Simon Tofield's Latest Book Might Make You Wet...Your Pants

How do you define artistic genius? For a painter, perhaps it’s through tiny details carefully mastered at the tip of a brush. For a writer, it's via a rainbow of words woven into a tapestry of memorable characters, effortlessly transporting us into another world. Then there’s another kind of genius, too, one that can distill an otherwise mundane or even distressing experience and turn it into a handful of hilarious, simply drawn images. That is the gift of animator-cartoonist Simon Tofield.

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Simon’s Cat: Off to the Vet …and Other Cat-astrophes is the fifth offering in the series of Simon’s Cat books; featuring cartoons of none other than the rascally-catbit Simon’s Cat. For those not familiar, Simon’s cat® is eternally hungry and oh-so-obsessed about how he might get himself an extra snack. Birds are his favorite target, yet he reminds us of Wile E. Coyote, who as brilliant as he thinks he is, he never quite outwits his prey. Meanwhile, it is his outlandish failures that are what keeps readers coming back for more.

What’s hooked fans since 2008 when Simon’s Cat first appeared in a YouTube video entitled, Cat man Do, (which has had over 56 MILLION views to date) is how on one level he’s relatable and very much like every-cat, but on another, he goes to far more outrageous lengths to get what he wants. Because he’s so adorable we hope he’ll get it (even if it means a broken lamp or ruined sofa in the process).

Simon’s Cat: Off to the Vet…is an energetic romp Tofield renders artfully in pen and ink. He captures the humor in a task cat-parents find completely dreadful—taking their cat to the Vet. With Tofield’s genius as a cartoonist, each page turned is another reason to snicker, especially in scenes where Simon’s Cat wrestles with wearing the dreaded cone-of-shame. Because Tofield is able to find the punchline in these moments, perhaps we can as well, the next time we’re faced with wrestling our cat into the carrier for that dreaded trip to you-know-where in the car.

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Simon's cat, forever hungry, in his iconic pose. Photo from original drawing donated to our rescue, Kitten Associates.

Simon’s Cat: Off to the Vet…includes a return of our favorite characters like the Hedgehog, the Garden Gnome and the Kitten, as well as inviting a few new ones to join in the adventure. While after four previous books it would be easy to assume we’d see the same thing over and over again, Tofield finds a way to keep the antics fresh and laugh-out-loud funny. I found myself gleefully anticipating what the next page turn would reveal.

I particularly enjoyed the surprise at the center of the book. It reminded me of the point in the film, The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy arrives in Oz and the film goes from monotone to full-color. Tofield’s simple black and white line drawings are transformed by the addition of dazzling watercolors, creating a dimension not only to the look, but to the effect of the storytelling that was quite appealing.

In 2016, a full-color, fully funded (record breaking), Indiegogo campaign sponsored, feature animation based on this book will debut and I can’t wait to see it.

I had a chance to ask Simon Tofield a few questions about his life, the loss of one of his cats, as well as his aspirations and inspirations:

CiCH: I’m very sorry to hear of Hugh’s passing at the age of 10. How did that effect your work and do you feel there might be some changes to Simon’s Cat in the future as a result?

ST: Hugh was very dear to me and so his passing was very sad. I still find myself calling his name at the cat’s feeding time by accident. When it rains and my other black cat Teddy’s fur gets wet he looks like the spitting image of Hugh, which often catches me off guard when he comes through the cat flap. In relation to Simon’s Cat, I draw upon all cats I have ever owned for inspiration past and present, so even though he has passed away, its nice to know that Hugh will live on in my work.

CiCH: Do you still have three cats and are you considering adding to your cat-family any time soon? If so, what sort of cat would be ideal?

ST: Yes, I still have three cats, Old jess, big Maisy and fluffy Teddy. I would love to get another cat after Hugh's passing but I also have a little nineteen-month-old boy. So the idea of having new kittens and a toddler running around the house is maybe not a good one. Although saying that, my wife and I have already agreed that when my little boy is old enough we will get another cat or two.

My favourite sort of cat is the giant Maine Coon. I love the fact they grow so big and are so gentle and friendly. Although when the time finally does come to get a new cat I think it will have to be another rescue cat from the centre.

CiCH: If Simon’s Cat was a specific breed of cat what kind would he be?

ST: If Simon's cat were a breed he would probably be a British short hair. A moggie of no real breeding but with buckets of character and charm. He would also have a white coat and be slightly over weight, he would be lazy but have a very clever, calculating little mind.

CiCH: Was it after “Cat-man Do” went viral when you decided to focus your career on doing Simon’s Cat or did something else occur that made you realise this was your life’s calling?

ST: When I saw how much people seemed to enjoy Cat-man-Do, I really wanted to do another one. I had always loved animation and cats, so combining the two seemed like an ideal job. However, It was only when someone came up to me and offered me a book deal that I could start concentrating solely on Simon's Cat.

CiCH: How has fame changed your life beyond improving your finances?

ST: I have to say that my life is kind of the same as it has always been; I wouldn't really call myself Famous. I look at it as the cat is the famous one I'm just his owner who has to look after him. My life has been completely turned upside down recently though but It's due to a baby in the house, something my real cats are still coming to terms with.

CiCH: What dreams do you have for Simon’s Cat going forward?

ST: Well I'm delighted that people still enjoy watching my cat and his antics and in that sense my dreams have already been realised. If I had wish for more, it would probably be for a TV series, I think that would be great to see him on Television.

CiCH: It’s been said you get inspiration for your art from your cats, but are there people who inspire you? Other cartoonists? Other artists?

ST: As a boy growing up in the 80's I fell in love with the Transformers cartoon series and would often video it and watch it back to learn how to animate. I would go through each frame at a time trying to figure out how many drawings it took to do a certain movement. I used this knowledge a few years later when I discovered the magic of making flipbooks at college. So from quite an early age I was hooked on animation. Having dyslexia I found reading quite a struggle as a child so tended to draw everything instead, this of course has helped me greatly in later life. I tended not really to look at other peoples work as I was too busy scribbling my own stuff but in my twenties I discovered Gary Larson and his Far Side cartoons. It always amazed me how he could create so many funny situations with HILARIOUS CHARACTERS. I certainly looked up to him as an Artist for sure. Another Artist who I greatly admired was Bill Watterson and his charming Calvin and Hobbes series, pure genius.

CiCH: You have a great gift for being able to take an uncomfortable subject, like the struggle most cat-parents have, to get their cat to the Vet and show the humour in it in just a few images. Are there any aspects of living with cats that you don’t feel you’d want to explore in Simon’s Cat?

ST: Well there are certain aspects of living with cats that probably wouldn't make great topics to draw. A few years ago I would have said the whole litter tray scenario but I have found myself going there and it's actually quite funny. I have always had a great love of wildlife and birds in particular. I have a little rule that Simon's cat although he tries very hard never actually catches or kills a bird. I would like to say the same about mice but He has eaten a mouse in the past and showed the remains to Simon. I try to base Simon's Cat as much as I can in real life and this is just one of those things cats do.

CiCH: When will the animation be airing of “Simon’s Cat Off to the Vet” ?

ST: We plan to realise the 'Off to the Vet' in 2016.

CiCH: What is your favorite body part on a cat? (I love big fluffy cat bums)

ST: My favorite cat body part has to be the tail; I think it’s a window into the mind of the cat. Every emotion can be picked up by the subtle little movements and shape of the tail. I use this a lot in my animations and illustrations. Cats are really great for cartoons because they can say so much with their body language; they are all visual in their feelings, perfect for drawing. You can draw a cat and let everyone know how that cat is feeling with out writing a single word. This is probably the reason why there are so many cartoon felines.

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Simon’s Cat: Off to the Vet…and Other Cat-astrophes is available NOW from your favorite bookseller. It lists for $27.95 (hardcover) and $16.95 (paperback).

If you’d like to WIN a copy (paperback) of Simon’s Cat: Off to the Vet…and Other Cat-astrophes simply leave a comment here and tell us what your cat does when you try to take him, her or all of them to the vet. Funniest comment judged by me wins. I have TWO copies to giveaway so there will be two winners. Deadline to enter is December 31, 2015 at 11:11 PM Eastern Standard Time. Please only one comment/entry per person. All comments are MODERATED to prevent SPAM so it may take some time for your comment to appear, but since they are time stamped I’ll know if your entry is within the deadline once you send it in.

FTC DISCLAIMER: I was given a copy of this book to review, but I was not paid for this post in any way. These are my sentiments and opinions only (other than where Mr. Tofiled is quoted). Your mileage may vary.

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BIG NEWS FOR SIMON’S CAT FANS. We’re going to be auctioning off an ORIGINAL SIMON’S CAT drawing, done in-person by Simon Tofield. Proceeds will go to our rescue, Kitten Associates. Special thanks to Simon Tofield and Ingrid King for their generosity in giving us this fabulous drawing of Simon’s cats (featuring Hugh!).

