These are the stories of my life, rescuing, socializing, and standing up for the rights of cats everywhere. It’s an amazing journey, one of inner and outer tribulation and triumph, of heartache and hope. As I struggle to make ends meet, get my Non-Profit cat rescue off the ground and simply find my way in the world; I extend my hand out and ask you to join me in my dream of finding a home for every cat and to stop the insanity of euthanizing adoptable animals as a way of population control.
And I do all that while caring for my own 8 cats who leave me somewhat cranky and perpetually Covered in Cat Hair.
Rescuing a senior cat takes a brave-hearted soul. You know that your new friend may have already given up a few of his nine lives when you bring him home, but maybe because of that you love him even more. Meet Sammi, a very lucky, loved cat who began a new life after the age of 14. He had great joy in his final years living to be 21 years old. The rest of this post is written by his mama, Jamaka, in his honor.
©Jamaka. Used with Permission.
I had just lost my father and one week later, a beloved cat I had adopted from a local shelter just a couple of months previous (completely unexpected: her hind quarters gave out very suddenly and X-rays revealed a mass that the emergency doctor said was probably cancer. She was suffering. I had to make "the decision" and I didn't know if I could endure it, but I had to, so I did.) A dear friend told me that she and her husband had some friends, an elderly couple in Beverly Hills, who were looking to re-home their 14-year-old Maine Coon cat because they were infirm. At the time, I didn't know if I was ready, but after thinking about it, I said yes, if they could wait awhile. When I felt the time was right, I told my friend and she brought him to me.
©Jamaka. Used with Permission.
I knew he was a Maine Coon cat, but I was totally unprepared for the sight that presented to me upon opening his carrier. To me, all cats are beautiful because all cats are loved; Sammi was something else entirely. I had never seen such a magnificent cat! His coloring, in shades of amber, was leonine, as was his massive mane. And I had never seen a cat with BROWN eyes, but his were a lovely shade of cognac. His kit included a sleeping basket, a (definitely required) Furminator, and food and treats in turkey formula/flavor. He was quickly installed in the room I had prepared for him, and our new lives began.
©Jamaka. Used with Permission.
©Jamaka. Used with Permission. Sammi's first day in his new home.
Our lives together were blissful. Sammi caught the eye of our queen, Rani, and they were quite an "item", curling up together and indulging in mutual grooming sessions. He enjoyed toys, and played with a lot of the huge variety we have all over the house. Having been deprived of his front claws, he was not much of a jumper or climber; and I fixed "steps" up to the beds so that he wouldn't have a hard time finding his comfort. His favorite spots included his very own faux sheepskin window perch in the dining room and his observation post in the entry hall, where he would watch the world go by and keep tabs on the birds. Twice, I failed to latch the back door completely and was surprised to find him taking a stroll out near where the bird feeder is, on alert. Of course I scooped him right up and brought him in, but he always remembered his trips to the wild, wide world beyond his "palace" and often asked to repeat them. I didn't honor his wishes, because I believe cats, especially those who have been parted from their claws, belong indoors, safe and protected.
©Jamaka. Used with Permission. With friend Sahra.
Although he did slow down some, and his hind quarters were noticeably weak at times, he always seemed the regal and virile "lion kinglet" I met on that day in 2008. His passing came as a terrible shock, and seems very surreal to me. His "harem" are all freaked out and Tarifa went all over the house yesterday, calling incessantly for him. Every one of us needs lots of contact and reassurance. We are all wondering, I am sure, how we will get through this and adjust to being without our Birdman of Beverly Hills (so nicknamed because of his former home and his love for poultry, especially turkey). He will always be in our hearts.
©Jamaka. Used with Permission.
©2003 Robin A.F. Olson. Mama-Gracie with Petunia.
Gracie was my first “unwed mama-cat.” I’d only fostered one cat before she arrived and he was a foster fail named Spencer who became the mascot of Covered in Cat Hair. I didn’t quite know what to do with Gracie or her three kittens: Scooterpie, Annabelle and Petunia. Gracie was very skittish and didn’t exactly welcome my presence, so I gave her plenty of space and focused on socializing the kittens. I can’t say I really got to know Gracie very well during those days, but when it seemed as though she was never going to be adopted and I only had a cat or two at the time, I decided that she and her daughter Petunia could stay with me.
©2006 Robin A.F. Olson. Ladies nap.
Gracie was a great mama and when it was time for her to leave the confines of the foster room, Gracie hid a lot or ran off if Sam or I tried to come to her. Again, we gave her space to acclimate and in time she began to appear on our bed in the morning or sleep a bit closer to us when we watched TV in the living room.
The one thing Gracie loved was to be brushed. I used to call her a “Brush Whore” because she would probably have sold her soul to get brushed. All I had to do was ask Gracie; “Brush?” and she’d run over to me excited and ready to be groomed. She’d sit still as I got the clumps out of her thick ruff. She’d purr, but she had a very soft purr I could barely hear. Maybe she was too shy to let it rip. I didn’t care. I was just glad that I found something she enjoyed. Brushing Gracie was something we did every single day, over the last few months of her life. We did it after she had to be pilled or syringe-fed, so our encounter would always end pleasantly.
©2006 Robin A.F. Olson. Will work for brushing.
Gracie loved toy mice. She’d grab one, then sit motionless holding it in her mouth for what seemed to be an hour. I don’t know why she did that, but after a time she’d start to yeowl while continuing to hold onto the mouse. Maybe she was announcing her latest victory over the toy mouse population? I know she lived outdoors before she came to us so maybe she was reliving the good old days?
©2007 Robin A.F. Olson. Just plain weird.
One night Sam and I were in bed reading. We heard Gracie’s familiar yeowl and saw her running down the hallway into our bedroom with a toy mouse in her mouth. I looked up at her, amused at her silly antics, then went back to reading.
Gracie ran around the bed to Sam’s side. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Gracie throw the mouse up into the air. Sam, glued to his book didn’t pay any attention. Gracie was making odd sounds, really getting frantic over this toy.
There, in Sam’s lap was a dead mouse; A REAL MOUSE. There, was Gracie looking up at him as if to say; “What? What’s the matter? Can I get that back?”
