the good, the bad, and the kitty

New blog @ For the Birds.
May 5, 2009, 8:04 am
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Visit my raptor rehabilitation blog for a new entry about my Best. Rehab. Ever.


“little kitty in a big wilderness”
April 24, 2009, 10:57 am
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yesterday (4.23.09) was the one-month anniversary of my kitty sunshine’s passing.  it still hurts.  bad. 

at work i was thinking about her and got very sad.  i haven’t had any dreams about her lately, though ryan and i both have started seeing what we call "cats that aren’t there" around the house since she died.  orange ones.  just like her.

as i was driving to the raptor center last night, i saw an orange kitty on the side of the road near one of my favorite spots.  i slowed down and our eyes met – she didn’t look much like sunshine up close except for the fact that she was an orange tabby.  her eyes were electric blue and her nose was pink as a gumball.  i pulled over and got out of the car, my intent being to charm her.  she was obviously feral and took off as soon as i approached.  i snapped these photos from a distance as she disappeared into the wilderness.

is it coincidence that i saw this pretty orange kitty on the anniversary of sunshine’s death?  was it one of her weird little ways of letting me know that she’s still out there, now part of everything i see?  several weeks ago, i dreamed that she appeared in the living room, and kept appearing over and over so that there were sunshines everywhere.  it made me feel very happy, because i know it was her way of telling me that she IS everywhere now.

she is part of nature.  she is the trees, the grass, the stars.  she is the daffodils blooming in my yard.  she is the breeze that swept my face this morning.

where ever you are today, sweet pea, i miss you.

Annual MRP Clean-up Day
April 20, 2009, 9:25 am
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Saturday was the annual Macbride Raptor Project clean-up day, and for as much as I was dreading it beforehand, I ended up having a very good time.

The day began at 9am. It was sunny and a bit cool but when I started cleaning out Spirit (the bald eagle)’s cage, I got warm real quick. I raked the debris from the gravel, scraped old poop from the walls, and removed mouse/pig/quail/etc. guts, and I swiped a couple of gross little “presents” for my friend Paula, whose birthday was this weekend. When the crew came in with the power washers, I then repeated the process in two or three other cages, none of which were (thankfully) as gross as the eagle’s.

After that I helped clean and spread mulch in the butterfly garden, which was interesting because I hardly ever go over there. Not once in my visits have I ever seen a butterfly in or around the butterfly garden. But now, since I am always one to take pride in my work, I might have to pay that place a visit and admire the finely spread mulch and leaf-less trail.

While in the butterfly garden, I helped some of the environmental education teachers (who were helping us make the MRp sparking clean) re-build the log structure for the butterflies to hide in. We must have disturbed a nest of baby mice, as we found one crawling along one of the logs and one scrambling along the ground. They were incredibly tiny – they were soft gray in color and their eyes weren’t even open yet. When I held the little fella in my hand, he began squeaking teeny tiny little squeaks that broke my heart. We surveyed the area and didn’t see any others, so I picked up the one on the ground and placed him near the other mouse. One of the teachers gathered some pine needles and dry grass and tried to make a little protective nest for the mice inside the log structure. I hope neither of them become dinner for a hungry raptor…but in a place like that, where mice are featured nightly on the menu, it’s hard to be optimistic. At least I had a hand in helping them be safe for the day.

Lunchtime came and went all to quickly, and after that I got back to work mulching, hammering, hanging signs, and replacing the Astroturf on some of the owls’ perches. I learned a valuable lesson about poultry nails, and that lesson is that poulty nails are good for two things: frustration and injuries. I hope to never encounter another poultry nail as long as I live.

I ended up saying long after most of the other volunteers had left and I had one objective: to put Petra back in her cage. I only mentioned it about 10 times during the day to anyone who might have delegation powers when it came to putting all the birds back once the cages were clean, but I hung around by her little box to make sure nobody else jumped at the chance. After putting Otus, the long-eared owl, and the armpit biter great horned owl from the flight cage back to their respective homes, I got Petra leashed up and she rode so sweetly on my hand back to her cage like the wonderful little darling that she is. This year, I had the presence of mind to have someone snap a photo:

So much love!

