Tag Archives: animals

zoo residents

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I have a running joke with my mother about the number of days that our kids are in school in France.  As a retired US teacher, my mother thinks it is hilarious that nearly every time I speak to her I tell her that the kids have an upcoming day off, or that they’ve just had a day off.

I’m not going to lie, there are many, many holidays in France.  In the month of May alone, there were 5 school days off.  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but kids here have a half day of school every Wednesday (and some children, in certain grades have no school at all).  That said, the school day is longer here and the summer vacation is shorter.  In the end, I’m sure it’s about the same as the US, but it seems so different (and I love it).

So during the last holiday weekend we decided to head south back to the Loire Valley with some good friends to see more castles, the only panda bear in France, and some wine caves – not at all in that order.  As far as the castles go, you’ve got to see them to believe them – no amount of narrative can do those things justice.  And as for the wine, tasting is believing.  Sorry I can’t be more descriptive.

As we were walking through the zoo to see the pandas, we came upon an outdoor habitat that had a huge crowd around it.  When I walked a bit closer to check out what the crowd was looking at, I was slightly stunned and mostly horrified.  The huge crowd had gathered to view the North American Raccoon.  One of the raccoons in this habitat had clearly learned to work the crowd as he was sticking his little paw out from underneath the glass of his habitat to try to get food from the awestruck tourists.  As we North Americans know, depending on where you live, the raccoon  ranks right up there with the skunk or squirrel for household menaces.  I was half expecting to see big trash cans in the raccoon habitat as the food source.

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See the look on this guy’s face?  It’s almost like, “Oh shit, I’ve been spotted by an American who knows that I eat trash and live near dumpsters.  Please don’t tell anyone in France!”

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Generally speaking, I support the existence of zoos as a concept, but I often feel bad for most of the animals in them.  Especially when you see the big cats who generally roam many miles each day cooped up in big glass enclosures, it makes me a bit sad.  I know they’re well fed and well cared for, but still…..

But you know what?  The North American Racoon has got a sweet deal in the French zoo.  No more trash picking for him.  Even though raccoons are nocturnal, this group of raccoons was wide awake and putting on quite a show for the adoring crowds.

And the giant pandas?  Those dudes were fast asleep.  On a scale of animal popularity the raccoons stole the show.

{On a side note, the boys and I were in Paris the other day at the Menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes.  The Menagerie is a small zoo that was created in 1794 and according to Wikipedia, it is the oldest zoo in the world.  There were also a very active set of North American Raccoons there with a big caption under their habitat that read “The Americans in Paris.”  No wonder our international reputation can be iffy.}

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france has changed me

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Here’s a good story for you:  When I was a young child, we had a cat named Mittens.  Although I loved that cat, I had terrible allergies and eventually my parents made the decision to give the cat away to alleviate my need for weekly allergy shots.  My parents knew that I would be heartbroken, so they gave the cat away without telling me and they decided to wait until I noticed that the cat was gone to talk to me about the need to do so.

My mother walked around on pins and needles for a day, and then a couple, waiting for me to notice that the cat was gone.  I didn’t notice.  In fact, it took me TWO WEEKS to notice that the cat was gone.  By the time I finally realized it (when a friend was visiting and asked to see my cat), any amount of anguish my parents felt about their decision, was erased by the amount of time it took me to realize the cat was missing.  In fact, when I was finally told that my cat was gone and I broke down in tears, my parents laughed in my face.  I kid you not.

As an adult, I don’t really have any major problem with cats – as long as they’re owned by other people.  I’m a dog girl, plain and simple.  Since we moved to France and had to leave our dog in the US (heartbreaking), I’ve had a recurring dream that I would find a little stray French mutt that needed a good home.  No dice, sadly.  Since French dogs are treated very well, it would be extremely difficult to find a stray.  Cats on the other hand are a dime a dozen around here.  They roam the backyards walking along all the walls that separate the backyards and fight with each other at night.  Since we’ve moved in here, we’ve had the distinct feeling that if they chose to all gang up on us, we would be dead meat.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, a small scruffy looking cat walked up to me in my back yard as I was hanging out.  This is unusual because most cats here are not friendly at all and despite being surrounded by hundreds of cats, I had yet to have a meaningful interaction with one.  I petted it and that was pretty much all I planned to do.  Until it started meowing at me and it appeared to be hungry.  So I did what any person would do in the face of a starving, scruffy cat.  I gave it some milk.  And that, my friends, should be the end of the story.  But of course, it isn’t.

The next thing I knew, the kids came outside to see the scruffy cat and Owen went next door to tell our elderly cat-loving neighbor, Mme Mossot, the woman who rescued the kittens from our yard in the fall, that we found a friendly cat for her to take in.  When he came back from her house, he was carrying a big bag of cat food.

Shit.

Apparently our elderly friend recently took in two more friendly strays and was completely maxed out.

We fed him for a day and then Owen asked the big question, “Can we please keep him?  PLEASE?”  My response was, “We may be able to keep him if he lives outside in our yard and never, EVER, comes in our house.”  As an adult, I’ve been tested for allergies and it would appear I have outgrown my cat allergies, but I’ve always used it as a good excuse never to get a cat when my kids would ask.  It’s been kind of a little secret between me and my allergist.

But there are only so many chilly nights a dog lover can watch a scruffy cat sleep under a bush in the yard and not start to feel slightly insensitive.  Especially when the kids are saying things like, “He’s FREEZING to death out there!” or “How would you feel if you didn’t have a home?” or better yet, “How would you feel if somebody made you sleep under a bush every night when SHE got to sleep in a warm and cozy bed in a house?”  My kids are nothing if not persistent.

Even though my kids have compared me to Despicable Me’s Mother in the past and they know I have no love of cats, they were starting to wear me down, especially because they could see that I had no allergic reaction when the cat was around me.  But what really sealed the deal was Mme Mossot.  She showed up at our house to say “thank you” for caring for this scruffy cat and she told me all about her crusade to help homeless cats in town.  She nearly broke my heart with her stories of saving cats and I’ve witnessed her magic as she wrangled the wild kittens and found them a good home.  While she was over at our house, she stared calling our nameless cat “Justin” in homage to her favorite old cat who had died.  I was arguing to name him “Dog,” but I was out voted.  Justin he is.

I really think living in France has made me lose a bit of my mind.  I never thought I would own a cat, and you better believe that I would never have named my cat Justin – it’s a little too similar to the other famous Justin for my taste.  Just so you know, his name sounds MUCH better when you say it in French.  It sounds something like:

JUSE-ta

About the last person I wanted to tell about our cat was my mother.  I was hoping to keep it a secret until her next visit, but unfortunately for me, Owen was so excited, he had to get on the phone to tell her all about him.  When my mother heard that we now owned a cat named Justin, she had to rehash the Mittens story for me (AGAIN!) and then she proceeded to laugh her ass off.  Luckily she couldn’t laugh in my face, since we’re separated by a very big ocean.

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