©2008 Robin A.F. Olson. One morning I bent down with a plate full of food for Gracie and saw (right center belly up) she'd already had an appetizer!
Something happened to Gracie after she had a dental about eight years ago. She started to drool when she got brushed or petted for a long period of time. I nicknamed her Miss Bubbles because the drool always came out in perfect crystalline beads. Somehow they always ended up on my arm even though I tried to avoid the onslaught of saliva.
Sadly, it seems that her daughter Petunia also does this now and she drools so much it’s like turning on a faucet. As much as I love her it’s kinda gross to pet her for very long.
©2007 Robin A.F. Olson. aka, Miss Bubbles.
Something else also appeared after Gracie’s dental, milliary dermatitis. I wrote about my struggles with her (HERE and HERE). I don’t know what caused it or why she had it. I know we could not get it to go away even with a clean, raw diet, even with two years of going to see dermatologists here and in New York, giving Gracie shots, pills, tests, biopsies. I couldn’t give her steroids because I knew at only 7 years of age she’d have a significantly shorter life. I was, however, able to stop her from barbering off her fur and vomiting the fur back up every day. She seemed comfortable and her skin improved enough so she stopped feeling itchy.
©2009 Robin A.F. Olson. Noooooo!
Part of helping Gracie feel comfortable required giving her a bath a few times a week. Though she was not a fan of her bath time, she was a pretty good sport. I even took her to Dr. Larry’s because Super-Deb could give Gracie a “spa day” of grooming and bathing to help soothe her crusty skin. I was always so proud of Gracie because Super-Deb always said she was a good girl and easy to bathe.
I never learned the root cause of Gracie’s condition, but I do know that it lead to one cancerous lesion that we had removed many years ago. Looking back I believe that was the culprit in what eventually caused Gracie’s premature demise. And yes, I do believe 14 years is too young for a cat to pass away, especially because not three months ago Gracie seemed to be in such fine form. But I promised happy stories so let me think of another.
In the past few years Gracie overcame a lot. She stopped being so shy and began to seek out attention. It was marvelous to see her blossom, but it also unleashed a bit of a devil. You see, if we didn’t get up early enough to get her breakfast started she would quietly enter our bedroom, then stand up on her hind legs and drag her front paws, claws out, down the bedroom door. This would not only damage the door (because it’s a cheap piece of crap), but she would push the door shut which would flip out the cats who were on either side of the door.
©2007 Robin A.F. Olson. Sunny days.
I knew if I got up I was training her that I’d react to her antics, but if I didn’t get up one of the other cats might flip out or need to get out to use the litter pan and there isn’t one in our bedroom.
Gracie often made me grumble as she sat defiantly near the door. If she was Simon’s Cat I’d expect her to point at her open mouth wanting to be fed. I guess I should be glad that unlike Simon’s Cat, Gracie couldn’t mange to bring a baseball bat into the bedroom.
Gracie always had her way.
Gracie’s latest crazy thing was to sit on the kitchen table every morning and cry to get her goat milk/pro biotic drink. Her meow was very raspy and, well, not very delightful. She sounded like a really old cantankerous lady who only knew how to complain. I’d tell Gracie to shush and that I’d get her her drink right away. I think that looking back on this, too, I should have realized she might have been self-soothing her belly. If she had cancer back then it might have been starting to bleed and perhaps the cool drink and the goat milk comforted her. I know that cats hide illness very well and I’d say she did a really good job keeping the wool over my eyes for way too long.
She loved that drink. It gave her a milk moustache.
©2006 Robin A.F. Olson. Belly good belly.
Gracie had a feather-fetish. If there were feathers attached to a toy instead of chasing them she would lick them. She’d lick and lick and lick as if she was grooming herself after a meal. I never let her have the feathers for too long for fear she’d ingest them. Even on her last days I gave her a catnip carrot that was crowned with green feathers instead of leaves. I knew she was still Gracie because she still licked the feathers.
©2007 Robin A.F. Olson. Fluff fantasy, the Princess of Pouff.
Gracie brought us a lot of joy over the twelve years we had together. When I think of her I try not to think of the dark days. It’s not easy, but I know that in time I’ll only smile when I hear her name or look at a photo of her. Right now my heart is still raw from grief, but I’d do it all over again if it meant having those sunny days back, too.
©2008 Robin A.F. Olson. Petunia and Gracie watching the birdies.
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Turn up the volume!
A week ago Gracie gave me a gift by jumping onto a bench and sitting on my friend Kendra’s lap. In and of itself, it wasn’t a particularly magical moment, but if you consider that Gracie was very ill and hadn’t jumped onto anything in weeks and that she was normally too shy to sit in anyone’s lap, then this truly was a milestone.
A few days after the gift, I was finally able to get Dr. Larry, Gracie’s G.P., Dr. Gerald, Gracie’s oncologist and Dr. Carolyn, Gracie’s internist to talk to each other and discuss what the next steps in Gracie’s treatment. I knew that the Myelodysplasia was a secondary reaction to something much deeper, darker, more terrifying, but what it was could not be determined by the three tests we’d already done.
For the past two plus months there were no firm answers. We’d have to accept that we’d never really know what was going on and only be able to do so much before we ran out of options.
I’d just arrived at Dr. Larry’s office to pick up a refill of one of Gracie’s medications. One of the Techs invited me to come into an exam room because Dr. Larry wanted to speak with me. This was the moment I’d been waiting for since Gracie first became mysteriously ill after coming home from a dental in August. Dr. Larry entered and looked grim. He went on to tell me that all the Vets had agreed that Gracie must have a very serious cancer, possibly biliary cystadenocarcinoma. Whatever it was, there were no more treatments, no type of chemo, just to continue on with what we were doing and keep Gracie comfortable.
I nodded that I understood, too upset to say more. I wasn’t surprised but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Gracie had had her ups and downs so many times. We were told to put her down in August and here it was nearly November and she was still with us. Even with all the stress and heartache I wouldn’t have traded those days for anything, but now even those challenging days were coming to an end, no matter what I did.
I stood at the counter, to pay for Gracie’s prescription, trying to hold back tears and failing miserably. I just wanted to go home, to be with Gracie. I just wanted to go home and have this not be happening at all...
...but I had to face the truth that after all this time, all the tests, all the medications, nothing could beat down what was going on inside her body and it was going to take her life.
