You've Got to be Kidding!

Cats Shows and Breeders and Haters, oh My.

I like to think I’m open-minded. I try to give everything and everyone a chance, resisting the temptation to make a judgment about an issue based on little or no facts. With my life, via this blog, being part of the fabric of social media, I find that people are very willing to express their feelings about what experiences I've written about and can be quick to make negative comments. It gives me pause. It makes me wonder if I should not write any more or if it’s worth it to constantly open myself up to a volley of negativity.

As always, I will go to my center, where my goal is simply to tell my story and through my experiences possibly educate anyone who takes the time to read these words. Success AND failure is something we learn from. My ups and downs are like anyone else’s, except for that they’re a lot more public and open to scrutiny.

I ask that you remain open-minded as I tell this tale because I know it’s a minefield and may fill some of you with a lot of strong emotions ready to fire off, but I have to speak my peace.

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It’s been a very long time since I’ve left the house for more than a few hours, and even a longer time since I’ve gone anywhere overnight. As much as I love my cats and Sam, I needed a break.

I was supposed to attend an animal rescue related conference in early April, but I got the flu the day before I was to leave. I was so sick I didn’t do anything for three weeks other than lay in bed and feel miserable. I was so angry, feeling robbed of my one tiny chance to get away. I cursed at the sky and asked whoever the Big Boss is, why, someone who helps others, who is so poor, who works so hard, gets the flu the one day she is supposed to do something for herself (which in truth will help others since she’ll learn things about rescuing cats).

I still had one more trip to look forward to this year and I decided early on that I’d get there, no matter what. I’d been invited to attend a cat show in Massachusetts as a Guest Judge. Judge? Cat Show Judge? Me?

Not only that, but little Freya, our pooping-wonder-cat, was invited to be the Guest Cat! If I wanted to, I could show her in the Household Pet Cat division. Did I? Gosh, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but it also was an opportunity to educate people about the importance of saving the life of a cat who was deemed “un-savable.”

Freya is our Mascot after all. It’s through her that we were able to help save more kittens with atresia ani and put a spotlight on the importance of helping kittens with birth defects reach a happy adulthood.

Okay. I decided to give it a try.

I know what some of you are going to be thinking, and you’ve already voiced your opinion on my Facebook page about how cruel showing cats is and that any animal breeder should be punished, their animals not paraded around to the benefit of their owners and that how could I, as the President & Founder of Kitten Associates, dare do that to our Mascot, leaving her terrified in a tiny cage while waiting to be judged?

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I’d have to admit that before I attended the cat show, I did have reservations. Sure, I’d been to cat shows plenty of times before, but only to oooh and ahhh over the pretty pedigreed felines and buy cat toys. I thought about how many cats are in kill-shelters, how many are starving and dying horrible deaths and that cat breeders just made the problem worse by adding more cats to the population problem.

I’d heard stories about breeders euthanizing cats that weren’t up to Standards, or not breeding their cats responsibly and causing birth defects or genetic health issues, then selling the cats for twisted amounts of money under the guise that they were healthy and robust.

I’m sure that there are those of you who know every fact and figure to prove the point that breeding should be outlawed completely, so how dare I spend the weekend at a cat show, showing my little cat in the Household Pet Cats ring?

There’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.

Firstly, there is no black and white about cat shows and breeders being all good or all bad. There are degrees of both states, just like in anything else. I did a lot of thinking about this topic as I walked around the show floor. I wanted to hate the breeders and be pro-cat-rescue, blinders firmly in place.

But then there were the cats.

Holy shit they were stunning. I thought about what the world would be like if no one preserved or created new breeds of cats (like the Napoleon who I just saw this weekend who was so cute I practically melted or the mind-blowingly magnificent orange Maine Coon with paws as big as my hands).

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Baccaruda, one of my new BFFs gets shown. He is all fluff, all the time.

What if we DID outlaw breeding and all we had were what I usually see in my rescue-world—an assortment of tabbies, gray cats, lots and lots of black cats, fluffy cats, orange cats, calicos or torties, but I wouldn’t see a magnificent, mellow-minded Birman, with big white mitts, sapphire blue eyes and chocolate coloring that fades along the abdomen and darkens at the paws. I wouldn’t see a delicately proportioned, trouble-making, Singapura with a ticked coat and pale green alien-like eyes who had so much energy she was practically vibrating.

What goes beyond looks is that these cats are also bred for temperament. Some are chosen for being curious and playful, while others are gentle giants. I never know what I’m going to get when I rescue a cat. Usually they’re sick, thin, full of fleas. When they feel better, they can sometimes become pretty obnoxious, while others might become fearful once they’re strong enough to show their true nature. I work hard to help them become confident and loving, but if they were genetically predisposed to be sweet and I knew that ahead of time, gee, there is something to be said for that.

I’m not looking to start a big argument about what is right or wrong, but I am hoping that maybe some of you will just be open-minded enough to think about a world without purebred cats and focus your anger on anyone who is cruel to animals, period.

Do I love that these cats are sold for crazy amounts of money? No.

Do I love that there ARE some cats who are stressed out of their minds and should not be shown. NO!...but we’ll talk more about that in my next post because I did see some pretty amazing changes in the cats as they quickly acclimated to their surroundings (including Freya).

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Stunning Maine Coon KITTEN.

That said, I would never condone making a cat miserable just so I could show him or her off and I am clear in the fact that there are breeders who do horrific things to their cats in the name of the almighty dollar.

Then there’s something I’m not sure many folks consider. There are a few people who do the cat shows who would otherwise have little or no contact with anyone in society. They use their cats as bridge so they can be comfortable around others. It gives them reason to get out of their home, socialize, and make friends when they probably can’t do that very well in their day-to-day life. I honestly think it improves their mental health.

Is it right that cats could be seen as being used to help humans? Well then what about service dogs? Horses? Police dogs, bomb-sniffing dogs, cancer-sniffing dogs, therapy cats? Is it so different that some of these cats provide their guardians with a feeling of safety and security in social settings?

And lastly, when you look at any cat, what’s one of the first things you do after cooing over how cute it is? You try to sort out what breed it might be. I think it would be a sad world if we were reduced to describing our cats, as, well, cats or by color or fur pattern alone.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Freya "helps" me pack up for our trip.

Slowly, over generations of not preserving breeds, we’d end up with a mixed bag of cats, who have no interesting personality traits that we can count on and probably less and less remarkable coloring or characteristics. I’m not sure what the impact would be on over-crowded shelters because the sort of people who don’t spay/neuter their cats isn’t going to change. Yes, some unscrupulous breeders dump their pet-quality kittens or adults at shelters, but my gut tells me the folks who don’t spay/neuter their cats or give kittens away for free on Craigslist without them being vetted are a bigger concern.

As humans, it’s in our nature to categorize, identify and create. Over the millennia, we have come to do that with our cats, too. We have bred cats who are sweet lap cats and cats who are glorious athletes. Just as humans are diverse, so are our cats. Do we really want to get rid of cat breeds because some breeders are rotten apples? Do we really want to close down cat shows because some of the cats experience stress for a few hours? How many cats are in homes that experience stress 24/7 due to their guardians behavior or suffer stress from the other pets in the home because they were not introduced properly or don’t have appropriate places to flee when they experience fear?

While I can’t say I love every aspect about breeding cats, maintaining a standard, or cat shows, I can say that after being part of one I see value I couldn’t see before. I hope you can, too.

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So, yeah, I judged a cat show, but first, I had to get there and let me tell you, THAT was a story in and of itself.

Warning Lights R Olson
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Anti-lock brake, brake and traction control warning lights come on 12 hours before I have to drive to MA. Do I stay home or risk driving a car that's about to crap out on me?

Next up…the trip from HELL, in a hateful car, with a dead phone and no way to navigate my way out of a horrific traffic jam where I was traveling at a blazing 4 MPH. How determined was I to get away for a few days after all? Maybe I should have just stayed home?

This Precious Life: We'll Never Really Know. Conclusion.

(Continued from Part 1)

I asked about the moms and she said yes to me getting them spayed, at least.

In the end, she adopted out 8 kittens that were not fixed and I doubt had any vetting of any kind. Who did she sell them to? What really happened with them? I do not know. The few times I asked I got a different answer. One answer was it was good homes to good families then it was to friends and to their own family members. I was livid. I knew if those kittens were alive, all of the rescues in CT just had 8 more intact cats to deal with. God knows how many more kittens they would have before they were vetted, IF they were even alive.

