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Rainbow Bridge

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.

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©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 Last Feral Cat. Part 1 of 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Barry Poster 400

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2015 Robin AF Olson. How to get bitten.

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

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

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

 

And then Barry bit me again.

 

part two next...

Timmy's Ashes Project. One Cat Who Changed the World.

When I was 16, my very first serious boyfriend and I traveled about 90 minutes from my parents home to the “northwest corner” of Connecticut. My boyfriend wanted to impress me by taking me somewhere romantic and it was a big deal to be able to go so far from home, alone with a boy! I remember walking hand-in-hand with him, feeling like we’d always be together. A sparkling waterfall roared nearby, but we were too in love to hear it, busy sneaking kisses along the steep path to the top of the falls where we could kiss some more.

Bridge to Kent Falls R Olson 475
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Covered bridge entrance to Kent Falls.

Kent Falls is far more than a tiny state park nestled into the shoulder of a the southern Berkshire mountains. After almost 4 decades, it’s entered my bloodstream. Although my boyfriend and I didn’t last, I continued to visit the falls over the years, especially off-season, right after a heavy rain. The falls were almost bursting at the seams and the effect was dramatic.

My mother and I often went to the falls together and, in fact, today, when I returned there, I flashed back to those times. I had a difficult relationship with my mother, but at Kent Falls we were too busy taking photos to get on each other’s nerves…okay until she asked me, as she often did, to stand somewhere precarious so she could get a good photo. If I fell to my death, she’d worry about getting the shot over saving my life, but in a way I couldn’t blame her. We often walked the trails in the area watching others get a bit too close to the water’s edge. My mother would whisper to me; “FALL!” hoping her desire to see someone fall into the raging river would come to pass. Did I say my mother was a sweet angel? No. I did not.

2005 Mum on the Rock
©2005 Robin A.F. Olson. My mother on the "do not climb" area.

Our last trip to Kent Falls was about 6 months before my mother died. Her passing was unexpected and terribly shocking. She’d kept her heart failure a secret from me and I found out the hard way when she didn’t answer her phone one morning and I raced to her home to find her already gone from this world. It was this last trip that was our best, and why Timmy’s Ashes Stones needed to become part of our memory tapestry there.

I was driving north, about 30 minutes away from the falls. My mother and I weren’t saying much, the usual tension filled the air. Off to our right, soaring high above us we saw a large bird.

I said to my mother; “Is that a bald eagle?”

“Yes, I think it is!” she replied excitedly.

Then suddenly, what at first looked like a white ribbon, quickly emerged out of the back of the eagle and fell just as quickly to the earth.

Once again I asked my mother; “Was that what I think it was? Did that eagle just take a shit?”

Without pause, my mother turned to me and put her hand on my arm. She replied; Turn the car around and head home. It can’t get any better than this.

Timmys Stone 475
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. One of Timmy's stones. It reads: "Timmy was here."

Both laughing, the tension evaporated between us. By the time we reached the falls they were broiling and bubbling as we’d never seen before. The nearby Bulls Bridge area was terrifying, the river was lapping against the banks as we passed a bit too close by on a tiny slick path that hugged the side of a hill. We got our photos. We didn’t fall to our death (or see anyone fall, though one guy was pushing his luck) and before we headed home we stopped at a café and had grilled cheese sandwiches and tea. It was a perfect day.

I cherish this place like no other, so that’s why today, on a brisk, brilliant day, I drove my car north, to Kent Falls. It was the first time I’d been there since my mother died so it was an especially meaningful trip.

Wide view of main falls 475
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Base of Kent Falls near where I placed the stones.

When I arrived, there were barely a handful of people at the park. As I walked over the narrow wooden covered bridge to access the grounds, one that was built in the early 1930’s, as the ghosts of my past came to visit me. On that bridge, faded and softened with time, are my initials carved into the wood, along with those of my first boyfriend, David. I can’t even find them now, but I know they're still there. The dreams of our life together are long gone, but the memory of that first love will always be in my heart.

