There’s a certain quality only a rare few people have. It’s a magnetic kind of energy that radiates from within, but can be felt by others. At times it smolders, belying the real power it can unleash, while other times there is no ignoring it. When that person enters a room, the airwaves seem to change and become electrified.
One such person is Katrin Hecker, the Director of Animalkind. She’s tall and tan with brilliant blonde hair. She’s from Germany and has an unmistakable accent even after living here for decades. She’s not shy about who she is, where she’s from or what her passions are. Upon first glance she might come off as a bit distant or cool, but talk to her a few times and you’ll sense her great heart.
Katrin operates in a no-nonsense manner especially when there's so much to get done. Since losing Aninalkind's building after their sprinkler system destroyed the interior (You can read more about that HERE), she has more than a lot on her plate.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Katrin Hecker with the latest arrivals.
Katrin is creative, a painter way back when. She lived in New York City with her husband, but after too many years in the hustle and bustle, decided to move north to the small riverside town of Hudson, NY. They bought an old church and set up their first home. Katrin wasn’t sure what she wanted to focus her attention on, maybe design or get deeper into painting.
One day she realized she’d seen quite a few cats walking around town. Her first thought was how sweet it was, seeing them dash down an alley or pass by her front door. She imagined she was living in a town that loved and cared for their cats as a community, otherwise why would there be so many of them roaming around?
Katrin rescued a black cat off the street and took it to the Vet. Her husband didn’t mind as long as she didn’t get out of hand and take in all the cats she saw. Katrin found a few more cats that needed help. They were all black. Mischievously motivated or just plain brass, Katrin took in a total of eight black cats. She hid them away in one room, where she’d set up as her painting studio, knowing her husband wouldn’t enter the space. She let one or two out at a time and her husband never noticed they had more than just a few cats until one night when it was very cold and the power went out.
The wood stove was the only source of heat. One by one, the cats showed up to warm themselves by the fire. The cats were out of the “bag.” Katrin’s husband was shocked, thinking he’d gone mad seeing eight nearly identical cats appear out of the woodwork, but she made no apologies. There was a serious problem in this town and something had to be done.
By 2000, Animalkind came into existence and ever since it’s had a symbiotic relationship with the community. Katrin told me that she can’t be like other rescues and say no all the time when someone asks for help. She described some of the locals, who are down on their luck, struggling and just want to help a stray or their own cat. She finds a way to say yes, even if it means loading up her home with cats or reaching out to the community to help her help the cats.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Doors to the former surgical suite where they did all their spay/neuters.
Even at the clearly worst point of her life, with heartbreaking family problems, including illness and brain injuries to contend with and the loss of Animalkind’s headquarters, she still has to help the cats. She could have given up and walked away after the building was gutted. She could have walked away after her own home was badly flooded after Hurricane Irene badly damaged all the homes in her neighborhood.
With all that’s on her plate she finds a way to get up every day and figure out how she’s going to put the pieces of Animalkind back together again and how she’s going to get those poor cats out of their cages and into their new space as soon as possible.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Watching my step.
Katrin led me through the front door of what was once a building filled with the sounds of volunteers working away, answering calls, scooping litter pans, feeding the cats; who were living freely in large open group areas. It was eerily silent now. I had to watch my step because the floors were stripped to the bone, covered with debris. The HVAC vents snaked across the floors having fallen from the mounts on the ceiling. The cheerily painted sheet rock was gone. All that remained were exposed studs and wiring, the shell of what must have been a glorious Victorian home. I stood there. The heartache of loss was palpable.
©2007 Animalkind. Before the damage.
As we picked our way around the first floor, Katrin described each room. We passed the Adoptions area, then climbed to the second floor to see where their grand surgical suite was located. There are French doors separating the spaces, but no longer any walls on either side of the doors. A few stainless steel surgical tables and other equipment were shoved into a corner, dirty, but still usable. However, most of what had once been there was long gone.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. After the damage. The only thing that's recognizable is the teal bench.
It was a warm summer day and as we climbed the stairs you could feel the temperature rise slightly, along with the humidity. The third floor held a secret—one that couldn’t be helped. This is where the contagious cats lived...the ones with ringworm. Even though they weren’t supposed to have animals in the building, they had no choice. It was keep them safe or let them go. It’s not as though any rescue would knowingly take cats with ringworm and there was no way Katrin was going to put them down, either.
©2007 Animalkind. Cats lounging before the disaster.
They did the best they could. The cats had the basics and no more. It was only for now. It would get better soon, but the building had no electricity and without screens on the windows, the windows could only be opened a very tiny bit. Most of the cats were flat from the heat but not in any danger at all.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Waiting.
Katrin told me about their plans for the room as I looked around imagining how it would appear with fresh paint, new cat trees, comfy chairs. It was an enormous space with large windows overlooking the street on one side and an overgrown yard on the other. They received a generous grant to re-do the yard into a perfect cat habitat so cats could go outdoors and still be within a closed space. They were going to put in benches and lots of plants and cute statutes of cats playing. It was going to be so wonderful, if only it could happen soon.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. A skinny little lady comes over to greet us.
And truly, that was the problem.