Chapstick at 2 weeksish
Chapstick/Miracle beating the odds.

I begged to help the moms get spayed and we finally were able to set up an appointment to get it done. I was so excited that we could get these cats vetted. Everything was going fine. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I had found out they were moving to Georgia soon, so it was good this was getting done. An HOUR before the appointment I got a text…“sorry but Jon worries the moms will throw a clot on the trip down to GA because it’s so soon after we have to leave so we have to cancel.”

Once again I found myself in utter disbelief. What a crock of shit. Really? Instead of getting these cats vetted for free, they’re going to move them intact into the state that has a horrifically high kill rate in all the municipal shelters. Those cats, if they ever got lost or kept breeding had a very bad future ahead of them. I was at the end of my rope, not to mention I had to be rude and cancel on my Vet which hurts my relationship with him.

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One of the other mama-cats.

Unwilling to give up, I took yet more time to send them info on low cost clinics in their new home state so they could get all the cats vetted once they got there. They always assured me that the cats would be taken care of and it would be fine, but I just felt placated.

The final straw was this week.[editor's note: this was over a year ago] I thought they were long gone but they were still here, living in a hotel. Now they wanted help getting their two moms (the ones I’d offered to get spayed) a new home, along with the male who I’d had neutered. They were moving in a few DAYS and couldn’t keep all the cats. Could I help?

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Tiny tummy.

I should have said no, but I wanted to help the cats so I said I would try. I begged a BIG favor from a dear friend who does rescued and she offered to take them, but…she asked after Miracle. What about her? Of course, she needed to be spayed, too. I told her she would have to make the deal with the couple. That I would go get them, I would help vet them, whatever I could do, but in the end if she was taking the cats she would have to make the arrangements.

She talked to them a few times each time getting a different story. I didn’t even know they’d kept a male kitten from one of the litters so they had a male and female kitten who were intact. When she told them she’d take ALL the cats and get them vetted, then give them back the kittens they balked. First, they suddenly changed their minds that the fixed male could stay with them and that they only wanted the two females to be re-homed. They wouldn’t answer certain questions. It was Wednesday, they were moving on MONDAY. We had to RUSH to get every cat vetted. Then all of a sudden they wouldn’t answer Katherine’s texts asking them when we could come get the cats.

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Miracle with one of her stepmoms.

Clearly they did not want to give up the kittens, but it was okay to give up the young adults that had just had litters of kittens. Why? Was it because the new “adam and eve” kittens were going to be bred next? Had I unearthed a backyard breeder? I can’t say. I can ask questions because things didn’t line up. It’s one thing to change your mind, but it’s another to change your story depending on who you’re talking to. I was furious.

I got up very early Thursday and called my vets. I again begged for an appointment to S/N the kittens. We could do the adults later. No one could help or if they did the costs were outrageous. I knew I had a litter of kittens coming up on a transport the following week. It runs back to Georgia so it would buy us time. All I had to do was get the kittens vetted, then we’d pay to transport them to Georgia and Christal could pick the kittens up when they were in their new place. It was crazy, but it was the best we could offer. My friend would take the adult moms and get them vetted and find them homes.

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Looking more like a kitten than an alien.

Then yesterday…the final straw. Now they were leaving the next day (today) instead of Monday. And she tells me; “thank you for your help but we’ll just get vouchers” (her patented answer every time we challenged her about really getting her cats S/N. You can only get one per family in CT and she needed at least 4-again more BS. When they get to GA they will take care of it and to forget it but they will just keep all the cats—even the ones they asked us to re-home.

Sure they will.

So I blew my top. I went online to Facebook. Christal had unfriended me. All the photos she’d posted on my timeline of Miracle were gone. I did a search on her name and it came up empty. Why do this if they are so innocent? I searched for Jon. Same thing. Gone. I decided to let them have it. This is my final text message to them:

"Never in my life have I ever been so manipulated, lied to, used, taken advantage of. You’ve wasted SO MUCH of my time that could have gone to helping cats who really deserved help. Shame on you. I can’t believe you won’t get your cats S/N. Backyard breeders are the lowest of the low. There is no excuse. Let me be clear, I find what you do disgusting and reprehensible. Saying you will get a voucher or find a service is a lie. Everything you’ve said to us is a lie. I have news for you. You can’t make a buck off kittens in Georgia if that is even where you’re really going. All you’ve done is guarantee that poor chapstick will have a hellish life and the others will, too. We offered to help you, no matter what it cost us in time and resources and you just made up another excuse. This didn’t have to happen. All your cats could have been traveling healthy and not been able to reproduce ever again. Thank you for reminding me never to trust anyone or give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m sorry for the rescues in the state where you’re moving to next. All the rescues need to be warned about you as well as the DOA [note: Dept of Agriculture who oversees animal welfare issues] and if I can I WILL get the word out about what you’re doing. That’s not a waste of time in my book as you have been. Have a great move. Thank you for leaving Connecticut and all those intact kittens you sold to “good homes.” I’m sure we’ll be cleaning up that mess for years to come."

With his new mamas c peruzzi
Latched on.

She replied that she was sorry. That she would agree to get the cats spayed some day and they were NOT backyard breeders. That there were things going on she could not talk about-too embarrassing-that caused them to make the choices they did—that they wanted to keep all the kittens the mamas had, not just keep the 2 but it wasn’t feasible.

I didn’t write back. I don’t know what to think. It would be one thing if it was only me who felt uneasy with how this transpired but my friend was distrusting of them from the first moments they began to talk. She was very leery of the answers they gave her and how they kept changing their tune. I wasn’t being paranoid. I could trust my evaluation of the situation.

Because I don’t want to vilify anyone I will leave it up to you to decide what you think is wrong or right with this big mess. Maybe Miracle will be just fine. Maybe she will be vetted one of these days when this family gets back on their feet. Maybe we should be compassionate and help this family through a tough time and understand that this was all a bunch of unfortunate coincidences and because we don’t know the FULL story. We can’t judge.

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Eating on her own.

So. I’m not judging, but I DO feel like I’ve learned a lesson. In my friend Chris’s words this is a cautionary tale. There’s a point at which you have to walk away from a rescue situation. This time the cats are leaving the state and it’s out of my hands. If they were staying here I know I’d still want to find a way to help, but can’t if I can’t trust these people and their intentions.

That poor little kitten barely clinging to life in a cardboard box, then nursed to life truly is a miracle, but what happens next to her…I shudder to think.

As for myself-I’ve learned I have to insist on doing paperwork every time we let someone foster for us, help us, work with us. The logistics and emergency nature of Mira’s rescue made that impossible, but I am going to make sure this never happens again. At least if I’d had the forms signed, I would have had a right to get her back even though I doubt I would have been successful.

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Last photo of Miracle I got.

I hate to think that this is yet another situation that will cause my heart to turn against people. I’ve heard it so many times. People who do animal rescue despise humans. They despise the bullshit, the lies, the cruelty. I don’t want to be one of those rescuers, but I have to admit it’s not going to be easy to remain open and caring with the next person who calls.

A House Panther's Painful Story.

It’s been a long road with Laney and her family, from two failed adoptions to a seemingly endless number of inappropriate adoption applications. After over a year in foster care I’m starting to wonder if the cats will ever find their forever homes.

Yes, it's my fault. I’ve decided that after everything they've gone through, Laney, Winnie and Piglet MUST be adopted together. Finding an adopter to take one cat is tough enough, but three? I must be insane. I’ve also decided that JellyBelly and brother Lollipop have to stay together, too, but Lolli is fearful. Who would want to adopt him? Lolli has never been cuddly and though he will sit next to me and sleep, he’s very jumpy. I know that in time he could improve, with the right family who would go slowly with him, but that’s a lot to ask.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Lolli's hidey place.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to spend more time with the cats, playing with them and having cuddle-time, to encourage the kitties to be better socialized. The girls love it and Lolli loves to fly-high after the toys.

Jelly was equal to his brother in enthusiasm, jumping almost as high as my head to get after a feather-toy. But lately Jelly hasn’t been jumping. I had a gut-punching-fear that maybe Jelly had the dry form of FIP, just like what ended our 10-month old kitten Fred’s life a few years ago.

