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The Rock Star's Fifth Daughter. The Perplexing Case of Holly Kellogg. Part 9

(continued from Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.)

Holly peed on Sophia, the eldest daughter’s bed.

 

Game over.

 

Even though I warned the family this could happen while she’s adjusting to her medication, they will not give her any more chances. Perhaps they hung on because I was such a passionate advocate for giving her more time all these months. Perhaps she would have been long gone if they hadn’t contacted me, maybe in a new home where she didn’t pee on beds. I can’t say. All I know is there is no way she is not going back to the rescue that had her before to live in a cage.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Holly.

Sam agreed that this was not going to happen to Holly when I told him about my fears. I was glad for his support. It could set Holly ever further back to put her in a cage in a room with a lot of other cats. She'd be an emotional wreck. Holly can come back here and be part of Kitten Associates. Hopefully she won’t skip a beat and will resume enjoying her life in the foster room until we can re-home her. If she pees on the bed until the medication takes full effect, I guess I’ll do more laundry.

 

In some ways Stephen and are are cut from a similar cloth. We both work very hard at what we do and are passionate about it. I said as much to him when he told me the bad news. I told him I couldn't bear working so hard, for so long, only to fail. There wasn't anything more I could do than I had done. He had tried very hard and put up with a lot of chaos and mess, beyond what most people would tolerate, and he STILL loved Holly and still ached over this decision.

 

I was so busted up about this news that I went upstairs and laid down on the bed in the foster room because it's so far removed from the rest of the house. I was unable to do a thing. I just laid there completely depressed and heartbroken. My silly tuxedo polydactyl foster cat Andy came over to me and snuggled under my chin. He has always been a great comfort to me and his timing couldn't be better.

 

I couldn't stop going over it in my mind. I worked so hard for Holly and I really thought this story was going to end with a happy reunion. I know the Kellogg-girls are going to be distraught about this, too. I feel responsible for that and it breaks my heart. What I fear most is that the good feelings we all had for each other will morph into awkwardness and distance, until we are all faded from each other’s memory.

 

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Yes, the entire Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue is in my kitchen.

On top of everything else, it’s been a terrible few months for me, personally. We’re in a crisis. In addition to seemingly everything breaking at the same time, without notice or warning, the power got shut off on Monday, the literal icing on the cake of horrors and humiliations I’ve had to bear. This is what I get for running a non-profit rescue and helping others. I’m broke. The range almost set the house on fire, so we can’t use it any more. I’ve been without a way to cook decently for a few weeks. I just want to make my scrambled egg for breakfast again. It’s awful microwaved. It leaves me feeling ill, but how can I complain when other people have it so much worse than I do?

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. No kidding. Look at my shirt. I guess maybe I knew I had to wear it that night.

I’ve never felt so low and hopeless. I’m trying to rise above it. My friend Adria told me she’d had her power cut many times a very long time ago. She’s ok now, but she’s known bad times. She reminded me that things can change for the better, I just can't give up. I'm terrified things are going to keep changing for the worse. Something has got to give. It’s been years and years of awful.

My lone ray of hope is something my friend Carolee told me this morning. She is the Animal Control Officer here in Newtown and I’ve known her for many years. I told her about Holly and how I feared she’d never find a home, but Carolee said it happens all the time. She’s had cats and dogs returned for peeing or passing stool just one time on the floor. She finds a new home and usually that’s the end of the issue. Could the answer be so simple? Holly really just needs a new family?

I don’t know.

 

All I know is having her return will be deeply painful for all of us. I don’t know how we'll move on as friends. I'll continue to do my job, to be Holly’s advocate, until I can find her a new family to love.

 

…twelve more hours later...

Stephen sent me some photos of Kirsten with Holly or just of Holly looking forlorn. I couldn’t understand why he’d send them to me. He’d given her up. He wrote to the rescue who handled Holly’s initial rescue and told her they had to give her up and that I was taking her, but Holly was STILL WITH THEM, not with me.

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©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Kirsten and her girl, Holly.

I had a feeling that Stephen was determined to move on with re-homing Holly, but that maybe his girls were pushing back about it. This morning the evidence became more clear when I contacted them to tell them I’d spoken with Dr. Larry. They needed to be reminded that Holly had to be on Prozac for at least 4 to 6 WEEKS before we knew if it was truly working and she’d only been on it for 2 ½ . I hoped they could give her more time, but I felt like I was pushing my luck.

 

Kirsten surprised me by telling me that Holly was doing great. She was following everyone around, being very affectionate and playful AND peeing in the litter pan. So I said; “Really??? So no giving her up then?” and she replied that she wanted to give Holly a chance, even after the incident two days prior.

