Welcome!

These are the stories of my life, rescuing, socializing, and standing up for the rights of cats everywhere. It’s an amazing journey, one of inner and outer tribulation and triumph, of heartache and hope. As I struggle to make ends meet, get my Non-Profit cat rescue off the ground and simply find my way in the world; I extend my hand out and ask you to join me in my dream of finding a home for every cat and to stop the insanity of euthanizing adoptable animals as a way of population control.

And I do all that while caring for my own 8 cats who leave me somewhat cranky and perpetually Covered in Cat Hair.

Welcome.

The Last Rescue. Flapjack’s Story Ch 2

(continued from Ch 1)

It was late at night. I was mindlessly surfing through my Facebook feed. I happened upon my friend, Joan’s post. She was sharing a video of a kitten. He was probably six weeks old. He couldn’t stand on his own. His legs were bent at painful angles as he dragged himself along the dirty wooden floor. Other kittens ran past him as he struggled to keep up.

The post was written by someone who had a cat who’d had kittens. She was going to give them away to good homes, but she was not sure how she could help this twisted little kitten. Thing is, I doubted they had any way of knowing what a good home was (would they do any reference checks or just hope the person wasn’t going to do something awful to the kittens? It's hard enough for us to find good homes and we DO check adopters out.) and it was likely they’d never find anyone to do the right thing for this severely handicapped little nugget. They’d probably have to put him down.

I’ve easily seen a thousand posts about kittens needing rescue this year. I get notices about them from all over the country, every single day. I tell myself not to do anything because I need a break. I say someone else will grab them and often times rescue does come.

I’ve seen images or gotten messages about terribly injured, deformed, frail newborns, and for some reason, now it’s okay to show them after they’ve died. Yes, it’s real life. Yes, this is what happens to so many kittens. They’re so fragile. There aren’t enough foster homes. But I don’t need to see it because that one person who posts a photo of a dead kitten thinks they’re the only one who did that today, but if you do rescue, your social media feed will end up having too many of those images. I want to protect myself from that right now. It hurts me every time I see those heartbreaking photos. Do I want to keep exposing myself to that?

My goals should be to sort out how to go on…how to resolve the palpitations…how to feel like my life isn’t one difficult moment after another—maybe find a way to not feel like I have to care for anyone or anything 24-hrs a day and just care for myself for once.

But the video haunted me.

I’ve never written about this before, but when I’ve done rescue, I get a feeling about a cat or kitten that tells me “this is the one” I need to help next. Consciously I may not even agree with my gut-feeling, but over the years I've learned to trust it. So I help that creature, even if the idea terrifies me. After 15 years of doing rescue, I still worry I don’t know enough about what to do when I take on a new foster cat and I've never had a kitten with mobility issues like this.

But I wasn’t going to take any kittens, even though my infamous blue bathroom foster room was sparkling clean and ready for them. I actually enjoy having that bathroom as a bathroom again for the first time in YEARS. So I told myself, no. Just leave things be. If you’re going to take any kittens, they have to be local and it has to be easy.

But my gut told me it was time to help again, even if I wasn’t sure I could do this any more. It was only one kitten who needed help. I could focus all my efforts on him, get him to our surgeon, maybe get a brace or do other therapies to help him walk again. I worried we wouldn’t even have an option to help him at all and I had to face that he might have to be euthanized no matter what I do.

I asked Joan if she could foster the kitten and help me out since she’s in the area where he is located. She had been troubled by the video, too, but was full-up with foster kittens already. Joan and I have rescue kittens before. She had to handle the 13 Sweet Superheroes two years ago. We went through Hell together. She took the brunt of it having to face us losing a few kittens 10 days after rescue. She had to foster the kittens an extra few weeks due to that, but she was a trooper. She didn’t give up and freak out on me. I did everything I could to cover all costs and support her emotionally as well as financially. We got really close after that. Joan is one of the few rescuers I can completely trust.

I figured Joan wouldn’t be able to take the kitten on and I’d be off the hook. I could go back to hiding, feeling like I tried.

But Joan said, “Yes. I can help you.” She wanted to help him, too.

So that’s how I ended up with 5 foster kittens coming to Connecticut to the infamous blue bathroom foster room. They’ll be here in 10 days. My immediate goal is to raise funds for their care so let me introduce them to you.

Flapjack Shortstack

Flapjack reminds me of Fred, our beloved Mascot of Kitties for Kids, who passed away from FIP in May of 2013. Fred was one of the sweetest, most special kittens I’ve ever known. When I look at Flap, I see that same sweetness mixed with a bit of sass that makes me want to fight to save his life…just as we tried with Fred. I half-wonder if Flap is Fred, re-born, or if that's fair to put on Flap? Flap is happy-go-lucky, plucky, even. He doesn’t know he’s different. He tries hard to not let anything get him down. Because he’s got a great will to live, we’re going to do everything it takes for him.

I’ll get more into Flap’s backstory in another post. For now we have him in quarantine at a Vet’s office until he can be transported to us in CT. We’ve begun evaluations. Most of them haven’t been very promising. Three DVMs said to put him down. A surgeon where Flap is located said they would try to help him and my surgeon, Dr Deb (who is phenomenal) said “Let’s fix him!” after I sent her Flap’s initial report.

It’s tough to find out what ails him exactly. One vet thought he might be missing the “wrist” bones in his front legs. One thought physical therapy might help him if he had a problem with his tendons not wanting to flex properly-which could be due to his very poor diet. So we began PT already and improved his diet to see if it would help.

Thing is, all this is adding up quickly. Consultations aren’t free and boarding is $16/day. That doesn’t cover vaccinations, vetting, de-worming, de-flea-ing, snap tests (for FIV and FeLv) just to get them here. Flap will need a great deal of care, so we’re trying to get funding to make that happen. I’m very scared because there’s so much competition for rescue-funding that I worry we won’t have what we need to be able to help Flap walk.

Sugarsnaps

Flap’s sister is Sugarsnaps. She’s a calio, and a pistol, and loves her brother to pieces. I realized if I was going to rescue Flap, I should offer to have his sister come with him because they were already bonded and he could have a companion to comfort him while we work on getting him on his paws.

Cash and sister at 7 weeks
Sugar and Flapjack. Friends forever.

Thing is, their human mom promised Sugar to someone else. Joan and I held our breath for a few days while we waited to find out if the kitten was going to be given away. I couldn’t push Stefanie (the mom) about her choice. She’d made a promise. She had to keep it. I would never interfere with that. If I was disrespectful, we wouldn’t have gotten Flap, either. Things would work out the way they were supposed to. I had faith in that.

Fortunately, the adoption fell through so Sugar would be joining us.

Two kittens rescued. I can totally handle that.

Tickle Nurbington

Perhaps the weirdest name I’ve ever come up with, Tickle is the last kitten in Flap’s family who wasn’t spoken for. Tickle is a knockout. I’d be an idiot not to offer her a rescue placement, too. She’s fluffy (my Kryptonite) and sweet and LOOK AT THAT FACE!

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Tickle Nurbington.

Okay, so three kittens is not bad. It’s really doable. No worries.

Boom-Boom McGillicuddy

A few days passed. I got a video from the Vet’s office where the kittens are being boarded. I saw Flap and his sisters jumping around having fun, but there was a gigantic white kitten with a black tail and black spot playing with them. If she had tabby coloring instead of black, she’d look a lot like my own cat Spencer. She videobombed the video. What was she doing WITH OUR KITTENS WHO ARE IN QUARANTINE?

Wait...there was another kitten in the video…an orange tabby with a white bib. Who was that? You can’t combine kittens with each other or you break quarantine!

After a frantic call to Joan, I found out someone decided it was fine for the kittens to meet each other. The “bonus kittens” were Joan’s. She’d had to board them for a month because her home was partially destroyed last year by a microburst and she had no foster space left.

Now we had to worry that the kittens were going to make each other get sick and start the 10-day quarantine clock again.

Trinket Worthmore

So that’s how I came to rescue five kittens when I didn’t want to save even one. Since the kittens were all together, who was I to break them up now? I could help Joan by taking her two (and later she did rescue another kitten because I’d made a commitment to taking hers...see below).

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Joan's "bonus" rescue kitten.

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Trinket (right) with his mom (left). Mom will be placed locally by Joan's rescue after she's spayed.

Trinket is Boom-Boom’s brother. He’s going to be enormous. He’s only about 10-weeks old and is bigger than his mom. Trinket looks way too much like our beloved Nicky, who passed away three years ago. Sam saw the photo of Trinket and tears welled up in his eyes. This group is going to be an emotionally charged one for us, but fate has deemed it so, and so it shall be.

Please help us make this rescue happen and help provide the comfort we need to know we can provide for Flapjack. We scrape and we save as much as we can, but we don’t have any big-pocket donors and we don’t get wads of grants. Because none of get a salary, every dime goes towards our cats.

If, for some reason we got more funds than we think we need (unlikely), they will go to providing for Pistachio because he needs a very expensive procedure called a Lavage (to test the fluid in his lungs) or it will go to giving Mia a much-needed dental cleaning and tooth extraction.

We’re a legit 501c3 non-profit. Our EIN (Tax ID) is 27-3597692

Ways you can help:

Venmo: @KittenAssociates

PayPal: PayPalMe.KittenAssociates (donation of any size…you do not have to have a PayPal acc’t to donate)

Checks: (Make out to Kitten Associates) Mail to Kitten Associates, P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354

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We're going to do everything we can to help you walk, Flap. With our friends by our side, we can do anything.

Flap's backstory and more...to be continued....

LOST...and FOUND

For the past few years I’ve been feeling like my life is flowing in too many directions, wild, out of control. I feel guilty. I need to rein it in. I’m always busy, but it seems like a constant state of busyness without a true result. Who am I? Am I a cat-blogger? Am I a cat rescuer? Am I an educator about feline wellness, behavior and nutrition? Am I a graphic designer who designs carton graphics for bobblehead boxes? Am I something else entirely?

It leaves me feeling confused and lost, afraid. I’m wasting time. I’m not young any more. I love to write, but when do I ever do it? I’ve joked about it for years, but it’s not a joke any more. I think I’m going to "die with a book inside me” (as Dan Poynter often was quoted saying). Will I ever get a book published? It doesn’t pay much unless you're a superstar, so why why do I even care?

I’m lost in a way I’ve never felt before. It’s deep and profound. I yearn to accept myself for who I am, my skills, my weaknesses, that ring of soft flab around my middle I can’t seem to get rid of, the ever-graying hair on my head. I don’t like feeling this way. I’m aware of death coming my way with every new wrinkle or visit to the doctor for yet another malady. Whatever it is I should be doing, I better get my ASS IN GEAR AND DO IT.

As a Tibetan Buddhist we call this feeling “groundlessness.” We’re supposed to lean into this uncomfortable feeling of not knowing, stifle the desire that causes us to hope for a specific outcome. Somehow we have to turn it sideways and take joy in how uncomfortable we feel. Step back. Look at it. Yeah, look at how lost and awful we feel. Yeah, it hurts, but shit, we all hurt, baby. So just be a pebble in the stream, and if we get caught up on a rock, we know the flow of life will move us along eventually. Yeah, right.

Where are the Kittens, Robin? Don’t you run Kitten Associates?

Good question.

This is the first May (and now it’s June as I still peck at the answer to this question) in over 10 years I haven’t had kittens in my blue bathroom. By now I’m usually fretting over the runt of the litter, crying that some didn’t make it, or taking cute photos as they first open their eyes or reach other tiny milestones. I’ve been a cat-mama for over fifteen years all said. I’ll never be a “Kitten Lady,” with speaking engagements and book deals and a zillion followers everywhere. Hannah's a bright flame, changing the playing field for the most at-risk animals in the shelter. My hat's off to her. Even though I know a great deal about caring for kittens after all this time, I’m never going to stand out, as much as I think I would like to or be driven to a singular cause. But having a rescue called KITTEN Associates puts a lot of pressure on me to do something kitten-related, right?

The last kittens I had in my home were in July of 2018. The mom, Matilda, and her son, Buzzbee are STILL HERE waiting to be adopted. Ugh. Stripes, Poof and Fluff joined is that Fall, but were in a different foster home and found their forever families last year.

Buzzbee on the Bed copy
©2019 Robin AF Olson. Buzzbee Bicklefish (and his mom, Matilda) is STILL waiting for his forever home even though his siblings were adopted LAST YEAR.

But there are reasons...

The initial reason I had to stop taking any foster cats after that was because my partner Sam’s mother, Elizabeth, fell, and then my little world fell apart along with it (I wrote about that in detail HERE). Since it was clear Elizabeth wasn’t going to be able to live on her own again, Sam moved out and has been living in NYC to care for her. That was EIGHT MONTHS AGO.

With Sam being gone, all but a day or two a week, it feels risky to take on any additional cats on when I already have fourteen I’m responsible for. It was different when Sam was home. It didn’t take an hour and a half (at least) every morning to clean up, feed and fuss with the cats, then do it all again each night. And this doesn't count time to do Vet runs, give fluids and WORK as a graphic designer.

I don't really feel free of my duties until about 11pm. It's to a point where I can feel the hamster wheel spinning and I want to get off.

Yeah and Pistachio
©2019 Robin AF Olson. Late night with Pistachio.