The final part of my story introduces you to one amazing little kitten and shares some last-minute updates, promising news and more. Stay tuned...
Late in the evening of May 1, 2012, on the third floor apartment where a caretaker lived, a small fire broke out due to the hot embers of a cigarette coming into contact with bedding. The fire was extinguished before the fire department even arrived. The building didn't burn to the ground, but something equally terrible occurred. The building-wide sprinkle system was activated, releasing a torrent of water, not light rain showers, but a flood of water throughout the building.
On the second, first and basement levels lived the cats of Animalkind, a non-profit cat shelter located in Hudson, New York. Most of the cats were allowed to freely roam their adoption areas. Terrified from the onslaught of water, the cats climbed onto the horizontal vents from the brand new $50,000 HVAC system that was installed to control the spread of disease. The cats huddled in the rafters, terrified; but what was worse was the fate awaiting the most fragile of the cats—the mamas and kittens. They were in the basement and all the water from the floors above pooled there, inches deep. The families weren't free to escape, they were in cages, trapped in the water at risk of drowning.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Still lovely, the exterior of Animalkind.
No one perished. No cats died. In that, it was a miracle, but the building was gutted. The once pink and yellow cheerful walls of Animalkind were soaked, ruined, crumbling to the floor. The joy that had filled the building, all the years of hard work and loving care, vanished in a matter of hours. The building that once held 150 cats was destroyed.
As early as 2am Katrin Hecker, the Director and Founder of Animalkind, her volunteers, staff and residents of Hudson, New York, gathered together and quickly began to capture as many cats as they could.
©2012 Animalkind. Used with permission. Moving the cats into their new location.
Thanks to the kindness and generosity of a local merchant, The Warren Inn, a nearby hotel, turned its' office space into a temporary shelter space. It was just a few steps away from Animalkind's headquarters. Cages were assembled and cats were tagged and given a place to recover their shock. Many cats needed to go into temporary foster homes and people throughout the area opened their doors. The townsfolk jumped into action along with everyone from Animalkind. Though heartbreaking, the staff was buoyed by the support.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. The irony of the sign on the bottom of the window isn't lost on me.
In the following days, amazing things happened. Cats who'd been at AK for YEARS were getting adopted. Adoptions on the whole went way up. About 60 cats found homes right away. Folks started to show up from out of the blue to help any way they could. As the news spread, I heard about this terrible tragedy. In an odd coincidence, I'd been only a few miles from the fire delivering Leo to Animalkind's neighbor, Aslan's Sanctuary.
©2012 Animalkind. Used with permission. The basement.
©2012 Animalkind. Used with permission. One of the shelter spaces, empty of cats, filled with water.
I got in touch with Animalkind and Bob Mechling, a Designer and key member of the shelter, got back to me right away. I asked him what they needed and told him I'd do what I could to help him get it. I couldn't believe I was saying those words. I don't have two sticks to rub together, but in my heart I knew that after all these years of blogging and writing pet product reviews that somewhere I MUST know someone who could help me scrounge up a few donations.
World's Best Cat Litter-YOU ROCK!
I got to work. Within a few days and after many phone calls I got the logistics worked out. Right away, Kelly Ausland of Freekibble.com and Freekatkibble.com said he would be delighted to help with a donation of 350 bags of kibble from Halo. He wasn't doing this for a write-up on my blog or a pat on the back. He sincerely was concerned and wanted to help.
Next up were my associates at World's Best Cat Litter, who also did not hesitate to help once I alerted them to the problem. I was very impressed by how quickly they jumped into action! Now the cats had a supply of food and litter coming in the door. I reached out to a few other companies, but sadly they were not able to offer any assistance.
I also reached into my own fairly empty pockets and ordered two cases of Stretch and Scratch cat scratchers. I knew that the cats would be stressed out in cages and having something to scratch could make a world of difference to their well being.
©2012 Animalkind. Used with permission. The Adoption Room circa 2004..
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Welcome to the Adoption Room 2012.
As Animalkind began the difficult work of assessing the damage and speaking with their insurance company, things got very busy for my little rescue. I didn't hear much from Katrin, but she was never far from my thoughts.
Animalkind still needs help. In some ways, things are worse now than ever. In part two I'll share what I learned during my visit and introduce you to some VERY special cats.
I'm thrilled to let you know that on Thursday Leo had the surgery he's needed for a few months. Until recently, he wasn't well enough for the procedure to repair his inverted eyelashes. This happened due to the most hideous, horrible upper respiratory infection I have ever seen. It sealed his eyes closed, then MOSS grew over his closed eyes. We don't know how long he suffered like that, but are ever so glad this friendly stray was rescued and given proper Vet care.
©2012 Hilary Harris. Used with permission. Leo after his surgery.
Leo is positive for Feline Leukemia which also makes every procedure a bit more risky. Now that Leo is on the mend we couldn't be happier.
Leo wouldn't have had a chance if not for the loving care he receives at Aslan's Sanctuary in upstate New York. Aslan's is one of the few sanctuaries that takes on Feline Leukemia positive cats. They are in short supply of just about everything you can think of so if you'd like to thank them for what they do for Leo and others, you can donate HERE.