 

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©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Where she belongs. Holly is home.

So…here we are again. Is Holly going to lose her home or not? I guess she got a reprieve for now and I’m thankful for that. I’m not sure I should “de-pee-proof” the foster room just yet or frankly what I can do, other than wait and see.

Time passes...

 

Final words (for now). Holly peed again, this time on Adeline's bed. Stephen said Holly needed to come to me as soon as possible. Really. For sure. I told him it being Memorial Day weekend that I needed to take her on Tuesday, honestly needing a few days break. I began to make preparations for Holly's arrival, resigned to the inevitable.

 

 

Until a day later...when "girl power" kicked in and Kirsten lobbied for more time (for which I am truly grateful) and to please give their dear Holly a chance. So they got what they wanted.

 

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Andy and Annie with little "sister" Holly.

Meanwhile, Annie, Andy and Mia were supposed to be adopted together, but as fate would have it the oh-so-patient adopter was really just a sociopath who was also passive-aggressive. She went bonkers on me, was rude, impatient and pushy. I decided to do a bit of detective work on her application and discovered she'd had a DUI a few years ago at the age of 51 followed by having her nursing license suspended, then a year later in 2015, revoked. She had lied about being retired from nursing. She could not be near controlled substances for 4 years. Even though I admit I didn't want to the kitties to get adopted, that wasn't a factor when I realized they could have been in danger with this person. I put an end to the adoption while the woman bad-mouthed me on social media.

HOLLY. IS. STILL. HOME.

 

She's getting her Prozac every day. She's being loved by her family and, I hope, starting to outgrow her tendency to pee inappropriately (she's gone 12 days with no issues). I just got a photo from Stephen of her playing on her NEW CAT TREE so I'm taking that as a very good sign.

 

Holly cat tree
©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Holly's new cat tree.

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

I got to meet a singer/songwriter and get a glimpse of what life on the road is like for him. I got to know him as a fine man, kind and loving, passionate about his family and his music and his little torte kitten. He made me a cup of tea, gave me a bottle of bourbon, a bunch of Stephen Kellogg CDs and a t-shirt, but most importantly he gave me his friendship, which I will always treasure.

 

This consultation went far above and beyond anything I could have imagined. Holly and the Kelloggs (especially Stephen) kept me on my toes. I learned a lot about how the other side of a cat behavior issue effects the people that live with the problem and that was a great lesson to learn.

 

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. BFFs.

No matter what, I will continue to be there for Holly-girl and the Kelloggs, in any way they need me. It's been quite a ride. One I will never forget.

As much as there can be...this is The End of Holly's Story...

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©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Holly's dad. If you'd like to catch Stephen. Here's his current Tour Info.

 

As for me, I have another case to work on dealing with a purebred lynx point Siberian cat who I took into Kitten Associates to help her find a new home. Her mom's allergies got so bad she couldn't be near the cat any more so I offered to help. The problem is, I didn't know that the cat has a few issues. Okay, one issue. She's very aggressive and unpredictably so. How am I going to get to the bottom of this and help Stormy find her forever home or is she going to be considered unadoptable? Find out next...

 

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stormy lives up to her name.

The Rock Star's Fifth Daughter. The Perplexing Case of Holly Kellogg. Part 7

(continued from Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.)

Ten Days Later

 

Holly began peeing on the bed, on her own cat bed that was on the mattress, on Mia’s cat bed that was on the mattress. I did load after load after load of laundry. All the pillows (all six of them) had a little bit or more of urine and had to be washed, too. Clearly Holly was adjusted to being in my home and was back to her old behavior issues. Even though I’d been through things like this in the past, this was really bad. I was constantly on edge and it was a vivid reminder of what the Kelloggs had being going through.

 

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Screen shot from my web cam footage showing Holly peeing in her own cat bed. Andy is peeing in "her" litter pan (they were all using either pan by then) but he got in there AFTER she started peeing in the cat bed.

Kirsten and the girls came to visit Holly. Less than 10 minutes before they arrived, she peed on the bed for the second time that day. About an hour after they left she peed yet again. I felt that Holly was spinning out of control, fast. Also, the amount of urine was alarming. It wasn’t a small puddle. It was a great volume of urine.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Good thing she's cute.

I spoke with Dr. Larry again and we were both torn about next steps. Did Holly need an ultrasound now? Another urinalysis? Or did she need Prozac? I did NOT want to put her on medication at such a young age, but I did find out that unlike other anti-depressants, with Prozac Holly would feel more relaxed, stopping inappropriately eliminating and learn that she does not need to continue this behavior. There was a chance that in 6 months to a year she could be weaned off the meds and in essence grow out of this behavior problem.

