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.
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.
Both of my parents were scientists. I think that’s why when one of my cat’s gets sick I spend a great deal of time trying to sort out what is going on if we don’t have a clear cut answer. I’d been keeping a diary of when Gracie should have her meds, which meds she should get, what time I tried to get her to eat, if she ate and how much she ate. I also added other notes about her, like “Perky today” or “Kinda limp.”
When she’d do badly for a few days I'd look back over my notes for clues. Nothing added up. I also never knew if “this was it”-sort of decline or if she could rebound. We had no idea which, if any, of her medications were helping her. She’d go through periods of not eating for a day or a bit longer. I’d syringe-feed her and she’d perk up and eat again, getting her energy back, too. Though she didn’t return to her “old self” she'd sit up and meow at me when I came near or she’d, at least, walk over to the kitchen, far beyond her regular spot in the living room where she spends a majority of her day. One day I gave her a rainbow shaped catnip toy and she loved it. She even fell asleep with her head on it. She was still a cat by all definitions.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Although the catnip toy didn't make Gracie get frisky, she did really enjoy it and even nibbled on it with the few teeth she has left.
Monday arrived. Test result day. Once again my gut was in a knot. I had my phone ringer turned on and turned up. I carried my phone wherever I went. Every time someone else called me I jumped out of my skin. Would this be the day I find out my cat has a deadly cancer or would it be treatable? We’d been down this road before but truly this time we’d KNOW.
Or would we?
“We don’t know just yet.”
Dr. Carolyn went on to describe our next options. We had three:
1. Do a Tru-cut ultrasound guided biopsy of Gracie’s liver because most of the Vets on this case agreed that the culprit still is her liver. Yes, she has benign cysts there that we know of but there’s a chance there's more going on than we realize. A needle aspirate can't get enough tissue to give us a more complete picture, which is why we only found out there were cysts when we had that done a month ago. The Tru-cut would tell us what's happening in the surrounding liver tissue. Doing this type of biopsy, while gets good results, isn’t as accurate as doing a “wedge” biopsy (see below).
With this procedure there's a risk Gracie could bleed more and possibly not recover. It’s a quick procedure and the least invasive. There isn’t even a suture needed, the opening created is so tiny. They'd also do another transfusion, this time doing it FIRST to give Gracie the best chance to survive and feel good after the procedure is done. If she starts to decline they would do a SECOND transfusion, which of course adds to costs and is no guarantee she will come out of it.
Dr. Carolyn felt that this test WOULD tell us once and for all what is going on and if we knew, then there would be a chance for some sort of treatment, though a cure is very unlikely. It would buy us more quality time and we could treat her with appropriate medications and stop giving her ones she didn't need in the first place. It would cost another $1500.00 or so.
2. Do nothing. Keep Gracie comfortable and she may become so anemic she'll die. We could try to up her dose of steroids, but that's not a fix and we'll never know what happened or if we could have done something about it. She'll have much less time with us and potentially be much more uncomfortable.
3. Do a wedge biopsy of her liver. This way a surgeon would SEE her liver and be able to take a sample that was big enough to test, as well as suture closed any bleeding issues. It would cost about $5,000.00. It would likely KILL Gracie before she was even out of sedation.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Laying on a pet-safe heated bed and some sunshine helps soothe Gracie's discomfort.
I’ve had a number of conversations with all the major players in our story. Two of the three said YES, do the Tru-cut. Dr. Carolyn feels there's a very good chance Gracie WILL survive the procedure. Gracie's 13, not 18. We would finally know what's going on and know if there is more to be done to help Gracie feel comfortable.
One of the Vets said not to do it because it was too risky and that some times you just don’t know and that we could come in to see him and he’d discuss treatment options. For what? What are we treating if we DON’T KNOW what it is?! Frankly, I think he was back-peddling because he should have caught something worse was going on with Gracie over a month ago and he didn’t.
Sam and I have discussed this a few times. I’ve asked questions and still have more to ask. Three days ago Gracie was not eating and I wouldn’t have done a thing to her. Today she she's on her third day of feeling perky and eating again, but how long will that last?
I want to know what’s killing my cat, but to find out she may die anyway. There’s a very decent chance she'll make it and we’ll have answers, but I have to be willing to let my cat pay the price if I’m wrong.
So now I find myself like a deer caught in the headlights. I don't know what to do. I think we should do the Tru-cut biopsy since Gracie is stable. The costs are an issue. In truth, we need help to make this happen.
If you’d like to take Gracie under your wing and help with a small donation toward her care, it could mean a world of difference to her and would honor our hard work helping others.
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 with your friends who have kind hearts and love cats. That helps Gracie, too.
Your donation is Tax Deductible. K.A. is a non-profit rescue and our IRS EIN is 27-3 597692.
We will stop our fundraiser as soon as we’ve raised $2000.00, which we hope will cover Gracie's care and allow some funds to be banked in case she needs a second transfusion. 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.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie.