Timmysashes logo square 2

As I walked along the path that lead to the falls, I remembered holding my young nephew’s hand on his first pilgrimage to this place, my mother urging us to stop every few steps so she could take another picture of us. She couldn’t capture the feeling of family, of love and togetherness. She was too uncomfortable to be affectionate or say; “I love you,” but we knew she did as she clicked the shutter, yelling at her quirky old autofocus camera to “FOCUS DAMMIT!”

Timmys other stone 475
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson.

Then my thoughts turned to Timmy, a cat I’ve never met, who’s life was cruelly shortened by a toxic exposure to over-the-counter flea treatments. I think about his mom, Claudia and how her heart is broken now that Timmy’s gone. I think about how if Timmy hadn’t gotten sick, Claudia never would have created a non-toxic soap that my rescue, Kitten Associates, can safely use on the tiniest of kittens. How I don’t have to worry I’m going to harm the most innocent of creatures because one woman loved her cat so very much and who loved all of us so very much that she wanted to protect every cat and dog in the whole wide world.

 

So she did.

 

It takes a certain kind of brave heart to be able to face the painful daily reminder of seeing your cat wobble when he walks, his nerves forever damaged, but to turn that heartache into helping others so they never have to see their own cat suffer, too—well that needs to be honored.

Main Falls Full 400
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson.

 

That’s why I wanted to tell you about my most special place on earth. It’s full of ghosts, tears and laughter, but mostly it’s filled with love.

 

As I walked up an incline near the falls, I found a place very close to the water, but not too close so that Timmy’s memorial stones would wash away. I knew that even if they did, that was okay, too because Timmy’s memory would move along the river and find a new place to be discovered. Now his stones are part of my memory and part of my life. He may have been a cat I’ve never met, but his loss is just as vivid as if I lost one of my own.

©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Stone placement.

I sat on a fallen tree near the falls after I placed and photographed the stones. There was no one else around and I was glad to have some privacy. I cried for Timmy, for how unfair it was that he died so young. I cried for his mom, Claudia, wishing I could give her a hug and tell her it’s going to be okay and that I’m so proud of what she’s done to honor her beloved cat. I cried because I wish I’d hear my mother’s voice, tell me to sit up straight and tip my head down, just a tiny bit, so I wouldn’t have a double chin in the photo she was about to take of me. I cried because somehow 40 years have slipped by and I realize I haven’t done enough good in my own life.

GPS
Geotag of stones.

 

Timmy and Claudia are an inspiration to me and a reminder to all of us that one cat with one person who loves them CAN change the world. I hope that tonight when you’re with your cat or cats, you think about ways you can make the world a better place for all of us and get out there and do just that.

 

Fly free sweet Timmy. Thank you and your mom for making our world a better, safer place.

#TimmysAshesProject

#TinyTimmy

#BetheWave Timmys Ashes Logo on Fence 475
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Thank you for allowing me to be a ripple in the wave.

2015: Year in Review. 2 of 2

(continued from part 1)

August

After a month of tests, I continued on, but this time weighing about 20 pounds less. The pain wasn’t as severe and I was a pro at checking my blood glucose every day. I never saw it go beyond a normal reading, but I was also terrified to go out to eat (so I didn’t). I cooked more than I cared to, but if I controlled what went into the food, I was “safe.”

I was lost trying to sort out what to eat, what not to eat. I hadn’t had sugar or much white flour. No more pasta, no more nuttin’. I had terrible cravings, but I knew that if worked very hard, it would go away and I’d make new routines eventually…yeah, right. We’re talking about me, a self-confessed “foodie” who felt like her whole life was over.

At least I got to rescue a kitten we named, Tink. She came flea-infested from Animal Care & Control in NYC. It was our first rescue-pull from them and it was a proud moment for me because if you’re going to rescue a cat from a tough place, NYACC is it. They do a great job partnering with an organization called HOPE, to get the animals OUT of their facilities, but you can imagine they are overloaded day and night.

Tink went to foster care and her foster mom fell in love so Tink’s adoption was sealed.

IMG 4844
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Think, a mini-Freya, bright light in an otherwise dreary world.

Meanwhile, I wasn’t too sick to notice that my cat, Gracie wasn’t eating well. No matter what we did or tried to feed her she was clearly off her food. I took her to the vet and they said she needed a dental cleaning right away. Other than the fact I hadn’t been working and was low on funds, there was nothing to be particularly concerned about as it was a routine procedure.