STAY TUNED for INFO ON HOW TO BID ON THIS MASTERPIECE! If you'd like to get on our mailing list to find out when it will be available for bidding, sign up for our Newsletter through the Kitten Associates web site. or email us at info @ kittenassociates.org (remove spaces after "info" and before "kitten" for proper address.

KA Mailing List Signup

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We are beyond thrilled to be able to offer this drawing for sale to raise funds for our rescue efforts. Sadly we could not get our auction going by the time this review posted due to Holiday insanity but it should be up just after the New Year.

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Freya 2.0. Freya and Friends

There are things I never planned for when I first opened my non-profit cat rescue, Kitten Associates. One of them was what to do when I encountered a cat that for some reason, finding a forever home would be difficult, if not impossible. I assumed that because we’re a small rescue we’d never have to put a cat down (boy, was I wrong about that) or encounter horrible illness (wrong, again) or cats I’d be scratching my head about who I can't put up for adoption (yep, wrong).

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©2012 Robin AF Olson. King, the day before leaving for his forever home. King had some health issues after his adoption, but I'm glad to report he is doing great now.

Along the way we’ve had cats like King, who was born with no back paws. He was barely getting by on the grounds of a palette factory in Georgia, where he dodged fork lifts and ate scraps. I wasn’t confident we’d ever find him a placement, but in the end King found the most perfect home with his mom, Judy who lives 1300 miles away in New Hampshire. I’ve come to see that there IS a home for EVERY cat no matter what. It just might take a great deal of time to find that home.

It’s relatively straightforward to provide care for kittens. Yes, often times it can be touch and go. During those early days the odds are greater for loss to occur and sadly we have lost more than I’d care to recall. What surprises me is that those cats who are the most difficult and emotionally draining to care for are the ones I love the most, even if it meant a lot of tough times as I witnessed their struggles, riding wave after wave of joy and anguish.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Lady Saturday after she was released from ICU and only needed day to day monitoring at Dr. Larry's.

Last year I innocently offered to help my friends with a senior cat they found on the side of the road who was nearly starved to death and seriously ill. I had no idea that 14 months and MANY thousands of dollars later, that cat would still be with us. Lady Saturday’s recovery was a miracle, but it also left us with a dilemma. Saturday is over 10 years old. She’s deaf. She doesn’t do much more than eat and sleep and purr during petting-time. She’s been available for adoption for most of this year but it’s very unlikely we will EVER get an adoption application for her. Her foster family loves her very dearly, but they cannot afford her care so we’ve picked up the tab and will continue to do so. We’ll need a way to keep our commitment to this deserving tuxedo cutie, but in truth, fundraising for a senior cat isn’t usually very successful.

First Photo of Freya
©2014 Randy Szendy. Used with permission. First known photo of Freya before rescue.

 

Then there’s Freya. Who knew that my last blog post about her (HERE), which revealed the surprise that Freya no longer needed additional surgery and was stable enough to be adopted, would cause such a passionate firestorm of comments. Every one said the same thing; “You’ve GOT to KEEP FREYA. She loves you and you love her. How can you let her go? Who would provide the right care for her because she’ll always be a special needs cat?”

 

Some of you even cried at the news, as I did when I wrote that final line. I walked around like a Zombie the day I realized that all the hard work was probably over and that Freya really didn’t need me as she once did. I looked at the first photos of her the day I met her and I cried again. What a journey we’ve had.

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©2014 Robin AF Olson. Little Freya the first day she was with me.

What I do as a cat rescuer occurs in phases that repeat over and over again. I come to the aid of cats and kittens who face dire situations or health crises. Then we all work together to support those animals until their time comes to find their forever home. Along the way I help the cat learn to trust and love humans, be comfortable getting claws trimmed, treat their parasitic infections, their upper respiratory tract infections, keep their belly full.

I teach them to be confident and emotionally balanced and when I feel they’ve accomplished these things and are in good health, then it’s time for them to be adopted. I’ve fostered close to 500 cats by now and you all know that I can’t keep every one.

 

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Weighing just over 7 pounds, Freya has grown into a lovely little lady. She will always be very small, but her big personality makes up for it.

Over the years a few kittens have gotten under my skin and I’ve had to keep them here, but we’re already beyond the limit of what we can provide for. There’s also the issue of the stress it causes on some of our cats and the resulting inappropriate elimination nightmare that follows. Our cat Petunia can get so stressed she gets struvite crystals in her bladder (which we had surgically removed earlier this year). Is it fair to her for us to keep Freya? Is it responsible to keep Freya even though we cannot afford her care? Will Freya get enough attention from us? These are things I must consider. Ultimately, I will always aim for what is best for our foster cat, not me.


©2015 Robin AF Olson. Something to giggle about...

I agree that there aren’t going to be a lot of people in our area who can provide care for Freya, unless they already do rescue work or are very experienced cat guardians. They would have to monitor her diet and track her output. She’ll have more problems as she ages because of her spinal deformity and bowed legs. She’s already hearing and probably vision impaired, though she doesn’t let anything get her down. One day she may need acupuncture, medications and/or surgery to keep her comfortable as she grows older.

I love Freya very much and our journey has been one of the most meaningful of my life.

Without being arrogant, I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to do for her and it inspires me to perhaps change course from rescuing more kittens, to focusing on only one or two who need a lot of care to get them back on their paws. Freya’s story has helped other kittens like her and even some young children who have atresia ani. It’s an honor to know that she serves as an inspiration to others to not give up even when the Vet says “she’s got a 10% chance to survive.”

 

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Spring!

As I sit at my desk writing, I hear Freya’s familiar me-ow. She wants my attention so of course I turn to see what she wants. She can’t reach up very comfortably so I bend over and carefully lift her. I place her on my chest and sit back so she doesn’t slide down to the floor. She walks on me purring away, not caring her butt is in my face. She turns and rubs her wet nose onto my cheek. I give her a few pets while being careful not to let her slip. Although I have to stop writing, I enjoy taking a moment to interact with her.

Freya often makes me smile and this time is no different. I put her gently back down on the floor and she runs off looking for her favorite spring toy. I ask myself how I can let her go. How I can be okay with never seeing her funny little wiggle-butt-action or how silly she looks when she suddenly stops, mid-step, then stretches out her back legs perfectly flat and straight, before going back to racing off just for the fun of it.

 

Rational “I should do this or that” thoughts aside, Freya is part of our family and I think I’ve found a solution that will make it possible for her to stay with us.

 

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Adorable as always.

I’ve created the Freya & Friends Fund. It’s a special fund that will only be used for cats like Freya, who cannot be adopted, and who need long-term care. Lady Saturday will also benefit from this program because she WILL need a lot of support since she’s already a senior cat (and she needs fluids at least once a week for the rest of her life). It will also help us provide for Mia, who has not improved in over a year and is clearly not going to be social enough to find her forever home any time soon. In fact, she may never be adoptable as she’s still too fearful of humans. We need funds to cover her care, too, but these are things that are not easy to fundraise for and that is my fear.

We need about $15/day to cover the basics of food, litter and a tiny bit towards regular vet care for these cats. We’ll have to do special fundraising as our cats age or as infirmity or unforeseen health issues occur.

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If I didn’t have to worry about how we were going to afford to provide for Freya, then keeping her here would be possible, but if I can’t be certain we can always provide for her then it will be more difficult.

 

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Please keep me with you always!

The bonus, of course, if we keep Freya, means you’ll always be able to stay in touch with her and watch her journey as it continues to unfold. She has a lot of growing to do and new friends to make.

Knowing she’s been an inspiration to others makes it even more important to keep her with us. She could eventually visit our local schools to help children not only learn about compassion for animals but to see that just because a cat is different doesn’t make her any less lovable—perhaps it makes her more lovable.

 

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. A few nights ago with her family, the DOOD and Spencer.

 

I guess that’s what it comes down to in the end-love. Love trumps reason. Love overrules “should.” I love Monkeypants and now I hope you’ll help me keep her where she belongs by joining Freya & Friends as a supporter.

 

 


FRIENDSHIP OPTIONS

 

If you'd like more information about this program visit our web site HERE. Kitten Associates is a 501c3 non-profit so your gift is tax deductible. Our IRS EIN is 27-3597692.

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©2014 Robin AF Olson. The night before Freya's surgery I knew I could never let her go.

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Forever BUB

Lil BUB is a magical creature who's caused a mythical impact on her over 2.4 million (as of this writing) Facebook fans thanks, in part, to the careful marketing and image management by her "Dude," Mike Bridavsky. For this perma-kitten-sized cat (she barely tops the scales at four pounds), born to a feral mama in a toolshed in rural Indiana, that's a lot to live up to.