Thank you to everyone who has been so kind to share their love, prayers and good wishes for Gracie. We can't do this without you. #ComeOnGracie #LoveYouGracie
Words fail me. I can’t eat. I lost 5 lbs in 4 days. I don’t have the brain-function to work. I can’t sleep. I’m terrified that I’m going to find my cat, Gracie dead.
Every morning I wonder if I’ll see Gracie lying strangely still on her heated bed in the living room, where she spends most of her day. Every morning I hope I'm wrong and that she’ll be okay, sitting up, hungry. Even better, will she be in the kitchen meowing at me to be fed? Or worse, will she be quietly sitting in a “meatloaf” position that tells me she’s in pain and doesn’t want to eat even though her last meal was so many hours ago.
The ups and downs of Gracie’s health crisis are taking a toll, while Sam and I are working so hard to get a definitive diagnosis of what has been causing Gracie’s hemorrhaging and serious anemia. We’ve seen an oncologist, three general practitioners, and two Board Certified specialists. We thought we had a diagnosis of biliarycystadenoma and while that may be partially true, it wouldn’t cause Gracie’s other issues.
A week ago Gracie wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped, so I brought her in to see Dr. Larry. Her blood work showed the anemia was back and Dr. Larry could feel that Gracie’s liver still felt enlarged. I was shocked and scared. He asked if we could do yet another ultrasound to find out what was going on. I was reluctant because I didn’t think we’d find anything out, but he reminded me that we’d see if the bleeding was worse and if the liver looked bigger or smaller. We had to act fast, but I was already exhausted and couldn’t face the idea of making the hour-long drive. Sam had worked all night to make up for all the time he’s been on Vet runs with me and unable to work. How could we make this happen?
Super-Deb and I made calls, trying to find a place to do the ultrasound. In the end I realized we had to go see Dr. Sean, who did Gracie’s previous procedure. I was able to get an appointment two days later, but what I wasn’t ready for was that we ended up being at the hospital all day.
Gracie’s appointment went quickly, but Dr. Sean strongly felt we needed to meet with an Internist to discuss his findings. It was 11:30 AM, but she couldn’t see us until 3:00 PM. Did we want to wait? Neither of us wanted to drive over an hour back home, turn around and come back so we opted to wait. Sitting in a waiting room with nothing but a blaring TV and patients with their pets in different states of decline was not my idea of a good time. Sam and I both just wanted to sleep. Gracie was in her carrier between us. We had the top unzipped and we were both gently petting her. I knew she wasn’t strong enough to run off, so we each took turns closing our eyes for a few minutes at a time.
Dr. Carolyn finally came to get us a little after 3 PM. She seemed very clever and was eager to give us her take on what she thought was Gracie’s issue. We were all looking at Gracie’s liver, but no one bothered with the fact that Gracie’s spleen also had a strange shape that was seen on ultrasound. Something was wrong with it, too and no one had even considered it as part of the equation. Dr. G carefully described how Mast Cell cancer could be in the spleen and be the culprit. Gracie could also have hemolytic anemia or a portal shunt that basically meant something was blocking blood flow from Gracie’s digestive tract into her liver.
She further explained that she’d like to do another blood test on Gracie to make sure she could clot, that she’d do another type of blood test (I forget what it’s called) that measures her blood differently and would tell us if she had the hemolytic anemia. Lastly she wanted to do a needle aspirate of Gracie’s spleen to rule cancer in or out. I was having a bad flashback to a few weeks prior when we’d done the needle aspirate of Gracie’s liver and Gracie was in terrible shape afterwards.
Dr. Carolyn added that Gracie should get a transfusion and stay overnight with the theory that the new blood would help her feel better and give us more time to find out what was going on. Once again we’d have to wait until the following Monday for the results. We just had to keep her going until we had more information.
We decided it all made sense and agreed to let her take Gracie. The bill for that day was $1600.00.
The traffic was terrible going home and we didn’t arrive until nearly 7 PM, to a house full of anxious cats who needed to be fed right away. We finally got everyone settled when my phone rang. It was Dr. Carolyn-
My gut hit the floor and I tried to choke back the tears. I told her to go; to take care of Gracie and not bother with me on the phone. I hung up and told Sam the bad news. What made it unbearable is that we just did what we promised we would NOT do to Gracie—let her die alone, without us, surrounded by strangers. I asked Sam if we should drive back to Middletown, to Gracie, to be there for her. I knew that even if we left right away, odds are we’d be too late. If she survived, they’d want to keep her there overnight so we decided to stay home.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My sweet girl.
Less than an hour later, Dr. Carolyn called. Gracie had bounced back and was eating and up on her feet! Sam looked at me while I got the news. I gave him the thumbs up sign while I tried to choke back the tears, telling Dr. Carolyn to please give Gracie a kiss from us and that we’d see her in the morning.
