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2016: The Year in Review

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

January

Sick cats. Lots of sick cats.

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

Bright Side

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

No, it wasn’t.

 

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

 

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

February

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

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

Bright Side

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

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

March

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

Bright Side

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

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

 

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

 

April

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

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

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

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

…there is no bright side….

 

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

 

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

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Sweet Cricket.

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

May

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

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

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

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

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

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

June

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

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Izzy and the McFarlands.

 

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

 

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

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

July

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson.

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

August

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

Bright Side

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

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

September and October

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

November

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

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

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

Ugh.

 

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

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Buddy before sugary.

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

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

 

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

 

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

December

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

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

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

Bright Side

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

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

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

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

Final Words about 2016

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Of Cancer, Carbs and Cats: Return of the Ex. Part 1 of 3

I’m trying to figure out how to tell this story without sounding like a heartless bitch. I’ve written a few drafts, thrown them out, completely frustrated. I felt I had to write a heart-wrenching tale about someone with terminal cancer, who reached out to me for help, and how emotionally draining it all was. That part was true and I even know the person, but...I also felt manipulated, and as the days pass, I wonder if I was maybe just a sucker.

My old flame (O.F.) got in touch with me after 19 years. He needed a favor. We’ve been Facebook-friends for a long time, but we rarely ever communicate. I’ve seen photos of him, taking numerous fishing trips around the USA, but most often based out of his hometown of Sheepshead Bay, New York. He’s always pictured holding a big, dead fish. He’s proud and smiling. He’ll probably eat the thing later. I remember him being a good cook. He must have killed thousands of fish by now.

He lives with his girlfriend and she has a soon-to-be “tween” daughter. They look like a Hallmark-card-of-happiness in the images I've seen.

That’s why I was shocked to hear from O.F. I figured things were just ducky with him. He said he had bad news. He didn’t mince words. He was just diagnosed with cancer. Having two dear girlfriends who are also dealing with stage 4 cancer, I knew a lot about what he might be telling me next, about treatments, cure rates, staging.

The problem was they caught it very late in the game. His cancer, which started as a tumor in his stomach, metastasized (spread) into his liver. His liver was 90-95% full of tumors. The cancer had spread into his bones, too. The only treatment option was chemotherapy, so at least there was some hope he’d have additional time.

 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, his girlfriend and her daughter were moving out. Their relationship was over. O.F. would be alone during his remaining days. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t understand how someone could leave a relationship when things got tough. I couldn't believe this guy I'd known for more than half my life just got a death sentence handed to him.

I later mentioned this to my friend Pam, who just spent the last year getting cancer-related treatments and surgeries. She told me that a lot of women who get breast cancer also lose their husband or partner. Many people take off instead of lean in and support their mate when times get tough. I thought about all the sick cats I’ve dealt with, like Freya and Fred. I’ve never given up or walked away, no matter how painful the situation. I couldn’t fathom being so cruel, especially to my own partner.

Then, in a shaky voice, O.F. began to cry.

 

“I’m begging you. I need you to take my cats. The doc says I have to get rid of anything I have responsibility for. I had to quit my job. I can’t work. I can’t even walk around the block. How can I care for my cats? Can you help me? Please?”

 

Normally I can’t take on adult cats. We don’t have a brick and mortar shelter where they might get the attention of an adopter. Having the cats in my home meant someone would have to make an extra effort to meet these cats and it was unlikely that would happen given their age. I knew if I said yes, I’d have the cats for a long time—easily over a year. Where would they live? They were six years old. O.F. said they were friendly but that the boy, Buddy, had started peeing outside the litter pan. Something was wrong.

He told me he managed to get his soon-to-be-ex to take the cat to the Vet, but he was very vague about what they found out. I’d have to deal with that issue myself. Buddy’s sister, Belle, had no known problems but weighed 25 pounds. I thought O.F. was joking, but I later found out the joke was on me.

 

I had to say yes. I didn’t want to. I’m exhausted. I haven’t had a day off in SIX YEARS. I promised Sam I wouldn’t take any more rescues until 2017 so we could have some down time over the winter, but how could I say no?

 

Then the reality of their possible health issues made me think twice, too. How could I afford to provide care for a potentially very sick cat? Buddy might block up and the surgery to help him would easily break our bank account. I did not want to do this, but I couldn’t turn them away. We would deal with it somehow, some way.

A few days later, Sam and I spent the day driving back and forth to Brooklyn, NY, in terrible traffic, to meet and transport Buddy and Belle to our home. The plan was to get them acclimated, then move them to another foster home where they would enjoy a lot more space. I figured they’d need a week here, tops, then I’d work on promoting them and finding them a home after I got their vetting done and they were in their new foster home.

 

I was uncomfortable seeing O.F. again. It had been well over a decade since I’d seen him. He’d also been the guy I dumped Sam for. Ironically, I dumped O.F. after he cheated on me, then I went back to Sam after that. Yeah, awkward!

 

I also wondered if this might be the last time I saw O.F. alive.

Being in Brooklyn again was surreal. I missed the beat of urban life as we walked past the brownstones lining the streets to reach O.F.’s apartment. Years ago I spent most weekends in Brooklyn. I only had two cats at the time. I fed them dry food back then, so I could load them up with a pile of food, take off and have a weekend of going to restaurants and movies, while blindly thinking I was madly in love with someone who often acted like a drama queen and made me second-guess my value to him. It was so long ago it felt like another life that happened to another person.

I was worried about how Sam was going to take all of this, but as usual, Sam was understanding. He knew we were both there for the cats, not for a heartfelt reunion. It was business. It was a rescue mission. We’d done this before. We’d do it again.

Belle waiting
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Belle waiting for Sam to arrive and her journey to begin.

Seeing O.F. was definitely unsettling. Here I was back in his apartment. This is where I used to spend my time with him. It hadn’t changed that much. It was even darker than I remembered, being a third floor walk-through apartment with windows at either end of the space. I began to flash back to fragments of memories, but pushed them away, trying simply to focus on the task at hand.

 

I got a hug from O.F. when I reached the doorway to his apartment, but it didn’t feel familiar or comforting. O.F. was very distressed, far more so than I’d ever seen. He was older, still plump, still with a head of thick black hair, though now with added slivers of silver threaded through it. There were the killer dimples on his cheeks that once fooled me into thinking he was a sweet guy. Even though I recognized him, he was a stranger in many ways.

 

I understood his distress. I’d be distressed, too if I had his diagnosis, but as he spoke he seemed off. I’d ask a question and not really get an answer or get a different answer than he’d given me before. I realized it would be best just to ask about the cats and get as much history on them as I could. I was very matter-of-fact about it because I didn’t want to burst into tears thinking I was taking this man’s last comfort away from him when he needed them most.