I recognized last year that I was getting compassion fatigue. I didn’t care any more about much of anything. I just felt chronically fed up, angry, tired.

The grind of more than 10 years without a vacation got to me. I just wanted everyone to leave me alone and not need me for anything, just for awhile.

I didn’t take on more cats over the winter. Part of me did not miss going to the vet multiple times a WEEK. I kept searching for ways to escape, to take a BREAK, but it’s just not going to happen because who will pet sit for 14 cats?...so I just kept saying “No” to as many things as possible so I could carve out some time for myself.

What bothers me so much is not the effort it takes. I like to work. I love to rescue cats. As much as cats bug me, ruin my stuff, piss me off; they heal me, they comfort me, they are part of me.

I don’t know what to do with my rescue because I’ve finally realized that Kitten Associates is not and never will be like most rescues. I felt like a failure realizing that, but it’s also the door opening to me figuring out what K.A. really is. We're doing things holistically, feeding raw exclusively now. We educate the public, take on tough cases, help others behind the scenes by paying for vet bills or spending hours on cat behavior issues so cats don't lose their home in the first place. If I was going to grow, save as many lives as possible, I would do it. I don’t want to oversee a bunch of volunteers who will flake out on me. It’s too much extra work to oversee that. I know I have the chops to make it happen, but I don’t, because it’s just not for me to do.

I’ve seen what it does to me, to my cats, to do rescue in the first place. I’ve had a virus hit ALL MY CATS at the same time-more than once. They’ve been exposed to ringworm and all sorts of other things that even with the best hygiene and careful handling, they will still be exposed to and possibly get sickened by. Do I want to continue to do that to my cats? Two of them are over 16 years of age. And every cat I take on, means the others get less of me. How fair is that to them to keep doing this over and over again? I should turn away from rescue and just find homes for the remaining foster cats and call it a day with the 8 I call my own.

Fluff at Vet
©2019 Robin AF Olson. Fluff got a wicked URI and was hospitalized for a few days. Not because he was so ill, but because my Vet was scared what rescue has done to me. He wanted to give me a break for a few days. Instead of feeling grateful, I felt embarrassed that it had gotten so bad.

But…I love to help cats and I love to help people. It’s the only way I ever feel halfway happy about my life. I love to watch kittens blossom or a cat learn to trust me so one day they can be happy in a forever home I carefully choose for them. I love it when the light comes on for someone who wants to do right by their cat and because of my help, they finally understand their cat, understand their cat’s nutritional needs, understand how their cat sees the world and it changes their life. That means everything to me. I get so energized by talking to people of all ages about cats. I could do it every day and never get tired.

But I also love doing design work. I’ve been an artist since I was a little kid. Creativity is the fuel that fires my heart. I love doing the carton graphics for Royal Bobbles. To me it’s not even graphic design-it’s art. It’s playtime plus visual storytelling that comes together to create a unique representation of that person whether it be Bob Ross or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Every carton is different and has a different style. For me it’s a joy, not work. I would never want to give that up.

Bob Ross and Alexandria

Then, the Wake-up Call

It’s no secret that stress effects all of us and chronic stress can have devastating results. Some people who do rescue for a long time get so distraught they commit suicide, others become addicts. We struggle to find ways to cope when typically our resources are nil. We are givers. We are nurturers. We put others first. We do it with a brave heart and the hope that we are making a difference; we are making it better for others.

Then one day we can’t do it any more. Our bodies tell us in small ways at first. We lose sleep worrying about sick kittens or are simply exhausted from bottle feeding them every few hours, but we find a way to make it happen again and again. We give up time off because frankly if you have more than a few cats it’s not possible to go away for a long weekend unless you board all the cats or you find a miracle-person who will live at your home while you’re gone. It’s just not going to happen.

Maybe you start smoking or eat junky food to excess because there are too many other things pressing on you and you just don't have time to cook or go shopping. Most of us don’t make much of a living. It’s assumed we should not be paid for one of the most emotionally draining “careers” there is. We SHOULD be paid. We should be pampered. We should be taken care of so we can go back and keep doing the hard work most other people can’t imagine doing, but we don’t. We’re broke. We’re tired.

We gave everything we had and we're expected to keep giving.

Then the one day arrives. For me it was three weeks ago. I’d been stressed and tired beyond the “norm.” I complained to Sam on a call one night about the long separation and the stress of taking care of everything on my own was doing to me. I actually kind of pitched a fit about it. The next morning Dood, who I’ve been having serious aggression issues with, attacked foster cat Annie when my back was turned. All the stress I felt bottled up came out. I yelled at him to get into “his room” (he lives in my office behind a baby gate other than for a few hours each morning and was out when the incident occurred). He went into my office, but this time I yelled so loud and so hard, I think I broke my own heart. I began having palpitations. They didn’t go away in a few hours. They didn’t go away when I tried to relax, take deep breaths, go for a walk.

Andy in the mirror
©2019 Robin AF Olson. Annie and Andy. Dood's number one and two victims.

My stomach fluttered like there was a tiny creature inside trying to get out. The fluttering made me cough. It made me feel queasy. I got really tired. I kept hoping it would go away. It didn’t.

With a family history of heart issues I got really scared. Of course, being upset isn’t going to help the fluttering go away. On the third day I saw my G.P. and she said I have PVC (Premature Ventricular Constriction). She made it seem like everyone has it and not to worry. Folks who have to deal with a lot of stress (like performers who are going on stage), will experience this, too. I was told I’d need to start a regime of beta blockers. It was used for the heart, but it was also used for anxiety. Really? Anxiety? Okay, so I’m a poor stressed out white girl or what? This is legit, Doc, not something to brush off.

EKG
©2019 Robin AF Olson. Before the doctor began to explain, it was clear something was terribly wrong.

As I always do, I read about what I was going to take before I took it. Beta blockers have serious side effects. I’ve never seen such a laundry list of side effects in my life. Most were very disturbing. I wondered how I’d manage if I had any of them. Even though the beta blocker I was prescribed was created in the 1960s, and had a history of working well enough, I still didn’t feel safe taking it. I don’t even take aspirin. I take nothing other than homeopathy once in awhile.

I was told the palpitations might go away on their own. I gave up caffeine. I tried to re-think and re-act differently to the cats, to stress. I worked on taking it easier. I took more walks. I gave it a few days and decided to take my first pill. I waited until it was a day that Sam was home in case I had problems. I took the pill at noon last Sunday. Within two minutes I got very woozy. I sat down for a time. Fortunately, the feeling went away and I thought I was going to be all right.

Ten hours later I got so woozy I couldn’t stand. I was nauseous. I thought I might vomit. I didn’t feel like my brain was working normally. Cognitive function was impaired as if I was really drunk. It was tough to talk but I managed to tell Sam I might need to go to the ER. The dizziness was severe. It was terrifying.

Supposedly the body adjusts to these symptoms, but I couldn’t believe that. I was due to take a second dose, but HELL NO TO THAT! I tried to rest while the world was spinning out of control, while my heart was flipping around in my chest, while I waited for something worse to hit me next.

Meanwhile the palpitations continued on…worse than ever.

I called and spoke with a nurse the next morning. She said of course not to take the meds and she was sorry I had side effects. The only other thing she offered was if the palpitations continued to let her know and they’d send me to the cardiologist and see if he could “figure it out.”

Great.

You’d think the meds would wear off by the end of the day but they did not. I had cognitive issues and dizziness for a week. I’m still not 100%. What the fu@k is in this stuff?! I only took a one pill at the lowest dose. There are people out there who take this four times a day. How do they function?

So here I sit with palpitations, feeling a bit woozy. A few weeks ago my dearest ex-brother-in-law died from cancer. He was two years older than I am. I can’t assume I can overcome years of chronic stress and what it has done to my body. I absolutely MUST find a way to take a break. I also need to put myself first once in awhile. But mostly I need to find answers. Maybe what it boils down to is more obvious; being cursed to not see your own value, realize the magical things you've done, while you're in the middle of doing them...and it's ok not to know what you should or shouldn't be doing as long as you're bouncing along in that stream.

…and then I went on Facebook and saw this...and everything changed...

…to be continued.

Cosmic Cat Wisdom Cards

What do you get when you combine a passion for cats with a drive to help others? EnlightenUp’s Barb Horn and Randy Crutcher have just the answer, by launching their latest project, Cosmic Cat Wisdom Cards.

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Cosmic Cat Wisdom Cards are written by cats, for their people. In this 60 card deck, with gloriously colorful, engaging illustrations, each card features one seemingly simple word along with a short description. If you'd like more in depth explanations of each card, check out the Guide Book which ships with the deck (it also features our rescue, Kitten Associates!).

To experience the power of theses cards, just choose a card and take that message to heart for the day. You may find that simple word is, in reality, filled with meaningful insight. Sometimes we just get too busy and wrapped up in things and end up missing out on the magic that's part of our everyday life. These cards show us the way, through the lovely images and featured words, encouraging us to embrace and take delight in another reason why cats are good for our soul.

CC Cards FB Box and Cat

There's a KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN going on RIGHT NOW. Time is short, but you still have time to pre-order your Cosmic Cat Wisdom Deck and score an extra goodie for being the first group. Shipping is FREE! These decks make great gifts, too. AND a portion of the proceeds will go to KITTEN ASSOCIATES!

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Join us by letting your friends know about this KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN and by grabbing a deck or two while you're at it. Pop over HERE to get yours now!

Thank you to Randy & Barb for supporting Kitten Associates and for caring about cats in need.

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The Lesson is Love.

I don’t believe anyone knows how to have a perfectly functioning, completely fulfilling multi-year relationship, let alone one that lasts multi-decades as Sam and mine has. You can decide to make rules to help navigate the rough patches, so things will go more smoothly, as partners often do. You can choose to attempt the cliché commandment of never going to bed angry. Seems like a fairy story to believe that’s possible, because I’ve never been able to avoid that. It’s a great goal, of course, but the reality, I find, is quite the opposite.

Brasil Fest 1994 ish
©2019 Robin AF Olson. Sam and I a very long time ago at the Brazil Festival in NYC.

There have been so many nights I’ve laid in bed, with my back turned against my annoying-other while an angry silence seeps into the covers. We both pretend to sleep, proving our defiance to the other that nothing bothers us so greatly that we can’t simply fall asleep. My fear: I’m often so wound up as I lay there, at the zenith of anger and anxiety, that the least little thing will cause me to fly out of the bed into yet another rage, my truth (IT DOES BOTHER ME!) revealed. Then he will win. He always falls asleep before I do. This time I will win. I work hard to tamp my feelings down. I won’t lose this round, too. I won’t. I will go to bed angry. I WILL fall asleep!

There have been many horrible words said, accusations volleyed, declarations, and threats made over the years. There have been many times when one or both of us have given up on the relationship, followed by a painful, heavy silence that fills every corner of the house. It can last for weeks.

During this hiatus, we begin a choreographed dance, one that requires no partner. As one person enters a room, the other leaves. The goal is to avoid each other while still in the same house. We can’t afford to move out, so we pretend we just live with a ghost.

If alerted by the footfalls of said shimmering spirit, we linger in place a few moments longer so as not to cross paths with the fearsome “apparition.”

I understand why this happens, but am at a loss for how to right the ship. Yes, we have communication problems exacerbated by stress. The past few years, especially 2018, have been cursed with one thing after another. Last summer, we almost lost our home. The power got shut off once. It’s never happened to me in my entire life. It broke me. We should be better off by this point in our lives.

More than a few times last year, we weren’t sure about how we were going to feed ourselves. Add to that the pressure of operating a non-profit rescue and caring for dozens of cats, with never, ever, a vacation in nearly twenty years, and you can see why this relationship could be doomed to fail. S-T-R-E-S-S.

M-O-N-E-Y

Yet here we are twenty five years later. Sam and I broke up a few times. It wasn’t a perfect run. We dated other people during the early years, but we always seemed to find our way back to each other. I don’t know why. We’re very different. Sam says we have an unbreakable “heart connection.” I’m not sure what to say. Maybe it’s because he never gave up on us, when I have so many times before.

Just as we’ve both been re-thinking what our future might hold, whether or not we care to continue being partners, something happened that slapped us both upside the head. I’m reminded of a line Cher utters in one of my favorite films, “Moonstruck.” She scolds her newly minted lover, Nicholas Cage, to stop worrying about what anyone thinks about their feelings for each other and to go with his heart. In her words; “Snap out of it!”

Well, we got a wakeup call all right.

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

 

“My heart aches badly from missing Sam. I’ve been crying a lot. I can’t even show him my tears. He has too much on his plate. I have to be strong for him.”

 

Though there has been anger and so many things gone unsaid, there’s always been a basic goodness, respect, a kindness that tips the scale in the opposite direction in our relationship. Perhaps the passage of all these years, all these challenges, has given me a gift of understanding that can be summed up in another cliché: You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

Mercifully, Sam is NOT dead, but…

Last September, Sam’s mother fell. It was the middle of the night. She was in her New York City, upper west side, rent-controlled, two-bedroom apartment. She passed out for hours after she fell. When she awoke in the hallway, she realized her arm was injured. She was too weak to stand. She wore an alert button on a chain around her neck, but didn’t press it because a month before she’d set it off unknowingly and her door was broken down to get to her. She was fine, but the landlord pitched a fit. She was terrified they’d break in again and she’d get into trouble. So at 5 AM, she called Sam, her only son, who lives nearly two hours away, to come get her.

