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Euthanized

For Margo. Ch 3. From Heartache to Hope.

[Note from Robin: Stories need to be told in a timely manner, but due to the terrible weather, the near-miss tornado that wiped out power and our internet, I’m left feeling as scrambled as the branches of many downed trees in our area. I couldn’t finish this story when I'd planned to, but in some ways it was a blessing some time passed because now the tale will end a lot differently than I imagined. The power is finally back on. We’re reconnected to the world again, so here I go...]

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I understand the error of thinking that there’s a way to control the outcome of a situation, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. Determination, sleepless nights doing research, mixed with palpitations, fear, and anxiety is my offering to the “Gods,” who I hope will grant me my deepest desire. Certainly the sacrifice of my own pain and hard work will change the path of one little kitten, keeping her from dying, right? My suffering is her protective shield. But unfortunately it doesn't work like that.

Cute girl
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Margo in her tiny outfit that held her diaper in place.

It’s been barely three weeks since we ended our fundraiser for Margo, a tiny 13-week old lynx-point Siamese kitten who lives in Florida with her mom, Pearl, her human mom, Kathy, Kathy’s hubby, children, some chickens, another cat, a dog and a young, naughty cow named Daisy.

With mom looking on
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Mama-Pearl watching over her daughter.

Margo was surrounded by love. Even though she was blind, Margo navigated her world with grace, dignity and joy. Even though Margo also had many other birth defects, she was happy, plucky, and curious, still 100% kitten. She loved the amazing world she was just getting to know. In the photos and videos I saw of her it always seemed that Margo was smiling. I couldn’t help but fall in love with her from afar.

Nosy Chicken
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. One of Margo's many chicken-friends looks in on her while Pearl gives her a bath.

Without ever spelling it out formally, instead of surrendering Margo to a local rescue, where her vet bills would be covered, I ended up being Kathy’s liaison and rescue-partner. I gave her advice for how to care for Margo, since I had so much experience with Freya. I helped her sort out the many vet appointments and tests Margo would need. I was in charge of fundraising. Our goal was to get Margo to surgery to reconstruct her biggest, baddest, scariest birth defect–Atresia Ani with Recto-Vaginal Fistula. In awkward terms, build her a butt-hole and close off the abnormal pathway that went from her colon to her vaginal vault. If it wasn't fixed, she would eventually die. Our dream was to relieve Margo from the buildup of stool inside her body, since she was only able to leak stool from her "lady place," and finally give her a way to void safely. We wanted the rest of her life to be the happiest it could be, and the most comfortable.

Kathy’s smart and capable, but anyone in a life or death situation with their cat is going to have brain fog from the stress of being a caregiver. I’m over 1000 miles away, so it was easier for me to keep things on track. I had Kathy’s back. I had Margo’s care as my top priority. I researched vets and found the surgeon, Dr. Gary Ellison at the University of Florida. He’d done this surgery before. He had the skills we needed to move forward, but before we could even have Margo see him, we needed to be budget-conscious and do some pre-operative blood tests with a local vet. More importantly, it would save some travel time for Kathy and Margo too, because Dr. Ellison was 2-hours away.

In cat carrier blood test vet run
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Off to yet another vet visit.

Kathy located a vet that was about 30 minutes away. I reached out to them to set up a rescue-account for Margo’s care. Somewhere in these early communications there was a disconnect between Kathy, the staff and Vets at Prime Vet in Orange Park and myself. They may have assumed that because I ran the rescue group, that Kathy was my foster mom, even though I said she was the owner. We were doing things differently than what is considered the "norm" , but as long as the bills got paid, did it matter? (Note: the assumption: rescue takes kitten if owner can't afford care, rescue deals with paying for care and for having someone else foster kitten, owner has no role so rescue is in charge.). This left Kathy feeling ignored when she brought Margo in for her appointments, but worse, she wasn't consulted or informed about Margo's condition, only I was, and that communication wasn't great, either. Though I was nothing but cordial, respectful and paid our bills immediately, I feel on their end there was something going on behind-the-scenes that they weren't saying to us.

Maybe they felt it was a lost cause to bother with Margo, so why do tests? I don't know, but you can decide if you think this sounds like a great vet "practice" or not.

1. They wanted to do an enema on Margo. In any other cat we might have said yes, but this is a cat with no known pathway in how stool is moving through her body. An enema could have KILLED her on the spot. We said, no, and for good reason. We were both shocked this was even suggested considering the atresia ani.

2. EYE-Rolling. YES, I wrote: EYE-Rolling. Kathy told me that on numerous occasions she would ask a question of staff members and they seemed irritated that she had the nerve to bother them with her concerns. Advice to Prime Vet: If you're going to roll your eyes at a client, I think it's wise to do it WHEN THEY CAN'T SEE YOU DOING IT.

With stepdad
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Stepdad giving her comfort after lactulose made Margo feel awful.

3. They treated Margo like a circus freak. Atresia Ani is very rare. After Margo's second visit they asked Kathy to bring her back so a surgeon they knew could see her. Why? He was Board Certified and had experience with the surgery and just wanted to see Margo. Okay, so show-and-tell? Is that what is going on? We already had a surgeon. Kathy obliged, hoping we'd get a better idea of what we could do to help Margo until she was seen by Dr. Ellison, but that's not what happened.

This Dr. pontificated about Margo's condition, told us he would charge $10,000 or more for the surgery, then said we should do a barium study where they inject barium into her rear end and see where it goes. It would have to be under sedation. We didn’t even know if Margo could handle ANY sedation so why do it in a vet clinic that isn’t staffed 24-hrs if she tanked? We didn't have ANY BLOOD WORK at that point so we didn't know if she had underlying issues. Why do this when we don't have her with our surgeon overseeing the procedure? Or risk doing something, that again, could harm Margo? Again, we said NO and again we must have hurt their fragile feelings because we didn't blindly do what they suggested. I asked if he could send his notes to Dr. Ellison, to give him a heads up on Margo. Well, no. He wouldn't do that unless we PAID him a few hundred dollars. It was ok for Kathy to waste part of her day, stress out Margo for their show-and-tell, then not take 5 minutes to write notes to Dr. Ellison, who he already knew and was friendly with. So once again, we said NO. Why bother? We only learned that he's an expensive surgeon. It really felt like no one cared.

Heat Lamp
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Kathy feared she would lose Margo a few weeks ago after a dose of lactulose made her grow week, but that time with a lot of TLC and a heat lamp, Kathy got her perked back up.

4. NOT CONTACTING US WHEN MARGO WAS SERIOUSLY ANEMIC and they KNEW IT. All we wanted to do was simply have Prime Vet run some blood work, do an exam, make suggestions as to how to shore Margo up until we got her to see Dr Ellison. I'd explained that up front. I was open to suggestions as I always am, but I also have to take Margo's condition into account and therefore I declined some tests.

Instead, they got offended. One of the staff hinted at it to me during a phone call. I assured her we depended on them to guide us but that we also had a surgeon we would be seeing. Why do I even have to tell her this?

So I NEVER got contacted after Margo's blood test results came back in. I was the one who saw in her results OVER A DAY LATER (again I had to bug them for the information) that she was dangerously anemic. It shocked me that I wasn't getting alerted by the Vet. I asked them about it and got a cryptic reply only saying that maybe Margo’s anemia was from her birth defects, not that she had fleas. That was it. No suggestion about what to do about it because by then I'm guessing they just didn't want to help us any more. In the end, I was left to figure it out on my own. WHAT VET DOES THIS TO THEIR CLIENTS?! I consulted with my own vet, Dr. Larry, about what to do. He was alarmed that we hadn't been testing Margo for bartonella right away, that she wasn't getting supportive care for her anemia, that the Vet hadn't bothered to notify us or be concerned about this kitten.

Aching after lactulose
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Margo finds another warm spot for a kitten nap.

5. Which Vet are we dealing with anyway? We couldn’t even get Margo to see the same vet. She saw THREE different vets on her three visits. None of the vets examined Margo in front of Kathy. Instead, they took her in the back of the building and who knows what they did. No one asked Kathy how Margo was doing. I had to chase them down to get exam results and updates even though I'd asked for them a few times.

Being treated like this was completely unprofessional, unconscionable and potentially DANGEROUS to the well-being of Margo. I have never, in my life, dealt with such uncaring and passive-aggressive people. It's not like we were constantly bothering them, not paying our bills or being late for appointments or rude to the staff. We did nothing to deserve this! MARGO needed ALL OF US to be on her side and not act like petulant children because someone took their lollipop away.

Xray
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Most of the right side of this x-ray is stool inside Margo.

Kathy already had more than enough stress. Not being able to trust a vet almost made her give up right then and there. I had to encourage her to keep going. I even told her if need be, Margo could come here where I have vets I trust and who treat us with respect and compassion. We were both terrified that Dr. Ellison wouldn’t be any better.

Maybe this is how vets behave in Florida? I’d like to think that is not the case. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do. I just kept trying to right the ship, to let all the vets know that we just wanted to help Margo and we were prepared to cover whatever costs were involved. They shouldn’t even assume Margo's case was hopeless and not to bother when we hadn't determined a definitive diagnosis. We were going to bother. We were going to get this done if there was any chance to do it. We were #TeamMargo.

Wrapped in Towel
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. TLC time.

Finally, on May 8th, Kathy made the long drive to Gainesville with Margo to meet with Dr. Ellison. We couldn’t wait. We knew Margo had anemia and I was very worried about it. I wanted her to finally have a vet look over her results and give us a game plan. Dr. Ellison wasn’t too concerned about the anemia at the time, saying this is something he’d seen before. He felt that there were things that could be done and some tests needed to be performed, especially a dye-contrast CT scan. He was hesitant about the costs, knowing that my rescue, Kitten Associates, was responsible for the fundraising and payment of Margo’s medical bills. During our conference call I assured him we were ready to go. It took some convincing, but he realized we were going to go the distance for Margo. Once he understood, he became more invested. That was just what I wanted. I wanted him to care. It would make a difference for Margo and give some measure of comfort to Kathy. She and I quickly agreed that we both liked Dr. Ellison and felt like he was going to treat Margo right.

Dr. Ellison lightly sedated Margo just to probe her back end and try to get an idea of how serious her atresia ani was. He also injected lactulose, a stool softener, into her opening, so she might be relived of some of the bulk. A few hours later he called again saying that Margo might be a stage III which was not good news. It’s a much harder repair. It’s not that it couldn’t be done, but it would be more difficult, especially at her small physical size.

Feeling crummy
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Sweet slumber.

My challenge, years ago with Freya, who also had atresa-ani, was that I had to keep her going until she was nearly 4-months old. I didn’t dare do the surgery when she was too little, but she could have died on me from waiting so long. I had terrible anxiety from taking on such a risk and here we were again. I knew the next decisions could mean life or death for Margo.

Dr. Ellison wasn’t sure we could wait much longer, either. We went back and forth about what to do. We decided to try to get Margo back home and do the surgery on June 6th. We were to change up a few things to help her with the anemia and hopefully get her strong enough for what was to come next.

It had already been a long road, especially for Kathy, who had to manage Margo’s ups and downs. It seemed every time Margo got lactulose she tanked. She HAD to have the stool softener, but it made her so weak Kathy almost lost her a few times along the way. Margo’s appetite was poor after she got home from seeing Dr. Ellison. She was weak. We thought maybe it would resolve by the next day, but she still wasn’t doing well. They’d done an updated CBC and Chem Panel at U of FL. Dr. Ellison called just as Kathy was deciding on if she should rush Margo back to see him.

Feeling awful with mama 5 9 18
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Margo's refuge was always with Kathy.

Margo’s PCV (Packed cell volume) had gone from 24 to 21 to 14 (normal is 29-48).

She was so anemic she was at the point where she could die. Kathy packed Margo up and raced to Gainesville. We weren’t even sure Margo would make it to the hospital she was so weak. Kathy had been syringing pedialyte into her and some food, but it wasn’t enough to perk her up.

We had another conference call with Dr Ellison. He didn’t mince words. Margo was probably severely dehydrated, a possible side effect of the lactulose. They needed to get an IV into her, then see if she would perk up. You have to keep one thing in mind-Margo didn’t even weigh 2 pounds. She was so tiny, the only place an IV could go would be into her neck. We didn’t want to do that to her, but it was that or die.

He sketched out the game plan for us. They were to cross-match Margo with a blood donor cat. If needed, she’d get a transfusion. They would see how she did. If she survived the night and showed improvement, they would sedate her and do the CT Scan, then either do the surgery or if she didn’t do so well, send her home until Monday, then do the surgery Monday. Also, there was a chance Margo had a liver-shunt on top of all her other birth defects because maybe that was the reason Margo tanked after getting lactulose. If she did, it was “game over” because it could not be repaired along with her atresia-ani. It was just too many birth defects at that point. So they were going to add a bile acid test, too and see if she had the shunt.

Farewell
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Goodbye, sweet girl.

Kathy said goodbye to Margo. Margo curled her paw around Kathy's fingers, as she had done so many times, late at night while she snuggled on Kathy's chest. Kathy didn't know if she'd ever see Margo again, as she looked down at Margo's sweet smiling face. She could only pray it would be ok and that Margo was in good hands. Kathy later told me that the techs reported that Margo held their fingers, too and that they already loved the little kitten. I sat with my gut knotted up, hoping that all the love and kindness and great skill of the staff and Dr. Ellison would be enough.