I had the privilege of transporting Leo to Aslan's and he certainly left a paw print on my heart. If you want to know Leo's backstory and see him before he got any treatment, read my post HERE and follow up, HERE.
Way to go, Hilary and HURRAY FOR LEO!
A woman named Donna lives in a nearby town. She loves her cats and always provides them with the best care possible. Like so many people have reported this year, Donna suddenly discovered she had a friendly pregnant cat visiting her yard and was concerned about what to do.
©2012 Donna M. Winnie.
This is Winnie. She usually lives at a home nearby Donna. Winnie got pregnant and had a litter of kittens, then another. Winnie is pregnant for the third time, but this time it will be different. Donna spoke with her neighbor about spaying and neutering and instead of arguing that the neighbor was doing a bad thing by leaving her cat intact, she simply offered to get Winnie spayed after her next kittens were weaned. Winnie's guardian agreed that it needed to be done.
©2012 Donna M. Babies on board.
What Donna wasn't sure of was what to do with the kittens once they arrived and how to keep them all safe and not put any of her own dear cats at risk of picking up any diseases or vice versa. I found out about Donna's situation and thought about what I could do to help. Clearly, this wasn't the sort of person I usually run into-the kind that wants to dump a problem on a rescue, offers no other support and wants them gone. No. Donna wanted to help, to contribute and to make the entire rescue much easier on whoever helped.
©2012 Donna M. Winnie and kitten number one.
What she really wanted was a reliable way to get the kittens adopted into good homes instead of putting them on Craigslist, which is not allowed in the first place and which is dangerous to do. Those listings can be answered by anyone and adopters aren't screened so the cats could be given away to labs for testing or for other nefarious purposes.
©2012 Donna M. Welcome to the world little ones!
Donna worked out that Winnie would have a home no matter what, but that if she could have guidance and eventually have the kittens go into foster care, that's what would be best and I agreed. If Donna could provide a home for now, I'd work on finding a foster home or hope, pray, beg that enough of my own foster cats would get adopted by the time Winnie's were ready to find their homes.
©2012 Donna M. Teenie tinies!
Five kittens were born on August 10th-little gray and white cow patterned kittens and one who's black and tabby cow patterned. So far they're all doing well and Winnie, no surprise, is a great mama. On Wednesday I've offered to have Winnie seen by one of our Vets to get tested for Feline Leukemia and FIV, to be checked for fleas, get de-wormed and have all the kittens examined to make sure they're all doing well, too. With any luck, everyone will be just fine and we can focus on giving Winnie great nutrition so she can support her offspring. Snap testing mama cats always distresses me, but it must be done.
©2012 Donna M. Kitten pile!
This lucky family found safe harbor under the roof of a loving couple and although they are a bit nervous about having such small wards, I'll be offering advice and doing some hand-holding as was done for me so many years ago when I first started fostering mamas and their kittens.
©2012 Donna M. It doesn't get any cuter than this.
In two months (or possibly sooner) we'll need a foster home for these kittens.
I want to thank Donna for doing the right thing for this family and for not turning her back on them or trying to dump them on a floundering rescue with no resources. Your willingness to take on this responsibility makes my job so much easier and lets me stretch my limited resources a bit further.
If only everyone who found a pregnant cat was so devoted to their care!
Boogie has two brothers, Otis and Milo. They all lived in a kennel at my Vet's Office. Dr. Mixon of the Newtown Veterinary Center decided to take them in since they were surrendered by a good samaritan a few months ago. I couldn't help him with them right away, but a few weeks ago I started by trying to work with Boogie, which I detailed HERE. He was very fractious AND sick and things didn't go very well. Boogie was so sick that I had to bring him back to the Vet until he could recover.
The good news is that Boogie had a fan in Mandy, one of the Vet Techs at Dr. Mixon's practice. Mandy adopted Boogie and reports that although he is still hissing, she is able to handle him and is in no rush to get him socialized. She can take it at his pace and hopefully, in time, he'll be used to human contact and actually enjoy it.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Unhappy Boy.
Otis was able to find his forever home and has been with them for a few days. That left Milo, a lovely orange tabby mix with medium length fur. I'd heard that Milo's personality was somewhere between Boogie's fearfulness and his brother Otis's friendliness. I was somewhat concerned what that might mean, but since it was just one kitten I decided to take him on. I brought him home today.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Milo photo bombed by his cat dancer toy.
Milo is very pretty. He's three months old, but looks like he may grow to be a big kitty one day. Milo cried furiously from inside his cat carrier, scratching at the walls of it to get out as I drove us home. Nothing I said would soothe him. I hoped he would quiet down so I could sneak into Panera Bread and buy a few treats since I hadn't had anything to eat since last night. I knew bringing a cat into a restaurant would be frowned upon, but it was too hot to leave him in the car and I thought I'd be in and out before anyone was the wiser.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Hello Milo!
The second I walked in the door, Milo began CRYING. I walked up to the counter mentally tracking how much time was passing. I acted like nothing was going on. The women in line ahead of me were looking around. One started to rub her watering eyes. I started to panic. Could an allergic reaction happen this quickly?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. You can almost see Milo's tail. It's VERY long and fluffy.