There were very clear signs of decline over the past two weeks. The hardest one to witness is called Cancer cachexia. It’s basically the metabolism’s shift to provide nutrients to the cancer instead of the cat so even though I was creating high calorie food to syringe-feed Gracie, none of it was helping put any weight back on her bones. Her belly was huge and bloated from fluid, but her skin was tight against her bones all along her back and her hips. I kept hoping every time I pet her that I’d feel a tiny bit MORE padding, instead of less. Not only did she lose weight but she lost muscle mass, too, so she was getting weaker. Even with all that going against her Gracie would still get up, walk around the sofa to the litter pan there and use it over using one that was closer. She would still fuss if Sam or I had to medicate her. She was still fighting to live and I wanted to give her every chance to have every day she could.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Getting creative making cat food blends I thought Gracie would like.
I tried to find a way to get nutrition into Gracie that would make a difference but I couldn’t find a solution. I read that vitamin B12 is something cancer cats often get as another way to help keep them going. I asked if we could give that to Gracie and was told it was safe. Gracie had become more and more reluctant to eat much on her own. Even though I was supplementing her to make sure she got enough, normally she’d eat a least an ounce of food. I broke my own rules and gave her what I consider crap food-something she really liked, but yesterday she wouldn’t even bother with that.
The demands of caring for Gracie have been very great. Between her medication schedule, her feeding schedule and just routine cleaning and care, a good part of my day was spent providing for her. It was vital that her bedding be clean because of her falling white blood cell count and that her litter pan constantly scooped, her water bowl refreshed and washed because she drank a good bit of water throughout the day.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Just another feeding time.
Yesterday it was clear that the B-12 shot had worked. Gracie was up, wobbly, but walking, all over the house. She wouldn’t rest. She was restless. She would cry in a voice I didn’t recognize. She was uncomfortable. She kept wanting us to sit with her (which we did). I’d sit on the floor and she’d climb into my lap, almost falling over to get herself settled. Then she’d lay still. Her breathing was a bit rapid and it sounded raspy. I knew she was in trouble, but thought perhaps all I needed to do was help her manage her pain.
I couldn’t do a thing all day because Gracie was up and moving around so much. She began to hide. I knew it was a very bad sign. She couldn’t go too far without having to stop and rest so I never lost sight of her. After she rested and was up again, I decided to create a hiding place for her near her bed in the living room. Once I did that she entered her little space and laid there quietly, but only for a few minutes and was up again roaming around the house searching for something or some place to go.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My very sick sweetheart.
Late in the afternoon I caught Gracie walking over to where her daughter Petunia spends her day. Gracie was tired so I sat on the floor and she climbed into my lap. I edged myself close to the low kitty condo where Petunia was sitting. I petted Petunia and petted Gracie, mixing their scents together. Petunia drooled as I petted her, the droplets narrowly missing Gracie’s forehead. The two seemed content to be together after months of separation. Petunia was too scared to cross the living room and Gracie was too tired to make the trip herself.
We sat there until Gracie fussed and had to get up again, but the moment wasn’t lost on me that perhaps this was the final time they’d be together.
Sam and I took turns keeping an eye on her. We continued her feeding routines and medications but she was not doing well at all. I called my friend Katherine that night and asked her about giving Gracie buprenex, which is an opiate-based pain medication. I thought it would relax her enough so that she COULD rest, but the problem was, as with EVERY conversation we had about Gracie, we didn’t know what we should do. I can’t tell you how many times every single day I’d ask Sam his opinion on what we should do about feeding Gracie, when to give her medications, IF we should give her the medications, which vet I should call and what I should ask. We never found answers to be simple because we didn’t know what was going on inside her.
The latest problem we needed to solve was that the buprenex could kill Gracie because her liver was in such bad shape, but Gracie was feeling uncomfortable to the point where we needed to help her. It was not right to let it continue on.
Gracie was due for her steroid so we decided to give that to her first, wait an hour and see if she needed the burprenex after that. We’d give her a tiny dose to get her to the morning and then we’d think about what to do after that if it worked.
It was about 11 p.m. on Halloween Eve. It was the first time I didn’t decorate the house or give out candy to the kids. I hung up a sign by the front door NOT to ring the doorbell because of our sick kitty and we put out a box of candy with a second sign on it to take some, but leave some candy for others. That was all we were going to do. My favorite day of the year might as well have been any day of the year. It didn’t matter any more. There was no joy left in my heart for such things.
Gracie continued to roam the living room so Sam picked her up and I put a blanket on his lap. She settled in and he brushed and petted her. We sat quietly, the only sound was Gracie’s raspy breathing.
Gracie would often seem startled, then quickly get up and look around. She saw me and wobbled over to my lap. I was grateful to have her come to me, something she never did in over the decade she lived with us. She was always too shy to completely sit on my lap and here she was blossoming, letting go of her fear so we could connect in a way we never could before. I was so grateful to feel her warmth and silky soft fur. I sat as still as I could so she could rest, even if my legs fell asleep or I got a knot in my back. She’d move a bit here and there and I’d adjust myself to make it more comfortable for her. I prayed she’d just relax and sleep, but she could not.
Sam and I were both exhausted. We decided to set up a pen around Gracie’s hiding spot, heated bed, water dish and litter pan. That way we could get some sleep and not worry that she was going to hurt herself by falling down the stairs or hide where we couldn’t find her over night. I hated the idea of closing her off, but we knew it would only be for a few hours and in the morning we’d let her out to roam at will again.
No sooner than Sam placed her inside the pen, she collapsed. She laid down breathing rapidly. She was in distress. She cried, got up to try to make it to her litter pan, but ended up peeing onto the carpet. I scooped her into my lap and sat with her trying to soothe her. Sam got me paper towels so with one hand I cleaned up the mess while with the other I held onto Gracie trying to let her know it was all right and she was still a good girl.
I moved her over to her bed and she laid down. She couldn’t even lift her head. She was breathing quickly and moaning every so often. Sam unhooked the pen and put it away so we could both sit next to her softly petting her and talking to her as she began the last journey of her life. I tried not to cry because I wanted her to be at peace. The lights were low and the house was quiet. The cats were staying away and weren’t fighting for once. We all knew that this was Gracie’s time. We had to respect it and be there for her even though there was a strong desire to either run away or to yell at Gracie to FIGHT. Fight! LIVE! Please don’t die!