I had to do something so I started Holly on Canna-Pet. From the company: "...Canna-Pet is NOT simply a “CBD product.” In fact, Canna-Pet is something totally and truly unique. All Canna-Pet products are formulated with an awareness of the benefits of whole plant extracts, to provide an “entourage effect” from the inclusion of eight additional cannabinoids and more than 20 terpenes beyond “just CBD” – along with higher bioavailability. This proprietary production and formulation makes Canna-Pet® unique."

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Everyone on my lap.

I’d been using Canna-Pet on my cat, Spencer, to soothe his arthritic bones and saw it helped him a lot. It can also help with stress, and I didn’t have to ramp up the dose or worry about weaning her off it if it didn’t work. Dr. Larry agreed to give it a week and see how it went. If it didn’t work we could go on from there.

 

A day or two passed without incident, but Holly began peeing on the bed again every so often. It was very difficult not to strangle her I was so tired of doing laundry and cleaning up the room. The room was becoming empty of any furnishings. There were no pillows on the bed and barely any cat beds left. If Holly began to pee on the cat trees that would be a deal-breaker. I wouldn’t be able to launder them and it could ignite a fire under the other cats and they might pee on everything, too.

 

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Funny-Face.

She didn’t even make it a week. It was clear the supplement wasn’t the right fit for Holly. Stephen was coming home soon. Things were as bad as ever. I spoke with Dr. Larry yet again and we decided to start Holly on Prozac. Inasmuch as I felt like a failure, I just could not give up on this cat. It reminded me of a nursery rhyme my mother used to recite:

There was a little girl, 
Who had a little curl, 
Right in the middle of her forehead. 
When she was good, 
She was very, very good, 
But when she was bad, she was horrid.

(I later found out it was attributed to a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem.)

Kirsten and the girls came to visit again and again I had to have a sit-down with Kirsten about what was going on. I knew it was shocking to her that I felt we needed to go to Prozac, but I got her blessing to start that day. I felt so badly. I really didn't want to have to do this, but my hand was forced. I showed Kirsten how I’d be sneaking the pill into a treat. It’s only ¼ of a small pill so it was easy enough to hide. I gave Holly her first dose, realizing it was her last chance to stop her inappropriate behavior.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Fits in like one of the Kitten Associates family now.

The girls were great with Holly and so happy to see her. It made me feel doubly worried that maybe this was the last visit they'd ever have with her. I tried to shift gears emotionally, so I changed the subject and asked the girls about Irish Folk dancing and why they keep their arms down straight. Sophia, Stephen's eldest daughter, said it would look funny if they moved their arms around and proceeded to do an amazing Irish Stepdance in my living room both with her arms straight and then waving her arms around. It was hilarious and just what I needed.

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Day 3 of Prozac. Nightmare.

 

From my journal: "Holly has pretty much become unglued. She just peed on a cat bed, right in front of me. A bed that was not on the mattress, but off on another side of the room. She peed a lot of volume. I lifted her during her peeing to put her in the litter pan and she peed ON me."

 

 

It was 1 o’clock in the morning. I was so mad I wanted to throw her into the wall, but I just cleaned up with tears of rage rolling down my cheeks. I was so fed up and tired. Three days on Prozac turned her into a nutcase worse than before. It was the third time she’d peed on something that DAY.

 

Sam was exhausted, too but I begged him to help me. With great reluctance we set up a big dog crate with a litter pan inside it and some bedding for Holly. She went into the crate easily and didn’t seem to mind being confined. I just wanted to sleep, but I still had to do more laundry. I felt a bitter mix of anger and frustration. This cat was completely impossible to deal with. I was “done.”

Script

But I couldn’t give up. I knew if I did I would hate myself later. Under the veil of my frustration was care and concern for this creature. She was a total love-muffin and happily fell asleep with her head against my cheek. I loved her! I knew if I could get some rest I could re-set my emotions and try yet again.

The next day I gave Holly her pill. Somehow a tiny bit of it wasn’t covered and the terrible taste freaked Holly out. It took 8 more tries over the course of the day to get her to take the pill. I hid it every way I could think of, even in a frozen ball of butter, but every time she outsmarted me. I finally was so fed up I had to get Sam to hold her so I could shove the pill into her mouth-she spit it out-but I finally got the job done.

 

I knew it upset Holly forcing the pill into her, so I expected her to begin peeing. I wondered how I was going to get a pill into her ever again. I wondered if she would ever trust me again. I knew if I gave her some time and was careful that maybe she would recover from the pill being forced on her.

 

I didn’t put Holly back into the crate. I let her be. I let myself be and took some time off to be alone. If she peed, she peed. I couldn't do any more for anyone.

