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Friday, May 26, 2017

How do I get a flag on my relative's grave for Memorial Day?

“I recently found out that one of my relatives fought in the Civil War. How do I make sure that he gets a flag on his grave for Memorial Day?”

Our patron’s relative was not buried in Newton Falls, but we were able to easily locate the rules and regulations for the cemetery where they were buried on the internet. The rules stated that the Memorial Day flags were property of the township and would be displayed for “a reasonable time.” We decided that our most straightforward option would be to contact the township directly, so we called the cemetery sexton, who had listed his phone number on the website, and he was able to solve the problem. We also could have called the local chapter of the American Legion.

According to Holiday Symbols and Customs, edited by Sue Ellen Thompson, Memorial Day, first called “Decoration Day,” originated as a day to honor Civil War soldiers. The first official observance was in Waterloo, New York on May 5, 1866, though other towns were decorating soldiers’ graves before then, including women in Columbus, Mississippi, who gathered on April 25, 1866 to decorate the graves of both the Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

The first nationwide Decoration Day was held by the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union Army veterans’ group, on May 30, 1868. As Union Army veterans were the first to mark the day, several southern states felt that it was only for them, so states instituted their own Confederate Memorial Days on different dates ranging from late  April to early June. This custom mostly ended after World War I, when the American Legion took over planning the holiday.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Do big cats like lions get hairballs?

One of our patrons has been dealing with his cat’s hairballs as the weather warms up and the cat sheds more of its winter coat. Since they groom themselves by licking their coats just like their domestic cousins, wildcats have this same undignified issue.

Hair typically passes through a cat’s digestive system without causing any issue, but sometimes it collects in a hairball which, if not vomited up, can cause an intestinal blockage that must be surgically removed. These troublesome hairballs have made it into the news at least twice in recent years – in 2013, CBS reported on a 4-pound hairball that was removed from a 400-pound tiger, and in 2015, there was an ABC news story about a 450-pound lion that needed a 3.8-pound hairball removed.

Grooming is important for cats, and not only because it keeps them clean. According to Wild Discovery Guide to Your Cat, grooming can regulate body temperature, with cats aligning the hair to better retain heat in cold weather and using saliva as a coolant when it’s hot out. Mutual grooming allows cats to exchange scents, and may help strengthen social bonds. Grooming also seems to serve as the cat equivalent of nail-biting, with cats using it to displace anxiety.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Have the same birds been nesting at my pond for years?

“A pair of mourning doves have nested at my pond every year for the past ten years. Are they the same birds?”

We looked in Noah Strycker’s The Thing with Feathers, Julie Zickerfoose’s The Bluebird Effect, and Ohio Bird Watching by Bill Thompson III and found that there’s no real way to be sure. The average lifespan of a wild mourning dove is a year and a half, but some have been known to live for ten years or longer. According to, the oldest dove was at least thirty years old when he was killed.

Mourning doves travel in flocks but tend to be monogamous during the breeding season. The male stays close to his mate while she forages, guarding her and showing off by inflating his crop to display the iridescent feathers on his neck. The pair can produce 2-6 clutches in a season. The female lays two eggs at a time, which both parents incubate for about two weeks. Once the young hatch, they will remain in the nest for two more weeks.

Birds that return to the same nesting place have a good chance of pairing up with the same mate, so it’s possible that our patron is seeing the same two birds, though their short lifespans make it unlikely. Mourning doves will sometimes reuse their own or other species’ nests, and that tendency may also be in play.