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.

Welcome.

Kiss Your Kittens. Don't Kiss Your Kids!

Erin Ross, in her recent article Kitten Conundrum: Cat-Scratch Disease is Making People Sicker, suggests that if you want to stay healthy, it would be wise to “avoid kittens”, citing a recent report by the CDC about Cat Scratch Disease (CSD) or Bartonella henselae. The article warns that CSD may have the the potential for causing serious illness, particularly in children and those who are immune-compromised.

But let’s take a closer look before we start euthanizing more kittens because they won’t be getting adopted due to irresponsible fear-mongering.

While I agree it is vital to provide information to the general public regarding zoonotic disease (illness that can be transmitted between humans and animals), it is equally, if not more important, to take a common-sense approach when reading information about such findings. Yes, it’s possible in a very few cases to become very ill from CSD, but if you look at the numbers, it’s so low I have to ask myself if it's certainly worth all the fuss the press has been making about it. If you're immune compromised, of course you're at a higher risk to get ANY disease. You might not want to share your home with a pet at all, not only for the CSD risk.

Again, common sense must prevail. Wash your hands. How many times did your mom tell you to do that? If your cat or kitten nips or scratches you, WASH the wound to prevent infection. DUH. Really, people, do you have to be told this?

Black kitten photobomb with P R Olson
©2013 Robin AF Olson. Pizzelle, wondering what all the fuss is about.

I have fostered over 500 kittens in 15 years. I have NEVER gotten ANY illness from my cats or kittens. Okay, wait, I did get a spot of ringworm once. I kiss the kittens. I give them baths. They bite and scratch me, some times by accident, and some times on purpose. I’ve been to the ER once for a bad bite that was my fault. Did I get CSD? No.

What my concern for articles like the one found on NPR's web site and many others across the globe is that it can take a toll on the most innocent of creatures – kittens. It’s hard enough for shelters to find a foster home or a forever family for their most fragile residents and with this biased reporting it puts how many more lives at risk?

Kittens are euthanized every day in shelters across the country because they catch a cold or get a treatable skin condition like ringworm. Now with families afraid there’s a hidden disease in seemingly healthy kittens, that their kids are going to get sick enough to require hospitalization from being in contact with them, they're going to give up on adopting cats. Clearly there is little concern that the article could send a shock-wave of panic resulting in needless death, and cause rescues to lose foster homes and adoptions, just to make a buck on a click-bait headline.

Let’s look at some facts:

• Number of owned cats in the USA 85,800,000

• Number of people sickened by CSD per year 12,000

• Number of those people seriously sickened by CSD per year 500

• Highest average annual CSD incidence for outpatients and inpatients was among children 5–9 years of age (9.0 cases/100,000 patients and 0.4 cases/100,000 patients, respectively)
…and, by the way, DOGS can also transmit CSD so maybe you better get rid of your dog, too.

What About Kids? If You Want to Get Sick, Kiss a Kid.

While everyone is panicking that little fluffy Puff is going to kill their kids from CSD, what about the other way around? Want to get SICK? BE AROUND KIDS!

This is from Pinkbook, the CDCs guide to routinely used vaccines and the diseases they prevent regarding Influenza:

"Healthy children 5 through 18 years of age are not at increased risk of complications of influenza. However, children typically have the highest attack rates during community outbreaks of influenza. They also serve as a major source of transmission of influenza within communities. Influenza has a substantial impact among school-aged children and their contacts. These impacts include school absenteeism, medical care visits, and parental work loss. Studies have documented 5 to 7 influenza-related outpatient visits per 100 children annually, and these children frequently receive antibiotics"

What Does This Mean?

9 out of 100,000 or .009% of people get sickened by CSD and 5000-7000 of 100,000 people or 5-7% get sickened by KIDS.

GETTING SICK FROM A KID IS 550 to 770 TIMES MORE LIKELY THAN GETTING SICK FROM A KITTEN.

Even the CDC study mentions its own failings:

"Our study has several limitations. First, the case definition relies on diagnosis by clinicians and subsequent coding by clinicians or billing specialists, both of which are subject to error. For example, the 078.3 code could have been inappropriately used for care of a cat scratch wound but not actual CSD. Also, in some cases, the 078.3 code may have been recorded as a rule-out diagnosis when CSD was not actually confirmed. To our knowledge, there are no data on the sensitivity and specificity of the 078.3 code for CSD."

They also state that they expected the results to be higher! So what are they telling us? Hey, maybe it’s not that bad.

"The lower incidence of inpatient admissions found by our study is surprising, given that the number of US households with cats has increased in recent decades to an all-time high of 45 million." (there are now 85.8 million “owned” cats in the USA alone)

Minne and Family
©2013 Robin AF Olson. Minnie with her kittens and what would have become of them if they'd been in a shelter effected by a drop in adoptions and foster homes?

