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    Steamed clams abound at Cedar Key, but the best deal was found at the Big Deck with two dozen large clams for only $10.99. PAT FOSTER-TURLEY/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER

Evacuation bonus: The best place for clams

Bucko and I, and our cat Dumela, have been through this hurricane evacuation drill before. We are basically retired and have a free schedule, so we can leave Fernandina Beach well ahead of any masses and we go to a place where we like to vacation anyway – Cedar Key. For Hurricane Irma, this strategy didn’t work out so well when the storm changed direction and we were also evacuated from Cedar Key. But this time, for Hurricane Dorian, the plan worked fine.

On Monday morning, we quickly nabbed Dumela from the foot of our bed and forced her into her crate, packed up some belongings and food, and headed west well before the storm.

Between bouts of concern for our own home and grief for Bahamians already being decimated, we did our usual Cedar Key things. We drove down deserted country roads and nature loops, we walked down docks and trails, and we sampled what the local restaurants had to offer. Meanwhile, Dumela had her own agenda. She thoroughly explored her new room, investigated the smells of the previous animals in this pet-friendly place, and found new places to hide, just in case. Getting back in the crate was not her plan.

Bucko and I came up with projects to occupy us during this visit. Mine was to sample and compare the steamed clams at the three major clam-oriented restaurants on Dock Street. Cedar Key is known for its clam-rearing aquaculture industry and clams abound here, but which place is the best? That was my task – an easy one for sure. Steamers Clam Bar & Grill sold 25 steamed clams for $9.99, a deal it seemed. But the clams were tiny and the meat was no bigger than my pinky nail. Duncan’s on the Gulf, down the way, had a dozen much larger clams for $11. More meat, yes, and worth $1 more. Both Steamers’ and Duncan’s clams were served in a light broth with hot bread or toast. OK. But then I found the clam bonanza. At the Big Deck Raw Bar across the street, I got 24 large clams for only $10.99! Sure, there was no hot bread, only crackers, and not much broth, but wow – the clams! While I feasted, a large man near me was ordering his fourth plate of two-dozen clams – he obviously knew a good thing when he saw it.

Bucko’s project was more complicated and much more essential. As a former animal trainer, he was determined to get Dumela back in her crate with no muss and fuss at the end of our visit. Dumela is a very wise cat that doesn’t quickly forget indignities, so he started “conditioning” her early.

On our last evacuation trip to Cedar Key, Bucko was able to get her in the crate by giving her the treats she loves in front of the cage, and eventually just inside the door. When it was time to nab her, he just waited for the right moment and shoved her in. Well, now that technique doesn’t work anymore. This time, he put her food dish near the crate, but it took her a day or more to eat anything. And forget the treats by the door. If we were anywhere near her, she would not eat these tidbits near the crate, so Bucko had to be more creative to outwit this cat.

This time, he came up with the “brush, brush” technique. Dumela loves being brushed, and on this trip to Cedar Key, he brushed her a lot. He’d call out “brush, brush” to summon her to the bed. She’d jump on it, and he’d brush her till her eyes rolled up in ecstasy. Then he would follow up with treats near her crate. She enjoyed his brushing so much our last night there that she even slept on our bed between both of us, not just at my feet as she normally does. I felt sorry for them both when the next morning he would do the same thing, then grab her and toss her in the crate. Her trust would be broken. And with this cat, it would take a long time for her to really trust him again.

But have no fear, it all worked out. In the morning, Bucko made his move at dawn when Dumela was still asleep on the bed. He nabbed her and in the box she went before she really even woke up. At home in the aftermath, Dumela avoided us for about 24 hours – still worried about being crated again, I guess. But now, as I write this, she is sitting nearby watching me type. All is well in our and her world once again, and your own too, I hope, now that another hurricane has passed us by.


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Fernandina Beach, FL 32035

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