But Jelly didn’t have any of the other symptoms Fred had. Jelly just seemed to be a tiny bit off and more interested in having me bring him the toy, then to chase after it. I started to wonder if he twisted his leg or hurt his back from jumping, but he wasn’t obviously limping.

Jelly on Blankee R Olson 475
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Mr. Handsome-JellyBelly relaxing on his blanker.

The other night Jelly did something very strange. He laid down during play time. I knew something was wrong. Jelly never lays down for the feather toy. I stopped playing with the cats and carefully observed Jelly. There it was a very slight hitch in his back right leg. Almost as if his leg was giving out on him. When he jumped onto the bed I could tell he wasn't pushing off from the floor, but rather was pulling himself up by his front legs. I slowly ran my hand over his back legs, trying to feel for an obvious sign of a break or imperfection, but found none. Jelly walked normally, then his right side would subtly dip down, or did it? I wasn't sure. It wasn’t an emergency, so I didn’t have to get him to the vet that night, but I also couldn’t let this go on without getting him checked out.

I brought him to see Dr. Larry the next day.

Dr Larry Examining
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Dr. Larry & Super-Deb examine Jelly's legs.

As much as I believe I have a good basic understanding of our cat’s health issues, I still get surprised by what ails them, and some times not in a good way. I expected to have to do x-rays on Jelly’s leg, to cage-rest him and that he sprained his leg, but I was wrong. Dr. Larry made the face that I have come to fear; the grimace, the stern look as he felt along Jelly’s leg. He knew what was going on, now he was thinking about how he was going to break the news. My heart sank as Dr Larry told me that Jelly’s kneecap was going in and out of place. That’s why he seemed to be fine, then wasn’t fine. That it was likely a genetic problem, which is why we didn’t notice it sooner. These things get worse as the cat ages and gains weight. It also can effect both kneecaps. Thankfully in this case, Jelly’s is only on his right side.

I asked what can we do for Jelly? The answer: surgery. A luxating patella is graded in a range of 1 to a 4, 4 being the most severe. He rated Jelly’s at a 3, which also means the only thing we can do is surgery, which will repair the problem. Because he’s not at the most severe stage yet, he has a great chance to make a full recovery.

Scared Jelly
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Poor Jelly was scared but he was a really good boy through his exam.

This is where things get really tough.

The repair will cost $2700, including pre-op blood work (blood work is not listed below) and our discount. It has to be done by a Board Certified Surgeon. This is NOT a typical repair for a cat. Dogs get this issue all the time, but not cats. Jelly will need a long recovery afterwards, too and lots of cage rest. How will I ever get him adopted? And what about Lollipop? Does Lolli have the same problem, too? Will I have to separate the cats and adopt them alone?

Estimate
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Here's the estimate. We get 20% off the totals thanks to our super-awesome vet, Dr. Larry.

Then another problem.

We just did a fundraiser through Fairfield County Giving Day. We raised $3700.00. Great, right? Well, firstly I had prayed that we could have used the funds to refurbish our truly awful foster room. It looks like a dump and the cat trees are all shredded and falling apart. Updating the room is something I’ve been planning on for awhile now. Okay, that can wait another year but, Jelly’s leg cannot.

Then it gets worse.

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We don’t GET the money we raised for 60 days! This is a BIG PROBLEM. The longer we wait, the more pain Jelly will be in and worse-THE BIGGER THE CHANCE JELLY WILL COMPOUND HIS INJURY AND MOVE IT TO STAGE 4. If that happens, even with repair from a stage 4, there’s about a 50% chance it will happen again later in his life. If he gets the repair as a stage 3 the risk is zero! Who will adopt a cat knowing there’s a big cost involved one day?

We can’t wait. We can’t afford it with the funds we have on hand, so we have to try to raise the funds for him NOW and we know it's going to be tough.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Jelly with Auntie Winnie (who is still hoping to find her forever home!)

Is Jelly a critically ill kitten? Nope. Is he a sad sack dirty, injured old kitty? Nope. He’s a gentle giant of a cat, a black “house panther” who loves his feather toy, his brother and his mom. He needs surgery to be pain-free, but we can't afford to help him and that's devastating to us.

Many rescues like ours face the sad truth that it would be a lot less expensive to go ahead and amputate Jelly’s leg instead of spend the money on repair. We could still afford to feed our remaining foster cats and Jelly would manage on three legs, but I just can’t stomach knowing that we’d ever let money stop one of our cats from getting the care they need. Also, what would happen if Jelly’s left rear kneecap luxated one day and he didn't have his right leg any more?

Knee
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Jelly can bear weight on his leg-sometimes-but this is the knee that's giving him trouble.

There are LOTS of ways you can help. I am not going to use a fundraising web site because they take a percentage of what we raise OR they grossly hold up on releasing the funds when we need them NOW. I will report back here and on our Facebook page should we reach our goal of $2700.00, so we don’t take on more than we need.

3/24/16 UPDATE: WE MADE OUR GOAL! YOU GUYS ARE FABULOUS!!!! THANK YOU! I'm booking Jelly's surgery appointment today!

3/22/16 UPDATE: OMG! THANKS TO AN AMAZINGLY GENEROUS DONOR YOUR DONATION WILL BE MATCHED UP TO $1000! So that means you donate $1 and it comes to us as $2 (and so on) 3/22/16 SECOND UPDATE: THE $1000 DONATION HAS BEEN MATCHED ALREADY! WE ONLY NEED ABOUT $550 MORE TO GO!

1. Use DONATE TODAY button to make a donation via our PayPal account. Kitten Associates is a 501c3 Non-Profit so your donation is tax deductible. Our tax ID is 27-3597692. [MAKE SURE YOU READ BELOW BECAUSE ALL GIFTS OVER $25 GET A THANK YOU GIFT FROM US!]

2. Call our vet’s office, Maple Ridge Animal Clinic, at 203-262-0595 to verify our need and to make a donation to our account: Kitten Associates “For Jelly."

3. Mail a check to Kitten Associates, P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354 and put in the notes “For Jelly.”

4. Purchase cat food from our Amazon Wishlist. We spend a tremendous amount of money on cat food and if we don’t have that concern we can use some of our remaining funds for Jelly.

5. Share this post socially, with your cat-loving friends, and ask them to help. It doesn’t have to be a big donation because together they all add up!

You Get Something Awesome, Too!

Everyone who donates $25 or more will get a special gift from our friends at Satiama. You WANT these gifts. I just got a set of them, myself, and I have to say between the quality and the love that’s put into each piece, whether it be an a multi-award-winning CD, a multi-award-winning book or multi-award-winning Spirit Animal Cards, any item would bring great joy.

Satiama for blog post copy

If you have kids or are grandparents or just love nature, they are especially meaningful. The Spirit Animal Cards are used to help parents teach children as young a 4 years of age (and upwards into teens) valuable lessons and gain compassion for themselves and others. The beautifully illustrated and high-quality cards come with a guide for parents, too. Partnered with that there are two volumes of Children’s Spirit Animal Stories on CD, with music composed by Grammy-award winner Barry Goldstein. These stories dovetail perfectly with the cards and help make connecting with nature and our own hearts even more fulfilling.

The story of “How the Trees Got Their Voices” goes beyond simple storytelling, by combining colorful illustrations with entertaining facts about the flora and fauna all around us. This book is meant to be read over and over with a fresh meaning discovered each time.

Lastly, “Come Walk with Me” is a series of 4 guided meditation journeys by Eva Blacktail Swan. In these trying times, we rarely take a few minutes for ourselves. This CD can be particularly helpful in release and healing of painful feelings or for those seeking direction in life. Eva’s voice is very soothing and for me is much better than eating cake when I’m at my wit’s end!

To take advantage of this offer, pop over to THIS PAGE and look at the options. Remember which one you want then use the DONATE TODAY button and add to the NOTES section which item you’d like (1 book, card set or CD per person please) making SURE your mailing address is included so we can ship the item to you! (yes, shipping is free, too).

We need 108 people to donate just $25 to hit our goal. Do you think we can do it?

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Jelly is such a sweet boy but these days he feels better sleeping on the floor so he doesn't have to face the pain of jumping onto the bed.

A BIG BIG BIG Thank You to Karen Stuth one of the Founders of Satiama for her generosity. She is getting NOTHING out of any of the donations and is simply providing free books and CDs and shipping costs out of her own pocket. We at Kitten Associates are VERY GRATEFUL to her for her support and love during this challenging time.