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This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. She’s had many chances to call for help locally, but always turned to Sam-and it’s not because they have such a close relationship.

Years before “the fall,” she called the morning we were due to visit her. We had planned to arrive early in the afternoon to celebrate my birthday and Sam’s daughter’s birthday. Instead, she called demanding we come now and not wait. She sounded very odd. She wouldn’t say why we had to hurry, just that we needed to get there right away.

We alerted Sam’s daughter since she lived a bit closer, but she had to travel on two subways, then walk a good way to get to her grandmother’s apartment. Odds were that we still might get there first. All we knew is something was wrong.

 

His daughter arrived a few minutes ahead of us as Sam was parking the car. She called Sam. I could hear speaking, her voice at an alarmed pitch, even though Sam held the phone to his ear. She found her grandmother lying on the sofa in a pool of blood. She’d slit up her forearms, trying to kill herself. His daughter didn’t know what to do.

 

Once we got into the apartment, I assessed the situation. My mother had been an Emergency Medical Technician when I was a teenager and I’d helped her study for her exams. I ended up learning a lot of basic first aid and I knew that Sam would be too distraught to think clearly, so I took over.

I calmly spoke to his mom and asked to see what she’d done. She was pale as a sheet, her flimsy bathrobe covered in gore. She lifted her left arm. It was wrapped in a blood-soaked towel. I gingerly removed the towel and saw the blood was already clotting. It must have been done hours before, but there was a great amount of blood on her and all over the furniture. I could smell it’s dank odor.

She told us she cut herself to stop the pain. Her hip hurt so badly. She’d broken it a few years before and it was surgically repaired, instead of getting a new hip. She couldn’t bear the pain so she decided to end her life. I don’t know why she didn’t tell her doctor or Sam or any of us she was hurting, or why she let it go on for so long that she felt suicidal. I hate to say this, but after all these years I have to wonder if she wanted attention. Her cuts were bad, but not bad enough to require stitches.

It had been a miserable winter, with towering snowfalls keeping Sam from visiting her. She’d become basically housebound, too afraid of falling on the ice and injuring herself. Perhaps the isolation got to her, but she never said a word about it. While I was tending to her, she said she changed her mind about wanting to die after she made the first cuts and didn’t know what to do.

Again, she never called 9-1-1, who could have been there in moments, she called Sam who was 90 miles away.

So I called for an ambulance. The EMTs arrived shockingly fast, along with 3 cops who began interviewing each of us, trying to sort out if any of us were the culprits-which really pissed me off. They were also talking about his mom as if she wasn’t there. It was terribly rude.

As the EMTs worked on Sam’s mom, they got to the point where they needed to transfer her to a gurney. All the cops were watching. She was in a BATHROBE, that’s it. It had to be removed due to all the blood on it. They had dress her in a clean gown before they left. I shouted over their chatting to be quiet and give the poor woman some respect and to turn away and keep their voices down. They stepped back and gave me dirty looks, but I didn’t care. At the time, I felt it was disrespectful to treat her that way. Now I’m not sure I have the same opinion as I once did.

We were in the hospital for about 17 hours waiting for her to be admitted into the Psych Ward. She didn’t need stitches, just good bandaging. She probably said she was sorry, but by then I was so angry I didn’t want to say more. Happy Birthday to me.

I get it. She’s in pain, but she wasn’t just suddenly in pain and suddenly couldn’t do anything about it. She knew we would be there. She also KNEW my father killed himself. Did she have any thought for what her granddaughter went through finding her? You look at this woman and think she’s a nice old lady, but I’m not buying that any more. You can be a selfish, self-centered person in your youth, just as easily as you can still be one when you’re old.

But still, I was raised to be a good girl. I got to work once we could leave the hospital and spent many days scrubbing down her apartment by myself. I didn’t feel it was right to have her son or granddaughter see all that blood. It was everywhere...in the bathroom, on the sofa, on the table, on the mail, drops in the hallway and on top of that the apartment itself was a pit. So I got to work and cleaned that, too. I never saw such grime in my life, in addition to all the bodily fluids. I wanted Sam’s mom to come home to a nice, clean place. She’d be on antidepressants for a time, during the months she was hospitalized after her suicide attempt and for some time after that, but I knew that a better environment would help her find some joy again. She was also getting a new hip.

I tried to move on from that experience. She apologized to me and thanked me for what I did, but I could never truly forgive her. I also had a suspicion she was pulling these emergencies because her circle of friends and family were dying off and she had few left. She didn’t do her physical therapy so she became more and more homebound and more and more reliant on Sam to take her to the doctor or take her to a museum or take her to the park for a walk to get some air.

All this time she knew we were struggling to pay the bills and find more clients or bigger projects so we could make ends meet. She knew it blew Sam’s entire day to run her to the eye doctor. She lives in NEW YORK CITY. She can get transport anywhere she wants, any time. She has a doorman (a nice lady named Iris). But no. Sam has to take her. At first I never said a word, but it kept going on while poor Sam was struggling to be a good son and risking losing his clients in the meantime.

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So Sam raced to his mom’s apartment once again. He got her up, checked out her injured elbow, and sat her on her bed. He asked her if she wanted to go to the hospital. Does anyone ever say YES to that?

She told him she felt tired. I texted Sam and asked him to get her hydrated. Maybe she had low blood sugar? After over 15 years dealing with sick cats I figured many of the same things applied to humans: check her temp, get her hydrated, check her pupils (did she have a stroke?), can she smile evenly, can she hold out her arms in front of her at the same angle or is she having odd mobility issues, slurring her words, etc.

He decided to let her rest awhile while he got some food for them at a take-out Chinese restaurant nearby. Sam was cross-eyed from lack of sleep, no food and stress. He figured she was all right for the few minutes it took to get lunch and maybe it would help perk his mother up to eat something. She was sleeping when he returned, but a few hours later she woke up. She began talking gibberish. This woman has always been sharp as a tack, even if her body is bent and weak. When he told me what was going on, I strongly urged him to call for help.

His mother would spend the better part of the next four days in the ER before they knew what was going on. Sam would spend most of that time by her side in the same clothes, with barely a bite to eat, or a sip of much needed coffee.

She was septic. That’s why she passed out. It was very serious. They were working on locating the source of the blood poisoning, but in the meantime she had to be on a special monitor that was only located in the ER. She rested as Sam sat in a daze watching groups of injured, drunk, crazy people file in and out of the Emergency Department at St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital.

It turns out she had a Urinary Tract Infection. I’ve had that once. It was so uncomfortable I can’t understand how she didn’t know she had one. It was so bad it was making her body a toxic mess. She’s 89 years old. She only has so much ability to fight this off. Her blood pressure was low and the sepsis was making her breathing ragged and fast. We feared that maybe “this was it.” We had to prepare ourselves for what might happen next. Suddenly I felt bad for vilifying her.

I couldn’t go to the city to see Sam’s mom. I had 22 cats to care for and some of them are sick or elderly. It’s not like I can get a pet sitter and take off. It’s just too complicated and takes far longer than most pet sitters could handle, especially in an emergency with no advance reservation. My job was to hold down the fort for the time being.

And so began a painful, time consuming nightmare for Sam with repercussions that couldn’t help but effect me and the cats, too. Sam travelled back and forth to New York City every other day for the next two months to spend a few minutes visiting with his mother and to get updates on how she was doing. I made sure he was constantly bringing her treats or books to help her pass the time. I don’t know how he did it and still found a way to work.

Except the staff at St Luke’s and, then at Amsterdam House, where his mom was in rehab, were terrible. They never called us even though Sam begged for updates. I don’t know if he EVER spoke with a doctor. His mother wasn’t even sure what they were doing to her. Sam has all the legal documents to oversee his mother’s health care. It’s not as if he was a stranger trying to get top secret medical information. They just were too busy to bother and information was few and far between. One day she was in the hospital, the next at the Amsterdam House across the street (which was a miserable pit-please don’t let me ever go to a place like that!). There was no medical reason to keep her in the hospital after the first month, but she was too weak to go home. I did visit her a few times, but once I saw her in rehab I knew it was unlikely she was ever going to be strong enough to go back to her apartment.

What do we do now? None of us have much money and certainly not anything like what we’d need for her to be in assisted living. What little I could find was $5000 or MORE a month. It all depended on if she needed HOME care or HEALTH care. Home care is general help around the house, cleaning, cooking, laundry. The care-person could give a bath or shower, help with “toileting” (yikes), be a companion. Health care was much bigger bucks.

Sam and I began having difficult conversations. What if she moved in with us? Could we provide for her? Could we do it if someone came in to help her get bathed and check her vitals? I’d have to lose two of my three foster rooms. I’d have to empty out our guest room, which is my one space where no cats are allowed so I can safely store family heirlooms somewhere. Sure, I could get a storage space, but it would take more money that we don’t have, more time away from billable hours having to pack her up, pack up our stuff, move it all, move her in, and we’d lose our privacy completely because we live in a wide open, contemporary house.

My biggest fear of all-would she trip over or step on and kill one of our cats. They always flop at our feet. We step out of the way. She can’t. She can’t do stairs. We could put her in the guest room and she’d have the guest bath down the hall. I’d have to find placements for some of my foster cats, which I really do not want to do. I might even have to shutter doing rescue at all. How much work would it take to provide care for this woman? How much of our lives do we have to sacrifice for her? This is a person who has never treated me like a family member, someone who has been polite and friendly, but that’s about it. Now I have to face she may move in one day.

We had more questions than answers, but there was one thing that was starting to become more clear. Sam and I were working like a well-oiled machine. I made a big “to do” list on Google sheets. We talked and talked and talked about options and how we could make this or that work, all while not having a shred of an idea on what was going on with his mom. Sam made calls, did research. We had meeting after meeting about what to do.

Since Sam had to be gone so much, I took over more of the responsibilities at home. I also tried to help make it easier for Sam to come home and focus on his clients and nothing else (okay he had to give my cat, Spencer, fluids, but that was it). I wasn’t going to be a bitch about this even though it was screwing our lives up big time. I knew it wasn’t forever. We repeated our newly minted motto: “It’s just for now, not forever.”

That’s how Sam worked up enough strength to keep going back and forth to the city even though his car was making loud clunking sounds and he couldn’t afford to get it fixed. He just had to hope it would make the trip (which drove me crazy with anxiety every time he left the house---would he make it there? Would he make it home?).

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Then late in October, the call came we both feared. A social worked called to say that Sam’s mom was being released the NEXT DAY and that could he come get her.

THE NEXT DAY?!!

Once again, I shouldn’t be surprised this happened. The staff at Amsterdam house didn’t give a shit. They did what they were supposed to do according to some bullshit rules we weren’t privy to, instead of be thoughtful or caring or smart. Time was up. We weren’t getting a reasonable warning she was being released. It was THEIR choice. Sam’s mom’s health coverage HAD NOT run out. They didn’t feel they could do any more for her so they were letting her go. Our hand was forced.

With no notice, we both knew that Sam was going to have to move in with his mother until we could sort out what to do next. She could not live alone. We both got to work trying to figure out what Sam would need so he could live and do his work in NYC. Then we had to figure out how we were going to get the apartment cleaned up and ready in time.

The next morning, the social worker called again; this time a reprieve. Sam’s mother had a bloody nose. They were going to keep her for another day or two and run some blood work. They moved her over to the Emergency Department at St. Luke’s. Really? The E.D. for a bloody nose? Okay. We had a few more days. We could get better prepared. She had another urinary tract infection!

So I did a mad shopping trip at Target getting bedding and other items for Sam. The cashier, who had no filter on his thoughts, went on and on about the items I was purchasing as he scanned and bagged each one. He wanted to know what all of it was for. I explained that I was helping my boyfriend move out. He found it very entertaining. I was polite, but behind my stiff smile, I wanted to reach across the counter and smack him for being so inconsiderate.

The next day, Sam and I bee-lined down to NYC and started cleaning yet again. For seven hours I cleaned non-stop and all that I got done was Sam’s childhood bedroom was clean enough for him to be able to move in. Sam got busy scrubbing the grime out of the kitchen and we both handled as much of everything else that we could tackle. The place was a mess even though I’ve periodically cleaned. It just wasn’t enough.

It was good that we were so busy, because every time I had a few moments to think, the realization hit me; Sam was moving out in another day or two. I would have to take care of all the cats alone, including giving my cat, Spencer fluids. Not a big deal unless you understand that I hate sticking my 17-yr old cat and I’m so anxious about it, I feared Spencer would react badly. If I failed him it could prematurely end his life. NO PRESSURE!

I’d also have to take care of the housekeeping, do all the things Sam used to do, plus work, plus try to keep Kitten Associates going.

I was going to live ALONE for the first time in 15 years.

It was going to suck for both of us.

By Saturday, October 27th, we knew that Sunday was going to be the big day. Sam would have to head out to drive to NYC to pick his mother up and bring her back to her apartment. It was the official start to us living apart. That night we held each other tight, while the cats seemed to sense what was going on, most of them were huddled on the bed with us, too. I didn’t know how I was going to sleep without him there. I confessed that even though I’ve lived in our house for over 25 years, it creeps me out to be here alone at night. The cats always seem to get spooked by something I can’t see. I used to like being on my own. I didn’t know how I’d fare now.