IMG 4997
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Minus most of her teeth after a dental, now Gracie was facing something much more dire.

September

 

Something was wrong with Gracie after her dental. She wouldn’t eat, was depressed and after going back to the vet a half dozen times in two weeks, they noticed she had a very enlarged liver. I might as well have let her go the second I saw the look on Dr. Larry’s face as he examined her. He shook his head. “I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all.” he said.

 

IMG 4916
©2015 Robin AF Olson. At one of a million vet visits, each one giving us hope that we'd find the answer of what was ailing our girl.

And so began a torturous two months of trying to save Gracie’s life. It was so hard on me that I couldn’t eat or sleep. I had such bad anxiety because we couldn’t find what was going on, but could only guess it was neoplasia (cancer), somewhere. If we didn't know what was slowly killing my sweet cat, we couldn't TREAT it. The clock was ticking. I’m not a loser when it comes to my cats. I will fight and fight for them but nothing I did helped Gracie get any better.

 

I cared for her around-the-clock. Sam and I took turns medicating and feeding her. Every morning I wondered if I would come down the stairs and see Gracie had passed away over night. Every morning I hated myself for partly wishing it would be the case and it would be over, but I also had to work hard to find joy in our last days together because this was all we were going to get.

 

IMG 4998
2015 used with permission. Woody on his mom's lap. He's where he was supposed to be all along.

There was a moment of joy. Woody, the last of Mia’s kittens, finally got adopted after a 18 months. Woody’s siblings, Greta and Lil’ Snickers had been in their forever home for 6 months, but their mom, Nicole and been aching over the fact that Woody was left behind. She and her family agreed that Woody needed to join them. I couldn’t believe it when she called, but indeed that’s what she really wanted all along.

It was a shaky two weeks because Woody had to leave his mother, Mia. I hated separating them, but truth be told, Mia is not friendly enough to be adopted and this was Woody’s best chance.

IMG 4999
2015 used with permission. Wood (on recliner) reunited with Lil Snickers (front) and sister, Greta (sofa).

Woody is doing great and his siblings remembered him after a few days. Mia is showing signs of coming around, too, so maybe one day she’ll find her family, too.

October

Lex & Lucy got adopted even though I was pretty much checked out of running Kitten Associates. I was glad for them because the couple was great and I’ve heard the kitties are doing well, but it also meant the remaining foster cats were well beyond being cute kittens. They were all over 8 pounds and too big for their prime adoptable time.

Togetherness
Used with permission. Lex & Lucy together always, in their forever home.

I began taking an online class with the Humane Society of the United States. It was 10-weeks long plus 5 hours of course week, at least, every week. At the end of it I’d be certified as a Cat Behavior Counselor. The question was, could I do it when my heart was breaking and my mind was numb from stress?

Our sole remaining feral cat, Bronte showed up looking frail and sickly. We put out a trap so we could get her to the vet, but instead of trapping Bronte, we got this big tom cat who had been hanging around our house for months. I was able to learn he was being fed down the street, but the person at that home said he wasn’t her cat. Since we had the cat and to get back at him for ripping my screen window open a few days before, I took him to be neutered (okay I wasn’t getting revenge, but…).

Barry comes a courtin R AF Olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry sat outside my office window (before he ripped it open) and cried. Meanwhile DOOD and Blitzen egg him on.

I named the cat, Barry.

I figured I’d let him go back outside after he recovered from surgery. What I didn’t expect was that Barry was friendly, so then I was faced with what to do with him.

Bronte after Vet
©2008 Robin AF Olson. Bronte, the last time we were able to trap her and get her vetted.

Sadly, we never saw Bronte again. She’d been with us for seven years. We had heated cabins for her in our screen porch and heated water dishes. We fed her every single day and now she was gone. We couldn’t even say goodbye. I still find myself looking for her when I go outside.

IMG 5422
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Cricket with frankenbutt.

One night I looked over at our cat Cricket. I saw blood all over his rear end. It was bad enough we were doing vet runs and fussing over Gracie, but now Cricket was in big trouble. It was clear he blew out one of his anal glands and needed surgery to repair the wound. We had him stitched up the next morning. He needed 17 stitches and was just in time for Halloween.