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The Next Day

Guess what? She didn’t pee on anything over night. It was a new day. Fresh start.

I was able to figure out a new way to hide her pill and it worked-easily!

Holly was playful, continued to eat well and even sat on me, purring loudly. Who was this cat?

The next day, same thing. No peeing on anything. Got her pill into her easily. There was something different about Holly. It was as if her edges were ever so slightly softened. I left 2 pillows on the bed over night. She didn’t pee on the bed or the pillows.

I left the pillows on the bed a second night. They were fine the next morning.

 

This morning I returned Holly’s cat bed to the bed. If something was going to set her off, this was going to be it. Annie and Andy ran over to it, sniffing at it. They began to “make muffins” on it as Holly walked over. I tensed, ready to see Holly furiously scratch at the bed, then pee in it, but she was barely interested in it at all. In fact, she walked away and played with a pom pom instead.

 

This is the first time I’ve felt like maybe Holly is “over” this behavior issue. That’s a nutty thing to say, considering this cat constantly throws me curve balls, but in my heart it feels like maybe she’s okay now. Of course I’m going to to upstairs to check on Holly and she will have peed everywhere, right? It’s only been 4 days since the triple-pee storm, but it’s been one week that Holly’s been on Prozac.

I think that perhaps Holly was fighting the effects of the Prozac so that's why she got so bad on day 3 and by day 4, the Prozac had "taken over" and begun working.

The Kelloggs are on the road with Stephen. They come home in a day or two. Perhaps Stephen will come see Holly. I know that all these weeks away from her makes him more reluctant to come back. It’s easier to let her go if the connection is fading, but with this promising news maybe I can get him to give her one more chance?

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Come on Holly-girl!

 

In my journal I wrote, “Come on Holly! You can DO THIS!” And I hope, pray, and cross my fingers and toes, that maybe we finally found the answer to help Holly keep her home.

 

[sorry, we're not done yet...to be continued...two more chapters to go...]

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

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

Then this happened…

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

Or not.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

[To be continued…]

The Feral50. The Beginning of the After. Ch 3.

(continued from Ch 1 and Ch 2)

I saw her this afternoon, ”Waterbury 1.” It wasn’t the heartfelt reunion I had hoped for, but in reality visiting a feral cat who’s recently had all her teeth removed wasn’t going to be all unicorns and lollipops.

She was curled up in the corner of a large steel cage surrounded by a few towels, but the cat behaviorist in me wanted to give her a smaller box or cat hutch to retreat to. She was on the bottom of a two-level cage, but I’ve read that cats in shelters feel safer higher up and I guessed that was the case here, too. I mean to talk to someone about this in case it will help W1 feel more at ease. (note: I was able to ensure that this will be taken care of soon.)

W1 in cage
©2017 ROBIN AF OLSON. Little W1 after all her teeth were removed.

It was cold in the room. I wondered if W1 was chilled from having all her fur shaved away. It was a necessary evil. Her badly matted fur was filthy and her skin could have been damaged from the mats that tugged at her when she tried to walk. Being shaved down in January in Connecticut is the worst time to have it done, but one day her lovely coat will return.

I wanted her to have a thermal core cat bed and I was mad at myself for not bringing her one. But being at a vet’s office, W1, wouldn’t have the comforts of a home because her towels would be replaced daily and any bed I brought her would probably have to be washed as often and that seemed to be a lot to ask.

 

I’m sorry this isn’t an uplifting part of W1’s story. In a way it should be because the very worst is over for her. Her teeth are gone. Her infection is waning and no doubt her anemia will be resolving. She’s managing to eat when no one is looking. She has every chance of making a full recovery, but it will be a long road.

 

W1 in cage C R Olson
©2017 ROBIN AF OLSON. Respecting her fragile state I did not open the cage door to disturb her.

W1 isn’t ready to leave the hospital, but I know she'll be well cared for while she’s there. I wonder if she’s missing her sister and her other friends in the feral colony. I wonder if she misses the pace of the day, of the familiarity of her home, but I can’t imagine she’ll always miss those things once she regains her strength and the comfort of a full belly.

I almost didn’t recognize her when I first saw her. Her whiskers are broken off and her face is still somewhat dirty. She seems half the size she was without her fur. Her pupils are large. She sat very still, watching me carefully as I sat across from her.

I know my being there scares her, so I sat on the floor, making myself as small as I could. I spoke to her in hushed tones. I reassured her that everything is going to be all right; that I’m sorry for what happened and that everyone is doing their best to help her feel good again.

