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Rest in Peace

2017. A Look Back on a Tumultuous Year.

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

January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March

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

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

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

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

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

Weird April

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

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

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

May

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

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

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stormy.

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

June and July

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

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

Yes. I’m insane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Poor Fluff Daddy!

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

Shitty September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October

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

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Thank God for chocolate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

November

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

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

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

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

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

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

December and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Uh oh...

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

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

 

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

 

But let’s take a few steps back…

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

What I learned from Gracie’s passing

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Yes, I said BEST death.

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

Some tips:

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

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

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

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

 

Before, During and After Passing

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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The Bottom Line

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

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

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

2016: The Year in Review

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

January

Sick cats. Lots of sick cats.

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

Bright Side

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

No, it wasn’t.

 

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

 

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

February

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

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

Bright Side

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

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

March

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

Bright Side

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

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

 

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

 

April

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

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

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

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

…there is no bright side….

 

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

 

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

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Sweet Cricket.

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

May

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

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

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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.

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©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).

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©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.

 

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©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.

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).

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©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.

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©2007 Robin AF Olson. Bronte.

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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.

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©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...

A Spoonful of Despair. Part 4 of 4

(continued from parts 1, 2 and 3).

There’s a kind of silence that occurs between people who have been together for a long time. It’s not the kind filled with tension you can slice with a knife or the nervous energy of being reunited after a long separation. It’s the kind that becomes sacred, where words only create meaningless static, where words do not belong. There is a desire for the silence to become a protective shroud, where no one has to face the fact that breaking the silence means facing a brutal, painful truth…that your cat is dying and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The past four days have been some of the worst of my life. The question of whether or not we should have done the test or whether we waited too long nagged at me.

IMG 2092
©2016 Robin AF Olson. On an IV, Cricket had to wear the "cone of shame" since he kept biting at the line. By the next day he no longer needed the line so the cone came off.

I lived like a zombie. I had to force myself to eat a little cottage cheese, but that was all I could manage to swallow. I was constantly tired, but never really slept because I each night I worried I’d get “the call” from the ER Vet saying Cricket had died. I tried to absolve myself of “shoulds” while work, emails and bills piled up. I didn’t care. I got the foster kittens fed. I scooped their litter pan, but other than that I waited for the phone to ring with news or laid hunched up on the sofa with my eyes closed while Sam tried to work nearby on his laptop.

Sunday, nothing was done. I don’t know why, but Cricket stayed in oxygen and had no further tests. We went to visit him that night and he seemed stable. They neglected to tell me he had collapsed earlier in the day when they took him out of the cage, which was one reason they did no testing. He had begun to eat a little bit on his own, but I struggled to feel hopeful.

IMG 2101
©2016 Robin AF Olson. If only I could have helped him understand what was going on. I hated seeing him like this.

On Monday I spoke with Dr. P, the vet who could do the wash. Once again we grappled with the decision. The problem was, would Cricket’s lungs inflate and would he be able to breathe after the procedure was over? The vet would give him a high dose of steroids, which wouldn’t harm future treatments, but would help him breathe more comfortably. It was rare that a cat died from the procedure but we had to know there were risks. I told him I needed to speak with the oncologist because we’d decided Cricket wouldn’t be able to handle chemo every week. His quality of life would be poor if he had to undergo so much stress. What I needed to know, which no one could tell me, was if we could try chemo even if we didn’t do the test at all?

I couldn’t decide until I had answers.

 

We got a phone consult with the oncologist, who shoehorned us in between appointments. She told me that 70% of cats respond to chemo very well and that about half of those cats can go more than three months and have very good quality of life. She said we could also do a cheaper type of chemo every three weeks, which I thought Cricket could handle. That we COULD try chemo even if we didn’t have test results---again just try and see what works. If the chemo had no effect, we’d know in 24 to 36 hours. If it did nothing then we knew Cricket had a very aggressive cancer and that there wasn’t anything left we could do.