Sam admitted that he didn’t want to leave. He was starting to realize that although he’d been mighty unhappy lately, the idea of moving away made him start to see that it wasn’t all bad. A surprising amount of tenderness blossomed between us as we talked about our fears that night. He hadn’t lived in his mom’s apartment for over 30 years. How would he adjust to being back in the City?

It was time. Sunday morning. I kept myself busy, fussing with the contents of Sam’s trunk. Did he have everything he needed? We’d already moved a lot of items into the apartment. This was the last load. He’d let me organize and pack up all his stuff into as few armloads of items as possible. I love to organize things, plus it kept me out of his hair. He’d be stuck using street parking, which meant he’d have to follow the ever-changing rules that required cars be moved every day or so from one side of the street to the other. It was a huge pain in the ass. Even finding a spot near the apartment building was a crapshoot. I hoped he’d get a spot close by so he wouldn’t have to take a long back-breaking walk to get his belongings to his mom’s place.

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There have been many times I wished Sam would drive away and never come back and now he was doing just that. I didn’t want him to go. He promised he’d come visit as soon as he could, but it would only be for a few hours, tops. He was going to be New Yorker now. I didn’t know when I’d see him again. I had to suck it up. I had to be strong.

As Sam pulled his red Subaru out of the garage, I walked up the gravel driveway to the mailbox to get the mail. He was starting to make his way out of the driveway and would pass right by me as I walked back down towards the house. As our paths met, he rolled down the window for one last kiss goodbye. I saw the look on his face, I’m sure my expression mirrored his own grief and heartache. I tried to smile. I gave him a quick kiss. I said rarely uttered words; “I love you.” He said nothing back. (He later told me he was so choked up he was speechless.) I walked away as fast as I could.

I heard the sound of gravel crunching under his tires stop. It meant that Sam’s car was at the top of the driveway, turning onto the paved road. I couldn’t look back. I made it into the house and shut the door behind me before I fell to my knees and burst into tears.

Sam was gone.

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Sam’s been gone for nearly five months. It hasn’t been easy for either of us, but we’re both finding something surprising in all this difficulty: we’ve re-kindled what we lost so long ago. Love.

We can’t get in each other’s hair. We see each other usually once a week. Sam can even stay overnight some times. Our visits are filled with errands, but it’s ok. Sam got a huge project and that took a tremendous amount of stress off us because they pay their bills. His car is fixed. He even got his broken tooth taken care of. Though Sam is worn down from his mother being “his mother” (like using her wheelchair to ram into his bedroom door at 7:30 AM to wake him up so he can get her coffee and her New York Times newspaper), he also has admitted something I never thought I’d hear. He misses our home in the woods. He appreciates our life here and even having a garage to park in. He never was a big fan of living in Sandy Hook because he was used to being able to walk to a café, have coffee, and watch the world go by or pop into a museum or be surrounded by culture. That’s all wonderful and I enjoy it, too, but I always felt he lived here just to be with me. Now he sees his life from afar. It wasn’t so bad after all. He no longer feels smothered by it.

And I’m doing well, too. Okay, I talk to myself a lot. I’m not often around humans, but that’s fine with me. I worked up the courage to give Spencer fluids and now I’m a champ at doing it. A few of our foster kittens have been adopted so I’m down to a more manageable number of cats, but it still takes way too much out of my day to clean, make cat food, give fluids and meds, and just keep an eye on each of the cats, then work, etc.

Last Photo of Petunia copy
©2018 Robin AF Olson. Petunia and her mom, Gracie were part of the first kitty-family I ever fostered 15 years ago. This is my last photo of her before we had to put her down.

There have been darker times, too. Especially when one night in early December, my 15-yr old cat, Petunia slipped trying to make an easy jump onto her cat tree. She was usually not happy being picked up, but this time I decided to do it. As I reached under her to lift her, the second I put my hand on her ribcage I felt a huge, hard mass. The next day Dr Larry did x-rays. Petunia was loaded with cancer. It was terribly shocking and heartbreaking. She was supposed to see a specialist the following week to have a challenging dental procedure done. She’d just had an exam the month before-no sign of any masses. I had no idea she was so sick, so fast.

I had to put her down. Petunia was too far gone to even try steroids or chemo. I had to help her pass without Sam there to say goodbye. Sam couldn’t make it. I hated his mother for keeping us apart, yet again, as I held Petunia in my arms for the last time.

Tunies Paws
©2018 Robin AF Olson. Goodbye my sweet girl.

But the gift this lesson has taught us is that we do still love each other. Sam has been incredibly sweet and attentive. It’s not like before, when I felt like we were two strangers living in the same place, or worse, just roommates. It’s surprising that those warm feelings are still there. They were always there, we just needed some space and time apart to re-appreciate our relationship.

Sam’s mother just turned 90 years old. We have no idea when Sam will come home again. Part of me is afraid it will go back to the way it was when he returns, part of me wants this separation to keep going. It’s been so romantic. I missed that feeling of longing, but I also miss the warmth of his body next to mine, hugs, the smile on his face when he looks at me. He’s happy to see me again. It fills my soul.

We got to see what life is like without the other one in it. I’m left feeling both terrified and grateful for this lesson. One day we really will be separated forever. I’m not being dramatic, I’m being factual. One day we won’t have another chance or another day. Before that day comes, we need to cherish what we have, right here, right now, and focus on the love we have that has kept us together all these years.

Birthday Lunch Robin Sam
©2018 Robin AF Olson. Sam and I take a break to have lunch by Long Island Sound to celebrate his birthday last June.

The Never-Ending Rescue: Pistachio. Part 2 of 2.

What the Hell was I going to do? I used to depend on Sam. He helped out when the kittens needed a claw trim (my close-up vision sucks) or he’d hold a kitten so I can give them medication. I needed to de-worm Pistachio again, but Pistachio was fussing around and wouldn’t hold still.

I was too proud to ask for help and even though I went slowly, right after I gave the liquid de-wormer, Pistachio coughed furiously.

I feared the meds went into his lungs which can cause aspiration pneumonia. When it happened the next night, too, I got very scared I screwed up big time.

I took Pistachio to the vet the next day. The kittens were due for their first FVRCP vaccination anyway. I forgot to mention the coughing when Pistachio was examined, but Dr. Larry didn’t hear anything troubling during the exam. It didn’t help that the kitten was purring so loud it interfered with what he could hear. Because I didn’t say anything about the cough, he didn’t know to listen extra carefully.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. One of over 2 dozen trips to the vet. Here Pistachio is being examined by Dr. Mary.

Over the weekend, late at night, Pistachio would cough, a wet cough, not unlike a hairball type cough, but there was something off about it. I called Saturday morning and talked with one of the vet techs. She said if it got worse to come in but that maybe I was over-thinking it. I agreed. Lack of sleep, maybe giving it another day, since Pistachio was bright and running around, would be okay.

By Monday I was sure there was something terribly wrong and thank goodness I went back to have Pistachio checked. On x-ray you could see his lungs looked terrible. If it was aspiration pneumonia, Pistachio could DIE. No joke. Maybe I just killed one of the cutest kittens I’ve ever fostered.

Artistic Cutie R Olson for FB
©2018 Robin AF Olson.

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I was to give Pistachio antibiotics because, as Dr. Larry told me, the bacteria in his mouth was pushed into his lungs, if, indeed I forced the de-wormer liquid into his lungs. It made sense, but I didn’t want to give him the medication because I knew it would throw off his gut bacteria.

I’ve been learning about homeopathy and I’ve seen some amazing things happen for my cat, Spencer, but I didn’t know what to do for Pistachio so I followed Dr. Larry’s advice.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Feel better!

The next day Pistachio didn’t cough that I know of. He seemed to be doing really well, though his appetite was worse than ever. He’d never been a great eater, which is very unlike kittens, who will usually eat anything and everything. Something didn’t add up. I just couldn’t figure it out. I know I’d seen kittens get a cough after being de-wormed. The dead parasites can cause a mild allergic reaction that effects the lungs. I’d seen it a few times but it always went away after a few days. Pistachio was skinny. I could feel his ribs. His wormy belly was gone, but he wasn’t chunking up.

©2018 Robin AF Olson.

It was very difficult to stay strong and keep Pistachio’s symptoms tracked I was so stressed out. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t write. Words failed me. One night I saw Sam sitting in the living room typing onto his laptop. Facebook was open. I could see he was talking to someone in Messenger. It was late at night. Who was he talking to? I NEVER EVER SNOOP. I’m not that kind of person, but he was saying a lot to whoever it was. He got up and walked into another room. I tiptoed over to his laptop, but I couldn’t tell who he was talking to because I had the wrong glasses on. All I know is he saw me looking and he quickly walked over and closed the laptop, then walked back into the kitchen. That’s when I felt the gut-punch of fear well up inside me. Was Sam cheating on me? Would he really do that? For over a decade we’d lived together and I never worried about him having something going on with another woman, but now this? I understood. We’d been under tremendous stress for too long. No fun. No laughter. Lots of hardship. Why wouldn’t he look for love somewhere else? Why wouldn’t I? I couldn’t ask him about it, but I could let the fear fester inside my gut and add to my sinking depression.

I returned to my self-imposed jail, the foster room, and tried to read a book as I sat there trying not to throw up. I didn’t want to be on social media, but I wanted to look at Sam’s posts. Maybe there was a clue there, but I stopped myself. Instead, I made a list about how we would separate the cats. Which ones Sam would get. Which ones we’d have to re-home (yes, re-home). How I would live if I cashed out whatever I have left, sell the house in its poor condition and move. I couldn’t live in an apartment because they’d restrict me from having more than a cat or two. I’d have to buy something, but what? Where would I live? Where could I move where it’s affordable? How would I make a living?

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Off to the vet again.

I realized if Sam and I broke up for good I’d have to shut Kitten Associates down, at least for a year or two, or maybe forever if I couldn’t get back on my feet.

I tried to be positive. Maybe it was time to realize a dream I’ve had for over a decade. I’ve wanted to move to Lunenberg, Nova Scotia since I visited there in 2004. I looked up what it would take to get citizenship in Canada and I’m A) too old, B) don’t have any skill set they need, C) don’t have a $600,000 (at least) business to bring into the country. I think I could live there, just not as a citizen, but I’d have to keep residency here in the USA, right? How could I do that?

I was hit with a crippling sense of failure. I'd waited too long to try to move. Add that realization to depression, well, it wasn't a good mix. I started to have very dark thoughts about maybe I didn't even want to live any more.

My father took his life. I know what suicide does to the surviving family and friends. When my mother was still alive, I had to promise her I wouldn't follow in my father's footsteps. She knew of my struggles. We made a plan. If I ever went into the dark place I could call her. Then my next goal was to get to my next breath-that was it.

I knew if I could just hang tight, I'd feel different in time, but without the support of my mother, I didn't know how I was going to manage to be strong enough to keep going. I had to find some grain of faith and trust that I really didn't want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop. I could find another way.

I started looking around for things to sell. I have a lot of items from my parents estate that I don’t want and that they didn’t care much about. Nothing is particularly valuable but if I sold it all off it might help with a few bills and paying bills would help me feel better. I have an old jewelry box of my mother’s. Inside it I found my father’s wedding ring. He took it off after he had an accident fixing the garage door and spilt his fingers open. It was when we lived in Ohio back in the 1960s. He never put the ring back on after that, though my parents stayed married the rest of their lives. But now the unworn ring gave me a clue about the truth of their relationship.

A few months ago I found out my brother is only my half-brother, that my mother had had an affair with a lawyer just a few years into my parent’s marriage. Maybe my dad found out some time around the accident and that’s why he never wore the ring again. For his sake, I hope he never knew the truth.

It made me sad to see the ring, I missed my daddy so much. I would never sell it, but oh to have one of my parents around to confide in during this time would have been a great relief. My mother’s been gone for over ten years and my dad, nearly twenty.

I put my daddy’s ring on and inside the next small box I found a necklace he gave my mom. It’s a jade heart surrounded by tiny pearls. I love this piece and won’t part with it. On the back it’s inscribed to my mother and dated Feb 14, 1959. 59 years later I held it in my hands. It just happened to be Valentine’s Day 2018. I put the necklace on. It fit perfectly. Through the pieces of jewelry I could feel both my parents with me. I hoped that they were out there somewhere helping me find my way out of a very dark place. I felt so alone. It was unbearable.

I went downstairs and found two Valentines cards from Sam on the kitchen counter. I was shocked. I figured this would be a Valentine’s Day with no celebration. I was too scared to open them, but once I did I was sickened, because one card basically said he wished me happiness and peace. In so many words, goodbye, then he added, I don’t wish you anything bad. In the other card he made a comment about the artwork on the cover; heart-shaped sushi. We went out for sushi the first time we met 25 years ago. It was the first time I ever had it and I loved it.

Inside that card were tickets to a comedy show he knew I wanted to go to. I felt totally messed up and distraught. What was going on? Why wouldn’t he talk to me but yet here was this offering. Was it a goodbye gesture or something else? By then I didn’t have the confidence to imagine it was anything good, so I slunk back into my room and sat with the kittens.

