You've Got to be Kidding!

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.

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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.

Luigis R Olson copy
©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.

Trapped and confused
©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.

2014 04 23 Mia and Boys
©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.

Very Long Day MS
©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.”

2014 09 01 12 10 26 all together
©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.

Freya in strawberry r olson copy
©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.

Kitties for Kids LU R.Olson 475.jpg

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.

Cat Fancy KA Pages.jpg
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!

The Clementines Arrive with Lots of Unwelcome Friends Part 1

Three weeks ago Sam and I drove to Philadelphia. With miserable traffic on a Friday night and rainy roads it took 5 hours instead of 3, but we were determined to get there. Our goal was simple, eat a big sandwich at Tony Luke’s and pick up 6 orange kittens who were scheduled to arrive via a legged transport. They were nicknamed the Clementines, but some might have called them the Lucky Ones because we had rescued them from a small rural animal control in eastern Kentucky just hours before their lives were scheduled to end.

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There were six kittens from one litter and one kitten (the dilute calico pictured here) from another litter. The dilute was “pulled” from the shelter by a rescue group right away, leaving the orange kittens behind.

I’d never done a rescue from Kentucky before and I had to trust people I didn’t know who promised me they would make sure the kittens were quarantined properly and vetted before they arrived. It left me feeling very uneasy because I had no choice but to hope that the kittens were really cleared of fleas, de-wormed, given their first vaccination and checked before leaving for Connecticut. I feared that coming out of a shelter they would be sick, but was assured they were healthy. The last thing I wanted to do was put my other foster cats or my own cats at risk of getting a disease or parasite.

Before we even started our trip, I got a call from my friend, Izzy. She and her hubby, Mark, will frankly drive just about anywhere to help cats in need get to their home and on this day they’d offered to drive from Pennsylvania to West Virginia and back to Philly to rendezvous with us. I’ve depended on them many times as my link to make some of these rescues happen. Izzy’s voice sounded a bit funny as she started to speak. I knew something was wrong.

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©2013 Friends of Powell County. Not a life for such lovely creatures. I'm so grateful we could get them out thanks to the efforts of people in Powell County.

“Did these kittens get treated for fleas, by any chance?”

I told her they had been bathed only and a vet had seen them just the day before to give them a clean bill of health.

“Well I just killed a little bugger coming off one of the kittens and now I’m seeing another one.”

My heart sank.

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©2013 Foster Home in KY. Just for the record, this is NOT QUARANTINE.

During the supposed two week quarantine, I learned that the kittens had been brought outside, Vet’s orders. He said they needed 15 minutes of fresh air every day. When I learned that I just about popped. What kind of foolishness is this? I sent my contact a number of emails, furious that they kept breaking quarantine by going outside. She wouldn’t understand why that was wrong. I saw photos of them in a cage outside in someone’s yard, but when I saw photos of then running around in the grass that just infuriated me. You can’t have quarantine if the cats go outside! Am I crazy? I felt like I was losing my mind. They just didn’t get it and I knew they were exposing the cats to who knows what. So much for having “clean” kittens arrive. It also made me very worried-did they REALLY get ANY vetting? How could a vet see them the day before, say they were ready to travel, when they were crawling with fleas? You might get a stray flea after seeing the vet, but a lot of them? No way.

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©2013 Foster Home in KY. Blossom enjoying "quarantine."

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

“Well, we can stop at Walmart and I can get some supplies and bathe them while we’re driving.” Izzy said without skipping a beat.”

“What?!”

“It won’t be perfect but it will be something. I’m seeing a lot of fleas.”

“Great.”

So Izzy rigged up a small container with apple cider vinegar and a drop or two of dish soap and water. She soaked the kittens up to their necks as Mark drove 65 mph towards Philly. She picked off and killed as many fleas as she could while I sent off an angry email to the folks in Kentucky.

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©2013 Izzy. Fleas anyone?

Once I had time to let the news settle I became fearful I was now going to have to deal with an explosion of fleas throughout my house.

I made a few calls and talked to some of my rescue friends. They assured me it’s not that big of a deal, but to not take it lightly, either. There would be a great deal of vacuuming in my future and washing all the linens that the kittens were exposed to.