He angrily declared his girlfriend told him to “suck it up” when he told her about his diagnosis. She’s a nurse. You’d think she would understand he would need her, but she said she was moving out and that she didn’t want her daughter to see him die. Really? Is that what you teach your child? When the going gets tough, go? I hoped O.F. was being dramatic. It wouldn’t have been the first time. If it was true, I couldn’t imagine much worse. He said he loved that kid and would have adopted her. Now they were leaving him to go through chemo and to face whatever future he had left on his own. There were moving boxes stacked near the dining table where we sat, but the woman did not want to see me take the cats away so she had left for a few hours. I wondered if she would have cared for the cats and perhaps if O.F. only wanted to hurt her by preventing her from giving them a home.

O.F. never asked me anything about my life or remarked on how seeing me again was good/bad/indifferent. He barely acknowledged Sam’s presence. He just went off on different tangents that didn't add up to anything that made sense. I kept trying to ask as many questions about the cats as I could. I knew we only had a few minutes. O.F. was getting tired and wanted to rest. We had to sort out getting the cats out of the apartment without being able to park near the building. It turned into a “thing.” Sam had to go get the car, which was parked a few blocks away, while I waited with Belle, alongside me in a cat carrier in the lobby of the apartment building. We’d tried to get Buddy into the carrier with Belle, but he flipped out. I left him upstairs to cool off.

Buddy being held by OF
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Buddy's last moments with O.F.

Thankfully we brought two carriers, but had left the second one in the car. Sam would illegally park by the building, I’d run out with Belle, then he’d give me the second carrier. I’d run up a few flights of stairs, load up Buddy, then bring him to the car. Sam would stay with the car to avoid getting a very costly ticket.

 

Things went as planned, but my heart sank when I got upstairs with the carrier for Buddy. O.F. was sitting on the end of the bed, holding Buddy in his arms. This was their final goodbye. Oh God, I felt awful taking the cat from him. He was visibly upset. I asked him if he was sure about this. If the chemo worked he could live another year or more. He nodded he was sure. We put Buddy into the carrier. I didn’t have much time to talk to O.F., other than to say a few words…and I struggled with what should I say.

 

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©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Buddy, terrified, begins his trip to our home.

 

Maybe this was it, the last time I'd ever see O.F., but there wasn’t time to fall apart. I touched his shoulder, giving it a hard squeeze and looked him in the eyes. I told him to fight, to not give up. I told him I understood this was dire, but that if they offered chemo it meant there was still a chance for good quality of life. I said, “Fight” with all the conviction I could, then leaned down and kissed him on the cheek.

 

I grabbed the cat carrier and with a heavy heart I made my way down the stairs as fast as I could. I’d just taken two cats from their dad when he needed them most. The only thing I was grateful for was that there were some really good Italian bakeries nearby. I had every intention of carb-loading in historic amounts to offset the horrible day we just had. I only had to keep it together long enough to get into the car as the poor cats cried out in alarm, their lives about to change forever.

Mounteleone
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. The best pasteries I've ever had, but they didn't make up for the emotional train wreck and terrible traffic we had to face.

Part two is up next...where I turn into a heartless bitch followed by turning into a heartbroken shell of my former self.

The Crossroad. Chapter 2. Life and Death.

(continued from Chapter 1)

I had a really really really terrible weekend. My diabetes diagnosis was on Thursday and by Friday I was terrified I had stable angina, too. I decided to be safe and began taking aspirin. It couldn’t hurt, right? I began to experience a mild reduction in symptoms. I wasn’t certain whether it was from the medication or the beginning of my new eating regime.

Speaking of which, Diabetes SUCKS. I read web site after web site of material trying to understand what to eat, when, what not to eat, how much of this or that to eat and it’s VERY CONFUSING. I should have been sent straight to a nutritionist instead of being given a few page printout telling me how I had to be careful about my nutrition choices and why I was diagnosed with Diabetes. I got to a point of frustration where I just went to bed and slept, even though it was in the middle of the day. I didn’t care. I was too angry and tired and my gut was killing me—I assumed from not eating much.

I was taking aspirin, two, every 4-6 hours, with a shaky hand. My gut hurt. I didn’t really want to eat. I had to force myself to eat something. All I thought about was the stress test on Monday and if I was going to live through it.

I was so scared all I did was have crying jags and try to come up with something meaningful to say if I died. What would my last-ish words be? I told Sam how sorry I was for the shitty things I’d put him through and that I loved him.

I told him we should end our engagement after seven YEARS and finally get married if I survived. He knew my duress was extreme, pushing me to say things like that, but in my heart I meant them.

Sam Moore Robin Olson BW
©2007 Robin A.F. Olson. Our engagement portrait.

My Will was out-of-date so I sat down and wrote something, anything to ensure some changes might be made if I died. I tried to write up a list of Bequests, too, but I was a member of crazy-town by then and my mind just couldn’t make sense of much of anything.

I looked over to my cat Spencer and I thought of him without me and what would become of him and the others and what of the foster cats? I knew if I did die I’d be leaving one huge mess for Sam and that upset me even more.

I tried to just sit in front of the TV, hoping to zone out and take a break from worrying, but it didn’t work. I couldn’t concentrate. All I kept thinking was; “Is this pain the sign of an impending heart attack and if so am I going to live through this? On Monday am I going to the hospital after my test? Will I need a stent? Why did I let myself get so damn fat? Why couldn’t I take better care of myself? Why couldn’t I love myself?”

As Monday dawned, my gut felt even worse. I had palpitations I was so anxious. At 11AM we had to be at the Vet to bring our 15-year old cat, Nora in for her first acupuncture treatment. I could have stayed home but part of me felt like maybe this was my chance to say goodbye to the staff. I didn’t want to think like that but what if I missed this chance? OR, would I seem like a nut worrying about what was going to happen and everything would be fine?In the end I decided to remain as stoic as possible and focus on our cat.

Thankfully, I was distracted by meeting our new Vet, Dr. Carmen. She was great with Nora and we were stunned to see Nora walk comfortably for the first time in years right after her treatment.

Nora getting acupuncture
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. Nora tolerated acupuncture very well and was purring through most of it.

Sadly, my anxiety returned as soon as we were on the way home. My appointment was at 2:45 PM so there was yet another two hours to wait until it was time to leave…the longest two hours of my life.

Sam drove me to my appointment, taking yet more time off from working. He’s been incredibly busy the last year and was getting very behind with his clients. I felt terrible about it, but I needed him more than ever and boy was I being nice to him to make up for it. I wonder if he thought he was with a different person? I'm usually not such a delicate flower to live with.