Yet one look at BUB's goggly green eyes and bazooka bubblegum pink tongue, which hangs over her underdeveloped jaw (she was also born without teeth and has 6 toes on each paw), and most cat-lovers are immediately smitten. She can never be just any old cat to her fans. Her likeness inspires artists to paint her portrait, create murals of her and otherwise celebrate her remarkable differences. Through BUB we learn that what makes us different is what makes us all stars in the Bubverse and we love her for that.

BUB's Dude utilizes BUB's curious likeness for good (he gives back to other rescues, created the ASPCA's Lil BUB's Big FUND, and supports small businesses who work with him to develop a line of BUB-centric memorabilia) in addition to bringing home the tuna for his growing family.

We've seen internet celebucats rise and fall, some clearly pushed towards a goal of making a buck and leaving it at that. I wouldn't write about BUB if that was the case, but I do admit that the more merchandising surrounding BUB, the more I'm going to buy it (full disclosure, I'm the graphic designer who created the carton design for Lil BUB's "Bubblehead" figure and you can see it HERE).

So last night, when I had the chance to travel to Beacon, NY to see BUB again (you can check out my last visit with her HERE), even though I was recovering from the flu, it wasn't going to stop me. (and No, I wasn't contagious!)

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It was a dark and rainy (not stormy), night. It didn't deter BUB's fans from waiting outside Audioccult for a chance to see her. The meet and greet was to celebrate the launch of BUB's first musical endeavor entitled, "Science & Magic." Owning a recording studio, BUB's Dude knew it would be a perfect fit to create a selection of original songs that include BUB's signature "squonks" (since she doesn't meow as most cats do, Dude calls it "Squonk").

If these songs could be seen, they would look just like BUB. In the song entitled: Rebirth you can hear BUB snoring in the background, but it's so subtle you find yourself transported along with the music into a technicolor wonderland (where you'll undoubtedly begin dreaming of BUB, too).

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©2015 Robin AF Olson.

Although I don't regard myself as a music critic, I enjoyed each song and I felt they captured a different part of BUB's personality. I also thought the album cover art was fabulous and certainly worth adding to any collection BUB memorabilia.

I spoke with a few "Bubbies" (a term I'm using to refer to BUB's fans) who were waiting on line. One couple took the day off and drove from Rhode Island to see BUB. They work at Hasbro in the Media Dept creating videos. They have a bank of monitors running all sorts of content day and night. It is now a tradition to run Lil BUB's Magical Yule Log video on a loop for the week between Christmas and New Years.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Waiting for BUB.

Another couple drove over 120 miles (each way) to see BUB and were happy to do it. There was a dad, a bit embarrassed, holding a place in line for his two teenage daughters. While we continued to wait in line a woman came up to us holding a stuffed plush Lil BUB in her arms. She held it out to us and said "Hi, I'm 52 years old, how old are you?"

We all burst into contagious laughter since she said what many of us were thinking; “Look at us, most at least in our 30's if not much older, standing in the freezing rain so we can get our photo taken next to a cat."...and odds are everyone on that line had at least ONE cat of their own waiting for them at home on a nice warm, soft bed. How silly are we? We don't care! We LOVE BUB.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Dopey me, already enchanted by the idea I'd be seeing BUB again soon.

I was scheduled to have a few minutes to interview Lil BUB and her Dude, but they'd hit bad traffic and arrived late with no time to spare. I took the bad news well, okay I whined a bit, wishing I'd get more than a fleeting moment with her, but knowing that BUB was also still recovering from a near-death scare last month made me wonder if she should even be away from home at all.

BUB accidentally broke her leg, which required surgery to repair. For most cats this wouldn't be a big concern but BUB has osteopetosis and that makes her bones more brittle and thicker. Though the surgery went well, the recovery from anesthesia did not. With BUB's small size meant it was harder for her to breathe and coming out of sedation didn't go well at all. BUB had to have a tracheotomy and the 36 hours following were touch and go. I don't even want to think about a world without BUB, but while most of us had no idea, BUB's family must have been suffering terribly with worry.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. BUB's fur hasn't grown back yet from her surgery.

As Mike detailed on BUB's Facebook page, BUB is doing well and had the very best of the best care. As of last night I was told she's continuing to do well, but in all honesty, I think she looked tired and the cat-mom in me wanted to take her home and tuck her into bed. Now that her Dude is a daddy (to a human son), is married and has family obligations, there are hints on social media that perhaps BUB won't be traveling as much in the future. It made this night even more important to those of us who could meet with her.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Lil BUB Ready to greet her fans.

The shop door opened and we were ushered into the small record store. I really enjoyed the decor as it was filled with oddball collectibles, along with a smattering of carefully curated LPs (yes, vinyl!). The shop owner, Sean, and his wife were cordial and had the event well organized. We were to sanitize our hands (even though we couldn't touch BUB), then bring our LP over to the table for Mike Bridavsky and Matt Tobey to autograph it for us, then we'd get a few seconds with BUB.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. DUDE signing an autograph while my friend Adria meets BUB for the first time. Can you see that BUB-enduced glow in her expression?

Considering they had nearly 100 people in line, every single person was warmly greeted, treated kindly, and made to feel they would have a special moment with BUB. They made sure everyone had at least a few photos to take home with them, too.

And as I'd seen before, BUB's Dude was very protective of her, watching her every move out of the corner of his eye, making sure she wasn't disturbed too much and politely answering questions while letting people know they were welcome and appreciated, but...under all that I could sense he was quite tired. As with BUB, now I wanted to pack Dude up, too and just get them out of there so they could rest. I didn't care if I got a photo or not. I really wanted them to be safe. Yes, it's the Jewish Mother in me rearing up. I know they're fine and Dude is a tough cookie, but maybe when this tour is over they can take a very long break.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Ever get the feeling you're being watched by a magical being from another planet?

Though my few moments with BUB and her Dude were just that, it will always be worth it to have a chance to see her again. BUB really isn't a cat after all. She is living proof that magic does exist in every day life.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Selfie with BUB, her DUDE and moi.

And for that, I am truly grateful and forever a fan.

Good Job, BUB, Good Job, Dude.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Hee hee.

Lil BUB's Science and Magic is available through the Lil BUB Store.

©2015 Robin AF Olson. A sweet moment between BUB and her DUDE.

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The Birdman of Beverly Hills

Rescuing a senior cat takes a brave-hearted soul. You know that your new friend may have already given up a few of his nine lives when you bring him home, but maybe because of that you love him even more. Meet Sammi, a very lucky, loved cat who began a new life after the age of 14. He had great joy in his final years living to be 21 years old. The rest of this post is written by his mama, Jamaka, in his honor.

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©Jamaka. Used with Permission.

I had just lost my father and one week later, a beloved cat I had adopted from a local shelter just a couple of months previous (completely unexpected: her hind quarters gave out very suddenly and X-rays revealed a mass that the emergency doctor said was probably cancer. She was suffering. I had to make "the decision" and I didn't know if I could endure it, but I had to, so I did.) A dear friend told me that she and her husband had some friends, an elderly couple in Beverly Hills, who were looking to re-home their 14-year-old Maine Coon cat because they were infirm. At the time, I didn't know if I was ready, but after thinking about it, I said yes, if they could wait awhile. When I felt the time was right, I told my friend and she brought him to me.

 

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©Jamaka. Used with Permission.

I knew he was a Maine Coon cat, but I was totally unprepared for the sight that presented to me upon opening his carrier. To me, all cats are beautiful because all cats are loved; Sammi was something else entirely. I had never seen such a magnificent cat!  His coloring, in shades of amber, was leonine, as was his massive mane.  And I had never seen a cat with BROWN eyes, but his were a lovely shade of cognac. His kit included a sleeping basket, a (definitely required) Furminator, and food and treats in turkey formula/flavor. He was quickly installed in the room I had prepared for him, and our new lives began.

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©Jamaka. Used with Permission.

It took almost a year for this very territorial, formerly solo, declawed cat to adapt to his unfamiliar surroundings and fit in with his large family. There were times when I really didn't know if it would work out -- I only knew that it HAD to, because when I adopt, I adopt for life, and Sammi, as gorgeous as he was, was 14, not a tremendously adoptable age.

 

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©Jamaka. Used with Permission. Sammi's first day in his new home.

