Last night I had the pleasure of meeting, Kenny. He's an affable lug of a cat, the kind that makes you take notice-especially when you look down-at his paws.
What I can't get over is the sad fact that Kenny was given up by his guardian and left to die at a shelter. He was going to be put down for not other reason that space issues AND that Kenny is not a cute kitten.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. LOOK AT THOSE PAWS!
Kenny is about 9 years old. He probably weighs a bit over 20 pounds. From the first second I saw Kenny and he saw me, he rolled over to show me his impressive belly. I was told he was nasty at the shelter most likely due to the fact he was terrified. This cat was sweet, friendly, willing to be held and simply happy to be out of his cage.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
Kenny is SAFE where he is now, but it's not very roomy and he doesn't get a lot of attention. We need to find this special kitty a home!
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Hi Kenny!
Kenny is located in CONNECTICUT.
Please don't contact me if you live more than one state away from CT. I doubt this caretakers would want to transport him too far away.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to know more about Kenny!
the DOOD weighed four pounds when I rescued him last year, but he was a kitten back then. Over the past year the DOOD's been growing. About six months ago I noticed he was getting BIG and I mean BIG, not exactly chubby but large in size. I referred to him as a “ham hock” when people remarked on his girth. He's young and should increase in size, to a point but when is he going to STOP growing?
I just weighed him.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My “Baby.”
the DOOD still runs around but can't quite get “hang time” when he jumps after a toy. His back legs are a bit bowed. He wipes out if he runs too fast. If he decides it's time for lap time with me, I KNOW he's on my lap because I feel like I just got pinned to the sofa.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Finally, a low-calorie food he can eat!
Before you start guessing he weighs 30 pounds, he doesn't. He's nowhere near a record breaking size, but…I will tell you he weighed 14 lbs, 4 oz in April. He doesn't get overfed. He doesn't get kibble. He DOES get broccoli, which he loves, but is pretty much not something that would ever make him fat.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
The “WINNER” who guesses closest to the DOOD's weight gets a copy of the “5th Edition: Small Animal Clinical Nutrition.” (brought to you by Hill's) It is supposedly THE most comprehensive guide to small animal nutrition. This tome includes nutrition for dogs, cats, birds, reptiles and other small mammals. It has contributions by over 125 authors. Do I agree with what it says? I don't know yet, but I'm guessing it will be steering readers away from raw food so I would say I might find fault. Thing is, this guide covers nutrition guidelines YOUR VET REFERS TO, so good to know what they are going to tell you about nutrition IF they read the gazillion pages of this book.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
Leave a COMMENT guessing the DOOD's weight. COMMENTS are MODERATED so your guess may NOT appear right away. I will check a few times a day and publish all guesses. You have until SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 8th at 8:08PM (Eastern Standard Time-USA) to guess. Though I would LOVE to open this giveaway up to everyone, I can ONLY SHIP TO ADDRESSES in the United States of America. This book is VERY HEAVY. I doubt I can afford shipping overseas.
Grief: a 5-letter word that describes a facet of human emotion triggered by the loss of a loved one. How long grief lasts or how powerful its’ effects can’t be measured. For some, a loss is understandable, expected, perhaps only bittersweet. It’s a gentle feeling often accompanied by saying things like; “they’re in a better place” or “they’re no longer suffering.”
For me, after the loss of my cat Bob Dole, the grief comes in fierce waves; arriving not on tidal terms, but seemingly random ones that knock me to my knees. I don’t think Bob’s in a better place. Being with me was better. Now he’s just gone.
©2007 Robin A.F. Olson. Bob.
Bob died a year ago today after suffering from multiple forms of cancer which ravaged his FIV+ body. He died at home, with his family at his side. After he passed I went into a deep depression. Bob was my last living link to my Mother and now that was gone.
Bob had amazing charisma. Everyone recognized it when they met him. The second they heard his name was Bob Dole, they laughed, charmed by his silly name. Once they spent even a few moments with him, I could see the look on their face soften to one of utter adoration.
Bob was the kind of cat you just loved the second you met him. The cat purred all the time—this goofy, burbly, purr. Bob's last purr was a few hours before he died. I happened to have recorded the sound. I don't have the nerve to listen to it again, but I hope one day I can hear it and not be devastated.
Bob was in charge of all the cats and kept power until the last few months of his life. Bob was fearless from living for years outdoors, some of those on his own as a stray. I've said it before and I'll say it again; Bob wasn't neutered until he was well into adulthood. Though I am adamant that cats be spayed or neutered, I'm secretly glad there are probably baby Bob's out there somewhere.