In a Perfectly Shitty World. Returning Home in One or More Pieces.

(continued from part 1)

I just couldn’t get my mind or body to feel settled as I began the drive to Boston. My pants felt too tight. My jacket was bunching up in the back. My sunglasses had smudges I couldn’t wipe away. I had to use Sam’s hands-free dohickey because my old one doesn’t hold my new iPhone. I really needed something that worked in case I got a call. Add to that problem was just figuring out which car to drive. My car has a seal that’s broken along one door so the interior temperature isn’t great and there’s a windchill advisory here. With the uneven temperatures inside the car, it often fogs up as a result. My only other option was to borrow Sam’s car and it’s a lot bigger than mine is and I don’t drive it very often. I figured I’d have enough on my plate just getting to the location. Adding feeling awkward driving didn’t make sense either so I took my ol’ beast and hoped the windows wouldn’t constantly be fogging up.

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©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. I wondered if Winnie would still be as sweet after the ordeal she'd been through.

It was a bright crisp winter morning, but no sooner than I got on the road, my thoughts drifted. Lady Saturday was back at the vet getting her urine re-tested. She has a very bad, very dangerous bladder infection that the antibiotics may not cure. Add that to her poor kidney function and this is a cause for concern.

The hope was that 3 weeks of meds would have kicked the infection down, but would it?

My phone rang and I couldn’t answer it. The Bluetooth was acting up, or the phone was acting up, or I was just crabby and trying to drive in heavy traffic and not get into an accident answering the phone. I pulled over and listened to the message from my vet; where was Lady Saturday? No one showed up for the appointment. No one is answering their phone.

I texted Saturday’s foster dad, really chapped that I had to deal with this on top of everything else. There are a lot of terrible things going on that I can’t even talk about, but they are BAD things that require lawyers, so at this point I really didn’t need “one more thing” to go wrong.

IMG 6651
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. And what of Piglet? She's been adopted and returned TWICE? WHY?

I called Betsy, my buddy at Dr. Larry’s office. She assured me it would be okay, but I said I was very sorry. I don’t want our rescue to be the cause of issues with their practice. It’s not professional and it’s rude. I can’t risk losing my vet-not that I would over this, but still. It’s not cool.

I got back on the road and tried to keep a good pace while I couldn’t get settled. I knew most of the trip by heart since it meant basically driving to Boston. The problem was where it stopped being the usual trip-it meant going against the way my GPS would route me and I had to memorize the last 30 miles, until I got close enough that it got me on the track I intended in the first place.

Getting lost on the crazy roads with crazy drivers in south Boston is not my idea of a good time.

I got to exit 14 off the Mass Pike. This is where the drive was going to get hairy. The traffic thickened up. There was construction. I was paying careful attention while the GPS was telling me to do something else. I made it to 93 heading north without ending up on Cape Cod. By just after noon I pulled into the icy driveway next to the home where Laney, Winnie and Piglet had been living for the past 11 days.

Laney on the Bed
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Laney waits forever for a family to call her own.

I was greeted by Michelle, the pet-sitter, since the adopter was still out of town. She was very nicely dressed and had carefully applied lots of make-up. She had a thick Boston-accent and I found myself unable to understand all the words she said. It was like a phone call with a spotty connection where every so many words drop out of the conversation. It was enough so that I understood, but if there were any nuances I missed them.

I’d never seen the home in person though I most often do home visits before adoption. I’d seen photos so it wasn’t much of a surprise. It was a cute 1940’s era bungalow. All the heavy oak trim had been painted white. Most of the walls and furnishings were white and there were a few very nice period pieces of furniture, but there wasn’t much of a sign of anything for the cats other than a very tiny, short cat tree that wouldn’t stand up to much more than a kitten.

Winnie and Laney 400
The only image I have from their adopter, before she left the girls.

I looked down and Laney came over to me, tail up. She looked much as she had before, only a bit thinner and she had dandruff, which alarmed me. It’s usually a sign of diet issues and I wondered what she was being fed. Winnie and Piglet were nervous. They knew something was up.

Michelle and I filled out the Surrender form, then we discussed how we’d get the cats in their crates. I had hoped to lure them into the bathroom where I’d have easier access to them, but it didn’t work. Only Laney went after the treat and I easily put her into the bigger of the two carriers. I’d noticed a few weeks before that she seemed to like being with Piglet so there was room for her inside the crate, too. We just had to get her.

Winnie was tough to wrangle, but eventually I was able to get her crated. She began to cry and so did Laney. I knew getting Piglet might be nearly impossible. She would certainly know something was going on and she'd already dove under the sofa to hide.

We tipped the sofa back and it surprised me but Piglet shut down emotionally when I reached for her. I quickly scruffed her and lifted her into the crate with Laney. Laney, her devoted grandmother, immediately hissed and swiped aggressively at Piglet.

Great. Just great. I had no other place for Piglet. We’d just have to deal with it. Maybe they’d calm down?

There was no fanfare. No goodbye. It didn’t look like a home that had cats. It looked like a home that was going to be in a magazine and it didn’t have room for messy cats. Part of me wanted to do something mean. Break something. Say something cruel, but what would be the point? In the end, Michelle gave me directions to the highway and instead of following her, I just left. I wanted to put this behind me as fast as I could. I’d been in Boston for 30 minutes. That was enough time for me.

Winnie was upset. She cried. She cried ALL THE WAY HOME FOR THREE HOURS. Laney flipped out and attacked Piglet. There was nothing I could do. I had to drive safely. I wanted to scream. At one point I did. I yelled at them to shut up, but that didn’t fix anything. I quickly realized that if I drove over 65 mph, the cats would cry even more and Laney would lay into Piglet again. I couldn’t even try to get home fast. I had to balance driving with the nutjobs who were focused on getting out of work on a Friday afternoon and getting to somewhere better. With the constant shrieks from Laney, I had even more pressure on me to get home before Piglet was gravely injured.

I knew I could stop to check on them, but again, it would just drag out the trip. I wanted to get this over with. I was already really tired after driving the first 165 miles of the trip. Now I had to do it in reverse.

I had planned to stop at a deli on the way home and get some treats for Sam and myself. Sam was going to place the order ahead of time so I wouldn’t have to wait, but I was already in such a bad mood I called him and said not to do the order. I had to get home. No stopping. Just driving. It was bad enough that I pulled over at a rest stop to call him because the hands-free thing didn’t work very well. Stopping didn’t soothe the cats. Three more hours and I’d be home.

I hated my life. I hated the crying, fighting cats. I hated that they were going to be messed up from this experience. I hated that they were going back into a small room. It wasn’t fair to them. I hated that I would have to cancel my plans on rescuing some kittens because they were taking up space that could go to them. I hated that it seemed like all I had in my life was bad news, heartbreak, stress. Nothing was good any more. I was probably gaining weight back, too. The thing I fear so much after giving up everything I loved to eat was that I couldn’t maintain the weight loss. My pants felt like they were strangling my waist.

Sun Dog
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson.

And then I looked up. It was a sun dog. As I drove along the Mass Pike, I realized it was a full sun dog. I’d never seen one before. As the cats cried, I whispered; “thank you,” not sure to whom or what being, just a general thank you for the reminder that there is good and beauty in the world. It’s all around us. In our darkest hours it’s there. We just have to open our eyes to see it.

©2016 Robin A.F. Olson.

Next up: Home Again. Will Jelly and Lolli remember their mom? Will Laney continue to flip out? Is Piglet badly injured?

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A Rescuer's Worst Nightmare. Hoarding.

I just did something I don’t feel good about. In fact, I’m shaking.

I just got off the phone with a Humane Enforcement Officer because I needed to let her know about a situation that has weighed heavily on my heart these past few days. Due to the legal implications surrounding this case I have to change names and locations of all involved. I hope you understand that before I go on any further. The last thing I need is for this to blow up, but I can’t keep this story to myself either.

Last week I got a call from a lady who lives out-of-state. She’d called me a few years ago asking for help with kittens. I was able to put her in touch with a great gal who does rescue in her area who could help her. This woman was a bit difficult to work with and seemed easily stressed and somewhat paranoid, but my goal is to help the cats whatever it takes, so I did my best to focus on the task at hand. The very nice gal took two moms and 12 kittens. Everyone of them was spayed and vetted and the moms were returned to the woman. The kittens were all adopted. At the time, I was told there was no concern for the living situation of the cats and that the great gal did not see any sign of hoarding.