Due to having limited space for fosters, I had planned to crate the kittens in the one room we NEVER allow cats. It’s the room that has the expensive family heirloom rugs and precious family items I can’t risk cats destroying. I didn’t want the kittens in the room, but thought for just one night it would be okay since they had been vetted. Now I had to worry about the kittens dropping fleas all over the rugs and them getting into the nearby linen closet. I just didn’t have much experience with fleas. You’d think I had after over ten years of doing rescue, but most often the cats have been quarantined before I get them.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. The photo is not great, but the dark blobs in the photo are clumps of dead fleas. The bottle was full of them

I had a big tub of diotamaceous earth. It’s fossilized algae and it gets onto the exoskeleton of the flea and basically dries them out and they die. It’s very safe for pets so I sprinkled it liberally all over the room, the bedding where the kittens would sleep, anywhere that made sense. The plan was to re-bathe them at their new foster home that would open up the following morning. I just had to keep the fleas at bay for one night.

This foolishness cost me. I had to buy 16 doses of Revolution® to cover my cats and the foster cats. I could not risk letting one flea start a nightmare throughout my cats. I had to buy another 12 doses (for now) to cover the kittens (a 2-month supply) once they were big enough to be treated. I didn’t dare do it right away because I was told they were all very underweight and probably a bit too young for much more than a bath.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. After three tries I finally named all the kittens. We have: Mango (top left), Sherbert (below Mango), Marigold (center), Mandarin/Mandy (lower right), Buttercup (top right) and Blossom (not in photo) .

I couldn’t give them Capstar, which kills fleas in 45 minutes, because they were too fragile. It was very frustrating.

We arrived in Philly around 8:30pm and had a few minutes to eat before Izzy and Mark arrived. The sandwiches we’d been looking forward to were VERY spicy, not at all what we remembered. Just as we gave up on finishing them our friends arrived.

Izzy got out of the car. She was holding a plastic bottle that at one time held a beverage. She showed it to me. It was the wastewater from bathing the kittens. It took me a minute to make sense of why the water was MOVING. There were probably over 100 fleas wiggling around in the fluid. I felt sick.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Sherbert before things got really bad for him.

“I didn’t get them all, but I got a lot of them, nasty buggers.” Izzy said as she shook her head.

I bent down and looked into the cat carrier. It was dark and tough to see the kittens. I could barely make out their faces, but I could see their coats were ratty and they were anxious, unsure of what had been happening. I told them it would be okay and that they were almost home, but I feared this was just the tip of the iceberg with having problems with the kittens and sadly I was right. Having fleas would be nothing compared to what was to happen next.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. The first sign of problems to come. Blossom's eye is infected. Will this happen times 6 kittens?

Part two next up…

DEAR FRED WINS 2013 DOGTIME PETTIE AWARD FOR BEST BLOG POST!

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I'm absolutely shocked and thrilled to share our good news that thanks to ALL OF YOUR SUPPORT and VOTES we've WON the Dogtime Pettie Award for Best Blog Post for “Dear Fred,” which honored the last day of Fred's life before he passed away.

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If you'd like to see a rebroadcast of the Awards Show, go HERE

More than anything I'm so grateful that now Fred will live on. His short life was truly precious and knowing that in some way his story will be heard by so many is a humbling gift.

I'm also overjoyed that my non-profit cat rescue, Kitten Associates will be getting the prize money-a $1000.00 donation that will go directly to our newest rescued family.

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Not only are we celebrating our win, but our dear friend Ingrid King of The Conscious Cat won Best Overall Pet Blog (for a second time!) and Ingrid has generously offered her prize money/donation to Kitten Associates, as well! This will make it very easy to tell our super-foster mama, Maria that YES, we can afford to take the abandoned kitty-family she found and be able to provide care for them without worry.

Rescue never sleeps-awards or not. Meet Biscotti & Pizzelle. Two of a family of four just rescued. Stay tuned for more about these sweet 4-week old kittens, their two siblings and their mama!

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and THANK YOU. THANK YOU VERY MUCH to my dedicated friends who made this award happen. THANK YOU!!! This award means the world to me.

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PRODUCT REVIEW and MYSTERY: The Case of the Neko Flies String

Your cats are bored. They get into fights. They bite your ankles or the just lay around with a glazed look in their eyes. They're little hunters with nothing to hunt (unless you let them outside, but please don't do that!). Can you imagine not having an outlet for your deepest desires? To be crass, that would really stink.

I try to have play time with my cats every night, but getting them to chase after a toy can be daunting because my cats are either 2 years old or 12 years old or older. What would I use that appeals to all of them?

Some cats are “air hunters” while others prefer to stalk prey at the ground level, so I'd need a toy that works well dragged on the floor, mimicking the movements of a bug, and something I could gently whip back and forth to get my air hunters to jump.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Stan is the consummate high-flyer when Neko Flies are around.