©2010 Robin A.F. Olson. Bob's favorite spot in the sun.
Grief grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you hard. It wakes you up or it makes you want to sleep until the feeling passes. Sadly, the feeling doesn’t really pass. It lies dormant, catching you off guard at odd times like on the first nice spring day when normally I’d put out the deck chairs and cushions so Bob would have a place to relax outside. I didn’t go out on the deck other than to fill the bird feeders. With Bob gone no one went out on the deck this year. I just couldn’t bring myself to set up the deck furniture. I didn’t want to set out the lime green cushions that reminded me of the color of Bob’s eyes. If I did that I knew I’d keep looking for him to appear, spread out on the chair, clearly loving life, not bothered to even look up if a bird flew right over his head.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Near the end, ravaged by ringworm, Bob was still beautiful to me.
As I get older, I find that there’s more grief in my life than love or happiness. Doing cat rescue there is so much grief over the loss of newborn kittens or knowing those cats you’re trying to rescue don’t make it out of the shelter alive. I know so many “cat people” that of course their cats pass away, too and I share in their loss.
Some of my friends have died. I don’t feel “that old” where my friends should pass away or get stricken with cancer (which triggers a whole other form of grief).
It’s been a year since Bob died. I honored him by rescuing an orange tabby cat I named Bobette, along with rescuing her six newborn kittens. Three of the kittens passed away within the first few days—a tragic loss after just losing Bob. The others did well and all the cats have since been adopted into great, loving homes.
©2011 Betsy Merchant. Cat at animal control who would later become the beloved Kissy of Paws and Effect. Her surviving kittens, Jakey, Teddy & Mikey are about to celebrate their first birthday with their families.
My friend Warren, of Royal Bobbles, honored Bob by creating a custom “Bob-blehead” of him as a gift. It’s something I will always cherish.
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Shrine for Bob featuring the custom sculpted Bobblehead on the left.
I’d like to do something more to honor Bob. Perhaps I’ll start a special fund for him or rescue more orange tabby cats. I’d like to do something positive with all this pain, but it’s a struggle not to let depression take over.
The energy in the house just doesn’t feel “right” any more. I can’t explain it. It’s not as if I don’t have any cats. There was something I felt in my heart that’s gone. There’s a queer emptiness to the house. The places where I’d often find Bob are empty. I can’t get over the feeling of wishing he would come back or that I could see him again, in all his magnificent glory, when he was healthy and well.
©2006 Robin A.F. Olson. Not long after adopting him after my Mother passed away-Bob in his full glory.
I miss you so much, Bob. I always will.
We use Spirit Essences for ALL our foster kittens and our own cats. When we had a virus run through some of the cats we had to stop using the Spirit Essences and the issues we had been treating returned! Once our cats were feeling well, we began to use the Essences again and the problems are going away. WE LOVE THE 32 oz BOTTLE OF STRESS STOPPER you sent us. I'm only half joking when I say there was a temptation to just bathe myself in the contents to see if it would make me calm down!
What's even MORE AWESOME is that Mr. Galaxy and his company, Spirit Essences, have teamed up with the wildly creative apparel company, ExBoyfriend to help Kitten Associates even MORE!
We realize times are tough on everyone, but here's a great opportunity to treat yourselves, help your cats and have some fun while helping us provide for our cats and kittens.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Here's Winnie and her 5 kittens. They were born on 8.10.12 and are just some of the kitties in our foster home network.
Thank you again Mr. Galaxy, the team at Spirit Essences (esp. Jill, Siena & Toast!) and Matt Snow of Ex-Boyfriend for believing in us and wanting to help.
What IS it about orange tabby cats that makes you love them the second you meet them? I've experienced this a few times now-there's a quality about orange tabbies-a sweet nature, outgoing personality, ready to fit into whatever situation they find themselves in…dare I add the cats must be boys, too?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. I put a spellz on youz.
Over a year ago we had MacGruber. What a doll! Such a huge personality, friendly, carefree, right from the moment he got off the transport he was ready to roll. We've had LOADS of great orange tabby foster kitties since his adoption, too.
A few weeks ago I took in Milo, who you got to meet in my post HERE. His brother, Boogie, was a scared gray feral. I expected Milo to be skittish from the reports I got about him before he came into my home.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Checking out the cat tree.
I was completely stunned by his transformation. Within two days Milo was ready to leave his room and join the family. He got along great with all the other cats. He LOVED eating raw food and playing with all the toys.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Napping next to me.