Gracie didn’t come home the next morning. Dr. Carolyn wanted to keep her longer so we picked her up that night. Gracie seemed perkier and even ate for me when we got her home. I hoped the effects of the transfusion would last, but I also knew that Gracie’s updated blood work showed she didn’t bounce back as well as Dr. Carolyn would have hoped. I have the paperwork but I don’t have the heart to even look at it. Knowing what that number is didn’t change that Gracie survived the procedure. Frankly, I didn’t know if I could take much more. I just wanted to sleep and feel certain that when I woke up Gracie would still be with us.
Part 7 is next...where we have to make a life or death decision for Gracie and I sure could use some advice on what to do.
I thought a lot about Karma last week when Sam and I decided we had to call an exterminator to rid our house of a nest of social wasps. They’d built a home under the siding over the summer and although I knew they would perish naturally in a few weeks, there were so many of them swarming outside that I worried they’d be chewing through the walls breaking inside the house next.
As a Buddhist I am told to consider every living being in the same way as I would think of my mother. Every fly is my mother. Every spider is my mother. Each creature has a precious life and to take even one on purpose is definitely not something you want to do.
Joe, the exterminator arrived. He has a Brooklyn accent and a friendly demeanor. When I told him my concerns he said that the wasps would have to go because they really could case a great deal of damage. In my own defense, last year they built a big nest on the underside of a bird feeder so we just didn’t go out on the deck much and the birds got fed elsewhere.
Joe explained the process. It was a powder. It was safe for us. It would work pretty fast. I didn’t want to see the wasps die but it was happening right outside my office window. As he applied the powder I heard the wasps making a familiar “tick” sound inside the wall. They were moving around trying to get out. Some were trying to get in because the alarm, sent via hormones through the air, had gone out and the wasps who were outside were coming back to save the Queen…but it was already too late.
I said a silent prayer. I said I was sorry to the dead wasps. They aren’t just bugs. They are part of the natural world and now they were gone.
Joe said that we should be all set and wished us well. I tried not to dwell on it and went back to fussing with Gracie, trying to get her to eat.
Until that night when Fluff Daddy knocked over a lamp.
It’s funny how quickly things can change. I went from pure remorse to hyper-protection-mode. I had to get the cats away from the wasps and I had to get the wasps OUT of the house, fast.
I ran for the vacuum and Sam and I spent a few minutes sucking up every one we could find. We managed to take a very few of them outside, but there were too many. We decided to leave the vacuum out because we didn’t know if there’d be any more. A few minutes later the cats would go crazy, signaling that there was another…and another...all in the same room by the front door. But where were they coming in from?
We looked around and found nothing. Only the front room had wasps so it had to be from that room. I flashed back to a day when we found a mouse in the house. I figured out it came in from inside the coat closet by the front door. The sheet rock from the back of the closet didn’t go all the way to the floor. There was no molding at the end of the sheet rock so anything inside the walls could get into the house. It took me until the next morning to figure out that was the problem.
Creative Commons. Wasp. Thanks to Richard Bartz.
Joe treated the areas and he took another look around. We thought that things were settled once and for all. Joe cautioned us that maybe we’d see one or two more wasps but they’d be heavy with the dust and too off-kilter to sting any of the cats.
It was late morning so I went upstairs to the foster room. I began doing the daily cleanup when I noticed Piglet playing with something. It was a dead wasp. Their room is directly next to where the nest was in the wall. Joe told us there was no way they could get into the ducts and fly into the rooms so I couldn’t understand where this lone wasp came from.
I had shut the window when the spraying was going on so I decided it was okay to open it again. A few moments after opening the window about 10 wasps appeared in the foster room. I called out to Sam to bring me the vacuum quickly. I couldn’t risk the cats getting stung and these wasps were none too happy. Though I would have preferred to catch the wasps and let them go outside there was no time. I sucked up each one, then waited, then another would appear. I wondered if they, too, had an entrance route through the closet in that room.
It seemed as though I’d turn my head for a second and another would appear, but it couldn’t be from the vent, right?
I decided to put a flashlight on the vent. I turned it on knowing it would attract the wasps. A moment later, a wasp appeared IN the vent. I called for Joe yet again. The receptionist was stunned when I told her, no it wasn’t just one or two wasps, it was over a dozen. She told me to cover the vent with a doubled over garbage bag, to seal each edge of the bag perfectly because wasps can slip through a space the thickness of a piece of paper. She promised me that Joe would return, but not until the next day. I was to cover up the vents near the nest and report back if it got worse.
The next morning Joe returned, a bit embarrassed. He’d never seen wasps get into duct work, but we have a cheaply built house so I’m not surprised. He told us to simply leave the vents in my office and the foster cat room sealed shut for the next few weeks. Any remaining wasps would die once it got cold enough outside. He did not want to put any chemicals into the duct, nor did I want him to do so.