Usually I've solved this problem by having more than one toy in my arsenal. I still believe that you should offer options for your cats, from small balls to faux mice and catnip laden toys. That said, I can only hold so many toys in my hand at one time and I needed something that covered all the bases. At last I've found a series of interactive toys that gets cats off their big behinds and turns the lights back on in their eyes. I give you, Neko Flies!

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Jellybean Mel inspects mysterious package.

Unlike many wand toys I've used in the past, Neko Flies feel well made. Their clear plastic rod has a comfortable rubber grip. At the opposite end of the grip is a clip with a charming braided green and black cord that's attached to a variety of “Lures” that resemble and move like real bugs or mice.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Gracey grabs her Kattiepede.

Ellen, the creator of Neko Flies, underscored the importance of creating unique, carefully crafted (some elements are done by hand) toys that are as safe as possible for cats. She told me they constantly look for ways to improve their product, from finding ways to use less glue (they already only use a few drops), to finding thicker material for the wings of their Kragonfly cat toy as well as for better ways to anchor the loop into the toy so it doesn't pull free when cats tug on it. Ellen seems almost obsessed with designing toys that truly appeal to cats and are not just a collection of feathers glued to a string or that utilize materials that are so cheap they fall apart after one use.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. What IS this?!

It was tempting to write the world's shortest review by stating: I LOVE NEKO FLIES. Rather, my CATS love Neko Flies.

But then something happened…

One of the cats bit the green and black cord, severing one-third off it, along with the Kragonfly. I took the fly away so they wouldn't eat it, thinking I would just trim the end of the cord and reattach the Fly to it. In the meantime, since I was cooking dinner and trying to play with the cats at the same time, I would just have them chase after the string, without the toy attached because they seemed to like it just fine.

Ahhh…hindsight is 20-20 vision, as they say.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Love at first bite.

I'd gotten into the habit of hiding the Neko Flies where the cats couldn't get at it to keep them from destroying it. These toys are SO ENTICING you can't leave them laying around. It's just not safe. Really. If only I had READ THE BOX the Neko Flies came in because I would have seen the WARNING on it. I didn't read the WARNING on their web site, either, which I'm sharing with you here:

Some cats become so enamored and hooked on NEKO FLIES that they have been known to try and get the toy off a shelf by themselves! This is an interactive toy for a human to play with the kitty, so keep your Neko flies tucked safely tucked away in a drawer or closet until you are ready to play with your cat again!

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[Neko Flies Lure is attached to a card with this warning printing on it. See? They told me so!]

“Neko Flies are designed as a toy for you and your cat to play with together. The lures at the end are designed to move in a lifelike way which is a great part of their appeal, even to cats who usually are not interested in toys or playing. However, these toys are not intended to be left with a cat to chew or destroy (as she would actual live prey). Once your cat manages to catch a toy you should praise her and then get her to release it right back to you by offering her a really tasty treat - doing a "bait-and-switch" the way you would with a human toddler or a dog who have gotten something you don't want them to possess. Because the Neko Flies lure toys are so enticing to cats, there is a warning that they should never be left anywhere your cat can get to them without your participation. This is a wand toy, not a chew toy! Neko Flies satisfy your cat's primal instinct to hunt and chase - but it is up to you to then protect the lures from your cat's instinct to "kill!"”

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

I turned my back on my cats to check on dinner. I didn't even leave them alone for more than a minute. I looked back and the green and black cord was one-third the length it had been. Clearly, one of the cats had chewed it off and possibly EATEN IT. In decades of being a cat-mom, this was the first time I ever had to worry that a cat ingested such a large part of a toy.

I searched the living room. I knew the culprits were either my tiny foster cat, Mabel or my big bruiser, the DOOD. I had a bad feeling it was DOOD because he's, well, not the sharpest pencil in the box.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Stanley goes nuts for Neko.

I couldn't find a thing. In a panic, I called Neko Chan, home to Neko Flies. Ellen, herself, called me back right away. We talked about what materials were used in the cord (polyester).I called the ER Vet and told them about what material I believe one of the cats ingested and they suggested I bring both cats down, spend $1500.00 per cat on endoscopy-that was IF they could get an internist to come to work late on a Sunday night. They also told me to get a cat to vomit is some sort of “holy grail” treatment because the chemicals they might use to make them vomit usually kills them.They told me to watch for the cat to become listless, vomit, not eat and if that happened to RUSH them in for EMERGENCY SURGERY because the cord could twist up in the intestines and basically KILL the cat.

OR…it might pass on its own…out the “other” end.

Great.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Petey prepares to pounce.