And so we began the ever-painful sitting-by-the-phone-waiting-game. We held our breath until we got some answers. We were distracted and couldn’t think about much until we found out what would be next. We prayed, asked for prayers, I lit a candle, we thought good thoughts. We did all those things many of us do hoping to tip the odds in our favor, so things will go the way we most desire.

We got an update a few hours later that Margo had perked up. She was eating and drinking. Her PCV was up from 14 to 21! No need for a transfusion! This was very promising news. I knew that Margo, being a kitten, still had that “kitten power” in that she could respond to treatment well because she was so young. Kittens could bounce back. I’d seen it before. I hoped that in the morning we’d get more good news.

I didn’t sleep that night. Catshew, one of my sick foster kittens, went into heat. She’s been too ill to be spayed and I’ve already had to crate her once to keep her brother, Pistachio from impregnating her. I heard her moan, then saw her squat low with her hind end up in the air. Pistachio ran over to her and mounted her. I clapped loudly to keep him away. I couldn't go to back to sleep because I couldn’t physically lift the big dog crate and bring it upstairs into the foster room without waking Sam. If I couldn't set up the crate to keep Catshew from her brother, then I had to stay awake.

Catshew would have to be crated for the next 10 days. So I was left to keep distracting the cats, while I sat on the pile of old blankets I use as a makeshift sleeping nest. I watched an awkward romance movie featuring Daniel Radcliff that made me realize he's sort of odd looking. I tried not to think about Margo.

The phone didn’t ring that night. I took it as a good sign. No news is good news. If Margo passed away, they would have called regardless of the time.

Around 6:30 AM Catshew got tired and went to sleep. I decided to set my alarm for 8:30 AM and take a nap. I got up just as the phone rang. It was a tech who sounded like the most depressed person in the world. She told me in as few words as possible that Margo’s PCV dropped to 17 and they had the donor cat on standby to do the transfusion. They were going to go ahead with the CT scan and report back later.

My heart sank, but I still still hopeful.

I got up, my back aching badly. I began the “rounds” that take about 2-hours to feed and clean up all the cats and kittens. I did what I had to do to try to keep my mind off Margo. I felt like a zombie. I could only imagine how Kathy was doing, but I didn’t want to bother her.

Then the phone rang again. It was Dr. Ellison, though he simply refers to himself by his last name, which I found both curious and somewhat endearing. His tone was matter-of-fact, with no emotion to betray what he was about to tell me.

He explained that after he saw the contrast study he knew that Margo was staged at a III. She had her fistula well inside her body. It was only 1 inch inside her, but that inch was the difference between reconstruction and no surgery at all. Margo was too tiny. He could try a procedure where they take the fistula and make it into a rectum. It’s just basically a tube after all, but in her body it was more like a thread. It wouldn’t grow with her. How could she live passing stool out of a thread? I knew the answer.

I wanted him to stop talking, not to say what I knew what was coming next, but there was nothing I could do. He told me he’d spoken with Kathy already. She’d given permission to humanely euthanize Margo. He explained that due to the very long distance Kathy could not be there to say goodbye, plus Margo was still sedated and they couldn't keep her like that for the hours it would take for Kathy to get there. Kathy loved Margo very very much and she fought so hard for her. It’s a terrible choice to have to make. I think she was very brave, but it broke my heart that none of us were there with her at the end.

I had to remind myself that Margo was still sedated from the scan so she wouldn’t suffer at all. She would just drift off to sleep gently and peacefully with the staff by her side.

Dr. Ellison also added that Kathy had agreed to allow him and his students to do an autopsy on Margo (called a necropsy). He was very appreciative of the opportunity and grateful that Kathy understood why it was important to allow them to do the procedure.

This will be very difficult for many of you to know, but please read on. It’s horrible for us to imagine ever carving up a precious creature, but this is a teaching hospital. Kathy understood that perhaps someone who examined Margo, and learned about her condition, might be the same person who one day pioneers the solution that results in saving the lives of other kittens. Margo’s life gave so many joy and now in death, Margo's body would allow others to learn and someday save more kittens born with atresia-ani. Again, it was the brave choice to make, albeit so very very painful.

But no one would be with Margo in her last moments. I could not hold back my tears any longer. Choking out the words, I asked Dr. Ellison a favor. I asked him to please kiss Margo goodbye from me. I heard him say to his assistant that of course they would both say farewell and give her kisses and a peaceful passing. I thanked him for trying, for caring so much.

I asked about what would happen to Margo’s body afterwards. He told me that she wasn’t going to be cremated unless we wanted that. That the necropsy would take a few days. Kathy had asked for a paw print (I later found out she kindly asked for two so I could have one). It was the distance that made her choices so difficult, with no time to prepare those choices. She would love and honor and remember Margo always, in her way. She wanted to remember Margo as she was, a playful, happy kitten. Whatever she wanted I would respect. You can’t judge someone for their choices about how they handle mourning or the final arrangements for their cat.

Dr. Ellison was very kind. He thanked me for what I do as a rescuer and for not giving up on Margo. He was sorry he couldn’t do the surgery. I know he would have tried if there had been any chance, but he said it wasn’t fair to her. I would have fought to try to change his mind, but this time it would have been foolish. There are some things you can’t fix and because of that, early this morning, Margo began her journey to the Rainbow Bridge.

All that hard work, sacrifice, begging for donations, anxiety about what we should do next, what test we should do, what the results might mean, what Doctor to work with, what advice to take, how to help Margo feel better...it was over in the blink of an eye. We were not ready. It happened so fast. Kathy and I really thought Margo was going to make it. Losing Margo was completely devastating.

Fly free

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So began the all too familiar crying jags over the loss of a precious life we had tried so hard to save. I never even met Margo, though I had dreams of flying to Florida one day to meet her after the surgery was over and she was stable. It would never happen now.

I wondered about Kathy. We’d become friends. I really liked talking to her. We’d share stories late at night. I’d given her all the comfort and support I could, knowing her road so well from all the times I’d not slept or cried over losing a foster kitten. One night a few weeks ago, in a text she asked if it was too early to tell me she loved me (but “not like that”). She made me laugh and feel honored all at the same time.

Diaper big girl
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Kathy created this little wrap so Margo could still run around the house without making a mess.

Our connection was because of a little kitten we were both fighting to save. We had joined together without any real discussion about it. We just did it and worked hard and worked well as a team.

Kathy is gutsy and brave. She fought like a tiger for Margo. She would have taken on all her post-op care needs, even dealing with a feeding tube, which was likely going to be done had Margo survived. She would get Margo through this and it would be okay.

Except that it wasn’t.

I went for a long walk. I took a shower. While I was in the shower something was nagging at me. I wanted Margo cremated. I wanted her ashes. Creepy and weird as it may seem to Kathy, or any of you, I would ask her for her OK. I have a shrine that’s filled with little boxes and urns. Some are the ashes of my kittens who passed away, like Fred, his siblings, Pebbles and Bam-Bam, like Fiorello, who only lived a day. I have a candle burning year-round in their honor. Though Margo, in life, would never be with us, Margo’s ashes have a place here. I can honor her in my way, as Kathy is doing in hers.

I use humor when I’m feeling scared, I suppose as a defense mechanism. Naked, still wrapped in a towel after my shower, I grabbed my phone and dialed Kathy. I somehow found a way to make her laugh before I asked her the difficult question. She, as always, was gracious in her answer. Of course I could have the ashes and she liked the thought that Margo would be with our other kitties. Maybe it was her way of sharing her with me in a way she never could have done if Margo had lived.

It’s so unfair that this precious life is over so soon. Margo was one of those magical kittens who never let anything get her down, who so wanted to live. Blindness, bent spine, atresia-ani, it didn’t matter. Margo had a smile on her face until those last moments. Now it’s up to us to honor and remember her and maybe for some of us to learn so we can help others not suffer.

Rest in Peace. Go with Love. You left deep paw prints in my heart, Margo, and I will never forget you.

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24 Hours Later...

Kathy and I shared a few text messages after Margo’s passing. In our way, we were both saying goodbye to each other and thank you for everything. My heart was so heavy. Kathy is no longer a stranger asking for help. She is my friend. I feared that in time we would lose our connection. It made sense. It was how it was going to be without Margo.

Kathy lightened the mood by saying her cow Daisy busted out of the fence and was using the patio as a rest room (again!) and that today would be fence-repair day. Then she wrote something odd. “Ok....so I went....but, not to get a fence. Hubby is doing that with the boys.”

Followed by a photo and this message: “My heart is so empty without Margo! All this love and no kitty to give it to...As soon as I walked in here, they reached their paws out to me and started crying!”

The boy kittens
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Ricky & Bobby.

Kathy was in Clay County Animal Services. Not even sure why she was there, once she saw the kittens begging for love and care she took action. She does what so many rescuers do, they direct all their heartache into rescuing another animal. She wasn't there to adopt. She was there to help.

I was floored, thrilled, gutted, delighted, but it didn’t stop there. Kathy continued saying that she was inspired to do more after Margo died, but what, she didn’t know until that morning.

Scared Mama
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Mama-Moon with her newborns tucked beneath her.

She also saw a scared mama cat with 3, 2-day old kittens. She looked at the mom, cowering in her litter pan, with her kittens snuggled under her, and knew she had this cat’s back, too. She asked if she could foster them and was given the green light. Getting them out of Animal Control would help keep the kittens from getting sick and being euthanized.

Kathy turned her grief and love for Margo into rescuing 5 kittens and 1 adult cat. I couldn’t think of a better way to honor her sweet baby. In that moment, Kathy joined the sisterhood of cat rescuers. I wish I could have given her a big hug, I was so proud. She’s so brave and selfless. It doesn’t mean she’s going to forget Margo, in fact it’s because of her that this happened at all.

Holding newborns
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Little lives saved because of Kathy and to honor her love for Margo. If you'd like to follow Kathy's rescue adventures, visit Margo's Friends on Facebook.

Six cats have a chance to live full lives and one day find their forever homes because one person decided to turn their grief into a gift and their heartache into hope.

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Yesterday Margo’s ashes arrived in an absurdly big red plastic heart-shaped urn. I lifted the lid and saw the tiny plastic bag inside the urn, filled with all that was left of Margo. As tears ran down my face, I kissed the bag and said a silent prayer. I gently placed the urn on the shelf alongside the urns of so many others cats I’ve lost over the years. I lit a candle. I imagined Margo's curious smile and the way she cocked her head when navigating her world. I hope that wherever she is now she's still smiling.

2017. A Look Back on a Tumultuous Year.

2017 was a lousy year that followed another lousy year (2016). That I’m alive and have a roof over my head sort of surprises me. I’m VERY GRATEFUL for what I have, so grateful. I’m lucky, even with very serious financial problems because it could be so much worse. I feel for the millions of people who lost their homes this past year due to floods, fire, hurricanes, tornadoes…not to mention all the suffering caused by social upheaval, reports of rampant sexual abuse, and the fears stemming from the actions of the so-called leadership of our precious country.

January

Annie, one of our Kitten Associates fosters, fell ill yet again. She’d been punky after recovering from intussusception surgery in October of 2016. Even though Dr. Larry said she looked good, I pushed to do blood work. It revealed Annie was seriously anemic, to the point of an Internist feeling she might have lymphoma. I asked if we could treat her for my nemesis, Bartonella, because there are some forms of the infection that cause anemia. We couldn’t re-test her so we tried a new treatment. Within a few weeks and some TLC and vitamin B12 injections, Annie bounced back and regained her good health, but just as she was recovering I got a disturbing call.

IMG 1722
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Fly Free sweet Lady Saturday. We miss you so much.

Lady Saturday was ailing. She was skin and bones. I didn’t know. Our foster family called and said she needed to see the Vet. She’d been pretty weak and eating a lot less. When Dr Larry saw her, he was shocked. She only weighed 4 lbs and was near death. We didn’t know how old she really was, but we knew she’d had kidney issues for the nearly two years she’d been part of our foster program. She’d gotten fluids, a heated bed, good food, supplements, but we couldn’t cure old age. On January 16th we said goodbye to our sweet girl.

With all of that going on, my cat Petunia began having focalized seizures. We didn’t know the source even after taking her to a neurologist. We started her on Phenobarbital in the hopes it would give her some relief, but did she have cancer? Would she eventually have a grand-mal seizure and I’d come home to find her dead?

IMG 7715
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Petunia is doing better these days and no longer needs medication to control her seizures.

The year wasn’t off to a good start, but thankfully it was pretty quiet as far as rescue went. After years of saying I was taking a break from taking on kittens, I decided I would really do it. Then I saw a post online about a huge feral colony in Waterbury, CT. Over 50 cats were struggling to survive and were breeding out-of-control. Read about the first cat we rescued HERE along with follow up stories them HERE and HERE) While doing TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) isn’t my forte, I thought I could help raise funds for these cats and do some social media outreach.

IMG 7685
©2017 Robin AF Olson. My first sighting of the Waterbury Ferals.

