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“I want to go to Marfa,” Alexis said, “ it’s on my bucket list.”

“What and where is Marfa?” I responded.

“Marfa, Texas, it’s an artists’ colony and has a hotel from the 50’s completely retro but renovated. That’s where I want to stay. There is also an art installation outside of town, a fake Prada store. I want a photo of me in front of that. Marfa was written up in Dwell magazine and it was also on Sixty Minutes. It’s supposed to be like Taos was for artists in the 50’s. If you Google Prada Marfa you’ll see the art installation.”

So I said: “Sure why not, I’m into art and artists and I’ve never been to Marfa.”

Marfa is not someplace you go to on the way to someplace. South and east of El Paso, sixty miles north of the border, not too far, by Texas standards, to the Big Bend National Wilderness area where my sons and I went backpacking back in the day.

So we drove to Las Cruces and stayed overnight, not much to comment on. Have you ever been to Las Cruces? The next day on to Marfa with the fake Prada store about 35 miles from town. We went past it at 75 mph. Two carloads of people were stopped to take photos. Alexis said; “Let’s go on and come back tomorrow, I want to clean up before the photo and there is a crowd now. We don’t want strangers in the photo.”

Today we went back. The big Prada-Marfa signs above the door on either side were gone. Ripped off during the night? The online photos of the installation show it with the signs in place. The displays of shoes and purses inside were still intact but the magic was gone. It’s all about the sign!

Here is Alexis, being held up by the sign thieves. IMG_0020

Charlize with her friends Alexis, Mimi and Zsa Zsa near the pool at the Thunderbird Hotel.

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I left a copy of Travels With Charlize at the local bookstore and during lunch had a nice conversation with Ken Whitley, another writer, retired from Shell Oil and a Marfa resident for the last seventeen years. He stopped by our table while we were eating lunch to compliment Alexis on her jewelry and her shoes. Not an uncommon event.

The Phoenix I knew, before leaving in 1970, is no more. The northern suburbs now stretch all the way to Cave Creek. My brother and sister-in-law moved to Cave Creek eleven years ago. When I practiced veterinary medicine, never certain I practiced well enough or long enough to really be good at it, there was nothing between my clinic on 32nd St. and Bell Road and the town of Cave Creek, seven or so miles north. I had a few clients in Cave Creek so I drove those miles on a two-lane road full of drops down into washes then up again. Today the road is divided, two lanes to a side, no dips and the previously empty desert is full of subdivisions and strip malls. Compared to the eclectic neighborhoods of Seattle and Edmonds, the subdivisions are monotonic, ersatz adobe style, flat or tile roofs, varying shades of tan. It is early spring in the Sonoran desert and the cacti are getting ready to bloom, some already have. If I lived in one of those subdivisions, even though I still have positive feelings about the desert, I think I would need a trail of bread crumbs to find my house after a couple of glasses of Malbec.

 

The biggest change though is the shear number of people and the resulting traffic. I took Alexis to see where my clinic was and the building I built is still there. Here is a photo of the Paradise Animal Hospital in 1962:

My beautiful picture

Now the place is a Mexican furniture, knickknack and pottery store. We went in and most of the rooms of the clinic had been reconfigured and obviously repurposed. The indoor kennels have been removed and the openings to the outside runs closed. The outside runs have been removed. My old reception area is now a private office, my old office full of knickknacks for sale. Just for fun I peeked in the restroom. The fixtures have been replaced but the door to my old darkroom was still there, closed. I opened it and the room was empty but still painted black! Here is what the place looks like now:

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Charlize couldn’t have been less interested.