The last point that chaps my ass is the one that’s missing from the article. There is no mention on the toll CSD on the cats themselves. My rescue, Kitten Associates, now routinely tests for Bartonella and we DO find positive cats and kittens from time to time. We do this not only to protect our adopters, but because bartonella can mimic other illness. It might end up being overlooked while the cat ends up suffering for years, secretly sick. I’ve even randomly screened my own cats and was surprised at how many were positive, even though they were indoor-only cats and didn't have fleas. My Vet suggested that up to 20% of cats could have some level of infection (from mild, suggesting exposure but not needing treatment, to strong positive which requires treatment) and most people don’t even know it.

Ross ends the article saying not to kiss your cat until they are flea-free, which ignores the fact that if the cat has CSD, treating it for fleas is NOT going to fix the problem. You need to keep your cat INDOORS, keep him or her flea-free, test for bartonella, treat with antibiotics if there’s a strong positive, then run a titer in 6 months to make sure that cat is free from the infection. In my opinion, during the entire process you can KISS YOUR CAT all you want (I wouldn’t tongue-kiss though because that is GROSS). Let them lick your face. If they bite or scratch you, do what your mom told you to do and stop worrying about getting sick, especially if you're not immune compromised.

And get out there and adopt a kitten; better to adopt a pair. We have plenty ready to go right now!

But stay away from KIDS!

Sheesh.

Quad Shot of 4 Kittens
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Which kitten is going to infect you with a horrible disease? Adopt one to find out. (top left: Slinky, top right: Herbie, bottom left: Aunt Bee, bottom right: Mr Peabody).

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The Queen of Number Two

Two years ago, a tiny kitten was born outside, part of a litter, to a feral cat. There was nothing particularly unusual about the occurrence. It happens anywhere there are intact male and female cats, but this one kitten was different than the others. Her embryo didn't mature inside the womb in the same way her siblings did. Sometimes differences can be good things, but her differences made survival unlikely, especially if her mother chose to abandon her. Mothers know when something is wrong and will let their offspring die. Only the strong survive.

First Photo of Freya
©2014 Randy S. Used with permission. Our first sighting of little Freya.

Forty percent (or more) of kittens don't make it into adulthood, whether they've been rescued or are facing life on the streets. It's a very sad fact, one that often pushes cat rescuers into retirement because they just can't take the heartbreak of losing another precious life no matter how hard they fight to save them.

But once in a great while, a kitten who has the odds stacked against her, survives a little longer than expected, and it's one such kitten we celebrate today.

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©2014 Randy S. Used with permission. Freya with her brother, Pascal.

Her name is Freya, though in truth it should have been spelled Freyja. Freyja is the Norse goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility, gold, war and death. She rides a chariot pulled by two cats. She's one cool babe.

When I met her I didn't know any of that, or even how to spell her name correctly. I just knew her as a 1-pound, 4-week old kitten who had a rare birth defect called atresia ani with recto-vaginal fistula. She also had no tail, bowed, too-long back legs, crossed eyes, vision and hearing impairments, and vertebrae shaped like butterflies. It kept her from jumping very high, but other than that, nothing kept her from being a typical kitten.

Sweet Dreams R Olson
©2014 Robin AF Olson. I meet Freya for the first time.

Her vets and surgeons first warned us she was too tiny for corrective surgery and that she only had a 10% chance to survive. Her very rare condition was only seen, if at all, once in any general practioner's career. Our Board Certified Surgeon had never repaired a birth defect such as Freya's, but had seen it done. The question of whether or not we could do the surgery was very sobering. Odds are it would be a waste of resources to even try. They gently suggested it would be more humane to euthanize her instead of let her go on with dangerous amounts of stool building up inside her with barely any way to even leak out of her.

Freya in strawberry r olson copy
©2014 Robin AF Olson. Next to her Snuggle Kitty, I did everything I could to help Freya feel loved and safe.

But Freya was not your average kitten and, not to brag or be arrogant, I was not about to let her die. I've always felt that as long as I put a lot of effort into our foster cat's care, that at least I'd increase the odds we'd have a "win" and not have another kitten perish. It was foolish of me to think I could control the outcome and during our journey there were many times I didn't think she'd make it. It meant me shutting down my rescue efforts while she required round-the-clock care. It meant many sleepless nights, getting up to make sure she was fed every five hours and hundreds of quick baths, rinsing off her filth-covered behind. It meant a kind of stress parents go through when their kid is in the hospital at death's door, but I had to try.

Silly stare R Olson
©2014 Robin AF Olson. Look at that face. That's why I'd slay dragons for this kitten.

I've written at great length about Freya's early days. There are links at the end of this post if you'd like to catch up. Today's focus is about celebrating a milestone. The year where Freya reached her second birthday. Where a kitten who could not pass stool, had corrective surgery that gave her a chance to live comfortably. Though the diet I created for her, also stunted her growth for good, it kept her alive until she was old enough for surgery and today we can look back and feel great joy in our accomplishment.

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©2014 Robin AF Olson. X-rays before surgery showing how impacted with stool Freya was becoming.