Milo was bouncing around inside the carrier that was slung over my arm like a big purse. He meowed frantically. I said something to the ladies about how I'd only be in the store for a minute and they agreed he should not be in the car and thankfully did not point at me and scream that their runny eyes were from the cat being there!
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.
The young woman at the counter was in a daze. She had NO idea I had a cat with me and took forever to fulfill my order. I beat cheeks out of there while Milo continued to protest.
I got Milo settled into his new home. He was out of a cage at the Vet's office and in my bathroom. He'd have sunlight and fresh air and lots of toys and a cat tree. Sadly, he would be on his own for awhile. I want to make certain he's not sick, then I'll start to introduce him to the girls, Beauty, Belly Holiday and Hello Dahlia. Once that is done, he can live in the room with them as long as he's friendly and doesn't need me to work with him.
I let Milo out of the carrier. He stopped crying. He sniffed around with his tail down, but not tucked between his legs. I didn't know if I could touch him so I simply observed him. After a few minutes I spoke to him and he meowed back at me. He sniffed at the food I gave him and had a few bites. When he came over towards me I reached out to pet him. He reacted by raising his back to meet my hand! Once he did that he relaxed and so did I.
Milo got a few more pets, then I took out a toy for him to play with. He was engaged right away, the stopped playing and ate more food. I'm not worried that he'll need work. He's in good shape already.
Dr. Mixon provided all of Milo's Vet care for no cost so there's nothing for me to do but find Milo a great home. If all rescues could be this easy…:::KNOCK WOOD:::
Day six has drawn to a close. I can't sleep. My heart is broken. It's not that I even feel the need for it ever to be “repaired-” if such a thing is possible. While I was working on the story of my cats falling ill, another story began to form. Stories that follow along with a real person's life don't transpire in tidy little packages, so here I stop to inject something else before I get back to the mystery ailment.
Two nights ago I found a small, odd looking black growth on the edge of Spencer's right ear. In my foggy memory, I believe I saw it long ago, thought about running Spencer to the Vet, got sidetracked and forgot. There it was, this rubbery, creepy mass, well hidden by the dark fur along the cap of Spencer's head.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Back at the Vet for a second time.
At first I thought it was a tick, then realized there were two masses, one “tick sized” and the other much smaller. I knew this was something that Dr. Larry needed to take a look at so yesterday morning I took Spencer back to the Vet for the second time in less than a week.
Super Deb entered the exam room first. After working with Spencer the other day, she realized that he was calmer if we didn't cover him during procedures. She got to work taking his temperature and he was basically calm. He had no fever.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. The growth was easily overlooked. Follow the left edge of Spencer's ear. Where the fur gets dark you'll see a tiny black area where there is no fur. That's the growth. It's just right of center of the photo.
She weighed him and he'd lost 4 ounces in five days. Not surprising, but a reminder to keep him eating as much as he wanted while he recovers from his illness. His fluffy rear end, which had become soiled yellow from having diarrhea, was looking cleaner. Perhaps he was feeling better?
Dr. Larry entered the room and I was relieved to see him now that he's back from his vacation. He's been my Vet for more years than I can remember. Though we may not always agree on things, he's open minded and in return I'm very respectful of him. We've had some difficult discussions about my choice to feed a raw diet to my cats. It's unfortunate that even now I have to be on the “down low” about it, but there is so much fear mongering going on about it that it's just easier not to talk about it.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. She didn't even buy him dinner first! Spencer gets his temperature taken.
On this day we HAD to talk about it. He approached the topic carefully. I felt myself taking a step back, crossing my arms over my chest as he spoke. What is sickening my cats could have been caused by the raw food. Though rare, salmonella could be a culprit, yet we did NOT see any indications in the blood work to show us it was a possibility. It could be e.coli or other bacterial culprits. To really know for certain, Dr. Larry asked if we could get a stool sample on Spencer and run a PCR test on it. Though expensive, running over $200.00, the test would show us what was causing the diarrhea. If we could manage, he wanted a sample from Nicky, as well. Using that information we could get a better picture of what happened and how to NOT let it happen again-IF it's something we can control.
I said yes to the test and I told Dr. Larry that we stopped feeding raw the day the cats got sick. We've discussed how we prep the food and saw some minor things we can and will correct. We're going to throw out the litter pans and start anew. We've been feeding raw for many years and the cats have NEVER gotten sick, but in case we did something to cause this, we will find a way to do right by them.
Before we went too much further down this path we agreed it might still be something else and NOT the food.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. At least he's starting to eat again.
Then Dr. Larry examined Spencer's ear. He measured it and said it measured out larger then he expected. He didn't “like the look of it” and said we should remove it. He looked at Spencer's teeth and mentioned Spencer really needed a dental cleaning. I asked him to look into Spencer's ears because I noticed they appeared a bit dirty.
Spencer fussed and hissed angrily as Dr Larry looked into his ears. The right was dirty and irritated. Dr. Larry told me that some times cats can have an over production of a greasy residue in their ears. The ear gets dirty and very itchy. Certainly Spencer would need drops to get him feeling more comfortable.