He re-inspected the area outside the house and declared that the siege of wasps was over and this time he was right.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a crappy re-birth over this, but at least I don't hear buzzing.
I truly believe that sooner or later every cat will find their forever home. In some cases it's taken months and in two rare cases it's taken more than a year. Typically I'd expect it to take longer when we have an adult since without a brick and mortar shelter for people to come visit, the cat would have to be very appealing to cause someone to come over to my house to meet them (after the person goes through our screening process first). It's not ideal, but I also want to make certain the match is a good one, one that lasts a lifetime.
Enter Woody Jackson.
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. Mia after giving birth. What a great mama!
Woody was born on the last day of March in 2014 to a feral mom named Mia. Mia was toughing it out on the grounds of an apartment building where we were told they were going to start poisoning the feral cats to get rid of them. Mia, swollen with her unborn kittens would have perished if not for the efforts of a small team of very caring people. Once in our program, foster mom, Moe got to work preparing a space for Mia to safely give birth.
We were lucky in that Mia didn't lose a single kitten when she gave birth just two days after being rescued. Her kittens were a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns. We reached out to some friends and asked them to name the kittens so their names would be as varied as they were.
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. I am born. Baby Woody.
This family was like many of our others, but what was better was that they were quite a bit healthier and more robust. The months passed as the kittens grew, opening their eyes, taking their first steps, being weaned, getting their vetting done, learning to be confident kitties of the world.
The only problem with this family was Mia. She was too wild to be a pet, but I couldn't just leave her behind when it was time for her kittens to join the 1100 mile transport to my home. My job is to find the forever homes for the kittens AND mom, but what if mom wasn't adoptable?
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. Woody Jackson, named in honor of Jackson Galaxy, the stunning white cat we rescued in 2012 who passed away a few days before Woody was born.
I knew it would potentially cause me many problems to have a cat I couldn't handle mixed with friendly kittens who were ready be adopted. I also knew I couldn't work with Mia if she was with the kittens, so they needed to be adopted first.
It didn't take long before Ivy got adopted. Not long after the start of the New Year, I met a family who was interested in adopting Snickers, Woody or Greta or some combination of the three. Not everyone in the family was ready to adopt three cats, though they'd had as many as four in the past. They'd set their sights on Woody, but as they agonized over which ones to take, my hopes that Woody would be chosen began to fade.
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. Ivy (bottom left), Greta (tortie), Woody (center), Fernando (top center), Lil' Snickers (center right).
It took a few more months before Fernando was adopted. He went with Astro, who was one of Celeste's offspring. I'm glad to report that they're doing very well together.
That left Woody and Mia.
As Woody's first birthday approached, I began to worry that his home might not be out there. After nine months of living with me I'd never even gotten ONE adoption application for him. I couldn't understand it because Woody is a gem. The cat is friendly, handsome, maybe a bit too chatty, but smart. He either had an elephant head or a heart in the cow pattern on his back. What's not to love?
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. Woody and Snickers were very close. We hoped they'd be adopted together but that didn't come to pass.
I had fifteen more cats coming and needed to make room for them. Woody and Mia had to be moved to the small blue bathroom, which is where I normally have a mom and kittens. This year I couldn't rescue any pregnant cats or nursing queens because there was simply no room.
I began allowing Woody a break from being confined to one room to explore the rest of the house. He slowly began to meet some of my cats. The first two friends he made were Freya and Fluff Daddy. He was particularly close to Freya. Each night I'd let Woody out of his room. He'd start meowing frantically since he'd been bored being shut up all day. He'd race around the upstairs and play Tag with Freya. Eventually, Woody made himself a place on a soft bench next to the bed and slept near me every night.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Woody vs Freya.
Most every morning, around 4 or 5 AM, he'd also wake me up, crying to be let back into the blue bathroom so he could be with his mom. Mia was his world now and each day that passed meant it would be that much harder for him to be separated from her.
©2014 KittenAssociates.org. BFFs.
I even tried to get Mia into a situation by herself where she might become socialized but it didn't work out. After two weeks Mia returned. Woody was delighted to see her again, but I knew that it meant Mia might never leave us and both cats would be here for years. I had to do something.
But I got sick and my heart was acting wonky. Then my cat Gracie got sick. Planning an adoption event or even getting Woody's photo in the local paper just seemed to be too much to do. It was August 2015. Woody was almost a year and a half old. He wasn't getting along well with all my cats. He even began to protect the bedroom as his space, which was going to be a big problem since my other cats wouldn't tolerate that. I knew that we'd possibly start having inappropriate elimination issues crop up in the bedroom, or cat fights in the middle of the night. I couldn't come up with a solution.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Handsome young man.
One day I was going through email and one stood out to me. The subject message said "Woody." I opened it up. It was from the husband of the family who adopted Great and Snickers. He said they were ready to take Woody and when could they come get him. Nine MONTHS had passed since their adoption and just now it was time for Woody? I couldn't believe it.