We’re on the road again, Charlize and I, this time with company. Alexis and her two Yorkshire terriers Mimi and Zsa Zsa are making travel even more fun. We left early Wednesday morning, the 4th of February. We crossed over Snoqualmie Pass in spitting snow but the road was clear. On the eastern slope the snow was heavier with spotty dense fog all the way to Yakima. Near Cle Elum in a patch of light fog the traffic was heavy and moving too fast for the conditions. I moved into the passing lane to get around a slow moving semi. A car came up fast and tailgated me. I watched in horror as a black SUV traveling west veered onto the median and went airborne flipping sideways at least three times, with parts of the vehicle separated and airborne. It landed on its wheels shuddering. There was only the soft median to pull onto and the car was still on my tail. There was a long line of cars on my right. I slowed and the traffic following swung around me. I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw that three cars had pulled off onto the right shoulder and all the drivers were on their cell phones. I was already too far away to get off the highway safely then get across to the median to offer any aid. I have Googled several times but can’t find any reports of a fatal accident at that location on that date. It was not an auspicious way to start our trip.

We pulled into Boise, ID that evening and checked into our first of many La Quinta Inns booked because of their dog welcoming policy. The receptionist offered dog treats, we call them “cookies” and at the mention of that word all three dogs commenced spinning. We enjoyed a nice dinner at the Alavita an Italian restaurant in downtown Boise only a few blocks from the State Capital Building. We decided that all the customers in suits and ties were lobbyists. If you are in Boise this restaurant is worth the effort and then some. Alexis and I always order different dishes and then share, it doubles the experience.

The next night we were in Ely, NV after a day of empty highways and empty spaces. We gained an hour back after losing it in Idaho. We got settled in the room then caught up with the local Ely Times and the Sherriff’s blotter, interesting stuff going on in tiny Ely. We tried to identify a place to eat but the choices were so limited we elected to eat some fruit we brought from home; the huge salads we consumed at lunch would tide us over.

All three dogs are now experienced car travellers. Whenever we stop they stay in the back of Whitey until their leashes are in place then take advantage of the first non-paved location we can find to do their business. Charlize taught the other two to take advantage of every opportunity.

Las Vegas, after a short drive, was Las Vegas. We walked the old part of downtown experiencing the low-rent Las Vegas. Then checked into our La Quinta before cleaning up and going to the “Strip” for some serious people watching and dinner. We discovered Vegas people watching to be a unique experience, on many levels. The casino staff people are interesting to observe since it appears their every action is calculated to obtain a gratuity. The slot machines draw an intense set of focused characters mesmerized by computerized spinning, flashing images. Blackjack players seem more social, more relaxed but still focused. All excitement focuses on the craps tables.

We wandered through the Cosmopolitan, where we took advantage of their free public parking, then the Bellagio. Mega casinos but we were there just observing. The problem was to try to escape the cigarette and cigar smoke. Apparently the people of Nevada are in denial about the adverse health effects of second-hand smoke. Maybe the casino workers have to sign some sort of legal document recognizing they are working in a hazardous environment and give up their right to sue. Our hotel was non-smoking though so perhaps the casinos have special dispensation.

Catnip, scientific name Nepeta cataria is a plant of the Lamiaceae or mint family that can be found cultivated or growing wild in North America and many other places in the world. It is a herbaceous perennial that grows to about 20-40 inches tall and wide with a square stem and brownish-green, coarse-toothed triangular to ovate leaves. The flowers are both showy and fragrant usually white and spotted with pale purple or pink, a nice addition to any garden.

The active ingredient is an essential oil, nepetalactone, and can be isolated by steam distillation. Nepetalactone is a known repellent for mosquitos, cockroaches and termites. It is reportedly ten times more effective against mosquitos than DEET, the active ingredient in most insect repellents but, unfortunately, is not very effective when applied to the skin.

Nepetalactone attracts cats, not only domestic cats. Tigers, leopards and lynxes have all been shown to react to catnip the same as domestic cats, lions less so. When your cat senses the bruised leaves or stems it will rub on the material, roll in it, paw at it, lick and chew it and display intense playful behavior. If the cat consumes enough of the plant it will usually demonstrate anxiety or leaping about and purring. Some cats will play growl, meow, scratch or bite at you if you are holding the plant material. They may become extremely hyperactive, running and jumping and aggressive if you try to take the “toy” away from them. After the cat loses interest in the catnip it may take as long as a couple of hours for the animal to “reset” and evidence interest again.