When the woman called again the other day, things went differently. The woman told me she had two cats who were pregnant and about to give birth any day. She’d called on other rescues and shelters but they would spay-abort the cats and she couldn’t allow that to happen.

I understood her feelings and I have to admit it’s something I haven’t done, either. This is a divisive topic between people who do rescue. They don’t usually talk about aborting kittens. Frankly, I don’t want to even think about it, but…the woman told me the pregnant cats were 9-10 MONTHS OLD. They were still kittens themselves. The stress on their bodies, their smaller size, their inexperience could add up to a very bad situation. Our foster kitty Winnie was very young when she gave birth and only one of her kittens, Piglet, survived. Piglet only lived because Winnie had parenting help from her cat-mother, Laney. Who would help these cats?

Trying to remain calm I asked about other cats in the home. The woman admitted to having over 30, brushing it off, blaming her husband for taking in a stray male cat who was intact and the fact that they couldn’t get the cats fixed until spring when the mobile spay/neuter van came around. I told her I’d find her a vet to do the procedures sooner and that we’d even pay for it if that would help, but she continued on saying her home smelled like cat urine, as if that was something anyone in her situation would expect.

Then she, matter-of-factly said something that made it tough to not crawl through the phone line and throttle her. She told me that last year she lost (died) 16 kittens to a “URI”. SIXTEEN KITTENS DIED. WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON.

Clearly there is a much bigger problem going on beyond needing a rescue to “get rid of” (her words) the kittens who would be born soon. She didn’t suggest they be killed, but she wanted them out of her home, just like the last two litters…well they weren’t the last two litters that were born. The last kittens I knew of were born years ago and she's telling me that kittens are still being born because she added there were a bunch of kittens running around “but we’re going to keep them. We just need help with the ones that are being born soon.”

I offered to take the pregnant cats and that I’d work with a rescue/s to get the moms back to her once the kittens were weaned in about 8-12 weeks. She flipped out. She began to rant that the cats couldn’t leave her. Why couldn’t I just come get the kittens in 8 weeks? They could be born in her home. She had them locked up in a cat carrier in the bathroom so the other cats couldn’t get to them. I told her about the health risks since she had so many kittens die that certainly there was an illness in her home and she volleyed back that her cats only had worms and that she used Frontline on her dogs and used the SAME stuff on her cats to save money (which can be DEADLY! DO NOT USE FLEA TREATMENT FOR DOGS ON CATS).

I explained that complications can arise during birth and asked her if she was ready to take the cats to the Vet should something happen. She said she didn’t drive and was handicapped. I suggested that it would be much safer for the pregnant cats to leave her for now and that I was sure any rescue who took them would give her updates on how they were doing. She got more and more upset, saying she didn’t have email and she couldn’t bear for the cats to leave her. They were “her life” and that “they got upset if she ever left the house.”

The conversation was going south fast. I tried everything I could think of to get her to let me take the cats. She said she’d have to think about it and call me back. I knew she would never call again. As I hung up the phone, I imagined the cats, suffering, probably quite sick, pregnant, in a home that struggled to provide for them.

And then I made the mistake of going on Zillow.com to look up her address. She lives in a 470 sq ft trailer WITH OVER 30 CATS. I knew then I could not hope for the best. I had to do something about it.

I did some research and there wasn’t much available online. I managed to find the number of that state’s SPCA. Though they did not have jurisdiction where I needed help, the did tell me a few things: 1: Over 24 animals requires a breeder’s license, 2: if there are unsanitary (cat urine!) conditions then it doesn’t matter how many animals are on the property.

The officer gave me the contact info of a Humane Officer who could help and today was the day we were finally able to speak about the situation.

She agreed this person needed to be investigated and also that the part of town was notorious for having issues with animals. Though this person wasn’t on her radar she felt it was definitely something she had to check out. I don’t know when she will go there, but I do know that the local shelter is too small to take all the cats. I’ve already started to reach out to some rescue folks for help but I plan to do a lot more once I have some answers and know what is needed.

I asked Sam to give me a hug after the call was over. I felt like the fate of these cats was in my hands; that if they were put to sleep it was because of my call. Sam reminded me that these cats would have died anyway, perhaps a lot slower, perhaps in much worse conditions. Maybe they’d die giving birth? I hate myself for doing this, but I'd also hate myself if I didn't make the call.

For me, there is no winner in a situation like this. It's unlikely that all the cats will get out alive. What's likely is that this woman and her husband are being sickened by the ammonia in the air in their their trailer. I want to think of the good that could come out of this. Perhaps not being stressed by the responsibility for caring for so many animals in too small of a space would help them, but I doubt it will happen. I think the woman is going to flip out…way out…if they take her cats away and my fear is she's going to come after me next.

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In a Perfectly Shitty World

This year has sucked and it’s barely February. The suck-factor far outweighs any highlights there have been, especially now.

Eleven days ago I, once again, gave up something I planned to do that might have been a fun excursion so I could be home to hopefully do an adoption. I spent a good part of the day before cleaning the house and the foster room so it would be presentable. A few days before that I had to spend a better part of the afternoon running the cats to the vet to get their Health Certificates for travel outside the state. It cost almost $200. I would not get that fee back, but I knew the girls were going to a good home so it was a loss I could handle.

Winnie in the WIndow
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Winnie the last morning before her adoption.

I got up really early, because the adopter didn’t want to drive home in the dark and she had a long trip from out of state. I took the adopter to the pet store we use so I could help her learn what foods were best for the cats. I gave her items from the foster room, like a huge cat scratcher, so the cats would have a familiar scent in their new home.

Laney, Winnie and Piglet got adopted that day, or so I thought. I agonized over having to let them go, crying and miserable after they left. I knew it was what needed to be done, but part of me felt a bit unsure about this being a forever placement.

Turns out I was right, but it wasn’t a good realization.

Piglet by Tunnel R Olson
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Piggie got sick the morning of her adoption. Maybe she knew something I didn't know?

Laney, Winnie and Piglet are being returned not because they aren’t great cats, but because their adopter has “family issues” and has decided via a very terse email, that they need to be given up. At least I got the email, instead of the girls being dumped somewhere. I want to be gracious about it and I believe I have been (so far), but I'm also pissed and resentful that in the THREE MONTHS I’ve gone back and forth with this person, she has the cats for a day or two, then has to go out of town, then gives up on them before she even comes home.

Are these sweaters that are the wrong color? Did you worry that your precious antique furniture was going to get scratched by Winnie because you didn’t want to put cat trees in your home? You complained she really likes to jump up on things and hoped that would end. Maybe that was a hint there was trouble brewing.

IMG 6616
©2016 Robin AF Olson. After Piglet threw up, Jelly Belly looked after her.

In all honesty, she offered to drive them back here a week from Sunday, but why wait? It would be better for them to not get settled any more than they already are. Their pet sitter told me they are doing really well and seem very happy to have room to spread out. They’re eating well and friendly, but how would they be treated if the adopter knew she was giving them up? Would she just feed them and ignore them? Or what’s worse—I wouldn’t want her to change her mind AGAIN and decide to keep them if she spent the next week with them. I can’t risk it.

Now I have to drive three hours to go get them, turn around and drive home with them crying in the car for another three or MORE hours (with rush hour). At least they’ll be in a familiar place once they get here and Jelly and Lolli will be thrilled to see them again, but it still sucks.

IMG 6618
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Poor Piglet. She is going to be emotionally scared forever.

And Piglet. She’s been adopted twice and returned. She’s going to be a wreck. And I love Winnie and I don’t know if I can let her go again. This is messed up, but I have to face it and take care of it.

I'm miffed because I'd hoped to move Barry and Mia into the big foster room since only Lolli and Jelly were left in it. Barry and Mia haven’t had any sunshine for months. Their room faces north. I feel really really badly about it. I need them in a better space and I need to make room SOON for the spring kitten arrival.

I also thought I could finally take a break, too. Five and a half years since I’ve only had my cats in the house. Now our numbers are going back up by three. I’m happy it’s the girls, but I’m busted up because I need a freakin’ break.

Next up: the trip to Boston. Please let it be a safe, easy trip...or is that asking too much?