We sat with her for a long time and I noticed that Gracie was struggling more. I said to Sam that maybe we should bring Gracie to the emergency vet and have them help her. It was not something I wanted to say but I didn’t want Gracie to suffer any more than she already was. Here was the last, most difficult question we had to answer-quickly. We had promised ourselves that she would pass at home if possible but we couldn’t keep that promise if it meant Gracie was going to suffer so much.
It was difficult to make the choice, but I called the ER vet and said to expect us. I ran upstairs to get changed since I was wearing my pajamas. I had only started to dress when Sam called me to hurry and get back down stairs. I ran down the stairs with my PJs back on. He said that Gracie had stretched out, stiffened, then relaxed. I flashed back to my dear cat Bob. He’d done the same thing before he died. It was almost time.
We gave Gracie a few more minutes, then decided we need to get her some help. I dressed quickly and got my car out of the garage. I opened the passenger side door to make it easier for Sam to enter the car while he was carrying Gracie wrapped in a blanket in his arms.
I didn’t want to take her in the car. I didn’t want to go to the vet. I didn’t want any of this to happen. It wasn’t supposed to play out like this, not now, not in a cold, sterile vet exam room.
I pulled over into a nearby parking lot and turned on the interior light. I looked down at her sweet face. It was clear that Gracie had passed away as Sam held her. I turned the light off and gasped hard, choking back tears.
Even though I knew what Sam would say I asked him what he wanted to do-“Go home.” was his answer. We knew that we had to bring Gracie home. The cats had to say goodbye. We needed time with her, too. I told Sam I would get us home safely. I would let myself fall apart later.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Goodbye my love.
Next up-a special look back at Gracie’s Wonderful Life, a memorial to one very special cat where I’ll be sharing never-before-seen photos, videos and stories about why she was so dear to us and so completely charming in everything she did.
Though her story ended with heartache far too soon, her life was filled with triumphs. I hope you’ll read on because I'm very proud of my girl and I want you all to know her as I did.
©2007 Robin AF Olson. We will always love you and never forget you, Gracie. Fly Free. 1/11/01—10/31/15.
The weekend began with breakfast and gossip with my two friends, Gene and Adria. We’d been meeting for breakfast at the Sandy Hook Diner once a month or so over this summer. Gene and Adria have lived in Newtown (Newtown is the name of our entire town, though Gene and I reside in the district of Sandy Hook) longer than I have, which is saying a lot. They know everyone and everyone’s dirt. Silly as it might be, it’s fun to feel like a local, sitting in the local restaurant that’s buzzing with other folks that all seem to know each other, well, they know Gene. I think he’s the unofficial Mayor of the Sandy Hook Diner, if not all of Sandy Hook.
It was a welcome break to get away from the stress of life at home. I could forget for a little while as we all told each other stories and got caught up on current events. I guess it’s a sign of my own life changing that a good deal of our conversation was based on talking about our health issues and diagnosis each other’s maladies. I’d been struggling with discovering I was a Type 2 Diabetic in July and worked hard to change my diet. I’d lost a good bit of weight (but have more to go) and I announced that my Diabetes was GONE. I probably never had it in the first place because the A1C blood test I took a few weeks ago had dropped down to 5.6 which meant I was in “normal” range. I just had to be very careful for the rest of my life because I can become diabetic (my Mother was late in her life so I have a genetic predisposition), but for now I dodged the bullet. I really wanted to celebrate this milestone, but in all honesty, while I was beyond grateful, it would take Gracie feeling good for me to be happy again.
You need to understand that I live a very quiet life. My day is spent caring for Gracie, the foster cats, our cats. I start early and end the day very late, around 1 a.m. I don’t go out other than to get cat food, people food, or do a Vet run. Going out to breakfast is akin to attending a Gala. I rarely go out to eat or to the movies or to the mall or go on a what are those things called, a “vacation?” I’m pretty much always home.
Sam and I are woefully unhappy. We hoped to be able to finally get away for a weekend this month. It would have been the first time in 5 years we had some time to ourselves. I’m not complaining. It just didn’t work out. We need to continue to be home, but the toll it’s taking on us is palpable. You know something is deeply wrong with your life when you have a breakdown because some of your cats won’t eat their breakfast, yet again, and you have to fuss with their food, yet again, and you can’t take it one more second, yet again.
That’s why when Adria and I spontaneously decided to go to a local craft fair after breakfast that I experienced a moment of joy. It was something I used to do with my mother and hadn’t done since she passed away in 2006. The fair itself was small, but FREE admission (yay!). Adria and I had a lovely time and even chatted with a few of the vendors. It really helped my soul to see pretty things and not think about cats. It took less than an hour to walk the show, but it gave me enough fuel to keep going.
©2015 Adria Henderson. I'm never far from cats.
Kendra, who adopted four cats from us over the years (the most recent one being Tink), has also become a good friend. About an hour after I got home from the craft fair, she came over to help me prepare a mailing for my rescue, Kitten Associates. Kendra is very cheerful and being around her always gives me a lift. Instead of doing our work straight away, we, of course, went to the store to buy cat food and a big dog bed (Kendra is bi-petual). We had a lovely chat in the car as we drove along the tree-lined roads. The autumn colors were at their peak and it was hard not to be mesmerized by them.
Since Sam was covering for me with Gracie while I was out, I had a chance to unwind a little bit. I think I may have even laughed a few times, which is a rarity these days.
Kendra and I decided to get a coffee (and lunch for Kendra) so we went to another local eatery where I ran into none other than Gene, who was there with his wife Marilyn, and his daughter’s mother-in-law. Clearly Gene is quite the social butterfly and I guess for that day I was, too.
By the time we returned home to get our task done, it was mid-afternoon. I peaked in on Gracie and she looked good so I gathered up the materials to do our mailing. I cleared a space for us to sit in the kitchen at the table, which is normally piled with cases of cat food. We went over our to do list, then began working, but shortly after we'd begun I heard Gracie meow.