As he drove, I tried to make jokes. I told Sam I felt fine so we could go home. I noticed we were going to be quite early so I suggested he stop and get some coffee (because you do not want Sam’s coffee meter to go low-trust me on this). Sam pulled into a parking space at the mini-mall as I stayed behind, resting in the car, while he got his caffeine delivery device.

I looked around at the mall, watching the cars slowly pass by. It was a slate gray day and rather warm and humid. I wondered if this was it-this was the last thing I was going to see. I wondered if I did have to have some sort of scary procedure that I needed to just face it and go through with it so I could begin work recovering as soon as I could.

I have never been more scared in my entire life.

Sam drove us a few more blocks, then into the parking lot. There were a lot of cars parked at the Medical Building. It comforted me because I thought that if something happened surely there were plenty of doctors in the building who could help me. We entered the front doors passing some very senior citizens who had aides or family members assisting them. As I walked slowly past them, I felt very old, too.

The irony, perhaps, is that in my great fear, I wasn’t sure where we were supposed to go. I didn’t know the name of the office, only that they would do the stress test. We read the list of tenants, but none of the names sounded familiar. Fortunately I had made a notation on my calendar that said “Suite 107.”

It was just down the hall.

As we entered the room what struck me was how dingy and airless it was. There were no windows and the only light was those barbaric florescent tubes suspended in the ceiling that make you feel like your eyes are burning. We took our seats across from a small coffee maker/refrigerator that had a sign on it “For Stress Test Patients Only.”

Did they really want us having a cup of coffee before the procedure? We were the only people in the waiting room. There was no one at the desk. There was a note taped to the window by the desk that said to just wait and that someone would come out shortly.

I looked at the clock. It was 2:45 PM. I weakly held Sam’s hand as we sat there in silence. I wanted to say a million things to him, but there wasn’t time. I hoped that maybe he would say something important to me, but a few moments later the tech opened the door and called my name. I turned to him and gave him a quick kiss. I tried to look brave as I handed him my phone and purse. I wouldn’t be needing them any more.

The stress test did not go as expected. Find out what happened in my next post.

What the Heart Knows: The Fire Dept asks Us for Help. Ch 1.

I’ve come to the understanding that doing cat rescue is more often based on gut instinct than rational thought. Is one better than the other; one more appropriate to doing rescue? I suppose being rational would leave less to chance, but I also think that something gets lost in being so very careful. Mistakes are made, but lessons follow. Perhaps that’s how I make sense of this next story about a fearless little kitten whose accidental separation from his mother may have also been his saving grace.

My back has been killing me over the past week. So much so that the pain flares up to the point where I have to catch my breath and to sit down after standing for a short time. I blame it on no exercise, sitting here at the computer for hours without getting up, and having too small of a bed with too many cats vying for the same small space. Waking up with pretzeled limbs is okay some days, but after chronic repetition, my body had to revolt.

After lots of ice, heat, ice came some small relief. I had a bad health scare two weeks ago, heading to Urgent Care, certain I was having a heart attack. Fortunately, it was a confluence of issues, one being a possible ulcer from taking too much naproxen to counteract constant headaches-again from sitting down at the computer, eye strain, poor position at the keys. The other was from lifting too many heavy objects (aka taking cats to the vet) which pulled on the joints on either side of my sternum. The resulting double-whammy caused severe chest pain.

Something had to give.

I made big sweeping changes. I quit gluten and sugar. I don’t sit at the keyboard for long periods of time. I had to stop pain killers, for now, to let my gut heal. When my back started to go out, I decided to treat it with ice and heat, no meds…some rest…go easy…hope for the best.

With all that I did start to feel quite a bit better, other than missing having cake or a big fat croissant.

My back was improving. I figured another day or two and I’d be okay. That’s when the phone rang. It was after 6pm and usually I don’t pick up calls on the Kitten Associates line that late in the day. I need to have time for myself and I have to make boundaries, but I did look at the Google Voice transcript of the call. Even though the transcription leaves a lot to be desired (e.g.,“police station” is transcribed to “please state one”), I did see three words that caught my eye: Kitten and Fire Department.

There were two messages one right after the other. I listened to them both. One was from an associate who does wildlife rehabilitation. She told me that I’d be getting a call from the local 24/7 Vet hospital about a kitten that had been trapped in a wall and needed help.

 

Alarmed, I listened to the next message from the Vet. It said that a Lieutenant from the Danbury Fire Department had brought in a kitten that needed help and though they were sorry, since the “finances” couldn’t be provided, that they could not provide care and that I should call them to arrange to help this kitten since they turned it away.

 

I’ve had a problem with this Vet hospital for a long time. They’ve taken advantage of us before, having people call us when they can’t afford care, putting the burden of the life or death of that animal on whether or not we can pay the bill. I’ve had words with them about this. We’re a small rescue. We paid $1200.00 for one cat that did not even belong to us AND they called us at 10 PM the night of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting to put that life or death burden on us! What would we say-especially on THAT night? It wiped us out.

Here they are calling yet again, but this time for a tiny kitten they easily could have helped. At least they could have shown the Firemen how to feed and void the kitten. What would that have cost? The Fireman didn’t have to save the kitten. They did what they felt was the right thing to do. They pitched in. They didn’t charge anyone for their efforts. Why couldn’t this Vet give this kitten some support? No. They sent it away. Now it was on my rescue, with few resources, to take care of this fragile creature. Who know how many hours had passed since the kitten had been found? When did it eat last? Little ones need to be fed every few hours or even more often if they are neonatal. Every second wasted put the kitten at higher risk of dying.

 

Perhaps I was fueled by anger as well as the need to help this kitten. I didn’t know how old it was or when the last time it had been fed. I knew we had Celeste, our mama cat, who might accept a fifth kitten, especially since Fiorello, her third-born had died. I also knew it was a BIG RISK to put an orphan with another family. Without testing the mother, we’d never know if the kitten carried Feline Leukemia, FIV or something else. Potentially, he could sicken or even kill our entire litter of foster kittens OR Celeste might carry something that would sicken and kill the orphan.

 

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©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Little Star looks on as her mom, Celeste feeds the rest of the family. Would Celeste accept a fifth kitten?

Did I really want to try bottle-feeding again so close to just losing and failing another? What if this one died, too? Could I stand the heartbreak; the shame of failure?

 

It’s just one kitten. Surely I could find a place for him.

 

I called Lieutenant Katherine and spoke to her about the kitten. My heart was racing. What was I getting myself into? Time was of the essence. I couldn’t back out. My instincts told me to hurry along and not worry about the consequences.

Lt. K. told me the shift before hers had been on a call to a property where there were people living illegally. They reported hearing cries coming out of the inside of a wall. Since calling for help also meant they would be kicked out of their illegal squat, they weren’t particularly happy about calling the Fire Department. I’m not sure why they called. They could have opened up the wall on their own, but then what would they do? They might not have realized it was a tiny kitten crying. Perhaps they thought it was something wilder?