My mistake…I decided I had to go to the location to see for myself what was going on, to take some photos, then start raising money for the #Feral50 #waterburyferals. Once I saw a horrifically sick cat, I knew I had to get more involved. I had no idea that instead of taking a break, I was going to be busier than ever for the sake of these cats.

Kitty Sick
©2017 Robin AF Olson. This little sweetie is feral. She was eventually named Tulip and was the first cat trapped. You can read about her story HERE.

February

I pushed the limits of what I could handle and was pushed beyond my limits by another volunteer who worked doing some of the trapping of the feral cats in Waterbury. The things I saw, some cats barely clinging to life…I found placements for 10 cats, but it wasn’t enough. I had to do more and more and more until February 13th when I ended up in the hospital during a snow storm. I was diagnosed with an ulcer, along with an anxiety attack that I was certain was really a heart attack in disguise. The stress was just too much.

But in rescue "too much" always ends up becoming "just help one more." I decided to take on a pregnant feral from the Waterbury colony.

It was very risky, because I didn’t know what I was going to do with her after the kittens were born and weaned, but as so many other rescues, I just took it one day at a time. Solve one problem at a time-that’s the key. The cat had been named Waverly. She was covered with oil and metal dust. She was too dirty to give birth, but we have a great foster mom who is gentle and patient and who was able to wipe Waverly down every day until Waverly was clean enough to give birth-and just in time, too. By the end of the month, Waverly had given birth to three kittens. Sadly only two of the three survived. I knew that if we hadn’t taken Waverly on none would have made it.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Happy Birthday Willoughby and Weatherby!

I’ve come to the understanding that in rescue you shouldn’t try to do everything. Rescue the kind of cats you can handle and do your bit. Other people, who are great at things you may not be so great at can do their part. It all adds up to be much more effective than trying to take on more than you can handle and getting sick from it. What I learned is that I am not cut out for TNR. I want to give every cat a chance to become socialized. There isn’t time or space to take that on.

While I respect every cat who just can’t become social kitties, and I will return those cats to the outdoors, it kills me because I know their future will be very difficult, even with a great caretaker looking after them.

Meanwhile, Spencer had a re-check of his blood work because in late 2016 we found out his kidneys weren’t working very well. The new test results showed us that Spencer might only have a few months left because his values changed for the worse, so very fast. We were to start him on fluid therapy and see how he did in 6 months.

March

Things started looking up. I was a Guest Speaker at the first ever, Cat Camp NYC. I had a blast, made new friends and saw some of my most cherished cat lady friends. It did my heart good to be reunited with them and energized me for Kitten Season, which was right around the corner.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Artist Cathi Marro (left), Me and Jodi Ziskin of Treatibles (right)

We took on #FairfieldCountyGives and had our best fundraising day ever, raising over $3500 in a single day-most of which were $10 donations. We’d be ready to take on kittens, but where were they?

I got an email from a guy who asked for cat behavior help with his 5-month old kitten, Holly. She’d been peeing on the family beds. The guy turned out to be musician and songwriter, Stephen Kellogg. What transpired next even surprised me. You can read about this crazy trip in these stories HERE (including links to all 5 chapters). I’m glad to say that after all the trials and tribulations that Holly is in her home and that Stephen has become a good personal friend and newly minted Cat Daddy.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stephen visiting Holly while she was here being evaluated for behavior issues.

Weird April

I wasn’t getting calls about kittens. It was very strange. Then I thought about why it might be so quiet. We’d had a very mild January giving intact cats plenty of time to become pregnant, but in February we had a few brutal snowstorms dropping a lot of snow. I didn’t want to imagine it, but I started to believe that perhaps a lot of kittens just didn’t make it and that the “season” would be starting later in the year.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Will Bills was a bit too wild for Bill.

For once I got out on my birthday for a short road trip and lunch at O'Rourke's diner. We stopped at a crazy place called Wild Bill's. The namesake and owner was there as we strolled down the aisles. I didn't think he looked so hot. I guess I was right. He died a few days later. I couldn't help but feel like I better not take having another birthday for granted.

May

Ah, Stormy; a purebred Russian Siberian cat whose owner really was allergic to her entered the picture in May. Her mom, Kim, was sick all the time and though she felt terrible about it, she needed help getting Stormy a new home. The problem was, Stormy was not very nice. I thought it might be due to her being declawed. Perhaps she was in pain? So we did a lot of tests to see if that was the problem.

The bottom line was I promised to help find a home for this 9-year old aggressive cat, but how was I going to pull it off?

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stormy.

I found what I thought was a good home in Boston, but the people were terrible, fearful, posers. A few weeks later they brought Stormy back to Kim’s where I was under even more pressure to find Stormy a placement because her home was about to undergo a serious renovation and they’d have to put her in a boarding facility if she stayed much longer. I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever be able to find Stormy a home. I even tried to get a breeder from the CFF Cat Show, where I took part as a guest judge, to take her on, but with her anger issues it was a lot to ask.

June and July

I wasn’t going out of my way to find kittens to rescue since I never got a break over the winter, but then I got a call from my friend Joan. She told me one of the shelters down south had 65 kittens. They were going to start putting them ALL DOWN in 12 hours. Could I take even a few? She’d foster for me and even go get the kittens.

I decided to take 6 kittens, which turned into 8, except that they counted wrong and there were twins so 8 became 9 and I got another rescue friend to approve taking 3 and somewhere in the middle of that Moe, our other southern foster mama asked me if I could take just one more to make it 13 kittens.

Yes. I’m insane.

I nicknamed the group, the #SweetSuperheroes. If only they had lived up to their name. I wrote about what happened to them, how it broke me in ways rescue never broke me before, but I never published what I wrote. I may some day reveal all the details when I feel I can tell their story without it wrecking me.

In a few words, it was our first experience with Feline Panleukopenia. Within the first week, two of the kittens were dead and the threat of many more hung over us as poor Joan feverishly scrubbed and cleaned, while I spent thousands of dollars on vet bills, cleaning supplies, cages, food and litter for the remaining kittens.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Some of the kittens we rescued. Thankfully, our offering to take so many inspired other rescues to take kittens, too so a majority of the kittens made it out alive.

Some of the kittens were in isolation at the vet in Tennessee, while some remained at Joan’s foster home. We both did as much as we could to get the survivors healthy for the long transport to Connecticut, but in all honesty I did not want to bring them here at all. I was terrified my cats would get sick.

I’m not a fan of the FVRCP booster vaccination, but we had to make the difficult choice to booster most of our adult cats right away because there is no definite period of time for how long kittens who are exposed to PanLeuk are still contagious. To be safe, the kittens were isolated for 6 weeks, which ruined their window of adoption by a great deal, but I also didn’t want them here if there was any chance at all they’d sicken my cats, too.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. In honor of Super Nibs, who died from PanLeuk. You are forever in my heart. I wish you had a chance to grow up and find your forever family as your siblings did.

 

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. and Major Muffin. He died so fast there was nothing we could do to save him from the ravages of Panleukopenia.

I spent most of the end of June and into July crying, worrying, researching PanLeuk and trying to prepare things here for their arrival. It was the first time in years I dreaded taking on more kittens.

Stormy was proving to be a tougher case than I imagined. The shocker, what I realized much later was that Stormy had reverted to being feral from not being handled for many years. She wasn’t in pain at all.

Because she had to be moved into the in-law apartment in the home and be in close proximity to her family, Stormy ended up getting handled more and sure enough Stormy became friendlier. So friendly that a lovely lady named Annabelle flew to Connecticut from Philadelphia so she could adopt this magnificent cat. They’re doing great and Stormy no longer lives up to her name.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stormy says farewell to her sweet mom, Kim and hello to her new mama, Annebelle.

August

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Leslie Mayes gets ready to interview us for #CleartheShelters.

My rescue took part in #CleartheShelters, a national program to help pets get adopted in a 24-hr period. We were off to a great start because Heidi Voight, journalist and Anchor on the local NBC affiliate came over to interview me and meet the #SweetSuperheroes. We did an hour-long live Facebook event and I think we were in the news about 10 times over the next few weeks.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Ready for their big adoption day, most of the Sweet Superheroes.

The problem was, we didn’t have a shelter to clear, so that meant doing an adoption event at Watertown BMW. Being surrounded by $100,000 cars and anxious adopters and yet more news media was literally a crazy ride. The folks at Hoffman Auto Group BMW were awesome, but some of the potential adopters left something to be desired…yes, screaming kids, demanding kids who wanted a kitten “RIGHT NOW” and unapologetic parents shocked and angry with me. They asked why I would deny their application to their face when the dad would declare they would let our kittens outside even after the mom hushed him and said “They don’t allow going outside. Don’t you get it?” Followed by "dad" getting so angry I thought I was going to have to call the police.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. The Kitten Associates, associates from left to right: Grace, Me, Sam, Adria, Jame and Frances.

Thankfully, one kid was nice and his parents were just as sweet. They saw a poster of Buddy and Belle, my ex-boyfriend’s two cats. They’d been in our rescue for almost a year with not one application for their adoption and they would be too scared to be at the adoption event so the best I could do was have a poster advertising them.

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©2017 Kathleen. Buddy & Belle in love with their new mama.

I told the lady their story and she was smitten. A few weeks later, Buddy and Belle were adopted. Her new mom says it’s like they were home from the second they arrived. They’re doing great and the new joke is her son likes to blame things he did on the cats.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Poor Fluff Daddy!

And then Fluff Daddy got really sick, really fast...Horrible, bloody mushy stool. I was terrified it was PanLeuk. How did he get it? He had to be confined to a cage, then a few other cats got very mildly ill. Tests came back positive for Giardia. How could he get it? Guess what I didn't know? Adult cats can have chronic episodes of it or it can be intermittent! Gah! It's really contagious, but thank God it wasn't PanLeuk.

Shitty September

The brown month. Diarrhea. Kittens with diarrhea. Kittens squirting the walls, floors, bedding, pretty much everywhere but the litter pan, with stinky, pudding poo. I could not get most of the foster kittens to resolve their runs. We did so many tests and trips to the Vet followed by a zillion de-worming protocols and found NOTHING.

Joan had warned me about Tritrichomonous Foetus. It’s pretty much impossible to test for, though we did do a PCR fecal test (negative) and treatment can cause neurological damage and may not even work. I was to a point where I didn’t want to go into the foster room because it would take over an hour to clean it every time I entered it. I was so angry and frustrated that I imagined kicking the kittens outside, but I would NEVER DO THAT EVER. Instead I just cried as I scrubbed the floor yet again. The kittens were oblivious to my suffering. They were not sickly at all, unless you counted them leaking stool out of their rear ends while they were playing.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Yes, it's poop. The poor kittens couldn't have much of anything soft in their room because it would get filthy so quickly. I don't think any of us got any decent rest that month.

I put the cats on a raw diet. They got better quickly, so as the kittens got adopted, their new families had to promise to keep them on the raw diet. So far, so good.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. The good with the bad...de-wormer for the kittens first followed by a freeze-dried chicken heart treat.

The highlight of the month was my play date in NYC with Mario Arbore who is an architect by day and fantasy cat furniture designer by night. I can’t do better than to have a buddy who builds cat furniture, right? His business is called Square Paws (humans measure space in square feet, so Mario’s coined the term “square paws” to indicate how cats measure space).

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Mario putting the moves on Fluff Daddy.

Mario had been graciously helping me design a brand new foster room for Kitten Associates. We’d bounced a few ideas around over the summer that were truly inspired. The main foster room in my home is totally run down and I want to create a showpiece for our kittens and to allow us to increase adoptions and have a safer, more entertaining home for our fosters. Mario is incredibly creative and though our workload has prevented us from locking down a theme, I hope we’ll get there in 2018.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Uncle Mario surprised Fluff Daddy and the rest of the kitty-clan with a hand-built giant mouse trap for our cats! Check out more of Mario's wild designs at Square Paws.

October

The Big Chocolate Show returned after being on hiatus for a few years and boy was I happy it came back. The show was fantastic. I learned that there’s some kickass chocolate coming from Ecuador and that I will eat as many samples of chocolate as the vendors will hand out.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Thank God for chocolate.

Adoption Day
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Thunder Cake and Wonder Waffles get adopted together!

With Buddy, Belle and many of the kittens adopted, I took time to focus on trying to make a living and for a quick escape to New York City!

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. I actually left the house! Here I am at NY ComicCon where I got to meet one of my idols, Bob Camp, who did the animation art for Ren & Stimpy. I also had a chance to get back to work as a Graphic Designer. I love working with Royal Bobbles on their carton graphics for the main cast of Better Call Saul.

I also had the honor of creating the carton for Bob Ross, the afro-hairdo-headed painter who had a show in the 1970s on PBS that’s in re-runs on Netflix even today.

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To see more examples of my design projects, visit Ultra Maroon Design.

The biggest thrill was having a chance to design the new cartons for over half a dozen of The Walking Dead figures. Those designs are still in development so I can’t show them, but I’m crossing my fingers they’ll be greenlighted into development in 2018. The only problem with this project was I felt I needed to watch all 8 seasons of TWD so I could do a better job with the design. It’s a compelling and interesting show, but watching the entire program over the course of a month left me feeling a bit paranoid. I had to fight off the urge to strap a weapon to my leg when I did a run to the grocery store.

