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.
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.
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.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. After a year and a half, the girls finally get adopted together...or do they?
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.
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.
Larry and Louie get adopted together by a very nice local family. My faith in humanity was restored!
©2016 the McCubbins. The boys in their new home.
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!
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?
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Poor Jelly, home from surgery, feeling lousy.
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.
©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 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.
©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.
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.
©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.
©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.
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.”
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Izzy and the McFarlands.
©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.
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.
©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.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Cricket looked so beautiful, but he was terribly weak and could no longer survive outside of the oxygen cage.
©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.
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.
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.
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).
©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).
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Aunt Bee & Mrs Beasley, boy was this almost a foster fail!
©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?
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Felling better? Maybe not quite yet.
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.
©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.
©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.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Final moments with our boy, Nicky.
©2007 Robin AF Olson. Nicky with sister, Nora, who is mourning her brother's passing.
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.
©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.
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.
©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.
©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).
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.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Goal for the New Year, meditate more. Freya knows best.
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.
©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.
©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.
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Sam and Nicky waiting for the results.
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.
©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.
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.
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.
©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.
©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.
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.
©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.
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 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.
©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 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.
©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.
©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?
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.
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.
©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.
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Fred's last night. Sam held him for hours.
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.
©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.”
I asked about what happens when a cat gets too old to be tested or develops problems where they can no longer provide good test results. The senior cats were placed in a “retirement” group home that frankly was quite austere. I asked why they couldn’t get adopted out to a family. Their reasoning was that senior cats often developed illnesses that were too costly for adopters to have to pay for so it was not possible to adopt them out. I couldn’t help but think that with all the money Hill's has, the least they could do was to adopt out those cats and give them FREE Vet care for the rest of their life, taking the financial burden off the adopters and giving those cats (and dogs) a graceful end to their life.
©2012 Hill's. Dr. Burris with cats. (used with permission)
When the tour group moved on, I asked one of the employees what they do with cats who have terminal illness. She said they had a cat with mammary gland tumors, but they would not do surgery to remove them. She didn’t know if it was due to the cat's blood test results making it too risky to do the surgery or why their staff Vet decided not to do anything. She didn’t go into whether they’d done chemo for any cats but I heard of a dog getting a surgery to repair a leg injury. I wondered at what point they turned their backs on those animals? Maybe they never do. I can’t speak to that question.
The animals are only subjected to occasional blood draws and yearly dentals. They are not dissected, but they do necropsies after the animal has passed away.
©2012 Hill's. Turtle and Zebra (used with permission)
We were told that Hill's took euthanasia very seriously, but in the end, when the animals were put down, they were put into a group cremation and that was all we were told. No, those cats or dogs weren’t someone’s pet and were placed in an urn in a cherished place on the mantel, but each animal is given a name from the moment they enter the facility.
We toured the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association which was founded in 1933 by a group of Veterinarians-Dr. Mark Morris was one of them) accredited surgical suite and state-of-the-art Vet department. It was spotless, glowing, enormous. They mostly did dental cleanings or spay/neutering. They had every sort of MRI or dual bone density scanner that any Vet would drool over. I couldn’t help but wish they’d open this space up to local rescues for a free Vet clinic a few times a month-just to give back, but how could they? It would bring disease into the building.
We finished the tour of the animal housing and many folks were abuzz about how wonderful the areas were. Maybe it was just me, but I could only think about how every night they turned the lights off and not one of those dogs or cats had a bed to sleep on and a human to sleep with. Was it worth those animals giving up their lives to science when the clinical trials don't seem to be long enough in the first place?
©2012 Hill's. Falstaff. -today they use beagles- (used with permission)
For what it was, their facility is spacious, clean and well lit. The dogs appear to be having a good time, running around outside, barking their little beagle barks. I’m certain the cats and dogs who live in other test facilities have it much, much worse. I think Hill’s did a very good job at creating as comfortable and humane a space as they could.
It was time for the wrap up. Mr. Kontopanos was very eager to hear what we thought about the tour and the presentations. Many folks were on board, but thankfully a few asked some probing questions. Questions like where does your protein come from—factory farms or free range? Answer: Tyson’s for chicken and other places, but then they glossed over the answer, meaning it was probably factory farms. Many pet guardians care about where their own food comes from and they feel the same way about the food they feed their animals. No one wants animals to suffer so where is the leadership in Hill’s opting to use farms that can be certified humane? Perhaps those changes are to come?
I asked Mr. Kontopanos if Hill's was planning on producing a grain-free food since the market has exploded with options-clearly due to consumer buying trends. Mr. Kontopanos paused, looked a bit irritated, then said they would produce one only when they could declare it as “complete balanced nutrition.” I wondered how many times he’d answered this question. Had Hill’s focused too much effort on trying to convince pet owners that corn and other grains are good for their pets while there is a lot of evidence to prove the contrary? [apparently there IS a lone dog food with no grain, but I don’t have info on that at this time].
