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For Margo. Ch 3. From Heartache to Hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My heart sank, but I still still hopeful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fly free

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

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

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

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

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

Except that it wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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24 Hours Later...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOTAL CAT MOJO: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat

Cats are evolving as they navigate from living in the wild, to a life spent indoors with humans. The resulting problems that inevitably follow when two species try to get along in a shared space, but don’t speak the other’s language is the core of Jackson Galaxy, the New York Times bestselling author of Catification, and host of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell’s, latest book, TOTAL CAT MOJO: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat.

Galaxy kicks off this charmingly illustrated guide with a story surrounding a phrase he coined: Cat Mojo. What is it? Why is it important that our companion cats have mojo in the first place? It’s something we all notice, but may not have a word to describe it. Each of our cats have it to varying degrees, but each cat is different. At their core is a confident creature either yearning to blossom (and who needs our compassion and support to get there) or one who is already strutting his or her stuff, but may be causing other strife in the human home.

As others have written before him, Galaxy dives deeper, underscoring that we can never truly understand our cats until we look at the world through their eyes, not our own. We cannot have a relationship, yes, relationship with our beloved cats without getting to know what makes them tick.

Galaxy hits this point home in a heartfelt, passionate way, nearly imploring all of us to get down on all fours and look around. It’s a different view of the world from under the sofa or on top of the ‘fridge, when we’re terrified of the dog, the kids, or simply being a stranger in a strange land—as cats often feel entering their “forever home” for the first time.

 

To get to know our cats, Galaxy starts at the very beginning. It’s like we’re on a date with our cat and the first question we ask is “Where are you from?” He and co-author, Mikel Delgado, Phd, go into great detail about where cats were first known to exist millions of years ago, along with a timeline of how they slowly, but surely began a journey, living closer and closer to humans until only recently (less than 100 years), they began to live indoors with us full-time. This part of the book effected me deeply. It was a reminder in ways I hadn’t considered that my fluffy, purring, sleeping-on-my-lap-cat, is still a hunter, not far removed from his wild-child ancestor.

 

Being out of touch with our cat can result in all sorts of behaviors that we humans consider unacceptable. Those “bad” behaviors can lead to a terrible ending, literally, for the cat, when they get surrendered to a shelter, kicked out on the street, or worse, and Galaxy lays down the challenge line asking us to reconsider this label.

 

Once you understand your “Raw Cat,” Galaxy provides a section he refers to as his toolkit, a little like his guitar case, filled with in-depth information about the particulars of how cats spend their day, their natural rhythms, their need for predictability in their environment and what happens when that gets disrupted.

 

TOTAL CAT MOJO: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat, at 345 pages, is a must-read for anyone who just got their first cat or who has a cat or two (or eight), but who finds themselves completely frustrated by their antics. This book is filled with “ah-ha” moments, clearly written as if you’re in the room with Jackson himself and he’s your private tutor. Galaxy includes occasional asides that remind us he’s been there, too. This is no preachy tome. It’s very accessible to any cat lover and I highly recommend it.

Where I feel this book hits a bump in the road is with the amount of catch-phrases or special lingo. That said, if we are to truly understand our cats, perhaps we need a new lexicon and if so, this is it.


©2017 Robin AF Olson. Kitten Associates foster kitty, Annie Jones, showing off her #TotalCatMojo.

What I loved about TOTAL CAT MOJO: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat was that Galaxy gave reason after reason why free-feeding kibble is bad for your cat and for a cat to be truly Raw (and therefore closer to his ancestral self) he has to be fed a raw meat diet. He also goes into depth about the often dreaded litterbox issues many people face (Galaxy refers to it as “Raising the Yellow Flag”). I have a feeling many who read “Cat Daddy’s 10 Litter Box Commandments—Quick View,” will cheer, knowing that at last they have hope of a remedy that will work for everyone, humans and cats alike.

 

TOTAL CAT MOJO: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat is the universal translator to understanding your cat’s language and why it’s vital we be willing to invest in a deeper, more compassionate relationship with our cat. Cats have been misunderstood for decades, with deadly consequences, but with Jackson Galaxy at the helm, those notions are changing, and for that I applaud his efforts.

 

TOTAL CAT MOJO: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat is available NOW!

 

If you want to SEE Jackson Galaxy LIVE and in person, he’s starting a book tour starting November 1, 2017. Pop over HERE to get details of when he’ll be in a city near you!

 

Like what we're up to? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! Learn more about our rescue, Kitten Associates!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from tarcherperigee. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

#TotalCatMojo #JacksonGalaxy #TeamCatMojo #CoveredinCatHair

The Rock Star's Fifth Daughter. The Perplexing Case of Holly Kellogg. Part 5

(continued from Part 1, 2, 3 and 4)

Then this happened…

 

…I got to meet my cat behavior mentor, Pam Johnson-Bennett.

 

 

Seventeen years ago I read Pam's book, “Think Like a Cat” and it changed my life. A light went off, a fresh awareness blossomed; cats are not humans in little furry outfits nor do they think like them. They think like cats. It may be stating the obvious, but understanding how to decode those motivations, behaviors is eye-opening. A cat peeing on the bed or other unwanted (by humans) behavior is perfectly appropriate in the cat-world. They're sending a message in cat-language, but when they live with humans who don't speak "cat," that's when conflict occurs.