He'd sleep on a cat bed that's on a bench near my side of the bed. He didn't wake us up in the middle of the night, something many kittens do. He just slept the night away. I knew he was sick with a mild upper respiratory tract issue he'd had since he and his two brothers were taken in by my Vet, Dr. Mixon, in July. Milo's condition waxed and waned, a sign of herpes. It would mean Milo might always be a bit sniffly, but he ate and played normally and had no fever.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. At Dr. Mixon's.
Milo began to get sicker the day I approved an adoption application I'd received from a couple who wanted to meet him. The couple decided it was OKAY that Milo wasn't feeling his best and said they wanted to meet him. I had Milo checked out before we let him go to his new home and as I expected, Milo just needed some lysine and rest and I had confidence his family could provide that.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Feeling a bit stuffy, but still sweet as pie.
A few days ago, the couple came to meet Milo and to possibly finalize the adoption. Milo was a bit shy at first, but the couple knew not to push themselves on him. They distracted him with play time as we all sat on the floor, talking about cats and making comments about Milo's every move.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Milo wanted the Brawny lounger, but Jackson wasn't up to share it.
Dan reached out to Milo and Milo came right over and let Dan pet him. We all remarked that Milo was going to be a “daddy's boy” but Dan's fiancé Kathy said; “for now, but wait 'til I get my hands on him.” I think she was planning on getting Milo a lot of toys and treats. It was an endearing challenge as to who would be Milo's favorite Guardian.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Milo wouldn't take no for an answer.
Their visit lasted about 90 minutes and Milo was getting tired of playing. For fun I asked the couple; “Is this your cat?” They both replied a hearty, YES!
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson=1, Milo=1. Game tied!
Sick or not, how could you say NO to Milo? I would have been glad to have him stay here. He would chat with me constantly and always be nearby. I loved how affectionate and mellow he was considering he'd only been with me for two weeks and barely knew me.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Milo with his new family.
Saying goodbye to Milo wasn't difficult because I knew he was going into a great home, but I was glad he got adopted quickly. There's just something about those orange cats, like Bob Dole, that make me want to keep all of them. I wouldn't want to say that I hoped Milo's adoption didn't work out and that he would have to come back to me, but it wouldn't be the worst thing that ever happened, either.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Bye-bye Milo! We'll miss your orangey goodness around here!
The next morning I noticed my non-orange cat Spencer wasn't eating. He was also gagging a bit when he tried. The orange-cat spell fell away as day wore on. Spencer continued to act oddly and not eat. After 48 hours it was clear something was terribly wrong with my cat. I picked up the phone to make an appointment with Dr. Larry as my stomach tightened up with anxiety…stay tuned for more.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. What remains after the fire and flood at Animalkind on May 1, 2012..
We continued on to the fourth floor. It suffered the least amount of damage. The sheet rock was still intact. There were cats living here, too. Some of them had been kittens who had tested positive for Feline Leukemia. A few of the kittens died and the others couldn’t be near other cats until they had time to re-test negative. The surviving kittens had to sacrifice those first few months when they would have been the most adoptable. It would mean if they weren’t sick, they’d be adults who'd have a much tougher time getting adopted. It wasn’t fair, but it was the best that could be done for them.
There were many cats walking around the large sun-soaked space. It was too warm and the cats were lying stretched out on scant blankets that were scattered around the rooms. A few cats came over to me. Clearly they were sick. I didn’t judge Katrin. I would have done the same thing. She could have put them all down to save her the headache of trying to see them through this, but she didn’t.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Sweet kitty finds comfort in a simple box.
Katrin had a difficult time walking through the building that had come to mean so much to her. This place was her life and her life was in shambles at her feet. I told her to imagine the day when she walked up the stairs and she could smell freshly painted walls; to imagine the cats running freely around the rooms, enjoying their release from captivity. My mother often said; “This too shall pass.” I knew it was true for Animalkind, the problem was—WHEN. When would it pass?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Lovely architectural bones, but not so comfortable for the kitties.
We returned to Animalkind’s temporary headquarters at the Warren Inn. The phone rang. Katrin was called over to speak to the person making the call. At last there was some good news–the power in the building was hooked up! All they needed was a final inspection, which could happen very soon. Katrin spoke to the caller at a rapid pace and as soon as she hung up the phone, she lifted the receiver and made more calls. She was on the phone as a volunteer brought in an injured snowshoe kitten AK had agreed to rescue from the notorious Animal Care & Control in NYC (notorious for euthanizing zillions of cats and dogs every day). The kitten was stunning, but supposedly suffered from a broken hip. She sat in the cardboard carrier and meowed. A cat carrier was also brought into the room with two young kittens, also from ACC&C. Just because their building was gone, didn't mean Katrin was going to stop rescuing cats.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Quarantine kitty.