 

And two days later, as October became November, Gracie died in Sam’s arms as I was driving us to the vet to have them release her from this life.

 

Sunny Side Up
©2006 Robin AF Olson. The most beautiful, sweet-natured cat I've ever known. I miss you, Gracie, so much.

November

I suppose the best news of the year was that after repeating my blood work it was determined I didn’t have diabetes after all. I didn’t even know I could hope for that outcome. I'd lost about 45 pounds and still need to lose more, but the change in my body was starting to be pretty clear since none of my clothes fit me any more.

I knew I still had to be very careful because I can become diabetic due to my family history, so I can’t go back to eating things I used to like, but at least I can have a cookie or some such thing once in awhile.

IMG 5574
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Is this my future?

On the flip side, the bad news is there is trouble with my heart, a lack of blood flow that is either a small or moderate in area in the lower part of the muscle. My cardiologist wanted me to take a fist full of medications, but after careful consideration I decided not to take his advice. As of this writing, I’m still on this journey trying to find out what this pain is from. It’s mostly gone these days, but not entirely. I’m getting out for walks more, but not enough. I’m still eating well, too, but I don’t know what is really going on. Hopefully some day I will. I’m getting a second opinion.

Poor Petunia was getting picked on too often, even after the surgery. I decided to create a penned off space for her near the living room. She has her own litter pan, water, cat tree, scratcher, heated bed, cozy hut to hide in. Pretty much the second she realized the other cats couldn’t bother her, she calmed down and never missed the litter pan once. Though it’s not a perfect solution, it stopped the insanity. I don’t feel stressed out because seeing the cats go after Petunia upset me a lot. Now I can relate to Petunia differently, too. She’s not soiling anything and I’m not unfairly vilifying her. I learned I can start over and re-introduce her to the other cats. It’s going to take a long time, but in the meantime she’s calm and content and that’s what matters.

IMG 5407
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Petunia watches DOOD from a safe distance. After I took this photo, I covered the pen with towels to give her more separation from the other cats. As for the other cats, I had to suck it up and take my beloved boy Spencer in for a dental. I had put it off after the disaster following Gracie's final cleaning. Spencer HATES to go to the vet and is very tough to handle. They got the job done, but I have to say I was very upset until he came back home. Even then I noticed he's showing his age. He's 14 going on 15 and I just can't "go there" when I think about how we lost Gracie and she was younger. Spencer has the early signs of kidney issues so he'll be going back to the vet for blood work again soon.

December

I got the flu for Thanksgiving. Not a surprise, really. After all the stress with caring for Gracie, no wonder I got sick. I lucked out and was just well enough a week later to meet Mike Bridavsky and see Lil Bub again. I’d designed Bub’s BUBblehead box and was really proud to be part of her world, even in some small way.

I got home and went back to bed. Sam joined me. He had just been hit by the flu, too.

Robin Mike Bub Selfie RT 450
©2015 Robin AF Olson. The bright spot to an otherwise sad year-seeing Mike & Bub again.

Somehow I managed to graduate my class! I got a 98! I’m a Certified Cat Behavior Counselor. Now I can help people keep their cats instead of giving them up when times get tough.

The results of not working much and a lot of sick cats hit my bank account really hard. Christmas ended up being mostly just another day. I was grateful that at least I could keep things going with Kitten Associates. I had some folks interested in wanting one or two of the cats. I’m hoping it will pan out in the new year.

Laney and family had been here so long they needed their vaccinations boostered. I had Dr. Larry and Super-Deb do a house call. I figured it would be a routine visit. No big deal.

I was wrong.

Laney needed a dental. Winnie and Piglet had severe stomatitis and needed not only dental cleanings ASAP, but they both were going to lose teeth. Just how many teeth would be taken was to be determined. There went $2200.00 in vet care I hadn’t figured on.

Barry sounds “bad.” He’s getting x-rays of his lungs done in a few days.

IMG 5558
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry, no longer the "feral" cat, is making his home in my bathroom until we complete his vet care (and he quits biting me!).