November

Waverly found her forever home with a retired couple named Molly and Sam. I was thrilled that the cat we feared was feral was really just a sweet, mild-mannered lady. Her kittens, Willoughby and Weatherby were adopted together over the summer.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Dear Waverly with her daughters.

Then one night, just before Thanksgiving, my dear 16-year old cat, the Mascot of this blog, Spencer vomited. It was a lot of food. He sounded like he aspirated some of it. Normally I’d wait it out and see how he did, but something told me to go to the vet right NOW because they were going to close soon.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Waverly on her Gotcha Day with Sam & Molly.

Dr. Mary found a big mass in Spencer’s abdomen and feared it was an aggressive cancer. So began our journey of tests, scans and treatments until we realized that the next step would have to be surgery or palliative care and prepare to say goodbye. We'd already lost 4 cats in 2017. I prayed there wouldn't be another.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. The x-ray that changed everything for Spencer.

December and Beyond

Every time my cats get really sick, I get sick with worry. I try to take a breath, have faith, focus on my cat, but I often find myself not sleeping, not being able to concentrate on work and wanting to bury my head in the sand. But it was Spencer. I had to face whatever it was. I had to face that maybe this was it and I had to face that I couldn’t afford to provide surgery for my beloved cat even if there was a chance it could give him more time.

I almost didn’t ask for help, but in the end I did do a fundraiser. Thanks to A LOT of REALLY REALLY REALLY AWESOME people, we raised just enough to have the surgery done. I still can’t believe it happened at all and am blown away that we got the funds together in just four days.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. What do you mean SURGERY?!

Now that I had the funds, I had to decide for sure if we were going to move forward because there were lots of risks involved and quite a few could happen after the surgery was over.

On December 5th, Dr. Weisman removed a 6cm mass off the very tip of Spencer’s pancreas. The amazing thing was it wasn’t cancerous, but there WAS small cell lymphoma found in other areas. It’s extremely rare that a cat has a benign mass like Spencer’s and I was so grateful, because those sorts of masses often are very aggressive cancers and lymphoma is slow-growing. At the time, I didn’t know if removing the mass would help him, but now, a month later, I can say that Spencer is so much better that he often surprises me.

He’s had a lot of ups and downs and I have to carefully monitor what he eats because he did get pancreatitis after surgery. He’s eating all right, not quite enough. He’s given me some very bad scares, like trying to eat cat litter when he got badly constipated and was battling anemia (He lost a lot of blood during surgery and I read that cats who lick cement or cat litter often are anemic.).

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Doing well and I am oh so very very very grateful to have this extra time with my boy.

We recently did new blood tests to confirm the pancreatitis and anemia and were surprised to see Spencer’s kidney values had improved some.

Today, Spencer’s getting up the stairs to come to bed and tuck me in just like he used to do. He’s also smacking foster cat Andy in the face and chasing after toys. He LOOKS better. His eyes aren’t so sunken. He’s grooming himself more. I honestly am completely thrilled to see him like this.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Naked belly requires a heated bed for full napping comfort.

It’s time to start him on Chlorambucil, a form of chemotherapy that we hope will retard the growth of the lymphoma and help him feel even better. I already have him on CBD Oil, which may also help and will certainly keep him comfortable even if it doesn’t effect the cancer. I’ve decided to put off starting him on prednisilone because it IS a steroid and Spencer’s oncologist is ok with not using it right away. I’m hoping the CBD oil will take the place of the pred for now. Why? Because steroids really do a number on the body and I’d rather help give him vitality and protect his failing kidneys for as long as I can.

Needless to say, with all the vet runs and care Spencer needed, Christmas cards didn’t get printed and I didn’t do much to plan for “the day.” Somehow it was still a really nice holiday, aside from all the guilt I had for not getting everything done and for not being able to buy presents for anyone except Sam.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Our Holiday e-card.

Sam and I have had one thing after another go wrong with our finances and honestly I’m terrified that if things don’t improve we will lose our home. We’re trying to keep the faith and we’re both working as hard as we can. So many people have it far worse off than we do, I can’t complain. I’m happy I have a home, it’s not on fire or swept away by a hurricane. I have my dear cats, as much as they often annoy me, they’re still one of the few reasons I get out of bed in the morning.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Bye bye Sprinkie! I'm going to miss you!

And I’m determined, after nearly eight years of constant fostering, to take this winter off and focus on work and getting funds for Kitten Season. The other cat rescue in town surprised everyone by deciding to close after many years.

Their reason, they aren’t needed any more, which is completely absurd. They spun it into making it sound like they solved the feral and free-roaming cat problem in Newtown so they can look like heroes and get out of doing rescue any longer. It just puts a bigger strain on Kitten Associates so we’ll need to ramp up.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Macaroon is a total goof head who loves to fetch her pom pons. Her new family promised to make sure she has as many pom pons as her heart desires.

I expect 2018 to be very busy for us as we shoulder more responsibility in helping local cats, but in a way I’m excited for the challenge and crazy as it seems, I really do miss having little ones here.

Here’s to 2018. May we all have a safe, loved, prosperous and Happy New Year!

Oh, and the last two kittens from the #SweetSuperhero rescue were adopted just after Christmas. Congratulations to the Mighty Macaroon and Professor Sprinkles!

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Last night Mackie and Sprinkie met their new family. Here's Suzanne and Maddie, totally psyched to have their first kitties ever!

-----------------A few hours later------------------

….I just got a text message…“Robin, I just found a kitten. Can you take him?”

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Uh oh...

How to Prepare for Before and After Your Cat's Final Days.

This post is not filled with research data or rules you’ve seen before about determining quality of life, it’s written solely from my own experiences facing the final days of life of my cats. I hope some of these ideas might help you one day, as you have to bear witness to your cat’s last moments.

 

The thing I’ve come to embrace over the years is that when my cat is nearing the end of his or her life that euthanizing them allows their experience to literally be to go to sleep. I’ve hated the phrase “put them to sleep” because they never wake up, but now that I have witnessed euthanasia enough times, I truly respect those words. For us, the cat-mom or cat-dad, it’s a sleep they never waken from, but thankfully for them it can be VERY PEACEFUL as they experience simply going to sleep. To me, that’s the best gift I can give my cat—peace and love in those final moments.

 

But let’s take a few steps back…

How do you face it when you either know or are suspicious that your cat is nearing the end of his or her life? Personally, when it’s been a longer road, like cancer and even though treatments may help, at some point my cat will grow thinner, weaker and have other issues. The sicker my cats get, the less I can sleep, eat or function. The last month of Gracie’s life I could barely cope with getting up in the morning, fearing I’d find her dead, but also secretly hoping that would be the case. I hated witnessing her demise, knowing I could not cure the cancer that was killing her. This is something I think effects a lot of people. Sam can function better and handle the stress better so I began to depend on him to provide some of Gracie’s care (mostly giving her her medication), while I focused on preparing her food and keeping her clean. Having support made it a lot easier to face the last months. If you have a family member who you can lean on to assist in providing care, a team approach can really help. Each person takes on what they can do best and the cat will greatly benefit. If it's not possible, then reach out to friends, family or your spiritual advisor so you have someone to talk to about your feelings during this difficult time. You should never have to feel alone.

What I learned from Gracie’s passing

 

What I aspire to do is to face death with less fear and more gentleness. Our cats live in the moment. They don’t even know about death. They know they feel good or bad right now. They know they are hungry or not. They know they are loved and safe. My goal is to be more like them and live in the moment, not obsess about what is yet to come, then end up not even being emotionally present when my cat needs me the most.

 

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©2007 Robin AF Olson. My most beautiful and sweet girl, Gracie at the prime of her life.

If my cat has a terminal illness, then I need to find a way to accept it, then forget about how I feel and focus on my cat. Is she ok in this moment? Yes. Is she eating? Maybe not. Maybe I’m syringe-feeding her for a few days to see if her appetite picks up or giving her medication to increase her appetite. I’m making certain I’ve spoken with my vet (usually more times than I care to admit) to get feedback about the care I’m providing. It definitely helps to have someone who knows my cat, but is not emotionally involved, weigh in on how things are going.

But what do you do if you don’t know what’s wrong with your cat?

 

Of course, first, get the cat to the vet. Understand that many times they will not be able to give you a definitive diagnosis. It can cause a great deal of stress on the cat’s caregiver because treatments may be iffy, specialized tests, too costly to do, or your cat may be unwilling to be medicated without a great deal of fussing or even bloodshed if they fight you every time they need medication. It's a very difficult balance between providing care for your cat when your cat may be wildly uncomfortable being medicated. Then you have to ask yourself how much you really can do to help when their reaction causes them even more suffering.

 

Your vet may require a consult with a specialist, or for you to take your cat to see one. Getting a second opinion on cases that are not clear cut is a great idea. You may also find out about alternative treatments from the specialist. There are also holistic vets, too. In a way, it can complicate knowing what is the best answer for your cat and many times it’s driven me nuts-especially if you add “Dr. Google” and asking all your friends for advice on what to do. Too many choices can be distressing, but it’s also a great thing, because someone may have an answer that no one else has and that’s what may change things for your cat.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Gracie's final days.

So how do you handle not knowing the best route to take with your pet’s care? The answer is that you will never know the best route (rarely only in hindsight), BUT, if you come from a place of always trying to DO YOUR BEST for your cat, do research, ask a lot of questions, weigh the pros and cons, no matter how things resolve (a cure or your cat dies), then you can sleep at night because you did everything you could.

 

The most important advice I have about end-of-life care for your cat is this: No mater how things play out, this is about THEIR FINAL MOMENTS, NOT YOURS. It’s not about YOU. It’s about them. Yes, you’re going to be upset, scared, heartbroken— but think about your cat. How would they like their final days to pass? Would they like to be surrounded by people who are anxiety ridden, crying, possibly even angry or shut off from the world OR would they like their environment to be full of love and peace?

 

That’s why IF I have the chance (I realize some times the end comes very fast), I make sure my home is quiet, my cat is comfortable, has a low-sided litter pan that’s easy to access (even if it’s in an awkward place for now). We don’t run the TV or talk loud. Every mealtime is a chance for love and affection, too. After I fed Gracie and Sam medicated her, we would brush her because she loved it. You could also spend some quality time petting or just sitting with your cat. Make sure they can easily be in a sunny spot, on a soft blanket, possibly give them a box or covered space that’s in a social area of your home so they can get out of the way but not be away from the family. Hiding them in a room, alone, is not ideal if your cat was usually a social part of the family. If they tend to be fearful, that’s a different situation. Just remember “what is best for them?”

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Because Gracie was weak we set this area up for her so she wouldn't be bothered by the other cats and still enjoy being in the center of the room where we spent the most time. Gracie wanted to be with us and we made sure her space was comfortable with easy access to whatever she needed. The heated pad was always covered with a soft cloth or towel, but she had another unheated bed incase she felt too warm.

 

ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS look at the situation through your cat’s eyes. Ask yourself what would they want to make them happy, feel loved and be comfortable. They might benefit from a pet-safe heated pad or a cat bed with a thermal core to reflect body heat but not be too warm.

 

Also RESPECT this process. It is natural for our cats to grow weaker as death comes closer. They will eat less (if they are not eating then that is very serious if you’re not supplementing them with assist-feeding). They may miss the litter pan (no scolding them if that happens). They may be more vocal at night. Forgive them for anything that you may find difficult to deal with, as long as you’re clear that you understand the underlying health issue.

Do not ASSUME your cat is dying without proper vet care and consultation.

 

There have been plenty of times when I thought “This is it.” and the cat rebounds and is fine for years. This is why it’s so tough to know when is the right time to say goodbye because in many cases, with some effort, medication, dealing with messes around the house, your cat can recover.

Last summer when ALL of our 10 cats got sick, I thought we might lose Spencer and Nicky. They were both over 15 and both were quite ill. Our cat Cricket, had to be euthanized. He was only 12 and it came on very suddenly for him and after a lot of tests and treatments that didn’t work we had no other option. The fear was very real that we’d lose two more cats.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Nicky last July when we had the first bad scare we were going to lose him.

This is where that tricky word, faith, comes in to play. I had to learn to have faith, being brought up in a home with parents who were atheists. I think that folks who have religious backgrounds understand faith better than I do. It’s been a long road and I still struggle, but when your cat’s diagnosis is not clear, sometimes faith is the little bit you need to keep you going and not give up on your cat just yet.

I also want to talk about letting your cat pass away at home. I’ve witnessed it a few times and I want to say it’s okay to do this, but looking back on it it was NOT okay. One cat fell into a coma and passed away very peacefully about 20 minutes later, clearly in no pain, but another struggled and I know I waited too long. On the way to the vet she died in Sam’s arms. Not ideal.

 

It’s too risky to wait and let nature take its course to that last second. The risk being your cat WILL very likely suffer if you don’t help them pass away. That’s why this is so tough. You will never know the perfect time, you just have to do your best and come from a place of love. It will guide you, but you have to be willing to let go and that is so very difficult. The saying goes: "Better to do it one day too soon than one minute too late."

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Our last moments with Nicky a few months after our scare in July. We spent time holding him and helping him feel comfortable and loved.