I overheard Katrin speaking with a volunteer to ask them to go buy as many fans as she could. She also wanted screens for those windows-ASAP. She was going to make certain the cats in quarantine were more comfortable now that they had their power restored.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Sick ward patient enjoying one of the few comfortable places in the building.
With all the activity of volunteers and calls, I decided I should head back home. A foster mom entered the room with her kitten, Tatanka (which means Buffalo in Indian). Tatanka’s eyes were like orange saucers as he looked around the room. He couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 weeks old. Something happened to him, but so far their Vet couldn’t determine whether it was a neurological problem like Cerebeluar Hypoplasia or an injury. Initially, the kitten couldn’t walk at all, but with his foster mom's care he was starting to use his back legs and could stand up for short bursts.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Tatanka with his Stretch & Scratch.
She jangled a toy in front of him and he looked at it oddly. There was something not working right in his mind, you could tell by his expression. I found myself wanting to take him home with me. His cuteness factor was set really high and the fact that he was a bit wobbly and needed extra help made him even more adorable.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Sweet ginger boy.
I’d brought with me the donation of Stretch and Scratch scratchers, which Katrin LOVED. She and I hung them in most of the cages and right away the kittens started to use them. Some of the adults were too scared to try them out, no doubt stressed from their months of captivity (they DO give each cat a break outside of their cage as often as possible).
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Tuxedo kitty in the sick ward.
It was time to head out. I said my farewells and wished good luck to Tatanka. As I walked to my car, I felt heavier. The struggles and the suffering of these good people and sweet cats effected me deeply. It’s one thing to read a story about a disaster, but it’s another thing to stand up and get involved even if you’re not confident you can do anything to make it better.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Oz is a super sweet kitty looking for his forever home.
Katrin called me a few days ago to give me another update, but before she told me the latest news, she had to tell me something else. She said that what I’ve done, getting donations for them, coming up to do a story about Animalkind, meant a lot to her.
She told me she regretted that I didn’t live closer so we could get to know each other better and I felt the same way, too.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Tatanka sits up on his own!
Update: After all these months, MAYBE just MAYBE construction is going to begin in two weeks. They have an expert coming in to review the spaces in their building and help them set it up so that it will be the best environment for the cats AND the safest from a health standpoint so they can keep their cat population from spreading illnesses.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. One of the many kittens at Animalkind.
THEY’RE LOOKING FOR HELP RIGHT NOW FOR THOSE OF YOU WITH THE FOLLOWING SKILLS. (Animalkind is located in HUDSON, NEW YORK-about 2 hours north of New York City)
• an Architect who can help with designing the new spaces
• Solo Construction workers OR someone who owns a construction company to help them rebuild
• Stone Masons who can help with their garden
• Carpenters who can help them build out their new rooms
Of course, like any rescue, they need financial donations or donations of goods. You can visit their Network for Good donation page to donate OR you can contact AnimalKind at 518-822-8643 or email: email@example.com to arrange for a donation of goods or services.
Don't forget: If you'd like to gift AnimalKind more scratchers (they LOVE THEM), please go HERE to get their shipping information. You can get a SPECIAL DISCOUNT of 10% off on any size case of Stretch and Scratch scratchers, plus you get reduced shipping. Use CODE: CATS to get the discount!
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Tatanka casts his cute-spell on us.
The final update is that Tatanka is ready to be adopted! I’m not clear on the status of his current medical condition, but I believe he'll still need some Vet visits and possibly physical therapy to be well. If you’re interested in adopting Tatanka or finding out more about him contact Animalkind at the same numbers above or fill out an adoption application.
I met my friend at Animal Control for lunch. She told me about two cats who were being borded at a local Vet. One, we believe may be a cat who was dumped or who is lost. She asked me if I wanted to see him. Of course I said YES! This is one of the coolest cats I've ever seen. He has a remarkable mustache-shaped black spot on his head and two tiny earring-shaped dots on his ears. The rest of his body is white. He has a blue eye and a green eye.
As the saying in rescue goes; “If I didn't already have so many cats I'd take him in a heartbeat!”
©2012 Robin A.F Olson. Bi-colored eyes AND a mustache shaped black spot on his head. Fantastic!
We don't know much but I'll be posting this boy's photo in the local paper. If no one steps forward we'l find him a great home. Who wouldn't want a cat who gets on with other cats, dogs and people? This guy likes to be held and purrs up a storm.
©2012 Robin A.F Olson. What a knockout!
He's perfect and then some because of his crazy markings and rare bi-colored eyes. What a gem!