The “good” news I found out today is that Winnie has raging bartonella. It’s good because it means she probably does NOT have an immune disorder that will effect the rest of her life. We’re going to re-test Piglet because she was a +1, when Winnie was a +4 (+4 is the highest level of infection). Since the protocol is to not treat for a +1 and it’s been 9 months since we tested Piglet, it’s possible Piglet had it, but we caught it early and that now she, too may be a +4 (which would explain her bad mouth).

If it means neither cat will have to lose all their teeth one day, I’m all for it.

Moving Onward

It was a really tough year. I miss having kittens so much, but I needed a break without being able to really take one. I helped about 45 cats, mostly behind-the-scenes. I was going to end the year by rescuing this super cute ginger boy in South Carolina but happily for him he got adopted before they found out we’d take him.

I faced my mortality in a way I never did before. I made many difficult choices and ended up deciding to give myself the respect I never could before. I'm trying to treasure this body I have, faults, extra padding and all. It's been the toughest thing I've ever done and I have a long way to go, but for the first time I think that maybe, just maybe I'll get there and end up being the girl who really liked herself instead of loathing the face in the mirror.

My dreams for 2016 are a mixed bag. Firstly, I want to get as healthy as I can and get to the bottom of the chest pain. Second, I hope 2016 will be a re-birth of sorts. This humble blog has been far overdue for a re-design and Kitten Associates' web site needs a facelift, too. I'd also like to take my writing to the next level-which means a book project. Will you read a book if I write it? I've got to do this. If I can't make this one dream come true I never will.

 

And I'm still dedicated to making lives better for cats, for rescuing them and giving them safe harbor, for helping their humans understand them better so they can be happier and so those cats don't lose their home. I may not run the biggest rescue with the highest number of adoptions, but as the story of the starfish goes...

 

...The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.” The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

adapted from The Star Thrower

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Necklace from my friend, Adria.

The Birdman of Beverly Hills

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

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©Jamaka. Used with Permission.

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

 

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©Jamaka. Used with Permission.

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

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©Jamaka. Used with Permission.

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

 

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

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

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©Jamaka. Used with Permission. With friend Sahra.

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

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©Jamaka. Used with Permission.

Staying Strong for Gracie: Part 13. Lost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Just another feeding time.

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

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

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

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. My very sick sweetheart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Goodbye my love.

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

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

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

Calling All Angels. The Passing of Celeste.

It’s hard to hold your head up high as a cat rescuer when you feel like you completely failed and in that error, an animal died because of it. It’s one thing to make a mistake on your taxes—sure it sucks, you might pay a fine or owe more than you should, but it’s not life or death.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Ever since I was a little girl when my mother would read me stories each night before I went to bed, I wanted to believe the world was a magical place. I never outgrew the deep longing to feel like I was like a character in a book specially chosen to be unlike anyone else in a world filled with endless possibilities. I would go to the movies and wonder why I couldn’t be like those people who went out and did great things, against all odds, they’d save the world after a remarkable adventure.

But the reality is, I’m just another schmoe, with ups and downs. I don't have a secret world only I have access to that's filled with talking beasts and dancing trees. But that’s ok because I’m not going to be disappointed when those things don't happen. Those things are for fairy stories, not real life.

The thing that makes me sad is that magic isn’t real. I want the trees to come to life and dance around me or for my cats to talk to me, but those are the notions of a child, not an adult. I have to put those thoughts away and simply enjoy being entertained by movies and books by the fantasy of “what if” and not expect anything more. I’m the daughter of two scientists after all.

Robin and Judy 2001 R Olson
©2001 Robin A.F. Olson. My Mother was the first female research scientist hired by Pfizer back in the 1940s. She was part of the team that developed terramycin. She was a genius by any measure. Here we are so many years later by a hidden waterfall in upstate CT.

Eight years ago tonight my mother died. I wasn’t planning on writing about it again, as I have so many other years, but something happened that I wanted to share with all of you. I believe that perhaps I was wrong about magic. It IS real and I have proof.

My mother and I had a tough relationship but we were also very close. We both had the same wicked sense of humor, always had a camera on our hip, were ready to find a new, strange place to visit or take in any cat who needed us. I asked my mother if after she died she would come back to me or send me a sign and she immediately said no. She said “when you die, you die. That’s it. Don’t go looking for me. I’m going to be dead.”