Eight months ago when we euthanized Nicky, our 16-year old cat. We could have brought him home and hoped to have a few more days with him. It would have been very likely he’d have another seizure and die painfully, but we could have had him euthanized at home. Inasmuch as we wanted him to be home, we also loved him so much that we wanted him to have the best death possible.

Yes, I said BEST death.

That’s the “great” thing about euthanasia-you can have a say on how your cat dies. Yes, in some very rare cases maybe you can let them just fade away at home, but it’s far better to have an opportunity to create a meaningful send-off for your cat.

Some tips:

Light. I think it’s VERY important, if you can, to keep the lights low in the room. At our vet’s they had two banks of lights-one on the ceiling and one under a cabinet. We shut off the overhead lights and it was significantly more peaceful in the room. If you’re at home, you can lower the lights or maybe light a few candles if it’s safe. If needed, use the light on your phone so the vet can see the vein in your cats leg, but you don’t have to have blazing lights on in the room. Cats feel safe in the dark so this will help them.

Sound. We had it very quiet in the room and were whispering. Maybe your cat was used to music softly played or just hearing your voice. You don’t have to say a lot. Of course you will be upset, but keep focusing on the love you have for your cat and just let them know how you feel and let them know it will be okay.

Location. Wherever we are, always try to hold our cats when they pass. Be prepared because many times fluid will come out of the cat after they die so hold them gently wrapped in a towel or have a towel with a puppy pad under it, or place them on a soft cat bed that you won’t care about getting ruined.

If you can, of course be at home with your cat. There are many services that only do in-home euthanasia. Take a moment to look one up right now and put the info into your address book. You may need it right away and knowing you have the info is, in a way, a comfort.

 

Before, During and After Passing

• Preparations. I prefer to have my cat cremated. They can be cremated privately, meaning, their remains are cremated without any other animals. This is a more expensive option, but certainly worth it. You can have your cat's cremains returned to you (or not if you don't want them back) or placed in an urn. Many pet cemeteries can provide an urn or you can make your own or have one made for you on places like Etsy. Your vet will help you make the arrangements.

 

I also bring with me a photo of me and Sam and a few special items that I will have cremated with the cat. With Gracie, we sent her off with a photo of us, she was wrapped in a beautiful, colorful cat bed and with her favorite catnip toy. For Nicky, we wrapped his body in one of Sam's softest fleece shirts because he often held Nicky in his arms. You'll know what special things you can do for your cat to give him or her the proper send off.

 

• The Process. If you have your Vet help your cat pass, the process itself is usually very quick. They will have to shave a small area on one of the legs to access a vein. Then there should be two injections. The first one is a sedative (ask for this if your vet doesn't usually do it-they really should), which does not kill your cat. It just helps them relax and go to sleep. This is when you can truly say goodbye. Your cat won't feel any more pain now and will be resting. You can take a moment before the final injection. The last one is an overdose of Sodium pentobarbital which will slow their heart beat down and finally cause it to stop. It is very fast acting and often-times you won't even know your cat is gone until your vet verifies by listening to their heart for any sign of function.

I ALWAYS ask my vet to take a paw print impression from my cat after they have passed. It's a little thing I like to have. Some folks cut a small lock of fur. There's even a fibre artist who makes memorials out of your cat's fur (you can have one made while they are still alive, too).

Just After. Although I've wanted to run screaming out of the room after my cat dies, I stay put. It's very very difficult, but this is a time when you can say your goodbyes. I take time to clean any mess off my cat's body as a sign of respect and love. I will often brush them and place them on the special cloth or item of clothing I want them to be cremated with. I've written them a note and placed it with them, along with a photo of myself. I find doing these things very comforting. I stay with their body for as long as I feel I need to-some times it's been up to an hour, some times because our vet wasn't open and our cat passed away at home, we kept their body with us over night surrounded by candles in a makeshift memorial. How you choose to spend your final moments with your cat is up to you.

• Religion. Do whatever feels right either before, during and/or after your cat passes. After Gracie and Cricket died we did a Buddhist ritual for them. Perhaps if you feel it would be appropriate and if there’s time, ask for help from someone in your spiritual community to be there or prepare a special service for your cat and invite your friends and family to be there after you get your urn back. This is about you and how you want to honor your cat. Everyone is different. Some, like me, feel better having their cat’s ashes and some prefer burial. Whatever is right for you, is the right way to go.

Crickets Urn Insta Version R Olson

The Bottom Line

How each cat passes is unique. How you handle it doesn’t have to be. You can flip out, run away, not deal with it and make an excuse why you let them suffer because you were afraid, or you can use this experience to truly cherish those last days, to celebrate them both before and after your cat passes away. This is not an easy path but we all have to face it. Being prepared and resolute in your roll will go a long way to making those last days blessed and at some point you will be able to look back and feel comfortable with the choices you made.

I wish we never had to say farewell to anyone, beloved pet or human we love, ever, but knowing our time together is limited makes it all the more precious.

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©2012 Robin AF Olson. I wrote this post in honor of the One Year Anniversary of Cricket's passing. I miss you so much, Crickie!

2016: The Year in Review

I’m not certain if there was some weird alignment of stars or something funky in the water, but 2016 was the worst year ever, not just for me, my rescue, my cats, but for a lot of folks. Do I want to look back over the year? Not really. Honestly, I could easily sum up the year in a volley of expletive-deletives and leave it at that.

January

Sick cats. Lots of sick cats.

Winnie and Barry, the big lug who had bitten me four times, had to be medicated for a month, each. Yes, to treat good old Bartonella. I’m constantly discovering Bartonella positive cats, and witnessing the mayhem it causes. At least they both responded well to treatment.

Bright Side

Winnie, Laney and Piglet got adopted TOGETHER! It had been a VERY VERY LONG road (well over a year) to find the right adopter, but I was so thrilled they went to a nice home in Boston. Sure, it meant me taking them ALL to the vet one last time to get their Health Certificates so they could travel out-of-state, but it was so worth it.

No, it wasn’t.

 

A week later, the adopter gave up on the girls, forcing me to drive to Boston while she was out of town, to bring the girls back home. It was six hours of miserable driving conditions, three of those hours spent listening to the cats hiss and growl at each other. Read more about the “fun time” HERE.

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. After a year and a half, the girls finally get adopted together...or do they?

February

My beloved washing machine crapped out…for two months. It cost $1000 to fix it (6 visits from different techs) and the whole time I’m pretty sure it was because a part wasn’t plugged in properly (vibration pulled it apart?), but I will never know for sure. I've come to detest laundromats as a result. Also, yes, I know I could have bought a new washer, but when this misery started I only thought it was going to require a few hundred dollars in repairs.

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After a few months of wondering, and being too scared to talk to them about it, it was clear that I’d managed to lose my biggest design client or, at best, had been downgraded to getting work very rarely instead of being counted on for everything. It resulted in the rest of 2016 becoming a financial nightmare. I’m not great at replacing clients and I mourned the loss more than I can write about here.

Bright Side

Larry and Louie get adopted together by a very nice local family. My faith in humanity was restored!

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©2016 the McCubbins. The boys in their new home.

March

Something was not right with Jelly Belly’s leg. Was I imagining it or not? Vet said he had a luxated patella and, surprise, he needs surgery and 8 weeks of cage rest and his other patella isn’t in such great shape, either. Ka-ching!

Bright Side

A couple was interested in adopting Jelly and Lollipop, but since Lolli was so shy they decided to come over ONCE A WEEK and hang out with the cats until they were ready to adopt and had their house completely cleaned, repainted and prepared for their new cats to arrive. The guy was a chatterbox so their visits went into multi-hours long, including me setting them up with carafes of tea to sip while they visited the cats. It was okay they stayed, but they kept putting off deciding even though they brought treats and toys for the cats each visit. They had multiple conversations with Dr. Larry about their patella issues-and I even had to bring Lolli in to get him checked. BINGO! He had the same issues, too, but not as bad. Hey, do you want to adopt two cats who will need surgery?

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Poor Jelly, home from surgery, feeling lousy.

 

I jumped over and under and through every hoop to make the adoption happen, but in the end the father-in-law of the chatty guy showed up with a pair of kittens and, of course, they could not say no to him and make him feel bad. Instead they wasted my time, resources and tea!

 

April

I decided after having the worst birthday ever, I was going to treat myself and finally dye my hair MAGENTA, ORANGE AND YELLOW. DO NOT DO THIS. REPEAT. DO NOT DO THIS.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Looks cool, right? Don't do this to your hair.

My stylist told me that you have to strip the color out of your hair first or the color won’t be vibrant. What I didn’t realize is it causes your hair to get so brittle it will break off and fall out in clumps after awhile. The only solution is to chop your hair off. This began THE GREAT HAIR FAIL OF 2016 (that I'm still recovering from).

Also, no one but Sam even saw it because right after that…

…there is no bright side….

 

I got the flu from being at the salon. I got it so bad, I had a high fever and violent headache for over a week, followed by vomiting for six hours, laying on the floor in the bathroom, praying I wouldn’t die, then passing out cold. Followed by being so weak I could barely stand for another month. I had to miss out on my one scheduled trip to a conference given by the New England Federation of Humane Societies and I got way behind on everything else. All I did was sit in bed and feel lousy.

 

I was so ill, I didn’t pay close enough attention to Jelly after his surgery. He got at his surgery incision and it got infected from him licking at it. He almost had to have another surgery because of my poor care of him. Thankfully, we both recovered, but I still feel guilty about Jelly.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Sweet Cricket.

My sweet boy, Cricket got sick. He tested positive for Hyperthyroidism. We began treatment, hoping he would feel better soon.

May

A couple came to visit Laney, Winnie and Piglet. I was so resigned to them never being adopted together that I was surprised when they had a connection to the girls. They both had that “glow” about them that told me this might be the match I’d been hoping for, but I didn’t want to get too excited about it.

The home visit went great and the girls got adopted. I began waiting for the email or call saying they couldn’t manage all three cats, but the call didn’t come.

Laney Lolli Girls R Olson 475
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Lap full of love with Laney, Piglet, Winnie and Jelly.

Meanwhile, a superlative lady named Hallie, came to visit Jelly and Lolli. She knew about their issues and was appropriately cautious about adopting them. She was going to Yale to get her Masters to become a Midwife. She understood their health challenges and wasn’t turned off by Lolli being shy. She was going to move soon so we agreed she would come visit every week (sound familiar?) until the time was right to decide about the adoption once she had moved.

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©2016 Hallie M. They boys in their new home.

She decided to do the adoption. There’ve been some rough patches along the way but Hallie and the boys are doing great. Lolli came out of his shell and loves his mom. Hallie had to be patient for a long time, but I’m glad to report it was worth it.

June

Rescue Month was in high gear: Izzy and her four kittens arrived. A week later the six “Bee” kittens came up from North Carolina, then I took on four kittens from Bridgeport, CT. The Bees were full of fleas (surprise!) and so begins “THE MISERABLE FLEA OUTBREAK OF 2016.”

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Izzy and the McFarlands.

 

ALL OF OUR TEN CATS GOT SICK, REALLY REALLY SICK. Spencer and Nicky got pancreatitis, all the others were vomiting, not eating. Cricket didn't respond to treatment for hyper-t at all. Something was terribly wrong. Spencer was so ill we almost have to put a feeding tube into him, but thankfully at the last moment he began to eat a very little bit.

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Resting after one of many flea baths.

I think all I did in June was go to the vet about a zillion times.

July

Some of my cats began to improve, but Cricket did not. Juggling over a dozen sick cats (some foster cats) was taking its toll. We didn’t take a day off or celebrate our anniversary (sam and mine and the 6th anniversary of Kitten Associates). Nicky had to be hospitalized for five days on an IV. I was terrified, wondering when things were going to get better.

Spencer with blitz under the table
©2016 Robin AF Olson. My poor 15-year old cat, Spencer barely moved or ate.

On July 6th, Cricket had to be hospitalized and placed into a oxygen chamber while we frantically tried to sort out what was wrong with him. Thank God for one of my friends. She knew we were drowning financially and she threw us a life-preserver so we could afford Cricket’s care.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Cricket looked so beautiful, but he was terribly weak and could no longer survive outside of the oxygen cage.

 

Cricket, who was just 12, somehow suddenly seemed to have lung cancer, which is usually a secondary cancer. It meant he had cancer somewhere else, but we didn’t have time to find it. Cricket couldn’t leave the chamber or he’d die. It’s called Oxygen Cage Dependent. On July 14th, we had no other choice but to put him down.

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson.

Sam and I were shell-shocked. We’d lost Gracie just nine months before. We hoped we were done losing cats.

August

The Bee kittens were passing around an upper respiratory tract infection so my vet visits became almost a daily occurrence. They were jammed in the blue bathroom and I was anxious to move them into the bigger foster room, but Barry was still with us and I was afraid he wouldn’t get along with the kittens.

Bright Side

As fate would have it, a great family contacted me asking if Barry could be with young kids. They had a 4-year old daughter and they were just in love with Barry’s photo, but I’d put on his Petfinder page that he couldn’t be with kids because he’d bitten me so many times. He’d come a long way and hadn’t bitten me in months but I didn’t want to take a risk. The mom said that’s how cats teach kids not to be idiots. Her easy-going attitude made me decide to take a chance. It was a love connection from the moment they met Barry.