Later that night I went into the master bathroom to brush my teeth. Sam was in bed reading, not looking up at me. I was so sad and broken. I don’t know how I worked up the nerve, but I slipped into the bed next to him. He was startled, silent. I lifted his arm and got under it. Even if he loved someone else, maybe he still had a little bit of love left for me? He didn’t say a word. He put his book down. He didn’t adjust his position. He didn’t hold me any closer. He stretched out and turned the light off. Neither of us spoke. We barely moved. I didn’t know if he wanted me there or was too stunned to do anything. I squeezed his hand. He didn’t squeeze back. I laid there quietly for a few minutes. We were like two corpses, we were so still. The only sign of life was our breath. I didn’t know how long to wait or what to do next. I felt resigned to my fate. After a few minutes I got up and quietly went back to the foster room to sleep. He didn’t stop me. He didn’t come after me. He let me go. It’s amazing how much can be communicated without words and how much it hurts.

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

A few days passed. More tension. Continuing inertia on my part. I couldn’t take the stress any more, but I also feared if I said anything to Sam we’d have a knock-down (not literally), drag-out fight. I just didn’t feel like I could do that and I was too down in the dumps to even try. I went out to dinner with some of my cat-rescue lady friends, but it did little to cheer me. I didn’t want to get into a bitch-fest complaining about Sam. I just wanted to go back to my ratty bed in the foster room.

And I was worried about the kittens, yes the kittenS. Cassie started coughing. That meant two things, one: I DIDN’T GIVE PISTACHIO ASPIRATION PNEUMONIA because that’s not contagious and two: whatever was going on they BOTH HAD IT. Was it viral or due to their common health issues regarding parasites? Mia was in the room, too and she seemed unaffected.

I couldn’t keep ignoring my problems. I had to get back on my feet. I had to talk to Sam, so without any agenda, I sat down next to him and started to talk. Thankfully after all the weeks of not talking we’d both calmed down enough to have the start of a conversation. We didn’t fight at all, but we expressed some of what we were feeling. We acknowledged we have a long way to go, if we go together. We need to make a lot of changes but we weren’t going to try to solve it all in one sitting or say everything that needed to be said all at once, too, but at least some of the pressure dissipated.

I asked him about if he’d stepped out on me. I looked him in the eye when I asked. He said no. Nothing was going on. He was surprised I asked him that, but I told him I had my reasons. Yes, I understand people lie to each other, but I had a choice. I chose to let it go. If there was something going on or still is, it will come out eventually. Since Sam never left home much during the past few weeks and even before that, he couldn’t be hooking up with someone nearby. It would have to be via online, or it was nothing. Part of me was too beat up emotionally to fight about that, but the other part still wasn’t 100 percent certain I wanted to fight for him at all.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Late one night we get silly.

Pistachio was doing all right, other than a rare cough, but still wasn't eating well. Cassie hadn’t coughed again since the first time days ago. I thought they were getting better, but without warning, Pistachio started up again. The kittens were a bit quieter than usual, not playing or eating well. To make things worse, Dr. Larry go the Flu and wasn’t in the office for most of the week while I was getting suspicious about the kitten’s health.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Catshew finally learns she can relax around me.

Yesterday I took them both in to see Dr. Larry. The night before they’d been quiet and had actually eaten a meal. I thought maybe I was nuts, the stress of the past month, severe lack of sleep had gotten to me, but I wasn’t wrong.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Pistachio's x-rays.

Dr. Larry took x-rays of Pistachio’s lungs. They were no better than two weeks ago when we last did the rads. He told me if Pistachio was an adult he’d think it was cancer. It did not look like asthma, but perhaps it was P.I.E. (Pulmonary Infiltrates of Eosinophils). Yet another disease I’ve never heard of before. I swear all my cats have weird things wrong with them that my Vet rarely sees. IF that’s what it is, it basically means a severe allergic reaction to some sort of parasite. The problem is it may be a CHRONIC problem, not a curable one.

Dr. Larry asked me if we could x-ray Cassie. I had no reason to believe she was in trouble. I almost said no, but I was glad I agreed.

Her lungs are as bad as Pistachio’s. I almost fainted when I heard the news. What the Hell was going on with the kittens? How would we find out what was wrong?

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Cassie's x-rays.

We decided to do a PCR test on Cassie’s saliva since she had never gotten antibiotics, which would ruin the test results. Dr. Larry said it would rule in or out “some bad things,” (which it ended up doing) but this time didn’t go into detail and I didn’t ask, which is completely unlike me. The tests, the x-rays, the over 10 vet visits have taken a toll on us…and Pistachio’s testicles haven’t dropped. This is called, Cryptorchid.

It’s either one testicle doesn't drop or both sides don't drop, and in his case, it’s both sides which, again, is very rare. This can also be very painful and cause a lot of problems. It complicates his neutering because it turns it into exploratory surgery unless we do an ultrasound first.

It also means Pistachio can’t go anywhere-be adopted-for another two months. If at 6-months of age he still doesn’t have his little nuggets, then we have to do the procedure and surgery and we might as well wait to re-test him for FIV while we’re at it (we did re-test and he was found to be negative for FIV).

It was a real kick in the teeth. So many people want to adopt Pistachio and now no one can. I don’t know when or if the kittens will be able to find their forever homes. First, I have to find a way to get them healthy if it’s possible, and right now I have more questions than I have answers.

If there’s something to be learned it’s to follow your gut with your pet’s health. Even though Pistachio’s cough isn’t every day, it sounds terrible. He still plays and purrs, but his lungs tell another story. He and Cassie have come a very long way in the weeks they’ve been with us and I’m determined to find an answer for them.

As for me, it’s one day at a time. At least my words are back and I have so many more stories to tell.

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

August 2018

It was February when I wrote about Pistachio and Catshew, but as the year dragged on, things got worse for me and Sam, for the kittens, too. Spencer just turned 17, which was the highlight of the past few months. Somehow he’s still with us. I haven’t done chemo, just homeopathy and good food. It was a very difficult decision to not give him chemo, but now I feel more comfortable with my choice. Hearing him purr and having him gain back weight he'd lost last year has given me hope he may be with us a bit longer.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Spencer & Freya curl up together. I'm so grateful Spencer is still with us.

But Pistachio. My God. For MONTHS he coughed. MONTHS. I tried homeopathy with both kittens for about 6 weeks and their lungs got about 40% better. I was tracking every meal, if they ate, if they coughed, I timed Pistachio's coughs since he was much more severely effected, even if it was 3 AM. I wrote what kind of cough (foamy or dry-harsh, etc) into the notes app on my phone.

I finally had to give up on homeopathy (which I found out later is fine to do. You don’t have to do all homeopathy or all “traditional” treatments. You can do a bit of both, but that sort of fine-tuning is not something I'm comfortable with yet.)

Meanwhile, Pistchio’s testicles didn’t drop. He frequently goes in and out of the litter pan, but doesn’t always pass urine. I got an ultrasound done to find his testicles and they only saw one. It was pressing on his bladder. The longer we waited to do surgery, the more uncomfortable he would become, but you can’t sedate a cat and do surgery on a cat who has lousy lung function.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Guess where they're going? Ugh!

We tried antibiotics. Nothing worked. I asked about lungworm, but was told it was too unlikely and his symptoms would be different. We did more tests and talked about doing a trans-trachael lavage (basically they sedate the cat, infuse his lungs with a small amount of sterile saline, then remove the fluid and test it to get answers about what the coughing was from). The problem, not only was cost, but THE CAT CAN’T BREATHE very well! Is this wise to sedate him? Okay, it would be a “twilight” sort of sedation since they needed him to cough as part of the procedure, but it was still risky.

I took Pistachio to see a specialist. We talked about lungworm again. We decided to do a Baermann fecal test. It’s $200. It’s also VERY TOUGH to do because they require a FRESH stool sample..I mean like “right out of the pipe” stool sample. If I didn’t see Pistachio pass the stool, it would be too old. Also, I needed to get the sample on Tuesday-Saturday between 8AM and 6PM. Really? That meant ideally I should be in the foster room ALL THE TIME. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I have to work!!!

It took a few weeks, but I finally lucked out and got a sample. Guess what?

LUNGWORM POSITIVE.

Lungworms are rare here in the northeast, but common in cats in the south. It meant he had to have come into contact with a secondary host somehow. I read it can be from a slug or drinking out of a puddle a slug passed through, but in the winter? Or something else was the culprit because it could be transmitted through him eating another prey animal. Whatever it was, clearly both he and his sister had been infected because they both had a terrible cough.

The treatment was a de-wormer! No biggie. We’d do it for 2 weeks. You can bet I did not miss one dose of that de-wormer!

At last, Pistachio and Catshew stopped coughing so often. Cassie was fine very quickly so I was able to get her spayed. I opted to have it done with Dr Larry just in case her lungs were an issue, but it was very expensive. Pistachio still had a lingering cough now and then, but I could finally get it set up to have him neutered.

It was July. I’d been trying to find a cure for SEVEN MONTHS.

The first week of August we set the date for his neuter. The neuter is really exploratory surgery to find both of Pistachio’s nuts. Dr. Larry said we had to repeat the ultrasound, which dashed my hopes at not having to spend yet another $500 on more tests. I’d taken him to our vet over 20 times and spent over $4000 on his care to date. His surgery was going to be about $750. Normally it’s less than $100 to neuter a cat. His care was breaking the bank.

©2018 Robin AF Olson. Still coughing.

The day arrived for his surgery. I couldn’t wait. For months I’d been suffering from the stench in the foster room. His urine smelled VERY STRONG-a mix of ammonia and male-cat-stank since he still had working hormones. I couldn’t do much to clear the smell out of the room and I was trying to sleep there each night. Yeah, good luck with that. A few weeks after surgery his hormone level should drop and the smell would go away. I could finally put Pistachio and his sister up for adoption.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. At least Pistachio can get some rest.

Around 6AM Pistachio started coughing again. I had to cancel the surgery. It was too risky. I didn’t know if the de-wormer had failed or if something else was going on. The next time we could do the ultrasound and the surgery was a MONTH later (August 31). I was devastated.

This cat was uncomfortable. The smell was terrible and he continued to cough from time to time. I contacted our specialist and she said we should repeat the Baermann test before trying any surgery. Here we go again…

Meanwhile, Pistachio was growing up. The sweet little kitten got “stud tail!” It’s when an intact male has overactive hormones that create an overabundance of oil in the sebaceous glands. The base of his tail got greasy and it could get full of blackheads and become infected, so back to the vet I went with a new bottle of specialized shampoo for his tail. Pistachio was so fearful he hid under a towel on the exam table.

He no longer trusts me to come near him because of all the vet visits. It breaks my heart more than I can describe to lose his trust. I love this kitten so much, but I have to get him healthy and that means taking him for car trips to the vet whether he likes it or not

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Growing up fast. Pistachio's tail floofed, while the rest of his coat is silky and smooth.

We didn’t wash his tail. It can actually make it worse and because we plan on doing the neuter I HOPE, it’s a temporary problem (and he didn’t have an infection).

He’s a man-cat now, too. I’ve NEVER seen this before because we ALWAYS spay and neuter our kittens at a reasonable time. I would never wait 9 months to neuter a cat unless he had health issues, as Pistachio has, but now, my little guy has a BIG JOWLY HEAD (often called “Apple-head” here in the northeast or “Biscuit-head” down south). He probably weighs 10 pounds. We used to be so close. He loved to sleep on my chest and now he whines if I come near him.

I hope that in a few weeks, after his surgery, he’ll feel better and want to be close again. I don’t know if anyone will want to adopt him and his sister since they’re no longer kittens, but I can’t keep him as much as I would like to.

I’ve spent most of this year helping a cat I thought I’d have adopted out so long ago. It was supposed to be a quick rescue, not one that broke the bank, my heart and my back. I don’t regret rescuing Pistachio and Cassie. I know they would probably be dead if I hadn’t fought so hard to find out what was ailing them, but now I really need help for the final hurdle.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. One and a half 'staches.

Thanks to our friend Chris, she will match up to $1000 in donations. We need them BADLY. This year has been the toughest on us. Donations are at about 1/10 of what we normally can raise. We just took in a mom and 5 kittens and we still have Daphne and 2 of her 4 kittens to find homes for. Chanel, who came from a hoarder, is still with us too. It’s been a tough year in so many ways, but I can’t provide for the rescue cats we have without support.

Our goal is to raise $1000 to earn the matching $1000. It won’t even come close to getting us out of the hole, but it will make Pistachio’s surgery possible. If we raise more, then it will go to any and all of the other cats in our care. Ideally, we need to a lot more to cover everyone (at least $900 to do the spay/neuter surgery for Matilda and her kittens). It’s very hard to have to ask for help, but we really need it.

Here’s how you can help:

DONATE

Give a gift of any amount over $1 to Pistachio using our PayPal.me link (you don't have to have a PayPal Account to give a gift) HERE.

Quick shortcuts to donate a specific amount :

To donate $5: https://www.paypal.me/kittenassociates/5

To donate $10: https://www.paypal.me/kittenassociates/10

To donate $25: https://www.paypal.me/kittenassociates/25

VENMO https://venmo.com/KittenAssociates

To donate whatever you wish: https://www.paypal.me/kittenassociates/

Please note: We choose not to use fundraising web sites because they charge a fee on top of the fee PayPal charges us so we get less of a donation. Some of the fundraising sites also take a LONG time to relinquish the funds and we do not have the luxury to wait. If we reach our goal I let you know so that we can close the fundraiser.