The next few days were absolute Hell on my nerves. I ripped apart the living room the next day and checked everywhere I could, but no string was found. I hovered over the DOOD and Mabel, but they ate as usual and seemed unaffected. Then I started to worry that maybe it wasn't them, but another cat. I have 9 cats running around! This was going to end badly, I just knew it.

Ellen checked in with me, hopeful I had good news, but there was no sign of the missing string. I thought maybe I was getting Alzheimer's and this was the first sign? I was so paranoid that I carried the remaining section of cord in my purse, in case I had to take one of the cats to the ER so they would know what to look for yet still…nothing.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Gracey and Joey enjoying their new toy..

Six WEEKS passed. I was getting breakfast ready for the kittens and I saw a GREEN ball with pale colored ball next to it on a paper towel on the counter. I asked Sam what it was and he said he found it when he was scooping the litter pan. I looked at it for a moment, then the alarms went off in my head. It was cat excrement with the STRING from the Neko Flies in it!

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Woah. Green Poo (and no ham).

Being the offspring of two scientists, I HAD to get a magnifying glass out and inspect the green stool. We feed our cats a raw diet so their stool is VERY pale, hard and dry. I teased apart the green ball and saw fibers. I put the section of string I had in my purse next to the questionable object and the color matched. Whoever ate the string passed, at least some of it out. Thank God.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Six weeks later, the green string is found.

Although I'll never know if that was ALL of the string, hopefully it was enough so that it won't adversely effect the cat who ate it (most likely the DOOD). I don't know if the raw diet slowed the process down since the cats don't pass much stool or if it helped. All I care about is that my cats are fine and my pocket still has a few bucks in it.

After all this would I still tell you to go out and buy Neko Flies. Absolutely, YES I would! I want you to know about my foolishness so that you truly appreciate the warning from NekoChan. Their toys are so enticing we must be careful in how we use them and our reward for that mindfulness is that our cats will get the exercise they need and have their hunting desire sated. I'm still using the Kattipede today and hope to add more Lures to my collection soon.

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If you'd like your very own Neko Flies: Foxifur Kittenator with Rod, simply leave a comment in this post to enter. Tell me what's the weirdest thing your cat has eaten or just give me a good reason why you should win. Make it funny, entertaining, creative.

Best entry as Judged by me, Robin Olson of Covered in Cat Hair, will win ONE FOXIFUR KITTENATOR with ROD. You may only leave ONE comment for ONE CHANCE to win per person. This Giveaway ends FRIDAY, AUGUST 30, 2013 at 11:11 AM EST and is open to residents of the USA and CANADA (yay Canada!) only (sorry guys outside of those areas!). Rules, quantities and whatever else I forgot are subject to change without notice.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. DOOD.

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After careful consideration, from time to time I write product reviews. If you see it here, it's because, at LEAST I think it's worth you knowing about even if I have an issue with it and, at BEST, I think it's amazing and we should all have one, two or more of whatever it is I'm reviewing. I get NO reimbursement for writing these reviews, though to write a review I am supplied with the item, as I was in this case. This review is MY OPINION, ONLY. The result you experience using this product may differ (I can only hope there will not be any ER Vet visits!).

Christmas in August Thanks to 1800PetMeds

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Oh boy! What's in the boxes? What's in the boxes?!!!

It's one thing to order a little something special for yourself, then anxiously await its arrival. The doorbell rings and the delivery person leaves a box by your door. You have a moment of joy anticipating what's inside the box, even if you already know what it is.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. What is it?

So imagine for a moment what it's like when you open your front door and there's an enormous stack of boxes sitting there and you don't know where they came from. You start searching your mental database of what the heck you did. Did you have a late-night pity-purchase jag that's going to set you back even further into debt? You know you're credit card is in a lock box because you really can't be using it right now so where on Earth did these boxes come from?

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Embarrassment of riches!

You brighten, realizing you behaved yourself, this one time. It's not some crazed shopping spree, it's a donation from 1-800-PetMeds®. Wait…THIS IS A DONATION?

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. This Igloo Cat Bed is so nice I don't want to let the cats use it.

As I opened each box, they revealed eye-popping delights—a very fancy Refined Feline® Igloo Cat Bed, Omega 3 Capsules (much needed by my cat, Gracie, who suffers from skin issues), a SmartCat® Garden and Peek-a-Prize (the kittens will love this), 1800PetMeds treats, catnip, and as I opened the final package, the trumpets blared, Ta-Da!, a box containing a much desired Refined Feline Cat Clouds Cat Shelf™.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. It's not the Starship Enterprise! It's a Cat Clouds Cat Shelf!