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Barry loved this family. It was as if they’d been together forever. Barry was featured on their Christmas card, along with a note that made me cry. Barry sleeps with everyone, gets belly rubs and hasn’t bitten anyone. He had been with us for two years, but I was glad I worked with him. It really paid off.

September and October

Things were finally quieting down a bit. Spencer and Nicky had their appetite back and we were working hard to get them to gain weight. Annie and Andy got sick from being in the same room with the Bee kittens, but I could finally start getting everyone spayed/neutered so they could get adopted. Annie and Andy would wait until they got better.

The Bee kittens adoptions happened fairly fast once they were ready to go. Slinky and Beanie are first to find a home, then two of the McFarlands got adopted. Aunt Bee and Mrs Beasley were next to find a home. That left Mr. Peabody and Herbie, Annie and Andy and Noodles and Oodles (Molly).

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Mr Peabody, Slinky, Beanie and Aunt Bee.

Since we had space in our program, I agreed to take on a 2-yr old deaf cat I named Pippin. Pippin went to our foster home with Linda, where he remains today and for good. Linda was so smitten with Pippin she decided to adopt him (even though he loves Linda’s daughter, best).

Aunt Bee and Mrs B
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Aunt Bee & Mrs Beasley, boy was this almost a foster fail!

 

But something was wrong with Annie. She was vomiting, lethargic, not eating. She had a 105°F fever and had to be on an IV. Her blood work showed an infection, but we couldn’t determine the cause. She came home after a few days but she REALLY vomited this time-a huge lake of watery vomit. Annie was in a crisis.

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Annie's boo-boo belly (all healed up now).

Turns out Annie needed emergency surgery. It was life or death for Annie and it forced me to go on Facebook LIVE and CRY and BE EMBARRASSED and have to BEG for $5000 so we could get the surgery done that day. Thankfully you guys saved Annie with your generous donations AND Annie’s surgeon is a rock star. Annie recovered well from her Intussusception repair. Things were good again, right?

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Felling better? Maybe not quite yet.

November

I was done with vet visits and sick cats. Turns out my cats had fleas. I had been cleaning and scrubbing down everything I could to prevent that from happening, but it happened. So began “The MISERABLE CLEANING and RE-CLEANING of the HOUSE” to get rid of the damn fleas.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Belle eventually lost 15 teeth she was in such bad shape when she arrived.

We’d done enough adoptions where I finally felt like the pressure was off, so of course one of my ex-boyfriends contacts me out of the blue, says he has terminal cancer and then begged me to take his cats.

Ugh.

 

Belle and Buddy (more on them HERE) are 6-years old and never went to the vet. Buddy needed emergency surgery for bladder stones and Belle’s teeth were FALLING OUT OF HER MOUTH they were so bad. My ex didn’t help with funding nor would he respond to me begging for some financial support for his cats. Both cats had to be at the vet at the same time. Meanwhile our 16-yr old cat Nicky didn’t look so good. He had a seizure at my feet so I raced him to the vet about an hour after I’d just gotten home from dropping Belle off there.

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Buddy before sugary.

Nicky’s kidney disease had progressed to the point where his kidneys were failing. It was causing the seizures. He was severely anemic. We had three cats at the vet, but only two returned home with us.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Final moments with our boy, Nicky.

 

We had to make the painful choice to put Nicky down. It was shocking, unexpected and completely shattered us. We’d lost three cats in a year. Our heartache was immeasurable.

 

Nick and Nora 2007 R Olson
©2007 Robin AF Olson. Nicky with sister, Nora, who is mourning her brother's passing.

December

By now it was clear 2016 would not end joyfully. I had a quick break, judging a CFF Cat Show in Fairhaven, MA. I brought Annie and Andy with me, just for fun, but something was bugging me about Annie. She seemed thin and was a little bit off. One of the Judges mentioned it to me, too and that pushed me to get Annie to the vet the day after we got home.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Andy kicks butt at the cat show, but is something wrong with his sister, Annie?

Annie had non-regenerative anemia and an infection. We repeated her ultrasound and words like neoplasia (cancer) and FIP were mentioned. We started Annie on a questionable treatment for Bartonella that could harm Annie for life if she had a bad reaction to it. There were many phone calls between myself, Dr. Larry and Dr. D (our Internist). I began the treatment and right away Annie started to perk up.

Bright Side

Annie is responding to treatment. Her anemia is beginning to resolve and she gained a full pound in the two weeks between vet visits. We’re still observing her and she had more blood tests done, but right now things are looking up for this adorable girl.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. It's been a very tough road for Annie, but we're hoping she'll have a full recovery soon.

A gal named Danielle came to meet Mr Peabody and Herbie. It was another love-match so the boys got adopted. They’re re-named Simon and Theodore and they have their own Instagram account. You can keep up with them HERE.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Last day with Mr. Peebs and Herbie.

Final Words about 2016

After six years of running Kitten Associates and of losing a tremendous amount of potential income by doing so, the ramifications are clear. I need to make changes in 2017. I also need to take care of myself. My heart has been broken over and over again and the stress of running a rescue has aged me.

2016 took a lot out of me and Sam. We’ve had no chance to recover and if we don’t build our business back up, we’re going to lose our home. We can’t live like this, but we have to sort out what our next steps should be. It may mean moving away. It may mean doing less rescue. I know I have compassion fatigue, but not so bad that I don’t care at all and I’m not turning to drugs or booze (okay maybe carbs though).

 

Helping people, educating them about feline wellness, nutrition, behavior, saving the lives of little kittens and adult cats, makes me happy. It’s something I NEED to do, but I need to find a way to do these things and still have a roof over my head (that doesn’t also leak), and where I don’t have to fear the phone ringing and the bank asking where the mortgage payment is again.

 

I don’t know how 2017 will unfold and I'm glad I don't know what lies ahead, but I'll try to have faith that with the New Year comes a fresh outlook and fresh start.

May we all have a loved, peaceful, Happy New Year and may we do right by the next cats we rescue.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Goal for the New Year, meditate more. Freya knows best.

Of Cancer, Carbs and Cats: The End and the Beginning. Part 3 of 3

continued from parts 1 and 2

The next morning I got Belle into a cat carrier. The game plan was to pick up Buddy, then get Belle examined. Sam would meet us an hour later with Nicky and we’d all go home in a mini-caravan.

Dr. Mary examined Belle. No surprise, her teeth are terrible. Two canines (fangs) are hyper-extended and loose. One back tooth is broken. There’s a lot of gum disease and irritation; possibly more than those three teeth need to come out.

 

Belle weighs over 17 pounds. She is obese.

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Belle being a good girl during her vet visit.

We updated Belle’s vaccinations and I got an estimate of $700-950 to do the dental procedure. We’d just spent $2000 on Buddy. There wasn’t much left. I’d have to do another fundraiser for Belle and hope we could make it happen soon. Having bad teeth for easily over a year was cruel. Again, I thought about O.F., ignoring his cat’s health, while they were in pain. All it would have taken was a trip to the vet once in awhile and even a slightly better diet would have helped.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Adorable Belle.

Sam arrived with Nicky. As always, Nicky was meowing loudly as Sam entered the clinic. I was anxious about the blood test. I prayed it would be ok and that Nicky’s numbers weren’t too much worse. In July, Nicky got really sick and had to be on an IV for a few days, but he recovered. His kidney function had gotten worse and Sam had to give him fluids every day instead of 3 times a week. It was a small price to pay if it kept Nicky with us longer.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Sam and Nicky waiting for the results.

 

I was hoping that Nicky’s phosphorus levels were high. We could fix that. The side effects of lethargy and weight loss fit, but that was true of a lot of issues. Dr. Mary examined Nicky. He’d lost a dramatic amount of weight. He was down to 14 pounds, when he’d been pretty stable at 16 pounds for years. They ran the blood work and the results were shocking. Nicky’s BUN and Creatinine were so high the brand new IDEXX machine could not factor them. His phosphorus was up. He was very anemic, too. Dr. Mary said we could put Nicky on an IV and see how he responded. Nicky also had recently, within a day or so, chipped one of his canine teeth. Dr. Mary thought either Nicky fell, or more likely had another seizure we didn’t know about and broke his tooth. We discussed giving Nicky fluids for a few days, then trying to do a quick dental to get the tooth out. It would be touch and go, but we’d give it a try, of course. This was Nicky. He'd had many health issues over the years, but we always found a way to shore him back up. Even if we were not sure how we were going to pay for his care, it was going to get done.

 

So we agreed to leave Nicky at the vet and bring Belle and Buddy home. Sam loaded them into his car and I drove ahead in mine, thinking I’d unlock the front door and be ready to help him get the cats into the house when he arrived. But even a simple task like that turned into a high stress situation.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Buddy getting ready to come back home.

Sam got home safely and I was waiting for them as planned. I removed Belle from the car and began walking to the front door.

No sooner than I got her inside I heard Sam yell my name. Sam NEVER yells. I put Belle down and ran to the car to find Sam scrambling to grab Buddy who was sitting IN THE DRIVEWAY. The cheap cat carrier had fallen apart when Sam lifted it and Buddy fell out.

Thankfully Buddy was too scared to run and Sam scooped him up before he dashed off into the woods. I quickly escorted both of them into the house, making certain Buddy wasn’t going to harm Sam or blow his newly minted stitches out and need to be rushed back to the vet.

 

We got Buddy and Belle settled. They were both upset and cranky, but at least they were both starting to eat something other than dry food. I tried to get some long overdue work started, but the phone rang. It was Dr. Mary. Though she always sounds cheerful and upbeat, her message was not. She reported that Nicky had just had a grand mal seizure. They gave him more valium. He was resting, but she wanted me to know. I told Sam the bad news, but that was nothing compared to what was going to come next.

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A few hours later, Dr. Larry called. He wanted to speak with me and Sam. He has never asked to speak with both of us at the same time so I knew it was bad news. He said he had looked over Nicky’s test results and apologized for interfering with Dr. Mary’s assessments, but he had to give us his opinion. He’d been Nicky’s Vet for most of Nicky’s life. Dr. Larry often joked about catnapping Nicky because Nicky was such a great cat, one he had a special connection with. We knew that Dr. Larry was as devoted as we were to giving Nicky the best life we could, but what he said next we were not ready to hear.

 

Dr. Larry told us that in his many decades as a Vet he rarely, if ever, saw a cat or dog come back from off-the-charts kidney numbers and live very long after they were taken off an IV. On top of that, Nicky also had something else going on. It was either lymphoma or meningioma. Something was effecting his central nervous system, causing the seizures. When Nicky had seized, Dr. Larry was the one who held him through it and gave him comfort. He told us that with what was on Nicky's plate and all the challenges he faced, that the best thing for Nicky was to let him go.

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Final moments with our beloved boy.

Before we could ask he added that, yes, we could take him home for the night, but Nicky was at high risk of having a deadly seizure and dying in a lot of pain. We could take him to the ER Vet and spend a few thousand dollars keeping him on an IV for a few days, then see if his numbers responded well, but again, if it did buy us time, it would not be much time at all and Nicky would be in a cold, sterile place with strangers and die with them. If he survived that, maybe we’d be able to bring Nicky home but we’d face the same issues all over again, the same fears about seizures and his kidneys were shot. We couldn't fix that.

We've always known that Nicky would not be with us forever, but we were not ready to say goodbye to him so soon. The world was spinning out of control and we just wanted it to stop. Having to see my old boyfriend and know he was going to die, after the stress of getting his cats, trying to raise funds with no time to do so, trying to get his cats to eat, not fight with each other, not be so horribly depressed…now this.

Nick and Nora R Olson 2006
©2007 Robin AF Olson. Nicky and his sister, Nora, who is still with us, was named after the characters Nick and Nora Charles from the Dashiell Hammett novel, The Thin Man.

Nicky and Sam have always been deeply bonded to each other. Though I talked with Sam about our options, it was only right for Sam to choose what we would do next. It was 5 o’clock at night. The Vet closed at 7 PM. We didn’t have much time to make a life or death decision.

 

We talked. We cried. We listed very “what if” we could think of, but in the end we both agreed we wanted Nicky to have peace if there really was nothing else we could do. With no kidney function, Nicky was being poisoned by his own bodily fluids. It wasn’t right to let anything cause him any further pain.

 

I began to fuss, preparing as fast as I could for what we would need. Staying busy kept me from falling apart. We just lost our dear cat Cricket four months ago. Here we were again, in this terrible place. I listed what to do in my head as I began gathering items: find a nice cloth to wrap Nicky’s body, bring something for Nicky that he would like as a special treat, print out a photo of us to put with Nicky’s body after he passed away, figure out how to get a paw print if we could. I didn’t want Sam to have to do this. Nicky was his boy. I would drive us to the Vet. I would take on the burden as much as I could, even if my heart was breaking, too. Sam didn't need to have to worry about anything else.

I’d just left the Vet a few hours before and here I was again. I’d been there every day that week. We were silent as I drove us to the vet, our hearts so heavy a single word would have burst open a dam of heartache. I didn't want to walk in the door. I wanted to turn around and run out, but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that to Sam or to Nicky.