Our lives together were blissful. Sammi caught the eye of our queen, Rani, and they were quite an "item", curling up together and indulging in mutual grooming sessions. He enjoyed toys, and played with a lot of the huge variety we have all over the house. Having been deprived of his front claws, he was not much of a jumper or climber; and I fixed "steps" up to the beds so that he wouldn't have a hard time finding his comfort. His favorite spots included his very own faux sheepskin window perch in the dining room and his observation post in the entry hall, where he would watch the world go by and keep tabs on the birds. Twice, I failed to latch the back door completely and was surprised to find him taking a stroll out near where the bird feeder is, on alert. Of course I scooped him right up and brought him in, but he always remembered his trips to the wild, wide world beyond his "palace" and often asked to repeat them. I didn't honor his wishes, because I believe cats, especially those who have been parted from their claws, belong indoors, safe and protected.

IMG 3247
©Jamaka. Used with Permission. With friend Sahra.

Although he did slow down some, and his hind quarters were noticeably weak at times, he always seemed the regal and virile "lion kinglet" I met on that day in 2008. His passing came as a terrible shock, and seems very surreal to me. His "harem" are all freaked out and Tarifa went all over the house yesterday, calling incessantly for him. Every one of us needs lots of contact and reassurance. We are all wondering, I am sure, how we will get through this and adjust to being without our Birdman of Beverly Hills (so nicknamed because of his former home and his love for poultry, especially turkey). He will always be in our hearts.

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©Jamaka. Used with Permission.

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The Wonderful World of Gracie

Gracie aka, “Beanie,” or “Miss Bubbles” is gone, but instead of making all of you cry, yet again, I wanted to share some stories about her life and why she was so very special to us. Although you might not guess it from looking at her, Gracie was a very funny cat. She was also magnificent in her youth, truly a spectacle of fine flowing fluff. She was fearful, but lion-hearted. She was kind. I do not believe she ever hissed or growled at anyone. Super-Deb, our friend and Vet Tech at Dr. Larry’s called her, “A Lady” and remarked that you could do whatever you needed to do to her and she wouldn’t cause a fuss.

Gracie Petunia
©2003 Robin A.F. Olson. Mama-Gracie with Petunia.

Gracie was my first “unwed mama-cat.” I’d only fostered one cat before she arrived and he was a foster fail named Spencer who became the mascot of Covered in Cat Hair. I didn’t quite know what to do with Gracie or her three kittens: Scooterpie, Annabelle and Petunia. Gracie was very skittish and didn’t exactly welcome my presence, so I gave her plenty of space and focused on socializing the kittens. I can’t say I really got to know Gracie very well during those days, but when it seemed as though she was never going to be adopted and I only had a cat or two at the time, I decided that she and her daughter Petunia could stay with me.

Ladies Napping
©2006 Robin A.F. Olson. Ladies nap.

Gracie was a great mama and when it was time for her to leave the confines of the foster room, Gracie hid a lot or ran off if Sam or I tried to come to her. Again, we gave her space to acclimate and in time she began to appear on our bed in the morning or sleep a bit closer to us when we watched TV in the living room.

The one thing Gracie loved was to be brushed. I used to call her a “Brush Whore” because she would probably have sold her soul to get brushed. All I had to do was ask Gracie; “Brush?” and she’d run over to me excited and ready to be groomed. She’d sit still as I got the clumps out of her thick ruff. She’d purr, but she had a very soft purr I could barely hear. Maybe she was too shy to let it rip. I didn’t care. I was just glad that I found something she enjoyed. Brushing Gracie was something we did every single day, over the last few months of her life. We did it after she had to be pilled or syringe-fed, so our encounter would always end pleasantly.

Brush Time R Olson
©2006 Robin A.F. Olson. Will work for brushing.

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Gracie loved toy mice. She’d grab one, then sit motionless holding it in her mouth for what seemed to be an hour. I don’t know why she did that, but after a time she’d start to yeowl while continuing to hold onto the mouse. Maybe she was announcing her latest victory over the toy mouse population? I know she lived outdoors before she came to us so maybe she was reliving the good old days?

Work it Baby Work it
©2007 Robin A.F. Olson. Just plain weird.

One night Sam and I were in bed reading. We heard Gracie’s familiar yeowl and saw her running down the hallway into our bedroom with a toy mouse in her mouth. I looked up at her, amused at her silly antics, then went back to reading.

Gracie ran around the bed to Sam’s side. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Gracie throw the mouse up into the air. Sam, glued to his book didn’t pay any attention. Gracie was making odd sounds, really getting frantic over this toy.

Once again I saw the mouse fly up into the air but this time it landed on the bed between Sam’s legs. My primitive brain reacted to the sight first. Suddenly I found myself out of bed and halfway down the hallway as my modern brain caught up with the visual. I screamed:

“That’s NOT A TOY!!!!!”

There, in Sam’s lap was a dead mouse; A REAL MOUSE. There, was Gracie looking up at him as if to say; “What? What’s the matter? Can I get that back?”

This mornings breakfast
©2008 Robin A.F. Olson. One morning I bent down with a plate full of food for Gracie and saw (right center belly up) she'd already had an appetizer!

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Something happened to Gracie after she had a dental about eight years ago. She started to drool when she got brushed or petted for a long period of time. I nicknamed her Miss Bubbles because the drool always came out in perfect crystalline beads. Somehow they always ended up on my arm even though I tried to avoid the onslaught of saliva.

Sadly, it seems that her daughter Petunia also does this now and she drools so much it’s like turning on a faucet. As much as I love her it’s kinda gross to pet her for very long.

Furry New Year ROlson
©2007 Robin A.F. Olson. aka, Miss Bubbles.

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Something else also appeared after Gracie’s dental, milliary dermatitis. I wrote about my struggles with her (HERE and HERE). I don’t know what caused it or why she had it. I know we could not get it to go away even with a clean, raw diet, even with two years of going to see dermatologists here and in New York, giving Gracie shots, pills, tests, biopsies. I couldn’t give her steroids because I knew at only 7 years of age she’d have a significantly shorter life. I was, however, able to stop her from barbering off her fur and vomiting the fur back up every day. She seemed comfortable and her skin improved enough so she stopped feeling itchy.

ACK R Olson
©2009 Robin A.F. Olson. Noooooo!

Part of helping Gracie feel comfortable required giving her a bath a few times a week. Though she was not a fan of her bath time, she was a pretty good sport. I even took her to Dr. Larry’s because Super-Deb could give Gracie a “spa day” of grooming and bathing to help soothe her crusty skin. I was always so proud of Gracie because Super-Deb always said she was a good girl and easy to bathe.

I never learned the root cause of Gracie’s condition, but I do know that it lead to one cancerous lesion that we had removed many years ago. Looking back I believe that was the culprit in what eventually caused Gracie’s premature demise. And yes, I do believe 14 years is too young for a cat to pass away, especially because not three months ago Gracie seemed to be in such fine form. But I promised happy stories so let me think of another.

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In the past few years Gracie overcame a lot. She stopped being so shy and began to seek out attention. It was marvelous to see her blossom, but it also unleashed a bit of a devil. You see, if we didn’t get up early enough to get her breakfast started she would quietly enter our bedroom, then stand up on her hind legs and drag her front paws, claws out, down the bedroom door. This would not only damage the door (because it’s a cheap piece of crap), but she would push the door shut which would flip out the cats who were on either side of the door.

Prettiest Pouff
©2007 Robin A.F. Olson. Sunny days.

I knew if I got up I was training her that I’d react to her antics, but if I didn’t get up one of the other cats might flip out or need to get out to use the litter pan and there isn’t one in our bedroom.

Gracie often made me grumble as she sat defiantly near the door. If she was Simon’s Cat I’d expect her to point at her open mouth wanting to be fed. I guess I should be glad that unlike Simon’s Cat, Gracie couldn’t mange to bring a baseball bat into the bedroom.

Gracie always had her way.

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Gracie’s latest crazy thing was to sit on the kitchen table every morning and cry to get her goat milk/pro biotic drink. Her meow was very raspy and, well, not very delightful. She sounded like a really old cantankerous lady who only knew how to complain. I’d tell Gracie to shush and that I’d get her her drink right away. I think that looking back on this, too, I should have realized she might have been self-soothing her belly. If she had cancer back then it might have been starting to bleed and perhaps the cool drink and the goat milk comforted her. I know that cats hide illness very well and I’d say she did a really good job keeping the wool over my eyes for way too long.

She loved that drink. It gave her a milk moustache.

Sunny Side Up copy
©2006 Robin A.F. Olson. Belly good belly.

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Gracie had a feather-fetish. If there were feathers attached to a toy instead of chasing them she would lick them. She’d lick and lick and lick as if she was grooming herself after a meal. I never let her have the feathers for too long for fear she’d ingest them. Even on her last days I gave her a catnip carrot that was crowned with green feathers instead of leaves. I knew she was still Gracie because she still licked the feathers.

Princess Bubbles
©2007 Robin A.F. Olson. Fluff fantasy, the Princess of Pouff.