She was sitting on the floor right next to us. She’d gotten up to see what we were doing. This was not the Gracie I’d known a few days prior. She barely left her special area in the living room and here she was matter-of-factly complaining that her dinner was late.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Kenra and Gracie.
I raced over to the living room and grabbed a clean towel (I go through a lot of them for Gracie so I have a stash). I eased it under Gracie so she’d be more comfortable. Meanwhile Kendra sat there almost too stunned to know what to do. After a beat she did what she does best, she gave Gracie some lovin’.
The steroids must have given Gracie a big boost. Maybe she need the extra dose all along? Maybe she’d be feeling better for some time to come even with the dire news?
Gracie, restless, got up and jumped onto the table! I hadn’t seen her jump on ANYTHING for over a month. This was an amazing sight. I had to call out to Sam to come and see our girl showing us that she still had things she wanted to do and still had the heart to do them.
Kendra and I worked around Gracie as she kept us company. Even in her prime, Gracie never did things like this. You see Gracie was abused by her former guardians (and “guardian” is a polite term for what I'd really like to call them). I got Gracie as a rescue because her life was in danger (the man told his wife he was going to kill Gracie if she didn’t get rid of her. He’d already kicked and otherwise abused her, so Gracie needed to get out, fast.) and this was right after Gracie had given birth to three kittens. Gracie was timid for a good part of her life, but Sam and I worked with her and over the years she’d come to trust and love us, though she never would fully sleep on our laps. That’s why it was an amazing gift to see Gracie feeling good, feeling happy, wanting to be part of our life, wanting to be with us as much as we wanted to be with her.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My gift, Gracie.
next up...with no diagnosis in sight, three Vets join forces to reach a conclusion about Gracie's future.
Gracie was flat the next few days. The toll of the sedation and stress from the travel really got to her. We’d been through these lows before after every test and with any luck, Gracie would begin to perk back up. We just had to make certain Gracie’s medication schedule was kept on track and that if she wasn’t eating enough we’d syringe feed her to get the extra calories into her.
Gracie had lost some muscle mass and felt very thin, even though her belly was round from the fluids in her abdomen. I foolishly thought that if we were getting Gracie to eat 5 or so small meals, it would add up to enough calories for a day. I was very wrong. I knew it as I ran my hand along her spine and felt the padding slowly vanish over the course of a week or so. I knew I had to do more so that meant doing math, but first I had to find out how many calories to feed Gracie.
Dr. Carolyn said to aim for 200 a day. Once I sat down and read labels, then had to get on the internet to do research because far too many cat food companies don’t include calorie counts on their labels. I realized that Gracie was grossly underfed even though she WAS eating. She’d only eat about 1.0 oz of food per meal and many of the foods were only 20-25 or so calories per ounce. It meant if she was lucky she was getting a little over 100 calories a day. We HAD to do a better job ASAP.
I returned to my trusty notepad. Sam bought a food processor so we could blend down the foods we knew were better quality and higher in calories. We could also use prescription emergency support foods but I didn’t like some of the ingredients as much. We’d have to experiment because our goal was not just to provide nutrition to Gracie, but to make it as tasty and as positive of an experience as possible. We didn’t want Gracie to feel miserable even though we felt miserable having to take this step.
©2007 Robin AF Olson. My beautiful girl just after the New Year, 2007.
I always keep 35 mL syringes on hand. I like them for syringe feeding because the tip is rather long and they hold a good amount of food. There’s no hard and fast rule about exactly how many cc’s to feed because some cats can’t handle much and others can handle a bit more. It was trial and error all the way and some times the error really upset me because I didn’t want to make things worse for Gracie.
Friday arrived and Gracie acted a bit perkier. We’d just begun to give her a second dose of prednisilone (steroids) and it clearly was helping. Buoyed by her good spirits I could focus on getting some much needed and overdue work done, even though in the back of my mind I knew that today was the day we’d possibly get some concrete news about Gracie’s future.
Late in the day Dr. Carolyn called. The all-too familiar lump in my gut returned as I tried to calmly answer the phone. I reached for another note pad so I could distract myself by taking notes.
Delivering bad news must be something Vets get a lot of practice doing as Dr. Carolyn described what the report said. She was calm and not alarmist so I remained calm, but as she spoke I felt my body begin to slump against my chair.
…now Gracie had something called Myelodysplasia.
“Myelodysplasia (myelodysplastic syndrome, MDS) is considered a preleukemic syndrome characterized by ineffective hematopoiesis, resulting in a nonregenerative anemia or other cytopenias. MDS has been described in dogs, cats, and people. The disease can be primary or secondary and is commonly seen in cats with feline leukemia. Primary syndromes probably arise from mutations in stem cells. Secondary syndromes are caused by other neoplasia or drug therapy. Some cats and dogs respond to treatment with recombinant human erythropoietin and prednisone. Supportive care with transfusions may be helpful. Survival is variable because MDS can progress to leukemia; many animals are euthanized or die of sepsis, bleeding, or anemia.”
So basically Gracie’s bone marrow wasn’t working right any more and with low white blood cells and platelets it was dangerous for her to be around other cats because she could easily pick up disease from them. Since she didn't have Feline Leukemia (she'd been tested multiple times for it) I asked what this could be coming from and Dr. Carolyn said either a toxic event or most likely a very bad cancer, probably in the liver. I asked her if there was anything more we should do, treatments or medications. She replied that what we should isolate Gracie (that was NOT going to happen-it was too late now and honestly not fair to put her away in a room by herself at this point. We'd keep our hands washed and she already had her own dishes and litter pan) were doing was good for now and that we should re-test Gracie’s blood work in two weeks. If she was perking up, that was great, it could mean this was immune mediated and that perhaps she’d do okay for a time. We didn’t need to return to see Dr. Carolyn, but if Gracie improved enough we could think about doing the liver biopsy again.
Sam and I began to read as much as we could about MDS, but there wasn’t a lot out there. MDS is rare in cats and there aren’t a plethora of treatments for it. One of them, darbepoetin, could help for a time, but it's very confusing on whether or not anything would help her now. I kept thinking about how Gracie got so sick right after her dental procedure and how that my Vet had just moved his office, he didn’t do the procedure and things were chaotic at his practice. Maybe someone made an error and this, indeed was due to a toxic exposure. A rage began to build inside me that had my mind going to very dark places. At my Vet’s office we joked about not giving my cats Metacam, EVER and now I wondered if that was what was killing my cat, or did she get an overdose of medications with all the other chaos going on with the Vet's moving...because WHERE is the CANCER? We’d done THREE biopsies and NONE had shown cancer.