 

Cage card rt
©2016 Robin AF Olson.

Sam and I had a long talk. Dr. P felt that Cricket would do ok. We needed to know what was going on. We decided to do the test so I called to greenlight the procedure. A few minutes after I called, Dr. Larry called me and warned us off doing the test. He said that the odds of us getting a result were small and that he knew we could not afford to do the chemo (he said it VERY respectfully) and that Cricket would be too stressed to handle it. I told him what I learned about the chemo, but still Dr. Larry suggested we do not move forward, that Cricket was too fragile.

I trust Dr. Larry completely. I was so tired and sad that I didn’t trust my own ability to decide. I called Dr P and said I was sorry and to not do the test after all. That we wanted to go straight to steroids and chemo and see if it would help.

IMG 2141
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Still our handsome, loving boy.

They began the steroids and after Cricket had chemo we went to visit him. He looked good. He was happy to see us. He was still “oxygen dependent” but he stood up for a moment and eagerly rubbed our hands. The temperature inside the oxygen cage was much cooler than in the exam area, but they had lots of soft blankets for him to snuggle on. We’d brought him a cat bed from home but it was too big. We brought food he liked and treats. Sam and I took turns offering him tastes of salmon, which he ate right up. I asked Cricket to please get better, for the medications to work so he could come home. Even if it meant he would only live another month or two, Cricket NEEDED to come home. I didn’t want him to die here. He needed to be with us.

 

The next day and a half was crucial, but it was pretty clear early on that Cricket wasn’t going to make it. He had no response to steroids (other than giving him some appetite), which also meant the test would have killed him. After a day he had no response to the chemo, either and I was told that taking him out of the oxygen cage stressed him to the point of risking him going into respiratory failure. He could not leave the cage, but he could not stay in the cage forever.

 

IMG 2145
©2016 Robin AF Olson. :-(

An oxygen cage cost about $100,000 so I couldn’t just go get one and hook it up in the living room. As crazy as that sounds, I would have done it if I could. I also knew that every 12 hours we were getting billed more and more for Cricket’s care. The oxygen cage, alone, was over $440 a day.

 

I was literally buying time for Cricket and I knew I couldn’t afford to do it much longer, but I also could not fathom euthanizing a cat who’s organ function was normal, who had normal blood work, who still knew and loved us. If only his lungs worked he’d be fine. How could we kill him when he wasn’t old and frail? What would happen when we took him out of the oxygen cage to kill him? Would just moving him kill him in a painful way?

 

All these questions swirled around my head while Sam and I took turns petting Cricket. He had a few more hours to go before we knew for certain if there was going to be any improvement. We walked back to the car and Sam started the engine and turned on the headlights. The A/C was cool against my face. We sat there for a long time, not saying a word, not feeling like we could move from that spot. If we left, we knew that the next time we’d come back here would be to put Cricket down. I thought maybe we shouldn’t put it off? Maybe we should do it right then and there. Why wait? Why put Cricket through sitting around twelve more hours? What the Hell had happened? How did we get here in the first place? Then I realized I was saying my thoughts out loud as I began to sob uncontrollably. It was game over. We both knew it, but we both promised Cricket we’d give him every minute we could.

Sam pulled the car out of the lot and headed towards home. We’d give Cricket a few more hours and pray for a miracle.

IMG 2152
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Another night, another visit, but Cricket was very weak.

 

That night I knew we would have to face this, to get it over with. Part of me couldn’t wait to be past this horrible time and I felt very guilty for that. I told myself a million things, that we couldn’t do anything else, that we’d prepare and give Cricket the best send off we could manage. I had a special cloth to wrap his body. I printed out a photo of me and Sam, just like I did for Gracie. We’d write notes on it to Cricket to be burned with him when he was cremated. I packed a cat brush to make sure he was clean and well groomed after he died. His body would be respected and honored. We wouldn’t just run away and not face this. We would create a peaceful environment for Cricket. Our tears, our anxiety had to wait…it was his time. That’s all that mattered.