After Gracie passed away and before we had her privately cremated, Sam and I wrapped her in a gorgeous new turquoise blue fleece blanket. I added a photo of us, to which we each wrote Gracie a special message. The final piece was Gracie’s catnip carrot. I slipped it between her front paws so she would always have it with her. I didn’t want Gracie to be wanting for anything even as she embarked on her next journey to the Rainbow Bridge.

Gracie brought us a lot of joy over the twelve years we had together. When I think of her I try not to think of the dark days. It’s not easy, but I know that in time I’ll only smile when I hear her name or look at a photo of her. Right now my heart is still raw from grief, but I’d do it all over again if it meant having those sunny days back, too.

Mother and Daughter R Olson
©2008 Robin A.F. Olson. Petunia and Gracie watching the birdies.

©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Turn up the volume!

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Staying Strong for Gracie: Part 13. Lost.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12)

A week ago Gracie gave me a gift by jumping onto a bench and sitting on my friend Kendra’s lap. In and of itself, it wasn’t a particularly magical moment, but if you consider that Gracie was very ill and hadn’t jumped onto anything in weeks and that she was normally too shy to sit in anyone’s lap, then this truly was a milestone.

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A few days after the gift, I was finally able to get Dr. Larry, Gracie’s G.P., Dr. Gerald, Gracie’s oncologist and Dr. Carolyn, Gracie’s internist to talk to each other and discuss what the next steps in Gracie’s treatment. I knew that the Myelodysplasia was a secondary reaction to something much deeper, darker, more terrifying, but what it was could not be determined by the three tests we’d already done.

For the past two plus months there were no firm answers. We’d have to accept that we’d never really know what was going on and only be able to do so much before we ran out of options.

I’d just arrived at Dr. Larry’s office to pick up a refill of one of Gracie’s medications. One of the Techs invited me to come into an exam room because Dr. Larry wanted to speak with me. This was the moment I’d been waiting for since Gracie first became mysteriously ill after coming home from a dental in August. Dr. Larry entered and looked grim. He went on to tell me that all the Vets had agreed that Gracie must have a very serious cancer, possibly biliary cystadenocarcinoma. Whatever it was, there were no more treatments, no type of chemo, just to continue on with what we were doing and keep Gracie comfortable.

He said that Gracie probably only had a few weeks, if we were lucky, a few months left to live.

I nodded that I understood, too upset to say more. I wasn’t surprised but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Gracie had had her ups and downs so many times. We were told to put her down in August and here it was nearly November and she was still with us. Even with all the stress and heartache I wouldn’t have traded those days for anything, but now even those challenging days were coming to an end, no matter what I did.

I stood at the counter, to pay for Gracie’s prescription, trying to hold back tears and failing miserably. I just wanted to go home, to be with Gracie. I just wanted to go home and have this not be happening at all...

...but I had to face the truth that after all this time, all the tests, all the medications, nothing could beat down what was going on inside her body and it was going to take her life.

There were very clear signs of decline over the past two weeks. The hardest one to witness is called Cancer cachexia. It’s basically the metabolism’s shift to provide nutrients to the cancer instead of the cat so even though I was creating high calorie food to syringe-feed Gracie, none of it was helping put any weight back on her bones. Her belly was huge and bloated from fluid, but her skin was tight against her bones all along her back and her hips. I kept hoping every time I pet her that I’d feel a tiny bit MORE padding, instead of less. Not only did she lose weight but she lost muscle mass, too, so she was getting weaker. Even with all that going against her Gracie would still get up, walk around the sofa to the litter pan there and use it over using one that was closer. She would still fuss if Sam or I had to medicate her. She was still fighting to live and I wanted to give her every chance to have every day she could.

Making cat food r olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Getting creative making cat food blends I thought Gracie would like.

I tried to find a way to get nutrition into Gracie that would make a difference but I couldn’t find a solution. I read that vitamin B12 is something cancer cats often get as another way to help keep them going. I asked if we could give that to Gracie and was told it was safe. Gracie had become more and more reluctant to eat much on her own. Even though I was supplementing her to make sure she got enough, normally she’d eat a least an ounce of food. I broke my own rules and gave her what I consider crap food-something she really liked, but yesterday she wouldn’t even bother with that.

The demands of caring for Gracie have been very great. Between her medication schedule, her feeding schedule and just routine cleaning and care, a good part of my day was spent providing for her. It was vital that her bedding be clean because of her falling white blood cell count and that her litter pan constantly scooped, her water bowl refreshed and washed because she drank a good bit of water throughout the day.

After feeding
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Just another feeding time.

The most important part of her care was simple; just sit with her and let her know she was loved. It was something I did every night before we went to bed. I told Gracie I loved her, that she was a good girl, to make new red blood cells, to make platelets, to make white blood cells, to feel better, that I would see her in the morning. I’d kiss her head and tell her I loved her a second time, often while I listened to her purring. I couldn't take it for granted that I's see her in the morning, so every goodnight was our last.

Yesterday it was clear that the B-12 shot had worked. Gracie was up, wobbly, but walking, all over the house. She wouldn’t rest. She was restless. She would cry in a voice I didn’t recognize. She was uncomfortable. She kept wanting us to sit with her (which we did). I’d sit on the floor and she’d climb into my lap, almost falling over to get herself settled. Then she’d lay still. Her breathing was a bit rapid and it sounded raspy. I knew she was in trouble, but thought perhaps all I needed to do was help her manage her pain.

I couldn’t do a thing all day because Gracie was up and moving around so much. She began to hide. I knew it was a very bad sign. She couldn’t go too far without having to stop and rest so I never lost sight of her. After she rested and was up again, I decided to create a hiding place for her near her bed in the living room. Once I did that she entered her little space and laid there quietly, but only for a few minutes and was up again roaming around the house searching for something or some place to go.

The final photo r olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My very sick sweetheart.

Late in the afternoon I caught Gracie walking over to where her daughter Petunia spends her day. Gracie was tired so I sat on the floor and she climbed into my lap. I edged myself close to the low kitty condo where Petunia was sitting. I petted Petunia and petted Gracie, mixing their scents together. Petunia drooled as I petted her, the droplets narrowly missing Gracie’s forehead. The two seemed content to be together after months of separation. Petunia was too scared to cross the living room and Gracie was too tired to make the trip herself.

We sat there until Gracie fussed and had to get up again, but the moment wasn’t lost on me that perhaps this was the final time they’d be together.

Sam and I took turns keeping an eye on her. We continued her feeding routines and medications but she was not doing well at all. I called my friend Katherine that night and asked her about giving Gracie buprenex, which is an opiate-based pain medication. I thought it would relax her enough so that she COULD rest, but the problem was, as with EVERY conversation we had about Gracie, we didn’t know what we should do. I can’t tell you how many times every single day I’d ask Sam his opinion on what we should do about feeding Gracie, when to give her medications, IF we should give her the medications, which vet I should call and what I should ask. We never found answers to be simple because we didn’t know what was going on inside her.

The latest problem we needed to solve was that the buprenex could kill Gracie because her liver was in such bad shape, but Gracie was feeling uncomfortable to the point where we needed to help her. It was not right to let it continue on.

Gracie was due for her steroid so we decided to give that to her first, wait an hour and see if she needed the burprenex after that. We’d give her a tiny dose to get her to the morning and then we’d think about what to do after that if it worked.

It was about 11 p.m. on Halloween Eve. It was the first time I didn’t decorate the house or give out candy to the kids. I hung up a sign by the front door NOT to ring the doorbell because of our sick kitty and we put out a box of candy with a second sign on it to take some, but leave some candy for others. That was all we were going to do. My favorite day of the year might as well have been any day of the year. It didn’t matter any more. There was no joy left in my heart for such things.

Gracie continued to roam the living room so Sam picked her up and I put a blanket on his lap. She settled in and he brushed and petted her. We sat quietly, the only sound was Gracie’s raspy breathing.

Gracie would often seem startled, then quickly get up and look around. She saw me and wobbled over to my lap. I was grateful to have her come to me, something she never did in over the decade she lived with us. She was always too shy to completely sit on my lap and here she was blossoming, letting go of her fear so we could connect in a way we never could before. I was so grateful to feel her warmth and silky soft fur. I sat as still as I could so she could rest, even if my legs fell asleep or I got a knot in my back. She’d move a bit here and there and I’d adjust myself to make it more comfortable for her. I prayed she’d just relax and sleep, but she could not.

Sam and I were both exhausted. We decided to set up a pen around Gracie’s hiding spot, heated bed, water dish and litter pan. That way we could get some sleep and not worry that she was going to hurt herself by falling down the stairs or hide where we couldn’t find her over night. I hated the idea of closing her off, but we knew it would only be for a few hours and in the morning we’d let her out to roam at will again.