The nepetalactone is detected by the cat via their olfactory epithelium by binding to one or more olfactory receptors. The euphoria seems to wear off in about 5 to 15 minutes then the cat will become almost non-responsive, just sitting and staring into space. If too much of the material in ingested the cat may become mellow, drool and fall asleep. Only about 2/3 of cats respond to catnip, the others seem to ignore it and the typical response behavior seems to be hereditary. Other plants including Veleriana officinalis, Acalypha india (only the root) and plants that contain actinidine or iridomyrmecin will have similar effects on susceptible cats. When a responsive individual smells the catnip getting “high” from the smell seems to compel it to react in the same manner every time.

Researchers are uncertain about the neurological explanation for nepetalactone’s effect on cats. One theory is that the substance mimics so-called “happy pheromones” and stimulates specific receptors in the olfactory bulb, the amygdala and/or the hypothalamus in the brain.

While cats become hyperactive when exposed to catnip they are by nature survivors and know their limits. Most cats will back away once they have had enough so the substance is not toxic to cats. However if you have both dogs and cats in your house and allow your dog to walk through some Nepeta sp. your cat may pursue the dog with the intention of chewing or rubbing against any part of your dog that has come in contact with the plant material.

We are back in the Sandhills of Nebraska visiting old friends on their ranch, something in the neighborhood of 17,000 acres, Don tells us, “…just a medium sized place for this part of the country.”

I’ve known and been close friends with Don since 1954. He came back to operate the same ranch his great-grandfather put together. I spent the last sixty years living and working in seven different cities and two foreign countries. However, we have always kept in touch. Whenever it was possible our families got together and each time it was as though we had last seen each other the day before. Most fortunately our wives and children became good friends as well.

Don is an economist and widely read philosopher, always looking for a unique and logical way to explain what is wrong with the world and how it might be changed for the better. The stuff he reads is too complicated and deep for me, but he can explain it in terms I can understand. I’m a history buff and try to relate what is happening in the world to our failures to understand and benefit from history. We never lack for conversation that holds our interest and bores tears out of anyone who happens to listen in. That’s the fun part. We always leave with lists of recommended books to read.

Yesterday we had the first fall snow, not really a storm, but over two inches accumulation. Don has a group of calves weaned less than a week ago, pastured close to the house. They are fed a protein supplement and hay each morning and are calming down and settling in. Yesterday’s feeding was done in the storm such as it was, about eight in the morning. Today we are in bright sunshine.

 

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Yesterday they gathered the calves in the snow on horseback.

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Making certain all the calves got their share.

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This morning the calves were gathered and fed using a pickup and an ATV.

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Done with this chore for today. The calves are happy and content.

Historically dogs are most commonly associated with biting humans and transmitting rabies. It is now clear that in the U.S. cats are more often diagnosed with rabies than dogs. The number of verified cases of rabies in cats has increased and now there are three times as many cat cases reported compared to the diagnosis in dogs.

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) says that approximately 34-37 percent of families or individuals with pet cats do not take those animals to a veterinarian. The likelihood of those animals being vaccinated to prevent rabies is low to nonexistent. At least a third of all cats not vaccinated? That is a troubling statistic made even more so by cat owners who do take their animals to a veterinarian but have failed to have them vaccinated against rabies.

This is not a rare disease. In 2010 fewer cases of rabies were reported compared to previous years in the U.S. but there were 6,153 cases in animals from 48 states and Puerto Rico verified. Raccoons were most commonly diagnosed (36.5%), skunks (23.5%), bats (25.2%), foxes (7.0%) and the rest in other species including some rodents. Domestic animals accounted for 8% of all verified cases and we still have 2 or 3 cases in humans every year. Last year a woman in Maryland died following a kidney transplant from a donor who was apparently incubating the disease. Other patients that received organs from that donor received preventive care and are, apparently, not affected. Rabid animals can and do come into contact with our pets, especially cats allowed outside. Imagine the response of your cat to a rabid bat, not able to fly, flopping around on your lawn.