Next, Dr. Larry looked at Spencer's left ear. As Spencer fussed, Dr. Larry adjusted the angle of the scope. He stopped for a second and removed the scope.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Measuring the growth.
I felt a lump form in my throat. I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself. I brought my cat to the Vet to look at this weird thing on his ear. Hopefully it was just a funky benign mole or something, but with the discovery of a second growth I knew what that could mean and I didn't know if I could get the words out to ask the question.
Dr. Larry has this serious expression I've seen too many times before. He had it when he examined Bob's belly and said it didn't feel right. It turned out Bob had a cancerous tumor engulfing half his liver. Dr. Larry never makes light of a diagnosis like this. Being conservative and I'm sure not wanting to upset me, he would only answer; “I don't like the look of this. It could be benign, but…”
He said if it was cancer that the rule of thumb would be to excise enough tissue to get a clean margin. It would mean removing Spencer's ear or ears. It was too much to imagine. I had to keep it together. I said if it was malignant, what was the point of cutting his ears off? His lovely little elfin ears…how could I do that to him? We didn't talk much beyond that. It was too soon to go down that road.
First Spencer had to get well and recover from whatever was causing his gastric issues. We'd schedule a dental and surgery for sometime near the end of the month. He wished me well and left to attend to the next patient. I put Spencer back into his cat carrier and went to the lobby to pay the bill, not sure I could get out of the clinic without bursting into tears.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My little pouff-waiting, wondering and scared.
Although I have no idea how I'm going to pay for this surgery, I will find a way. The overriding thought in my mind as I waited to hand over my credit card was; this can't be cancer. I just lost a cat to cancer 11 months ago. I just watched my dear Bob slowly die over the course of a horrible year. I can't go through that again.
I thought about what my lawyer said to me on the phone when we were talking about a car accident I was in two years ago. The case is either going to be settled or go to trial. He asked me my age, then told me the insurance company figures that based on my current age I have 29 more years to live which is how they will base my settlement offer. At first it really bothered me that there's a computer program that bets on how long I'll live. After we ended our conversation, I started to think maybe that was too many more years; more years of witnessing the pain and suffering of my dear cats.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. After the exam, Spencer sat in the window, trying to regain his composure after being poked and prodded.
Last night Spencer came over to me as I laid in bed. He did his little routine of laying on my arm, with his fluffy ruff in my face, purring loudly next to my ear. I tried to hold back, but I began to sob. I wondered how many more nights we would have together like this-where he is himself, not broken or wasting away. He is my beloved cat and together we have a simple joy that is deeply profound.
Spencer got up and walked to the end of the bed. I gave up trying to sleep, got up and went downstairs to my office and began to write. Between writing and tears I heard a sound. I turned to look and Spencer was there in his cat bed next to me. He was purring away like nothing was wrong.
I hope he's right.
The PCR test results are due in a day or two. I won't know about Spencer until we biopsy the mass towards the end of the month. The sliver lining has to do with a surprise adoption. Find out who it was and about their forever family in the next installment (unless something ELSE happens first).
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Traffic, traffic, traffic.
Judy needed time to think about it. Adding another cat to the mix should always be considered soberly and not in haste. As much as I wanted Judy to adopt King, I couldn't push her to do so. I told her to take some time and think about it. It ended up taking two weeks. During that time Judy asked me “what ifs” and I did my best to help her not feel pressured. Just before the end of June, on the anniversary of my sweet tuxedo kitty Stanley's passing, Judy said YES.
I made the reservation for King to get on the next transport north (as far as Connecticut) and let Maria know the good news. I decided to drive King from my home to New Hampshire so I could do the home visit and make sure King arrived safely. You can read about King's difficult trip and arrival to Connecticut HERE.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Sabrina & King meet.
On Thursday, Sam and I took the day off to make the four hour trip to Concord, New Hampshire. The violent thunderstorms the day before had finally cleared and King had been here long enough to feel settled and eat normally. I knew it was not going to be easy on King to move him only five days after he arrived, but at least he didn't have to travel from Georgia to New Hampshire without any break. I also think that it was good for King to meet the kittens. It seemed to perk him up each time they entered his room. He'd stand the second he saw them, then walk over to them as best he could. Noses would touch, the kittens would run off to play. King would settle back down, but I swear he had a smile on his face.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Sabrina meets King and the two bond instantly.
I set up a carrier for King with a double layer of puppy housebreaking pads on top of a soft towel. King HATES to be in the car, which he proved by peeing BEFORE we even left the DRIVEWAY. Sadly, King can't stand up to pee while he's traveling so he pees in place. The poor cat soiled himself he was so scared.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Hello? Anyone in there?
I got King cleaned up and tried to soothe his nerves. I covered him with another clean housebreaking pad and he seemed to calm down. For the next four hours King remained motionless. The only sound he made was when I uncovered him every so often to check on him. He'd look at me and moan pitifully. I petted him and he did his best to enjoy it, but he was too frightened to relax.
