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.
There’s a kind of silence that occurs between people who have been together for a long time. It’s not the kind filled with tension you can slice with a knife or the nervous energy of being reunited after a long separation. It’s the kind that becomes sacred, where words only create meaningless static, where words do not belong. There is a desire for the silence to become a protective shroud, where no one has to face the fact that breaking the silence means facing a brutal, painful truth…that your cat is dying and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The past four days have been some of the worst of my life. The question of whether or not we should have done the test or whether we waited too long nagged at me.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. On an IV, Cricket had to wear the "cone of shame" since he kept biting at the line. By the next day he no longer needed the line so the cone came off.
I lived like a zombie. I had to force myself to eat a little cottage cheese, but that was all I could manage to swallow. I was constantly tired, but never really slept because I each night I worried I’d get “the call” from the ER Vet saying Cricket had died. I tried to absolve myself of “shoulds” while work, emails and bills piled up. I didn’t care. I got the foster kittens fed. I scooped their litter pan, but other than that I waited for the phone to ring with news or laid hunched up on the sofa with my eyes closed while Sam tried to work nearby on his laptop.
Sunday, nothing was done. I don’t know why, but Cricket stayed in oxygen and had no further tests. We went to visit him that night and he seemed stable. They neglected to tell me he had collapsed earlier in the day when they took him out of the cage, which was one reason they did no testing. He had begun to eat a little bit on his own, but I struggled to feel hopeful.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. If only I could have helped him understand what was going on. I hated seeing him like this.
On Monday I spoke with Dr. P, the vet who could do the wash. Once again we grappled with the decision. The problem was, would Cricket’s lungs inflate and would he be able to breathe after the procedure was over? The vet would give him a high dose of steroids, which wouldn’t harm future treatments, but would help him breathe more comfortably. It was rare that a cat died from the procedure but we had to know there were risks. I told him I needed to speak with the oncologist because we’d decided Cricket wouldn’t be able to handle chemo every week. His quality of life would be poor if he had to undergo so much stress. What I needed to know, which no one could tell me, was if we could try chemo even if we didn’t do the test at all?
I couldn’t decide until I had answers.
©2016 Robin AF Olson.
Sam and I had a long talk. Dr. P felt that Cricket would do ok. We needed to know what was going on. We decided to do the test so I called to greenlight the procedure. A few minutes after I called, Dr. Larry called me and warned us off doing the test. He said that the odds of us getting a result were small and that he knew we could not afford to do the chemo (he said it VERY respectfully) and that Cricket would be too stressed to handle it. I told him what I learned about the chemo, but still Dr. Larry suggested we do not move forward, that Cricket was too fragile.
I trust Dr. Larry completely. I was so tired and sad that I didn’t trust my own ability to decide. I called Dr P and said I was sorry and to not do the test after all. That we wanted to go straight to steroids and chemo and see if it would help.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Still our handsome, loving boy.
They began the steroids and after Cricket had chemo we went to visit him.
He looked good. He was happy to see us. He was still “oxygen dependent” but he stood up for a moment and eagerly rubbed our hands. The temperature inside the oxygen cage was much cooler than in the exam area, but they had lots of soft blankets for him to snuggle on. We’d brought him a cat bed from home but it was too big. We brought food he liked and treats. Sam and I took turns offering him tastes of salmon, which he ate right up. I asked Cricket to please get better, for the medications to work so he could come home. Even if it meant he would only live another month or two, Cricket NEEDED to come home. I didn’t want him to die here. He needed to be with us.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. :-(
An oxygen cage cost about $100,000 so I couldn’t just go get one and hook it up in the living room. As crazy as that sounds, I would have done it if I could. I also knew that every 12 hours we were getting billed more and more for Cricket’s care. The oxygen cage, alone, was over $440 a day.
All these questions swirled around my head while Sam and I took turns petting Cricket. He had a few more hours to go before we knew for certain if there was going to be any improvement. We walked back to the car and Sam started the engine and turned on the headlights. The A/C was cool against my face. We sat there for a long time, not saying a word, not feeling like we could move from that spot. If we left, we knew that the next time we’d come back here would be to put Cricket down. I thought maybe we shouldn’t put it off? Maybe we should do it right then and there. Why wait? Why put Cricket through sitting around twelve more hours? What the Hell had happened? How did we get here in the first place? Then I realized I was saying my thoughts out loud as I began to sob uncontrollably. It was game over. We both knew it, but we both promised Cricket we’d give him every minute we could.
Sam pulled the car out of the lot and headed towards home. We’d give Cricket a few more hours and pray for a miracle.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Another night, another visit, but Cricket was very weak.
The next morning I called Dr. De for an update. Although Cricket’s respiration was a bit slower, there wasn’t any improvement like they were looking for. She’d removed him from oxygen for less than a minute and he was breathing so hard his stomach contracted. We couldn’t bring him home and though she was very sorry there wasn’t anything more they could offer us. By then I felt angry, angry and cheated, not by her, but by what was happening to our cat. He didn’t deserve this. He was far too young. It happened so very fast. I had no time to process it. I had to stop being a zombie and be present and just do this already. Do it. Face it. Stop dragging it out.
I told Dr. De I understood and that we had decided it was time to let Cricket go. She agreed it was the correct decision to make and that she would help us whenever we were ready to do so. I know she was being kind, but she didn’t know me or our cat. If Cricket had to die I wished he could be at home and have Dr. Larry there to help him pass, but Cricket wouldn’t have even made it out the door of the facility, let alone survive the 15 minute drive home.
I took a shower and put on the nicest outfit I could. I didn’t bother with makeup because I’d end up crying it off later anyway. Sam chose a colorful shirt to wear with jeans. I made sure I had everything I needed. I knew they’d want to be paid and there was some issue with the bill, which had grown to over $5000. At that point I didn’t care. I just wanted to pay the bill and do this horrible thing. I was facing the brutal truth, but I didn’t have to like it.
©2014 Robin AF Olson. The photo of Sam and me I printed out to place with Cricket's body after he died.
I held his front paws in my hand. I told him how proud I was of him and how brave he had been, about how he was such a very good boy, but mostly how much I loved him and would miss him forever. Even in death he was beautiful. His coat was thick, plush, soft, and the deepest black.
We stayed for a long time, but eventually we knew we had to go home. The cats and foster kittens needed to be fed. Life would go on whether I wanted it to or not. The twisted anxiety in my gut was gone, replaced by a tightness in my chest, the rippling pain of heartache and grief was here to stay, an unwelcome old friend returned.
©2005 Robin AF Olson. Our most beautiful boy when he was just a few years old.
I hate death. I hate cancer. I hate that it robbed our boy of the long life he should have had. Now I have to figure out how to go on with another hole in my heart.
Fly free darling Cricket. I hope to see you again one day.