I slowly closed my eyes, giving her a loving blink. She almost did it back to me. In that moment I felt hope for her future, but even with pain medication I’m sure her discomfort colors her mood. I know that as long as I’m there she won’t relax and get more rest. I’m torn between the constant yearning of wanting to pet her just one time. I want to open the cage door and at least let her catch the scent of my fingers, but more than that I don’t want to upset her, so I leave her be. She’s been through so much already that risking causing her more stress didn’t feel right to me at all. My mothering instinct, my need to protect her, would have to accept that I’d done as much as I could and that holding her would not comfort her at all.

Waterbury 1 by tire r olson
©2017 ROBIN AF OLSON. This moment will live in my heart forever. Thank you to Betsy for going back and trapping her the next day, then getting her to her vet for care.

Seeing her for the first time, under the semi truck trailer is something I will never forget. Her small form, huddled against the cold, still with enough life-force that gave her the desire to eat even though each bite crippled her with pain. She walked stiffly and was covered in filth and crusty mucous.

 

I didn’t imagine it was possible that just a week after I saw her I’d have raised enough money to get her vetting done. That just a week after I saw her, through a magical twist of fate, someone would see her in her sorry state and step forward, offering to give her a forever home, even if she may never pet this cat either. To honor W1’s dignity she has been given a proper name: Tulip.

 

Tulip’s life is precious to all of us who have worked so hard to save it. She has a chance at a comfortable and safe tomorrow. It’s clear that her life was precious to the many people who happily donated to provide for her care, too. Together we made a second chance fully realized for this tiny tux.

This is why we do rescue.

 

May the rest of your days be free from pain and suffering, dear Tulip.

 

W1 in cage B
©2017 ROBIN AF OLSON. Even though you don't know it, you are loved by many both near and far.

[Update: Tulip is still at the vet. It’s been a full week. She has giardia and a belly full of roundworms for which she’s getting treated. In another week she will be lightly sedated so the vet can look at her mouth. It will be an important exam because Tulip may have more going on than stomatitis. There is a chance she developed an oral cancer from not being vetted for so long, but because she’s eating very well, it’s hoped that her mouth ulcers are gone and no longer a sign of something more dire going on. No matter what happens with Tulip she is loved and will have all her needs met and we couldn’t ask for more than that. Okay maybe we can...she's getting a thermal core cat bed.]

Of Cancer, Carbs and Cats: Return of the Ex. Part 1 of 3

I’m trying to figure out how to tell this story without sounding like a heartless bitch. I’ve written a few drafts, thrown them out, completely frustrated. I felt I had to write a heart-wrenching tale about someone with terminal cancer, who reached out to me for help, and how emotionally draining it all was. That part was true and I even know the person, but...I also felt manipulated, and as the days pass, I wonder if I was maybe just a sucker.

My old flame (O.F.) got in touch with me after 19 years. He needed a favor. We’ve been Facebook-friends for a long time, but we rarely ever communicate. I’ve seen photos of him, taking numerous fishing trips around the USA, but most often based out of his hometown of Sheepshead Bay, New York. He’s always pictured holding a big, dead fish. He’s proud and smiling. He’ll probably eat the thing later. I remember him being a good cook. He must have killed thousands of fish by now.

He lives with his girlfriend and she has a soon-to-be “tween” daughter. They look like a Hallmark-card-of-happiness in the images I've seen.

That’s why I was shocked to hear from O.F. I figured things were just ducky with him. He said he had bad news. He didn’t mince words. He was just diagnosed with cancer. Having two dear girlfriends who are also dealing with stage 4 cancer, I knew a lot about what he might be telling me next, about treatments, cure rates, staging.

The problem was they caught it very late in the game. His cancer, which started as a tumor in his stomach, metastasized (spread) into his liver. His liver was 90-95% full of tumors. The cancer had spread into his bones, too. The only treatment option was chemotherapy, so at least there was some hope he’d have additional time.

 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, his girlfriend and her daughter were moving out. Their relationship was over. O.F. would be alone during his remaining days. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t understand how someone could leave a relationship when things got tough. I couldn't believe this guy I'd known for more than half my life just got a death sentence handed to him.

I later mentioned this to my friend Pam, who just spent the last year getting cancer-related treatments and surgeries. She told me that a lot of women who get breast cancer also lose their husband or partner. Many people take off instead of lean in and support their mate when times get tough. I thought about all the sick cats I’ve dealt with, like Freya and Fred. I’ve never given up or walked away, no matter how painful the situation. I couldn’t fathom being so cruel, especially to my own partner.

Then, in a shaky voice, O.F. began to cry.

 

“I’m begging you. I need you to take my cats. The doc says I have to get rid of anything I have responsibility for. I had to quit my job. I can’t work. I can’t even walk around the block. How can I care for my cats? Can you help me? Please?”