So much love!: Petra (Northern Saw-whet owl) and me

Thanks again to Steph for agreeing to be my photographer. It was truly the highlight of my day.

I ended up leaving the MRP around 5pm, which means I put in a good solid 8 hours of manual labor. Like I said, though, despite all the hard work I had a really good time. I did a lot more this year than I did last year and talked to a lot of different people who I hadn’t talked to before, including a woman who is writing a book on owl rehabilitators. I gave her my email address and hopefully she will contact me to be part of her project. After pizza and a glass of wine when I got home, I was dead to the world. I fell asleep on the sofa, and dreamed little feathered owl dreams.

Raptor Rehab
April 13, 2009, 6:58 pm
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Check out my wildlife rehabilitation blog for a new entry about my first official act as the Monday rehabber at the Macbride Raptor Project!

For the Birds. —

villisca axe murder house
April 7, 2009, 8:58 am
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I am posting this report documenting my night in the Villisca Axe Murder House in conjunction with the photos I recently transferred from Photobucket to Flickr.


After driving right past the exit the first time around, having to backtrack 16 miles, and then going on the detour from hell (which literally took us about 30 miles out of our way to get into the town), my friends and I arrived Saturday afternoon in Villisca, IA, to spend the night in the Villisca Axe Murder house — the site of the semi-infamous 1912 murder in which the six members of the J.B.. Moore family and two visiting guests, Lena and Ina Stillinger (ages 12 and 8), were bludgeoned to death in their sleep with an axe. While there were three people tried for the murder over the course of about six years, no one was convicted and it remains unsolved to this day.

We pulled into town at about 4:30 pm, and were to meet Darwin Linn (the organizer of the tours and owner of the House) at the Linn-Olson Museum at about 6:30. We wandered around town for a while (which we were able to do on foot since Villisca boasts a population of about 1300 people) and then had a bite to eat at the D&D Bar and Grill, a place where the waitress called everybody “honey” and everything was deep fried. (Megism #1: While placing her order, Meg was asked what kind of steak sauce she wanted with her meal: Heinz 57 or A-1. In a moment of bewilderment, Meg said “What? I can’t add that fast.”) It was on the same block as the museum, so we wandered back down to the other corner and I took pictures while we waited for Darwin to show.

At 6:30, Darwin arrived and gave us a tour of the museum, and then after Nikki, Joel, and I purchased our commemorative Villisca Axe Murder T-shirts, we were off to the cemetery to see the graves of the victims. The sun was setting and it was really a very beautiful cemetery. Darwin spun tales about the town at the time of the murder as well as the people involved, while we all wandered around and looked at the graves of the Moore family, Stillinger girls and their family, and various members of the Jones family.

We arrived at the house at approximately 7:30 pm, I believe. It was almost dark, and while we all unloaded the vehicles and made use of the bathroom in the small barn behind the house, Darwin went inside and lit the hurricane lamps. The house was restored back to the state it was in in 1912, so there was no electricity or running water in the house. We took our stuff inside after Darwin gave the go-ahead and we made camp in the living room.

From there Darwin took us through the house, and explained it room by room. The downstairs bedroom, or blue room, he said, was where the two Stillinger girls had been sleeping that night, and apparently this is one of the places known to have the most activity. Upstairs, the first room we came to was the parents’ room, and beyond that was the room where the four Moore children slept. In between these two rooms there was a closet, and behind the closet there was the attic crawl space. It was thought that the murderer slipped into the house while the family was at church on the night of the murders, and hid in this attic crawl space while waiting for the family to fall asleep. This is thought to be the most haunted place in the house.

On the drive to Villisca, Nikki told me about some recurring dreams she had been having in the weeks leading up to the trip. In the dream, she is in an unfamiliar place, frantically trying to save herself or someone she loves, and said that she felt as though she was fighting for her life in the dream. She mentioned having dreams in the past about places and then later actually showing up somewhere and recognizing the place from her dream. We chatted a bit more and I mentioned the closet in the upstairs bedroom where it..s thought that one of the Moore children hid from the murderer. “Are you kidding me?” she asked, her face like a sheet. I said no, and then she said that in her dream, she remembers being in a closet, peering out through a cracked door and holding her breath so whatever is after her doesn’t hear. She had no prior knowledge of the theory about the child hiding in the closet. The closer we got to Villisca, the more nervous she got. She said as soon as we set foot in the house, she became nauseous and ill, and when she saw the closet leading to the attic crawl-space, she recognized it as the one from her dream. A few minutes later she became so upset in the children’s room that she had to leave the house and got sick in the barn bathroom outside.