They brought Nicky in to see us in an exam room. Seeing him again made my stomach hurt and my legs go weak. He looked worn down, but calm. The vallium, no doubt, was wearing away any stress he was feeling. They told us to take our time. I took out a soft towel and put it in Sam’s lap. He cradled Nicky as he'd done so many times over the years. Nicky rested comfortably in his arms. The only thing different was that Nicky had a catheter in place in his left front leg from being on an IV.

The overhead lights were too bright. I turned them off and Sam turned on the softer lights that illuminated only the counter under some cabinets. We were both crying and petting Nicky. I took some photos, not sure I’d ever want to see them again. We told Nicky how much we loved him. Nicky relaxed, “made muffins,” in the air and purred. I gave him a catnip banana. He enjoyed rubbing his face on it while he relaxed. He didn’t appear to be a cat who needed to be euthanized. He was still our Nicky.

Dr. Larry came in to talk to us. Again he told us why he felt it was time, but respected that if we disagreed it was okay for us to do something else. Dr. Larry has always been understanding, no matter what we decided about treatment. We asked more questions, hoping to find an answer not thought of, a treatment or case he knew about where we could still have hope, but there were none.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. The final photo of Nicky.

Dr. Larry left to prepare the injections after we agreed it was time. He gave us as much time as he could, but the clinic was going to close soon. We’d had a final hour with Nicky, loving him as much as we were able, but now it was time to say goodbye forever.

Sam held Nicky, while Nicky continued to purr in his arms. The hushed tones in the room gave way to a feeling of love that filled the space. Nicky was with his favorite people, including his friend Dr. Larry. As Dr. Larry gave him the first injection Nicky's purr silenced as he relaxed further. I was standing behind Sam and Nicky, just petting Nicky, not wanting to see him die. I couldn't look any more. The second injection was given. I turned my head and continued to pet Nicky and tell him I loved him over and over again. I could hear Dr. Larry fussing with something. He took his stethoscope out and listened to Nicky’s chest. There was no sound. He nodded, turned and silently left the room.

 

Nicky was gone.

 

 

I got to work. Not wanting to see Nicky’s lifeless form. I got the photo of us out of my bag and wrote a note on it to Nicky. I took one of Sam’s fleece shirts and carefully placed it on the exam table, spreading it out flat, removing all the wrinkles. This is what we would wrap Nicky’s body in because when the sleeves where folded over him, it would be like he had an eternal hug from his daddy.

 

I was sobbing so hard I could barely stand. I tried to focus on my tasks, but my head felt like it was going to split in two from agony. I tried to be strong for Sam but I was failing.

I offered to take Nicky so Sam could write something on the photo. Nicky’s body was limp. We often joked he was a boneless cat, but he was limp in a way that was more like a wet rag. It was difficult to hold him.

 

I gently placed Nicky onto the fleece. I placed the catnip toy next to his head and slipped the photo under his body. I wrapped the sleeves across him and gave him a last kiss. Nicky would be cremated with all these things. I hoped that somehow he would know and it would comfort him.

 

I wanted to get out of that room and never come back again. This couldn’t have happened. We didn’t just have our beloved cat put to sleep. We had no time to prepare. No warning. It happened all too fast.

I’d spent 12 of the past 16 years loving that cat. He became part of my family when Sam moved in. Sam had had Nicky since he was a few months old. Nicky’s death felt more like losing a limb. I didn’t know how we were going to walk in the front door and know we would never seem him again, let alone live another day without our sweet, silly, boneless, goofy, loving, gentle, giant who often hogged the bed when he spooned with Sam each night.

I’m going to write a memorial about Nicky some day. Right now my heart is broken. Over the past year we’ve lost Gracie, Cricket and now Nicky. 2016 has been one of the worst years of my life. I keep thinking that things have to get better, but they don’t. I keep wondering how Sam and I can keep going forward when we feel kicked to the curb over and over again.

 

I’m grateful, at least, that we gave Nicky a very loved, peaceful, gentle passing. His experience really was to just go to sleep. He wasn’t in pain and he died in his daddy’s arms; the arms of the guy who loved him most in the world.

 

 

We will always love you, Nicky, and miss you and wish your life didn’t have to end so soon. Fly Free sweet boy. July 2000—November 17, 2016.

 

Nicky vinici R Olson
©2007 Robin AF Olson. Our handsome boy.

And as for O.F., I’m truly sorry you’re so sick. I’m not sure how sick you really are, but I do know how sick your cats are. For someone who has indulged himself, cheated on his partners, lived large most of his life, it wouldn’t have cost you much to provide a half-way decent diet to your poor cats, to get them a scratching post or a toy, to have a vet look at them, even a few times. Now I’m left to pick up the pieces. These poor cats are depressed and in pain and have been so for years.

In all honesty, if you told me you were well and wanted your cats back I’d tell you to shove it. In the weeks they've been here you never contacted me even ONCE to see how they were doing. You don’t deserve the unconditional love these cats give. They are gentle, sweet, and so very charming. You told me you believed in Karma and didn’t understand why this happened to you. I believe in Karma, too, and I totally get it.

The Other Side

The past month has been one of the worst of my life. Although I’ve witnessed the slow decline and eventual passing of my own senior cats, and all the fear and sadness that brings, I’ve never watched it happen to a mere kitten. It is so much worse because there’s the added tragedy of the full, long life that never got to be lived. The family I imagined coming to adopt him, never came to the door. The joy he’d have being loved and cherished for a lifetime, was taken away by a fatal disease.

Yesterday afternoon, Fred made his journey over the Rainbow Bridge.

The past month, I’ve had to face Fred’s decline, despite so many efforts to revive him, find an answer, at least keep him stable for a while longer. I’ve had to watch him as he lost use of his back legs. He could still get around after we made changes to his living space to make it easier on him to still have some freedom.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Barney often tried to get Fred to play, which I discouraged. Eventually, Barney realized his brother couldn't play with him any longer.

He became incontinent. Not surprisingly because he couldn’t get to the litter pan. We just made more adjustments and bought a lot of “wee-wee” pads. The goal was to keep him comfortable, hoping we’d get enough time for the test results to come back or to start another treatment.

I set up the web cam so I could watch him when I wasn’t in the room, but felt sick to my stomach every time I looked in on him. Seeing him struggling broke my heart. There was a time I saw him slip and fall off the pet stairs onto the floor. I raced up to the room to help him back up. He seemed so confused about how such things could happen to a once agile creature. I kissed him and told him to hang on that I would find a way to make it better.

I realized I was running out of things to hope for last week. I realized how ridiculous it was to find myself hoping Fred had lymphoma, instead of FIP. Both were fatal, but at least with lymphoma Fred could live longer, maybe over a year. It was crazy to hope that, at least, Fred wouldn’t lose use of his front legs, too, but eventually he did. He could sit up, but other than that, he didn’t move around. Sam and I took turns changing his position or location in the room. I’d place him on a bed in the sunshine and he’d groom himself, perked up by the joy of being in his favorite place.

Fred hadn’t eaten anything on his own over the past week, not even his favorite chicken treat. Sam and I fed him three times a day via a syringe. He struggled at first, but as the days passed, he just took his food without a fuss. Sam would hold him against his chest, shielded by a pad because Fred would often urinate when we held him up to feed him. We’d cheer him on when he peed because that meant his body was still functioning normally. A few times we even got him to poop, which caused us to be even happier. He still had some strength. It wasn’t time. We still had a chance.

I would focus on coming up with the tastiest, most nutritious, combinations I could put into the blender to make Fred enjoy his food. He would take a taste, then smack his mouth with his tongue. He’d look up at Sam with this silly, sweet expression and Sam would look down so lovingly at this little cat. I’d syringe a tiny bit more food into him and he’d swallow some and dribble some onto his fur. Between syringes of food, I’d carefully wipe Fred’s face with a paper towel I’d wetted with very warm water. I wanted to recreate the feeling of his mama washing his face. He seemed to like it and often purred.

When we finished feeding, there were the many medications, eye drops, bad things. I washed Fred again and we’d put him on a soft bed. We’d take turns brushing him, again, anything to help him feel clean and comfortable. Some times Barney would come over and lick Fred’s face, ears, or paws. Fred almost smiled at Barney’s attempts to connect with his brother.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Fred (front) and Barney (by the pillows).

I found I couldn’t focus on work or eat much. My only respite was sleep and I couldn’t get to sleep unless I was exhausted. I’d get a few hours, only to wake up as the first glow of sun peeked over the horizon. My gut would go back to its familiar ache. Should I look at the web cam? Is Fred still alive? Did he pass away over night?

Eventually I’d work up the courage to look and I’d see him in his bed, so very still. I’d race into the room to find him still with us. I hate to say that some times I wished maybe he’d have left us over night and it would just be over and done. I kept reminding myself that the other side of this means how I live my life without Fred, knowing he is gone. The sheer Hell of watching him fade away would be over, but a new Hell-one of grief and remorse would take its place.

Time was quickly running out for Fred. Tests kept coming in negative for lymphoma so for certain it was FIP. Fred’s condition got much worse on Tuesday night. We had to hold his head up to get him fed. He was much weaker. I’ve never seen a cat, while still alive, who was so very limp-everywhere. Fred couldn’t lift his head or lick his paw. He could flick his tail ever so slightly-and that’s how I knew it was time to change his wee wee pad, but that was it. After we fed Fred, got him cleaned up and on a fresh blanket, we left the room. I broke down in tears and said to Sam that it was time. He agreed. We were taking turns changing Fred’s position every hour and making sure he wasn’t urinating on himself. I was to call Dr Larry in the morning to make the appointment for that day. We couldn’t wait any more. Now my last hope was that we could end Fred’s life in a peaceful way and without pain or fear.

Sam and I discussed what we would do, how it would be done. I made a promise to Fred-no more Vet runs and that the Vet would come to us. Sick to my stomach, I made the call. Dr. Larry was out sick that day. My only option was to bring Fred to them and have Dr. Mary put Fred down. Sam and I discussed it and felt we could keep Fred going on more day, so we made the appointment for yesterday afternoon.

When you know your cat is going to die and you know when, you can’t focus on anything else going on in your life. Any other issues fall to the wayside. The irony is that through this past month, Sam and I have been working on refinancing our mortgage so we can stay in our home. I’ve been so sidetracked I ignored all the calls and paperwork. I even put off the Closing last week so we could watch over Fred. We managed to get everything taken care of and in the end it saved us a lot of money. We should have been happy since it’s been a constant worry for us for a long time, but we were both like zombies, signing papers, nodding yes or no to any questions our Lawyer had, hoping we’d just get it over with. We got the job done and raced home to be with Fred because we knew we had less than 24 hours to be with him.

The last twelve hours were spent with Fred. He was not left alone, even for a second. Around 10pm on Wednesday, we put or pajamas on and set ourselves up in the foster room with Fred and Barney. Fred was either on a cozy cat bed between us or on Sam's chest. We each were petting him or holding his little paws. They were starting to feel cooler and I wanted him to feel the warmth of my hand. We didn’t say much.

Trying to lighten the mood a little I blurted out, “tell me a story.” and Sam began reciting bits of Dr. Seuss books he read to his daughter 30 years ago. “Look what we found in the park, in the dark! We will take him home, we will call him Clark. He will live at our house; he will grow and grow! Will our mother like this? We don't know.”

I thought Clark would be a good name for the next cat we rescue, then I caught myself. The next cat? Would there be one after this?

We tried to include Barney or play a little bit with him. He was somewhat curious about what was going on, but eventually settled down on a blanket near Fred, too. We formed a circle of loving kindness around Fred. His breathing was slower. He reacted to less and less. I started to hope that Fred would hang on because I didn’t know how the FIP would kill him. Would he suffocate and struggle? Would his heart just give out? I just wanted this one thing since I couldn’t have anything else. I couldn’t have Fred rebound or recover. At least he could die without pain.

Sam slept with Fred that last night. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t see him in such terrible condition for hours on end. I still got up at 4am and again at 7am to check on Fred and to clean him up because he was urinating on himself. Every time Fred peed we still cheered him on. “Good boy! Okay, let’s get you cleaned up. Oops! Here’s some more! Get another pad. Okay, good boy, Freddie!”

But this was it, the morning of the end. I did all the chores getting our other cats feed, watered, boxes cleaned out, so Sam could stay with Fred. I was so busted up that seeing him was killing me, too. I had to go back and face him because time was running out. We got the room cleaned up and got ourselves washed and dressed. Fred was very frail now. We both sat on either side of him, petting him, talking to him. Telling him we loved him. He was barely conscious. It was devastating.

Sam Holding Fred R Olson.jpg
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Sam holding Fred before we start feeding time. You can see how limp he is in Sam's arms.

It was a gray day. I was hoping for some last rays of sun for Fred, but it rained. Around 12:30pm, the clouds opened up and it started to pour. I saw Dr. Larry’s car come down the driveway and my heart sank. This was it. It was time. I got up to answer the door, but my legs felt weak. Dr. Larry and super-Deb said hello as they entered the house. My mouth opened to reply, but no words came out.