Now healed, we joke that Freya is visited by The Poop Fairy, every time I find a poo-bean on the floor because Freya can't hold her stool very well so it does fall out. Trust me, I'd rather they fall out than be stuck inside her, causing her to cross her back legs and fall over in her litter pan simply from straining so hard. That's what she used to do. Those days are gone. Freya can lead a full life, well not "full."

The Poop Fairy R Olson copyright

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©2014 Robin AF Olson. Freya vs the DOOD.

Over the past year, Freya has found her place with my ten, then nine, and sadly now, eight cats. She's easily the boss of every single one of them, even 24-pound DOOD. In fact, she and DOODIE are BFFs. They often wrestle. She'll charge at him, then turn, pushing her butt right into his face. DOOD will hold her in place and try to clean her behind, but she hates being fussed with and will scream. She'll pull herself out of his grasp then jump on him again, screaming all the while. DOOD, as usual, is completely unfazed by this. They both seem to be having fun, but I can't figure out why she shoves her butt in his face AND that he likes it so much. Weird.

IMG 7382
©2016 Robin AF Olson. A very goofy cat, indeed.

Freya still fetches. She only fetches large circumference spring toys, not the skinny ones. I think she sees the color blue best because if the toy is red or green she often can't find it. Her new trick is to load spring toys into our bedroom closet at night. There's a big gap under the closet door and Freya will put her stash into the closet, meowing until she lets the spring go, pushing it under the door. She does this around 1 AM. By morning there are usually 4 springs in the closet so my job, as I'm getting dressed, is to stop between figuring out what to wear and toss a spring over the banister and down the stairs into the living room. Freya will run half way across the house, then back up the stairs, proudly dropping the spring at my feet, she meows, asking me to throw it again.

Freya in dishwasher
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Freya helps with the dishes.

Freya is as chatty as ever. I have a feeling she has some siamese in her gene pool. Each night as I get ready for bed, she joins me in the master bathroom, meowing frantically. I sit on the floor and turn on the video feature on my phone. I ask Freya questions and she often answers. I call these sessions, "Chat with Freya," and if you visit her Facebook page you'll see many of our evening chats.


©2016 Robin AF Olson. Freya fetches.

Freya will always be kitten-sized. Though she weighs eight pounds and, yes, is a bit chubby, Freya's brother, Pascal is twelve pounds in comparison. Freya will always be small, but her personality is tiger-sized.

Pascal Adult
©2016 Chelsea LaManna. Used with permission. Freya's brother, Pascal.

In my 2015 post, Dreams Really Do Come True Pt 17, I wrote that it was time to put Freya up for adoption. She was healthy and strong and my job as a foster cat mom who runs Kitten Associates meant that Freya should be adopted. The reaction from all of you was strong and immediate: "No! You MUST KEEP FREYA! She belongs with YOU!"

The problem in keeping Freya meant added costs that I wasn't able to take on. Though Freya will most likely only need food and regular vet visits for the next few years, it's more than I can handle. But then I had an idea. I created the Freya & Friends Fund. It would allow my non-profit, Kitten Associates, to provide long-term care for cats like Freya, and Mia, who probably will never be social enough to be adopted, and Lady Saturday, who is quite old and has many health ailments.

Our heart's desire is to find enough people to sign up for a tax-deductible, monthly "subscription" donation of $15.00 or more. Sadly, though we did get a few wonderful people willing to help, we need more. We need about 20 more dedicated Freya-lovers to make a commitment to helping us provide for her so she CAN stay with us. We're fully funded by donations and none of us get paid for our work. It's a labor of love, but that doesn't pay for cat food or a trip to the vet. We really need YOU to make it possible for Freya to stay with us.

Robin and Freya R Olson

©2014 Robin AF Olson. The night before Freya's surgery, exhausted and heartsick, I pray my little girl will make it. Now I need you to help us so she can stay with our family.

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I never expected I'd be writing this story or that Freya would impact my life so deeply. When I first saw her little face, I was completely charmed. When I found out about her birth defects, I was completely terrified, yet...here we are. Freya made it to her second birthday and, with any luck, we'll be celebrating her birthday for many years to come.

Here's a lineup of all our stories about Freya in chronological order from the beginning:

For Freya's Sake

Dear Freya

For Freya. Part 1 of 2

For Freya. Part 2 of 2.

For Freya. Bonus Part 3.

Please. For Freya.

The Unexpected Turn. For Freya. Part 6.

Antics of a 12-Week Old Kitten

On the Eve of the Birth of Freya 2.0

Freya 20. Neither Snow, Nor Rain, Nor Gloom of Night.

Freya 2.0. In Search of Peace.

Freya 2.0. 12 Little Words.

Freya 2.0. 12 Little Words. Part 2.

Freya 2.0. The End and the New Beginning.

Freya 2.0. The Price and the Curse of the Pink Underpants.

Freya 2.0. Dreams Really Do Come True.

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The Last Feral Cat. Part 2 of 2.

[continued from part 1]

This time it was a nip, not as serious as that first chomp, but it made me recoil in fear. What did I do to cause this or did Barry have aggression issues? Barry was bored. I felt it in my gut. He needed out of the crate.