If this was a toxic event I realized I would have to end my 20+ year friendship with my own Vet—someone who I consider family, whose staff I count as friends. I had to tread very carefully if I was going to go down this path. I needed to calm down and get information about the details of the dental cleaning. I put in a call to speak with Dr. Larry. I was terrified of jeopardizing our relationship, but I needed answers. I knew he would be honest with me even if it was something I didn't want to hear. If they made an error then it would be devastating, but more than anything, I only wanted what I’d wanted these past three months, to find out what was slowly killing my sweet cat and I was desperate for answers.
next up...a consensus on Gracie's illness and the remarkable gift she gave us.
Sam and I returned to the waiting area. What was once a twilight zone was now beginning to fill with other people and their pets; many had dogs of varying sizes. For some reason a good number of the dogs were paralyzed in their hind legs. Some people in the waiting room wore the same sort of anxiety-ridden expression I knew all too well while others had retreated even further into a blank stare of total shock over what was happening to their pet. I didn’t want to see this so I took my homework out and began reading. Thankfully the medication was working well enough so I felt I could concentrate.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Another happy client waits for his appointment.
A lady wearing lots of purple sat down near Sam and struck up a conversation. She bred Labrador Retrievers and somehow one of the puppies got Parvo. The dog was named Mabel and she thought that she just might survive after some very bad days.
The conversation helped me forget to worry until I looked up and saw Dr. Carolyn walking towards me. I held my breath as she knelt down by my chair. She said that the procedure went well and that Gracie was starting to wake up from the sedation. That she wanted to keep Gracie on an IV for a few hours to make certain she was well enough to go home. She also added that she wanted to send the sample to the University of Pennsylvania because she knew the specialist who read the samples. She added that bone marrow samples required a very specialized expertise and that she knew and trusted the person who would study Gracie’s sample. The problem was we wouldn’t get results for two more days. Did we have two more days to wait?
It’s funny how your body stops working when you experience long periods of stress. I hadn’t eaten more than a few bite of food for two days and now I suddenly felt a bit hungry. Though I’ve been very careful about my diet for three months I decided that it was okay to get something from the vending machine as long as I didn’t go overboard. Sam and I chose to get a small bag of plain potato chips. They also had Danish rolls in the vending machine which I assumed had to be completely disgusting for a number of reasons. The thing that made me smirk was seeing the smattering of signs adhered to the vending machine asking to “Please Don’t Shake Me.” I wanted to peel one off and stick it onto my forehead.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. I couldn't have said it better myself.
A few hours later one of Gracie’s team saw us and came over to tell us she was doing well and getting a lot of snuggles and that she personally had held Gracie on her lap for a long time. She remarked at how sweet Gracie was, but of course that was just how Gracie always behaved. She said it would be another few hours but not to worry.
So I returned to my homework, learning about litterbox aversion while Gracie got her fluids. You see I’ve been accepted into an online program held by the Humane Society of the United States. I’m going to become (I hope) a Certified Cat Behavior Counselor. That way I can help people keep their cats in their home any time a behavior crisis occurs. I’ll be like Jackson Galaxy, Junior. Now if I could just get my own TV show I’d be all set.
We’d been in the waiting room for six hours before it was finally time to take Gracie home. Dr. Carolyn came out and talked with us and answered some of my questions about continuing medications or whether or not Gracie needed us to give her subcutaneous fluids (not yet). She handed Gracie over to us. She was quiet, but she was alive.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. A bit worse for wear after recovering from sedation, Gracie rests her head on my hand as Sam drives us home.
In two days we’d might not have “the” answer but we’d have a some sense of an answer. I doubted it would be good news, but we’d know what we were dealing with and what Gracie needed to help her feel comfortable. Until then all I had to do was keep her belly full of good food and love her as much as possible.
I could do that. No problem.
Coming up next…the test results come in and once again I’m left shocked to my core, but not before Gracie gives us a very special gift.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. A sun bow guides us home.
The morning of Gracie’s liver biopsy arrived like a brick dropped onto my gut. Once again, I didn’t want to get out of bed. It was only 6:30 AM and I’m not a morning person. Late the night before Sam and I decided we must do the biopsy and that due to the amount of work it takes to get the cats fed and cleaned up in the morning that I would stay behind while Sam drove Gracie to Pieper Memorial where the biopsy would take place.
In all honesty, though I feel I’m generally a brave person, I was so sick with worry that this was Gracie’s last day on earth that I couldn’t get in the car. I thought my heart would explode from the anguish of having to make choices over the past few months, not knowing what might be next because what ailed Gracie remained a mystery. I’d spent the past few days running scenarios in my head of what was killing my cat, how we could fix it, how she would do, how we would pay for it. I felt stupid wasting all this energy because I knew, in the end, it would never go how I imagined, but I figured if I thought of every scenario I would be ready for what was about to happen. I only knew what the game plan was: blood test, transfusion, biopsy, possible second transfusion if needed.
I also knew that thanks to a lot of people, the night before we raised just enough money to cover the estimate for Gracie's procedure. Even with that anxiety off my back I still had to take the last of my old Xanax. I had one and a half pills left. I decided to take a quarter of one so I could still drive, but when I tried to cut the pill down it didn’t break properly and some of it disappeared onto the white tile floor. I took the tiny piece that was left and hoped it was enough to keep me from vomiting while leaving me clear-headed enough to be ready to take whatever action was needed for Gracie.
I wondered if that was going to be the last time I saw Gracie alive. I choked back tears and tried to focus on the morning ritual of scooping litter pans and preparing breakfast for the cats. The familiarity of the routine comforted me, but my mind kept flashing forward to the what ifs of what was yet to come.
The medication made me feel sleepy and being tired already only intensified the effect. Once I was done with the chores I went back to bed. I sat on the bed with some of the cats deciding to join me. They seemed confused to see me in bed at this point in the day but were glad to snuggle close by and I was glad for their company.