What I know is that the mother and siblings were nowhere to be seen. The firemen looked for them but were told she had probably left the crawl space she’d been hiding the kittens. One kitten was left behind-the one that was in the wall. He was very thin and crying for his mother. They discussed leaving him there to be found by his mother, but they felt the people living at the location could possibly harm the kitten. It was decided to remove the kitten and find him some help. They had no idea what to do for the kitten, other than keep it warm. They weren’t sure they should give it cow’s milk, which was all they had, so they opted not to give him anything.

I asked Lt. K. to tell me how big the kitten was. Was it’s umbilical cord still attached? From what I was told, that’s what I expected. Her reply surprised me. She said, no, that he was walking a little bit, that his eyes were open, but were blue. I asked if his ears were straight up and down and she replied no. From what she told me I figured we had a 2 to 3 week old kitten. Okay. I can do this. Bottle-feeding an older kitten isn’t so tough. I thought I could manage his care.

 

I surprised myself by saying I’d be there as soon as I could. Here I am jumping in with both feet. I didn’t ask if the kitten has fleas, if he was sickly, what he even looked like, if it WAS a “he.” It’s a kitten. It needs help. Case closed.

 

Chapter 2 is up next, where we finally meet the little kitten and try not to drool on the sexy firefighters.

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Forever in My Heart

It’s been less than a day since our former foster girl Bobette, who was named Kissy after she was adopted in May, passed away. Just typing those letters, “p-a-s-s-e-d” makes me cry. I’m still in shock and still hoping someone will call me and tell me it was just a bad dream, that the Vets figured out a way to save our sweet pumpkin girl and she’s going to be okay—but no one calls.

The events leading up to Kissy’s death, I’ll leave to her “mama,” JaneA Kelley of Paws & Effect to write about. This is her story to tell, with her cat. My post is about my reflections about a foster cat who just barely a year ago arrived in my home, with her three young sons. They’d reached the part of their rescue-story where all the shots are done, they are spayed or neutered, and all that’s left is for them to just have fun and wait for their adopters to find them. It’s usually the part of the story where we all can relax, knowing the worst is over and the best is yet to come.

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©2011 Betsy Merchant. A stray cat dumped at a Kill Shelter with her six newborn kittens waits for rescue.

Kissy didn’t have an easy life. I wrote a great deal about her and her boys, Jakey, Mikey & Teddy…and their three siblings, who passed away a few days after we rescued them from a Kill Shelter in Georgia. If you do a search on Covered in Cat Hair using the phrase: “Bobette” you can read all the stories, but here are a few: Life in the Pumpkin Patch
Bobette's Secret Pain
Harvest Time for Bob's Pumpkin Patch
and the Cat Writers' Association Certificate of Excellence winning: It Had to be You about Kissy's adoption.

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Kissy was rescued in honor of my cat, Bob Dole, after he passed away in September of 2011. He was a beautiful, brilliant orange Maine Coon tabby mix with piercing green eyes. When I saw Kissy’s photo and her brilliant orange coat and piercing green eyes, I knew I had to rescue her and her family...which also explains why she was originally named, Bobette.

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©2011 Betsy Merchant. Not eating for four days, Bobette was in dire straights.

Thanks to Maria, I had a foster home for the family until they were ready to come to Connecticut. Thanks to Bobby Stanford, I had someone to go bust this kitty and her babies out of the shelter before they got sick or were euthanized. The pieces fell in place. It was meant to be.

Kissy was far too thin and far too young to bear the burden of having six kittens. She began to recover and eat again, but after the loss of three of her kittens perhaps part of her shut down. She was a good mother for a time, but as the remaining boys grew, her love for them waned. She taught me that not all mothers and kittens suffer being separated. In fact, Kissy did better without her boys, though I know they missed her a lot.

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©2011 Bobby Stanford. Moments after rescue.

Kissy was just 9 months old when she had her kittens. I couldn’t blame her for wanting to be away from them, as she was barely a kitten herself.

Yesterday when JaneA called me and told me that Kissy had passed away, I broke down and sobbed, completely heartbroken. In that moment I realized something that I’d known for a long time, but perhaps was too close to it to see the truth—Kissy had taught me something else, my foster cat hadn’t just died, MY CAT just died.

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©2011 Maria S. Safe in Maria's home Kissy can finally relax.

The pain I was feeling was why many people can’t foster cats. They fall in love with them along the way and they can’t bear to be parted from them when the time comes. I realized that all these years of fostering cats that I truly do love each and everyone just the same and just as much as I love the cats who live with me for their entire lives, not just for a few months.

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©2011 Maria S. Kissy and her boys.

Each foster cat charms me, delights me, challenges me to learn more, to make fewer mistakes, to remember to cherish each day. I fall in love with each foster cat, not just a little, but fully, completely. I can’t build a wall to protect myself from how I feel about them. Instead of running away from that fear, I push into it. It does me no good to hide from feelings. In facing them head on, perhaps I gain some gentleness about saying goodbye when they get adopted.

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©2011 Maria S. Her spay surgery over, Kissy relaxes in a comfy bed at Maria's.

When I go for a drive, I often pass homes where my foster cats now live. They are still my cats, they just live with other families. I still feel the tether that connects us. I sense they’re out there and they’re okay and because of that, I’m okay, too.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Finally in my home, Kissy and I get to know each other.

Maybe I’ve been kidding myself for a long time that I love my foster cats, but never enough so I can’t let them go. It’s not true. I love them no less than my own, I’ve just been practicing letting go and rationally telling myself that I must do this so I can help more. It always hurts, but the pain is bittersweet because I know they'll be happy where they're going.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Family portrait with proud mama.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Kissy and son, Churchy (formerly Mikey).

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Lap time with Sam as Kissy recovers from her corrective surgery. In the end, the surgery didn't help Kissy live more comfortably. Her leg was too deformed to be corrected.

Kissy only lived for two years. She knew a lot of pain in that time, but in the last year she knew a lot of love; love from Maria, me, Sam and finally her true mama-JaneA. She knew it from her fans and friends online who were rooting for her surgery to go well and for her to take her first steps without pain. That didn’t get to happen. We’re all shocked and terribly sad that Kissy’s story didn’t get to have the happy ending we all wanted for her. Frankly, I can't stop crying about it.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Such a good girl.

Kissy’s short life will not be in vain. I don’t know what I’m going to do right now, but I’ll be doing something to honor her. Kissy taught me a lot and made me realize I was foolish to think that love could be restricted or spooned out in measured amounts. It’s all or nothing and I loved that cat completely. I will never forget her and I thank her for what she taught me. Maybe we’ll meet again one day? I can only hope so.