July 5, 2004—July 14, 2016.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Cricket's urn remains on the cat bed he spent many happy days upon, sleeping in the sunshine. In a way it comforts me to see him there, but it also breaks my heart.
EPILOGUE: July 24,2016. Here I sit, wrapping up this monumental post, while another of our cats has fallen ill. Our 16-yr old cat, Nicky has been hospitalized for five days and is on an IV. We suspect he will be there for at least a few days more. His kidney function is not good and he has a fever and infection somewhere…or his elevated neutrophils could be a sign of cancer. I keep wondering how we can go on with one cat after another becoming so ill, so quickly. I keep wondering if these events are related, but we knew Nicky had kidney problems for which he’s been treated with fluid therapy for 4 years. He fell ill so quickly it was terrifying. Despair has never left my side this past month. I need her to leave me and my family alone. We’ve had more than our share of heartache and I can't take another sip, even if she tells me I must.
Cricket is the kind of unassuming cat most people would pass by. He’s not a fancy breed and he’s small and keeps to himself. When someone would come to visit we’d usually point him out hiding in a basket under the table, then warn them not to touch him because he had been feral and we didn’t want anyone to get bitten; that he only trusted us.
Most mornings, Sam would make coffee and Cricket, hearing the sound of the beans being measured out or the water poured into the carafe, would come running into the kitchen. He’d sit on the bench nearby and ask for pets. It was their special time together.
©2014 Robin AF Olson. A proud moment for me, Cricket sat in my lap. I think this was the only time he ever did it, but I was so grateful.
Later in the morning, Sam would often sit on the loveseat, typing with one hand on his laptop and petting Cricket with the other and Cricket loved the attention. Cricket was the master of giving head-butts. He loved to rub his face against us, marking us as his own, rubbing and rubbing over our hands and arms. He was not shy about it either. I’d sit with him from time to time, too, leaning over and letting him rub my face and forehead. I never worried he would nip me or hurt me in any way. I felt proud that he was claiming me as part of his family.
This was no feral cat.
Cricket was a fixture in our home, but we also knew that we could probably never take him to the vet because he was still fearful about us picking him up and certainly ever taking him anywhere in the car.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Brave enough to come upstairs and lay in bed next to me when I had the flu. Cricket rarely entered the bedroom since the other cats claimed that space. I wish he could have spent every night with us.
Two years ago our hand was forced. With friends visiting us one night, Cricket walked past one of them and I gasped. His rear end was covered in blood. It appeared his anal gland had ruptured and he needed to be vetted, and soon, but how?
©2015 Robin AF Olson. The second, worse rupture in 2015. He never acted oddly or in pain and with his black fur it was tough to see if there was something wrong until it was too late.
Thankfully my friend, Katherine, who has a lot more experience handling cats than I do, was willing to come up and get Cricket crated for us. In the end it wasn’t as bad as we feared. Cricket was ten years old and though very scared no one was harmed getting him packed up to go to the vet.
Cricket was in sorry shape, but we had his teeth cleaned and got him stitched up. Shockingly, a year later the other side blew out. This one was very serious and we had no idea why it was happening. In fact it blew out two days before Gracie died so you can imagine what sort of nightmare we were facing with two critical situations going on at the same time.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Cricket looked angry but never was. He was always a sweet boy.
After Cricket’s scary health issues early this year he got an upper respiratory tract infection, along with a few of the other cats. Everyone eventually got better, but Cricket still had runny eyes. It also seemed like he lost his sense of smell. Getting him to eat became more and more difficult.
We began treatment in pill form until we could afford the $1600 radiation treatment. The medication could cause many other health issues so we had to re-check Cricket’s blood work in about a month. We also began a steroidal eye drop into Cricket’s nostrils to see if it would help him smell his food.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. To the Vet yet again.
It worked great. Cricket began to eat again and I was becoming a master of learning how to hide his daily pills so we didn’t have to stress him out all the time trying to pill him.
But something still wasn’t right.
Cricket stopped showing up for mealtime. He began spending a lot of time in a cardboard box with a blanket in it in the basement. We had a harder and harder time getting pills into him and we assumed he was staying away from us because of the pills. Maybe they were making him sick?
Cricket wasn’t eating much at all. Just as Spencer began to get back on his paws, I brought Cricket to the vet. It was eight days ago today.
Dr. Larry told me Cricket needed a wash of his lungs (TransTracheal Lavage). They would insert a small tube into Cricket’s lungs, inject a small amount of sterile saline into them, then tap his chest to loosen up the material inside them and take a sample. This would be done under sedation, but Dr Larry could not do this procedure. I had to go back to see Dr. De and it would easily cost over $1000 to do this test, but it was the only way to know what was sickening my cat.
The problem was, I didn’t even have enough money to pay my mortgage.
I decided that if my own rescue granted funds to other families to help them get Vet care for their cat that we could do it for Cricket, too. He was a rescue, he needed help. It had to be done somehow. I had a few dollars left in my IRA. I would deplete it if need be. Cricket wasn’t a broken car. He was my cat.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Cricket and Gracie, about a month before Gracie died.
She was the reason all our donations for Cricket were matched. She was the reason why when he needed more than I ever thought possible, I could say yes, do the treatment…do the test…but I digress.
Wednesday was the day. We were to do the wash and get some answers. The problem was instead of being about $1000, the estimate was nearly $4000. The grant money would not be to us until the next DAY and even with that it would wipe out all our funds and I still have 14 kittens to provide for. Cricket sat in an oxygen cage while I debated what to do. It took me three hours of call after call to Dr. Larry, to Sam, to my friends who have 30 cats and know every little thing about them. The test might result in no answers at all because whatever was going on was between the bronchioles, not inside them. They'd have to hope that when the tapped on his chest that something would loosen up and move into the brochi so they could remove it..or it would loosen up something terrible and it would kill Cricket. Also, it would not be responsible for me to spend what little we had, risking all our kittens.
I asked if we could do something else. After speaking with Dr. Mary, Dr. Larry’s partner, she said we could hit Cricket with a high dose of antibiotics for a few days. If he improved we knew it was bacteria. If he didn’t it was more likely cancer or a longshot, a fungal infection. We could take him home and better yet, take a few days to get funding ready. It made sense, but it was also very risky.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. The last day Cricket was home.
I brought Cricket home, but he did not do well. By Friday we realized that we HAD to do the procedure because Cricket was getting worse. I called too late in the day and the Dr was not willing to stay late to do the test. With the weekend beginning there was no one there to do the test until Monday or she could do it on Tuesday. I couldn’t risk moving Cricket to another vet over an hour away. We had to wait and pray we could keep him comfortable until we could get the test done. We’d keep up on the medications and hope they would kick in, but Cricket wasn’t eating so I began the difficult task of assist-feeding him to keep him going.