 

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The meeting almost didn’t happen. I’m dealing with two sick 7-week old kittens, Weatherby and Willoughby, and I was worried about leaving them alone while Sam drove us to New York City to attend Pam’s Cat Wise Cat Cafe Tour (thanks to Wellness Natural Pet Food) at Meow Parlour.. It was to celebrate the launch of her latest book, Cat Wise. I knew there wouldn’t be another chance to speak with Pam and the timing couldn’t be better for Holly. I could ask Pam about Holly’s case and get feedback on whether or not I was nuts to take her to my home as part of the solution for her inappropriate elimination problems.

I fed the kittens and cleaned their goopy eyes right before we left. I figured we could do the trip in about five to six hours, most of it being the drive-time between Newtown and New York City. It was a lovely cool spring afternoon and fortunately with good weather meant the drive time should go smoothly.

Or not.

We had planned to arrive by 6:30 PM but the traffic was so bad we got to Meow Parlour just as the event was going to get under way at 7:30. Thankfully, even though we were running late, I had a chance to get my photo with Pam. Many people didn't show up regardless of the event being booked solid. Not only was it rude of those folks to skip out, but I couldn’t imagine why they’d miss this rare opportunity to meet Pam if they were cat lovers. The good part about it was I got to have more time with Pam...and I freely admit that I was all "fan girl" with her. Totally embarrassing, but what the heck. I love PAM! She's my heroine!

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Pam giving out tips while one of Meow Parlour's foster kitties looks on.

 

Pam gave the audience some great tips and things to think about to help them better understand their cat. What delighted me is she was willing to take on cat behavior problems and offer suggestions. One of the folks there stunned some of us by saying she took her cat on the subway every weekend and that she was worried about the stress on the cat. Then she added, the cat traveled loose inside her PURSE. No wonder the cat was scared!

 

Even though I wanted to scream at the woman, Pam was calm and relaxed. She gave very clear suggestions and explained why these things needed to be done. Meanwhile Sam and I were rolling our eyes at each other, stunned that anyone could be so foolish.

I asked Pam about Holly and she began to suggest things I’d already done but didn’t have a chance to tell her. She quickly realized we were well down the path of things cat behaviorists can suggest. Then I told her about my out-of-the-box idea of bringing Holly to my home for kitten bootcamp. She said it was a good move and the right choice. She confirmed what I’d wondered from day one-Holly needs a buddy. Her peeing on even a shower curtain covered bed, on her “mom’s” side of the bed is saying she wants to bond with her family and is anxious they are going to leave her alone again.

This explains why that after almost a week here, Holly has used her litter pan perfectly. Even though I'm not in the room that often, Holly has become friends with Andy and even Annie is starting to tolerate her. This was the answer I needed. Of course it begs the question of “now what?” "How do we take the next steps?"

Holly has been introduced to Annie and Andy already and they do well together. Would Stephen and Kirsten go this far for Holly? I knew they’d be ok with a buddy-kitty for Holly, but two? At least they didn’t have to spend another thousand dollars doing more testing on Holly, so that was good news.

This is somewhat uncharted territory. My gut says they should all three together because it would be easier on the family. It’s a known quantity. They don’t have to introduce a new kitten to Holly and frankly I don’t know what Holly might do in her home with a new, unknown cat there. Pee more? If they don’t do the introduction correctly, then what happens? BUT, it means adding two more cats because they want to keep one. That's just crazy!

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Pam Johnson-Bennett (left), me (center), Sam (right).

 

I so was energized by talking with Pam. It also helped my confidence soar. I identified the problem early on but I had to go slowly and rule out other things before jumping to adding a new family member.

 

The true test is to return Holly to her home. I could probably return her tomorrow, when the Kellogg ladies come to visit. It would mean Holly leaving two weeks early, but without Stephen home it wouldn’t be a fair test. And do I tell the Kelloggs NOW about what I’ve learned or wait at least another week to see if once Holly is settled down she’ll start to pee on the bed?

As excited as I am I should wait a bit longer. Holly can stay here and I can be even more sure it’s the right thing by the time Stephen is back from being on tour.

 

The only problem is, I just found an adopter for Annie and Andy.

 

[To be continued…]

The Rock Star's Fifth Daughter. The Perplexing Case of Holly Kellogg. Part 2.

(continued from Part 1)

After my first visit, I put together a written game plan of steps to take next. I didn’t want to over-complicate things by telling them EVERY SINGLE THING we could do to change Holly’s behavior. It can be overwhelming, so I started simply: add another litter pan, slightly move the one they had away from a drafty doorway and add two sessions of play time to Holly’s day.

The second litter pan was a hit. Holly used it right away, but she continued to pee on a bed every so often and clearly even one time would be too many times. I knew that Holly could be reacting to old stains that were not cleaned up so I urged Stephen to get a black light (because urine and some other bodily fluid stains glow under black light), cleaning supplies (like vinegar and a CO2 enzymatic cleaner). We set another date to tour the entire house.

I tried to make it sound fun; like we were detectives on a mission. Stephen was all for it. He wanted to do whatever it took to get Holly to be happy and not feel like she had to pee on anyone’s bed. Many other people I’ve worked with push back about doing the work to solve the behavior problem but Stephen was intrigued. He’d never really considered how a cat thinks or feels about their environment before. He wanted to dive in, get it right, and return to a happy home life.

 

I felt like Mary Poppins. I arrived with a stash of items in my shoulder bag. I had my own black light and cleaning supplies, too, plus a few other goodies for Holly. Stephen, Kirsten and I began checking every single bed, carefully going over each one with the lights. It was then I discovered a surprising fact. Two of the younger daughters either had or have a bit of a problem wetting the bed or having a diaper leak. Then it hit me. They didn’t have one cat, they essentially had two (one was human) who were staining some of the beds. Maybe Holly was reacting to human urine stains?