For now I share my grief with those of us who fought hard to give her a great life and who will keep fighting for other cats so that they may have the same chance Kissy did. She will never be forgotten and always be in my heart.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Fly free, my sweet. No more pain.

The Winds of Change-Part 4 of 4

The Cutest Kittens in the World

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Charly & Buttons.

Charly and Buttons are still here giving me a reason to smile. They are such darling creatures. I love spending time with them.

It looks like one of them will be getting adopted. I don’t want to jinx it by saying more, but I promise to update you when the time comes. Until then, I’ll greedily hold onto them and try to enjoy every second.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Clean those dirty toes!

Since writing this a few days ago, a few things have happened. Charly's been adopted by a wonderful couple from Boston! (Read his new mom's blog to keep up with Charly's adventures) Though I miss Charly a lot I know he's got a great home. Buttons is keeping me company and to help him, I asked foster-mama-Donna to let me take Bandit, Button's sister. That way Buttons wouldn't have to be alone.

The problem-Bandit is NOT happy to be here at all! Oops.

About the title: The Winds of Change

There’s a huge hurricane headed our way. They’re calling it Frankenstorm or simply, Hurricane Sandy. I’m having terrible flashbacks of a year ago when we were hit by “Snowmaggedon”—the worst week of my life without electricity or friendship (Sam and I had had a bad fight and spent the week ignoring each other…I broke off our engagement and gave back the ring.) With no heat, frigid temperatures, no water, no nothing I thought I was going to lose my mind. You can read the multi-part series HERE HERE and HERE and see a visual journal of my week from Hell.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Taking five from wrestling.

A year later, the same things seem to be happening again, as if on schedule. Because I know he reads this blog, I’m not going to say much other than a simple moment of irritation on my part turned into a full blown war on his. Sam has declared he is leaving me, we are done. It’s day five when we should be planning on getting through this next storm, but we can’t even recover from the one between us.

There’s a cascading effect once these cruel winds blow. There’s the obvious sign of bags and boxes being packed, but beyond that there’s a joint business being run that saves the life of cats. There are design projects that might have been worked on hand in hand and will now be done by other firms. There is a loss of livelihood and most likely a loss of my own home.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Game for Cats is a hit with these two.

Almost twenty years have ticked past. There have been plenty of storms along the way. The winds always bring us back together and we find a way to rebuild. With all the stress in our lives I can’t see where the resources are to find a place where things are okay again. I’m so beat down by everything else it’s just one more thing. It makes me sad to write that because it should mean so much more, but my bank account is almost empty and so is my heart.

That’s why I haven’t been able to write much this week. It’s hard to write when you’re looking out the window and know something horrible is coming your way. As if in a bad dream you can’t lift your legs and run, run, run. You have to stay there and wait and let the wild winds crash the tree limbs around you, let the rain wash over you, while you pray you don’t drown.

Calling All Angels for Jackson Galaxy (the cat)

Somewhere out there is a very special person who can accept the pain of loss as part of the cycle of life. Someone who doesn’t run away from fear, but can sit with it, feel its’ vibration run through their veins and not fall apart. They may wince or shudder, but they can stay in place, take a breath and have faith that another breath will follow. That in this moment everything is okay—even if one day there will be moments of great sadness.

They realize that their experience on this mortal coil is not all about them, but about helping others and being present in the moment and cherishing every second of what remains.

This person could look at a situation like the one I’m facing with Jackson and accept that life with him will be bittersweet.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson's ever the scamp with a big personality to match his big heart.

The test results are back. Jackson’s thyroid function is normal. It takes off the table any hope that his heart problems stemmed from something else that we could control or even cure. It also doesn’t resolve why he attacked my cats or why he still howls at night. His kidney function is slightly off—not a concern right now, but may be in the future. Jackson has a worsening bacterial infection, possibly in his gut, but we’re not sure. It will mean a longer course of antibiotics as he only got Baytril for a week. It may be why I caught him peeing outside the box once or twice and explain why he’s been fairly quiet the past few days.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Waiting for Dr. Larry.

 

The report from the cardiologist just came in. Jackson’s heart is in bad shape. Dr. April describes his condition as “Severe, Advanced Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.”

 

The lasix, ACE inhibitors and aspirin (a tiny amount every 3 days) haven’t caused any positive changes to his enlarged heart. It’s only been 10 days, but I was hoping to see more signs showing the medication was helping him—although he does seem to be more comfortable. Dr. Larry feels that Jackson's always had a bad heart and that it didn't stem from a virus or other issue.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

The other thing Dr. Larry mentioned was how difficult it is to handle Jackson. When he’s at the Vet, Jackson gets amped up. They can handle him for a few minutes but to do more than that Jax begins to get nasty with the staff. His heart rate soars and his breathing becomes labored.

It’s possible that just going to the Vet could push Jackson over the edge.

 

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Taking a break at Dr. Larry's, but even with a hands off approach Jackson is still vexed.

That’s why I chose to have extra blood tests done since we had the sample available. I don’t know when we’ll be able to draw more blood. I don’t know how we’ll be able to repeat Jackson’s echocardiogram in a safe way next month.

We can’t sedate Jackson, so how do we expose him to a long car ride AND an exam at the cardiologist?

 

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©2012 Betsy Merchant. Jackson at the Kill Shelter.

I’m tempted to look at this situation and think that Jackson was meant to be with me. I saw his photo in a mass emailing, asking rescue groups to save this cat at a Kill shelter in Georgia. Something about him made me want to save his life. Then cruel thoughts emerge—maybe he would have been better off if they euthanized him at the shelter? Was it worth all this stress, transport to Connecticut, living in a shelter, being moved back and forth in cars because his previous adopters traveled a lot, then losing that home and coming to mine—only to have little time left to live?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Home from the Vet, Jackson still prefers to hang out in the cat carrier.

 

I took a chance on rescuing an adult cat, but I never thought it would mean taking on one with a fatal heart condition.

 

If I hadn’t been so diligent about finding out why his breathing looked odd to me, Jackson would probably be adopted with a ticking time bomb inside him that would destroy his unsuspecting family.

We know what ails Jackson, but we don’t know if there’s anyone who lives close by (we can’t transport him far ever again) who would want to open their home to a cat who probably isn’t going to live a very long time. Dr. Larry said months, years if we’re lucky.

Truly only someone with the heart of a lion would adopt Jackson and I hope very sincerely they’re reading this post. Jackson deserves a home where he doesn’t have to vie for attention as he has to do here. He’d be happy with a cat or two to make friends with, but that’s a quiet place full of love and compassion.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. I don't know why Jackson prefers cardboard, even after I bought him a nice new cat bed, but he likes what he likes.