Saturday was awful. I kept wondering if we should start Cricket on steroids. Giving him steroids meant we could NOT do the test. It would effect the results. It could effect how he gets other treatments. I had steroids from when Gracie was in her final days. I could give them now because Cricket’s respiration was going up and up. After giving him a pill or feeding him he’d get so bad he’s open-mouth breath, nearly passing out. That night I started him back on his thyroid meds, hoping it would help slow down his breathing because hyperthyroid basically causes the heart, liver and kidneys go to into overdrive. I hoped the next morning I’d see him feeling a bit better.
During a crisis like this I don’t sleep well and don’t eat much. I have a hard time functioning at all because I am so deeply concerned for the well-being of my cats. I’m so scared to find them dead or in distress that it pushes me over the edge. I constantly wonder if I should medicate myself so I can get through it, but the other part of me thinks I have to face it directly. Where is my faith that it will get better? I had none. I couldn’t run away from this fear even if I had horrible visions of finding Cricket dead on the floor flashing through my head.
Cricket began to hang out on a big cat tree near the window in the living room. Sam and I made a rule to not mess with him when he was on that tree so he could feel less like he needed to hide in the basement and it seemed to work. On Sunday morning the first thing I did was to check on him. Seeing him alive was a small comfort, but as I sat near him, I watched his breaths. They were more rapid than ever and he seemed as if he was about to pass out and I wasn’t even touching him.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Safe space on the cat tree and Cricket's special yellow towel.
I asked Sam what he thought. Was Cricket worse? We weren’t sure. Maybe it was just that he thought we were going to pick him up and give him a pill? In days past we couldn’t even lift him to put him on a scale do check his weight without him going into a panic.
I didn’t want to see that Cricket had gotten worse. It was Sunday. No specialists on hand at the ER, yet we needed Cricket in an oxygen cage and we needed to do it soon.
I was terrified. We waited too long. Maybe they could get him stabilized until the next day. Maybe a day on oxygen would help him feel better. I called Dr. Larry, who was taking a few days off with his family. He agreed we needed to start steroids right away and that the oxygen would help.
As we walked in the door, a tech ran out and took Cricket away. We met with the Vet on call and she said they would keep him on oxygen and go over his case then decide what to do next. That steroids certainly would be called for, but right now they wanted to let him rest and recover. The bill for one night was over $1000, but at that point we had to do what he needed. I signed the estimate and we went to see him before we went home. It was so difficult to see him struggling and knowing he was scared. I felt Despair tap me on the shoulder, then asked me to take another spoonful. I opened my mouth as tears ran down my cheeks, the bitterness of what had already transpired was more than I could bear.
Next up: another spoonful and another...
©2016 Robin AF Olson. In oxygen cage for now, but will Cricket ever be able to come home again?
Twelve years ago I volunteered for a rescue group fostering cats and kittens. I’d already fostered Spencer, Gracie and Petunia, along with a few others when I got a call about 3 “semi-feral” cats needing a foster home. They were in a situation where they were at high risk of being abused and were living outside in the dead of winter. I’d never even seen a feral cat, let alone ever dealt with one before. I was assured they were not wild, but “semi” feral. They were about six months old. I didn't know that generally it's too old to socialize a kitten at that age. I just knew I needed to help.
©2004 Robin AF Olson. My feral friend, Cricket.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into but I agreed. The lady who runs the organization brought the cats over; three black cats, nearly identical save for one who had a little white “locket” on his chest. The other two were all black. How was I going to tell them apart? Did it matter? They all wanted to KILL ME!
I named them Boo-Boo, Sophie and Cricket and eventually I was able to tell them apart, but getting them socialized was another story.
I figured I’d be friendly and go slowly with them. There was no information about socializing feral cats online back then. I had to go it on my own. I only fed the cats off a spoon while wearing heavy gardening gloves. I’d let them lick the food, then try to pet them. What an idiot I was, but in a way, not knowing made me less fearful of what could happen to me if I was bitten.
©2005 Robin AF Olson. Boo-boo and Sophie, Cricket's brother and sister.
Cricket was all “airplane ears” and hissing. He was never aggressive with me, but man did he not want me near him. Boo-boo was a little bit easier to handle and so was Sophie. If I’d known then what I know now I’d have separated them, but in those days I didn’t even have a crate to house them in, let alone know they'd bond to me better if they couldn't rely on each other.
©2005 Robin AF Olson. Slowly but surely Cricket began to trust me.
©2005 Robin AF Olson. Boo-boo was fearless and loved playing with toys. I twas a great way to distract him from being fearful.
His siblings soon opened up and eventually I allowed them to mingle with my own cats. I knew finding them a home would take forever and I had little resources to find a family for them. I eventually left that rescue and began with another. The woman who ran the new rescue found a home for two of the cats. Getting them to that home was a bit of a nightmare, but in the end I was left with Cricket.
©2005 Robin AF Olson. After about 6 months, Cricket and his siblings had free run of the house. This spot in the living room became his until his final days.
At the time I only had a few cats so keeping Cricket wasn’t a difficult choice. Cricket never bothered with anyone or caused trouble. He was shy with new people but he found himself a place on the loveseat near the window where I often found him sunning himself. I hoped in time he would feel comfortable trusting us more and hiding less, but I had no idea just how far he would come over the next decade.
Next: the blossoming of a wild child...and just how much Cricket surprised us.
Heartache, anxiety and fear have robbed me from being able to write, work, think. As a cat-mom and rescuer, most of what I do has something to do with or for cats. There are bumps in the road that I usually manage, but when a health crisis hits one of them, the all-too-familiar and all-too-painful knot twists my gut, draining my soul. The worse the crisis, the less I can eat or sleep, the more I worry, research, call Vets, try to find an answer while attempting to soothe an anxious, weak, mysteriously sick cat.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. My baby, Spencer, flat, depressed and not eating while Blitzen worries about his old friend.
There was something wrong with Spencer, the mascot of Covered in Cat Hair, my 15-year old shadow. He was lethargic, would not eat, was depressed. He’d been drinking a lot of water and I’d feared it was his kidneys because water drinking can be a sign of kidney disease. At Spencer’s age it's no joke for him to have a problem like this. The issue: getting him to the vet when he’s a very high-stress patient.
This time it was no problem getting him to the vet. That’s how sick he was.
We gave Spencer fluids, hoping it would help him feel better, but it did nothing. I knew we couldn't wait this out. Once at Dr. Larry’s office my mind went into overdrive imagining what was wrong with my dear boy. I thought it could be pancreatitis or that his kidneys or his liver was failing but why? Spencer’s on a fresh diet, with lots of protein. There was no reason something would irritate him like that. It had to be that his kidneys were failing so I worried about how we’d give him fluids when he has a very short fuse.