 

Normally I can’t take on adult cats. We don’t have a brick and mortar shelter where they might get the attention of an adopter. Having the cats in my home meant someone would have to make an extra effort to meet these cats and it was unlikely that would happen given their age. I knew if I said yes, I’d have the cats for a long time—easily over a year. Where would they live? They were six years old. O.F. said they were friendly but that the boy, Buddy, had started peeing outside the litter pan. Something was wrong.

He told me he managed to get his soon-to-be-ex to take the cat to the Vet, but he was very vague about what they found out. I’d have to deal with that issue myself. Buddy’s sister, Belle, had no known problems but weighed 25 pounds. I thought O.F. was joking, but I later found out the joke was on me.

 

I had to say yes. I didn’t want to. I’m exhausted. I haven’t had a day off in SIX YEARS. I promised Sam I wouldn’t take any more rescues until 2017 so we could have some down time over the winter, but how could I say no?

 

Then the reality of their possible health issues made me think twice, too. How could I afford to provide care for a potentially very sick cat? Buddy might block up and the surgery to help him would easily break our bank account. I did not want to do this, but I couldn’t turn them away. We would deal with it somehow, some way.

A few days later, Sam and I spent the day driving back and forth to Brooklyn, NY, in terrible traffic, to meet and transport Buddy and Belle to our home. The plan was to get them acclimated, then move them to another foster home where they would enjoy a lot more space. I figured they’d need a week here, tops, then I’d work on promoting them and finding them a home after I got their vetting done and they were in their new foster home.

 

I was uncomfortable seeing O.F. again. It had been well over a decade since I’d seen him. He’d also been the guy I dumped Sam for. Ironically, I dumped O.F. after he cheated on me, then I went back to Sam after that. Yeah, awkward!

 

I also wondered if this might be the last time I saw O.F. alive.

Being in Brooklyn again was surreal. I missed the beat of urban life as we walked past the brownstones lining the streets to reach O.F.’s apartment. Years ago I spent most weekends in Brooklyn. I only had two cats at the time. I fed them dry food back then, so I could load them up with a pile of food, take off and have a weekend of going to restaurants and movies, while blindly thinking I was madly in love with someone who often acted like a drama queen and made me second-guess my value to him. It was so long ago it felt like another life that happened to another person.

I was worried about how Sam was going to take all of this, but as usual, Sam was understanding. He knew we were both there for the cats, not for a heartfelt reunion. It was business. It was a rescue mission. We’d done this before. We’d do it again.

Belle waiting
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Belle waiting for Sam to arrive and her journey to begin.

Seeing O.F. was definitely unsettling. Here I was back in his apartment. This is where I used to spend my time with him. It hadn’t changed that much. It was even darker than I remembered, being a third floor walk-through apartment with windows at either end of the space. I began to flash back to fragments of memories, but pushed them away, trying simply to focus on the task at hand.

 

I got a hug from O.F. when I reached the doorway to his apartment, but it didn’t feel familiar or comforting. O.F. was very distressed, far more so than I’d ever seen. He was older, still plump, still with a head of thick black hair, though now with added slivers of silver threaded through it. There were the killer dimples on his cheeks that once fooled me into thinking he was a sweet guy. Even though I recognized him, he was a stranger in many ways.

 

I understood his distress. I’d be distressed, too if I had his diagnosis, but as he spoke he seemed off. I’d ask a question and not really get an answer or get a different answer than he’d given me before. I realized it would be best just to ask about the cats and get as much history on them as I could. I was very matter-of-fact about it because I didn’t want to burst into tears thinking I was taking this man’s last comfort away from him when he needed them most.

He angrily declared his girlfriend told him to “suck it up” when he told her about his diagnosis. She’s a nurse. You’d think she would understand he would need her, but she said she was moving out and that she didn’t want her daughter to see him die. Really? Is that what you teach your child? When the going gets tough, go? I hoped O.F. was being dramatic. It wouldn’t have been the first time. If it was true, I couldn’t imagine much worse. He said he loved that kid and would have adopted her. Now they were leaving him to go through chemo and to face whatever future he had left on his own. There were moving boxes stacked near the dining table where we sat, but the woman did not want to see me take the cats away so she had left for a few hours. I wondered if she would have cared for the cats and perhaps if O.F. only wanted to hurt her by preventing her from giving them a home.