When the day finally arrived for him to come inside I was both worried and relieved. First, I had to get him out of the crate and into a cat carrier so I could bring him into my home. I purposely skipped Barry's dinner the night before, thinking if he was hungry enough I could lure him into the cat carrier with food. I was terrified that if he didn't cooperate and I had to handle him that it would end badly for me. But Barry was being Barry. Show him food and Barry will go anywhere you want. I had to give his behind a quick shove so as to not get his tail stuck in the door of the carrier, but he went right inside. He was too focused on food to mind. Whew.

This was it. Time to find out what Barry was made of. Would he continue to be aggressive or would he relax with space to move around and the company of another cat? He'd been friends with Bronte. Surely he and Mia would be friends, too. I prayed that being out of the cage would be what Barry needed to begin to blossom and where I could finally trust him.

Barry looking out window 650
©2015 Robin AF Olson. It made me sad that Barry spent countless hours looking out the lone window in the bathroom. I knew he was safe where he was. He wanted to get outside, but since he wasn’t feral I had to give him every chance.

Barry was a bit bossy with Mia at first, but there was enough room for the cats to have their own space. My instructor urged me to do two, 15-minute play sessions every day with Barry. He loved them and it helped him relax afterwards. What was so completely charming was how awkward Barry was when he dove after a toy. His body was not built like a gymnast, more like a wrestler. He'd dive after a toy, then thud onto the floor. His eyes lit up and he wheezed as he vigorously grabbed at the toy then bit hard into it. Finally, something else was getting bitten besides me.

Barry 11 15 400
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Handsome man.

One night I sat on the floor and encouraged Barry to come over to me. I reached out for him and pulled him onto my lap. He sat there like a brick. His body was heavy and solid. I carefully petted him, worried I would over-stimulate him and cause him to bite again. He sat there quietly, but I was tense. Barry sensed it, too. He got up and jumped onto a small cat condo. I froze since he was towering over me. I spoke to him quietly and reached out to pet him. His mouth opened to take another bite of my hand, but this time I disengaged with him, got up and walked out of the room, closing the door behind me. He could not do that to me or anyone or I'd never get him adopted. My non-reaction was a message to him that he wasn't going to get what he wanted by biting.

Barry and Mia play time 11 2015
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry and Mia at playtime.

A few months passed and Barry and Mia became friends. I even played with Mia when I had a session with Barry. It helped her come out of her shell a little bit more, too. Barry continued to charm me but I felt terrible he was in such a small space. I cleared off the top of my washing machine and put a cat bed on top of it. He loved hanging out there since it was big enough to hold him, unlike the cat trees that were woefully inadequate. Though I was still a bit on edge, I began to worry less and less that Barry would bite me. The more time we spent together, the more I saw him as a clown instead of a fearsome beast.

©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry & Mia, BFFs.

Barry’s biggest change was when I was finally able to move him and Mia into the main foster room. There Barry quickly made friends with Jelly (who was in a big crate recovering from surgery on his leg) and his brother, Lolli, who wasn’t too thrilled, but eventually accepted the newcomers. I had a large wicker basket that I put on top of a storage container, about a foot off the ground. I had an old rag rug that I lined the basket with. It became Barry’s favorite place to hang out and I often found him there, belly up, snoring softly.

Barry on the washer R olson copy
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Barry, the washing machine attendant.

Jelly and Lolli got adopted, giving Barry and Mia plenty of space to stretch out and enjoy life. There are two sunny windows in the room, one that was very large and overlooked the same spot in the front yard where I first saw Barry so many months before. Barry had been up for adoption for awhile, but I didn't get much interest in him. Last week I got an application that looked good, but they have a young daughter. They asked me if Barry really couldn’t go to a family with young children because their kids had been around a cranky old cat and knew to be careful AND they were falling in love with Barry’s big head and goofy markings (intact male cats get really big heads. In the northern USA, we call them “apple heads” and in the south they call them “biscuit heads”).

We discussed Barry in detail and they sounded like a perfect match. Sam and I did a home visit and their home is more windows than walls and is surrounded by the woods. They promised not to let Barry outside and they agreed to give him time to adjust and not overwhelm him.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Barry and his new family (with Freya).

Nearly a year after I first trapped Barry, he found his forever home. Frankly, I’m in awe. I had no idea we’d ever find something for him, but he’d blossomed and mellowed out so much (he hasn’t bitten me for at least for six months!) that it shouldn't have surprised anyone that he found a home. I didn't want to admit it, but I'd become very attached to the big lug. He makes me laugh. He talks to me some times. He lays belly up and hugs tight onto his rainbow catnip toy. He's a far cry from the cat who tried to rip through the screen to get into my house. Now he licks Mia’s head and chases her around the room. He lets the just-arrived foster kittens push him out of his food. He’s a big, (17 pounds now!), dopey, love bug.

Living in a home with two parents and their two young kids is a good match for Barry and though I will never know, maybe he had a home like that once long ago. This time he won’t lose his home when times get tough, because I’ll always have his back. This time he'll be in a place where he's appreciated and cared for and where he's valued.