Dr. Larry did some tests that indicated pancreatitis. It was possible I caught it early but Spencer still needed an ultrasound at the ER Vet as soon as possible to make certain there wasn’t something else going on. They kept him there for the full day because he’d been so stressed out, even though he was weak. Just taking his blood was difficult so they had to let him calm down in a cage for a few hours before trying to get the sample. By the time we got home Spencer was flat and even more depressed than before.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. One of my "go-to" things to tempt a sick cat to eat-chicken baby food. Notice I offer the food on a flat dish and elevate the plate not only to make it easier to reach but so that the aroma of the warmed food reaches Spencer's nose faster. Normally I use a soup bowl to elevate the plate but in this case a tissue box was a good height and nearby.
I didn’t want to take my baby to the emergency vet because over the past year they’ve lost most of their staff and I didn’t know if they were hiring any decent vets. I didn't want to believe the rumors I'd heard. Their prices are crazy-high, but they are also a few minutes drive from my home. It meant less stress on Spencer and they could see him the next day so I agreed and hoped for the best.
Even the short drive to the ER did a number on Spencer. He was open-mouth breathing so they rushed him into an oxygen cage until he could settle down. How the heck where they going to be able to an ultrasound on him if he was flipping out? I feared they’d have to sedate him and the after effects of sedation on his old body. This had to be done, but how would they do it without pushing Spencer into the red zone?
Instead of meeting with the Internist, they went ahead and performed the ultrasound. I was surprised that it only took a few minutes. They went slowly and since Spencer was so ill, he was easier to handle and did not require sedation. I waited anxiously in the exam room, mentally adding up what I feared the bill was going to be for the day. The door opened and there stood Dr. De (her nickname to keep her anonymity). She was very nice and polite. She explained right away that yes, Spencer did have pancreatitis and that the key now was to soothe his belly while getting him to resume eating. There was no sign of cancer and the rest of his organs appeared normal. The concern was that if he didn’t eat soon, I’d have to assist-feed him or what worked much better was the placement of a feeding tube.
She gave me a list of meds and a schedule along with some bland food (which of course I hated since the ingredients included corn, wheat and soy, but I had to do whatever I could for my boy). I went home and wrote everything out. Pilling Spencer was going to be dreadful but I had to get the job done.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. I constantly followed Spencer around, but not so close as to make him anxious. As he chose a strange place to lay down, near the stove, I decided to sit down on the kitchen floor, too. Fluff Daddy, ever the jokester decided it was a great time to sit on my lap and watch Spencer with me.
Spencer laid on the floor under the table in front of the sofa. He’d lost a good bit of weight and he was depressed and in pain. I began giving him pain meds and something to help the nausea. I offered him some food but he would not touch it beyond a few licks.
Two of my friends got in touch with me when they heard the news and offered to help me if Spencer did need a feeding tube. They assured me to welcome this if the Vet thought he needed it because it made it much easier to provide nutrition and medications and that most cats (hey, not Spencer!) would not be bothered by it, too much. That feeding tubes could extend or save lives.
A very nice lady named Dee even offered to come to the house and show me how to feed, then clean the setup should Spencer need it. I had to prepare myself for doing this. If he needed it then so be it.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. I took this photo not realizing that Spencer was laying in a large pool of his own urine. He was completely zoned out, between the pain meds and being sick. You can see it effected his pupils as well.
After a few days of meds, Spencer began to eat on his own. He liked the crappy food so I was glad that he'd eat anything. I offered him many small meals throughout the day and he’d eat a teaspoon or two at most. He began to perk up a little, but I was still worried about taking him off the pain killers. I also wondered if we did something to his food that made him sick in the first place. We make our own raw food from carefully sourced ingredients, but what if we made a mistake? Surely one of our other nine cats would have been sickened, too?
By day five Spencer was off his medications and back to eating his regular diet. He’s still underweight but he’s back to his old self. I think he’s even friendlier than before and he’s not sucking down copious amounts of water, so perhaps the drinking was a way to soothe his digestive tract and not an alert that his kidneys were failing?
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Spencer giving me "lovey-eyes."
Next up: A Semi-feral cat, indeed!
I like to think I’m open-minded. I try to give everything and everyone a chance, resisting the temptation to make a judgment about an issue based on little or no facts. With my life, via this blog, being part of the fabric of social media, I find that people are very willing to express their feelings about what experiences I've written about and can be quick to make negative comments. It gives me pause. It makes me wonder if I should not write any more or if it’s worth it to constantly open myself up to a volley of negativity.
As always, I will go to my center, where my goal is simply to tell my story and through my experiences possibly educate anyone who takes the time to read these words. Success AND failure is something we learn from. My ups and downs are like anyone else’s, except for that they’re a lot more public and open to scrutiny.
I ask that you remain open-minded as I tell this tale because I know it’s a minefield and may fill some of you with a lot of strong emotions ready to fire off, but I have to speak my peace.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve left the house for more than a few hours, and even a longer time since I’ve gone anywhere overnight. As much as I love my cats and Sam, I needed a break.
I was supposed to attend an animal rescue related conference in early April, but I got the flu the day before I was to leave. I was so sick I didn’t do anything for three weeks other than lay in bed and feel miserable. I was so angry, feeling robbed of my one tiny chance to get away. I cursed at the sky and asked whoever the Big Boss is, why, someone who helps others, who is so poor, who works so hard, gets the flu the one day she is supposed to do something for herself (which in truth will help others since she’ll learn things about rescuing cats).
I still had one more trip to look forward to this year and I decided early on that I’d get there, no matter what. I’d been invited to attend a cat show in Massachusetts as a Guest Judge. Judge? Cat Show Judge? Me?
Not only that, but little Freya, our pooping-wonder-cat, was invited to be the Guest Cat! If I wanted to, I could show her in the Household Pet Cat division. Did I? Gosh, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but it also was an opportunity to educate people about the importance of saving the life of a cat who was deemed “un-savable.”
Freya is our Mascot after all. It’s through her that we were able to help save more kittens with atresia ani and put a spotlight on the importance of helping kittens with birth defects reach a happy adulthood.
Okay. I decided to give it a try.
I know what some of you are going to be thinking, and you’ve already voiced your opinion on my Facebook page about how cruel showing cats is and that any animal breeder should be punished, their animals not paraded around to the benefit of their owners and that how could I, as the President & Founder of Kitten Associates, dare do that to our Mascot, leaving her terrified in a tiny cage while waiting to be judged?
I’d have to admit that before I attended the cat show, I did have reservations. Sure, I’d been to cat shows plenty of times before, but only to oooh and ahhh over the pretty pedigreed felines and buy cat toys. I thought about how many cats are in kill-shelters, how many are starving and dying horrible deaths and that cat breeders just made the problem worse by adding more cats to the population problem.