O.F. never asked me anything about my life or remarked on how seeing me again was good/bad/indifferent. He barely acknowledged Sam’s presence. He just went off on different tangents that didn't add up to anything that made sense. I kept trying to ask as many questions about the cats as I could. I knew we only had a few minutes. O.F. was getting tired and wanted to rest. We had to sort out getting the cats out of the apartment without being able to park near the building. It turned into a “thing.” Sam had to go get the car, which was parked a few blocks away, while I waited with Belle, alongside me in a cat carrier in the lobby of the apartment building. We’d tried to get Buddy into the carrier with Belle, but he flipped out. I left him upstairs to cool off.

Buddy being held by OF
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Buddy's last moments with O.F.

Thankfully we brought two carriers, but had left the second one in the car. Sam would illegally park by the building, I’d run out with Belle, then he’d give me the second carrier. I’d run up a few flights of stairs, load up Buddy, then bring him to the car. Sam would stay with the car to avoid getting a very costly ticket.

 

Things went as planned, but my heart sank when I got upstairs with the carrier for Buddy. O.F. was sitting on the end of the bed, holding Buddy in his arms. This was their final goodbye. Oh God, I felt awful taking the cat from him. He was visibly upset. I asked him if he was sure about this. If the chemo worked he could live another year or more. He nodded he was sure. We put Buddy into the carrier. I didn’t have much time to talk to O.F., other than to say a few words…and I struggled with what should I say.

 

Buddy in Carrier 650
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. Buddy, terrified, begins his trip to our home.

 

Maybe this was it, the last time I'd ever see O.F., but there wasn’t time to fall apart. I touched his shoulder, giving it a hard squeeze and looked him in the eyes. I told him to fight, to not give up. I told him I understood this was dire, but that if they offered chemo it meant there was still a chance for good quality of life. I said, “Fight” with all the conviction I could, then leaned down and kissed him on the cheek.

 

I grabbed the cat carrier and with a heavy heart I made my way down the stairs as fast as I could. I’d just taken two cats from their dad when he needed them most. The only thing I was grateful for was that there were some really good Italian bakeries nearby. I had every intention of carb-loading in historic amounts to offset the horrible day we just had. I only had to keep it together long enough to get into the car as the poor cats cried out in alarm, their lives about to change forever.

Mounteleone
©2016 Robin A.F. Olson. The best pasteries I've ever had, but they didn't make up for the emotional train wreck and terrible traffic we had to face.

Part two is up next...where I turn into a heartless bitch followed by turning into a heartbroken shell of my former self.

The Last Feral Cat. Part 2 of 2.

[continued from part 1]

This time it was a nip, not as serious as that first chomp, but it made me recoil in fear. What did I do to cause this or did Barry have aggression issues? Barry was bored. I felt it in my gut. He needed out of the crate.

When the day finally arrived for him to come inside I was both worried and relieved. First, I had to get him out of the crate and into a cat carrier so I could bring him into my home. I purposely skipped Barry's dinner the night before, thinking if he was hungry enough I could lure him into the cat carrier with food. I was terrified that if he didn't cooperate and I had to handle him that it would end badly for me. But Barry was being Barry. Show him food and Barry will go anywhere you want. I had to give his behind a quick shove so as to not get his tail stuck in the door of the carrier, but he went right inside. He was too focused on food to mind. Whew.

This was it. Time to find out what Barry was made of. Would he continue to be aggressive or would he relax with space to move around and the company of another cat? He'd been friends with Bronte. Surely he and Mia would be friends, too. I prayed that being out of the cage would be what Barry needed to begin to blossom and where I could finally trust him.

Barry looking out window 650
©2015 Robin AF Olson. It made me sad that Barry spent countless hours looking out the lone window in the bathroom. I knew he was safe where he was. He wanted to get outside, but since he wasn’t feral I had to give him every chance.

Barry was a bit bossy with Mia at first, but there was enough room for the cats to have their own space. My instructor urged me to do two, 15-minute play sessions every day with Barry. He loved them and it helped him relax afterwards. What was so completely charming was how awkward Barry was when he dove after a toy. His body was not built like a gymnast, more like a wrestler. He'd dive after a toy, then thud onto the floor. His eyes lit up and he wheezed as he vigorously grabbed at the toy then bit hard into it. Finally, something else was getting bitten besides me.

Barry 11 15 400
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Handsome man.

One night I sat on the floor and encouraged Barry to come over to me. I reached out for him and pulled him onto my lap. He sat there like a brick. His body was heavy and solid. I carefully petted him, worried I would over-stimulate him and cause him to bite again. He sat there quietly, but I was tense. Barry sensed it, too. He got up and jumped onto a small cat condo. I froze since he was towering over me. I spoke to him quietly and reached out to pet him. His mouth opened to take another bite of my hand, but this time I disengaged with him, got up and walked out of the room, closing the door behind me. He could not do that to me or anyone or I'd never get him adopted. My non-reaction was a message to him that he wasn't going to get what he wanted by biting.