As Sam drove, I kept saying to myself that I hoped this home wasn't from an episode of Hoarders, that Judy was as nice as she sounded, that it worked out well enough so that I could leave King there and not be worried about his future. I had to prepare myself to tell Judy to her face that I could not go through with the adoption. I had to be brave. If it didn't work out, I'd just be clear and take King home.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Wishing he was anywhere but inside a car…
We arrived a few minutes after 4PM. Judy's house is a cozy, mint green Cape Cod style house that was built around the turn of the last century. I took a deep breath and tried to steady my nerves. This was it; the moment we'd been praying for. I knocked on the door and waited a beat. A moment later the door opened and a very cheerful woman answered saying her name was Lynne and that she was Judy's sister. As she welcomed us into the house, Judy appeared, clearly happy and excited as she tried to get a look into the carrier to see King. Sam held up the carrier as Judy and Lynne both “squeed” with delight.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Judy gives King his first belly rub.
Judy brought us upstairs to King's temporary room. The second I looked around I realized this was going to work out. The room was small and had cheerful blue painted walls. There was carpeting, as Judy promised, but it wasn't ugly at all. It was quite nice. Judy had put out a new litter pan with the litter King is accustomed to using. There was a clean bowl with water, a new cat bed, a cat scratcher and another cat bed. There was a large futon in the room and one of those “papasan” chairs everyone has or knows someone who has one from Pier One. (My brother had one of those chairs when he first got married.)
I put King's crate down and opened the door. King came out cautiously and looked around at all of us. I"ll be dammed but that cat can MOVE! In a flash he was in the far corner behind the futon! I moved the futon away from the wall and sat on the floor near King. He was trying to make himself invisible by putting his head under an end table, but the rest of his body was comically sticking out. I petted him for a few minutes and we all discussed what to do. I asked Judy to sit with him and I got out of the way. I was passing ownership over to her and this was the first moment she'd get to touch her new cat.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Yasmin, King's new sister, getting her brush on.
Judy cautiously touched King, then, as he relaxed a bit, she began to explore his head and back with her fingers. We were all talking to King and telling him he was a good boy. Judy's sister couldn't resist being away from King so she came over to join in the petting, sitting opposite her sister on the floor.
For a good hour we talked, petted King and got to know each other better. The more Lynne and Judy spoke, the more I liked them and liked their family. They were both clearly dedicated to providing the best care for their cats. They were lively and cheerful and had that sweet sisterly banter that made me homesick for the family I no longer have.
King managed to get away and hide in a pile of boxes that Judy was storing in the same room. It took some time but we got him out, then re-worked the location of the boxes so King couldn't do it again. I put King into a cardboard box turned on its side and placed a cat bed in the box. I put King on the bed and petted him for a few moments then Lynne sat with him and petted him. Lynne must have magic fingers. Before too long, King was falling asleep. Judy pretended to get miffed that her sister “hogged” time with King, but it was all in good fun. When Judy took a turn petting King, he was out cold.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. It took 6 hours to get home due to accidents and road construction. We arrived at 1AM, but it was worth the long drive to make certain King was settled in his new home.
We decided it was time to make the final decision and it was clear Judy made it before we even got there. I knew this would be a good home for King-one full of love and one where he would get whatever he needed. If he couldn't manage the carpeted stairs, then Judy said she would carry him downstairs during the day and bring him upstairs at night. Hopefully Judy's cats would come to accept and hopefully be friendly with King. We discussed at length about letting it take the time it needed to take and not be on some deadline. Judy was going to try and that's all we could hope for. It's was up to the cats to see how they would get along. I knew King would want a friend and would accept the girls. We had to be patient and hope the girls would see what we all did-what a great cat King is and give him a chance.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. It's been a long road for King, but well worth the journey.
I didn't have much of a farewell with King. I went to check on him before I left and he was sitting behind the futon, but not in the corner. I told him goodbye, but I'd kissed him and told him I loved him in the car, so I was ready to go. I didn't want to distress him by grabbing him and getting a photo of us together. Cameras seem to scare King so I didn't push it, though I was disappointed. Judy didn't want her photo taken so I teased her and said I'd do an “artist's interpretation” of the two of them together in lieu of a photo. She promised to stay in touch and let me know how King was doing.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. This image is burned in my heart and how I will always think of King.
We said our goodbyes to Judy and Lynne and got in the car to head home. As Sam turned the car around, I saw a large lilac in the corner of the yard. It faced the street and stood as a sentinel guarding Judy's home. To me it was the last sign I needed—my Mother was telling me again that this was the right place. She loved lilacs. There must be a hundred photos of her standing near a lilac or holding them in her hands. I didn't question whether or not I did the right thing. It was clear that King was home. His long journey escaping a cruel life at a palette factory in Georgia was over. He would never be hungry or scared or without love ever again.
©2012 Maria S. King getting settled prior to transport.
King is very special to me, even from afar. Knowing he must have had a difficult life living outside, handicapped by a deformity that robbed him of his hind paws, made me imagine the worst. How he must have suffered trying to get around with two stumps for back legs-especially with trucks, cars and fork lifts buzzing around him. How did he manage? How did he not get run over and killed? How is it that he's so darn friendly? I know the folks at the factory fed him scraps when they could and they put a piece of cardboard down under an outdoor staircase so he's have some sort of shelter, but someone handled this cat. That much is clear.
©2012 Maria S. Not so sure about going for a long ride.