I’d heard stories about breeders euthanizing cats that weren’t up to Standards, or not breeding their cats responsibly and causing birth defects or genetic health issues, then selling the cats for twisted amounts of money under the guise that they were healthy and robust.
There’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.
Firstly, there is no black and white about cat shows and breeders being all good or all bad. There are degrees of both states, just like in anything else. I did a lot of thinking about this topic as I walked around the show floor. I wanted to hate the breeders and be pro-cat-rescue, blinders firmly in place.
But then there were the cats.
Holy shit they were stunning. I thought about what the world would be like if no one preserved or created new breeds of cats (like the Napoleon who I just saw this weekend who was so cute I practically melted or the mind-blowingly magnificent orange Maine Coon with paws as big as my hands).
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Baccaruda, one of my new BFFs gets shown. He is all fluff, all the time.
What goes beyond looks is that these cats are also bred for temperament. Some are chosen for being curious and playful, while others are gentle giants. I never know what I’m going to get when I rescue a cat. Usually they’re sick, thin, full of fleas. When they feel better, they can sometimes become pretty obnoxious, while others might become fearful once they’re strong enough to show their true nature. I work hard to help them become confident and loving, but if they were genetically predisposed to be sweet and I knew that ahead of time, gee, there is something to be said for that.
I’m not looking to start a big argument about what is right or wrong, but I am hoping that maybe some of you will just be open-minded enough to think about a world without purebred cats and focus your anger on anyone who is cruel to animals, period.
Do I love that these cats are sold for crazy amounts of money? No.
Do I love that there ARE some cats who are stressed out of their minds and should not be shown. NO!...but we’ll talk more about that in my next post because I did see some pretty amazing changes in the cats as they quickly acclimated to their surroundings (including Freya).
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Stunning Maine Coon KITTEN.
That said, I would never condone making a cat miserable just so I could show him or her off and I am clear in the fact that there are breeders who do horrific things to their cats in the name of the almighty dollar.
Is it right that cats could be seen as being used to help humans? Well then what about service dogs? Horses? Police dogs, bomb-sniffing dogs, cancer-sniffing dogs, therapy cats? Is it so different that some of these cats provide their guardians with a feeling of safety and security in social settings?
And lastly, when you look at any cat, what’s one of the first things you do after cooing over how cute it is? You try to sort out what breed it might be. I think it would be a sad world if we were reduced to describing our cats, as, well, cats or by color or fur pattern alone.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Freya "helps" me pack up for our trip.
Slowly, over generations of not preserving breeds, we’d end up with a mixed bag of cats, who have no interesting personality traits that we can count on and probably less and less remarkable coloring or characteristics. I’m not sure what the impact would be on over-crowded shelters because the sort of people who don’t spay/neuter their cats isn’t going to change. Yes, some unscrupulous breeders dump their pet-quality kittens or adults at shelters, but my gut tells me the folks who don’t spay/neuter their cats or give kittens away for free on Craigslist without them being vetted are a bigger concern.
As humans, it’s in our nature to categorize, identify and create. Over the millennia, we have come to do that with our cats, too. We have bred cats who are sweet lap cats and cats who are glorious athletes. Just as humans are diverse, so are our cats. Do we really want to get rid of cat breeds because some breeders are rotten apples? Do we really want to close down cat shows because some of the cats experience stress for a few hours? How many cats are in homes that experience stress 24/7 due to their guardians behavior or suffer stress from the other pets in the home because they were not introduced properly or don’t have appropriate places to flee when they experience fear?
While I can’t say I love every aspect about breeding cats, maintaining a standard, or cat shows, I can say that after being part of one I see value I couldn’t see before. I hope you can, too.
So, yeah, I judged a cat show, but first, I had to get there and let me tell you, THAT was a story in and of itself.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Anti-lock brake, brake and traction control warning lights come on 12 hours before I have to drive to MA. Do I stay home or risk driving a car that's about to crap out on me?
Next up…the trip from HELL, in a hateful car, with a dead phone and no way to navigate my way out of a horrific traffic jam where I was traveling at a blazing 4 MPH. How determined was I to get away for a few days after all? Maybe I should have just stayed home?
Her claws dug into the wooden grate and tugged, tugged hard. Beyond the grate in the shadows under the house, she could see a safe place to hide away from the tidal pool, the animals there, the wetness that could sweep up and drown her if the rains continued to fall. She was so close to Long Island Sound she could hear the hiss of the waves as they reached the shore, but she didn’t care for a trip to the beach. She had far more important things on her mind.
A little black and white, tuxedo cat named Izzy was pregnant and desperate to find a place to give birth, but time was running out. Izzy bit and clawed at the grate. One corner was loose. If she kept pulling she’d be able to remove the grate and enter the depths of the underside of the house, but she'd have to rip out some insulation, too. No other animals had been there, she could smell the sweet earth and staleness of the fiberglass and knew she’d be safe. Her kittens were wriggling inside her. She knew they’d be coming soon so she continued to claw away even though her claws were breaking, the sheaths splintering off into the grass.
At last the grate gave way and Izzy clawed at the insulation ripping it to shreds as she made her way under the house as far back as she could; away from the wet, the wild, the world.
©2016 Dana Kane, used with permission. Photos of Izzy under the house, then as the kittens get trapped and ready for a trip to "Aunt Katherine's House." If you look carefully, the bottom center image shows the area Izzy dug out to have her kittens.
Two weeks later…
One day a lady noticed the broken grate and pieces of insulation. She assumed it was done by a raccoon or opossum and didn’t think much of it until she saw Izzy duck under the house. Not long after that she saw a kitten, then another. She loved animals dearly, but didn’t know what to do. Of course she could put down food for the mama cat, but what about the kittens?
It’s not always easy to find help for a mom and kittens. Rescues and shelters are overloaded, especially this time of year with other moms and kittens who need help. The woman called and emailed and after a week had passed she finally found Katherine, from Animals in Distress, who was willing to come help trap the family and get them to safety. Katherine had no problem getting the kittens, but she had to return to the home a few times, in the middle of the night and early the next morning on only a few hours sleep, until she finally trapped Izzy.
©2016 Katherine Reid, Animals in Distress. Used with Permission. While hoping Izzy would get into the trap, along comes who we think is the "baby daddy"! He's getting trapped next!
That's where I came in.
Over the past year and a half I’ve been struggling to find a home for Laney and 15 of her offspring. I’m down to the final two, Jelly and Lolly, and frankly I was dreaming about taking a break when they got adopted, but part of me was also yearning to be around kittens. I’ve missed having little ones running around, learning to be confident little cats. I miss the joy of seeing them thrive, though I don’t miss the heartache of seeing them get sick or worse.