It took some time before I could talk to his wife. I wanted to be sure this was a family decision. It was. Not only that, but even their two children had been asking about Woody all these months. They'd never forgotten him and they all knew that the only thing that made sense was to reunite the kittens with their brother. I couldn't have been more pleased. If Woody was adopted, then maybe I could work with Mia, at last and maybe there was a chance that Mia could eventually be ready to be adopted one day, too.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. What do you make of the patten on Woody's back? Micky Mouse elephant?
Friday night Woody's new mom came to get him. I expected to be a wreck having to let him go after all this time. I loved Woody dearly and considered him part of my family, but I also knew it was grossly unfair for him to be in a small room for a better part of the day and not be with people who would love him, play with him and give him the chance to be with his siblings again. I knew it wouldn't be effortless to reunite them. It would still take some time, but I also hoped that it would be fairly easy for them to remember each other, even after all these months.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Woody always helps with the laundry.
Sam and I packed Woody up into his new cat carrier. I gave him his blanket that smelled like his mom. I kissed him goodbye but I did not cry. I was happy for Woody because now he could really have fun in ways that I could not provide for him. As I said goodbye to his new mom, she told me if Mia came around to let her know. I couldn't imagine her being reunited with her kittens, but heck, maybe anything is possible if you give it enough time?
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Woody with his beloved mother, Mia.
It's strangely quiet with Woody gone and sadly, the only sound I can hear is of Mia. She's crying. In all the time she's been here I've only heard her hiss. She's looking for Woody. I wish I could tell her how sorry I was and that I'd like to be her friend. I knew this would be the terrible part of the adoption process, but if Mia is to have any chance at being socialized it had to be done.
Now I can focus on her and hope that one day her story will have as happy an ending as Woody's. I've already gotten an update that Woody is a love-bug and doing well. His new family is overjoyed to have him where he was meant to be all along.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Ever the rascal. Our last night together.
©2015 Robin AF Olson.
If you'd like to read more about Mia and her family you can read
Mia's Very Long Road Part 1 and
The Veterinary Cancer Center is enormous, clean, elegant with a sophisticated interior design. It’s the biggest facility of its kind in the country. We're so lucky to live nearby. The staff is impeccably dressed, smart, capable. You clearly get what you pay for because you can feel that this is “the place” to be if your pet is sick. It was nearly 3pm, the time of our appointment. The door opened and I looked up. There was Katherine, standing in the doorway with a silly smirk on her face.
I went over to her and gave her a big hug. It had been months since we’d last seen each other. She and Sam said their hellos, then she bent down and met Gracie, who looked up at her and meowed softly. Having a friend there helped me forget to be scared. We made jokes, as we often do when we’re worried or having a bad time. She agreed that Gracie didn’t look “that bad” but we all knew how cats can hide illness. At that point I’d take any positive news. Did I dare hope for any more?
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Interior of VCC.
The Tech came to escort us into Exam Room 3 so we bid Katherine farewell with a promise to update her as soon as we had news. The last time we’d been in that exam room was with Fred. I didn’t want to think about that again.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Waiting to see Dr. Post.
Dr. Post entered the room with a second Vet at his side. Clearly she was observing while he did his thing. Dr. Post examined Gracie and spoke with us about her history. He nodded his head as he listened. When I told him about how the Vet would not do the transfusion he made the most sour-puss expression I’ve ever seen. He was far too refined to say the Vet was a jerk, but you could tell that Gracie SHOULD have been transfused. He said it WOULD have helped her and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t done.
Before my blood could boil he moved on, saying that he wrote the paper on something called biliarycystadenoma, so he knows them well. That he felt aside from the fluid in her abdomen, that she was presenting as cystic, not a cat with cancer.
Depending on the cysts they usually did surgery to remove them, but if they were too diffuse they wouldn’t. He couldn’t be 100% certain just now, but wanted to do a quick check of Gracie’s hematocrit to see if she was still seriously anemic, then devise a plan after that.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Hello, Gracie!
Sam and I looked at each other and smiled, too stunned to say a word. I gave the okay to do the test. We were told to wait in the lobby and they’d be with us shortly. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
Dr. Post came out with his posse. He greeted us warmly and said that Gracie’s hematocrit was up to 20. I threw my arms up and yelled YES! Dr. Post was taken aback by my outburst, but I was thrilled. In three days Gracie’s body was producing enough blood cells to stave off the anemia. She still had a way to go to be normal but this was a VERY GOOD SIGN. Dr. Post asked us to come back in two weeks. We’d do another CBC and re-evaluate her then. Did we have a diagnosis? No, but we were getting closer.
All I knew was, Gracie was alive and Gracie was probably going to live another two weeks.