©2012 Robin A.F Olson. Mr. Lovey-Dovey.
I nicknamed this kitty Pierre. If you live in western CONNECTICUT and are missing a cat and can prove this is your boy, contact me right away at firstname.lastname@example.org ! If you'd LIKE this to be your cat and want to adopt him, let me know at the via the same email address. If we can't find his owner, we'll go through the adoption process and transport him to you if you don't live too far from CT.
There’s a certain quality only a rare few people have. It’s a magnetic kind of energy that radiates from within, but can be felt by others. At times it smolders, belying the real power it can unleash, while other times there is no ignoring it. When that person enters a room, the airwaves seem to change and become electrified.
One such person is Katrin Hecker, the Director of Animalkind. She’s tall and tan with brilliant blonde hair. She’s from Germany and has an unmistakable accent even after living here for decades. She’s not shy about who she is, where she’s from or what her passions are. Upon first glance she might come off as a bit distant or cool, but talk to her a few times and you’ll sense her great heart.
Katrin operates in a no-nonsense manner especially when there's so much to get done. Since losing Aninalkind's building after their sprinkler system destroyed the interior (You can read more about that HERE), she has more than a lot on her plate.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Katrin Hecker with the latest arrivals.
Katrin is creative, a painter way back when. She lived in New York City with her husband, but after too many years in the hustle and bustle, decided to move north to the small riverside town of Hudson, NY. They bought an old church and set up their first home. Katrin wasn’t sure what she wanted to focus her attention on, maybe design or get deeper into painting.
One day she realized she’d seen quite a few cats walking around town. Her first thought was how sweet it was, seeing them dash down an alley or pass by her front door. She imagined she was living in a town that loved and cared for their cats as a community, otherwise why would there be so many of them roaming around?
Katrin rescued a black cat off the street and took it to the Vet. Her husband didn’t mind as long as she didn’t get out of hand and take in all the cats she saw. Katrin found a few more cats that needed help. They were all black. Mischievously motivated or just plain brass, Katrin took in a total of eight black cats. She hid them away in one room, where she’d set up as her painting studio, knowing her husband wouldn’t enter the space. She let one or two out at a time and her husband never noticed they had more than just a few cats until one night when it was very cold and the power went out.
The wood stove was the only source of heat. One by one, the cats showed up to warm themselves by the fire. The cats were out of the “bag.” Katrin’s husband was shocked, thinking he’d gone mad seeing eight nearly identical cats appear out of the woodwork, but she made no apologies. There was a serious problem in this town and something had to be done.
By 2000, Animalkind came into existence and ever since it’s had a symbiotic relationship with the community. Katrin told me that she can’t be like other rescues and say no all the time when someone asks for help. She described some of the locals, who are down on their luck, struggling and just want to help a stray or their own cat. She finds a way to say yes, even if it means loading up her home with cats or reaching out to the community to help her help the cats.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Doors to the former surgical suite where they did all their spay/neuters.
Even at the clearly worst point of her life, with heartbreaking family problems, including illness and brain injuries to contend with and the loss of Animalkind’s headquarters, she still has to help the cats. She could have given up and walked away after the building was gutted. She could have walked away after her own home was badly flooded after Hurricane Irene badly damaged all the homes in her neighborhood.
With all that’s on her plate she finds a way to get up every day and figure out how she’s going to put the pieces of Animalkind back together again and how she’s going to get those poor cats out of their cages and into their new space as soon as possible.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Watching my step.
Katrin led me through the front door of what was once a building filled with the sounds of volunteers working away, answering calls, scooping litter pans, feeding the cats; who were living freely in large open group areas. It was eerily silent now. I had to watch my step because the floors were stripped to the bone, covered with debris. The HVAC vents snaked across the floors having fallen from the mounts on the ceiling. The cheerily painted sheet rock was gone. All that remained were exposed studs and wiring, the shell of what must have been a glorious Victorian home. I stood there. The heartache of loss was palpable.
©2007 Animalkind. Before the damage.
As we picked our way around the first floor, Katrin described each room. We passed the Adoptions area, then climbed to the second floor to see where their grand surgical suite was located. There are French doors separating the spaces, but no longer any walls on either side of the doors. A few stainless steel surgical tables and other equipment were shoved into a corner, dirty, but still usable. However, most of what had once been there was long gone.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. After the damage. The only thing that's recognizable is the teal bench.
It was a warm summer day and as we climbed the stairs you could feel the temperature rise slightly, along with the humidity. The third floor held a secret—one that couldn’t be helped. This is where the contagious cats lived...the ones with ringworm. Even though they weren’t supposed to have animals in the building, they had no choice. It was keep them safe or let them go. It’s not as though any rescue would knowingly take cats with ringworm and there was no way Katrin was going to put them down, either.