I knew we had the space to take on the mom and kittens, but SURPRISE, I’d also just said OKAY to taking on six orphan kittens from two different kill shelters (stay tuned for updates on them)! Now what would I do?
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Our marvelous mama, Izzy.
Thankfully I have another foster home with Ms. J and her family. I love these guys to pieces. They always jump at the chance to foster but they’ve never had LITTLE kittens. There’s a lot to learn and it can be a very tricky few weeks. At least there was Izzy to feed and clean the kittens. They were almost 4 weeks old and would start using the litter pan and eating on their own, but they needed guidance to do that. Could I oversee their care when they were in another home? Would they be willing to take on such a task? Inasmuch as they were new to fostering kittens, I needed to do a great job passing on my knowledge to them.
It took a few days to work out the details. Katherine grew ever more frantic that the kittens would get sick. I understood having had so many kittens suffering from upper respiratory tract infections from being in kill shelters. She called around to other rescues just in case I had to say no.
©2016 Robin AF Olson.
So I began to shop for things the kittens would need: baby food (chicken!), goat's milk, syringes, cotton pads (to help them eliminate their wastes), pee pee pads, paper towels, cat food for mom. I put together a trunk full of stuff including a new baby scale. The kittens have to be weighed every day to ensure they are growing properly and so we know if they need some help with extra supplemental feedings.
Two days ago, Katherine, Ms. J and family and I met to get Izzy and family set up in their new foster home. Ms. J’s two daughters were glowing they were so excited. As Katherine introduced us to each kitten, we all swooned. We have a litter of four tabbies, with lovely sharp-edged stripes along their brown fur.
©2016 Robin AF Olson.
Katherine and I began talking about what to do for the kittens, how to do it, when to do it, all while the kittens were being passed from one of us to the other. We marveled at their markings and took notes about which two were our boys and which two were our girls. Two of the kittens, a boy and girl, are almost identical with the exception that the girl has a tiny white tip one her tail. We hugged and kissed them, welcoming them to Kitten Associates.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Safe, with mama and a fully belly, it doesn't get any better than this.
It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice to rescue one kitty family. It also takes resources and that’s something we need a lot of help with. These kittens will need vaccinations, de-worming, to be spayed or neutered. Izzy eats as much as three adult cats and fairly soon the kittens will be eating cat food, too.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. One of the boys gets some extra nom noms.
That’s where you come in.
Be a part of our life-saving efforts by sharing your love in the following ways:
For super fast donations of a specific amount use:
$10 Donation make a name suggestion for one or more kittens
$25 Donation helps keep Izzy's tummy full
$50 Donation provides cat food and treats
$75 Donation lots more cat food, toys and treats or first vaccinations for all the cats
$100 Donation covers spay/neuter one kitten
$200 Donation which sponsors one kitten's complete vet care
Make a donation HERE to use our DONATE TODAY button (and yes, you can use your credit card).
Send a check to Kitten Associates, P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354
Kitten Associates IS a 501c3 non-profit rescue so your donation is tax deductible. Our EIN is 27-3597692
Purchase cat food or chicken baby food or teenie tiny toys through our Amazon.com Wish List so you can choose exactly what gift you’d like to give to our foster kitties.
Purchase catnip-free cat toys at Purrfect Play. We LOVE their toys because they're small and not scary to growing kittens. Since we have six MORE kittens coming in, we'd welcome more toys! You can ship to our P.O. Box 354 (see above).
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Learning how to syringe-feed. Yum!
Every single dollar adds up and no gift is too small. We appreciate everything we get and sharing on social media helps, too!
We’re working on getting Squee TV HD up and running so you can watch our kittens 24/7 so stay tuned to our Facebook page for updates and a link to the web cam!
Thank you to the family who found Izzy and went to bat for her and made sure she found safe harbor with Katherine and I’m not thanking Katherine because she knows why. Hee hee…hey..we blogger/cat rescuers have to have a few secrets once in awhile.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Boy 1
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Girl 2
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Girl 3
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Boy 4
©2016 Robin AF Olson.
“WAM takes the theme of cats by the tail with this one-of-a-kind, multi-faceted project. Meow includes an exhibition exploring the feline as an iconic element of art, a self-guided "cat walk" through the Museum, an interactive installation featuring live cats, a community art show, a naughty kitty take-over of Helmutt's House, a dog show curated by Helmutt, and special art classes. From serious art to mischievous fun, Meow promises to tickle the whiskers of museum and cat-lovers alike!”
---from the WAM web site
I was delighted to be a guest of WAM for the Opening Party for Meow: A Cat-Inspired Exhibition just a few nights ago. The building was packed with feline fanciers galore as well as costumed cat-racters (sorry, had to!) like Hello Kitty and the Cat in the Hat.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. HELLO KITTY. HELLO ROBIN.
It was the place to fly your furry feline flag meanwhile celebrating artwork from modern day submissions by the community, to an Albrecht Dürer woodcut from the 15th century. There were also varying cat-centric pieces of art peppered throughout the museum in addition to two special installations featuring a wide range of artistic styles.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. WAM interior courtyard. where we got chastised for almost leaning on the walls (the docent said "everything here is art!").
As an added bonus to the dazzling display of artwork, was a chance to have a poster autographed by Emily the Strange artist/illustrator, Rob Reger. I jumped at the chance to chat with Mr Reger, being a fan of his work. The line moved painfully slowly, but before I could become annoyed, I realized it was because Mr. Reger was adding artwork to each poster, taking time to speak with each person on line (most often a child). He was clearly tired (a new daddy), but eager and interested to listen and interact with everyone. He was charming and even seemed to brighten up when I mentioned I ran a non-profit cat rescue. His wife, nearby with their newborn, was equally charming and friendly. Mr. Reger asked if we’d seen his new line of Kitty Gems. They are hand-cast, very limited production run sculptures made of colored polyurethane. They were so pretty it was tough to choose a favorite. He clearly understands how to express the form of a cat without being cutesy or heavy-handed. The moderne-style figures were a true delight and I’m certain most cat art aficionados will be jumping at the chance to add them to their collection.
Emily the Strange goodies.
I was glad to tour the exhibit with my friend and fellow cat-rescuing-blogger, Connie who writes Tails from the Foster Kittens. Though we were disappointed that the cats-in-residence program hadn’t opened yet (it’s not set to open until July 13, 2016), it was very enjoyable to discover so many pieces of art dedicated to cats. The Community Cats section was my favorite. I was so surprised that WAM opened up their space to the general public to submit their own offerings of cat-themed art. This seems out-of-the-norm of what an art museum would do, but then again, why not? Art is everywhere and cat lovers especially want to share their love for cats by honoring them artistically. It was delightful to see a great range of artistic skills from pieces done by young children to very talented professional artists.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Rob Reger signing my poster.