It would be one thing if I could go out and buy all these things for myself, but I can't. Putting gas in my car is a big accomplishment, so these items mean even more to me and my cats. I'm not sure which cats will be enjoying some of these items, but with eight cats and nine fosters, I'm sure they'll all benefit in some way.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Blitzen likes the boxes, best, of course.

These days not getting bills in the mail is a good day, but finding a stack of huge boxes by your door from a well-meaning company is a humbling delight. Thank you Dana and friends at 1-800-PetMeds for really making my week, if not, month and thank you for offering up some lovely products I can use or donate to my rescue.

Tags Click a link below to find more articles on that topic.

BarkAid Has Gone to the Cats

A few months ago I got an email from a cat-loving friend of Covered in Cat Hair who lives in Rhode Island. She told me that she wanted to help out Kitten Associates, but didn't have a lot of resources to make a donations. Instead, she told me about a program called BarkAid and suggested I contact the Founder, Patrick Lomantini, and ask him if Kitten Associates could be part of his fundraising efforts.

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BARK. AID? Isn't that for dogs?

After visiting BarkAid's web site, I came to understand the following:

Patrick owns Lomantini the Salon in Wichita, Kansas. He loves animals even though he couldn't have one as a child AND he's somewhat allergic to cats. He wanted to make a difference helping animals in need, but didn't want to focus just on his local rescue. Sure, he could do a cut-a-thon, something he'd done in the past, but it would only help one rescue. It wasn't enough.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

Three years ago, Patrick had the crazy idea to get in his car and travel to one state per DAY, team up with a local salon, cut hair for 12 hours and charge just $20/haircut. At the end of the day he'd donate the money to a local rescue group. Yes, it's nuts, but Patrick is a physical specimen of manly hunkatude who can handle the challenge he set for himself. His 6-pack abs have abs and his biceps would make Popeye blush. Patrick has close-cropped hair and wears tight black t-shirts and jeans, with a big hunky watch. His blue eyes could charm anyone he meets. There's a bubbling energy about him that's contagious, which won him over with folks as he blazed a trail across the country.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

Patrick decided he had 50 days to accomplish his mission and somehow he pulled it off. What is more impressive is that he decided to do it again the next year and again this year, with a small team of volunteers at his side.

Patrick NEEDS a big, fat corporate sponsor for these events, but right now Patrick is paying for the trip out-of-pocket. He wants each rescue to get as much money as they can, so he donates 100% of his profits to them, only asking for tip money to go to the volunteers to pay for gas (last year was $6,000.00 alone) and food. He hopes that the rescue groups will be able to put his team up for the night, too, to help offset costs.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Zach, Patrick (Center) and Alexis.

As fate would have it, just a I was contacting Patrick to ask him if Kitten Associates might take part he happened to be looking for a rescue group to work with in Connecticut. Apparently he hadn't had the easiest time here and was hoping for a better match this time around. I told him we're a TINY rescue and that there are bigger ones in town that could do a lot more, but Patrick had faith in us and said that the smaller rescues always worked a lot harder to publicize the events and support his team.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

I figured I'd give it a try IF I could secure a salon for his team to set up shop. My first and only choice was Salon Michele, where I get my fancy-pants hairdos from time to time. I ran the idea past Maggie, who has been doing my hair for a few years now. She is a cat lover, so it wasn't tough for her to say YES. Of course we had to ask the owner, Michele and I realized it would be basically asking her to shut her salon down for the day and let me use it to raise money. Thankfully the date they chose for us was a Tuesday, so it was a slower day for business which might make it easier to give us the green light.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

I gathered all my info and presented it to her. She didn't take long to think about it and said YES! From that moment on was a whirlwind for me. I had to do a lot of planning, getting permits to put out directional signs, finding out how to get a 25-ft long banner hung over the main street in town, making list after list of what needed to be done, who needed to be told. I struggled with how to get the word out and my dear friend Mary Shafer of Word Forge Books helped me get the Press Release sorted out.

For two months I was obsessed, but my biggest challenge was HOW to explain this event and NOT have people think that it was either Haircuts for DOGS or a fundraiser for DOGS?

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

I got everything sorted out and spent a lot of late nights working on this. I began to realize right away that we'd have to spend a good deal of money on advertising-YES, not just doing free ads online. Our town paper, The Newtown Bee, was the key way to get the word out to everyone in town. After all, we are the hometown cat rescue and we knew they'd help us. As luck would have it, an ad space opened up that was PRIME location and it hit the streets a few days before our event. I worried about spending $450.00 for this huge ad. It would be on the front page of The Bee Extra, The Bee's free paper, as well as inside their main paper.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Alexis with the Mascot-dog plush (a gift from Kitten Associates)

I had to take a risk. If we couldn't reach people, what was the point?