If you wish to write a check, Please make out your gift to: Kitten Associates and send it to: P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354 and add a note that it’s "For Pistachio."

Your gift is tax deductible. Kitten Associates is a 501c3 non-profit. Our EIN Tax ID is 27-3597692.

Please think good thoughts for Pistachio and for me, too. I made a promise to this kitten a long time ago-that one day we would be friends. I kept that promise to the best of my ability, but I can’t help but feel I have failed him, and that doesn’t sit right with me at all.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. So adorable, yet so very sick.

Sam and I have waxed and waned in our ability to get along. Sometimes I’m sure the heart-connection we have is gone and other times it feels unbreakable. We almost lost the house a few weeks ago, but a family member stepped up and helped us with a temporary loan. Our path has been rocky for so long. I'm praying we find a way to overcome these issues and find a way to take a break to recover from the stress we’re under. We’ve got to be able to buy groceries without being scared the lights will be shut off while we’re at the store. I feel like I’m in a pit of despair that I can’t get out of, but I keep trying.

I do it for the cats. I do it because they need me. I do it because I can’t fail and lose everything.

The Never-Ending Rescue: Pistachio. Part 1 of 2.

Prologue

Every time I take on a rescue-cat I always get to a point where I realize this cat or kitten came into my life for a reason. Maybe I’m just looking to make sense of it, to connect random events, or maybe there’s something cosmic going on that I’m responding to. I’ll probably never know for certain why, all I know is that it’s starting to add up with our latest rescues.

It’s been over a month [guess what…it’s been 6 months now] since I wrote what follows. A lot has happened, not all of it bright or cheery, but the puzzle pieces are fitting together. I know that these kittens needed to be here. If they had been given away, it’s very unlikely they would have gotten the care they needed. It’s not to say those people are unkind, just not as experienced caring for kittens. As often is the case, what seemed to be a straightforward rescue has turned into a complicated, expensive journey to get two kittens on the right track.

January

A text message appeared on my iPhone. “Help needed for a kitten…can you take it?” I get these requests for cats of all ages, all the time. Dozens a day. I refer some, hope-for-the-best for others, network a few, take on ones that will fit into my foster home network when funds allow. It happens so often it becomes a blur of endless anxiety, frustration, and heartbreak for me.

“I’m really tired. I’m on a break…first time in 7 years. Was going to take the winter off from fostering.” was my reply.

This is where I thought the story would end. My soul felt empty from the ravages of years of acute stress without the chance to have a day off, to feel peace again. My cat Spencer has lymphoma. I need to focus my attention on him, not another kitten who needs de-worming and 100 trips to the vet…who might have a contagious virus that will sicken my cats.

Karen, a lady I’ve known for years, works with the place where I get my old car fixed. We’ve talked cats many times. Her husband owns a business where there’s lots of heavy machinery and concrete forms. They have a small feral cat colony and from time to time they rescue the cats and find them homes. This time they couldn’t find a place for the kitten they just found and wanted me to take it.

She sent me a photo. The kitten was black and white, dirty, probably feral, probably full of fleas and mites and worms. I explained I just couldn’t do it. Later that day she told me she found a home for the kitten, but if I wanted to stop by the next morning, I could see him. She said she was already eating solid food and had eaten 3 cans she was so hungry.

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First glimpse of the little kitten. I was so tired (probably had compassion fatigue) that I didn't even notice how cute it was.

I felt like she could have told me anything about this kitten and I wouldn’t have cared. I don’t know why I agreed to stop by. I guess I felt guilty. I worried that if the kitten wasn’t going to a rescue, that at least I should make sure it gets de-wormed and make sure it was in good enough shape to go to a home. Why I put a cat carrier in my car before I left the house is beyond me. I just had a feeling I better do it in case there was more going on than I was lead to understand.

I heard the kitten before I saw her. She was crying, backed into the corner of a small dog crate that was placed on the floor in Karen’s office. Karen explained they had bathed her a few times, but you could still smell the odor from burnt engine oil coming off her. Her fur was caked and spikey. She was hunkered down, terrified. That’s when I learned she was found under the hood of a big truck, on the block heater of a diesel engine. Too scared to move, one of the employees grabbed the kitten. It had been so cold outside that the only source of warmth anywhere was under the hoods of the trucks since they were plugged in when not in use to keep the engine fluids warm so they’d start each morning.

I asked her to take the kitten out of the crate. She really stank. Her belly was so big I could barely see her legs. She shuffled over to a stack of papers and pressed herself against some file folders. Her pupils were huge. She was definitely feral and I said as much to Karen.

Pistachio at NCC
©2018 Robin AF Olson. Filthy, stinky, adorable.

She was skin and bones under all that swelling. She might have other health issues. Her eyes were watering, then she sneezed. I asked about the person who was going to adopt the kitten and was told they had a cat and dog, but that was about it. I asked if they were going to make sure the kitten got spayed and I didn’t get a firm answer.

I looked at the pitiful fur-blob and told Karen that I thought I should take the kitten. My inner voice was yelling at me at the time, but my heart won out. I knew what this kitten needed would be too much for someone who doesn’t work with kittens to deal with. That the kitten would probably turn into one of those kittens who always hides under the sofa because it didn’t get socialized properly. I worried that it wouldn’t get the vet care it needed. As a rescuer, it was against everything I do to leave this kitten’s future up to fate.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Oh yes, I AM the cutest kitten, ever.

I carefully inserted a syringe of de-worming medicine into the kitten’s mouth, then quickly turned her upside down and looked between her back legs. She was a HE. Karen was sure it was a girl, probably because the kitten has a very girlie looking face, if that makes any sense. I saw little nubs, no question in my book of it being a "him", but the next question was…

Oh shit. Now what do I do? Karen agreed it made sense for me to take the kitten and perhaps he could be adopted later by this lady once the vetting was all done.

I called my vet. They could see us right away. I packed up the kitten into my oh-so-conveniently-ready-cat-carrier. As I placed the carrier onto the front seat of my car I said to the kitten; “You don’t know this, but we’re going to be good friends one day. I promise I will take good care of you. Don’t worry.” The kitten replied by crying all the way to the vet.

I had ten minutes to come up with a name for the kitten. He has a little black moustache just under his nose so I named him Pistachio.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. A very filthy boy.

A winter storm was due later that day and I had planned to go to the store and grab some supplies, instead of rescue a kitten. My vet had to examine Pistachio between other appointments so I went to the store while they took care of him.

The store was crowded and it took a long time to get everything on my list. So long that I’d forgotten about the kitten when my phone rang. It was Dr. Mary.

She told me the exam went well, but Pistachio looked like he was coming down with an upper respiratory tract infection. They were going to give me antibiotics, but I wasn’t sure I was going to give them to the kitten because they estimated he was about six to eight weeks old and weighed just 1 lb, 9 oz. I knew some of that was fluid build-up from parasites and I didn’t want to harm his immune system right away. As I was thinking about what sorts of digestive support I could give him, Dr. Mary’s normally cheerful tone, dropped a bit.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. After the bath, a forlorn Pistachio.

“It looks like Mr. Pistachio is positive for FIV.”

My heart sank, but then Dr. Mary reminded me that due to his age, it could be a false positive and that we’d re-test in a few weeks. Although I knew it would make finding this kitten a home a lot harder, I also knew FIV wasn’t contagious as long as he didn’t end up being aggressive with the other cats.

“One day at a time. One step at a time.” I thought to myself.

I couldn’t freak out now. I had a long way to go with this kitten. Next thing was to get him home. Get him clean and get him a place to live. I hadn’t worked with a feral kitten for years. I’m not exactly the most patient person. Ugh…what have I done? What if I make it worse and I fail at socializing him?

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

I got Pistachio home and set up a medium-sized dog crate where he’d be staying until I felt he was socialized enough to let him have free reign of the infamous blue bathroom, the smaller of my two foster rooms.

I was lucky. Even though he’d never been handled much before I got him, Pistachio was willing to put up with my awkward attentions. I did a few things wrong, like cover his crate. I should have put his crate in the living room so he’d get used to the sights and sounds of us and the other cats, but I was worried about spreading illness and stressing him out. Thing is, that’s what would have worked better to start.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Sizing me up.

I remembered using a baby spoon at the end of a long stick. 1. Put chicken baby food on the spoon (warmed up food of course), 2. offer it to scared kitten, 3. encourage kitten to come forward after a taste of food, 4. repeat as necessary.

OR

Do what I did which was get frustrated, then just pick the kitten up, stick him on a towel in my lap with a plate of food, and have him eat while sitting on my lap. He was not too happy about it, but he wasn’t hissing or growling at all. He was just scared.

I kept him hungry and only fed him off my fingers or in my lap. He had a very bad load of roundworms come out of him (both ends) and it caused his rectum to bleed and get swollen. We went back and forth to the vet about 5 times that first week.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Roundworms. Lots of them.

I bathed him over and over again, trying to do it quickly, but also trying to get at the deeply embedded grease that was on his chest and back. He was a good sport, but still looked like Tribble; all fluff and no shape. He was a sorry mess.

The tip of his tail was hairless and frostbitten. It later fell off (Dr. Mary said it was OK and we didn't have to do anything since it was a clean break).

But then I found the thing, the one thing he loved more than food, he loved to be brushed.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Sam brushes 'stache into a blissful state.

A few days after taking him on I got a purr as I brushed his winter-thickened fur. I knew then we’d be okay. I encouraged him to play and that helped him forget to be afraid. It only took a little over a week to get him where I felt it was all right to put the crate away and let him have some freedom. The poor kitten was alone, though, so I made myself a nest of blankets alongside the washer and dryer. It was the only place I could stretch out other than inside the bathtub. Each night I stayed with Pistachio and we watched Netflix on my old iPad after I fed him and played with him. I tried to sleep but I had no chance of success. I was terrified of crushing him in my sleep or if I did fall asleep he would stick his wet nose into my ear, startling me awake. He’d pounce on my face if the nose-in-the-ear thing didn’t work.

©2018 Robin AF Olson. Our first week together.

My new schedule was to join him around 11 PM, then stay ‘til about 3 or 4 AM. It was difficult to get in and out of the tiny space with the blankets in the way. My back was so stiff I could barely stand to fold up the blankets so I could open the door to get out and to get into my real bed. I was worried Pistachio would have behavior problems being alone so much, so I stayed with him as often as I could.

Meanwhile I’d been hearing there were possibly two other kittens related to Pistachio who were on the property that needed to be trapped. In for a dime, in for a dollar…except that I don’t trap, nor do I have a trap.

I asked on social media for help and I lucked out when one of my best buddies said she’d come help. Katherine runs Animals in Distress. We help each other out from time to time and she is a terrific trapper. I told her I’d get all our snacks and cat food for trapping if she brought the traps. She squawked: “This isn’t brunch. We have work to do!”

Hey, if I’m going to freeze my ass off waiting to trap a kitten or two, I might as well have some good snacks and tea so I ignored Katherine, as usual, and loaded up on treats.

It was about 20° F that bright Sunday morning. I had the key to the gate so we could enter the property where the cats had been seen. We set traps, drizzled stinky food all over the lot, but it was so cold the food froze in a few minutes.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Find the feral kittens here! Good luck with that.

Katherine stood by one of the trucks where Pistachio had been found and began to meow. It was so realistic a cat replied to her! There WAS a cat under the hood of the truck. The problem was…how to get it out? How to get it into a trap? The hood opened towards us, not away. It was about 8 feet high and no way to reach the hood to open it anyway. Katherine continued to meow, but the cat wouldn’t come out.

We had to keep going back into my car to thaw out after only a few minutes it was so bitter cold. I kept thinking about the kittens trying to live in this environment. All over the lot were huge concrete forms. There was no way they’d stay warm inside any of them. We didn’t see any signs of life. It was so different from my experience just the year before in Waterbury where everywhere you looked there were cats.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Inside the engine where Pistachio was found.

I didn’t want to think that failure was an option, but we had to give up. We were there for six hours. Katherine was great, offering to come back the next weekend when it was supposed to be warmer. In my heart, I wished we didn’t have to wait that long, but we needed the lot to be quiet and reduce the danger of trucks coming in and out of the lot. I’d also made contact with the caretaker of a second feral colony nearby. She’d given me a lot of information that made me wonder if our kittens were even on the lot at all, but somewhere else.

A Week Later

This time I got fried chicken as a trap bait. I’d heard that Kentucky Fried Chicken was the best, but it was too early in the morning and they weren’t open yet. I opted to hit Stew Leonard’s, a huge local grocery chain, on the way to the trapping location and got fried chicken there. Okay, I got mini-chocolate croissants, too (for us).

The temps were in the 40's and there was freshly fallen snow on the ground. Katherine and I scanned the lot, looking for paw prints and found quite a few. We made a plan to drop bits of chicken near the tracks, hoping we’d stir up some activity. Crows saw the food and started cawing loudly. I put out some dry food to encourage them to come closer. I figured if they put out the call there was food, the kittens would hear it, too.

Katherine and I sat in my car once again, thankfully not shivering as we stuffed mini croissants into our mouths and gulped down hot tea as we waited. An hour or so ticked by, then, in the distance I saw her. It was an adult cat, followed by a tiny kitten!

We were about 50 feet away, too far to see detail, but there was Pistachio’s sibling. I hoped to see a third kitten, but we didn’t see one. They were not near any of the traps. They were just eating the morsels we’d left on the ground. Katherine said that mom was probably trap savvy, which meant the odds just took a nose dive that we’d get any kittens.