 

The next morning I called Dr. De for an update. Although Cricket’s respiration was a bit slower, there wasn’t any improvement like they were looking for. She’d removed him from oxygen for less than a minute and he was breathing so hard his stomach contracted. We couldn’t bring him home and though she was very sorry there wasn’t anything more they could offer us. By then I felt angry, angry and cheated, not by her, but by what was happening to our cat. He didn’t deserve this. He was far too young. It happened so very fast. I had no time to process it. I had to stop being a zombie and be present and just do this already. Do it. Face it. Stop dragging it out.

I told Dr. De I understood and that we had decided it was time to let Cricket go. She agreed it was the correct decision to make and that she would help us whenever we were ready to do so. I know she was being kind, but she didn’t know me or our cat. If Cricket had to die I wished he could be at home and have Dr. Larry there to help him pass, but Cricket wouldn’t have even made it out the door of the facility, let alone survive the 15 minute drive home.

I took a shower and put on the nicest outfit I could. I didn’t bother with makeup because I’d end up crying it off later anyway. Sam chose a colorful shirt to wear with jeans. I made sure I had everything I needed. I knew they’d want to be paid and there was some issue with the bill, which had grown to over $5000. At that point I didn’t care. I just wanted to pay the bill and do this horrible thing. I was facing the brutal truth, but I didn’t have to like it.

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

 

Though I could go into detail about how Cricket died, I don’t feel it would be right. It was our private time with our boy and it was his final moments on this earth. I will tell you that after it was over we spent time with Cricket since we didn't have to worry about him being outside of the oxygen cage any longer. Dr. De helped him pass very peacefully in Sam’s arms. I will tell you that we cleaned him and combed his fur so he looked as nice as he ever did. We wrote him special notes. I don’t know what Sam wrote. Those words were not for me. We folded the photo and slipped the paper under Cricket’s head and placed it on top of the special blanket he was resting on. Those two items would be cremated with him.

 

Robin and Sam for Cricket
©2014 Robin AF Olson. The photo of Sam and me I printed out to place with Cricket's body after he died.

I held his front paws in my hand. I told him how proud I was of him and how brave he had been, about how he was such a very good boy, but mostly how much I loved him and would miss him forever. Even in death he was beautiful. His coat was thick, plush, soft, and the deepest black.

We stayed for a long time, but eventually we knew we had to go home. The cats and foster kittens needed to be fed. Life would go on whether I wanted it to or not. The twisted anxiety in my gut was gone, replaced by a tightness in my chest, the rippling pain of heartache and grief was here to stay, an unwelcome old friend returned.

 

I had one last task left. I had to tell our nine surviving cats that Cricket was gone. I was careful not to touch anything after I petted Cricket for the last time. Once home, I slowly approached each cat and let them sniff at my fingertips. Some of the cats backed up, upset, but more of them took a long time, sniffing carefully as if they were making sense of what they were smelling, a few of them gently licked at my fingers as a way to say their farewells.

 

2005 Cricket and Me 475
©2005 Robin AF Olson. Our most beautiful boy when he was just a few years old.

I hate death. I hate cancer. I hate that it robbed our boy of the long life he should have had. Now I have to figure out how to go on with another hole in my heart.

Fly free darling Cricket. I hope to see you again one day. July 5, 2004—July 14, 2016.

Crickets Urn Insta Version R Olson 450
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Cricket's urn remains on the cat bed he spent many happy days upon, sleeping in the sunshine. In a way it comforts me to see him there, but it also breaks my heart.