I was very glad my graphic design background came in handy. I put together designs not just for flyers, but for table top signs, HUGE window signs that would re-skin Salon Michele, directional signs and a twenty five foot long banner-the biggest piece I've ever designed.

It also dawned on me that this is something I was meant to do. When I was a kid, I put on plays for my parents, then when I was at school, I was in Student Government where I came up with events like "Bring your Camera to School Day." In High School and College I took it up a notch and planned big events. My pride and joy was a 1940's Prom with a big band for over 600 guests. Why couldn't I do a fundraiser for my own rescue group?

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

Because I had to take care of RESCUES, too!

In the two weeks before our event, I helped rescue about twenty cats and kittens. All of them went to other rescues, but I did a lot of emailing, phone calls, driving around with a car full of kittens. It seemed that Minnie, too, got the message because she relapsed and got sick again and ended up having to have emergency spay surgery a few DAYS before the event!(she's recovered now and doing well)

I was having all sorts of stress dreams. The worst was the morning of the event, I dreamt I was waking up with most of my hair laying on the pillow and no way to hide that I was bald.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Beth, one of our awesome adopters with Patrick.

When the banner was hung and the ads were printed, I knew I'd spent about $1000. and that was about half of all the money we had. I started to fear we might lose money, but my friends kept reminding me that getting our name out is valuable, too (tell that to the Vet when he wants to be paid!).

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

Kathy, the super-star who works the front desk of Salon Michele contacted me and said we had 3 appointments for haircuts. My heart sank. We had one week to go and I worried not only would we lose money, but it would be embarrassing to everyone who gave up so much to support our group.

A few days later the banner was hung and more calls came in. We were up to 14 appointments, which was still far too few. We needed 50 to break even.

The Friday before the event, the big ad in the paper came out. Nothing happened for three days, then on Monday, the day before, we were up to 50 and rising. Between the banner, the ad and word of mouth, things were heating up. By Tuesday I knew we had over 60 with whispers that it might even go higher than that.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Busy Bees cutting hair and raising money for our kitties!

Tuesday morning, the BIG DAY, I drove over to Salon Michele to get set up. It really hit me that a lot of people had stopped what they were doing to help Kitten Associates and most of them I didn't even know. I fought off crying, but it was very emotional. When you work really hard and often have difficult situations to deal with, you don't have time to think about what you might get out of it. With cat rescue it's just focusing on helping the cats however you can. You know there are lots of people who love cats, but they wouldn't get their haircut because of that, would they?

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. These cupcakes from the DOrazio Sisters Bakery tasted SO GOOD that I am craving one or ten right now!

So I got to work. Patrick and his team were already there even though the first appointment wasn't for 30 minutes. They'd arrived at 1am and were already back up and ready to go at 7:30am. These guys were amazing and they hadn't even started!

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

While I set up, everyone got to know each other. Zach, one of the stylists graciously helped me put out the directional signs at the perimeter of the parking lot. We got chatting and he told me this was the first time he'd been east of Montana and that his home state was Idaho! I couldn't begin to imagine how amazing and exhilarating it was for him to see so much, in so little time. What a wild ride. I was tempted to offer to join them.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

Alexis, one of the other stylists, offered to do something with my hair. It was really kind of her to help me look less like a mop and more professional, plus it was just plain fun to get fussed over after all the weeks of preparations were finally over and I could (sort of) relax.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

Then, as they say, the rest is a bit of a blur. People were coming in, a few almost begging for appointments, we were filling up to the point of having to turn people away! From 50, to 60, to 70 haircuts. The day raced by. I answered a lot of questions about cats and around noon, Sam brought three of our kittens to remind everyone why we were there. They did great and had a lot of fun. Everyone wanted to take them home, but Irene, my faithful friend and volunteer, kept a watchful eye over them so none of the kitten “accidentally” left the salon.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. It's not a party unless you have tattoos!

I was really hungry. Our friends, the DOrazio Sisters from Brooklyn who opened a bakery here in Newtown, kindly and generously donated 4 dozen cupcakes. We had them set up on a lovely cupcake tower stand and it was tough not to eat them ALL. I managed to sneak one..okay two, but no more than three, when no one was looking. I still have a jones for another one!