©2007 Animalkind. Cats lounging before the disaster.
They did the best they could. The cats had the basics and no more. It was only for now. It would get better soon, but the building had no electricity and without screens on the windows, the windows could only be opened a very tiny bit. Most of the cats were flat from the heat but not in any danger at all.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Waiting.
Katrin told me about their plans for the room as I looked around imagining how it would appear with fresh paint, new cat trees, comfy chairs. It was an enormous space with large windows overlooking the street on one side and an overgrown yard on the other. They received a generous grant to re-do the yard into a perfect cat habitat so cats could go outdoors and still be within a closed space. They were going to put in benches and lots of plants and cute statutes of cats playing. It was going to be so wonderful, if only it could happen soon.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. A skinny little lady comes over to greet us.
And truly, that was the problem.
The final part of my story introduces you to one amazing little kitten and shares some last-minute updates, promising news and more. Stay tuned...
Late in the evening of May 1, 2012, on the third floor apartment where a caretaker lived, a small fire broke out due to the hot embers of a cigarette coming into contact with bedding. The fire was extinguished before the fire department even arrived. The building didn't burn to the ground, but something equally terrible occurred. The building-wide sprinkle system was activated, releasing a torrent of water, not light rain showers, but a flood of water throughout the building.
On the second, first and basement levels lived the cats of Animalkind, a non-profit cat shelter located in Hudson, New York. Most of the cats were allowed to freely roam their adoption areas. Terrified from the onslaught of water, the cats climbed onto the horizontal vents from the brand new $50,000 HVAC system that was installed to control the spread of disease. The cats huddled in the rafters, terrified; but what was worse was the fate awaiting the most fragile of the cats—the mamas and kittens. They were in the basement and all the water from the floors above pooled there, inches deep. The families weren't free to escape, they were in cages, trapped in the water at risk of drowning.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Still lovely, the exterior of Animalkind.
No one perished. No cats died. In that, it was a miracle, but the building was gutted. The once pink and yellow cheerful walls of Animalkind were soaked, ruined, crumbling to the floor. The joy that had filled the building, all the years of hard work and loving care, vanished in a matter of hours. The building that once held 150 cats was destroyed.
As early as 2am Katrin Hecker, the Director and Founder of Animalkind, her volunteers, staff and residents of Hudson, New York, gathered together and quickly began to capture as many cats as they could.
©2012 Animalkind. Used with permission. Moving the cats into their new location.
Thanks to the kindness and generosity of a local merchant, The Warren Inn, a nearby hotel, turned its' office space into a temporary shelter space. It was just a few steps away from Animalkind's headquarters. Cages were assembled and cats were tagged and given a place to recover their shock. Many cats needed to go into temporary foster homes and people throughout the area opened their doors. The townsfolk jumped into action along with everyone from Animalkind. Though heartbreaking, the staff was buoyed by the support.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. The irony of the sign on the bottom of the window isn't lost on me.
In the following days, amazing things happened. Cats who'd been at AK for YEARS were getting adopted. Adoptions on the whole went way up. About 60 cats found homes right away. Folks started to show up from out of the blue to help any way they could. As the news spread, I heard about this terrible tragedy. In an odd coincidence, I'd been only a few miles from the fire delivering Leo to Animalkind's neighbor, Aslan's Sanctuary.
©2012 Animalkind. Used with permission. The basement.
©2012 Animalkind. Used with permission. One of the shelter spaces, empty of cats, filled with water.
I got in touch with Animalkind and Bob Mechling, a Designer and key member of the shelter, got back to me right away. I asked him what they needed and told him I'd do what I could to help him get it. I couldn't believe I was saying those words. I don't have two sticks to rub together, but in my heart I knew that after all these years of blogging and writing pet product reviews that somewhere I MUST know someone who could help me scrounge up a few donations.
World's Best Cat Litter-YOU ROCK!
I got to work. Within a few days and after many phone calls I got the logistics worked out. Right away, Kelly Ausland of Freekibble.com and Freekatkibble.com said he would be delighted to help with a donation of 350 bags of kibble from Halo. He wasn't doing this for a write-up on my blog or a pat on the back. He sincerely was concerned and wanted to help.
Next up were my associates at World's Best Cat Litter, who also did not hesitate to help once I alerted them to the problem. I was very impressed by how quickly they jumped into action! Now the cats had a supply of food and litter coming in the door. I reached out to a few other companies, but sadly they were not able to offer any assistance.