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Barry funky 10 2015
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry in the blue bathroom.

For the first time in almost ten years, Sam and I decided to close off the screened porch so our own cats could finally use it. We haven’t seen any cats in our yard over the past year so it was time. Barry may be the last cat I will ever trap. Now I can go back to doing what I do best, and that’s caring for kittens and their moms.

I miss you, Barry, but I’m glad I miss you because you’re in your forever home than because I didn’t give you a chance and you were lost to us as Bronte was. Have a wonderful, loved life, big guy. You deserve it.

And please don’t rip up any more window screens.

©2015 Robin AF Olson. A year later, a very mellow fellow with his catnip rainbow.

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The Last Feral Cat. Part 1 of 2.

Cat rescue doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone who does it. What I’ve found over the years is that most folks tend to specialize in the area they feel most comfortable. Some people, like me, will take on a pregnant cat or foster and socialize orphan kittens, while others prefer to do TNR (trap, neuter, return) of feral cats.

Within those areas are so many other facets. Some people prefer to specialize and only take on blind cats or cats with feline leukemia, while others take on the tremendously difficult task of caring for neonatal kittens (difficult because easily 40% of any litter of kittens can die even if you do feedings every two hours around-the-clock, keep them warm and clean, do everything you’re supposed to do..it's not for the faint of heart).

Ready and Waiting
©2007 Robin AF Olson. My first attempt at trapping.

I no longer feel like I have to do it all. I can’t. I’m not that great at all aspects of rescue and thankfully, I don’t have to be because usually if I can’t do it, I can find someone who can.

Eight years ago I tried doing TNR but I always felt badly letting the cats go. I trapped a cat in my own yard and was tempted to work on socializing her, but the person I did rescue with told me not to bother, that it would take too long and to let her go. I always regretted listening to her because the cat wasn’t aggressive, just scared. I named her Bronte. Sam and I set up a wonderful home for her using our screened in porch as a home base. We got her two heated cat cabins and made sure she was fed and cared for. Bronte had a daughter I named Madison, and years later another cat, Buddy, joined her, but only for a short time. Bronte was the only one who survived more than a year, out of the three cats.

Feral Cat 1 Trapped
©2007 Robin AF Olson. Bronte.

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Nearly two years ago, the idea of doing TNR came up again. I was sitting at my desk when I heard a cat yeowling outside my window. I looked up and saw a black and white cat sitting on the hillside partially hidden by tall weeds. I didn’t see Bronte, but I did see this newcomer. My hackles raised. I wanted to protect my girl from this interloper, but he ran off into the woods when he saw me approach the window to get a better look at him. Who was he? Where did he come from? It was very unusual to see a cat outside in my neighborhood.

Sam reported seeing the cat again and again. We put out food for him and sure enough, he began eating comfortably alongside Bronte. Clearly he was no evil-doer and I was glad she had a friend. Winter was coming. We often saw them cuddled together in one of the cat cabins.

Barry and bronte eating rt
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry and Bronte have lunch.

We couldn’t handle this new cat. He'd run off if we got too close. We weren’t even sure he needed our help. I designed a flyer and put one on my neighbor's mailboxes. One contacted me and said she fed him but that it was not her cat and that once he came inside her house and flipped out so she put him back outside. She assumed someone dumped him.

I asked around, called my friends at animal control, posted his photo on Facebook but no one stepped forward to claim him. I figured I’d borrow a trap and deal with the cat some day, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with him. Would I give him the chance to come around that Bronte never had? I didn’t have loads of space to foster him in and he was far from a kitten. If he was feral I’d have to let him go back outside and I hated having to do it. I know that feral cats are by definition, wild, and that it’s not fair to keep feral cats indoors, but we have coyotes in our yard. Our home is next to a state forest. There are many real dangers here and I didn’t want this cat to become a predator’s next meal.

Barry comes a courtin R AF Olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. the DOOD and Blitzen taunt Barry.

The following autumn the cat sat outside my office window once again. Blitzen and Dood were sitting on the window ledge staring at the cat. Within seconds I heard something ripping. I looked up and the cat was hanging off the screen window, ripping at it to get at my cats! He put a big hole in the screen ($100 to fix!) and scared the crap out of all of us. It made me even more concerned about trapping this cat because if he was that ferocious from outside, how would he behave INSIDE my house?

But my hands were tied. Sam called out to me a few days later. He had just seen Bronte. She was visibly thin and limping. Something was terribly wrong with her so we put out a trap, hoping we’d be able to get her to our Vet. She’d been trapped a few times over the years and was trap savvy. I knew we might have to get the help of one of my friends who does a lot of trapping and could use a drop trap, but we were quickly running out of time.

Barry Poster 400

The trap was set and we heard it slam shut not long after. We had hoped to see Bronte sitting in the trap, but low and behold there was the big black and white cat sitting hunched over in the trap that was barely big enough to hold him. I had to deal with him now, even though my cat Gracie was critically ill and we were doing almost daily vet runs with her, even though Bronte needed help first. We had him, now he needed to be vetted. I called a favor from my friends at Nutmeg Spay/Neuter Clinic and got him booked to be neutered.