The answer was clear right away. First bed we checked had sparkling clean sheets and blankets, but the mattress had a butt-shaped urine mark on it. Of the three of us only Stephen had a decent sense of smell. I think mine died from cleaning one too many ammonia-scented litter pans over the years. He dove in. He didn’t get fussy about it. He sniffed away and acknowledged that the mattress did have some scent. We got to cleaning it, while Holly ran into the room, jumped on the bed and was completely uninterested in peeing on it. She played in the corner on a fuzzy pillow and promptly fell asleep while we continued to scan the beds.

We didn’t find much more, but one of the girl’s bed was going to be an issue so that room was going to be closed off from Holly, period. The last room we did was the master bedroom. Okay now this was a bit weird for me. Rock star bedroom? The inner sanctum!

I tried to be respectful and not have any thoughts about what I know about black lights, but my God, I had to say out loud that the black light picks up ALL sorts of STAINS, not just cat urine (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Thank GOD the bed was very clean other than one small area that had to have been from Holly.

 

Okay, so we had a clean space. The bedrooms would be shut down for now. We’d see how it went with Holly. The Kelloggs looked relieved. Maybe this would do the trick?

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

Being a singer/songwriter means traveling to events or going on tour from time to time. The Kelloggs went out of town for the weekend, leaving the kids and Holly with grandpa. I didn’t hear anything for a few days but when they came back I got a long text late at night from Stephen. Holly had peed on the sofa, passed stool on it and on a sleeping bag that was on the floor and I think peed on a bed, too. I tried to soothe Stephen’s concerns. Firstly, Holly was accidentally locked in a room that had no litter pan in it so a few of the issues weren’t her fault. I didn’t know if the schedule was completely in turmoil or if the girls were acting up because the parents were gone. Maybe Holly was upset by the change. Maybe this would not continue to happen?

But it did.

 

Holly stopped passing stool inappropriately, but began peeing more often in places she shouldn’t. I decided we needed to get her to the vet to be certain she wasn’t sick. They hadn’t looked for infection or other issues and being so young she could have something going on that a urinalysis wouldn’t show.

 

So we took Holly to the vet.

I’ve been to many vets over the years. I was not a big fan of this person. He didn’t want to listen to me but clearly was focusing on Stephen and the fact that they both had four kids. The vet was almost proud to say he was split from his wife and only had the kids on weekends as if it was a relief. I was horrified. Stephen and Kirsten smiled and were polite, listening attentively, adding their take on the situation. I wondered what they thought of the vet and if they shared my disdain. They certainly had far a better poker-face than I do.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stephen with Holly-girl at their vet.

 

The vet did a quick exam and suggested tests. Stephen was not used to seeing gnarly vet estimates and the $1000 price tag seemed a bit high to me as well. I worked it out with the vet to cut the bill down by more than half. I felt we could get away with a full CBC and Chemistry Panel, an x-ray, but to not do urinalysis again since they’d just done it a month prior. What we ended up with wasn't what I expected. It was blood work but it didn’t have a Chem Panel and the x-ray showed Holly had a lot of stool in her but it obscured seeing her kidneys or bladder-so it was almost a wasted test. The results we got were normal so the vet suggested putting Holly on a prescription dry food to solve her problem.

 

I had warned the Kelloggs ahead of time that this might happen and to NOT buy the food. The vet gave a compelling pitch about why the food would help her, telling them it had helped other cats because it had “soothing proteins” in it. Excuse me? What the HELL are “soothing” proteins? I almost popped my lid when I heard that line of BS. I could see Stephen was tempted. Heck, I’d be tempted, too if I didn’t know any better, and if I believed just feeding my cat would stop her deeply rooted behavior issue. Thankfully he listened to me and didn’t buy high-carb, grain-loaded junk.

Holly Lateral XRAY SS
All we learned from Holly's x-ray...she needs to poop.

 

Once I got home, I looked up the food on the internet and was completely horrified that it had literally EVERY SINGLE type of GRAIN in it you can imagine. What was soothing about that? Nothing. The supposed “soothing” part was listed near the bottom of the ingredient panel-which also meant the amount of it was far less than any other ingredient. It had .08 L-tryptophan in it, which is an amino acid that is found in turkey. It’s the stuff that makes you sleepy after a big Thanksgiving meal. If you really wanted to dope up your cat you’d have to feed them a heck of a lot more of it to get an adequate dose…oh and this stuff was ungodly expensive to boot.

 

So now what? I really wanted to take Holly to see MY vet, Dr. Larry. He’s a great diagnostician and he knows not to try junk foods on any of my cats, but I’d just encouraged Stephen to drop a lot of money on Holly. I couldn’t ask him to do it again.

Meanwhile, I reached out to a few of my cat behaviorist friends. I ran Holly’s history by them to make sure I hadn’t forgotten something. They all agreed there was nothing more to do other than confine Holly to a smaller space, which was next on my “to do” list.

So we confined Holly to the master bathroom. Perhaps the house was too much for her and the quiet of the bathroom would keep her away from the kids a bit more, in case they were stressing her out. Holly had her own litter pan that was kept perfectly clean, her new diet (which she liked very much) and some comfy beds. This was going to work, right?

Nope.