Sam called from the road. The traffic was a horror and would I call the Vet and let them know he’d be a few minutes late. I made the call and sat back down on the bed, closing my eyes. I didn’t want to fall asleep, per se, just rest quietly, try to calm my heart, try to think good thoughts. It was almost time. If things went according to plan I’d be leaving in a few hours to be there before the biopsy started. That was the most dangerous procedure Gracie would be having and I needed to be there before it began.
As I sat there, I let the medication calm me down and for a few moments everything was all right. But the phone rang a few minutes later and I jumped into alert. Sam said he was told to drop Gracie off and return home. The transfusion and blood test would take a few hours. There was no need to stay there. He added that to make matters worse most of the waiting area was under construction and there were plastic sheets hanging from the rafters and a lot of noise coming out from behind them.
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson
Since there was no way I was going to do any work that morning, I sat back against my pillows and tried to rest up. Here we go up the roller coaster track. Tic, tic, tic the cart goes up, up, up along the wooden planks as it aims for the zenith of the first rise before it hurtles downward into oblivion.
Sam had barely gotten home an hour later when the phone rang. It was Dr. Carolyn.
There would be no biopsy.
Gracie’s blood work indicated although her anemia wasn’t as bad, her platelet count and white blood cell count had dropped. This was a very bad sign. A transfusion wouldn’t help Gracie and it was too dangerous to do the biopsy. Dr. Carolyn wanted to know if we were interested in doing another needle biopsy, this time of Gracie’s bone marrow. There was very little risk, only from the anesthesia, not the test itself, and though it wouldn’t tell us everything, it might tell us enough to know what is going on.
They would do the test as soon as we could return. I was assured that Gracie was hanging out with the staff getting attention and that we shouldn’t rush up there and that there was time to do the test once we arrived. I felt badly for Sam. He’d already been driving for two and a half hours and now he had to drive for another hour.
We made good time, but once in the parking lot I began to feel unsteady. I had to get this done. I couldn’t fall apart now. We walked up the few steps and the automatic doors opened. The entry way was filled with long folding tables that were covered with computers, the wires dangling about like crazed serpents. The reception area was closed off with plastic sheets and the sounds of banging and drilling made the walls vibrate. We were told to go to the waiting area. The place we’d spent so many hours before. No one was there. The TV was blaring so we turned the sound off. We sat together and I leaned into Sam. He protectively put his arm around me. We didn’t talk. We just saw there with the construction sounds the only thing keeping us company.
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. With the sedation beginning to kick in Sam and I say our goodbyes to Gracie, hoping her biopsy would go well.
It took quite awhile before Dr. Carolyn came out. She’s so young I feel like she could be my daughter. She was very polite and calming, letting us know what was going to happen next and what we could hope to expect. We nodded our heads, understanding there were risks, but that at this point we had to press on. Dr. Carolyn said she was going to give Gracie some sedation she referred to being like a twilight state, not deeply sedated. Since it took some time to work those minutes would be spent in an exam room with us. That way we’d have more time together.
The exam room was for pets who had bone cancer. There was a bulletin board covered mostly with photos of dogs and only two cats. They were cheerful signs saying not to give up and how to find a support group. As a graphic designer I tried to make a joke about how bad the signs looked and Sam agreed. They really were quite awful, but I didn’t feel like I could be funny right then.
Dr. Carolyn returned with four other staff members behind her. She introduced each one, saying this was Gracie’s team and that they would make certain every precaution would be taken and that she would be carefully monitored. I could barely say thank you before I started to cry. I was grateful to see that everyone was ready to do their best for her, but it felt like too much all at once. I apologized for my tears and tried to cover it up by telling them to kick ass and do a great job.
It was time. Now or never.
Coming up next...the test is performed but can Gracie ever come back home?
Last week Gracie did really well. She started eating again; a good amount. Sam and I got into a routine of getting her medications to her on time and I continued to make notes in my log book about how she was doing. In the back of my mind was the weight of the decision about whether or not to have “one last test” done on Gracie’s liver (an ultrasound guided Tru-cut biopsy) or whether we should decide to focus on providing only palliative care and let her go when that no longer was effective. I’ve been sick about this decision. I even asked all of you to offer your advice.
For the most part, many of you were supportive and caring. You understood that the only way we can know what treatment Gracie needs is to know what Gracie is suffering from. The tiny liver biopsy will provide that information to us.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie up and perky last week. What a delight to see her like this again!
One person was pretty cruel and accused me of being a Drama Queen and that I was unnecessarily harming Gracie by taking her to the Vet so many times. It’s really painful to hear something like that, even if I know it’s not true. I appreciate those of you who went to bat for me letting this person know that you had my back. I would rather not have to write this story at all. I don’t need attention, I just need my cat to be okay.
I admit the one thing I like about syringe feeding is I can control what Gracie eats. I could blend together one of her favorite foods and add a bit of raw chicken liver and goat milk to the mix. It would help boost her iron and give her tummy some comfort. Though we had some struggles, Gracie was pretty calm about being fed, which was a good sign.
Yesterday Gracie ate a little bit on her own, but she wasn’t as perky as she had been so we continued supporting her while I wondered if she would even be in good enough shape to have the biopsy done. The truth is she’d have a transfusion first so she should be feeling quite good after that, but if she didn’t improve we’d have to re-think what we were going to do.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie, surrounded by Spencer and DOOD.
Last night after giving her some dinner I gave Gracie a kiss and told her to hang on. She was still Gracie, still chirping, purring away, maybe getting up a few too many times to lap at water, but she was still there. I went to bed with a heavy heart. I knew that in the morning I’d have to face the music. Either we do this or we give up. Wednesday is the day of her appointment.
This morning I didn’t want to get up. No surprise. Freya heard me moving around and jumped on the bed. She curled up next to me wanting some snuggle-time
so I gave myself an excuse to delay getting up a little while longer. Freya drools like a fountain when I pet her so needless to say I got up a short time later.
I made my morning trek down the stairs, pausing on the landing to look across the living to see if Gracie was still there, still okay, still alive. Yep. She was sitting on her heated bed looking up at me.