I turn my head and see Jackson curled up in a cardboard canned cat food tray that’s on the floor. It’s not fancy, but he likes it. He’s resting quietly. All is well. I look at him and tears burn my eyes as I struggle not to cry. My life is about rescuing cats, about saving their lives and finding them wonderful families to share their life with. It’s not supposed to be like this.

 

Jackson is supposed to get better. I want his story to have a happy ending, not a tragic one.

 

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I wrote most of this post yesterday before Dr. Larry told me about the severity of Jackson’s heart condition. After a brief discussion…

…it was clear to both Sam and myself that Jackson already found his angels-if I may be so bold to refer to ourselves like that. We’ve decided we’re going to keep Jackson here where he’ll become the face of Kitten Associates.

He shouldn't have to endure the stress of moving to another home and trying to adjust. He has his home here with us. It’s not perfect, but we do love him. We’ll keep him in our program because we honestly can’t afford to provide for another cat and had no plans to add to our family. We’ll set up a special donation page for him and continue to update everyone on how he’s doing since I know so many of you care about him and ask after him.

 

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson holding his catnip heart.

I had no idea that one day I’d say I was living with Jackson Galaxy, cherishing him and protecting him until his last day, but there you go. Life is full of irony and surprises.

I’m just trying to keep my chin up and be brave for Jackson and enjoy every moment we have together until there are no more.

Jackson's Broken Heart

Perhaps it's fitting that as I write this my chest feels tights and my sinuses are plugged up. My sole goal for today is to write this update then finally go to bed and rest. With all the effort surrounding Jackson and his care, I couldn't let a cold stand in my way, but I realize I've been flirting with getting pneumonia (again) and if I'm sick I can't care for him.

Jackson. How's he doing?

Jackson responded to the lasix and ACE inhibitor treatment over the course of Wednesday evening. First, the crackling lung sounds subsided, then were gone. The fluid build up in his lungs was resolved. This was a great sign.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson. Waiting.

Jackson's respiration was still too fast, but slower than it was when we first brought him in. This told us the lasix was working to remove the fluid around his heart that was making him feel so uncomfortable in the first place.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson. Here's Jackson! At last!

By Thursday morning, Jackson was off oxygen and in a “regular” cage. After retesting his blood pressure and respiration, the Vets, including a cardiologist and critical care specialist, felt that Jackson was getting close to being stable enough to go home. On Jackson's chart was a warning note-that he was fractious and for the staff to handle him with caution. Perhaps it was the treatment or simply feeling better but Jackson stopped being aggressive and the staff found he was a joy to be with.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson. With boo-boo bandage still intact, Jackson finally heads home.

They also asked me what Jackson was being fed and I told them not to feed him dry food, at least. They gave him canned Friskies, which they knew I'd not be thrilled about, but Jackson ate it right up, the final clinical sign that told the Vets he was ready to go home.

Yesterday afternoon Sam and I drove to VCA Shoreline Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center. We knew we weren't going to pick up a cat who was cured of his illness, but at least we were going to pick up a living cat. Jackson had begun a transformation, but I didn't know how he would be different; would he have more energy? be cranky? be difficult to pill?

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson.

The other big question was; NOW WHAT? What would become of Jackson?

The brutal blow about all of this was the news I'd been keeping secret. Jackson was about to be adopted.

A great family met Jackson a few days before and had decided that he was the one for them. I couldn't ask anyone to take on the care of a cat with a terminal disease. It was too much to hope for that they'd still want to bring him home after I told them the sad news.

In a way, the possible adoption saved Jackson's life-that and the sad fact that my dear cat, Stanley died of HCM when it was too late to do anything to help him. Stanley's respiration mimicked Jackson's and for that reason I felt that I wanted to get Jackson checked out one more time before he got adopted. I had a feeling something was off with Jax and at least, even with the costs and fear for his future, it was worth it. Maybe we caught it in time to still give him a good quality of life?

We spoke with Jackson's Vet and she went over the many details about his care going forward. First, Jackson must be medicated with 2 TINY pills, 2 times per day. He's also on a short course of Baytril since he did show signs of having some sort of infection/upper respiratory issues. Jackson will also be on a small dose of aspirin every 3 days. This is to prevent his blood from clotting. Cats with HCM can “throw a clot” which often causes their back legs to become immobilized. It also can cause death.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson.

In addition to medications, Jackson will need MORE tests done. Doing a FreeT4 blood test is important because heart problems can be brought on by hyperthyroidism so that needs to be ruled out. Jax will also need another echocardiogram in 2 to 3 months and followup blood work to check his kidney function. The problem with HCM, in addition to the obvious, is that the extra fluids we need to keep off Jackson's heart put a strain on the kidneys. If Jackson has renal disease, it's game over.

It's too early to say what Jackson's future holds. There's more to be done to find out the root cause of his heart ailments.

We have to wait and see how he'll respond to the drug therapy over time. We couldn't even discuss if he has years or months. We thought Jackson was two, but turns out he's closer to five years old. He's still a young cat, so perhaps he'll be with us for a long time to come.

Last night we got Jackson home and he hit the litter pan and had what must have been a very satisfying pee. He wanted to be fed but only nibbled on his food. He spent an hour on the bed but most of the night inside the cat carrier we used to bring him to the Vet. This morning he didn't want to eat, but I managed to get him pilled.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson. At home on the bed with Spencer.

This morning, as I started to put a game plan together of what to try to tempt Jackson with, he started to meow. He came over to me and rubbed up against my legs. I asked him if he was hungry and he meowed in reply. I grabbed some cat food, warmed it up and offered it to him. Sam and I had to stand as sentries to keep the other cats away since they were still waiting for their breakfast to thaw out while Jackson finally ate.

It was a marvelous sight.

Though he didn't eat well, he DID eat, then wanted a bit more a bit later.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson. This morning.

I find myself watching Jackson's chest rise and fall, trying to be prepared at any moment to run him to the Vet. His breathing is more fluid, smoother, slower and more normal, but it's tough not to feel panic. We have to stay watchful, but we have to give it time so we can all adjust.

Jackson just cried just now. I went upstairs to check on him. He got out of his cat carrier and came over to me. He purred as I petted him. I lowered my head down to his and he rubbed his forehead against mine. Maybe he was telling me “thank you for saving my life” or maybe he was just feeling a bit lonely. Whatever the reason, I was glad to see this sign of him feeling better. He really IS a good boy.

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A sweet note from some of Jackson's fans.

It's time for me to go back to bed and finally get some rest. Jackson needs it, too. It's been a tough few days on all of us, but this reminds me never to take even a single day for granted. You really don't know what tomorrow will bring.