Darwin gave the final wrap-up speech and left us alone in the house at about 8:30. We sat outside and smoked for a while, some people had some beers, and then we decided to go back into the house. Within minutes of being back inside, Joel captured a moving orb on video in the blue room. He and I walked through the house with our video cameras, and he set his up in the children’s room on a tripod to see if he could capture anything. We went back downstairs and goofed around in the living room for a while, trying to lighten the atmosphere for the long night ahead of us. After a while, Joel went back upstairs to check his video camera and came back down announcing that the battery had gone dead already after it had been fully charged. (Having fully charged batteries suddenly lose all their juice is commonly a sign of spiritual activity and had been reported in the house quite frequently.) By 9:30 pm, Nikki’s camera battery (also fully charged) had also died.

The six of us spent some time in the children’s room rolling a plastic yellow ball around. Other visitors to the house had reported the ball stopping itself and rolling in a different direction as though someone/thing had given it a nudge. Nothing of that nature happened to us in the 10-15 minutes we rolled the ball around, so we decided to go back downstairs.

Since my Nikon camera wasn’t capturing anything, I decided to take my smaller digital camera around, and I was able to capture several orb photos in the blue room. They liked Josh for some reason and in each photo there are a few orbs surrounding him. Nikki, Aaron, Josh, and I went outside for a smoke break and when we came back inside (at around 11:50 pm), Joel and Meg – who had both been inside in the living room the whole time – reported hearing knocking noises from upstairs while we were all outside.

From about 12m till 1:30 am, Nikki, Meg, Joel, Aaron, and I napped in the living room. The most activity in the house is reported between 2 and 4 am, so we wanted to be alert. Nikki tried setting the alarm on her cell phone to wake us up at 1:30, but within minutes of doing so the battery went completely dead where it had been fully charged. While we were all sleeping, Josh sat upstairs in the children’s room alone for about 40 minutes but reported nothing out of the ordinary.

Upon waking at approximately 1:45 am and spending a little time outside for a wake-up smoke break, the six of us went to the kids’ room upstairs because that was one of the places in the house to report the most spiritual activity. Nikki, Meg, and myself experienced feelings of great nervousness upon entering the room, and Nikki, Aaron, and myself all reported feeling a tightness in our chests. We sat in the children’s room for a while when all of a sudden Nikki’s camera – with the dead battery, mind you – starts making noises in the next room. These sounds were recorded on video – it sounded like a clicking noise followed by a tape rewinding or something like that. No one was in the room and as I said, the battery was completely dead. None of us know how to explain that. After calming down after the camera went off, we all sat in a circle in the children’s room and attempted to contact any presence with the crystal pendulum that was left in the house for such purposes. We received no indications that any sort of presence was trying to communicate with us through the crystal.

We all went about our business after this, some going outside, some roaming around in the house for a while. At about 3 am, we all went back to the children’s room upstairs and sat quietly for about 10-15 minutes, but there was no activity then either. Prior to this, however, Nikki and Aaron reported some noise from the staircase. Josh and I were downstairs and announced that we were heading up to the second floor (as a precautionary measure to not freak Nik and Aaron out), and when we got there Nikki asked, “How long were you guys standing there?” We said that we hadn’t been, that we said we were coming upstairs and then went up. They both agreed that before Josh and I even called up to say we were on our way, they heard footsteps at the top of the stairs. Following this was more noise from the camera in the parents’ room (which was next to the children’s room upstairs). The battery was still dead.

Between 3:30 and 4 am, Joel and I both noticed temperature changes in the blue room. We were in there filming and taking photos, and all of a sudden the area by the door (where I was standing) got very cold. We went into the living room for a few minutes and then went back to the blue room, and the temperature was normal.