Poppy and Kitten at Lot copy
©2018 Robin AF Olson. Poppy and her little kitten, soon to be our Catshew.

The cats vanished soon after we saw them, but their image burned into my soul. I couldn’t just sit there and know they needed us and no do anything. We decided to move the traps further into the lot, closer to where the second colony was located.

As we crossed the lot, I saw the kitten again. I called to Katherine, but I didn’t want to yell. She couldn’t hear me clearly and started crabbing at me (as we always do to each other). I was trying to get her to head left towards a small concrete form. I was on the right. We could have cornered the kitten.

I walked as fast as I could, pointing and motioning to Katherine but she was carrying a trap and didn’t know what I was doing. I got within a few feet of the kitten but there was a huge mound of snow covered dirt in my way. I clambered up the side and the kitten dashed left, but before she did she, she waited a beat and looked me straight in the eyes, daring me to make a move. She turned quickly, then vanished. I was so upset I started to cry. I was ready to pounce on this kitten, get bitten or scratched, just to get her into my coat and off to safe harbor but she was gone. Then I saw her mom run across the street. I called out to her not to go and silently prayed she wouldn’t get hit by a car. Thankfully the road isn’t a busy one and she made it safely across.

I told Katherine what happened. We were both bummed out. We decided to set the traps where we were because to me some of the area looked like good hiding spots for the cats. There were more concrete forms but grasses had grown around them and it looked like a good cubby hole was along the base of one form. There was nothing more we could do other than go back and sit in the car and wait.

We’d waited a few hours, checked the traps, then decided to go meet the caretaker of the other colony since she was coming to feed her guys soon. We thought we might get some good intel on what was going on, but I didn’t expect what I saw next.

©2018 Robin AF Olson. Listen carefully!

Turns out our guys were also part of her colony. She had named every cat. When she called out to them most of them showed up. There were half a dozen cats or so. I gave them some of the chicken and some of the other food I had. The cats were either black or black and white, similar to Pistachio but short haired. The caretaker told us that the kitten’s mom was named Poppy and that she’d had Poppy spayed a month ago and had to quickly return her because the vet said she was still nursing. I don’t know how she managed that or how the kittens survived without their mom for a time, but they did. As the caretaker talked about Poppy, a delicate little tuxedo ran over to the feeding station. It was Poppy. I wondered if mom was here, maybe the kittens were nearby, too. The caretaker said that mom would bring her the kittens when she was ready and she’d never seen any kitten this winter. Poppy ate, then took off. We decided to go check the traps and head home, thinking we’d have to come back again as soon as we could, but also grateful to know that most of the cats had been TNR’d already and had a loving caretaker looking out for them.

I drove us across the lot and parked behind a small hill in case the kittens were nearby. We got out of my car and walked over to the traps and then I saw one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.

There was a kitten inside one of the traps, frantically trying to get out. A few feet away, sitting on a concrete block, was Poppy. She was sitting very still, statuelike, while her kitten cried out for her as she banged her tiny body into the wire bands of the trap. I called to Katherine that we’d gotten a kitten and we both ran over to the trap feeling a mixture of elation and misery. I called out to Poppy as she turned away and ran back towards the colony across the street. I told her I was sorry. Katherine said the same thing to the fleeing cat. I called out to Poppy saying we’d take care of her baby. I said I was so so sorry again and again. I didn’t want to break up this little family. The image of the little kitten flashed in my memory, her tail curled up high, chasing fearlessly after her mama just a few hours ago and now that was over, forever. How could I do that to this poor creature?

 

©2018 Robin AF Olson. Heartbreak and joy and wrapped up in a big knot of guilt. Our first look at Cassie.

It was twilight so I turned my iPhone light onto the trap. The kitten’s nose was bloody from struggling to get free. She was quite small and short-haired. I took off my coat and put it over the trap. I made her the same promise I made her brother. She’d be ok one day and one day I hoped we’d be friends, but for the moment a familiar thought came to mind: what the Hell am I doing? What mess have I gotten myself into now?

Katherine and I hugged, finally feeling like we got the job done. We’d heard there might not have been a third kitten, but everyone knew to contact us if there was. In the weeks since we did the trapping no other kittens have been seen. I fear that the others just didn’t make it, but I’m glad, at least, we got these two. Now Pistachio will have company once his sister was socialized enough to be reunited with him.

IF she gets socialized…

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Girls! Why are they so difficult? It seems male kittens usually socialize fairly fast if they’re young, but the girls, fuggetaboutit! I named the kitten Catshew (Cassie). She didn’t have her brother’s big wormy-filled belly. She wasn’t covered in grease. She was petite, had her brother’s silly ‘stache markings (though she only has a half-stache), but none of his long fur. Her tail was very crooked at the tip like a waded up ball of paper. I thought perhaps it was from a birth defect but later found out it was broken and already set. She wasn’t in pain so it was okay to leave it be.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. We love you even if you hate us.

She hated my guts; hissing and withdrawing any time I got near her. At least she wasn’t striking me. Clearly she was fearful, but I didn’t think she was going to bite me. Once again I did the wrong thing, putting her in the foster room with Mia. Her crate was partially covered, I thought to help her de-stress, but I found out later I should have kept the cover off.

I approached Cassie slowly, tried a few tricks like baby food on a long-handled spoon, but she wouldn’t go for it. I knew if I kept her hungry she’d have to come to me sooner or later and lick food off my fingers if nothing else. It was very slow going.

Someone suggested I wrap her in a towel and hold her on my lap for at least 30 minutes, petting her and touching her gently so she’d get used to me so I did that. She froze up, whined, shivered. I felt terrible and lost about what to do.

Then Pam came to visit.

Pam’s cat, Frida, was the reason for me deciding to help Pistachio and his sister. I’d learned about Frida on Instagram. She was a tattered, dirty, freshly-trapped, rescued and quickly adopted. She looked like Hell, but was also completely captivating. I fell in love with her sweet demeanor and gentle nature as I watched all her videos and waited for her next photo to appear on Pam's page. Frida had been living a rough life on the streets. She had an injury to her face. She needed a lot of TLC. Pam had seen her photo and offered to adopt her right away, not concerned that Frida might have a lot of health issues or behavior issues. She just wanted to give Frida the life she deserved.

Pam was doing everything she could to help her recover, but in barely two weeks after her rescue, it was discovered that Frida’s swollen cheek was not due to an abscess (infection), but to cancer that had ravaged her jaw and was going into her brain. There was nothing that could be done other than to humanely euthanize the sweet girl.

Frida

I never met Frida, but there was something about her that made my heart break when I learned she died. It was the day I was asked to help Pistachio. The next morning I decided to funnel my grief into helping this kitten, to honor Frida. I had no idea my simple gesture would turn into something much bigger.

You see, I contacted Pam and told her about Pistachio and how sorry I was about Frida, that she would live on by another life saved. Then she posted about what I did and the news took off. I was contacted by another gal who said she adopted a cat because of what I did, to honor Frida, too. Then more people stepped up, either naming a newly rescued cat Frida or rescuing more cats in honor of this special girl.

Pam got so fired up she decided to use social media, as I have done for over a decade, to help cats get out of kill shelters and get rescued. She started a new IG page TeamFridaFries and has been highlighting the tough to rescue cats who need a helping paw. In just a few weeks Pam has already started saving lives all over the country, to honor the cat she loved so dearly.

…And Pam had a crush on Pistachio, so I invited her to come and meet him.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Pistachio, meet Pam. Pam, meet Pistachio!

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What I often notice is when someone comes over to adopt a cat that the cat has a say, too, and some times it’s clear the cat doesn’t want that person to adopt them. That was the case with Pam and Pistachio. He just didn’t want her to hold him or pet him. It was so odd. I felt terrible because perhaps I’d been with him too much and I needed to have other people visit with him. Pam was a good sport about it and frankly it was way too early for anyone to adopt Pistachio anyway. I asked Pam if she would like to meet Cassie and of course she said yes.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Pam + Catshew = 4Ever.

That’s when I saw a love-match. Pam didn’t hesitate to purrito Cassie, then hold and kiss her, while she Cassie whined and fussed. The little kitten was confused about what this human was doing to her. Pam lit up. Her energy changed. Cassie settled down and all I could think was “PLEASE TAKE CASSIE!”

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Kitten purrito.

Pam offered to foster Cassie and I said YES right away, but I had to get Cassie to the vet and get her vaccination done before it was safe for her to be near any of Pam’s other cats. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t great and Cassie never got to visit Aunt Pam, but just seeing her with Cassie gave me the inspiration to keep trying to socialize her.

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I kept at it. I got some good advice from a few rescue friends. They said to put Cassie’s crate into the living room with no cover on it. Get her desensitized to life around humans. The second I did that she perked up, happy to see other cats. She still growled and whined every time I went near her, but she would allow me to pet her, always keeping one or both ears flattened down, not sure she trusted me yet.

Meanwhile I was going back and forth to the vet with Pistachio. His rear end was in bad shape from the parasite load. Then he tested positive for coccidia, too. I worried my cats would get it, but I read that they can become immune to it as adults. The last thing I needed was 10 cats to have diarrhea!

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Poor Pistachio. You've just got to get better!

Pistachio was becoming aggressive with me since he had no outlet to interact with other cats. I knew he needed, what I call, Kitten Bootcamp. He needed to be with other cats who would let him know he was biting too hard or being too rough, and that meant he had to be vetted enough so that it was safe to put him into the big foster room with Mia. If Cassie would turn around I could put her into the room, too, but it seemed like it was going to take months for her to be stable enough to move.

When the time came to give it a try, I realized Pistachio and Cassie had been apart for too long. Cassie was very aggressive the few moments she’d seen her brother. I decided to do site swapping so they could learn each other’s scent, while staying safe. I let them have time together, but only while I was in the room because Pistachio was so rough with his sister. It took a few weeks, but I finally got Cassie to purr and I finally felt that it was safe for both kittens to move into the foster room together.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Reunion.

What I couldn’t know was that I was going to be moving into the big foster room, too. Sam and I had not been getting along for months and things finally came to a head during the time I trapped Cassie. We stopped talking, eating together, being anywhere near each other. We figured out how to do this horrible passive-aggressive “dance” while we shared the same living space.

If I was in the kitchen, Sam would wait a few feet away until I left before he’d enter the room. At first I was so angry and fed up I didn’t care, but as the days wore on with no changes, I got hit with a depression that was one of the worst of my life. I tried to make a home for myself within the four walls of the foster room, but living with hyperactive kittens running around, who were fighting half the night, trying to sleep on an old hard mattress with a lone spring that poked my hip when I tried to sleep, was robbing me from getting any peace, any rest, any relief.

Things go from better to worse...will Pistachio EVER get BETTER? ...oh, then Catshew gets sick, too. Find out the good, the bad and the ugly next...

For Margo. Ch 3. From Heartache to Hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My heart sank, but I still still hopeful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fly free

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except that it wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

24 Hours Later...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Mother's Day Means Only Betrayal and Rage

I’m not the only person who had a challenging relationship with their mother. I get that, but a few weeks ago something happened that changed how I think of my mother. It left me with so many unanswered questions, mixed with a frenzied desire to know the truth. It gutted me, shocked me, uprooted the foundation of my entire life. Now I find myself going back and thinking about so many moments, having to re-write them, now flavored with different meaning. I am so angry, hurt and confused. I’m not sure how I go on from here knowing that my life has been a lie.

April 7, 2018

My birthday is April 3rd. It fell on a Tuesday this year. The weather was dreadful but Sam and I planned an afternoon away from home. We’d walk around New Haven (ended up being in the rain), visiting a museum, a cheese shop and get cupcakes. It was fine, nothing special, kinda damp day.

Saturday the 7th was set to be “family fun night” with my nephew, Ryan and my ex-sister-in-law, who I consider to be my sister (but who is very private so I’m not even going to say her name). These are the two, most cherished members of what’s left of my family.

Easter Pie Creation
©2002 Robin AF Olson. It would take all afternoon to make these pies but it was always worth the effort.

My mother died in 2010 and my dad in 1999. I have a brother, sort of, but we had a falling out after my mother died. I haven’t seen or spoken to him in 10 years. It’s not a big surprise, but we never got on that well as kids, either. For my part I tried to get along and tried to love him. It hurt me that I never could find a way to feel close to him except when we were joking around. We both have a great sense of humor, but other than that we are very opposite. After thinking about it a lot, he scares me. I find myself trying to please him, be a good older sister. He lived with me for a time, after he got divorced. He was supposed to look after my cats so I could go away for a few days. I came home and a cat was MISSING. He hadn’t paid attention and let her out when he was busy with his young son. He never told me she got away and got mad at ME when I yelled at him for being so irresponsible.

The cat had one eye and was very old and didn’t know the area where she was since I’d only recently taken her into my home after my mother refused to provide vet care for her. Sure, she’d feed a friendly stray but when the cat showed up one day with one of her eyes bulging out of her head, she withdrew, dug her heals in and demanded that the cat was FREE. FREE to do what she wanted, go where she wanted to go. That what happened to it now was mother nature. I don’t know why my mother said this about the strays she fed, but she said it more than once. I think she felt trapped in her life and was somehow living vicariously through the strays. It made me sick.