Morning chores take forever so I got started: warm up cat food, scoop litter pans, clean up Gracie’s area, then put out freshly washed bowls with fresh water, add new litter if pans need them, clean up any “surprises” from the night before, go out to the garage to feed Barry and scoop his litter pan, then prepare some food for Gracie and pray she eats it (and that's only for OUR cats, then I do it all over again for the remaining foster cats, too).
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Resting in the sunshine.
Gracie DID eat, not as much as usual, but she ate. That was a good sign. I decided to keep syringe-feeding her because she’s getting thin. She looked perky and was doing about as well as I could have hoped, but today is the day we decide about her future so Sam and I sat down to talk about it once again.
Sam was surprisingly blunt. He felt we needed to do this or we needed to prepare to put Gracie down in about a week. She can’t go on as she is and she needs help-more than what we can do for her at home. Yes, it’s a risk and yes it could end badly, but we need to help her and that means we need to do the biopsy.
And now I will be blunt. We need help to make this happen. Our fundraiser for Gracie only brought in about $200.00 last week. We need to raise at least $1200, even though it will cost $1500+ for tomorrow’s procedure.
Perhaps you’re not sure it’s worth it to help this time because there are no guarantees of a happy outcome. I get that. But if you look beyond it, you could help just because you like what I’ve been doing, the cats I’ve rescued, the stories I’ve entertained you with. At this point of Gracie’s crisis, I hope you’ll find a way to share your love with us because we really need it. It doesn’t take much if a lot of people chose to donate. $5 here and $10 there can really add up.
For every person who donates more than $100, I will send them a special thank you treat (while supplies last and I have quite a few goodies!). I have some fun cat-centric things from books featuring cats to cute goodies and cat products.
You can mail a check to Kitten Associates, P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354. Put a note "for Gracie" it so we can direct the funds to her.
Just SHARE this post with your friends who have kind hearts and love cats. That helps Gracie, too.
Your donation is Tax Deductible. Kitten Associates is a non-profit rescue and our IRS EIN is 27-3597692.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. This is the face that inspires me do what it takes to help my sweet girl.
We will stop our fundraiser as soon as we’ve raised $1200.00, which we hope will cover Gracie's care. Any funds we don’t use for Gracie, we'll set aside for other kitties in our program who need help, like our recently rescued big guy, Barry.
One of the things about sharing your life with cats means having to deal with their claws—claws that catch in the loop of your favorite sweater leaving a big hole or turn the side of your sofa into mince meat. Declawing your cat is inhumane and cruel and certainly NEVER a solution for dealing with your cat's claws-but even in a home full of cardboard and sisal cat scratchers, most cat parents are left with having to trim their cat’s claws from time to time.
Keeping claws trimmed is particularly important with older cats because their claws can grow faster and thicker, eventually curling under the toe and possibly embedding itself INTO the paw pad. This actually happened to my dear cat Gracie many years ago (You can read her story HERE) and after that nightmare we began checking her claws once a month and kept them trimmed. I discovered that ONE of her toes would grow a curiously thick, longer claw so being mindful of your cats claws is important.
As someone with lousy close-up vision, I am not a fan of doing claw trims. I fear cutting into the “quick” which is where the blood supply of each cat’s claw ends. If you cut it, the cat’s claw will bleed and, of course, it’s painful for your cat. If you’re really awkward, you can do more than harm the claw you could even clip the tip of the toe depending on the type of trimmer you’re using.
The other day the folks at Zen Clipper® contacted me about writing a review of their new nail trimmer. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but agreed to have them send me a product to try out. I couldn’t imagine it being any different than the drawer full of other clippers I had.
I was so wrong.
As a graphic designer, I enjoyed the bright colors and stylish design of the medium-sized clipper. Once I removed the clipper from the backer card, I noticed that unlike scissor-type clippers, these clippers cannot be opened very far apart due to a small spring that confines the movement of the clippers. What the spring does is causes the clipper to immediately go into an open position right after you close and release. This is a clever design feature because it gets the clipper ready to go faster than if you had to re-open a scissor-type trimmer after clipping a claw. It seems minor, but it ended up being an important factor.
In truth, I usually hold the cat needing the claw trim and Sam does the work. I had a bad scare with a kitten (she’s fine now) and since then I haven’t wanted to try trimming claws.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Woody "helping" with the laundry before we did his claw trim.
Since I promised to give it a try, I decided to test our foster cat, Woody. He was sitting on my lap, relaxed. I gently held his paw. All I had to do was line up the conical hole between the blades with a claw. I read on the package that you have to be careful the first few times you use it to make sure the claws don’t go too far into the opening. If they do go too far it means you need to exchange your Zen Clipper for a smaller size (Zen Clipper will exchange your clipper with no charge to you if you bring it back to the store where you originally purchased it). The claw easily slipped into the hole, not too far. I pressed the Zen Clipper closed and released. It made NO SOUND. Woody didn’t seem to even FEEL IT. His claw didn’t get crushed as it does with some types of trimmers. It was neatly trimmed back.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Nicky.
I tried another claw and another. Eventually, I didn’t have to look too carefully since the hole would only line up with a claw and I was trimming off the tips. I trimmed one paw in a few seconds, tops, then did the other paw while Woody sat there purring away.
Energized by how effortless it was to use, I looked around for another cat who I could try it on. Freya was nearby so I did her claws, too. She fussed a bit, but again because she did not hear that telltale “Click” after each claw was cut and because the blades make a clean cut, she didn’t act as though she was uncomfortable.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Nicky getting a claw trim.
Now, does this product calm a cat who hates getting their claws trimmed? No, but I believe that between the quiet operation and what it does for the cat-parent’s confidence might also make those tough-to-trim cat claws a thing of the past if you take it very slowly and only aim to trim a claw or two at a time.
The Zen Clipper comes in Small, Medium and Large. Medium is a good size for most cats. Older cats with thicker claws would need a Large and kittens and some reptiles and birds, too, would benefit from a Small size.
After careful consideration, from time to time I write product reviews. If you see it here, it's because, at LEAST I think it's worth you knowing about even if I have an issue with it and, at BEST, I think it's amazing and we should all have one, two or more of whatever it is I'm reviewing. I get NO reimbursement for writing these reviews, though to write a review I am supplied with the item and I may be provided with an administration fee, as I was in this case. This review is MY OPINION, ONLY. The result you experience using this product may differ.