 

Well, it did work for almost a full week. Holly used the litter pan every day. She had play time and lovey-dovey time. The girls were instructed to let Holly come to them and not grab at her. Things were going great until one morning they let Holly out early in the morning while Stephen and Kirsten went back to bed. Holly peed on the bed while they dozed.

 

 

Then everything fell apart.

 

 

Holly began to urinate in the sink, then the second sink in the master bath room. She used the litter pan, then she’d pee on the bed even if it was right after using the litter pan. I had Stephen track how many times Holly was peeing. It was 4 times a day, then 6, then up to 8. Something was STILL WRONG. We had to see Dr. Larry and the next day we did just that.

 

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©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Two litter pans in the master bathroom: one with the litter Holly used at the rescue and one with World's Best.

I was also toying with the notion that Holly maybe needed a cat-buddy. Maybe her being the only pet in such a large home was too much for her and that a friend would help her adjust. Stephen and Kirsten were open to the idea, but I didn’t want to, again, do too many things at once, plus they’d have to introduce the new cat to Holly and that was just going to add more stress to the situation. No. We had to get Holly’s health issues resolved-IF she had any.

Since the first days I’d begun this case Stephen and Kirsten kept returning to the fact that Holly began peeing on things AFTER she was spayed. I called the clinic who did the procedure and they spoke with their vet who does the spays. I spoke with two of my vets, a handful of vet techs, did research online and found that there ARE incidents where there are post-surgical complications or there are genetic deformities that can’t be visualized on x-ray which could be the culprit. It was rare that this happened and Holly would have shown incontinence issues, along with inappropriate elimination. I knew we’d have to do an ultrasound to get this resolved, but I also knew that there was only so much money we could spend without the Kellogg’s pushing back. In truth, they have to balance the vet costs with the costs for caring for their family. It didn’t make them villains. Everyone deals with this balance who has a pet.

I had high hopes we’d find SOMETHING wrong. In a way it would be a great relief. I felt terrible wishing she was sick, but at least we could probably cure whatever it was and having to deal with cat pee in your bed is very high up on the “sucks!” list.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Holly waiting for Dr. Larry. While I wonder what the heck is going on with this kitten.

Dr. Larry was great. He even suggested maybe Holly needed a friend. He also said that some cats do better going outside-for which he knew I was going to flip out over. He sees this situation over and over again and how people deal with it is as different as are the cats who have the problem. He’s had people want to euthanize their otherwise healthy cats. They don’t want to spend money doing tests. They want the peeing to stop but they won’t do what it takes to really SOLVE the problem.

 

I was SO grateful to the Kelloggs that they were in it for the long haul. Stephen surprised me by digging in, asking question after question, offering his hypothesis; fascinated by the process, the detective work, the documenting, the study needed, to sort out what was going on. He even told me he was fascinated by ME. What? No! Yes!

 

We finally did a full blood panel and the results were normal. Urinalysis and culture were normal, too. Fecal test was normal. IF something was wrong with Holly the only thing we could do was ultrasound and they’d already spent a lot of money. It would have to wait…if the Kelloggs could keep the faith.

By now a month had passed. We’d had good and bad days but trending towards worse days. Maybe Holly was upset from being confined. Stephen had the added pressure of leaving for 3 weeks to go on tour soon. If Holly wasn’t improving how could he leave his wife to care for the family AND deal with Holly’s urinary mishaps?

I returned to the Kelloggs’ home to assess Holly again. I felt like I was losing my mind. I told them new things to try and they had failed. What was so bizarre was that Holly wasn’t peeing on the lovely pure white very soft and fluffy rug in the bedroom. She only peed on Kirsten’s side of the bed. I’d asked her about laundry detergents, perfume, makeup, hair spray, anything that had a scent that could set Holly off, but there was nothing that made sense to cause the peeing.

I contacted one of my mentors and we spoke again about this case and again I was told I had done the right things and that we could continue to tweak how we dealt with Holly, IF the Kelloggs were okay with it.

I also had more detective work to do. I spoke with the lady who runs the rescue where Holly came from. What I found out made me change my opinion again that this wasn’t a health issue. It had to be a behavior issue.

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©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Holly home from the vet, but when will we find out if she's sick or if it's a behavior problem?

Holly was rescued from a kill-shelter in North Carolina with her siblings where she lived in a cage. She was only 5-weeks old and had no mother with her. She was transported to Connecticut and went into another cage on arrival. Holly spent her life in a cage up until she was adopted at 11-weeks of age. What had gone on with her social skills? She couldn’t learn as much without her mom. Maybe she never had proper experience with a litter pan? What did the stress of being confined, then removed from her siblings, do to her?

 

I imagined her going from a small cage into a HUGE home with 4 kids. Wow. That would make ME pee on the bed, too. I felt really sad for Holly because if she didn’t make a positive change she would lose her home and have to go back into a cage at the rescue until she found another home…and what if she peed in that home, too? Holly could end up being euthanized.

 

[to be continued]

The Rock Star's Fifth Daughter. The Perplexing Case of Holly Kellogg. Part 1.

I don’t know how this story is going to end and frankly there have been times I just wanted to walk away from this whole situation with my hands up in the air, completely surrendered to failure, but something inside me pushes on, unwilling to give up just yet.

It all began innocently enough. My rescue, Kitten Associates, offers a Free Cat Behavior Counseling program, available to anyone who needs it. The hope is that with my help as a Cat Behavior Counselor, I can keep cats from losing their home by supporting and educating their family, while helping work with the cat's behavior issues in any way I can.