If you'd like to join the MANY WONDERFUL PEOPLE who have donated towards Jackson's growing Vet bill, please visit this link on ChipIn to donate. THANK YOU!

The Silver Lining and the Black Clouds part three

Everything that wasn't related to caring for cats, cleaning up after the cats, or trying to figure out what was wrong with the cats, was put on hold over the weekend. Plans were cancelled. I made notes about who was eating, what they ate, if they vomited. I did research and spoke to my friends who were as confused as I was as to what was going on. We tossed around some ideas: Feline panleukopenia/Distemper, Parasites, a virus, food bourne illness. Nothing really added up. Four of the nine cats weren't eating. One cat was vomiting. Two cats had diarrhea (that I knew of). Four cats were “limp.”

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Mr. Unhappy at the Vet. Thankfully Spencer's blood work was normal, good even, for an 11 year old cat.

I was in a trance of despair. I couldn't do much other than worry. My temper was on a hair trigger. As I laid in bed Saturday night, hoping that by Sunday things would get better, I realized I was alone. There were no other cats on the bed. Spencer, who has a little routine with me most nights, was nowhere to be seen. My heart sank as I realized how much he meant to me. My inner voice chided me with a quote from an unknown author; “You never know what you've got until it's gone.”

Usually after I get into bed, I turn over onto my right side. Spencer will walk from the foot of the bed up towards my head. I have my right hand under my pillow. He'll lay across my arm and place his front paws onto my pillow, pining me in place. He's so fluffy that his fur covers my face. His purr is so loud I have no hope of sleeping. It sounds terrible, but I like it. I like the closeness-that he wants to send me off to dreamland even if it means he's smothering me (in a nice way, I'm sure).

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Spencer giving me a nasty look because I interrupted him when he was getting ready to spoon with me.

Other nights he'll wait until I turn onto my left side. He'll make the same initial approach, but this time he'll turn his back to me and snuggle under my arm, effectively spooning with me. He never stays more than 15 minutes or so, but it's his way of saying good night. As I pet him, I relax and can fall asleep knowing all is well with my little cat-world.

Yet there was no good night that night or the next. I woke each morning in a panic, wondering where Spencer was. He was hiding between two storage containers under the bed or he found he way back into the basement to hide so well it took another hour to find him. I couldn't bear it.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. At least the DOOD was spared from getting sick-so far-knock wood.

Worrying about Spencer was bad enough, but it's curious how something completely banal, like feeding your cat, becomes the most precious moment of the day when your cats are sick. I so desperately wanted my cats to eat, but even the ones I didn't believe were sick barely touched their food.

By Sunday, with tempers flaring between the human residents, I left the house. It wasn't to escape, even if in my heart I wished I could just keep driving. It was simply to buy cat food. My goal was to purchase a wide variety of food, from expensive delicacies to what I would consider total junk. We were on day three. The cats HAD to eat.

Everyone who works at the store where I buy my cat food knows me-no surprise. As I walked into the store, Lindsey came over to say hello. She took one look at my expression and asked me what was wrong. I told her about the cats being sick and she walked me over to the cat food aisle to help me make some choices.

Most of you know I'm very picky about what my cats eat. They NEVER get dry food, but this time I had to make an exception. I figure if I eat cookies (more often than I care to admit-like right now while I'm writing this), they can have kibble this ONE time IF they'd eat it. I'd get something high quality, with only one grain. I'd also by lower quality canned food and some very nice “on your birthday” type of expensive canned food. At that point it didn't matter-as long as they ate.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Oh Lindsey, you slay me!

Linsey excused herself, then returned a few moments later. She asked me what I thought. I looked up and in her hands was a huge sex toy. My eyes almost popped out of my head! Before I could say a word she said; “No…it's a DOG toy…for DOGS.”

For a moment, all the tension in my body slipped away as if a trap door opened up under it and it rushed into a puddle at my feet. I took a photo and smiled, appreciating the fleeting moment of happiness. Just as quickly, my shoulders slumped and I sighed as I turned to select a few more cans of food. Back to it. I had to get home soon.

Petunia and Gracie weren't eating. After trying many options, I finally cajoled 'Tunie into eating a small amount of dry food, but the second the other cats heard the sound of it hit the dish they ALL wanted some. Since Petunia is skittish, trying to feed her without the other cats interfering was nearly impossible. I had to toss them pieces of kibble so they'd run off to grab them as Petunia took wary mouthfuls, ready to dash off if I moved too fast.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. I blocked some of this out. You get the point without having to see the goo in all it's “gory.”

Nicky remained the most sick of all the cats.We caught him moving his bowels on the floor, then caught him peeing on the floor. Either he was too sick or in too much pain to make it to the pan. All we could do was clean it up and move on.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Gracie getting 150mL of fluids.

I decided we needed to give the sick cats subQ fluids. I'd completely forgotten how beneficial it might be, especially if they had diarrhea they'd suffer fluid loss. We had a phone consult with a homeopathic Vet in Florida (thanks to Jen for hooking us up at the last minute!) who agreed that fluids would be great. We were to also try some remedies that I had on hand and we had to get some Bentonite Clay to help cure the liquid stools without having to use harsh pharmaceuticals.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Spencer got 80 mL because he was too cranky to get more.

Sam and I were barely speaking to each other at that point, but we worked together to get the cats their fluids. I also took the temperature of some of the cats (I want to keep all my fingers so I couldn't temp all of them) and gave them their remedy and the Bentonite Clay. I felt that in doing something like this it was at least buying us time. Maybe it would help, who knew? None of the cats I tested had a fever. That was good news. We could hold off on going back to the Vet for awhile longer.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Petunia only got 100 mL of fluids, but I felt lucky to get that much into her.

I felt a glimmer of pride that we got the job done. I was rewarded a few hours later when Spencer came over to me and “told me” he was hungry. He didn't eat much, but he did eat.

No other cats seemed to be getting sick, but that could change in a heartbeat if this was something that the cats could reinfect each other with. So far the kittens in the foster room were eating well and behaving normally. At least they were all right (so far, knock wood!).

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Both feeling sick and tired, Spencer and I have a nap.

Any satisfaction I had was short lived. I got sick, too. Was this a coincidence or was this yet another clue? I felt awful and though I wasn't vomiting I did have other similar symptoms to what the cats were experiencing. What the HELL was going on?

Stay tuned for part four, the PCR test of POOP that may tell us what happened, the triumphs and the surprise…yes there's more to this story…the silver lining is coming soon, I hope.

The Silver Lining and the Black Clouds part two

German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said; “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”After enduring the past four days I would add; “That which does not kill us, makes us eat a bag of Lays Wavy Potato Chips and a container of French Onion dip—and feel no guilt in doing so.”