As the music played on and the crowds grew larger, Connie and I headed towards the gift shop, hoping to score some goodies before we called it a night. As a cat-blogger and cat lover I could barely wait to see what I might discover. Though the selection was good I was very disappointed to find out that there was no exhibition catalog or really much of anything that had artwork from the show on it. Perhaps they underestimated what cat-fans would want to bring home with them or that there were permission and copyright issues with using any of the community submitted art. I hope they decide to open this exhibit again, but make it bigger and have more goodies available to purchase.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Me and...?
If time allows I may travel back to Worcester to scope out the Cats-in-Residence Program featuring the Worcester Animal Rescue League. This exhibit is a human/cat contemporary art installation featuring ADOPTABLE CATS. I LOVE THIS IDEA. It helps take the stigma off shelter cats and for those of us who feel too scared or sad to go to a shelter, they can experience the cats in an art installation. I hope they all get adopted the first day and…when can my rescue take part in this?
The Hunter, The Hunted, Arlene Skaran, 2014.
Instead of being stuffy and elitist, it’s clear that WAM’s goal is to be inclusive and light-hearted by taking a chance on a somewhat off-beat subject matter. I applaud their efforts and hope you’ll check out this delightful exhibition.
Buster Doesn't Like the Smell of Fabreze, by Heather Meri Stewart, 2013.
Socks by Karen Maust, 2013.
MEOW: A Cat-Inspired Exhibition runs through September 4, 2016.
I entered the foster room and was met by Laney, Winnie and Piglet. Their tails held high, their eyes bright with excitement. They crowded in close, rubbing up against my legs as I struggled to enter the room without dropping their food. It was time to have breakfast and they were eager to eat.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Winnie, Piglet and photobomb by Laney.
As I lowered the tray, covered with small mounds of chicken, they gathered in a circle, joined by shy-Lolli, and began to eat. It was just another breakfast, about their 485th, with me, but this one was different. It was their last breakfast together.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Last breakfast.
I watched them eat, oblivious to what I knew was going to happen in a few hours. They lapped up every morsel as they quickly glanced over to their neighbor to see if they had any food left that could be snatched away. In moments the tray was clean, as if nothing had ever been on it in the first place. It was a metaphor whose meaning wasn’t lost on me.
I sat on the bed, in my usual spot near the right side. Winnie jumped up right away, as she often did, climbed into my lap and began washing her face. Laney took her place just in front of me and Piglet was off to my left. They were getting clean before settling down for a nap. The only sound was them purring away. All was right in the world, but wrong in my heart.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Love-filled lap.
©2014 Foster Mom Moe. Used with permission. Winnie, pregnant, just before rescue.
Time felt more like a layer cake than a linear path. All at once I could see Winnie sitting in the grass in Georgia, fat with kittens inside her, the same sweet expression as she had now. I saw Winnie struggling with an upper respiratory tract infection last year and coming back home from a failed adoption in early February. I saw myself entering the room and the girls would not greet me. They would be gone and I probably would never see them again. All things were happening at once, the beginning, the end, the challenges, the happy moments.
As much as I wanted Winnie, especially, to stay with me forever, it was not fair for her to stay in a small room for the rest of her life. She and the girls always deserved more, better. I turned away great adopters who only wanted Laney and Piglet had a failed adoption by a poser-cat-person in NYC over a year ago. I struggled once I decided the girls HAD to stay together because who would adopt three cats?
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. The ever-silly, Winnie.
When I found an adopter, she was flakey, changing her mind over and over again. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt so I moved forward with the adoption. I wasn’t surprised when after barely a week, the girls adoption fell through, leaving me to drive to Boston and back in an afternoon to bring them back home.
After over a year I wondered if I was doing the wrong thing. Maybe I should let the girls go to a home on their own? Maybe I was stupid and greedy. I didn’t want them to leave. I liked having them here.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. No vacancy.
In March I got a two adoption applications for all three girls. I wanted to get excited about it but I couldn’t get my hopes up after what had already happened with them. It was a good thing I just went through the motions of processing their applications. Both adopters backed off-one after going back and forth with me for a MONTH, the other had a terrible vet reference.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Lovely Laney.
I began to feel remorse every time I entered the foster room. I felt so bad for the girls and for poor Jelly, who is still in a cage recovering from knee surgery. I felt so badly for his brother Lolli, who I doubt will ever be adopted because he’s too skittish. For the past five weeks, every Monday night, a couple came to visit Jelly and Lolli with the idea that if the boys warmed up to them (they did), they would adopt them. I was so excited that they might find a home, but even after hosting this couple when I had the worst Flu of my life, after answering a million questions, putting them in touch with my vet so they could be assured they understood why Jelly had to have surgery, I get a short email. “Bad news.” The woman’s dad brought over two kittens and they couldn’t say no (really?) and the adoption was off. I was devastated.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. On or near my lap, this wonderful family will be one I'll never forget.
The cats deserved more than to be in a small room day in and day out. They were bored and I didn’t blame them. We were all ready for a change, but I felt like hope was running out unless I did something.
I got another application for the girls-for all three. It wasn’t another out-of-state adopter. It wasn’t someone who had two dogs and a cat. It wasn’t someone who had a terrible vet reference.
It was from a couple who live IN Connecticut, in fact, about 30 minutes drive from my home. They live alone with no children. They had no other pets. Their cat passed away in March at the age of 19. They had room in their heart for a new cat and they wanted to help cats who were hard to adopt.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Too much love irks Winnie.
A few days ago Sam and I did a home visit. I loved their home. It wasn’t too big or too small. It was on the side of a hill surrounded by plants and trees. The home was immaculately clean and when I mentioned that Winnie would jump on their piano because she liked to be up high, they thought it was charming and said they didn’t care about furnishings. They just cared that the cats had each other to play with while they were away at work during the day. There were lots of big sunny windows. This was it. Now all I had to do was have them fall in love with the girls.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. I know. I played favorites, but I do love them all, just maybe not exactly equally.
I really liked this couple; Amy and her husband, Markel. The more we spoke, the more I liked them. I never had a weird pull at my gut telling me something was off. This time it was easy. They came to visit the girls for maybe 30 minutes. The girls were great with them and vice versa. It was the easiest adoption I’ve done in ages, though they’d have to come back and finalize the paperwork once they had things set up at their home, it was decided. The girls found their forever home and I had a few days go say my goodbyes.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. I wish I could have told them it was going to be okay and that they'd understand this was all so they could have a great life.
I’ve fostered over 500 cats so far. Most of the time it’s not too difficult to say farewell, but the girls have been with me for so long that it was more like I was giving away my own cats, than I was adopting out foster cats. I knew if it went on any longer, Winnie would be staying with me. It wasn’t fair to my other cats or to Winnie. I didn’t want to break up Laney’s family any more than I already had. I had to continue on with the plan. I had to let go.