Nine Days Later
The knot in my gut is gone, but I admit I’m on episode 87 of Frasier to keep myself calm. I started working again and getting my life back on track. Though we’ve had some downs, Gracie has mostly been on the up and up. She still sleeps in one small area of the living room on the big oriental rug, but she’s getting on her feet more and more, even meeting me at the door one day, meowing at me to be fed.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My darling, Gracie.
Her appetite is not 100% but she’s eating as long as we keep her on her daily meds of Prednisilone and Zofran. She’s purring, grooming herself, using her litter pan, meowing complaints (as she used to do). Yesterday she trotted into the kitchen, tail held high. She carefully jumped onto the bench, then up onto the kitchen table. It was the first jump she’d made in two weeks.
She was alive.
I raced over to the kitchen and put some food on a plate, warmed it and added some water so she would stay hydrated. I sat next to her holding the plate in my hands. I noticed she seemed too painful bending over so I held the plate up high and she did better eating that way. The problem was she ate very slowly so I began to cramp up hunched over holding the plate. I didn’t care. She was eating. I knew it was likely just the medication making her do that but I couldn’t help but think that “every bite is a victory.” I knew that good nutrition would possibly help her recover from the anemia and that would go a long way to helping her be comfortable.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie laps at her food.
I got Gracie brushed, gave her fresh water, and cleaned her litter pan. I found she was ready to eat a small amount every 5 hours or so and I was determined to keep her fed. Whatever she wanted she was going to get. The more she ate, the better for her anemia.
Meanwhile, I was falling apart.
I couldn’t concentrate, so reading was out of the question. I didn’t answer emails. I didn’t want to go on Facebook and see more sad stories. I had to force myself to eat something-scrambled eggs was all I could choke down. I couldn’t sit by the TV and eat. Gracie was right there. I couldn’t look at my cat and eat breakfast and I didn’t want the sound of the TV to bother her. I went upstairs and grabbed my old iPad. I sat on the bed with my eggs and started watching Fraiser, a TV-show from the early 1990s. It didn’t require any effort to watch the episodes and there were over 200 of them in the queue. I could zone out and let Kelsey Grammer help me forget about how terrible things were for 22 minutes, though nothing loosened the knot in my gut.
Gracie’s Cytology Report Arrives
I forced myself to check my email inbox. There was a message from Pieper Memorial waiting to be read. I knew it was Gracie’s ultrasound report. I didn’t want to read it, but I had no choice. I opened the file and began to read. Other than words like “and” or “the” all the other words were very long, technical jargon. I believed it said that basically there was a good sample of a cyst taken. That there was activity indicating a reaction to possibly some sort of thing…infection maybe? That a cyst or more had ruptured and was bleeding.
What grabbed me was the following:
I showed the report to Connie, to Katherine, to Warren, to Sam, to the folks on the SmallCell Lymphoma Board and they all said the same thing. No cancer is NO CANCER. Could it be true?!
By Monday evening Gracie continued to show signs of perking up. She sat up a little more, looked a little more comfortable. She wasn’t eating a lot but I stopped syringe-feeding her. We had to decide what to do about Tuesday’s appointment. Gracie seemed a bit better but maybe we were kidding ourselves and we still had to do what needed to be done.
Dr. Larry called to go over the cytology results with me. I was so excited that it wasn’t cancer until he said that he HAD to speak with Dr. Sean before he could feel like we were out of the woods and that Gracie had cysts in her liver that weren’t cancer. My joy quickly faded when he said that Dr. Sean might feel his sample wasn’t perfect or that even WITH a good sample that there was still a cancer diagnosis hanging over us. He needed more time to reach Dr. Sean and since Gracie seemed stable, though weak, he would NOT put her down, not if she was showing improvement. She wasn’t ready to leave us just yet.
Tuesday at 2pm arrived. I was sitting with Gracie, watching her take dainty licks at her food instead of watching Dr. Larry put her down. Starting from this moment on was “bonus time” for us both. I wanted to see her get better. I wanted a WIN! I didn’t want my cat to die soon, but I also didn’t have a lot of hope.
Dr. Larry called again later that day. He’d reached Dr. Sean. Before he said much, I already knew it was bad news. I could tell from Dr. Larry’s tone of voice. He wasn’t his usual jovial self. He was very serious-deadly serious.
I asked if we should keep our appointment with the oncologist and he said YES. We needed a diagnosis and Dr. Post was the guy to give that to us. We HAD to keep trying as long as Gracie was stable.
It wasn’t what I was hoping for, but I wasn’t surprised, either. Though I hold Dr. Post in VERY high regard, I knew we also had to be prepared for the costs to put us in a place where we couldn’t afford to care for Gracie. I checked all my accounts and decided I could stitch something together. If I had to, I’d take the last bits out of my retirement account, but I hoped I wouldn’t have to go there. I couldn’t be reckless, but I could provide more for a little while longer.