Right around 4 am, people started falling asleep again. I thought I heard footsteps from upstairs and on the staircase, but it’s hard to say if they were real or if I imagined them in my hypnagogic state. Thank goodness for Meg’s comic relief: she was talking in her sleep and saying silly things like “The water is safe!” and “Hi, uh, Amy?” It was a nice little ice breaker to ease the tension into sleep. Nikki and I were eventually the only two awake, and neither of us wanted to be the last one up. I don’t know who won out on that one.

When I fell asleep, I had a very strange and vivid dream in which I heard two little girls’ voices but saw no one. The girls in the dream called each other Lena and Ina, which were the names of the visiting Stillinger girls. I remember detecting a very strong male presence in the dream, but again, I saw no males nor heard their voices. I did hear loud stomping from upstairs and on the stairs, as well as the back door in the kitchen opening and slamming shut several times. I awoke to a pounding heart and heavy breathing, as I didn’t realize I had been dreaming. A few minutes later, I calmed down and fell back asleep. I’m not sure what time this occurred.

Joel woke everybody up at about 7 am and was in a hurry to return home so he could review his footage. We left Villisca at about 8:30 after doing a final walk-through and gathered our belongings. Nikki was still overwhelmed and became emotional in the car a couple of times, but has since said that she’s feeling back to normal. We rolled into Iowa City at about 1:30 pm, gave hugs, and parted ways. I watched my video and fell asleep for three hours. There were no dreams.

Other random information:
–Meg, who was rather skeptical going into the whole thing, said she felt very nervous toward the blue room and would not go in there. She also said she didn’t like the upstairs and oftentimes opted to stay downstairs in the living room even when everyone else went up.

–Aaron and Joel both agreed that there was some sort of presence in the attic and that it could be felt immediately upon opening the door. Nikki also felt a very strong presence there, and said she nearly collapsed to the floor upon entering. I, too, had to actually force myself to set foot in there during Darwin’s tour of the house. Whatever ‘force’ was in there was definitely strong.

— Several people, myself included, reported nervousness toward the blue room. It appeared as though most of the ‘activity’ took place in there, as several orbs were caught on film. I captured several still photos and Joel got four total moving orbs on film.

— Nikki was very sensitive to the presence of the mother in the house and after we left, she said that she became convinced that the mother was aware of the danger facing her children on the night of the murder. She is the only one of us who is a mother herself, so her impressions made perfect sense to me.

My final conclusion is that there is definitely a presence in that house, if not more. Even though we did not witness physical evidence, the feeling of the house was enough to convince me. Add into that Joel’s orbs and Nikki’s possessed camera, and I think I can officially say that I spent the night in a haunted house.

And I would go back to do it all over again in a second.

March 6, 2009, 9:21 am
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skull profile PICNIK, originally uploaded by kitty cat bandit.

I shot some photos for the UI Museum of Natural History last Wednesday. I am currently in the process of working on the fruits of my labors, and am extremely pleased with the results! Here, a sample photo of what I’ve been doing… Click the image to link to my Flickr page and see more.

WANTED: Pet survivors of traumatic illnesses.
January 21, 2009, 9:53 am
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I am looking to compile portraits, essays, and anecdotes about pets who have been through traumatic surgeries, illness, etc. and survived. My cat recently had emergency surgery to remove an obstruction from her small intestine (and she is doing great), and it has inspired me to put together a project of portraits and short essays about amazing pets just like her. I hope to turn this project into a book eventually.

If your pet has been injured or ill to the point that it was life-threatening and would like to be included in this project, please get in touch with me ASAP. I am currently looking to put in stories and photos of pets who survived the ordeal, but I am also considering a special memorial section for pets who unfortunately were not so lucky. Thanks.

I am a freelance photographer in the Iowa City area and also a huge animal lover. If you allow me into your home to photograph your pet and listen to his or her story, I will treat you and your pet with nothing but the utmost respect.

If you do not personally have a pet who has been through such an event but know someone who does, please either refer me to them, or vice versa.

For samples of my photography, visit

Dawn Frary