I received an email from a fellow wanting a cat behavior consultation. He told me that his kitten was peeing outside of the litter pan. She was only 5-months old. As I read on, I began to think of questions I’d ask, as often times, the solution for things like this can be rather straightforward once a few questions are answered.

Some of the most often asked questions included: Did they make sure the cat didn’t suffer from a medical issue? Were there enough litter pans? Were the litter pans cleaned often enough and with litter the cat wasn’t opposed to? Was the stress level in the home too much for the kitten? Were there other pets in the home intimidating the young cat?

Then I looked at the signature on the e-mail. Stephen Kellogg. Below his name was a list of URLs, his TedXTalk, a link for his new record, and another for his movie on Amazon Prime. Oh sh!t. He’s a rock star.

Album covers
Just a few of Stephen's albums. You can learn more about him on his web site.

I saw his TedX Talk, watched his movie, listened to a few songs (very good!). I imagined a cool, but probably entitled guy with lots of tattoos and attitude. I wondered what he was doing contacting me. Surely he had a “person” to deal with all these things so he could spend time writing hit songs, but talking to him was surprisingly different than what I expected. Unknowingly, this was going to be the theme of our time together.

 

We made an appointment to talk on the phone. I had my 10-pg questionnaire printed out so I could get a history on the kitten, but I was nervous about the call. I wanted to focus on the cat, be professional, and hopefully solve the issue promptly. I’m just a humble nobody. I don’t have a cheering fan base. I didn’t know if I could even keep my voice steady. I was literally shaking when he first called.

 

As our conversation began, I could tell this guy sang. His speaking voice had a luscious lilt, a blend of husky and honey. He was polite, respectful, and seemed kind. He wasn’t anything like what I expected or feared. He was so sincere it was almost painful to hear him talk about his frustrations with his kitten.

I learned about Holly, a little tortie with white paws who was adopted the day before Christmas as a gift for his four, yes, four daughters (who range in age from about 4 to 13). Stephen is a family-guy who married his high school sweetheart, Kirsten, and whose songs often reflect his love and struggles with his most adored people on Earth.

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©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Holly at home.

 

He referred to Holly as their “fifth daughter,” but was admittedly feeling both sad and stressed that Holly had been peeing on some of the kid’s beds. I promised I’d do everything I could to get to the bottom of the issue and that odds were good that this was a solvable behavior problem.

 

I asked if I could meet Holly to gather more information, since it turns out they live near my home in Newtown. I was so determined not to mess this up that I figured a home visit would help me make sure I was giving them good advice. We planned to meet a few days later and after a long, miserable winter of difficult issues with the Waterbury Ferals (more on that in another post), I was glad to have something to look forward to.

I planned to stop at the pet supply store to get a few things for Holly and pick up some other things for our foster cats before I visited with the Kelloggs. When I got to the store I chatted with Scott, the Manager, who’s also become a friend after the many years of me coming to his store. Scott referred Stephen to me, so I had to update him on what was going on. While we were chatting away, Courtney, one of the other employees shouted that she saw Stephen walk past the window and that his wife and youngest daughter were about to walk into the store.

 

Now what? Do I play it cool? I’m not supposed to know who they are, but the entire staff is making googly eyes at me while they walked over to the cat food aisle where I was standing. I was trying to figure out what to say when Kirsten said hello and asked if I was “Robin.”

 

Flummoxed, I said yes and she immediately reached out and gave me a hug then said hello as her youngest daughter, Greta clung shyly to her leg. We began chatting about cat food when Stephen walked in behind me. Instead of how I’d imagined walking up to the door of Stephen’s home to meet him, there he was, the rock star in the cat food aisle. I had dressed carefully, trying to look less like myself and more like a cooler version who wasn’t covered in cat hair. My gut was twirling and I had no time to take a breath to steady myself because it was “go time.”

Stephen is tall and slender with mischievous nutmeg colored eyes. He wore a bandana around his unruly brown hair. He radiated confidence and had sizzling charisma. His attire was casually chill featuring jeans and t-shirt. I wanted to make a joke about him wearing a hoodie that had his name silkscreened on the back. I wanted to ask why did he have to wear something with his own name on it? Did he forget who he was from time to time and needed a reminder? I was too “deer in the headlights” to say what I was thinking. He gave me a warm smile and hug to match, as we chatted about how funny it was to meet in the cat food aisle. But now I had to focus on the matter at hand. Clearly these people were depending on me.

I couldn't get over what sweet people they were. Their little daughter, Greta with her baby blonde hair, was wearing funky blue glasses and didn’t say a word, she was so shy. Stephen explained they were going to get some food for Holly since I’d suggested taking her off kibble and putting her on a high-protein canned food with a scheduled feeding regime, instead of free-feeding her dry and supplementing with some canned. I took that to be a good sign that they were going to follow through on my suggestions.

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©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Holly with her daddy.

We agreed that I’d still meet them in a few minutes at their home. I had to stop shaking and gather my thoughts, but I told them I had to go to the grocery store where I wished I could buy some time.

 

Doing cat behavior consultations is always very challenging. By the time someone finds me they’re usually about to toss their cat out on the street they’re so distressed. Working in that kind of environment is definitely a skill that takes years to finesse. I had to remember: DO NOT BE JUDGMENTAL and to ask open-ended questions. Be calm. Go slowly. LISTEN. Pay attention to what you can learn in the environment; there you will find clues.