No sooner than Sam placed her inside the pen, she collapsed. She laid down breathing rapidly. She was in distress. She cried, got up to try to make it to her litter pan, but ended up peeing onto the carpet. I scooped her into my lap and sat with her trying to soothe her. Sam got me paper towels so with one hand I cleaned up the mess while with the other I held onto Gracie trying to let her know it was all right and she was still a good girl.

I moved her over to her bed and she laid down. She couldn’t even lift her head. She was breathing quickly and moaning every so often. Sam unhooked the pen and put it away so we could both sit next to her softly petting her and talking to her as she began the last journey of her life. I tried not to cry because I wanted her to be at peace. The lights were low and the house was quiet. The cats were staying away and weren’t fighting for once. We all knew that this was Gracie’s time. We had to respect it and be there for her even though there was a strong desire to either run away or to yell at Gracie to FIGHT. Fight! LIVE! Please don’t die!

But I couldn’t do those things. As difficult as it was I had to be there for Gracie. This was when she needed us most. Bearing witness to these final moments was the price we paid for the years of unconditional love we had with her.

We sat with her for a long time and I noticed that Gracie was struggling more. I said to Sam that maybe we should bring Gracie to the emergency vet and have them help her. It was not something I wanted to say but I didn’t want Gracie to suffer any more than she already was. Here was the last, most difficult question we had to answer-quickly. We had promised ourselves that she would pass at home if possible but we couldn’t keep that promise if it meant Gracie was going to suffer so much.

It was difficult to make the choice, but I called the ER vet and said to expect us. I ran upstairs to get changed since I was wearing my pajamas. I had only started to dress when Sam called me to hurry and get back down stairs. I ran down the stairs with my PJs back on. He said that Gracie had stretched out, stiffened, then relaxed. I flashed back to my dear cat Bob. He’d done the same thing before he died. It was almost time.

We gave Gracie a few more minutes, then decided we need to get her some help. I dressed quickly and got my car out of the garage. I opened the passenger side door to make it easier for Sam to enter the car while he was carrying Gracie wrapped in a blanket in his arms.

I didn’t want to take her in the car. I didn’t want to go to the vet. I didn’t want any of this to happen. It wasn’t supposed to play out like this, not now, not in a cold, sterile vet exam room.

I carefully began the drive to the vet. It would only take about 10 minutes. The roads were strangely deserted considering it was a Saturday night and Halloween. As I drove along I asked Sam how she was doing and he’d give me an update. About halfway to the vet I asked about her again and he said in a very quiet tone; “I think she’s gone.”

I pulled over into a nearby parking lot and turned on the interior light. I looked down at her sweet face. It was clear that Gracie had passed away as Sam held her. I turned the light off and gasped hard, choking back tears.

Even though I knew what Sam would say I asked him what he wanted to do-“Go home.” was his answer. We knew that we had to bring Gracie home. The cats had to say goodbye. We needed time with her, too. I told Sam I would get us home safely. I would let myself fall apart later.

I realized with the Daylight Savings Time I didn’t know what day Gracie had died. It was just as Halloween was changing over to All Saints’ Day. It was just like Gracie to die even at a time we couldn’t make sense of. Nothing about any of the past few months made sense, yet here we were with our girl, lost to us forever.

Farewell
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Goodbye my love.

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Next up-a special look back at Gracie’s Wonderful Life, a memorial to one very special cat where I’ll be sharing never-before-seen photos, videos and stories about why she was so dear to us and so completely charming in everything she did.

Though her story ended with heartache far too soon, her life was filled with triumphs. I hope you’ll read on because I'm very proud of my girl and I want you all to know her as I did.

Mind if I sit here R Olson 2007
©2007 Robin AF Olson. We will always love you and never forget you, Gracie. Fly Free. 1/11/01—10/31/15.

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Staying Strong for Gracie: Part 12. The Gift.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11)

The weekend began with breakfast and gossip with my two friends, Gene and Adria. We’d been meeting for breakfast at the Sandy Hook Diner once a month or so over this summer. Gene and Adria have lived in Newtown (Newtown is the name of our entire town, though Gene and I reside in the district of Sandy Hook) longer than I have, which is saying a lot. They know everyone and everyone’s dirt. Silly as it might be, it’s fun to feel like a local, sitting in the local restaurant that’s buzzing with other folks that all seem to know each other, well, they know Gene. I think he’s the unofficial Mayor of the Sandy Hook Diner, if not all of Sandy Hook.

It was a welcome break to get away from the stress of life at home. I could forget for a little while as we all told each other stories and got caught up on current events. I guess it’s a sign of my own life changing that a good deal of our conversation was based on talking about our health issues and diagnosis each other’s maladies. I’d been struggling with discovering I was a Type 2 Diabetic in July and worked hard to change my diet. I’d lost a good bit of weight (but have more to go) and I announced that my Diabetes was GONE. I probably never had it in the first place because the A1C blood test I took a few weeks ago had dropped down to 5.6 which meant I was in “normal” range. I just had to be very careful for the rest of my life because I can become diabetic (my Mother was late in her life so I have a genetic predisposition), but for now I dodged the bullet. I really wanted to celebrate this milestone, but in all honesty, while I was beyond grateful, it would take Gracie feeling good for me to be happy again.

You need to understand that I live a very quiet life. My day is spent caring for Gracie, the foster cats, our cats. I start early and end the day very late, around 1 a.m. I don’t go out other than to get cat food, people food, or do a Vet run. Going out to breakfast is akin to attending a Gala. I rarely go out to eat or to the movies or to the mall or go on a what are those things called, a “vacation?” I’m pretty much always home.

It sucks.

Sam and I are woefully unhappy. We hoped to be able to finally get away for a weekend this month. It would have been the first time in 5 years we had some time to ourselves. I’m not complaining. It just didn’t work out. We need to continue to be home, but the toll it’s taking on us is palpable. You know something is deeply wrong with your life when you have a breakdown because some of your cats won’t eat their breakfast, yet again, and you have to fuss with their food, yet again, and you can’t take it one more second, yet again.

There have been a lot of tears lately-a lot of breakdowns-but I must go on.

That’s why when Adria and I spontaneously decided to go to a local craft fair after breakfast that I experienced a moment of joy. It was something I used to do with my mother and hadn’t done since she passed away in 2006. The fair itself was small, but FREE admission (yay!). Adria and I had a lovely time and even chatted with a few of the vendors. It really helped my soul to see pretty things and not think about cats. It took less than an hour to walk the show, but it gave me enough fuel to keep going.

Kitty Mittens
©2015 Adria Henderson. I'm never far from cats.

Kendra, who adopted four cats from us over the years (the most recent one being Tink), has also become a good friend. About an hour after I got home from the craft fair, she came over to help me prepare a mailing for my rescue, Kitten Associates. Kendra is very cheerful and being around her always gives me a lift. Instead of doing our work straight away, we, of course, went to the store to buy cat food and a big dog bed (Kendra is bi-petual). We had a lovely chat in the car as we drove along the tree-lined roads. The autumn colors were at their peak and it was hard not to be mesmerized by them.

Since Sam was covering for me with Gracie while I was out, I had a chance to unwind a little bit. I think I may have even laughed a few times, which is a rarity these days.

Kendra and I decided to get a coffee (and lunch for Kendra) so we went to another local eatery where I ran into none other than Gene, who was there with his wife Marilyn, and his daughter’s mother-in-law. Clearly Gene is quite the social butterfly and I guess for that day I was, too.

By the time we returned home to get our task done, it was mid-afternoon. I peaked in on Gracie and she looked good so I gathered up the materials to do our mailing. I cleared a space for us to sit in the kitchen at the table, which is normally piled with cases of cat food. We went over our to do list, then began working, but shortly after we'd begun I heard Gracie meow.

She was sitting on the floor right next to us. She’d gotten up to see what we were doing. This was not the Gracie I’d known a few days prior. She barely left her special area in the living room and here she was matter-of-factly complaining that her dinner was late.

Before I could get up, Gracie dashed under the table, then jumped onto the bench next to Kendra! Kendra and I locked eyes. We were both thinking the same thing; “Oh my GOD, Gracie just jumped! Gracie wants to sit on Kendra’s lap! Gracie never sits on anyone’s lap!”

Gracie and Kendra 450
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Kenra and Gracie.

I raced over to the living room and grabbed a clean towel (I go through a lot of them for Gracie so I have a stash). I eased it under Gracie so she’d be more comfortable. Meanwhile Kendra sat there almost too stunned to know what to do. After a beat she did what she does best, she gave Gracie some lovin’.

The steroids must have given Gracie a big boost. Maybe she need the extra dose all along? Maybe she’d be feeling better for some time to come even with the dire news?

Gracie, restless, got up and jumped onto the table! I hadn’t seen her jump on ANYTHING for over a month. This was an amazing sight. I had to call out to Sam to come and see our girl showing us that she still had things she wanted to do and still had the heart to do them.