I also reached into my own fairly empty pockets and ordered two cases of Stretch and Scratch cat scratchers. I knew that the cats would be stressed out in cages and having something to scratch could make a world of difference to their well being.
©2012 Animalkind. Used with permission. The Adoption Room circa 2004..
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Welcome to the Adoption Room 2012.
As Animalkind began the difficult work of assessing the damage and speaking with their insurance company, things got very busy for my little rescue. I didn't hear much from Katrin, but she was never far from my thoughts.
Animalkind still needs help. In some ways, things are worse now than ever. In part two I'll share what I learned during my visit and introduce you to some VERY special cats.
I asked about what happens when a cat gets too old to be tested or develops problems where they can no longer provide good test results. The senior cats were placed in a “retirement” group home that frankly was quite austere. I asked why they couldn’t get adopted out to a family. Their reasoning was that senior cats often developed illnesses that were too costly for adopters to have to pay for so it was not possible to adopt them out. I couldn’t help but think that with all the money Hill's has, the least they could do was to adopt out those cats and give them FREE Vet care for the rest of their life, taking the financial burden off the adopters and giving those cats (and dogs) a graceful end to their life.
©2012 Hill's. Dr. Burris with cats. (used with permission)
When the tour group moved on, I asked one of the employees what they do with cats who have terminal illness. She said they had a cat with mammary gland tumors, but they would not do surgery to remove them. She didn’t know if it was due to the cat's blood test results making it too risky to do the surgery or why their staff Vet decided not to do anything. She didn’t go into whether they’d done chemo for any cats but I heard of a dog getting a surgery to repair a leg injury. I wondered at what point they turned their backs on those animals? Maybe they never do. I can’t speak to that question.
The animals are only subjected to occasional blood draws and yearly dentals. They are not dissected, but they do necropsies after the animal has passed away.
©2012 Hill's. Turtle and Zebra (used with permission)
We were told that Hill's took euthanasia very seriously, but in the end, when the animals were put down, they were put into a group cremation and that was all we were told. No, those cats or dogs weren’t someone’s pet and were placed in an urn in a cherished place on the mantel, but each animal is given a name from the moment they enter the facility.
We toured the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association which was founded in 1933 by a group of Veterinarians-Dr. Mark Morris was one of them) accredited surgical suite and state-of-the-art Vet department. It was spotless, glowing, enormous. They mostly did dental cleanings or spay/neutering. They had every sort of MRI or dual bone density scanner that any Vet would drool over. I couldn’t help but wish they’d open this space up to local rescues for a free Vet clinic a few times a month-just to give back, but how could they? It would bring disease into the building.
We finished the tour of the animal housing and many folks were abuzz about how wonderful the areas were. Maybe it was just me, but I could only think about how every night they turned the lights off and not one of those dogs or cats had a bed to sleep on and a human to sleep with. Was it worth those animals giving up their lives to science when the clinical trials don't seem to be long enough in the first place?
©2012 Hill's. Falstaff. -today they use beagles- (used with permission)
For what it was, their facility is spacious, clean and well lit. The dogs appear to be having a good time, running around outside, barking their little beagle barks. I’m certain the cats and dogs who live in other test facilities have it much, much worse. I think Hill’s did a very good job at creating as comfortable and humane a space as they could.
It was time for the wrap up. Mr. Kontopanos was very eager to hear what we thought about the tour and the presentations. Many folks were on board, but thankfully a few asked some probing questions. Questions like where does your protein come from—factory farms or free range? Answer: Tyson’s for chicken and other places, but then they glossed over the answer, meaning it was probably factory farms. Many pet guardians care about where their own food comes from and they feel the same way about the food they feed their animals. No one wants animals to suffer so where is the leadership in Hill’s opting to use farms that can be certified humane? Perhaps those changes are to come?
I asked Mr. Kontopanos if Hill's was planning on producing a grain-free food since the market has exploded with options-clearly due to consumer buying trends. Mr. Kontopanos paused, looked a bit irritated, then said they would produce one only when they could declare it as “complete balanced nutrition.” I wondered how many times he’d answered this question. Had Hill’s focused too much effort on trying to convince pet owners that corn and other grains are good for their pets while there is a lot of evidence to prove the contrary? [apparently there IS a lone dog food with no grain, but I don’t have info on that at this time].
I didn’t ask about how they felt about people feeding a raw diet. I didn’t have the nerve to go there after seeing a slide earlier in the day that talked about what people feed their pets and raw feeding was considered “unconventional.”
No one else brought it up, either, but I knew a few others felt the same as I did that it was actually appropriate and not unconventional to feed a raw diet.