It left me feeling furious to the point where I could no longer have contact with her.

My mother had plenty of time and money to take the cat to the vet. Instead, the burden was on me to provide for the tiny gray cat I named Sasha.

When I confronted my brother about Sasha, he shrugged his shoulders, uncaring. I told him he was my brother and I loved him. I couldn’t understand why he’d do this to me. He just stared blankly at me as if I was speaking another language. After that point I began to realize I was stupid for trying to be kind to him. I think his heart is made of dollar bills because that’s all he ever cares about…that and being an all-about-me-drama-queen.

I eventually found Sasha and got her back home.

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

There are so many things that go on behind closed doors that never are spoken about. There are so many tiny events that only add up to something much later. I never understood why my mother made me feel bad because I wasn’t as cheerful as my brother. I suffer from clinical depression but she labeled me as being “crabby” and make a joke of it.

She always urged my brother and I to get along, yet she played favorites. Only until the last years of her life did she realize my value. It was Dan she favored and that was a bitter pill for me to swallow.

I just wanted my mother to love me.

She never said as much, ever. She was often cold, distant. She manipulated me by telling me a shocking story about her first (then ex) husband Donald, who murdered her new sweetheart in a jealous rage in the lobby of the apartment building she lived in. He was a guy nicknamed, Kaz. Yes, she told me this, crying. Unburdening herself of decades of keeping this guilty secret, then denied it days later after I’d lost my temper and demanded we contact someone and find out if this was true, maybe even the police.

After she changed her tune, saying she did it to get a rise out of me, I stopped answering her calls and wrote her a farewell letter. I didn’t want to have such a toxic person in my life. I was separated from my husband and I needed support, not more drama and lies.

I didn’t speak with her for nearly a year and I was never able to find out about her Ex or Kaz.

This is the same person who I would defend when my father would say nasty things about her when she wasn’t around. He got so mad he tried to kill me when I protected her. He said something really bad about "Jews" and I couldn't stop myself from pushing his buttons, saying; "You married one." He flew into a rage unlike any I had ever seen. I ran upstairs and locked myself in my bedroom and somehow shoved a wall unit across the door before he could reach me.

He got his rifle. Yelling at me to come out of my room. He hit my door with the butt of his rifle, cracking the door in the middle. He eventually realized he couldn’t get in and left me alone, stomping off enraged.

Meanwhile, my mother wasn't home. She was the Crew Chief at the EMS in town and wouldn’t be home until after 6AM because she volunteered during the night shift.

I snuck out of my room around 5AM and hid on the neighbors back deck. I was taking care of their house while they were on vacation but forgot to bring the key. I shivered in the early May cold, waiting for my dad to go to work and my mom to come home. I knew she would comfort me and be proud of me for having her back, but I was wrong.

Instead she shouted at me “Why did you do that? I don’t need you to protect me.”

I was floored, betrayed. I was 16. I wanted to run away, but I had nowhere to go. I went back to my room and tried to move the wall unit to its original location. I couldn’t. It was too heavy.

I never knew how she was going to react, I just knew it would not be what I’d expect from a mother. She even told me, more than once, to never have kids, to never marry. Instead, regarding men she said; “love ‘em, lay ‘em, and leave ‘em.” I thought it was a joke, but looking back I fear it wasn’t.

She was brilliant, a genius with photographic memory, but born too soon because she lived in a world where women couldn’t achieve what they can now. I’ve written about her talents before, but I’ve never said much about the dark side of her icy behavior and her secrets. Most of the time I felt inadequate around her or that I didn’t please her. I wanted to feel the comfort of a hug, but she didn’t want to be touched, especially after my father took his own life.

Years after she died, I found a diary entry saying she could have stopped him, but didn’t. She’d seen him do it and after that shock, she didn’t want anyone near her ever again. She never told us.

She alluded to having a lot more secrets, but by then I didn’t want to know.

Yet, I still tried to make her happy and give her something to laugh about after my dad died. We had our moments where there was a true, clear connection, but it wasn’t very often. I was so stressed out about wanting to make her happy, I would end up failing or her reaction would just gut me. She hated getting gifts, but she liked to push me away when I tried to offer her something. It was about as far from what I would dream of as a relationship with a mom than I could imagine and it still hurts me to this day.

But who really was my mother?

April 7, 2018 2PM

My family fun night was going to start early, at 2PM, so we could bake Easter Pies. It was a family tradition from the Italian side of my family (my dad’s side), though it was ironic that my Jewish mother took over the care and sharing of the recipe. She wrote directions a few times so I’d be sure to continue on after she was gone. Making those pies was one of the few happy memories I have. We’d cut up the meats and slice the hard cooked eggs. We’d catch each other up on what we were doing and make lots of jokes. We’d drink tea and soak up each other’s company.

DSC 2200
©2006 Robin AF Olson. The making of the last Easter Pies. My mother died a few months after this photo was taken.

After the pies baked we’d have the annual discussion on whether they tasted better cold or hot (mother liked cold, daddy liked it heated). This year I had anxiety about making the crust. The last time I tried it didn’t work out. My mother always made the dough the night before so it was the missing piece of how to make the pie great. I’d try again. I found a recipe online that was very close to what I remembered. I made so much extra that I knew I’d have plenty for the top and bottom crust, but wasn’t sure it would hold together once I rolled it out. Even if it failed, it would be fun having my family there. We’d have a little celebration for my birthday and some cake and that would be good enough for me.

But then the doorbell rang.

I opened the door, wondering why Ryan didn’t just walk in. He’s family. He can come right into my home. It wasn’t Ryan. It was my brother and his second wife. I just stood there wondering what to do, what to say. Was he going to pull a gun on me or have a happy reunion? I squeaked out “Hello.” They said hello back. I started to cry. The pain of a decade-long separation got to me, even though I knew I shouldn’t care any more. Seeing my brother suddenly 10 years older was a punch to the gut. I didn’t care what he was going to do. I reached out for him. He gave me a hug. I continued to cry. I wondered if they knew about his son and ex coming over. Maybe they were going to join us and make pies? I should have known better they weren't there to celebrate.

He said he had something important to tell me and thought it would be ok to stop by since he knew I was having company. I thought he was going to tell me he was sick with cancer and was going to die. I was literally shaking as I invited them into the house.

I offered them tea. He said no, his wife said, yes if decafe. Then she didn’t believe me it was decaffeinated so I showed her the container. My brother stood in the kitchen looking ashen. He began to tell me about how his wife had taken a DNA test. We all knew she was adopted. She’d met her bio-family, but wanted to know about her health markers and what issues she’d have to be concerned about (so she listed all her worries over and over again “macular degeneration” “parkinson’s”…she’s all about ME ME ME). My brother decided to take the test, too.

I didn’t know what he was going to say next. I’d done a DNA test years ago and it was pretty much what I expected: lots of eastern European and some southern European DNA, no American Indian as I’d heard rumors about as a kid. My brother took out his phone and brought up the app. He showed it to me. Something was missing.

No Italian DNA.

I’d just read that siblings don’t necessarily match in their DNA and I told him as much. I was about 25% Italian, but maybe it was fine that he wasn’t? Then he dropped the bomb. 23&Me showed him family matches of other people who take the test. He didn’t see my results since I hadn’t taken that particular DNA test, but it did show him something shocking.

My brother has a half-brother none of us knew about.

My brother also has a FATHER that is NOT the same father as I have.

My brother is only my HALF-SIBLING. (I have no other siblings)

I almost collapsed, shocked to the core. I couldn’t believe it. My brother said he’d pay for me to take the 23&Me test and of course I agreed right away. This had to be a mistake, right? Because if it wasn’t it meant some terrible things.

It meant that my mother had cheated on my father barely 3 years into their marriage. Some guy, who still lives and is in Florida, is my brother’s dad. This guy has a SON who is my brother’s age so that means…THIS GUY fathered his son and my brother AT THE SAME TIME.

 

Goody  Joe Wedding
©1957 Feminella Family. My parents wedding day.

So much emotion settled into my heart that I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. It was too much to consider being possible. So many questions began forming in my head…WHY? Who was this GUY? Was she in touch with him over the years? Did he know? Did my father KNOW? Why did my mother LIE TO US? She had 6 years after my father died to tell us the truth without him knowing. WHY DID SHE LIE? I could not stop thinking about it.

My brother asked me point blank-Did I know?

Without missing a beat, I looked him straight in the eye and told him I would never keep something like that from him, even if he hated my guts and vice versa. I had no idea, but then I realized that was why he came over, to see my reaction.

And meanwhile all this is going on in front of my nephew and my “sis”…who had no idea, either. What a way to drop a bomb, with no concern for how anyone would take the news. It could have been done in private, out of respect for me, for his son, for his ex, but no, it had to be a big drama-filled event.

I asked if he contacted his bio-dad. He hasn’t yet. He reached out to his half-brother, but there hasn’t been any reply. I told Dan I’d go through my mother’s papers and search for clues. She left some journals and letters behind. Maybe I’d find an answer there. There is no one living, other than my brother’s father, who knows what happened.

After that they hugged me and left. They didn’t want to make pies or eat them. They were going out of town for the next week. If I had any info I’d text him, but other than that he didn’t have more to say to me.

The Feminellas Judith Joseph Robin and Daniel
My family.

My precious sis handed me a bottle of vodka. She grabbed a can of cranberry seltzer and asked me if I wanted a drink. She doesn't put up with anyone's shit, especially my brother's...err half-brother's. She was furious at his behavior and said as much. She was kind and understanding and said she was very happy my nephew didn't get his DNA test back first. It would have made it appear that my sis had cheated on my brother and that Ryan wasn't his son. She laughed because it's crazy to even consider, but I was glad that wasn't even a issue. I don't usually ever drink but went to my cupboard and selected a small glass silkscreened with pink elephants. It's a cocktail glass from the 1950s. I figured if I was going to get drunk, I was going to do it right. I handed my sis the glass, then said "Fill 'er up" as tears slid down my cheeks.

The next few days I was in a trance, obsessed with going through my mothers old letters. There was a journal started from the day my brother was born. She wrote about me and how much she loved me, that she didn’t think she could love anyone more and felt badly about that. I don’t remember ever feeling love from her so this was a surprise.

She noted that my brother had a “weak chin.” Those words shocked me. Why say that about your newborn child?

She also wrote about me staying with her friends on their farm while she was in the hospital. How I was so happy being surrounded by cats. That I was in my element. I was only 2 ½ years old.

Later she penned a rather plain description about moving away from Fulton, NY to Westchester County, NY, about how she was happy to put the last 18-months behind her. She hinted there were dark days, but I have no idea why. I have many letters from my father written to my mother during those days. He was devoted as ever and his tone was loving and affectionate.

What happened?

I don’t know.

Though I still have more letters and some journal entries to read. I don’t think I’m going to find the answer I’m looking for. The small pile of papers has sat untouched for a few weeks. I think I need to move on, even though I don’t know how.

I keep looking over my life and feeling like it was a lie. I don’t have to feel badly any more that my brother and I don’t get along and that we will never be close in a way I dreamed of. I doubt the doorbell will ring again and he will be standing there, with a sad awkward smile on his face. We never got along because we’re not completely related. He has another family whose blood runs in his veins.

I am the only child of my mother and father.

And I think of my poor father, how he was cuckolded, how he was proud of “his son,” who is not his son. How devastated he’d be. I don’t think he knew. He would have brought it up as a weapon to hurt my mother at some point, but he never did.

My father loved his family and was completely devoted to us, even though he and I had a very few, very bad days. Most of the time I was “daddy’s girl” and felt protected and cherished and now I realize that I really was his one and only child.

With every memory of my past, it’s now colored differently. This is the first Mother’s Day since I learned the terrible news. I find myself wanting to say “F--- you” to my Mother on this day of mothers and get rid of those mementos of hers I used to cherish, but more than that I want to free myself from trying to be a good daughter to someone who clearly did not deserve my devotion.

And my brother? I checked on him via a text when he got back from his trip, asked how he was doing. "Good" was his reply. Any news? "No." I told him I'd always be his sister and if he wanted to go out for coffee, just us, to talk, I would be happy to do that. I wanted to be there for him. He did not reply, but maybe that was his reply. He got what he wanted from me and was going back to his fancy life where I am the poor relative, now half-sister who is not worthy of being in his life. I had already mourned losing my brother so many years ago, before he showed up at my door, and now he was probably gone from my life forever.

Robin and Dan 8 1969
©1969 Judith Feminella. Big sis and little bro.

For Margo. Ch 2. THANK YOU!

Margo and casper rt

We made our fundraising goal for Margo's surgery! Hopefully she will only need one procedure but there's a chance she will need up to two more. We will only know once the first surgery is done and she's healed up. Then we'll see how her function is going, if she has any infection or failure of the reconstruction. She has one of the top surgeons in the country doing her surgery so we hope that will help her have the best outcomt possible. 

Next steps: Visit to GP Vet on Friday the 27th where they will do pre-op blood work and some other tests. Then we wait until May 8th for Margo to meet Dr Ellison, at U of Florida Small Animal Hospital. They will be examining her and determing if she is ready for surgery or if we need to wait longer.

Thank you to everyone who made this chance possible for Margo. She would literally die if we don't try and now she, at least, has a chance and that's because of ALL OF YOU for donating, for caring, for sharing. 

 

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