Unfortunately, it meant he had to stay in my garage in the trap until he could be taken care of and the fastest I could get it done was in two days because it was a weekend.

Barry in trap r olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gotcha!

I didn’t get too close to the cat. I changed out the newspapers that lined the trap and gave him fresh food. He wasn’t aggressive with me, but I didn’t want to find out if he was, either. He was a big cat and he scared me. His ears were ripped up and he was missing fur on his front right leg, scars from years of fighting, no doubt. I decided to call him Barry Lyndon. I don’t know why I named him after a truly terrible movie, but I liked the Barry part so it stuck.

We continued to try to trap Bronte, but we never saw her again after Barry was trapped. Sam and I had fed her for so many years, never missing a day. She’d become part of our family and now she was gone, never to return. I hate to think of what became of her. We gave her the best life we could. I yearned to hold her, to tell her we loved her, that we missed her and we’d probably never stop looking for her. That’s why I don’t do TNR. I’m too much of a softy. I want all the cats to live in my house and be happy. I don’t want them to have a difficult life and a sad, maybe very scary ending of that life.

Meanwhile, Barry got neutered. We found out he was about three years old. Thankfully, he hadn’t gotten FIV or Feline Leukemia, but I had to believe there were lots of baby Barrys running around the area.

Barry in the Garage
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry's home for a grueling 6 weeks.

I wasn’t sure what the heck to do so I set up the biggest dog crate I had and made it into Barry’s temporary home. I’d assess him while he was confined inside the garage and decide in a few days whether or not I should release him or bring him into the house. He weighed 13 pounds and looked like it was all muscle. His golden eyes blazed at me from inside the crate. I wondered what he was thinking.

I had to feed Barry, but I was scared to open the crate. Would he charge at me? Flip out? Instead he surprised me by coming right up to me, then ate every last bit of food. I didn’t try much with him at first, but he was so focused on eating I pet the top of his head. He didn’t care. He just wanted a meal.

Fortunately for me I had begun to take a Cat Behavior Counselor certification course though the HSUS. I knew it would help me with Barry, but I didn’t know I’d need a lot more help than I thought.

Within the first few days I knew Barry was somewhat friendly. I was confident enough to put my hand into the cage to offer Barry food. He’d spilled the contents of his litter pan and I was trying to brush some of it up with a paper towel. Before I realized I was in trouble, Barry lashed out and bit me, HARD. He bit me so hard my hand was black and blue (really purple) for TWO WEEKS. Some how he barely bit into the flesh of my hand. It was a freakish crushing bite.

©2015 Robin AF Olson. How to get bitten.

I asked my instructor for guidance. I was terrified of Barry, though I realized that between his still-surging hormones, being scared and bored in a crate and seeing my hand moving like prey, of course he would bite me. I wanted to believe he didn’t mean it. I didn’t scold him, but in all honesty, I didn’t know if I could give him any more time.

He cried a lot. He wanted out of the crate. I had to crate him for 6 long weeks because the only place I could put him was inside the now famous blue bathroom, where Mia still lived. If I put a fractious cat in with Mia it could be very dangerous for her. Once Barry’s hormone level was down (hence the six week wait), it would be safer for all of us, but it also meant it would really flat out suck for him. He was letting me pet him. He wasn't feral. I had to give him a chance.

During times like this I force myself to look at the big picture. Yes, it was awful to confine Barry for weeks on end, but if I looked at what might be the rest of his life, living in a home, safe, warm, and happy some day, then these weeks would soon be forgotten.

And then Barry bit me again.

part two next...

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A Spoonful of Despair. Part 4 of 4

(continued from parts 1, 2 and 3).

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.

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©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.

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©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.

We got a phone consult with the oncologist, who shoehorned us in between appointments. She told me that 70% of cats respond to chemo very well and that about half of those cats can go more than three months and have very good quality of life. She said we could also do a cheaper type of chemo every three weeks, which I thought Cricket could handle. That we COULD try chemo even if we didn’t have test results---again just try and see what works. If the chemo had no effect, we’d know in 24 to 36 hours. If it did nothing then we knew Cricket had a very aggressive cancer and that there wasn’t anything left we could do.

Cage card rt
©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.

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©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.

The next day and a half was crucial, but it was pretty clear early on that Cricket wasn’t going to make it. He had no response to steroids (other than giving him some appetite), which also meant the test would have killed him. After a day he had no response to the chemo, either and I was told that taking him out of the oxygen cage stressed him to the point of risking him going into respiratory failure. He could not leave the cage, but he could not stay in the cage forever.

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©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.

I was literally buying time for Cricket and I knew I couldn’t afford to do it much longer, but I also could not fathom euthanizing a cat who’s organ function was normal, who had normal blood work, who still knew and loved us. If only his lungs worked he’d be fine. How could we kill him when he wasn’t old and frail? What would happen when we took him out of the oxygen cage to kill him? Would just moving him kill him in a painful way?