One of their basic diets for adult cats, Science Diet® Adult Indoor Cat Dry has 5 grains and the only animal protein is Chicken by-product meal (according to the AAFCO consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice). Can you tell me how this is better than a raw diet of ground chicken muscle meat, organs and bones from a known, humane farm with some egg yolks, water, low sodium salt, taurine, etc.?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My “golden” ticket into the secret world of the Emporia Plant.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Arriving at the Plant.
Early the next morning we toured the Hill's manufacturing plant in Emporia, Kansas (one of a handful around the country, in addition to two in Europe). It was just as spotlessly clean and run by devoted employees as the Pet Nutrition Center campus. There’s very tight security in the plant so we weren’t allowed to take any photos. The place had an odd aroma. I thought it was something like a baked grain, then Teri suggested it smelled like dry food cat barf. Thanks, Teri!
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Trying to comfort Teri. “You'll get used to the smell. It's not barf, I hope.”
The Emporia manufacturing plant, built in 2010, achieved its LEED – Silver certification last May. The over 500,000 square foot plant is a closed system where each segment of processing is separated by large corridors so that, for instance, the raw stage of processing can’t contaminate the extruding/“kill stage” and so on. Since the process is closed, there’s less chance for the product to be exposed, but the bad part about that is you don’t SEE the ingredients coming together to form their products.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Vats and stuff.
Basically there were a lot of vats, conduit, pipes and odd sounds. It was a perfect setting to shoot a movie if we hadn’t been bogged down by wearing ear protection, hairnets, lab coats, hard hats and steel-toed covers on our shoes.
This plant produces 500,000 pounds of dry food every day. They run three shifts Monday through Friday. The weekend is for cleaning. All the food is x-rayed to make sure there’s no metal in it. They have extremely high quality standards and points at which they test the product. They deal with 140 ingredients so it must be a daunting task.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. More strange equipment.
As our tour entered the warehouse it reminded me of the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones sees the warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant gets stored. I counted 50 aisles stacked 3 palettes high of bagged dry foods. I couldn’t see how far back it went, but I’d say it filled a football field, at least. I asked to take a photo of the stacks of bags and was denied.
The tour was concluded and we were escorted onto a very plush bus that took us to the airport. It was a fast paced, loaded-with-info tour. I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid®, but the interactions I had with the staff from Hill’s and the folks who were on the tour was very pleasant and respectful. I couldn’t have been treated better.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Holistic Veterinarian, super-nice guy and -yes, the same one you've seen on TV - and moi.
There seem to be some very caring, possibly even passionate people who do care about pets at Hill’s, but with all due respect, the way they go about “manufacturing” pet food isn’t something I can get on board with even if “Since 2002, the Hill’s Food, Shelter & Love Program™ has donated more than $240 million worth of Science Diet® brand foods to nearly 1,000 animal shelters nationwide, in every state.” That sounds good until you realize they have a captive audience. The shelter takes the free food and then passes along free samples to adopters, who will, of course, become new Hill's customers.
Hill’s promotional material also states: “It has also helped more than 6 million pets find new homes, and counting.” Though if you ask them to clarify that fact, what is happening is they are taking credit for the adoptions of animals from the shelters they donate food to. Hill’s doesn’t operate any shelters.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
When it’s all said and done Hill’s treated me with respect and provided for my every need. I appreciate their hospitality and their pride in their company and their community.
No one ever said a word about cats being OBLIGATE carnivores and how science could ever supersede that simple fact by using chemicals, cooking, over processing technology and less costly grains to make up for what cats truly need. They need MEAT. That’s how they get their energy, unlike humans, who get it from carbohydrates.
I realize that asking Hill’s to take their multi-billions of dollars and DO THE RIGHT THING with their products is a Herculean undertaking. Even adding ONE ingredient to ONE kind of cat food starts a chain reaction that could take months if not years to implement.
How can you move a behemoth of a company into a new direction when they’ve already spent decades on marketing to convince consumers that science IS the answer, not common sense?
It’s like me telling you to eat a vitamin soaked breakfast bar and tell you it will cover your nutritional needs because it’s “scientifically proven” (because it was tested for up to six months on about 8 humans) and it will allow you to live a long, healthy life. It will give you calories and some nutrition, but in the long haul what is your quality of life? You’ll be alive, but will you thrive? Will your teeth be ruined and will you have skin allergies and lymphoma?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
Until then, I'm going to respectfully disagree and hope that one day the answer to the question of “What should I feed my cat?” will no longer be so divisive.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. A last look at Kansas and touchdown in NYC.