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The Crossroad. Chapter 3. What Lies Ahead.

(continued from part 2 and part 1)

Lisa was the Tech. She was a pretty blonde with a slight southern accent. I tried to chat with her but she was all business. The room was not much nicer than the waiting room and certainly not any more cheerful. There was a treadmill flanked by two computers with a hospital bed next to one of them. Lisa told me to remove everything on top and put on a smock with the front open. I balked, being shy, and said I wore a sports bra thinking that the underwire from my other bras would have caused a problem. She apologized and said everything had to go or it could interfere with the test.

I did as I was told, trying to have an out-of-the-body experience. I am not a fat girl, half naked in front of a stranger. It was bad enough having to be naked at all. I wished I was home, scooping one hundred litter pans over doing this.

I knew seeing my boobs was nothing of interest to Lisa because she’d seen a million bare breasts before mine. She was very careful to keep me covered as much as she could as she wiped my chest with rubbing alcohol so the suction cups attached to the leads on the ECG would stay in place. She did her job quickly and effectively, then asked me to lay on my left side so she could take a baseline ECG and ultrasound of my heart. The harness was bulky so I had to move slowly. Once I got into position she warned me that the gel might be a bit cold. I didn’t care. I just wanted to live through what was coming next.

As Lisa began to roll the ultrasound device into my flesh, I looked up at the screen and saw it moving in black and white…my heart. My little heart beating away reminded me of a Kissing Gouramis fish, gulping what looked like air, but I knew was blood. Very quietly I said; “Hello, heart” as tears filled my eyes.

And in that instant I fell in love. There was my faithful heart, pumping lifesaving blood throughout my body. I’d never given it much thought until now, yet there it was, doing its job, keeping me alive. I wanted to care for my heart, protect it. For the first time in my life I felt love for my body. It was one of the most profound moments of my life. I only hoped it wasn't too late.

Cardiac Dobutamine stress echo
I had no way to take a photo of the moment I saw my heart, but this is what a typical stress echo looks like.

Lisa explained that the cardiologist would be in soon to do the test. He would be monitoring me the entire time and that I shouldn’t worry. Meanwhile, she handed me some paperwork stating the inherent risks of the tests, including death, and would I sign it please.

Lisa left the room for a few minutes. I sat on the end of the bed noticing a readout on the wall. It was showing the beats per minute of my heart: 110. I didn’t need to see that to know I was in a panicked state. I tried to focus on my Buddhist training; settle your mind, let go of your thoughts. My heart slowed down to 89, but only for a moment before it returned north of 100. Pure adrenaline and terror pulsed through my veins with every beat. Not much was going to change that.

The doctor came in and said hello. I told him about my concerns and he told me in 30-something years only three people had been pushed into a heart attack and one died but they revived him. He must have told this to every patient because he was moving through the motions at a fast pace. He assured me not to worry and to step onto the treadmill. I was to walk at increasing speed and sharper angle to push my heart to a target zone. This was it. Make or break.

I started to walk and my heart felt all right. The doctor quickly increased the angle of the treadmill and I started to falter. I told him I had pain but it was coming from my gut and my lungs more than my heart. The aspirin had done a number on me and so had being sedentary for six weeks. I couldn’t do it. I broke out into a cold sweat and warned I was going to vomit. He asked me if I could go another 30 seconds. I did, but in the end I couldn’t reach my target heart rate. As directed earlier, I got off the treadmill as fast as I could and laid back down on the bed on my left side. I was panting, desperately angry at myself for not reaching the target heart rate, but glad I was still alive.

Lisa fumbled around, searching for a vessel for me to purge into while she mumbled about how she thought she had one somewhere. As I tried to keep everything down, she finally dug out a dusty rose colored plastic dish from the innards of a cabinet, placing it in my free hand that was out of the way of the wires of the harness. She quickly began moving the ultrasound device around my chest grabbing video of my heart. As she focused on her task, the doctor said, very matter-of-factly, as he left the room, that he didn’t see anything wrong with my heart and that everything looked good. He went to fetch Sam as I laid there clutching the dish, trying not throw up.

I heard the curtain move and I looked up. Sam gave me a small smile and sat down, not saying a word. He reached out and squeezed my toe. I tried to smile back while Lisa kept making records of my heart, switching back and forth from one computer screen to another. It took about five more minutes until she was done. She gave me a towel to clean up with and said we were all set and I could go home.

I was done. I was okay. I could go home and watch the next episode of The Bachelorette where Kaitlyn would continue to suck face with guy after guy; the romance of the show long gone. I used to love these trashy programs, but now I didn't care any more.

As I got dressed I held my breath. I felt shaky and stunned. I was certain my next stop was going to be Yale-New Haven hospital, not home. I didn’t say anything to Sam until we were back inside his car. Once seated and belted, Sam fired up the engine. I felt cool air blowing on my face. I looked up to see more geriatric patients entering the building, but I was leaving. I was going home. As the shock of the past few days began to wane, I felt my body slowly rock back and forth as tears ran down my cheeks.

----------

The next morning I got a call from my G.P.’s nurse. She said my heart looked fine so there was no need for our appointment on Thursday. I told her that I was still having chest pain so I was going to come in. After all this, I had no idea what was bothering me.

For the next few days I focused on my new eating “lifestyle.” I had to cut carbs very dramatically. I read that I should to try to keep it to about 50-55 grams per day. After a lifetime of eating a lot more than that. I had to work on portion control along with what I was eating. I never even gave myself a chance to say farewell to my favorite foods. I just stopped eating them.

I came up with a game plan. I’d work very hard to be careful for the next few months or however long it would take to lose enough weight to get out of the Diabetes-zone. I didn’t even know how much I had to lose. From what I’d read it would need to be a percentage of my weight and that would be a good bit of weight. Ideally I need to lose even more than that. The painful truth is I need to lose at least 30 pounds if not 50 pounds or more. I couldn’t look at it as one big number. I’d have to chip away at it. I’d do it reasonably and thoughtfully. I know I’d have bad and good days. I’d try to be as cutthroat as I could with carbs until I was out of danger, then slowly re-introduce SOME carbs back into my diet, as long as I was exercising (which I hate doing-yay!).

But what pained me more than changing my diet, was in trying to sort out who I was now. Eating is also a deeply social thing for me. I love to go out for breakfast with some of my rescue friends and we have a joke about how pancakes always soothe our souls. Now I can't eat pancakes.

I'm a "Foodie." I love go on road trips and discover out-of-the-way diners, little mom and pop restaurants where the locals like to eat. I also know I use food for neurotic reasons like boredom or anxiety and God knows running a rescue means preventing stress-related eating is going to be a BIG factor...oh and I LOVE to cook. What am I going to do?

The best I could aim for is that I could do this for a few months, then maybe try to go a year, then maybe it would become my new routine and it would be harder to go back down that path full of sugar and carbohydrates since now I see what it will do to me...but can I do it?

Thursday arrived. It marked one week since I’d been diagnosed. This time I was anxious for the nurse to weigh me because I felt thinner. I thought maybe I’d lost a few pounds, but I prepared myself for only a pound or two. I lost SEVEN pounds! Not only that but my blood sugar was normal. This was a very good sign that maybe I wasn’t too late.

I spoke at length to my doctor and she admitted she thought I had agina and she apologized to me that she hadn’t said something sooner. When I told her about taking so much aspirin she gasped. No wonder I’d been so sick. She can’t even tolerate one baby-sized aspirin. I asked her to not hold back any more and to just tell me what she was thinking about. Hiding things from me wasn’t working. I was figuring it out on my own.

We talked about the weird lung pain, gut pain, neck pain, back pain on walking up stairs or some other activities. She said she had no differential diagnosis unless it still was angina and that was something I was not ready to hear. My heart might still be in trouble.

Meter
©2015 Robin A.F. Olson. My new BFF. Fortunately for me, I only have to test if I feel woozy to make sure I don't have hypoglycemia.

She told me that angina presents very oddly in women and that if not angina I might have some sort of problem with my stomach or esophagus. There’d be more tests to do, of course, but I was worried about doing too much and making things get worse. I told her that over the two months it wasn’t as bad as before and that maybe I should give it a week or two and see how I was feeling then. I did not want to take something to turn off the acid pumps in my stomach. I just wanted to give my body time to adjust. I prayed that maybe I’d luck out and it would go away because one treatment for angina is the same as diabetes—diet and exercise. That said, wondering if I have a ticking time bomb in my body is no comfort. I just want to be pain-free and well enough to begin exercising.