The Veterinary Cancer Center is an hour west, near where my rescue-friend Katherine lives. She and my other dear rescue-friend, Connie had been in contact with me every day, checking on Gracie, offering advice. I told Katherine about our appointment, in case she wanted to meet us at the cancer center. I needed all my friends more than ever as we were about to get the news I’d been dreading for a week.
Part 5 is next. Yes, this is a long story, but imagine having to live through it! And this final chapter is the one where as a writer you dream of being able to write an ending like this.
Later that day, I reached out to my friend Warren, who put me in touch with the folks on the Feline SmallCell Lymphoma Yahoo Message Group. They told me to try a combo of two different anti-emetic drugs that many cancer cats respond well to and that help them regain their appetite. The problem is that they both effect the liver. I called Dr. Larry’s office yet again, asking for more medications. I went back and had a long talk with Dr. Mary, explaining to her why I wanted these drugs, but that I also respected her advice about how dangerous they might be. I knew the folks on the Board focused on cats with cancer and what they were saying made sense. One of the meds, Zofran, had questionable results, but of the two, the other being Cerenia, we decided it would be safer. I can’t tell you how man medications we almost gave Gracie or did give Gracie. I kept a log so I could keep it straight. I was sleeping very little and had completely lost my appetite I was so stressed out. I tried not to second-guess what I was being told, but I had to make sure it made sense. I don’t like to give my cats any drugs and here I was loading Gracie up with them.
That night I got a text from a friend. I was feeling so down and lost. I’d given up. She gave me a kick in the behind, reminding me that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to try getting a transfusion done. We’d promised to keep Gracie going for a few more days and it would certainly help her feel so much better. I feared the costs, but knew she was right. If Gracie didn’t make it to Monday and we got the test results and it WAS something treatable I’d never forgive myself.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Waiting for the results while Sam comforts her.
Poor Sam. He was scrambling to get some work done and I’d already taken up some much of his time, but I was so buoyed by my friend’s advice that I had to talk to him about getting the transfusion done. I called over to our ER Vet and asked about costs. If I took a few dollars from here and used a credit card or two I could make it happen. We decided to give it one last try.
I called my dear friend Connie who’s had transfusions done on a few of her cats. She told me what to expect and that it could make a big difference. She also said that it might take the full night, into the next morning to have it done and did I want to give up that precious time to Gracie being at the vet or did I want her to be home? She explained that it WOULD help her feel better and that the reason it took so long was that some of the time was spent in cross-matching and typing Gracie’s blood and that sometimes they used a blood donor who is on site at the hospital and it takes time to get the blood from the other cat. I realized that meant another cat was going to help my cat survive. Even though we have Gracie’s daughter here, Petunia is too skittish to sit still for a multi-hour procedure. As I gathered Gracie’s vet records I grabbed a new catnip banana toy. I decided that the donor cat should have a token of my appreciation. You can’t have enough good Karma.
Gracie was very weak and quiet. It only took a few minutes to get to the hospital and within a half hour or so we were seeing the ER Vet on call. We talked to him about our intentions-we just wanted to give our cat good quality of life so that she’d live a few more days-until the test result came in. That was it. We weren’t looking for a cure. We were looking for a way to give her ease her suffering. He agreed that it would help her, but he also was concerned about the fluid in her abdomen. He felt that if it was blood it would not make the transfusion worthwhile. He asked if he could take a sample of the fluid (since removing the fluid was dangerous because it could drop her blood pressure down too low. We could only take a small amount of fluid for that reason) and we agreed.
The ER Vet entered the room holding a vile. He held it out to us and showed us it was full of blood. Gracie was bleeding internally either from a ruptured cyst or from the needle biopsy done a few days before. The blood was fresh so that meant she was actively bleeding. He said a transfusion wouldn’t help her; that emergency surgery might stop the bleeding but if her liver was full of cancer, which we suspected, then it didn’t make sense to put her through that. He said that it might be best if we considered euthanizing her soon because she could either have a heart attack and die or because of the anemia she might simply become weaker and weaker and die in her sleep. He offered that they could “take care of her” in the back right now. Sam and I did not hesitate to answer NO. Gracie was coming home. I was going to syringe-feed her and we were going to stay strong-not just for our benefit. Gracie was still “Gracie.” No, she wasn’t eating, but she had enough quality of life that we knew it wasn’t time. We had to risk it and bring her home and not let her go in this sterile place.
I was so emotionally tapped that I took medication to help me calm down. I have a tiny stash of it to use for when I have to fly somewhere. It’s probably outdated but it was all I had. I could barely breathe I was so distraught, but I had to find a way to continue to be there for Gracie, and the meds let me do a better job.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. After we got the news we decided to bring Gracie home, even if it meant risking her passing away.