Kendra and I worked around Gracie as she kept us company. Even in her prime, Gracie never did things like this. You see Gracie was abused by her former guardians (and “guardian” is a polite term for what I'd really like to call them). I got Gracie as a rescue because her life was in danger (the man told his wife he was going to kill Gracie if she didn’t get rid of her. He’d already kicked and otherwise abused her, so Gracie needed to get out, fast.) and this was right after Gracie had given birth to three kittens. Gracie was timid for a good part of her life, but Sam and I worked with her and over the years she’d come to trust and love us, though she never would fully sleep on our laps. That’s why it was an amazing gift to see Gracie feeling good, feeling happy, wanting to be part of our life, wanting to be with us as much as we wanted to be with her.

Gracie on the Table 650
©2015 Robin AF Olson. My gift, Gracie.

I wanted more days like this with all my heart, but I knew we were running out of time if we couldn’t come up with a diagnosis.

next up...with no diagnosis in sight, three Vets join forces to reach a conclusion about Gracie's future.

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Staying Strong for Gracie: Part 11. The Results.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10)

Gracie was flat the next few days. The toll of the sedation and stress from the travel really got to her. We’d been through these lows before after every test and with any luck, Gracie would begin to perk back up. We just had to make certain Gracie’s medication schedule was kept on track and that if she wasn’t eating enough we’d syringe feed her to get the extra calories into her.

Gracie had lost some muscle mass and felt very thin, even though her belly was round from the fluids in her abdomen. I foolishly thought that if we were getting Gracie to eat 5 or so small meals, it would add up to enough calories for a day. I was very wrong. I knew it as I ran my hand along her spine and felt the padding slowly vanish over the course of a week or so. I knew I had to do more so that meant doing math, but first I had to find out how many calories to feed Gracie.

Dr. Carolyn said to aim for 200 a day. Once I sat down and read labels, then had to get on the internet to do research because far too many cat food companies don’t include calorie counts on their labels. I realized that Gracie was grossly underfed even though she WAS eating. She’d only eat about 1.0 oz of food per meal and many of the foods were only 20-25 or so calories per ounce. It meant if she was lucky she was getting a little over 100 calories a day. We HAD to do a better job ASAP.

I returned to my trusty notepad. Sam bought a food processor so we could blend down the foods we knew were better quality and higher in calories. We could also use prescription emergency support foods but I didn’t like some of the ingredients as much. We’d have to experiment because our goal was not just to provide nutrition to Gracie, but to make it as tasty and as positive of an experience as possible. We didn’t want Gracie to feel miserable even though we felt miserable having to take this step.

Furry New Year 2007

©2007 Robin AF Olson. My beautiful girl just after the New Year, 2007.

I always keep 35 mL syringes on hand. I like them for syringe feeding because the tip is rather long and they hold a good amount of food. There’s no hard and fast rule about exactly how many cc’s to feed because some cats can’t handle much and others can handle a bit more. It was trial and error all the way and some times the error really upset me because I didn’t want to make things worse for Gracie.

Friday arrived and Gracie acted a bit perkier. We’d just begun to give her a second dose of prednisilone (steroids) and it clearly was helping. Buoyed by her good spirits I could focus on getting some much needed and overdue work done, even though in the back of my mind I knew that today was the day we’d possibly get some concrete news about Gracie’s future.

Late in the day Dr. Carolyn called. The all-too familiar lump in my gut returned as I tried to calmly answer the phone. I reached for another note pad so I could distract myself by taking notes.

Delivering bad news must be something Vets get a lot of practice doing as Dr. Carolyn described what the report said. She was calm and not alarmist so I remained calm, but as she spoke I felt my body begin to slump against my chair.

She paraphrased the medical jargon by saying that we still had NO DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS. There was NO sign of CANCER, but…

…now Gracie had something called Myelodysplasia.


Myelodysplasia (myelodysplastic syndrome, MDS) is considered a preleukemic syndrome characterized by ineffective hematopoiesis, resulting in a nonregenerative anemia or other cytopenias. MDS has been described in dogs, cats, and people. The disease can be primary or secondary and is commonly seen in cats with feline leukemia. Primary syndromes probably arise from mutations in stem cells. Secondary syndromes are caused by other neoplasia or drug therapy. Some cats and dogs respond to treatment with recombinant human erythropoietin and prednisone. Supportive care with transfusions may be helpful. Survival is variable because MDS can progress to leukemia; many animals are euthanized or die of sepsis, bleeding, or anemia.”

So basically Gracie’s bone marrow wasn’t working right any more and with low white blood cells and platelets it was dangerous for her to be around other cats because she could easily pick up disease from them. Since she didn't have Feline Leukemia (she'd been tested multiple times for it) I asked what this could be coming from and Dr. Carolyn said either a toxic event or most likely a very bad cancer, probably in the liver. I asked her if there was anything more we should do, treatments or medications. She replied that what we should isolate Gracie (that was NOT going to happen-it was too late now and honestly not fair to put her away in a room by herself at this point. We'd keep our hands washed and she already had her own dishes and litter pan) were doing was good for now and that we should re-test Gracie’s blood work in two weeks. If she was perking up, that was great, it could mean this was immune mediated and that perhaps she’d do okay for a time. We didn’t need to return to see Dr. Carolyn, but if Gracie improved enough we could think about doing the liver biopsy again.

Sam and I began to read as much as we could about MDS, but there wasn’t a lot out there. MDS is rare in cats and there aren’t a plethora of treatments for it. One of them, darbepoetin, could help for a time, but it's very confusing on whether or not anything would help her now. I kept thinking about how Gracie got so sick right after her dental procedure and how that my Vet had just moved his office, he didn’t do the procedure and things were chaotic at his practice. Maybe someone made an error and this, indeed was due to a toxic exposure. A rage began to build inside me that had my mind going to very dark places. At my Vet’s office we joked about not giving my cats Metacam, EVER and now I wondered if that was what was killing my cat, or did she get an overdose of medications with all the other chaos going on with the Vet's moving...because WHERE is the CANCER? We’d done THREE biopsies and NONE had shown cancer.

If this was a toxic event I realized I would have to end my 20+ year friendship with my own Vet—someone who I consider family, whose staff I count as friends. I had to tread very carefully if I was going to go down this path. I needed to calm down and get information about the details of the dental cleaning. I put in a call to speak with Dr. Larry. I was terrified of jeopardizing our relationship, but I needed answers. I knew he would be honest with me even if it was something I didn't want to hear. If they made an error then it would be devastating, but more than anything, I only wanted what I’d wanted these past three months, to find out what was slowly killing my sweet cat and I was desperate for answers.

next up...a consensus on Gracie's illness and the remarkable gift she gave us.

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Staying Strong for Gracie: Part 10. Tested.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9)

Sam and I returned to the waiting area. What was once a twilight zone was now beginning to fill with other people and their pets; many had dogs of varying sizes. For some reason a good number of the dogs were paralyzed in their hind legs. Some people in the waiting room wore the same sort of anxiety-ridden expression I knew all too well while others had retreated even further into a blank stare of total shock over what was happening to their pet. I didn’t want to see this so I took my homework out and began reading. Thankfully the medication was working well enough so I felt I could concentrate.

Happy face i waiting room
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Another happy client waits for his appointment.

A lady wearing lots of purple sat down near Sam and struck up a conversation. She bred Labrador Retrievers and somehow one of the puppies got Parvo. The dog was named Mabel and she thought that she just might survive after some very bad days.

The conversation helped me forget to worry until I looked up and saw Dr. Carolyn walking towards me. I held my breath as she knelt down by my chair. She said that the procedure went well and that Gracie was starting to wake up from the sedation. That she wanted to keep Gracie on an IV for a few hours to make certain she was well enough to go home. She also added that she wanted to send the sample to the University of Pennsylvania because she knew the specialist who read the samples. She added that bone marrow samples required a very specialized expertise and that she knew and trusted the person who would study Gracie’s sample. The problem was we wouldn’t get results for two more days. Did we have two more days to wait?

I nodded that I understood and thanked Dr. Carolyn, grateful that the worst might be over for the day. Now all Gracie had to do was relax and get some fluids, certainly something that would help her feel better.

It’s funny how your body stops working when you experience long periods of stress. I hadn’t eaten more than a few bite of food for two days and now I suddenly felt a bit hungry. Though I’ve been very careful about my diet for three months I decided that it was okay to get something from the vending machine as long as I didn’t go overboard. Sam and I chose to get a small bag of plain potato chips. They also had Danish rolls in the vending machine which I assumed had to be completely disgusting for a number of reasons. The thing that made me smirk was seeing the smattering of signs adhered to the vending machine asking to “Please Don’t Shake Me.” I wanted to peel one off and stick it onto my forehead.