EPILOGUE: July 24,2016. Here I sit, wrapping up this monumental post, while another of our cats has fallen ill. Our 16-yr old cat, Nicky has been hospitalized for five days and is on an IV. We suspect he will be there for at least a few days more. His kidney function is not good and he has a fever and infection somewhere…or his elevated neutrophils could be a sign of cancer. I keep wondering how we can go on with one cat after another becoming so ill, so quickly. I keep wondering if these events are related, but we knew Nicky had kidney problems for which he’s been treated with fluid therapy for 4 years. He fell ill so quickly it was terrifying. Despair has never left my side this past month. I need her to leave me and my family alone. We’ve had more than our share of heartache and I can't take another sip, even if she tells me I must.

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.

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©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.

The Death of Everyone's Cat

 

I am a cat rescuer. It’s my goal to help every cat I can, to look out for them when others won’t, to give them safe harbor when their lives are in danger, but what I didn’t realize was that I still feel that way when the cat is no longer living.

 

A few days ago Sam and I were driving to NYC along Interstate 84. We’ve been on that road so many times that the trip is more like a meditation as we pass the same landmarks we’ve seen for years. But on this particular day, something stood out. Brilliant against the drab grayness of the winter landscape was a bright orange shape alongside the road. As Sam heard me gasp, he knew exactly why I was so upset.

There was a dead orange tabby laying on the side of the highway. In the seconds we had before we’d passed it by, one could have thought it was simply stretched out, sleeping, but it was 4° F outside. There was no way it could have been alive. I began to blubber, then ask if we should turn back. What could we do? It was Valentine’s Day, a Sunday, nothing was open. What would we do with the poor cat’s body? We needed to be in the city. I decided to post as much detail as I could on Facebook, on my Rescue’s page. I hoped somehow the word would get out. That someone else might be looking for their cat and see my urgent message. That someone might go get the unlucky creature. My day was ruined.

Not long after my post, I was contacted by a woman in the area looking for a cat that fit the description. I urged her to go get the cat, but she didn’t. It was 10 miles from her home, so maybe it wasn’t her cat. He'd gotten out from her home three days prior. Could he have travelled all that way?

I hoped the word would find its way to the right family. It looked to be big, healthy, not a lost boy. Someone must be missing him.

Monday was another holiday, President’s Day. Sam and I were going to go to the movies, but it meant driving past where the dead cat might still be laying. We decided to get all the information we could about its location in case it was still there. Just after mile marker 9.2 between exit 8 and 9 heading westbound, we saw the cat’s body again, but it had moved over into the grass. I don’t want to know what moved it or how. All I know is I was filled with so much despair, I told Sam I wanted to go home. I couldn't bear to sit in a movie theater and pretend to have fun when my heart was broken.

Along the way home I contacted the ACO of our town, but she couldn’t help since the cat was out of her jurisdiction. I hope she’ll be able to do something tomorrow when state offices are open again, but what is more heartbreaking to me is that it’s snowing now. Up to 5 inches of snow are expected, plus freezing rain, are due tonight. That cat deserves more respect than to be covered, lost in the snow, left on the side of the road like a piece of trash carelessly tossed out of a moving car.

I called my vet to see if he would store the body for a few days if I brought it to him, but he didn’t feel comfortable doing that. I’m sure it would be a big health risk, but I was running out of options.

I heard back from the woman who'd lost her cat. She'd gotten a trap and luckily her cat went right inside it. He was a bit worse for wear, but home safe. A happy ending for this orange boy, but would I ever find the family of the cat who passed away?

I tried to call anyone I could think of who could help but no one was working on a holiday. In the end, all I could do was go home and cry. I even took some medication to calm myself down because I could not stop thinking about him.

Some might say it was just a cat, who had an misfortune of trying to cross a busy highway and failed. I didn’t even know the cat, but as far as I’m concerned the welfare of all cats is my responsibility. Even though he’s gone, I want to rescue this cat from the side of the road. That’s all I want to do—give him the respect he deserves that he may never have gotten in life.

 

He is not just some cat. His life was precious and now it’s over.

 

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.

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©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.

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©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.

 

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©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.

 

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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.

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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.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Goodbye my love.

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

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

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

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