Six months is a long time to be in foster care waiting for a forever home, but Maria and I both knew that finding King the right home wasn't going to be easy. In fact, a small rescue like mine shouldn't even take on anything other than cute little easy-to-adopt-out kittens. We don't have the staff or the foster home space to take on a cat we can't find a home for within a short amount of time. If we had a brick and mortar shelter we COULD take on more adults. If we took on as few as three adults who would be tough to place, it would prevent us from saving MANY more kittens from Kill Shelters. It's a very tough place for us to be in, but I know in time we'll take on more adults when we have the resources. I'll still help the few I can and get the word out on other adults I can find another rescue to take on.
©2012 Maria S. Maria watches the transport make it's way north.
But King had something about him, from the moment Bobby called me, describing this cat's plight. Bobby had seen him a year ago, then not again for a long while. When he saw him again, he knew he had to ask me, knowing full well that this is not a cat I can usually help. I understood that taking King on would cause some issues for us, but I couldn't say no. I'd never sleep at night thinking about him out there struggling to survive.
I had lots of questions and concerns. What could I do for him? Would he need surgery? Was he semi-feral? What was I getting myself into? I'd cared for a cat who had a limb amputated but not one without back feet who could not walk on a floor unless it was carpeted.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. I saw many black dogs come off the transport. Black animals in the south still carry the stigma of being bad luck.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. King arrives, though not very happily.
On Saturday, King's transport arrived. Whatever concerns I had about him would be put to the test. The Vets and Specialist declared there was nothing more to be done for him. What would I do with a cat who couldn't jump or run around-who could only travel as far as I placed rugs or towels on the floor? Would I feel strange touching him…seeing his back legs end prematurely into rounded stumps that showed signs of a paw pad and deformed toes-but which didn't function as such?
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Meet King.
The trip was tough on King. He was crying and upset off the transport because it was filled with barking dogs. I HATE to put him through that, but the trip ends and the damage to his nerves won't last forever. It's a necessary evil if I want to get King here reliably and safely for a reasonable amount of money.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Getting to know King.
King was clearly confused and upset, but once he was in the car with me, without the sound of the dogs, he got very quiet and just sat towards the back of his carrier. I spoke to him as we drove along, but he didn't move or make a peep.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. He loves to be loved. King has a heart of gold.
I brought him upstairs to the bathroom which would be his temporary home. He hid and cried.
I got him something to eat and sat with him. I wasn't sure I could pet him, but I had to try. The second I touched him, he softened up and pushed his head back into my hand. I scratched his neck and he flopped down on his side, rolling against me. It took a few minutes, but I coaxed him out of his hiding place. Watching him walk made me sad. His little back legs can't get a grip on a smooth surface so he slipped a little bit trying to reach the cat bed I'd put out for him. He climbed into the bed. It was the first time I really got a good look at him.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. You know what King wants!
King gained FIVE POUNDS since we rescued him and I could feel the weight of him as I stroked his back, then his sides. He quickly turned over, opening himself to me by showing his belly. He had no reservation allowing me to pet him there, too. He wriggled around, keeping eye contact with me. He loved being scratched under the chin and behind his ears. If I hit a certain “right” spot, his back leg would twitch and dig at the air, just as a dog would do.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Chillaxin' on his "throne."
The longer I scratched, the happier King got. He seemed grateful for this small gesture. He couldn't get up and run off or jump on the cat tree and look out the window. He could sit next to me and be my buddy and he seemed fine with that and I did, too.
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Such a good boy! (by the way, King is going to the Vet this morning to re-check why his third eyelids are showing)
Although I still feel sad when I see King's back legs, it hit me all of a sudden-of course it really didn't matter that he's handicapped. He's a great cat, paws or no paws. King doesn't know what he's missing. He never had it in the first place. He doesn't let that stop him from living his life to the fullest.
King is here today because Bobby and Maria offered to help him, but the gravity of this rescue hit me. If I hadn't said; “I've got your back-yes I'll take you into my rescue,” this never would have happened. I looked down at King. He flipped over and showed me his belly again. He looked into my eyes and in that moment nothing else mattered. As the tears slid down my cheeks, I fell in love with this cat. This once miserable wreck of a beast, with no hope in his life, laying before me, completely surrendering himself to me, trusted me to do right by him-and I know I did. I felt honored. I felt humbled. I felt hopeful that a cat as sweet and gentle as King would find his forever home soon…
…maybe sooner than I imagined.
It feels like a month's worth of time has passed over the last 10 days since Tater Tot first fell ill. Between sleepless nights, emails to colleagues, calls and visits to Vets; we teased out a possible answer to what has been ailing our little foster kitten.
Tater has Coccidia, Tapeworm and a bad Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (and maybe pneumonia). Three days after we began treatment, Tater's temperature dropped and by day four, his temperature was within a normal range.
©2012 Maria S. Tater on the way to the Vet yesterday.
On day four of treatment, Tater began to eat on his own. By day five, Tater gained back some of the weight he lost.
We brought Tater back to the Vet for a re-check and to discuss what sort of testing we should consider doing. We have a suspicion Tater has Bartonella, which is now called Mycoplasma haemofelis ("feline infectious anemia").