 

I got to the Kellogg’s red clapboard sided home. Their place is vintage, much homier than I imagined, and pretty darn huge. The remaining three Kellogg-daughters were spread out around the house doing their thing. I expected chaos, but it was surprisingly calm. We stood in the gleaming white kitchen as I began to get more in depth information on Holly.

I was grateful that Stephen and Kirsten were open-minded and thoughtfully replied to my many questions. I asked why they adopted only one kitten when their home was grand and with four children. Certainly only one pet wasn’t enough for them to cuddle and snuggle with. The answer was they really only wanted one cat right now but maybe some day they’d get another.

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©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Two cool people and a dork (middle).

 

I told them I was concerned that some of Holly’s behavior might be linked to being overwhelmed. She’s immature, in a big home with one litter pan on the second floor. She was 11-weeks old and had a URI when they adopted her, then was spayed about a week after she recovered her health. The peeing started after the spay surgery and they feared it was a complication of that procedure.

 

Holly had been taken to the vet soon after the peeing issues began. They performed a urinalysis that came up negative. It wasn’t a thorough test of whether or not she had an infection, but the vet felt that it was enough to do to rule out her behavior issue as health-related.

 

At the time Holly was peeing on beds once a week or so, but that was about to change, and not in a good way.

 

[to be continued]

Top Cat Blog from BestForTheKids

Cat blogs badge

 

WOWIE!

 

 

BestForTheKids selected our blog as one of the Top 16 Cat Blogs to follow if your kids love cats! What a lovely honor and thrill!

Also, that means someone is reading my blog?! Hurray!

 

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©2017 Waverly and her kittens Willoughby and Weatherby, some of the many kittens we've rescued over the years. This sweet family will be up for adoption on Kitten Associates in the next few weeks!

This is what they had to say:

 

"An overwhelming majority of kids absolutely ADORE pets. A large portion of those kids love nothing more than a cute, fluffy cat. Here at BestForTheKids, we cover the importance of pets in the life of kids and how pets help kids become compassionate human beings.

 

It took us more than 3 weeks to come up with this list of carefully vetted cat blogs that had to go through several filters before being considered useful for parents who'd like to know about cats mainly because their kids love them.

So, without further ado, here are 16 top cat blogs (in alphabetical order) run by their amazing cat-literate owners that you should check out as a parent."

Here's their complete LIST

Thank you so much for this honor and welcome to our new friends. Hope you'll visit us again!

Cat Camp NYC. Love at First Sight.

 

It’s impossible to describe a whirlwind, but I’ll do my best. There’s a blizzard churning outside my window so maybe that will inspire me. I’m just back from the very first ever Cat Camp NYC and I’m trying to piece things back together in my mind. For a cat-writer, cat-lover, cat-parent, Cat Camp NYC was a tasty morsel of all the things that make my heart go pitter-patter.

 

Cat Camp Sign R Olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson.

Cat Camp NYC, conceived by Christina Ha, owner of Meow Parlour and the Meow Parlour Patisserie, had a hunch that with the explosion of cat images, blogs, TV shows and movies that a symposium on the east coast, of all things cat, would be well received.

She was right.

With full disclosure I have to add, or is it brag or is it sing to the heavens, that yours truly was invited to be one of the Speakers at this year’s event. My task was to hostess a storytelling hour focusing on heartfelt cat rescue tales. According to the schedule, I’d be going right before The Cat Daddy, Jackson Galaxy’s VIP Meet and Greet. Be still my heart! What a thrill and honor to be included with such a respected cat behaviorist.

Lounge Sign R Olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Okay, so maybe they forgot to make a sign for the Lounge schedule. They did a nice job considering.

Okay, but that was Sunday and Cat Camp NYC was a two-day event.

Saturday

It was bitter cold but a crystal clear day. We’d gotten a few inches of snow the day before, but the sidewalks were thankfully well-groomed. With my face half-hidden by my scarf and my hands about to break off from the cold even though they were in my pockets, I was happy to finally arrive at the Metropolitan Pavilion on west 18th street a few minutes before the event opened.

Cat Camp Badge 1000

Security stopped me, but I proudly told them I was a Speaker and then suddenly I was welcomed into a group where I could have only dreamed of being a member years ago. I was greeted by a friendly volunteer who got me a Speaker badge and showed me where I could stow my things. The room was abuzz with last minute activity of the many vendors setting up their wares. I told myself I wasn’t going to spend all my money on items for the cats, but I also doubted I’d keep that promise.

It was lovely to walk the show before it got crowded. The exhibitor space was large and well lit. Off to one side were banks of tables topped with small black cages. In each cage was a cat available for adoption. I wondered if I should have had a table there for my rescue, Kitten Associates and our cats, but I also realized the stress from traveling would be awful coming from Sandy Hook, CT.

Tommy R Olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson.Tommy Boy. See him in action HERE.

I was glad to see that some of the cats were seniors or special needs cats. As I walked past each cage I silently prayed that by the end of the show all the cats would be adopted.

I met a cat named Tommy Boy, an FIV+ cat with the burden of also having hypertrophic cardiomyopathy-the heart condition that eventually took the life or our dearest foster cat, Jackson Galaxy. Though it can be managed and the medications aren’t costly, HCM is eventually fatal. Tommy Boy was clearly a big, love-bug, just like Jackson was. He had no problems head-butting my fingers through the cage. Tommy needs to find a forever home ASAP so he can purr and relax with a loving family. To adopt or inquire about Tommy see his listing on Kitty Kind's web site.