We went upstairs to the room where Sam was waiting with Fred. Dr. Larry was quiet, then sighed and looked at Fred. He and Deb got to work. I had to sign a form saying Fred hadn’t bitten anyone in 15 days and that I was giving my consent to have him euthanized. Dr. Larry talked about how tough cats are and that he could see Fred living a few more days even though he was barely alive. He said that Fred’s body condition looked really good because we’d been constantly feeding and cleaning him, but that, too, it was clear it was time for Fred to be helped to pass away.

I asked if Dr. Larry could take a look at Barney first. I was worried that Barney could get sick, too, because I’d heard that FIP can hit siblings since they have the same DNA. He and Deb examined Barney and felt he was okay, but we would keep a close eye on him going forward. He suggested we thoroughly scrub down the room and get rid of the cat trees and bedding, just to be safe. We couldn’t risk having an unhealthy environment since I still have three adult foster cats in my bathroom who would benefit being in a bigger space. Although I knew it meant more fundraising to replace all the cat furniture, I agreed it made sense.

There wasn’t anything else I could do to put off what was to come next. It was time to let Fred go. Dr. Larry explained that we had to be calm because Fred’s veins were compromised by the steroids and that the needle might blow out a vein and that we had to not get upset. Sam was still sitting on the bed next to Fred so he lifted the cat bed with Fred on it into his lap. I gave Fred a few kisses and moved aside to hold his front paw while Dr. Larry slipped the first needle into his vein. Dr. Larry fussed over the placement, but the vein held. Fred didn’t even react to the sting of the needle. Fred was already so far gone that when he passed, none of us even saw him go.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Fred's last night. Sam held him for hours.

Dr. Larry listened to his chest and there were no more signs of life. He said, “okay, it’s done.” as I burst into racking sobs. Some how I had enough strength to remember one last thing as I cried. I had cut sections of green and white ribbons, which are the colors that are associated with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I tried to tie a bow around Fred’s neck, but my fingers didn’t work. It took five tries but I finally got it done. Fred was our Mascot for Kitties for Kids. He made so many kids happy. Super Deb remarked, now all the children who were killed will know Fred when he arrives in Heaven and I agreed.

I kissed Fred a few more times and told him I was sorry and how much I loved him. Deb carried him out in her arms. He was still on his comfy cat bed. She said she didn’t want us to see her put him in the black plastic bag and I agreed I didn’t want to see that either.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Fly free, sweet Fred. We will love you and miss you, always.

I closed the door and came close to fainting. I was crying so hard I couldn’t stand. I willed myself to go back to the foster room, which had so often been a place of joy, to find Sam on the bed, weeping.

I sat on the bed, in the same place I’d spent the better part of the last day, but now we were on the other side of this journey, the side where the questions are answered and where the real pain begins.

A loud rumble of thunder traveled through the house. I said to Sam; “that was Fred. He’s on his way to be with the children and they’re celebrating his arrival.” He looked at me through tear-filled eyes and nodded “yes.”

Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center-The Tour, Part Three

[if you missed part one, you can read it HERE and part two is HERE]

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.

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©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.

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©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.

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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?

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©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.

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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.?

-----------THE TOUR----------------------------------

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©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!

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

My wish, if I could have one, would be that they re-think their approach to developing foods for cats and dogs that doesn’t lean so heavily on science and testing, but that focuses on wholesomeness and appropriateness with fewer ingredients and grains.

 

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.

I also “get it” that asking Hill’s to use high quality meat in their food, to throw out the zillion bags of dry food and focus on canned and yes, a line of frozen raw food would be a sourcing nightmare. Where would you GET all this meat? What would happen to all the farmers who you buy your corn, wheat, soy and rice from?

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?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

 

All I can say is that my hand is held out in friendship to everyone at Hill’s. Take your financial resources, your science, your advertising and DO THE RIGHT THING with it. You know what it is, you just have to turn the rudder a bit. I’ll be waiting for you, ready to shout to the world what wonderful, completely perfect foods you create and that we'll all share the rewards of a longer, healthier, happier life with our pets for all that you do.

 

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.

Spay Day 2012-The Big Fix

What is it going to take for everyone to understand how VITAL it is to spay or neuter their pets-and not only just their pets, but to make CERTAIN that stray, abandoned and feral cats have the same consideration?

In Connecticut, alone, a tiny state, there is estimated to be between 500,000 and 1,000,000 free roaming cats-and the number is growing!

If we don't, as a community, come together and work hard to resolve this problem, we will NEVER see an END to the merciless, brutal, killing of cats in shelters across the country. 11,000 cats and dogs are killed EVERY DAY. EVERY DAY!!!!!

Every day that you get up, go to work, spend time with your family, laugh at a joke, have a cup of coffee…11,000 animals are being killed for no other reason than there just isn't room for them in the shelters due to ever exploding pet population.

I wish it was enough that each of us be responsible for our own cats, but it's not. Even running a cat rescue, I'm not doing enough. I know right now there are 10 kittens in a shelter in the south that will probably die because I have no space to take them. Every day I get 20 or 30 emails begging for help for adult, hard-to-place cats. This is INSANE and it needs to STOP NOW. WE ALL HAVE TO GET INVOLVED TO CREATE A WORLD WHERE PET OVERPOPULATION IS A THING OF THE PAST OR WE WILL NEVER SEE AN END TO URGENT PLEAS FOR HELP TO SAVE ANOTHER CAT'S LIFE OR CRY WHEN WE FIND OUT ANOTHER ONE DID'T “GET OUT ALIVE.”

There is no excuse to put off sterilizing your cat. If it's over 8 weeks of age or 2 pounds in weight, it can be spayed or neutered. Early age S/N has been done for over 10 years. There's no indication that it causes any health issues and does not stunt growth. I do it to my kittens. I've overseen the procedure being done. The kittens recover MUCH faster than adults and have less pain. There is NO REASON TO ALLOW ANY ANIMAL THAT IS ADOPTED TO LEAVE A SHELTER AND NOT ALREADY BE S/N.

It's NOT expensive. There are low cost S/N clinics all over the country. Want to find one? PetSmart Charities’ programs include a $1 million national grant to fund high-quality, affordable spay/neuter operations and feral cat Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs If you visit their site, you'll see a form to input your zip code. Enter the information and you'll get a list of places where you can get your cat S/N for under $80.00. If you can't afford that fee, call around to your local rescues and ASK for help. They may have resources or offer you a voucher to have it done for FREE. It's easy to find your local rescues and shelters by visiting Petfinder. Do a search for shelters “by state” and you'll get a huge list.

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©2010 Robin A.F. Olson. I love kittens, but without being S/N, we know these four will quickly become 20 or more.

If you feel overwhelmed because you put off getting your cats S/N and they are already having litters, then ASK FOR HELP NOW. The sooner you deal with the problem, the better! You MUST deal with keeping your own cats S/N as a top priority so YOU never have to suffer being inundated by cats you can't afford to provide care for, who can easily overtake your home. You don't want that. We don't want that for you. Reach out. There is help available.

Feeding a friendly stray or feral cat? Then you MUST also do the right thing and get that cat S/N. If you need to trap the cat, your local Animal Control can probably loan you a trap and show you how to set it up. If you're too scared to do that or don't have time, contact your local rescue group. They will know someone who does TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) who can help you, but DO NOT ASSUME they will make your problem go away. They may request that you become the caretaker for that cat, provide it shelter and food for the rest of its' life if it is feral. It's a small price to pay to know you are ensuring there is one less cat who can breed and make your simple problem of one cat, quickly become too many to handle.

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©2012 Bobby Stanford. King was born outside with deformed hind legs and survived for a year in dangerous conditions before we rescued him. What kind of life is that for a cat?

Where is the Legislation for MANDATORY S/N?

I honestly have no idea why, since there aren't enough people doing the right thing for their pets, that there aren't strict laws regarding S/N of pets? It's far beyond the point of it needing to be addressed. How many animals have to die before we DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS?

In 2010 I spoke with Dr. Katrin Warren a Vet from Australia who was hosting a show on Animal Planet about cat care. I was stunned when Dr. Warren nonchalantly told me that there was 98% compliance with the Spay/Neuter laws in the country! Why can't WE DO THAT HERE?

I'm going to say something very unpopular-I also think that we have to put a moratorium on breeding cats and dogs until the overpopulation problem is contained. While I find “pure” bred animals to be just as worthy of being adored and getting great homes as any cat, it's just adding to the problem of cat overpopulation to allow cats to breed more cats! Their “pet quality” offspring, deemed unworthy for the show ring are adopted out, compete with shelter cats, who often don't stand a chance, OR they are dumped at shelters or euthanized. Does this make sense to you? I'm not saying no purebeed cats ever, but-I'm saying NO BREEDING CATS FOR ANY REASON UNTIL THE CAT OVERPOPULATION PROBLEM IS WORKED OUT AND THEN ONLY BY BEING MINDFUL ABOUT THE EFFECT BREEDING WILL HAVE WHEN STARTING UP AGAIN. WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT CATS AS A TREASURE-EACH AND EVERY ONE-NOT PUT CERTAIN CATS ABOVE OTHERS IN THE HEIRARCHY AND SAY THEY DON'T HAVE TO BE S/N BECAUSE THEY ARE SOMEHOW BETTER and more worthy of being bred.

The Cat Fanciers Association lists 600 member locations worldwide and 400 cat shows-and that's just CFA members and shows. There are many others not part of CFA. There are 40 pedigreed breeds of cats. It doesn't take long to realize that there are significant numbers of cats being breed, on purpose and to make a buck, that contribute to the problems with cat overpopulation. Their position on cat overpopulation, frankly, is pretty lame. They basically state, they don't want needless euthanasia and urge their breeders to be responsible, but to say: “The responsible breeding of pedigreed cats is of value to society in order preserve the domestic cat breeds and to provide animals with desirable and predictable physical and personality characteristics. Further, our position is that we are opposed to any law or regulation which would prevent the exercise of these activities.

They're contradicting their own position! They oppose legislation that would impose S/N laws on their breeders even though it would end the “needless euthanasia” they make in their first point. We have to look at the global picture. It's a picture of death to cats-millions of them. I have no problem with having pedigreed cats IF we didn't have rampant overpopulation. It would be fun to go to a cat show under those circumstances. I find when I go to one now, I think about all the cats who are going to die because we agree it's OK for these special cats to keep breeding and adding to the problem. The problem is too big to say breeding of ANY kind is OK; maybe someday, but not now. What is the significance of a “purebred” cat versus a “mixed breed” cat? Thinking you can predict a personality trait through breeding is ridiculous. Take that away and the only reason for breeding is all based on what the cat looks like. That's it. So just because a cat looks a certain way it shouldn't be considered in any S/N legislation? Or worse..we shouldn't have S/N legislation at all?!

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©2009 Robin A.F. Olson. Just a few days old. So perfect. So innocent, yet if it wasn't for me, this kitten and her siblings would have died. She was lucky, but thousands of other kittens never had a chance. There's just no space to take them all so many must die.

We have caused this problem, now we have to clean it up-even if we already did the right thing for our own cats and dogs. The problem is too big to solve if we don't each do MORE. Make certain our neighbors S/N their pets. Make sure our friends and family do the same. If we ALL take responsibility for EVERY CAT-not just our own, it will be a thing of the past to see animals suffering death in a gas chamber, by heart-stick, by injection.

We don't want this to happen-all this death. Our eyes are red from tears, mourning for the millions already lost to us. Let us stop this now-work together, and by “FIXing” all cats, we FIX the problem for good.

On My Watch...Another Senseless Loss.

We didn't make it happen for these kittens. Now they are gone. Lost to us forever. They only knew life in a cage with newspaper for a bed. They never knew the comfort of a soft blanket or the loving gift of a forever home.
I couldn't act fast enough to help these kittens. They started to get sick so they were euthanized. HCC&C has no ability to deal with sick animals so they get put down.

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It is my fault they died. I was dragging my feet, hoping a bigger rescue group could have taken them in because I am full up and have no funds. I can make every excuse I want to, but in the end, the kittens lost out. I can't tell you how bad I felt, because the call I originally planned to make was to tell the Kennel Master to pull the kittens and that I HAD worked out a way to rescue them!!! I was all ready to go. Everything was in place. I stupidly thought I had today to get it worked out and I was wrong.

It's one thing to take the wrong exit off the highway-usually no one dies is you mess up. I know it's not my responsibility to rescue every kitten from Henry who needs it, but it doesn't stop my from trying! In fact, a Mama and her two newborns were also put down. I could not help them, either.

I can't bear this. It is so heartbreaking. When I spoke to Robin, the Kennel Master, I could hear the pain in her voice. She had to make the choice to kill these creatures and I know she did not take that decision lightly. I wish I could help her so she never has to make this choice again. I offered to help the next litter she gets and I told her some good news about the cats I've already rescued from her-to soften the blow of the cruel part of her job. As much as it is easy to hate someone for doing this as a job-we have to remember she tries so very hard to save them, but like me, her hands are tied as to how much just one person can do.

The tears that fall down my cheek, as I write this, are dedicated to the four little kittens, above. They mattered to me, and to so many of you. Their life was not for nothing. Though they are gone, we memorialize them here and pay them our respects and send them our love. I hope they look down on me from the Rainbow Bridge and find a way to forgive me for messing it up for them. I am so very sorry.

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