I didn’t ask about how they felt about people feeding a raw diet. I didn’t have the nerve to go there after seeing a slide earlier in the day that talked about what people feed their pets and raw feeding was considered “unconventional.”
No one else brought it up, either, but I knew a few others felt the same as I did that it was actually appropriate and not unconventional to feed a raw diet.
One of their basic diets for adult cats, Science Diet® Adult Indoor Cat Dry has 5 grains and the only animal protein is Chicken by-product meal (according to the AAFCO consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice). Can you tell me how this is better than a raw diet of ground chicken muscle meat, organs and bones from a known, humane farm with some egg yolks, water, low sodium salt, taurine, etc.?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My “golden” ticket into the secret world of the Emporia Plant.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Arriving at the Plant.
Early the next morning we toured the Hill's manufacturing plant in Emporia, Kansas (one of a handful around the country, in addition to two in Europe). It was just as spotlessly clean and run by devoted employees as the Pet Nutrition Center campus. There’s very tight security in the plant so we weren’t allowed to take any photos. The place had an odd aroma. I thought it was something like a baked grain, then Teri suggested it smelled like dry food cat barf. Thanks, Teri!
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Trying to comfort Teri. “You'll get used to the smell. It's not barf, I hope.”
The Emporia manufacturing plant, built in 2010, achieved its LEED – Silver certification last May. The over 500,000 square foot plant is a closed system where each segment of processing is separated by large corridors so that, for instance, the raw stage of processing can’t contaminate the extruding/“kill stage” and so on. Since the process is closed, there’s less chance for the product to be exposed, but the bad part about that is you don’t SEE the ingredients coming together to form their products.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Vats and stuff.
Basically there were a lot of vats, conduit, pipes and odd sounds. It was a perfect setting to shoot a movie if we hadn’t been bogged down by wearing ear protection, hairnets, lab coats, hard hats and steel-toed covers on our shoes.
This plant produces 500,000 pounds of dry food every day. They run three shifts Monday through Friday. The weekend is for cleaning. All the food is x-rayed to make sure there’s no metal in it. They have extremely high quality standards and points at which they test the product. They deal with 140 ingredients so it must be a daunting task.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. More strange equipment.
As our tour entered the warehouse it reminded me of the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones sees the warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant gets stored. I counted 50 aisles stacked 3 palettes high of bagged dry foods. I couldn’t see how far back it went, but I’d say it filled a football field, at least. I asked to take a photo of the stacks of bags and was denied.
The tour was concluded and we were escorted onto a very plush bus that took us to the airport. It was a fast paced, loaded-with-info tour. I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid®, but the interactions I had with the staff from Hill’s and the folks who were on the tour was very pleasant and respectful. I couldn’t have been treated better.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Holistic Veterinarian, super-nice guy and -yes, the same one you've seen on TV - and moi.
There seem to be some very caring, possibly even passionate people who do care about pets at Hill’s, but with all due respect, the way they go about “manufacturing” pet food isn’t something I can get on board with even if “Since 2002, the Hill’s Food, Shelter & Love Program™ has donated more than $240 million worth of Science Diet® brand foods to nearly 1,000 animal shelters nationwide, in every state.” That sounds good until you realize they have a captive audience. The shelter takes the free food and then passes along free samples to adopters, who will, of course, become new Hill's customers.
Hill’s promotional material also states: “It has also helped more than 6 million pets find new homes, and counting.” Though if you ask them to clarify that fact, what is happening is they are taking credit for the adoptions of animals from the shelters they donate food to. Hill’s doesn’t operate any shelters.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
When it’s all said and done Hill’s treated me with respect and provided for my every need. I appreciate their hospitality and their pride in their company and their community.
No one ever said a word about cats being OBLIGATE carnivores and how science could ever supersede that simple fact by using chemicals, cooking, over processing technology and less costly grains to make up for what cats truly need. They need MEAT. That’s how they get their energy, unlike humans, who get it from carbohydrates.
I realize that asking Hill’s to take their multi-billions of dollars and DO THE RIGHT THING with their products is a Herculean undertaking. Even adding ONE ingredient to ONE kind of cat food starts a chain reaction that could take months if not years to implement.
How can you move a behemoth of a company into a new direction when they’ve already spent decades on marketing to convince consumers that science IS the answer, not common sense?
It’s like me telling you to eat a vitamin soaked breakfast bar and tell you it will cover your nutritional needs because it’s “scientifically proven” (because it was tested for up to six months on about 8 humans) and it will allow you to live a long, healthy life. It will give you calories and some nutrition, but in the long haul what is your quality of life? You’ll be alive, but will you thrive? Will your teeth be ruined and will you have skin allergies and lymphoma?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
Until then, I'm going to respectfully disagree and hope that one day the answer to the question of “What should I feed my cat?” will no longer be so divisive.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. A last look at Kansas and touchdown in NYC.
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!
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.
©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.
©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?!
©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 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.
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.