Do not shake me 475
©2015 Robin AF Olson. I couldn't have said it better myself.

A few hours later one of Gracie’s team saw us and came over to tell us she was doing well and getting a lot of snuggles and that she personally had held Gracie on her lap for a long time. She remarked at how sweet Gracie was, but of course that was just how Gracie always behaved. She said it would be another few hours but not to worry.

So I returned to my homework, learning about litterbox aversion while Gracie got her fluids. You see I’ve been accepted into an online program held by the Humane Society of the United States. I’m going to become (I hope) a Certified Cat Behavior Counselor. That way I can help people keep their cats in their home any time a behavior crisis occurs. I’ll be like Jackson Galaxy, Junior. Now if I could just get my own TV show I’d be all set.

We’d been in the waiting room for six hours before it was finally time to take Gracie home. Dr. Carolyn came out and talked with us and answered some of my questions about continuing medications or whether or not Gracie needed us to give her subcutaneous fluids (not yet). She handed Gracie over to us. She was quiet, but she was alive.

This horror was over for now and we could finally go home together. There’d be no taking a dead cat to Dr. Larry’s to be sent out to be cremated. There’d be no euthanizing Gracie right then and there because her blood work was getting worse. For now we had this extra time together and we could find solace in that without feeling the need to be greedy for more. I suppose we’d already had two more months than many Vets had told us we’d get, so I’d accept this gift for what it was and not look for more.

Gracie after sedation at pieper
©2015 Robin AF Olson. A bit worse for wear after recovering from sedation, Gracie rests her head on my hand as Sam drives us home.

In two days we’d might not have “the” answer but we’d have a some sense of an answer. I doubted it would be good news, but we’d know what we were dealing with and what Gracie needed to help her feel comfortable. Until then all I had to do was keep her belly full of good food and love her as much as possible.

I could do that. No problem.

Coming up next…the test results come in and once again I’m left shocked to my core, but not before Gracie gives us a very special gift.

Sun bow on way home
©2015 Robin AF Olson. A sun bow guides us home.

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Staying Strong for Gracie: Part 9. The Test.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8)

The morning of Gracie’s liver biopsy arrived like a brick dropped onto my gut. Once again, I didn’t want to get out of bed. It was only 6:30 AM and I’m not a morning person. Late the night before Sam and I decided we must do the biopsy and that due to the amount of work it takes to get the cats fed and cleaned up in the morning that I would stay behind while Sam drove Gracie to Pieper Memorial where the biopsy would take place.

In all honesty, though I feel I’m generally a brave person, I was so sick with worry that this was Gracie’s last day on earth that I couldn’t get in the car. I thought my heart would explode from the anguish of having to make choices over the past few months, not knowing what might be next because what ailed Gracie remained a mystery. I’d spent the past few days running scenarios in my head of what was killing my cat, how we could fix it, how she would do, how we would pay for it. I felt stupid wasting all this energy because I knew, in the end, it would never go how I imagined, but I figured if I thought of every scenario I would be ready for what was about to happen. I only knew what the game plan was: blood test, transfusion, biopsy, possible second transfusion if needed.

I also knew that thanks to a lot of people, the night before we raised just enough money to cover the estimate for Gracie's procedure. Even with that anxiety off my back I still had to take the last of my old Xanax. I had one and a half pills left. I decided to take a quarter of one so I could still drive, but when I tried to cut the pill down it didn’t break properly and some of it disappeared onto the white tile floor. I took the tiny piece that was left and hoped it was enough to keep me from vomiting while leaving me clear-headed enough to be ready to take whatever action was needed for Gracie.

We got Gracie into her carrier. I made sure she had clean towels lining it to keep her comfortable. I’d told her every night before I went to bed that I loved her, to fight this horror off, to make red blood cells, to feel better. I knelt down and kissed her head. I dropped my head lower and gently pressed it against hers for a precious moment. I said goodbye and good luck and that I would see her in a few hours. I really hoped that would be the case as Sam lifted her carrier and walked out to the car.

I wondered if that was going to be the last time I saw Gracie alive. I choked back tears and tried to focus on the morning ritual of scooping litter pans and preparing breakfast for the cats. The familiarity of the routine comforted me, but my mind kept flashing forward to the what ifs of what was yet to come.

The medication made me feel sleepy and being tired already only intensified the effect. Once I was done with the chores I went back to bed. I sat on the bed with some of the cats deciding to join me. They seemed confused to see me in bed at this point in the day but were glad to snuggle close by and I was glad for their company.

Sam called from the road. The traffic was a horror and would I call the Vet and let them know he’d be a few minutes late. I made the call and sat back down on the bed, closing my eyes. I didn’t want to fall asleep, per se, just rest quietly, try to calm my heart, try to think good thoughts. It was almost time. If things went according to plan I’d be leaving in a few hours to be there before the biopsy started. That was the most dangerous procedure Gracie would be having and I needed to be there before it began.

As I sat there, I let the medication calm me down and for a few moments everything was all right. But the phone rang a few minutes later and I jumped into alert. Sam said he was told to drop Gracie off and return home. The transfusion and blood test would take a few hours. There was no need to stay there. He added that to make matters worse most of the waiting area was under construction and there were plastic sheets hanging from the rafters and a lot of noise coming out from behind them.

Pieper under construction
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson

Since there was no way I was going to do any work that morning, I sat back against my pillows and tried to rest up. Here we go up the roller coaster track. Tic, tic, tic the cart goes up, up, up along the wooden planks as it aims for the zenith of the first rise before it hurtles downward into oblivion.

Sam had barely gotten home an hour later when the phone rang. It was Dr. Carolyn.

There would be no biopsy.

Gracie’s blood work indicated although her anemia wasn’t as bad, her platelet count and white blood cell count had dropped. This was a very bad sign. A transfusion wouldn’t help Gracie and it was too dangerous to do the biopsy. Dr. Carolyn wanted to know if we were interested in doing another needle biopsy, this time of Gracie’s bone marrow. There was very little risk, only from the anesthesia, not the test itself, and though it wouldn’t tell us everything, it might tell us enough to know what is going on.

They would do the test as soon as we could return. I was assured that Gracie was hanging out with the staff getting attention and that we shouldn’t rush up there and that there was time to do the test once we arrived. I felt badly for Sam. He’d already been driving for two and a half hours and now he had to drive for another hour.

We made good time, but once in the parking lot I began to feel unsteady. I had to get this done. I couldn’t fall apart now. We walked up the few steps and the automatic doors opened. The entry way was filled with long folding tables that were covered with computers, the wires dangling about like crazed serpents. The reception area was closed off with plastic sheets and the sounds of banging and drilling made the walls vibrate. We were told to go to the waiting area. The place we’d spent so many hours before. No one was there. The TV was blaring so we turned the sound off. We sat together and I leaned into Sam. He protectively put his arm around me. We didn’t talk. We just saw there with the construction sounds the only thing keeping us company.

Before Bone marrow biopsy
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. With the sedation beginning to kick in Sam and I say our goodbyes to Gracie, hoping her biopsy would go well.

It took quite awhile before Dr. Carolyn came out. She’s so young I feel like she could be my daughter. She was very polite and calming, letting us know what was going to happen next and what we could hope to expect. We nodded our heads, understanding there were risks, but that at this point we had to press on. Dr. Carolyn said she was going to give Gracie some sedation she referred to being like a twilight state, not deeply sedated. Since it took some time to work those minutes would be spent in an exam room with us. That way we’d have more time together.

A few minutes later a Tech came out holding Gracie’s cat carrier. She placed it on the floor an unzipped the top. Gracie looked small and ragged. We knelt down and began too pet her. We’d brought her favorite comb so we began to smooth out the rough areas from where they shaved her shoulder in preparation for her biopsy. They’d insert a needle into the bones in her shoulder so they had to clear the fur away. I hated that Gracie was slowly becoming bald from all the areas that had already been shaved. I wondered if her fur would ever grow back again as we did our best to comfort and soothe her.

The exam room was for pets who had bone cancer. There was a bulletin board covered mostly with photos of dogs and only two cats. They were cheerful signs saying not to give up and how to find a support group. As a graphic designer I tried to make a joke about how bad the signs looked and Sam agreed. They really were quite awful, but I didn’t feel like I could be funny right then.

Dr. Carolyn returned with four other staff members behind her. She introduced each one, saying this was Gracie’s team and that they would make certain every precaution would be taken and that she would be carefully monitored. I could barely say thank you before I started to cry. I was grateful to see that everyone was ready to do their best for her, but it felt like too much all at once. I apologized for my tears and tried to cover it up by telling them to kick ass and do a great job.

It was time. Now or never.

Coming up next...the test is performed but can Gracie ever come back home?

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