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

It was clear we were going to do okay. Somehow amidst the chaos, a lot of people were getting really nice haircuts. One lady donated her hair to Locks of Love, which really touched my heart. Another lady talked about being at the Sandy Hook Elementary on "that day" and I think it helped her with the healing process to have Patrick fuss over her and listen to her heartbreaking story.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

We had lots of kids come visit, too, who told me stories about their cats or other pets. Even though I've lived in Newtown for over 20 years, it honestly was the first time I felt like I was part of this community. Not having children, I never had need to go to any of the town events or schools. I've yearned to feel closer to the people in this town and surprisingly, that finally started to happen because of K.A. Kitten Associates is on the radar of more people in town. It was definitely a dream starting to come true.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

In total, Patrick and his team, as well as Maggie, Michele, Jackie, Mary, Kathy and others from Salon Michele helped get 84 haircuts done, which was the SECOND HIGHEST number of haircuts in BarkAid's 2 1/2 year history! I was really really REALLY thrilled! We were able to cover our expenses and the rest will go to caring for our kittens.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. A donation for Locks of Love! What a wonderful woman!

By 8pm we all pitched in, packed up, cleaned up and were ready to call it a day. Patrick and team were professional, friendly, outgoing, charming, everything good. Thankfully Michele's salon wasn't trashed. It was respected by all and I think that we all parted with genuine smiles and goodwill for each other. Patrick said he was ready to do this again next year, as he hugged me goodbye. I just shook my head, wondering how he does this, because I wanted to go to bed and not get up for a few days I was so tired.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

Patrick is on Day 20 of his trip. He's doing great work for the rescues in this Country. If you'd like to help support Patrick's efforts-they REALLY need donations to, at least, cover travel expenses, please visit their web site and donate HERE

In lieu of a proper photo album, enjoy some images from our big day!

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Michele, owner of Salon Michele giving a great haircut and big smile to a customer.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Patrick hones his craft.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Alexis and Ruby (who was SO adorable!)

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Ruby steals the show.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. The team with Minnie's kittens: Gracey, Mellie and Joey.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Zach and Gracey.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. How to know it's time for the kittens to go home.

Kitties for Kids is a WINNER!

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On December 14, 2012, after my town's heart was broken, I sat on the sofa watching the news in tears. I couldn't just sit there and do nothing. I didn't have much to offer, except a house full of cats and foster cats. I realized not everyone knows what it's like to be in the company of so many cats at one time and perhaps there was something about the wonder of living with cats that I could share with others. I knew we couldn't take the cats out into the public because that would be a hot mess. I left that job to the therapy dogs.

I worried about opening up our home to the residents of our town. Could they spend time with our cats without it turning into a big liability? What if someone was bitten or scratched? Would I lose the house if someone got hurt? How could I protect my cats and our visitors or was this just a stupid idea? I thought about it for a few minutes, realizing I had to take the chance. I needed to help my neighbors. It was worth the risk. That night Kitties for Kids was born.

I've written more about our program (you can see the post HERE).

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The invitation to the 2013 CVMA Awards.

But what I've been keeping secret for a few months is that our program was chosen by the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association to receive their Pet of the Year Award! This special award is given to honor our FOSTER KITTENS for their outstanding achievement in helping our town's kids find their smiles again.

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When I was first contacted about this award I thought it was a joke. I called my vet and Dr. Larry said he'd been part of CVMA for years and that CVMA has been around since 1884 and was a very distinguished organization. Wow.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. I was a bit sad that no one jumped into the fountain at the Awards Banquet, but there's always next year.

On Tuesday, March 26th, Sam and I drove to Hartford, CT to the Wadsworth Atheneum to attend the Awards Banquet. Now any of you who have read this blog before, know that I've been the President & Founder of Kitten Associates, Inc. for almost three years. To be in a room FULL OF VETERINARIANS was a DREAM COME TRUE! I felt like a kid in a candy store! I wanted to run up to every Vet and make friends with each one. The heck with the award, I need to find more vets to work with (at a discount, of course!).

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Yes, the cauliflower is naturally purple!

Part of me worried that if I found a cute single Vet I might be tempted to leave Sam behind and run off, but the thrill of the evening and the upcoming award forced me to (sort of) temper my enthusiasm.

The Wadsworth is a gorgeous Gothic Revival styled Art Museum. We couldn't explore the galleries, but were kept to a large courtyard with a lovely fountain in the center of it. We hadn't taken more than a few steps into the room, when we were greeted by Dr. Chris, the former President of CVMA. He warmly welcomed us and thanked us for being such an inspiration to others. Who us? What? I couldn't believe it.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. This is Addie the Comfort Dog. She is clearly excited about winning her big green ribbon.