 

Cone of Shame Robin LR

The lure of knowing there were cool things to see and learn about was too much. The show opened and the crowds were starting to enter. I got my photo taken with a giant cone of shame on thanks to Worlds Best Cat Litter (who also later donated some litter to my rescue-Thanks, Scott!). I began to see some of my cat lady friends, like Tamar from IHaveCat and Joanne from The Tiniest Tiger, who had a table displaying all her lovely cat-themed products for humans.

Tamar and Robin 2017
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Tamar, from IHaveCat.

 

I decided it was a good time to do a Live Facebook video where I’d do a quick tour of the show hall. Things went pretty smoothly until I entered the cat adoption area. Just as I panned right, a guy stood in front of me. He bent over to get a better look at one of the cats when his behind popped out of his pants! FAIL! Plumber’s butt? After that I thought it might be wiser to stick to taking photos.

 

Robin and Brandy R Olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. My new BFF, Brandy, who adopts senior cats and I think adopted one at the show!

 

In addition to the cat products and adoptable cats there were two tracks of Speakers ranging from Hannah Shaw, the Kitten Lady, Kate Benjamin of Hauspanther to VIP meet and greets with Lil Bub. There was so much going on it was tough to decide what to do or see-a good problem to have, but I also felt like I wanted a chance to see everything and not miss a beat.

 

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Hannah Shaw, Kitten Lady., gave an inspiring lecture on neonatal kitten care.

I learned some interesting things about neonatal kittens from Hannah, who I had the good fortune to speak with one on one. We traded some tips and I was thankful she's open minded and interested in learning as much as she can. Years ago I caught myself becoming arrogant about what I thought I knew about cat care and that was a huge mistake. You can’t learn enough because there’s always something else to discover-whether it’s the hard way or by having a support network you can go to when times get tough and the unexpected occurs. With all of the Kitten Lady’s fame, she's still humble and approachable. She’s already opened the door to inspiring others to foster the tiniest, frailest foster cats and I can see her doing even more amazing things in the future.

Kate B and Robin 2017
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Kate Benjamin looking adorable as usual!

I also attended Kate Benjamin’s Feline Design presentation, which to me is like watching a porno because after she gave us the story of her fascinating background before launching Hauspanther (which, by the way I designed the logo for!), she started showing photo after photo of gloriously designed cat furniture. Oh be still my heart!

Kate Doing Preso R Olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Kate kicking butt.

 

And then there was Jackson Galaxy. As some of you know, four years ago, before he was a superstar and travelled with bodyguards, Jackson took me out for dinner. (It's three parts in case you missed it: Ch 1, Ch 2 and Ch 3. ) It remains one of the best nights of my life, certainly one I’ll never forget, but a lot had changed since I last saw him.

 

I lost 60 pounds and had to chop my hair off after an unfortunate magenta hair color fail. Would he even know me? Why would it matter? I should be happy to even see him and leave it at that.

Robin Jackson Vinci 2017
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Oh boy! Oh boy! I got my hug. Oh, and learn more about Jackson's charity the Jackson Galaxy Foundation.

What was sweet was when I did get to have a chance to have quick chat with him, he seemed a bit taken aback that I thought he wouldn’t remember me. From the hug I got I’d say we were good. From the photos one of my fans took of us, you can see in my expression that I am about to fly without an airplane I’m so happy. Jackson has a natural charisma and warmth that is off the charts. He also is adorable, but out of deep respect for his wife, Minoo, who is one of the most kind and compassionate people, that’s all I’m gonna say. It’s ok to enjoy someone’s company and just let that good feeling keep you going after you part and leave it at that.

Plus, I had stuff to buy so off I went!

Jamie Shelmen, a “moderately crazy cat lover” and artist who has a shop called The Dancing Cat penned a number of hilarious greeting cards and t-shirts. I couldn’t pass up grabbing as many cards as I could, along with a much coveted t-shirt (see photo below).

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. WOO!

I met with Mario from Square Paws and we had a great conversation. His cat trees are pure fantasy realized. His creative talent and architectural background give his pieces a sense of whimsy I have rarely ever seen. I told Mario about my dream to re-do our main foster room. About how all our cat trees fall apart because kittens are very hard on sisal and carpet covered cat trees. I told him about the theme of the room (secret for now!) and about how I wanted innovation beyond just a cat tree. The room isn’t very large. The cat tree has to work for kittens 8 weeks and older so it has to perform for cats of many different sizes up to adults. Mario seemed very interested in our project and I’m hoping this connection will be a great benefit to our foster cats one day.

Of all the ways Cat Camp NYC succeeded, the best part of it was the networking. You can’t really connect when you’re commenting on a social media post the way you can in person. I also enjoyed meeting new people and making new friends, like Cathi De Meo Marro, an artist and flutist who created some hilarious cat-themed paintings. Her business is called Cat-Hi.

I got great tips about our TNR, Waterbury Cats project from the NYC Feral Cat Initiative. and I learned about two documentaries about cat rescuers who do TNR. One is called Catnip Nation and the other is called The Cat Rescuers. Both projects highlight the importance of doing TNR in ways that aren’t upsetting to viewers. I was glad to know that they both felt that in effective storytelling they could help people not familiar with community cats learn that we need to do more and be more compassionate about their plight without shock tactics. I’ll have more about these projects and their fundraising in a future post.

Felted Cat Beds R Olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Distinctly Himalayan's crazy cat beds (the googly-eyed ones are for cats up to 15 lbs).

