during and after periods of warm weather. Eric has a spreadsheet with the cat intakes and he asked whether I would get the temperatures and we would see the relationship with lost cats.

I asked UW staff member Neal Johnson to get me the Seattle-Tacoma Airport data and I made a few plots. Lets take a look! (see below). The light blue line is the daily average temperature and the dark blue lines are cat intakes into the county animal shelter in Kent. The period ranges from the beginning of 2007 to a few weeks ago.

Eric Swansen was right! A lot more cats show up at the shelter when the temperatures are warm during mid-summer than during the winter. We are talking about roughly a 4 to 1 ratio. Cooler summers, like the last two, have had less stray cats. But there does seem to be a long-term trend independent of temperature, with less cats coming to the shelter.

Talking to Eric we speculated why this relationship with temperature occurs. One possibility is that people leave their doors open more during the summer or let their cats out more when weather is warm, and a certain percentage get lost. He also suggested that cats tend to go into heat when temperatures warm (spring and summer), and thus we would expect the maximum input of kittens to come several months after warming weather.

To get a better idea of the phasing of temperature and cat intake at the shelter, here is a blow-up of the first year. Not much of a phase difference... temperature peaks in July and August, while cat intake is pretty high and flat from June to early October. This is out of my area of expertise!

Just to completely nerd out on you, here is a scatter diagram showing the relationship between cat intakes and temperature, with a trend line added.

Clearly, there is a relationship between temperature and cat intake, but there is a lot of scatter and variability in the relationship as well. Just like the temperature impacts of greenhouse gases on global temperatures! (sorry, couldn't help myself). The other possibility, of course, is that temperature is just a proxy for season and that the role of temperature itself is less central. 

Eric and I talked about the lost dog/cat problem and we agreed that so much could be done using social media and the internet to RADICALLY improve the situation. Right now there are many separate lists of lost or found animals (e.g., King County's, Craig's List, etc.) and some animal shelters have no electronic lists or online web information (e.g., PAWS). To start, we need all shelters to list their animals, with pictures, and to bring it all together in one master list that is easily searched.

But this is just a start. We need smartphone apps where you can snap a picture of stray animals and quickly send it to a central site, where the geo-located pictures could be logged and put online. Could you image the power of this? Many folks don't want to approach stray animals, but would be happy to snap a picture of one! My gut feeling is that we could radically reduce the number of lost pets with a modest investment in technology. And I suspect there would be many volunteers that could help make such an advanced system a reality. Such a system could be self-supporting as well, since many folks would be happy to pay a reasonable fee for help in getting their loved pet.

We pride ourselves in living in one of the high-tech capitals of the world--we should have the most advanced stray animal recovery system in the world!

Old Technology

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Before there was Rice Krispies, there was mi-ch'ang

One of the most wonderful things I remember growing up in Hawaii was mi-ch'ang, aka toong mai: a crunchy puffed rice and roasted peanut confection held together by a candied sugar syrup. It's origins come from the Hakka people, a Chinese minority. Mi-ch'ang is usually given as a precious gift at New Year's and I remember them being so good, it took willpower not to plow through the entire tin!

I once asked my mom about these treats and she said the recipe and process were often a secret even within families. She herself had never made mi-ch'ang, but what she did know about it was an arduous affair: soaking then steaming the mochi rice, drying the steamed rice in the sun, puffing the rice by cooking it in hot sand in a huge wok, roasting the peanuts in the hot sand and removing the husks, and then finally (I guess, because details are sketchy here) making the sugar syrup and combining everything into a pan and compressing the mixture. Oh, and then cutting them into squares and packing them into plain aluminum tins that look like gallon paint cans. For such a small treat, the making of mi-ch'ang was, and apparently may still be, surrounded by superstition, lore and guarded like gold. Some would designate tools and materials specifically for their version, such as a special wok or black sand, and some even went so far as to have a shack (off limits to everyone but the mi-ch'ang maker) devoted to its production. Here's a great article about mi-ch'ang that appeared in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Jan 2004) if you'd like to read more about this elusive treat, along with a modern day recipe (PHOTO BY BETTY SHIMABUKURO BETTY@STARBULLETIN.COM).

Anyhoo, a few months ago I came across a recipe by the cookbook writer David Lebovitz. It was called White Chocolate Rice Krispie Treats with Candied Peanuts. I made it a few times and in the back of my mind, a connection was made to its Chinese counterpart. Yet, I only recently tried tweaking his recipe in an admittedly lame attempt to recreate the mi-ch'ang of my youth. And surprisingly, the result turned out to be pretty good! It's chewy, not crunchy like the original, but in the interest of shaving probably a week's time off the preparation, it's an acceptable tradeoff in my book. Give it a try and let me know what you think. I realize you may not have had authentic mi-ch'ang made by a family shaman, but you might just like these treats as is. Perhaps with further tweaking, such as cooking the marshmallows a bit longer or even using a candy syrup, they might inch even closer to the real thing.

Mi-ch'ang-style Rice Krispie Treats
4 oz. salted butter, cut up
1 10 oz. bag of mini marshmallows
3 oz. finely chopped candied ginger (adjust to taste)
8 oz. Planter's Honey Roasted Peanuts
5 oz. (about 5 cups) Kellogg's Rice Krispies

Spray or butter a 13"x9" pan. Heat the butter in the microwave until just melted. Add the marshmallows and ginger and stir to coat in the melted butter. Microwave on high, stirring every 30 seconds, until just melted. Quickly stir in the peanuts and Rice Krispies until evenly coated with the melted marshmallow/ginger mix. Distribute clumps of the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing lightly into an even layer. Let cool. Flip the layer out onto a cutting board and cut into 1" cubes with a serrated knife (a plastic lettuce knife works well). Store in an airtight container.