Dr. Chris is an emergency room Vet. He likes the thrill of not knowing what's coming in the door next and works and sleeps at the hospital for four days in a row, then takes a few days off to be with his wife, two kids and their menagerie of animals he's taken from owners who could no longer provide care for their animals. This guy has a heart of GOLD and it was very clear he had a passion for caring for animals.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Senator Blumenthal gives his acceptance speech.

We also met with TD Bank sponsors, who were also gracious and friendly. They were chatting with our co-recipients from the Golden Retrievers of Lutheran Church Charities who had brought their dog, Addie with them. We sat down and chatted about, what else, dogs and cats. It was a pleasant start to the evening.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. The cover of our Certficate from Senator Blumenthal.

Chris came over and told us that Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who has been a hero of mine for years, was going to be attending the banquet and that in addition to his receiving an award, he had insisted on giving US a Certificate of Special Recognition for the work we do!

I was stunned and thrilled. A certificate from our own Senator meant the world to me. This accolade was from our STATE, where I've lived most of my life. This sort of recognition was something I could have only dreamed of and here it was about to happen.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. My pride and joy.

A few moments later, Senator Blumenthal entered the room. He gracefully made his way around the room, shaking hands and taking photos with people. I knew we would get to meet him so I tried to ready myself for the moment. He shook my hand and thanked us for our service to the people of Newtown. I quickly said a few fumbling words and before he could leave I gave him my card and I asked for a photo. I kept thinking, this man has been to the White House. He knows the President of the United States. Wow.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Proof! Senator Richard Blumenthal and Robin A.F. Olson (me!).

Dr. Chris made the opening remarks and introduced Senator Blumenthal. The Senator gave a very moving, well articulated and heartfelt speech. He had no notes. I thought about how many speeches he must have given over the years and that it was probably second nature to him. I was glad I didn't have to give a speech that night because I doubted I could do as good a job-even with notes.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. A close up-I'm so honored!

Dr. Chris returned to the podium and began to talk about Kitten Associates and our Kitties for Kids program. I'd sent CVMA information about us and thought I'd hear back what I'd written, but Chris had his own special commendation for us. Hearing it made me blush with joy. I couldn't get over that this was our moment in the spotlight. All we had to do was get up, walk across the room and accept our plaque and certificate.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Our CVMA Pet of the Year Award.

BUT I WAS WRONG!

Chris handed me the awards and he whispered to me to go ahead and say a few words. WHAT?! Make a speech? NOW?!

I had NOT prepared a single word, but I pulled myself together and I knocked one out of the park. Thank goodness I didn't flop in front of all those juicy Veterinarians!

I was buzzing from all the adrenaline coursing through my veins. The rest of the ceremony flew by and no sooner than it was over, the Vet of the Year, Dr. Eva Ceranowicz of Bloomfield Animal Hospital, came over to introduce herself to us. Again, I was floored to get this sort of recognition when I was planning to introduce myself to her.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. We did it!

She was delightful and charming. We had a quick, intense conversation, then she was off to talk to more guests and we followed suit.

I got to talk shop with a few Vets who were clearly amused by my knowledge of all things de-wormer related. I tried to make quick BFFs for future reference, but most of the Vets I spoke with had their Practice too far away from Newtown.

The evening was winding down and just as Sam and I were going to leave a gentleman introduced himself to us. He said his name was Gordon and turns out he's the Executive Director of the Connecticut Humane Society! As if talking with a room full of Veterinarians and meeting Senator Blumenthal wasn't enough, here was someone I admired from the rescue side of things and he's a GUY. A GUY WHO DOES RESCUE(who is also adorable, but I didn't say that to his face). Wow again!

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Wendy and Sam really had fun taking part in our Kitties for Kids program (with Barney in the background).

We had a lively conversation and I hoped we would be in touch. He was glad to work with us and vice versa (in our small capacity). Of everything that happened that night, this was definitely a highlight. We shook hands (he has a nice, warm, strong handshake) and said goodnight. I walked out into the cold night air, floating on cloud nine.

I never expected the night to go so well or to be so honored for our Kitties for Kids program, but I learned that if you follow your heart, it will take you in the right direction.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have another family coming to visit our kitties and I need to get the room ready!

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Make sure you LIKE the CVMA Facebook page. It's embarrassing that they only have 141 likes!

Also, make sure you visit the Connecticut Humane Society FB page and say hello from Robin, but don't tell them I have a crush on their boss.

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