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.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Another night, another visit, but Cricket was very weak.

That night I knew we would have to face this, to get it over with. Part of me couldn’t wait to be past this horrible time and I felt very guilty for that. I told myself a million things, that we couldn’t do anything else, that we’d prepare and give Cricket the best send off we could manage. I had a special cloth to wrap his body. I printed out a photo of me and Sam, just like I did for Gracie. We’d write notes on it to Cricket to be burned with him when he was cremated. I packed a cat brush to make sure he was clean and well groomed after he died. His body would be respected and honored. We wouldn’t just run away and not face this. We would create a peaceful environment for Cricket. Our tears, our anxiety had to wait…it was his time. That’s all that mattered.

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.

----------------------

Though I could go into detail about how Cricket died, I don’t feel it would be right. It was our private time with our boy and it was his final moments on this earth. I will tell you that after it was over we spent time with Cricket since we didn't have to worry about him being outside of the oxygen cage any longer. Dr. De helped him pass very peacefully in Sam’s arms. I will tell you that we cleaned him and combed his fur so he looked as nice as he ever did. We wrote him special notes. I don’t know what Sam wrote. Those words were not for me. We folded the photo and slipped the paper under Cricket’s head and placed it on top of the special blanket he was resting on. Those two items would be cremated with him.

Robin and Sam for Cricket
©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.

I had one last task left. I had to tell our nine surviving cats that Cricket was gone. I was careful not to touch anything after I petted Cricket for the last time. Once home, I slowly approached each cat and let them sniff at my fingertips. Some of the cats backed up, upset, but more of them took a long time, sniffing carefully as if they were making sense of what they were smelling, a few of them gently licked at my fingers as a way to say their farewells.

2005 Cricket and Me 475
©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.

Crickets Urn Insta Version R Olson 450
©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.

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A Spoonful of Despair. Part 3 of 4

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.

But Cricket had more going on than we thought. Very slowly, over the years, adding more and more cats and having more and more people come to our home, Cricket began to stand his ground. He was never aggressive, he was determined. Cricket had a brave heart that burned inside him and he wasn't about to spend the rest of his life hiding. With our encouragement, this little cat blossomed.

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.

On my lap
©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.

Cricket on the BED R Olson copy
©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?

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©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.

CRICKET ON THE BED
©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 returned to the Vet and we started him on antibiotics, but his inappetence got worse. We changed medications but they did nothing. Feeding Cricket became a frustrating chore, so we tried another Vet visit and this time they did x-rays looking for a polyp or problem and found only that his kidneys were small and oddly shaped. His kidney function was okay but the real shocker was that Cricket was hyperthyroid…AND…a very rare kind of hyperthyroid that was idiopathic in nature…meaning he had no signs of the disease at all. He did not drink water. His coat was beautiful. He was not eating all the time, in fact, the opposite. He was not yeowling at night. Cricket never meowed. How did this happen? At least it could be treated with medication or radioactive therapy, but I couldn’t help but be shocked.

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.

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©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.

They repeated his x-rays to find a shocking change. Cricket’s once normal lungs looked like there’d been an explosion inside them. It wasn’t a normal pattern of pneumonia, or even asthma. Dr. Larry feared it was neoplasia (a nice way to say cancer), but how could this be true? The x-rays barely a month before were clean and now my cat was showing an interstitial pattern indicating something terribly wrong was going on. Was it a reaction to the drugs? Was it something we did? If he was in the basement, did he get a fungal infection or was it from not treating the upper respiratory tract infection hard enough with antibiotics? WHAT WAS GOING ON? CRICKET HAD JUST TURNED 12 YEARS OLD.

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.

Cricket and Gracie
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Cricket and Gracie, about a month before Gracie died.

I posted about Cricket on Facebook and that night something happened that I still can’t believe. Years ago I wrote a post about a cat who needed help. The cat got a rescue and a new, loving home. I later helped this person with other cats, but never thought anything about what I would get from this. I was just doing my thing, helping others. We became friends and often sent each other encouraging messages on Facebook and she even helped us do some fundraisers from time to time. She reached out to me and said she wanted to help Cricket. She had set aside some emergency funds for her cats and wanted me to have them. I warned her it was going to require a lot of money, but she did not back down. She told me, though she wanted to remain anonymous to everyone else, that in a few days she could grant us enough money to cover Cricket’s procedure. She was grateful for my help and told me I was her inspiration. That because of what I’d done for so many cats that she, too, had found her place doing rescue and had saved many lives. Not only was she making it possible for me to save my cat, she had given me a gift of knowing that what I do makes a difference. She wanted to pay it forward, so she did.

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.

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©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.