The rabies virus is a member of the Lyssavirus genus of the Rhabdoviridae family and survives in both wild and domestic species including farm animals. When I was in veterinary school we were often reminded that exposure for veterinarians was most commonly due to suspecting “choke”, an object lodged in the esophagus of a bovine that prevents the animal from swallowing, when the animal actually has rabies. When I worked for the U.N. for a year in the veterinary school at the Autonomous University of Mexico I almost fell victim to this. Students were handling a cow that was profusely salivating, even putting their hands in its mouth. I almost did the same before remembering what had been drummed into us. We isolated the cow that developed other signs of rabies within hours, died and rabies was confirmed on necropsy. Most veterinarians today have received preventive vaccination for rabies, at least I hope they have.

New oral vaccines for rabies have recently been developed and distributed in bait. This program has successfully reduced the incidence of rabies in rural areas of the U.S., Canada, France and other environments. A serious outbreak of rabies in raccoons in the Mount Royal park area of Montreal, Canada was brought under control using this resource.

So, … get your cat vaccinated. With Halloween soon upon us a bat could fly into your house, your cat pounces on it, gets bit and then you get exposed when your cat bites you.

Question from a reader:

We were gone on vacation and left our dog in a very nice pet hotel where she was allowed to play with the other dogs. Three days after we brought her home she developed a very persistent dry hacking cough. I’ve given her some cough medicine and it helps for a short while but then she is right back coughing. She doesn’t seem ill since she eats and plays but the cough seems to be getting worse. What’s going on?

With the history and signs you provided my best guess, without examining the animal thoroughly, would be kennel cough (trachea-bronchitis, i.e. inflammation of the trachea and bronchi sometimes also called Bordetella). You need to get your dog to your veterinarian as soon as you can for a complete exam and workup. If she does have trachea-bronchitis and it is left untreated it could result in pneumonia and be life-threatening. There are other conditions that can cause this kind of cough and those need to be eliminated from the diagnosis.

Kennel cough is highly contagious, spread from dog to dog via airborne droplets breathed in a confined spaced, such as a kennel, or from direct contact with another animal that is infected, play dates, or even from contact with the causative agents on contaminated surfaces such as a communal water dish at the dog park. The etiology (cause) can be a variety of organisms viral, bacterial and most commonly a combination. Viral infections with the canine parainfluenza virus, canine coronavirus, canine distemper virus, canine herpes virus or canine reovirus make the animal more susceptible to infection with the most common bacterial villain; Bordetella bronchisptica (hence the other name Bordetella). This bacteria has been isolated in more than 75% of cases of this disease and is frequently found along with other opportunistic bacteria.

Most boarding kennels will not accept an animal without an up-to-date vaccination history and the vaccinations provided by your veterinarian will prevent this disease in most cases. However, like the flu vaccine for humans, vaccinations are not one hundred percent effective and some infections are a result of Bordetella alone. There are a few vaccines that are effective, long term, for bacteria but Bordetella does not seem to be one of them.

Treatment is with supportive care if necessary for dehydration, rest (pulling against a collar or heavy exercise will exacerbate the coughing) and cough suppressants. Antibiotics effective against the secondary or primary bacterial agent may be prescribed. Since Bordetella is by far the most common culprit your veterinarian may not bother with trying to culture and do an antibiotic sensitivity test to identify the best antibiotic to use, although this might be indicated in a persistent case. Most veterinarians will treat with the antibiotic or combination of antibiotics that have been most successful in their practice. Make certain you follow the directions and give the entire dose since we do not need more antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria around.

The good news is that this disease, if properly treated, is usually not life threatening. You can expect the distress inducing (in you) coughing to decrease and go away within 3-6 weeks.

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