The problem is that I don't have a lot of faith in myself. As much as I love my heart (my new BFF) and treasure the health I have, I don't know if I can do this long term. I've already had dreams about eating carbs and repeated uncomfortable cravings. That said, I know what lies ahead for me if I don't do it.

I am NOT going to be a cliché: Middle-aged, fat, unhealthy, crazy-cat-lady. No. Get ready world. Some shit is goin' down in this town.

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The Crossroad. Chapter 1. My Life Comes to an End as I Know It.

There are times in your life when you know you’re at a crossroad. Sometimes the path isn’t so clearly defined and you have to first take a few steps in one direction before you realize you’ve chosen the wrong one. If you're lucky, you can turn back and re-think your choice, maybe even do something about it.

You can take a hard, cold look at your life and visualize the choices you’ve made and what problems you may be creating for yourself to face one day. For example, I saw my parent’s health fail over things they could have controlled early on. I’ve had friends and family, who “knew better” but didn’t do anything about “it” and slowly drank themselves to death or smoked cigarettes for 30 years and wondered why they got salivary gland cancer and died.

I’m not going to live forever, but HOW I live the rest of my life is up to me. I can live it in a strong, vital way or I can make up an excuse not to deal with it. I can give in and give up and just get sicker and sicker, being on more and more medications until I die.

Turkey Club
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Goodbye carbs.

For 50-some years I’ve walked down one road, but there’s a flashing signal alerting me to the failure of my choices and now I need to decide if there’s still time to change course.

I’ve just been diagnosed with Diabetes (type 2).

My Doctor’s office called and said my blood tests were in and the Doctor wanted to see me. There was “nothing to worry about.”

I hoped I’d find out that the chest pains and weird stabbing pains into my arms, chest and neck were related to being Vitamin D deficient (and not the sign of a pending heart attack). I knew maybe my cholesterol would be up or I’d be borderline diabetic, but I’m not a freak about eating sugar and I don’t eat crazy amounts of food. I cut back on wheat and sugar over a year ago. I thought I was basically okay.

I was very wrong.

The Doctor, pardon the pun, didn’t “sugar coat” the news. She said that due to my history (my mother was diabetic late in life) and my weight (which is mostly in my belly) that it was likely this could happen. She said that because my A1C Heamaglobin test was 7.1, and just over the indication of being diabetic (which is 6.5 and the test is accurate to +/- .50), that with diet and exercise I could possibly go into remission. It might not be too late.

My heart sank. I asked what else was wrong and the only other thing was indeed I did have VERY low Vitamin D levels, which can easily be remedied with supplements and some outdoor time. Everything else was normal.

I was glad Sam was in the exam room because I probably would have begun to cry and his being there comforted me. He was putting on a brave face, revealing only subtle disappointment at the news, but I wondered what he thought about what our future might mean now. If I had to change my eating habits, then he might have to as well; but would he be willing?

I asked if any of the tests answered why I was having pains and she answered; “No.” I’m still to take an Echo Stress Test to see if my heart is in bad shape.

Of course with the plethora of information online I’ve already diagnosed my pain issues as stable angina. It would make sense, I have the symptoms, family history and risk factors. If my Doctor senses it, maybe she should have told me and we should have gotten the test done sooner or maybe she’s not really lying and isn’t certain that’s what is going on. I don’t know that I’ve been more terrified of my fate than I am right now. I’m middle-aged. Shit happens-just not to me!

So which path will I take? I knew it before the Doctor finished telling me I about how I had to make serious changes in my life if I wanted any chance to be healthy.

“I’m going to kick this in the ass with everything I’ve got. I heard the wake-up call and I’m listening.” I said to my Doctor.

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©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Perhaps one day I can enjoy a mini-pastry again (if I plan for it and work out after eating it), but until at least next February-no more of this.

I’ve lost weight so many times before, but not studied nutrition as I will have to do now. I’ve never cared about my body. I think I’ve felt unlucky that I was never skinny like the popular girls. In all honesty I only weigh 5 lbs more than I did in early 2000’s, but I’m very overweight and all those years and the STRESS I deal with has taken a toll. I must make changes for the rest of my life IF I want to have a life that does not include: amputations, going blind, heart failure and more. I need to fight for my life and I need to stop hating my body and love and respect it with all I’ve got.

I may already be too late or I may look back on this as the luckiest day of my life. I don’t know if I will be able to give myself the gift of healthy weight for once and for all. It’s been my life’s dream to get rid of this big belly, but something I felt powerless to achieve long-term.

I’m going to imagine my future. I've lost a lot of weight. I can walk comfortably and I exercise. Sam is right there with me, doing the same. We gave ourselves the gift of a better old age and with any luck we’ll get there, but there’s a very long road ahead and the next answers may be even worse than I fear.

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Note to my friends:

It’s not easy to face the fact that you don’t feel quite right. Maybe you’ve been putting off getting something checked. Trust me on this-do NOT WAIT. Yes, there are plenty of reasons not to see a Doctor. I didn’t even HAVE Health Insurance the past decade and if I didn’t have it now I may not have gone. It doesn’t hurt to call a few Doctors and explain your situation and ask for help if money is an issue. There are Federally Qualified Healthcare Clinics all over the country. They can provide services to low/no income families and because they get paid by the Government, it means they won’t cut costs on your care because they’re getting fairly compensated for their services (unlike many Doctor’s offices who don’t get reimbursed enough and will refuse to provide care for people on State Insurance). I found a few in my area and they even have cardiologists.

Be in charge of your future. Own it.

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But meanwhile I wonder if I'm still fluttering on the edge of having a heart attack. My pain isn't going away and I'm in a panic. Are these the last few days of my life?

Find out next….

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Mia's Story: A Very Long Road

Last June I asked all of you to weigh in on a question that was plaguing me; whether or not to transport our foster mom-cat, Mia from Georgia to my home in Connecticut along with her kittens or just transport the kittens. It wasn’t an easy question to answer because I knew that Mia was not friendly enough to be adopted as she was and I wasn’t sure IF she’d ever be friendly towards humans. It would cause a serious rescue-roadblock if she couldn’t be socialized. I couldn’t take on more rescues because she’d be taking up precious foster space, but I also owed it to her to find her a safe harbor and not just kick her to the curb.

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©2104 Warren Royal. Pregnant, terrified, but out of danger Mia's story with us begins.

Mia’s first foster mom, Moe, was able to pet her, but they were in tight quarters and Mia had nowhere to hide. Her kittens were newborn so they didn’t get in the way of any of Moe’s attempts to socialize her. Moving Mia north, also meant she’d be in a bigger room and I’d have a tough time working with her, especially with her much bigger kittens sharing the room. Ideally I’d want to sequester her so it would be just one on one, forcing Mia to either become desensitized to humans or I’d eventually realize I couldn’t “turn her around.” The problem was; I didn’t have the space to separate her from the others.

I’d have to wait months for space to open up. The kittens would eventually be adopted but I’d end up with an adult feral cat remaining that I couldn’t allow to be with any new foster families. It was too dangerous. This HAD to work or I’d be forced to consider sending Mia back to Georgia where our good friend Warren would add her to his small feral colony.

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©2104 Aunt Moe. Mia was a great mama. Here she is with baby Woody (left) and Lil' Snickers (right).

Warren originally trapped and rescued Mia when she was still pregnant, getting her away from a terribly dangerous situation. He told me I could count on him to take her back if things didn’t work out. It would be my very last option and I prayed I'd never have to go that route. It wouldn’t be fair to have Mia indoors for months, then chuck her back outside, especially to a place she’s not familiar with. Odds are, she’d run off and get killed or slowly starve to death. This situation weighed very heavily on me. I just couldn't give up on her.

Moe needed a much deserved break and after careful consideration I decided that Mia should head north with her family.

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©2104 Robin AF Olson. Mia arrives and she's not the only one who's scared.

In late June, Mia and family arrived. From the moment she hissed, racing out of the carrier, I knew I was in trouble. I’d only ever worked with feral kittens, who typically socialize fairly quickly depending on their age. My own cat, Cricket was a horror when I began fostering him and he was 6 months old when I started working with him (in many books too old to try to socialize). He would have rather ripped my face off then let me pet him, but these days he’ll seek out attention, even sitting on my lap. It took years for Cricket to blossom. He’s brave now and even solicits attention from new people who visit our home. It required Sam and I had to work with him every day, but it paid off.