Being a nurse to a sick cat isn’t my strong suit because I get upset when they get upset. Sam has a much better temperament and I honestly think we work great as a team. Where I become unglued, Sam will step in. He would carry Cricket over to me and I would prepare the food, track the medications and feeding. Then Sam would hold and comfort Cricket while I awkwardly syringed soft food into him. I hated doing it, but I wanted to save Cricket’s life. I was in such shock that he could have cancer, my head was spinning. What did we do to cause this? If it was a primary cancer, meaning it started in his lungs, it was VERY VERY RARE. Most often lung cancers start someplace else, but we did an ultrasound on Cricket and everything other than his lungs looked just fine. His blood work was normal yet he had a demon lurking inside him and it was moving fast.

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.

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©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.

Although I felt like I was betraying Cricket to take him back to the Vet, it had to be done. Sam drove while I sat in the back seat with Cricket. He cried out and began panting. The ER knew we were coming and were ready to put him into oxygen right away. A few times I thought Cricket was going to die he was breathing so fast. I petted him and tried to soothe him while my own heart was going to burst from grief. I wanted to help him, not see him suffering. If only he could understand we were trying to help him feel better.

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...

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. In oxygen cage for now, but will Cricket ever be able to come home again?

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A Spoonful of Despair. Part 2 of 4.

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.

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©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.

Sophie booboo
©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.

Shortly after the cats arrived I attended my first animal rescue fundraiser. I’d never been around people who did rescue before and it really opened my eyes. There I was, surrounded by people who really did rescue, not just a newbie like myself. I asked one of the ladies about “semi feral” cats and she laughed at me. “Kid, there are feral cats and domesticated cats. That’s it. You want these cats to like you, get this really cheap tuna-based cat food and bribe them with it. Works for me.”

Cricket2
©2005 Robin AF Olson. Slowly but surely Cricket began to trust me.

So I got the cat food and the rest is history. Cricket and his siblings began to trust me. I still remember petting him for the first time without the glove. I was scared but determined to let him bite me, as if my sacrifice would gain his trust. He didn’t bite me. He purred. I tried not to gasp, to cry out with delight. As he leaned into my hand, he gave me the gift of his trust, and I never wanted to betray that again.

MINE
©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.

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©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.

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A Spoonful of Despair. Part 1 of 4.

We all face difficult times over the course of our life, but the dark days often come in measured amounts—a spoonful of despair, a cup of grief. We must take a sip, as bitter as it is, knowing that’s the cost of being alive. There’s the dark but there's also the counterpoint of the light, the happy vs the sad. We assume that after a time of heartbreak there will be love again one day. We push against suffering. We can try to cover up the pain with medication, food, or other neurotic reactions, but it never really goes away. Despair forces us to take another sip and another and another, but there are times we know we’ll drown if we have to take just one more. That’s how I’ve felt these past few weeks as I’ve been struggling against the dark, praying for the light to return soon.

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.

Spencer with blitz under the table
©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.

Sniffing baby food r olson
©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.

Feeding tube? In Spencer? The cat whose claws I can barely trim if I only try one or two at a time? Oh God!

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.

Pancreatitis is no joke and cats can get it once, then never again or they can have flare ups for the rest of their life…or they can DIE.

Fluff with spencer
©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.

Spencer after peeing on the bed
©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.

The next morning I woke up to find Spencer sleeping next to me. I was so happy to see him after days of him sleeping under a table, but my joy was short-lived. Spencer was also laying in a pool of his own urine. He had peed on the bed right next to me. He has never done anything remotely like that in his entire life. I wasn’t angry for what he did. I was heartbroken. This was not good. Not good at all.

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?

Wee wee squinting
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Spencer giving me "lovey-eyes."

But my joy was very short-lived because as Spencer began to improve, our little black cat, Cricket began to go down hill, fast.

Next up: A Semi-feral cat, indeed!

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Cats Shows and Breeders and Haters, oh My.

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.

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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?

Cat show poster 1094410968 o

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.

I’m sure that there are those of you who know every fact and figure to prove the point that breeding should be outlawed completely, so how dare I spend the weekend at a cat show, showing my little cat in the Household Pet Cats ring?

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).

Baccaruda R Olson 475
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Baccaruda, one of my new BFFs gets shown. He is all fluff, all the time.

What if we DID outlaw breeding and all we had were what I usually see in my rescue-world—an assortment of tabbies, gray cats, lots and lots of black cats, fluffy cats, orange cats, calicos or torties, but I wouldn’t see a magnificent, mellow-minded Birman, with big white mitts, sapphire blue eyes and chocolate coloring that fades along the abdomen and darkens at the paws. I wouldn’t see a delicately proportioned, trouble-making, Singapura with a ticked coat and pale green alien-like eyes who had so much energy she was practically vibrating.

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).

Gorgeous Maine Coon R Olson 475
©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.

Then there’s something I’m not sure many folks consider. There are a few people who do the cat shows who would otherwise have little or no contact with anyone in society. They use their cats as bridge so they can be comfortable around others. It gives them reason to get out of their home, socialize, and make friends when they probably can’t do that very well in their day-to-day life. I honestly think it improves their mental health.

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.

Freya Helps 475 R Olson
©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.

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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.

Warning Lights R Olson
©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?

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