As I had on Saturday, on Sunday I syringe-fed Gracie. I liquefied raw chicken liver and added it to her food. I hoped the added iron would help her anemia. We gave her all her pills and she surprised us by grooming herself after she was fed. She was very tired and uncomfortable, but at least her belly was full. Sam and I set up shop in the living room, which was where she was resting. We did not leave her alone. I wanted to inflate our air mattress so I could sleep in the living room but I couldn’t find the pump or nozzles. I was so frustrated, but I also realized I had to get at least some sleep and our sofa is not comfortable for naps. I decided I would just sleep for a few hours and get up very early to check on her. I made Sam promise me that I wouldn’t have to go downstairs alone. I didn’t want to find Gracie dead on the floor.
Reluctantly, I dragged myself to bed Sunday night. Before I went upstairs I gave Gracie a kiss and told her I loved her and to not give up.
Part 4 is next...Cytology results and the 10% chance it's not what we think it is.
(continued from Part 1)
I’d already been tempting Gracie with smelly fish-based cat food or simply tuna water to get something into her. She often either refused or would lap delicately for a few seconds then jerk backward as if she wanted to eat, but it was too painful in her tummy to continue. I made another trip to Choice Pet, where I buy a lot of cat food. I know the manager, Scott, very well. As I drove along the tree-lined roads, I began to cry. Lately, I cried a lot while I was driving because I had time to think about Gracie, about her life, about how I may have failed her, about what might be coming far too soon and how was I going to handle it.
Though I was comforted by the familiar sight of Scott as I entered the store, it was hard not to cry again as I told him the news about Gracie. I asked him to help me find a good variety of food for her. As we read ingredient labels, he began to tell me stories of how his pets had died. I realized he was sharing his life and wanted me to know he understood, but I really didn’t want to hear that. I’d already gotten a number of messages from friends and supporters with similar tales. I couldn’t stand the idea of hearing more, but I had to politely listen, saying I was sorry, when inside I just wanted to scream to everyone to stop with the stories of cats dying tragically and leave me in peace.
I added what I got to my stash of chicken baby food, which is my go-to for sick cats. I knew to gently warm the food to improve the aroma, which would encourage Gracie to eat. I raced back to Dr. Larry’s to pick up appetite stimulants. He’d finally gotten his clinic moved to a new location but things were still in chaos. I hated that my first days at his new place would be marred by the memory of what was happening to Gracie. Would I be the first client to have my cat put down there? I yearned for his old place. It felt like home after being there for 16 years. I didn’t like the new place. It was cold and cavernous. The exam rooms had the same furniture as before. The walls were painted the same color. The doors were the same, but nothing felt right.
On Saturday morning we saw Dr. Mary because Dr. Larry was out of town. As much as I admire and like Dr. Mary, with Dr. Larry being gone, also felt like my lifeline was gone, too. If Gracie had to die, I wanted Dr. Larry to be there for her. I wanted him to come to our home and help her pass peacefully. It felt more like family to have him do it and now I was left to hope that Gracie would stay strong a few more days—the irony wasn’t missed. What little I had hoped for, just that my cat would live long enough to have her Vet put her down when he was back in town.
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Home with Gracie, Mabel (center) and Nicky (top).
Dr. Mary ran the blood work and it came back with shockingly bad results. Gracie was anemic, very seriously so. Her hematocrit was down to 14.6, when a normal reading is 24-45. Her gums were pale. No wonder she was so weak. Gracie’s ALT, which measures her liver function, was elevated. It was at about 146, about three times normal. I’d seen 400-600 levels in my cat, Bob so I knew she could hang on, but that it wasn’t great news.
Dr. Mary suggested that sometimes these things progress very quickly. She said if money wasn’t an object that getting a transfusion would help Gracie feel better but that it wouldn’t solve the problem that Gracie had something bad going on inside her. She gently told us that we should prepare ourselves and that she didn’t feel it was likely that Gracie would be with us much longer—maybe a few more days. My heart sank and my knees felt like they were about to give out. There was no hope left. Sam and I had already agreed we didn’t want Gracie’s last days to be filled with poking and prodding, with fear, with trips in the car, to what avail? It was important for us to give Gracie dignity and respect and indeed if it was her time we had to respect that, even if we had no chance to prepare ourselves for this to happen.
We decided to take her home and start her on Prednisolone. Steroids can help a cat feel better and increase appetite. It was something we could do to help her have a happier final day or two. I asked Sam to take Gracie into the waiting room so I could stay behind and pay the bill for the day, but my focus was to make “the appointment” every cat parent dreads. I made the appointment to have Gracie euthanized at home on Tuesday August 25th at 2 PM, which was the soonest Dr. Larry was available. I tried not to cry but all I could think about was how this was so unfair and that Gracie was such a good girl, so sweet…how could we go on without her in our life any longer? The tears came, quick and hot. I put my sunglasses on to hide my grief. Dr. Mary patted my hand and told me I could contact her after hours if I needed something. She was so kind and compassionate, but all I wanted to do was to go home, hide under my bedcovers and cry some more.
Part 3 next...where as my Mother used to say "things get dark before they go totally black." Yeah, she was great at cheering me up. :-(