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©2104 Robin AF Olson. The first day everyone was scared but it didn't take long for the kittens to seek out attention from me.

The problem was, I didn’t have the bandwidth to work with Mia.

Mia was never aggressive with me. She just hissed. She had no interest in toys or catnip, just food. She’d come to me, on occasion, if I held out a treat to her, but the kittens would usually snatch the morsel of chicken before I could shoo them away. I couldn’t pet Mia at all. It was just too chaotic in the room to try because she’d always back away and hiss.

I knew as soon as Celeste’s kittens were out of the blue bathroom I’d move Mia over and get to work. Then after Mia and family were adopted I would FINALLY take a break, too. It was the closest I’d gotten to thinking I could take some time off and frankly if I didn’t get it I was a bit worried about what would happen to my mental health.

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©2104 Aunt Moe. The first of Laney's older kittens are rescued.

After a month off from fostering, Moe contacted me about her neighbor’s cat. She’d never been spayed and she was 3 years old and was pregnant again. There were kittens of various ages running around this family’s yard. Moe found one dead. The family flippantly told her “some just go off and never come back.” Most of the kittens were sick. There was a bowl of cheap cat food out on the porch. It was filthy and covered with flies. One of the mom-cat’s daughters was pregnant, too. Moe asked told the people if she could get help would the family would allow us to start spaying and neutering the cats or maybe let us take them into our program?

I hadn’t had a break from fostering in 5 years and I didn’t want to take them on, especially because the head count, with soon-to-be-born kittens could be over a dozen cats (in the end it was closer to 16). I didn’t believe I could easily place two adult cats who were part of the group and I didn’t know how we’d afford it or how much longer it would mean for me to be fostering. I told Moe; “First things first. Get a head count and let’s get those mamas. We’ll start spaying and neutering the ones that are old enough.”

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©2104 Aunt Moe. Laney (front left) with her six kittens and daughter Winnie (behind) with her sole surviving kitten (somewhere in the pile of other kittens).

While I couldn’t promise I’d bring all the cats here, I told her that we’d sort it out later. I knew we could raise the funds for their vet care but it would be costly to provide for them for the coming months. Clearly these animals were at high risk of dying and even though Moe and I were tapped out, we had to do something.

That was last August.

It’s been a blur since we took on Laney, Winnie and their 7 kittens, plus 6 other kittens that were from Laney’s previous litters. They were all in lousy shape and it was a lot of work on Moe’s part to care for so many cats and to get them back to health.

Meanwhile I was experiencing one after another calamity with my foster kittens. Twinkle-Twinkle broke her leg, Fernando ripped his eyelid in three places, Greta ate a string and had to have a barium study done all within a month.

Slowly, I started doing some adoptions. I knew I had to get the numbers down because Laney and crew would need the space in a few months. We got a great foster home with Jame and her family so they took on a few of the kittens to give me some relief.

I finally managed to free up space in the blue bathroom so I thought it would be time to move Mia there. It was early September and for the first time since I could remember, the bathroom could be used as a bathroom and I was a bit reluctant to change that.

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©2104 Robin AF Olson. This tiny kitten would end up changing my life forever.

Before I could do a thing I got a call from my friends over at Animals in Distress about a kitten with a serious birth defect and could I just foster her for a weekend?

...to be continued.

Kitten Associates Featured in the December 2013 Issue of Cat Fancy

On December 14, 2012 my neighbor was murdered in her bed. Her son took off, armed to the hilt and for reasons we may never know, headed for our local elementary school and murdered some of the staff and 20 children.

From the moment I heard the news, I knew I had to do something to help my community. I didn't have much to offer, other than a house full of foster kittens, but what I take for granted, I knew other people might find unique. What I also knew is the healing power that resulted in spending time with kittens. Pet a kitten. Watch them play. You can't be sad when you're in a room full of kittens. The day after the tragedy, my program Kitties for Kids was born. A year later I can say that it was possibly the best thing I've ever done in my entire life.

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I had no idea we'd get accolades from the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association or that I'd meet someone I look up to-U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who also awarded our program with a Special Certificate of Recognition. I just wanted to help my broken-hearted community and had no idea or expectation that anything would happen to me as a result of giving back.

Our program was extended into the spring of this year, then it faded away when our dear kitten Fred, grew ill and later died from the dry form of FIP. I didn't give Kitties for Kids much thought. I was too busy grieving. We didn't get requests for visits and I thought it was time to close the program.

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This summer, I was surprised when Susan Logan, the Editor of Cat Fancy contacted me and asked me if I'd be interested in having them do a story about our program for their December 2013 issue. I didn't hesitate to offer to write the article myself, but in all fairness she said it would be better reporting if she sent someone to me to do the story. I agreed, though as a cat writer, I admit to being a bit frustrated to being so close to writing for a national publication I'd admired since I was a kid.

I met with Kellie Gormly, a cheerful, chatty, cat-lover early in April. We talked at great length about not only doing rescue work, but how the residents of Newtown were coping. I took her on a tour, showing her the Newtown Healing Arts Center where the arts were used to help the children express their feelings and where many donations of artwork were displayed from around the world. I showed her other areas that were about being positive and hopeful, instead of focusing on a tour of where grisly events unfolded. We paid respect to the little fire station near where Sandy Hook Elementary once stood. On its roof are 26 bronze stars, one for each of the victims in the school. It was a cold, bright day, not unlike the day of the shooting. I didn't want to be anywhere near this place and was glad to leave it behind.

Kellie got to work on the article while the design staff at Cat Fancy reviewed the photos I sent them and made their selections for what would make the issue. At the time I had no idea which photos were going to be used where, nor how long the piece was going to be. I hoped for at least a 2-page spread, but had no idea what they'd end up doing.

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The article about Kitties for Kids starts on page 16!

My dear friend Ingrid King sent me an email with the subject saying something to the effect of: "OMG DID YOU SEE THIS??!” Ingrid had attached a scan of the article. Unbeknownst to me, Cat Fancy came out early to subscribers and Ingrid hadn't known Kitten Associates was going to be featured. I imagined her turning page after page, then seeing someone she recognized…there's ROBIN and Spencer!

To quote my mother, I think I “plotzed” when I saw the scan. There, on the very first page of the article was a photo of me with Spencer. It took up more than half the space. When I envisioned the photo being used, I assumed it might be a thumbnail-size near the end of the article. Oh no…it was me in all my glory. Holy moley. I wondered if this is what it's like to be a celebrity? I admit to feeling a mix of delight and horror. Yes, I need to be out there in the public so my rescue can get more help, but wowie it is a strange feeling to see yourself in a magazine you often read.

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Here's a sneak peek of the December 2013 Issue of Cat Fancy. To get your own copy, visit Cat Fancy online.

The next day I had to bring some kittens to Dr. Larry's and the second I walked in the door, I ran over and grabbed their copy of Cat Fancy. I asked if I could do "show and tell" during my appointment and they looked at me like I was crazy (which they are also used to by now). I went into the exam room and looked at the article. It blew me away. Kellie did a great job and I loved the layout. It is 4 pages long and full of photos from our program. They even honored Fred's passing, which meant the world to me.

My parents died many years ago and this is one thing I wish they had lived to see. All the hard work, the tears, resulted in something wonderful for Kitten Associates. When Dr. Larry looked at the spread, his face lit up. He smiled. He was really impressed and proud of me. In that moment I realized how meaningful it is to get a reminder that you're doing the right thing. It gives me fuel to keep going when times get tough.

Kitties for Kids hasn't come to an end. After careful consideration, we have decided to do a special 2-week run of our program. It will start on December 14th, the first anniversary of the tragedy and will run until December 28th. Though we hope no one will feel the need for kitty play-therapy because their hearts are healing, we'll be ready in case we're needed. If you live in Newtown, CT and would like to book a play therapy session, just email us at info@kittenassociates. org and we'll fill you in on how to sign up.

If you'd like to purchase a copy of the December 2013 issue of Cat Fancy, check your local retailers right now or visit Cat Fancy online. Be sure to check out their Cat Channel which has loads of helpful information about cats, their health and behavior issues. Oh, and don't forget to LIKE them on Facebook!

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