The odd thing was that every year since she died, on the anniversary of her passing, something would happen that truly seemed like a message. One year I received mail addressed to her. It was a coupon from CVS. She was a mad coupon-freak and CVS was the last place she went before she died. I hadn’t gotten mail from them before. It just had to mean something…was it a message from beyond the grave or $2.00 off my next prescription?

Mum on a log
©2006 Robin A.F. Olson. My Mother on our last trip to one of our favorite places- Bulls Bridge.

I was driving along Highway I-84. It was early evening and I was on my way to meet my friend Marcia at the movie theater. We had planned to see the movie the The Hundred-Foot Journey, but I hadn’t been feeling well. I almost cancelled at the last minute, but it was too late so I just sucked it up and made my way to the theater.

It had been a lovely day. Cool, dry, sunny. The clouds were puffy and brushed in amber by the setting sun. I looked at the time. It was almost 7pm. I thought to myself that was about the time she died those many years ago, though I wasn’t with her when it happened so I can’t be positive of the exact time. No one was with her. No one even knew she was so sick from congestive heart failure that her life was so fragile.

I felt the familiar tug of missing her and I thought to myself how I wished she’d send me a sign and almost right after that, my scientist DNA said that could not happen and not to be silly. I exited off the highway, trying to get my mind off my mother by thinking about something else. As my car passed between two rows of tall trees I saw it out of the corner of my eye…a rainbow.

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©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Last night.

I did a double-take because I hadn’t SEEN a rainbow in YEARS. It wasn’t raining. It was lovely weather save for a few clouds. It didn’t make sense. As a lump grew in my throat and my eyes began to fill with tears, the colors in the rainbow became more vivid and part of a second rainbow formed. I flashed back to that silly YouTube sensation video where the guy is crying about the “Double Rainbow!” I did what my mother taught me. I thought about something funny to cover up how I really felt, because my heart felt like it was going to explode from renewed grief.

Seeing that rainbow felt like a kiss from my mother. She was waving at me saying “Hey, I was wrong. Of course I’ll come back to you and I miss you, too! I’m still here, Robin. I’m still here.”

Rainbow R Olson 475
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Right over the movie theater.

As I reached the parking lot at the theater I fought back the tears. I lost sight of the rainbow and thought it had faded away, but when I looked up the rainbow was still there. It looked as if the rainbow’s end was at the movie theater—a big colorful ribbon pointing to where I was headed.

Maybe it was all just a coincidence, but this time I’m telling my genetics to shut up and believe that there really is magic all around us. We just have to open our hearts to see it.

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2016: Last night my sister-in-law Anne came over. The plan was to go to dinner and celebrate my mother's life since it was the 10th anniversary of her passing. My nephew, Ryan, was to join us but after we waited 20 minutes or so it was clear he was late. Turns out Ryan was at the restaurant due to a miscommunication on my part and was waiting for us there. So Sam grabbed his car keys, we hopped into his car and off we went to meet Ryan.

A quick thunderstorm had just passed overhead and the sky was clear. As we pulled out of the driveway I wondered aloud if we'd see a rainbow. Sure enough, a few moments later I saw the delicate ribbons of color in the sky. As Sam drove on I could get a better look as we reached an area where there weren't so many trees blocking the view. There before me was a vivid, full double rainbow.

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©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Another message from my Mother.

I took photo after photo while Sam continued to drive. When we got to the restaurant it was clear the rainbow had been pointing the way. I'd forgotten until that moment that I'd seen a rainbow, let alone a double rainbow, on the same day two years before. If we'd left on time we wouldn't have seen it. Because we were late, we had perfect timing.

Anne said it was meant to be that we would see the double rainbow...that things happen for a reason. I think she's right. This time I'm not going to brush it off as a coincidence.

I love you, too, Mother.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Ever since I was a little girl when my mother would read me stories each night before I went to bed, I wanted to believe the world was a magical place. I never outgrew the deep longing to feel like I was like a character in a book specially chosen to be unlike anyone else in a world filled with endless possibilities. I would go to the movies and wonder why I couldn’t be like those people who went out and did great things, against all odds, they’d save the world after a remarkable adventure.

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