Last night the girls began their new story, their life with their new parents. Markel came to get the girls since Amy was delayed at work. He has a loud, deep voice, but the moment he loaded the girls into the car his voice turned falsetto. They were crying and scared. As he entered the car, he turned to the girls and said it was going to be okay, that they would be home soon.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. A few final moments with the girls.
Their story with me has come to an end. It’s been a very long journey. All in all we saved 16 cats all because Laney was never spayed. I still have Jelly and Lolli left to find a home for. I know they'll be missing their mom, so I return to the foster room to comfort them, but in truth, they'll be comforting me.
A long, happy, loved life to my girls…forever in my heart.
©2014 Foster Mom Moe. Used with Permission. This is how I'll remember the girls and their amazing story.
©2016 Foster Mom Moe. Her lovely video in honor of Laney & family.
When I was 16, my very first serious boyfriend and I traveled about 90 minutes from my parents home to the “northwest corner” of Connecticut. My boyfriend wanted to impress me by taking me somewhere romantic and it was a big deal to be able to go so far from home, alone with a boy! I remember walking hand-in-hand with him, feeling like we’d always be together. A sparkling waterfall roared nearby, but we were too in love to hear it, busy sneaking kisses along the steep path to the top of the falls where we could kiss some more.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Covered bridge entrance to Kent Falls.
Kent Falls is far more than a tiny state park nestled into the shoulder of a the southern Berkshire mountains. After almost 4 decades, it’s entered my bloodstream. Although my boyfriend and I didn’t last, I continued to visit the falls over the years, especially off-season, right after a heavy rain. The falls were almost bursting at the seams and the effect was dramatic.
My mother and I often went to the falls together and, in fact, today, when I returned there, I flashed back to those times. I had a difficult relationship with my mother, but at Kent Falls we were too busy taking photos to get on each other’s nerves…okay until she asked me, as she often did, to stand somewhere precarious so she could get a good photo. If I fell to my death, she’d worry about getting the shot over saving my life, but in a way I couldn’t blame her. We often walked the trails in the area watching others get a bit too close to the water’s edge. My mother would whisper to me; “FALL!” hoping her desire to see someone fall into the raging river would come to pass. Did I say my mother was a sweet angel? No. I did not.
©2005 Robin A.F. Olson. My mother on the "do not climb" area.
Our last trip to Kent Falls was about 6 months before my mother died. Her passing was unexpected and terribly shocking. She’d kept her heart failure a secret from me and I found out the hard way when she didn’t answer her phone one morning and I raced to her home to find her already gone from this world. It was this last trip that was our best, and why Timmy’s Ashes Stones needed to become part of our memory tapestry there.
I was driving north, about 30 minutes away from the falls. My mother and I weren’t saying much, the usual tension filled the air. Off to our right, soaring high above us we saw a large bird.
I said to my mother; “Is that a bald eagle?”
“Yes, I think it is!” she replied excitedly.
Then suddenly, what at first looked like a white ribbon, quickly emerged out of the back of the eagle and fell just as quickly to the earth.
Once again I asked my mother; “Was that what I think it was? Did that eagle just take a shit?”
Without pause, my mother turned to me and put her hand on my arm. She replied; “Turn the car around and head home. It can’t get any better than this.”
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. One of Timmy's stones. It reads: "Timmy was here."
Both laughing, the tension evaporated between us. By the time we reached the falls they were broiling and bubbling as we’d never seen before. The nearby Bulls Bridge area was terrifying, the river was lapping against the banks as we passed a bit too close by on a tiny slick path that hugged the side of a hill. We got our photos. We didn’t fall to our death (or see anyone fall, though one guy was pushing his luck) and before we headed home we stopped at a café and had grilled cheese sandwiches and tea. It was a perfect day.
I cherish this place like no other, so that’s why today, on a brisk, brilliant day, I drove my car north, to Kent Falls. It was the first time I’d been there since my mother died so it was an especially meaningful trip.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Base of Kent Falls near where I placed the stones.
When I arrived, there were barely a handful of people at the park. As I walked over the narrow wooden covered bridge to access the grounds, one that was built in the early 1930’s, as the ghosts of my past came to visit me. On that bridge, faded and softened with time, are my initials carved into the wood, along with those of my first boyfriend, David. I can’t even find them now, but I know they're still there. The dreams of our life together are long gone, but the memory of that first love will always be in my heart.
As I walked along the path that lead to the falls, I remembered holding my young nephew’s hand on his first pilgrimage to this place, my mother urging us to stop every few steps so she could take another picture of us. She couldn’t capture the feeling of family, of love and togetherness. She was too uncomfortable to be affectionate or say; “I love you,” but we knew she did as she clicked the shutter, yelling at her quirky old autofocus camera to “FOCUS DAMMIT!”
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson.
Then my thoughts turned to Timmy, a cat I’ve never met, who’s life was cruelly shortened by a toxic exposure to over-the-counter flea treatments. I think about his mom, Claudia and how her heart is broken now that Timmy’s gone. I think about how if Timmy hadn’t gotten sick, Claudia never would have created a non-toxic soap that my rescue, Kitten Associates, can safely use on the tiniest of kittens. How I don’t have to worry I’m going to harm the most innocent of creatures because one woman loved her cat so very much and who loved all of us so very much that she wanted to protect every cat and dog in the whole wide world.
It takes a certain kind of brave heart to be able to face the painful daily reminder of seeing your cat wobble when he walks, his nerves forever damaged, but to turn that heartache into helping others so they never have to see their own cat suffer, too—well that needs to be honored.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson.
As I walked up an incline near the falls, I found a place very close to the water, but not too close so that Timmy’s memorial stones would wash away. I knew that even if they did, that was okay, too because Timmy’s memory would move along the river and find a new place to be discovered. Now his stones are part of my memory and part of my life. He may have been a cat I’ve never met, but his loss is just as vivid as if I lost one of my own.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Stone placement.
I sat on a fallen tree near the falls after I placed and photographed the stones. There was no one else around and I was glad to have some privacy. I cried for Timmy, for how unfair it was that he died so young. I cried for his mom, Claudia, wishing I could give her a hug and tell her it’s going to be okay and that I’m so proud of what she’s done to honor her beloved cat. I cried because I wish I’d hear my mother’s voice, tell me to sit up straight and tip my head down, just a tiny bit, so I wouldn’t have a double chin in the photo she was about to take of me. I cried because somehow 40 years have slipped by and I realize I haven’t done enough good in my own life.
Geotag of stones.
Fly free sweet Timmy. Thank you and your mom for making our world a better, safer place.
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Thank you for allowing me to be a ripple in the wave.