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. You can tell from Nicky's posture that he doesn't feel well.

Nicky was the camel and white colored canary in the coal mine. It started on Friday. Nicky wasn't “right.” He wouldn't eat and he vomited. As I was about to brush my teeth, I heard the sound of water running. I turned to see Nicky urinating on the floor a few feet away from me. A few hours later, he walked over to the base of a cat tree and began to urinate on it-not even stopping as I started to scream, unable to reach him through the jungle of furniture blocking my way. I was jumping up and down like a two year old having a tantrum. I had no effect on his eliminating. He just kept peeing. There was no way to get to him from where I was standing so all I could was watch him ruin something else.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. With Dr. C and Super-Deb.

Nicky has Chronic Renal Failure and has been known to get urinary tract infections (as I wrote about HERE). Clearly something was WRONG. Dr. Larry was out of town until Monday so I made an appointment to bring him in then. I HATE it when Dr. Larry goes away because we often seem to have an emergency when he's not available. As the day wore on, Nicky grew weaker. I took his temperature. It was 103.2°F. He had a fever. We couldn't wait until Monday.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Fun at the Emergency Vet…and this was the cost to basically have them hook up the IV to Nicky's catheter (which was in place already) and giving him a place to lay in over night.

Dr. C examined Nicky and took his temperature again. It was over 104°F. They took some blood and did an in-house test. The good news was that basically the values did not indicate something terrible was going on-like kidney failure or high white blood count, which would show he had an infection. The bad news was that we didn't know what was going on but with a fever on the rise we agreed he should be on an IV. The Vet closed in two hours so they could get him started, but we'd have to move him to the Emergency Vet to continue treatment overnight.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Portait of a sick kitty.

Sam and I cringed. Hearing “Emergency Vet” means huge expense. How were we going to pay for all of this? How could we not? We HAD to find a way. Both of us were panicking. We had to wait and see how Nicky would respond to treatment first before we'd even know if he needed to be moved.

Nicky's temperature when to 105.1°F. After two hours it went down to about 103°F so there was a chance a few more hours of treatment would benefit him.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Another Vet, another examination with Sam reaching out to comfort his cat.

It would have been somehow manageable if we only had to help Nicky, but after getting him settled at the Emergency Vet and putting another charge on my AmEx, we discovered he wasn't the only cat who was not feeling well.

With all the commotion going on with Nicky, I didn't get to pay as much attention to the others cats as I would have liked. Even with that, I did notice something out of the ordinary. When we got home around 7pm, I realized I hadn't seen Spencer ALL DAY. I knew he hadn't eaten his breakfast. He's not always a fan of turkey, but this cat always shows up for a meal.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky with Sam.

Sam and I tore through the house, calling out to Spencer. The longer it took, the more I started to panic. Had he gotten outside? Was he stuck in a closet? Spencer has no real meow, so he couldn't cry to us for help. Where the heck was he? Why wasn't he showing up for dinner? Now that I thought about it, where were the rest of the cats? None of them were hungry and waiting by their food dishes. Something was wrong. Something bad.

Sam found Spencer in the basement, which is very tough area for the cats to get into. For Spencer to not be near me or near any of us was a bad sign. Spencer wouldn't eat his dinner. In fact most of the cats were off their food. I told myself there was no need to panic. No one would die without eating for a day.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky at the Emergency Vet hooked up to his Heska VetIV 2.2

The next morning we got the news that Nicky's fever broke and he'd eaten a small amount of food. He was ready to come home. The news should have been cause for celebration, but Spencer had vanished again and I knew he had to go to the Vet, too. It wasn't a big, obvious sign of sickness but it's so out of the ordinary I had to make sure he wasn't sick, too.

Again I started to panic. We'd just spent so much money on Nicky, would anything be left for Spencer? I was angry and resentful, all stemming from the fear that I wouldn't be able to do for Spencer what we just did for Nicky. If Spencer was ailing, I HAD to do something for him, but my own Vet refused to just give me antibiotics without seeing the cat firstI realized they were right, but I was truly hurting. There's dust in my bank account. I thought about home remedies and trying to avoid a Vet visit, but Spencer was due for blood work and a checkup anyway. If I could avoid hospitalizing him, I'd be able to have the exam and tests for done, but I couldn't do much more.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Saying good night to Nicky.

I took Spencer's temperature. It was 102.3°F which put him in the range to be percolating a fever. I was really missing Dr. Larry and wishing I didn't have to see Dr. C, but he'd seen Nicky so he could compare the cat's symptoms.

The exam went fairly well. The Vet retained use of his fingers. Spencer's not the easiest cat to mess with and he gets crabby if he's at the Vet. I warned the staff and fussed over Dr. C, worried he'd get bitten. Spencer was pretty good-for Spencer. They managed to get some blood and sent it out for testing. Since we didn't know what was going on the Vet suggested putting him on antibiotics “just in case,” but I won't do that without having a darn good reason. It could make whatever is going on even worse. I'd do the best I could for Spencer until we had the test results.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky being a good boy, as usual.

I started making charts and lists of each cat-if they ate, if so, what they ate. I was looking for a pattern. I began to have suspicions that Gracie, Petunia and Jackson were also getting sick based on my notes about them not eating and their behavior. I knew I'd just had Boogie in the house. He was separated from my cats and I washed my hands and showered after I was with him, even though I didn't touch the kitten until the last day he was here. Boogie was VERY sick, but he had an upper respiratory infection, not something potentially gastrointestinal. What was going on?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Hiding under the bed between two storage containers-not a good sign.

Feeding time was bizarre, maybe one or two cats showed up for their food. The others weren't even in the vicinity. I'm so accustomed to the energy of feeding time, the cats circling, meowing, the sound of them lapping at their food. It was too quiet. My babies weren't eating. My fear factor increased tenfold.

Did I bring something into the house to sicken them? How was I going to be able to provide more and more Vet care for ALL my cats at the SAME TIME? How was I going to keep each one alive? Some of them are very tough to handle. How could I help them survive whatever was going on?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My poor, sweet baby, Spencer-the mascot of Covered in Cat Hair.

Saturday night the mood in the house was downright miserable. Nicky stopped eating again. of course, the benefits of the IV wore off. Whatever he had, whatever Spencer and the others may have was not going to just go away. We had to buckle down and figure something out. The clock was ticking. The spector of Hepatic Lipidosis was hanging over our heads. If the cats didn't start eating soon, they could all sicken and die. This is why you can't put a cat on a diet. This is why if you don't get some food into the cat after four days, your cat could enter a whole new world of pain.

We were approaching day three. Time was running out and we had more questions than we had answers….

Stay tuned for part three next..and YES, there IS a silver lining coming…

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