There was so much more to see like the Distinctly Himalayan felted cat beds or the hilarious tiny sombreros and faux hot sauce pouch catnip toys of Polydactyl Cats. That said, I would have liked to see even more vendors and I hope that if Cat Camp NYC continues that next year will be even bigger and better.

The only shortcoming was that the areas were only curtained off for the special presentations instead of being in a separate walled off space. It was very loud in the Metropolitan Pavilion and the flat screen in the lounge area needed to be about four times bigger so everyone could see the presentations better. That said, the presenters were high-caliber and the presentations were packed full of eager and interested cat people.

Robin and Ingrid 2017
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Ingrid King of the Conscious Cat (left) and moi (right).

 

As for my presentation, I was delighted to have some of my readers in attendance, along with Sydney, one of my adopters, who drove down from Connecticut to see me. We had a very lively group, but again, the noise level made having an intimate discussion a bit tough…and wouldn’t you know it, right in the middle of one of my stories, Jackson Galaxy enters the lounge, which I feared would distract everyone in my group (including ME!).

 

MY PRESO by sam copy
©2017 Sam Moore. Trying to stay focused when you-know-who is right behind me-not in those cat pants though, behind her.

I focused on my tale and was really getting into the story when I got tapped on my shoulder. One of Jackson’s staff whispered to me that if I wanted my photo with Jackson to be used on our Kitten Associates promotions I could get that done but it had to be right now…right in the middle of my session!

Robin GLowing A Marttila 1200
©2017 Andrew Marttila. Used with Permission. Um. Yeah, so don't say anything to me about the look on my face. You'd look like that too if you were standing next to Mr. Jackson.

I quickly excused myself and what was kind of funny was his assistant introduced me to Jackson (not realizing I knew him) so I extended my hand with a smirk on my face and said; “how do you do.” Jackson rolled his eyes ever so slightly, then put his arm around me (:::Swoon:::). He asked me which camera to look at for the photo (there were a few photographers clicking away) and I stupidly replied “who gives a sh_t” because by then I figured he must have been completely wiped out by book signings, meet and greets, getting his photo taken with a zillion people already and traveling from Los Angeles. I hoped he didn’t get offended. By then I was pretty delirious, too. It’s not my fault that I was an idiot. Okay it was my fault! I had my story to get back to telling-which I did, seconds later, even though I wish I could have grabbed his hand and run out of the building.

I didn’t get a chance to see much of Lil Bub. Though I love her dearly and think so highly of her dad, Mike, I also didn’t want to take up time for those who had never seen her before. Bub had her own table of goodies at the show which always make me smile. I finally got to see the Bublehead box I designed for her. Looked great! I also found out there are some new Bub plushies coming out and I’ll have more info on them soon.

Bub Sign R olson

There was a lot more going on at Cat Camp, but I was so weary by the end of Sunday that I was glad Sam had driven to the city to see my presentation and could drive us home safely while I slumped in the passenger seat. With the daylight savings time change that weekend, the traveling, walking a zillion miles and the excitement of seeing my friends I was ready to pass out.

Line for Jackson ROlson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. The line to get into Jackson's keynote address went around the entire event space.

 

Cat Camp NYC was a well laid out, well planned event. I wish it had been in an even bigger space yet somehow magically a quieter one. I had so much fun, but I hated leaving my friends so soon. Cat Camp NYC is like going on a first date with “the one.” It’s thrilling to feel connected to someone you have so much in common with that it just feels "right." When it’s time to part you feel sad, wishing it could go on forever, but you know that all good things must come to an end eventually. Maybe you'll meet again soon and that's what keeps your heart beating.

 

I hope Ms. Ha will decide to launch Cat Camp NYC in 2018 because I will be there with my cat ears on and ready to rock.

Robin Cathi Jodi TIRED R Olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Cathi De Meo Marro (left) myself (center), the Healthy Pet Coach, Jodi Ziskin (right). Very pooped after an exciting weekend!

I'm Speaking at Cat Camp NYC!

OMG! I'm so excited. There's finally a cat-centric event on the east coast! There'll be vendors with cool cat products, fun stuff for cat parents and adoptable cats. Celebucats like Lil' Bub will be there and the Cat Daddy, Jackson Galaxy will be there, too.

Cat Camp Logo

In addition, there will be really great presentations by Kate Benjamin of Hauspanther, Kathleen O'Malley of NYC Feral Cat Initiative, Hannah Shaw (Kitten Lady), Ingrid King of the Conscious Cat, Beth Adelman a noted author and Cat Behaviorist as well as... ME!

 

Yes! I will be part of the lineup hostessing a roundtable storytelling-hour about heartwarming cat rescue stories. And yes, you KNOW I can tell a good rescue story, but the question is, Should I bring tissues? I've never told my tales in public. It would not be good if I made people cry!

 

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The details for getting tickets (some of the VIP meet and greets are sold out already) can be found HERE. Cat Camp NYC is 11 AM to 8 PM Saturday, March 11 and 11 AM to 7 PM March 12th. The location at the Metropolitan Pavillion at 125 w 18th Street in NYC.

So fly your furry feline flag and come on down. Pop over to say HI if you see me and ask for a brand new Covered in Cat Hair bookmark. Yes! Fancy, right? I just designed them and have a bunch to give out. Maybe some day I'll have a publisher and my own book to mark.

 

I'll be posting updates and doing a LIVE Facebook broadcast from Cat Camp so keep an eye on my Facebook Page for news!

 

Over and out!

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