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson & Maria S. Tater's Tale. Tissue Warning.
The Vet didn't feel we needed to do tests just yet, but to continue with treatment though she did agree to change Tater's antibiotic to Doxycycline which would fend off the Bartonella, if that's what he's been battling. There are no conclusive tests that will tell us more than just levels of exposure to the Coronavirus if he has FIP or if he has Bartonella.
For now she wants to stay the course and see how he does. Tater is NOT out of the woods, BUT he is also NOT close to death as he was just one week ago today. It will be a long road to recovery, if we are lucky enough to get him healthy. I know for certain that Maria and I are dedicated to his well being and that he should enjoy a happy future.
I know we have a long way to go, but for now we can rejoice that Tater is with us—hopefully for a long time to come. We've learned a lot about FIP and perhaps what is NOT FIP. Nothing is certain, but in time all this will make sense.
The past few days have been a stress-filled blur. Our team of rescuers have been trying to determine if Opal will be having kittens or need a c-section, then questioning whether or not she'll accept her newborns. Will she provide care for them or will we have to find a surrogate or find someone who can bottle feed the kittens every 2-3 hours around the clock for the next two weeks? Not knowing what is to come, with a belly full of fear, is not the best way to take action. When there are fragile lives at stake, thinking clearly isn't always easy.
Early Tuesday morning, Cyndie heard cries from the room where Opal is staying. She knew more kittens were born, but with Opal becoming more and more stressed every time Cyndie opened the door, she decided to wait and not look just yet.
Cyndie, Maria and I were all exhausted and worried. We'd stayed up late texting and calling each other with updates, hoping that Opal would give birth. I started to read up on feline C-sections, thinking it was going to come to that if Opal didn't go into labor soon. I knew that Opal had a kitten around 5:20AM on 6/25, then nothing until almost 24 hours later, even though we could see the kittens moving inside her abdomen as she laid on a flannel blanket. Just before I was going to tell Cyndie to take her to the Emergency Vet, Opal gave birth to three more kittens on 6/26.
The problem was we didn't even know if Opal would accept her kittens once she gave birth. After the kittens were born, she stayed near them but seemed uninterested in caring for them. Cyndie had to clean the placenta off one of them and thought it had passed away, but after rubbing the little body, she took some breaths, struggling to live.
©2012 Cyndie Tweedy. Baby One.
Each kitten is a mix of white and orange tabby. There are two boys and two girls. They are grossly underweight and probably premature. Opal wasn't due to give birth for two more weeks. Looking back on it, she was probably so stressed from being in foster care that she gave birth early.
©2012 Cyndie Tweedy. Baby Two.
Over the past day, I've frantically been looking for another lactating queen to give these kittens to in the hopes the kittens would make it. To my surprise I could not find any-at least ones that weren't already nursing 5 or 6 kittens. I had to find a backup plan. Cyndie and Maria worked hard searching, too.
©2012 Cyndie Tweedy. Baby Three.
Cyndie found an experienced person who could act as a backup bottle feeder, if we needed one, and we got a lot of suggestions about how to handle the situation. Being 1000 miles away makes it difficult for me to make decisions that should be made by those in the same room with the kittens. My gut says to feed those kittens regardless if they get anything from Opal. Opal is only 9 months old and in poor condition. We don't even know if the milk she's producing is any good. The kittens got their much needed colostrum during a syringe feeding from Cyndie, so at least they have that, but they are NOT gaining weight yet.
©2012 Cyndie Tweedy. Baby Four.
We did get some answers today. Opal IS caring for her kittens and Cyndie has seen a few of them nursing, but we don't know what sort of milk they're getting. Is it enough? Is it good quality? Cyndie says that the first born is off by himself. Does that mean he won't make it? We're looking for clues, but it's difficult to get into the room because Opal is NOT okay with having anyone near her or the kittens and each hour she grows more angry that Cyndie is there.
©2012 Cyndie Tweedy. With mama. Hopefully not the only, but one of the first photos we'll have of them all together.
Maria is going to loan Cyndie some heavy gloves so she can get the kittens some supplemental feedings. In addition to everything else, we have to be concerned that Cyndie could be harmed while she's only trying to help Opal and save the lives of her newborns. We're going to do a small fundraiser so we can purchase a baby monitor ASAP. This will allow Cyndie to view the family without stressing Opal and will cut down the number of times Cyndie will need to enter the room.
I want to find that place in my heart where I have faith it will work out, but I'm having a hard time. I think the other gals are as well. It feels like these kittens have the odds stacked against them. I don't know if they'll all survive even another day. I don't want to upset anyone, but this is an upsetting situation. I wish we were at the point where we could look back and say how scared and worried we were but it's all okay now. We're nowhere near that place, but I do know we're all dedicated to getting there.
Your donation is TAX-DEDUCTIBLE as my rescue, Kitten Associates is a 501©3 Non-Profit Cat Rescue.
If you'd prefer to send a check, please make it out to: Kitten Associates and please note on the check the funds should go to "Opal's Family" mail it to:
P.O. Box 354
Newtown, CT 06470-0354
Any funds not used for the care of this family will go into our General Fund.