Barry and Mia play time 11 2015
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry and Mia at playtime.

A few months passed and Barry and Mia became friends. I even played with Mia when I had a session with Barry. It helped her come out of her shell a little bit more, too. Barry continued to charm me but I felt terrible he was in such a small space. I cleared off the top of my washing machine and put a cat bed on top of it. He loved hanging out there since it was big enough to hold him, unlike the cat trees that were woefully inadequate. Though I was still a bit on edge, I began to worry less and less that Barry would bite me. The more time we spent together, the more I saw him as a clown instead of a fearsome beast.

©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry & Mia, BFFs.

Barry’s biggest change was when I was finally able to move him and Mia into the main foster room. There Barry quickly made friends with Jelly (who was in a big crate recovering from surgery on his leg) and his brother, Lolli, who wasn’t too thrilled, but eventually accepted the newcomers. I had a large wicker basket that I put on top of a storage container, about a foot off the ground. I had an old rag rug that I lined the basket with. It became Barry’s favorite place to hang out and I often found him there, belly up, snoring softly.

Barry on the washer R olson copy
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Barry, the washing machine attendant.

Jelly and Lolli got adopted, giving Barry and Mia plenty of space to stretch out and enjoy life. There are two sunny windows in the room, one that was very large and overlooked the same spot in the front yard where I first saw Barry so many months before. Barry had been up for adoption for awhile, but I didn't get much interest in him. Last week I got an application that looked good, but they have a young daughter. They asked me if Barry really couldn’t go to a family with young children because their kids had been around a cranky old cat and knew to be careful AND they were falling in love with Barry’s big head and goofy markings (intact male cats get really big heads. In the northern USA, we call them “apple heads” and in the south they call them “biscuit heads”).

We discussed Barry in detail and they sounded like a perfect match. Sam and I did a home visit and their home is more windows than walls and is surrounded by the woods. They promised not to let Barry outside and they agreed to give him time to adjust and not overwhelm him.

IMG 2796
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Barry and his new family (with Freya).

Nearly a year after I first trapped Barry, he found his forever home. Frankly, I’m in awe. I had no idea we’d ever find something for him, but he’d blossomed and mellowed out so much (he hasn’t bitten me for at least for six months!) that it shouldn't have surprised anyone that he found a home. I didn't want to admit it, but I'd become very attached to the big lug. He makes me laugh. He talks to me some times. He lays belly up and hugs tight onto his rainbow catnip toy. He's a far cry from the cat who tried to rip through the screen to get into my house. Now he licks Mia’s head and chases her around the room. He lets the just-arrived foster kittens push him out of his food. He’s a big, (17 pounds now!), dopey, love bug.

Living in a home with two parents and their two young kids is a good match for Barry and though I will never know, maybe he had a home like that once long ago. This time he won’t lose his home when times get tough, because I’ll always have his back. This time he'll be in a place where he's appreciated and cared for and where he's valued.

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

Barry funky 10 2015
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry in the blue bathroom.

 

For the first time in almost ten years, Sam and I decided to close off the screened porch so our own cats could finally use it. We haven’t seen any cats in our yard over the past year so it was time. Barry may be the last cat I will ever trap. Now I can go back to doing what I do best, and that’s caring for kittens and their moms.

 

I miss you, Barry, but I’m glad I miss you because you’re in your forever home than because I didn’t give you a chance and you were lost to us as Bronte was. Have a wonderful, loved life, big guy. You deserve it.

And please don’t rip up any more window screens.

©2015 Robin AF Olson. A year later, a very mellow fellow with his catnip rainbow.

The Last Feral Cat. Part 1 of 2.

Cat rescue doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone who does it. What I’ve found over the years is that most folks tend to specialize in the area they feel most comfortable. Some people, like me, will take on a pregnant cat or foster and socialize orphan kittens, while others prefer to do TNR (trap, neuter, return) of feral cats.

Within those areas are so many other facets. Some people prefer to specialize and only take on blind cats or cats with feline leukemia, while others take on the tremendously difficult task of caring for neonatal kittens (difficult because easily 40% of any litter of kittens can die even if you do feedings every two hours around-the-clock, keep them warm and clean, do everything you’re supposed to do..it's not for the faint of heart).

Ready and Waiting
©2007 Robin AF Olson. My first attempt at trapping.

I no longer feel like I have to do it all. I can’t. I’m not that great at all aspects of rescue and thankfully, I don’t have to be because usually if I can’t do it, I can find someone who can.

Eight years ago I tried doing TNR but I always felt badly letting the cats go. I trapped a cat in my own yard and was tempted to work on socializing her, but the person I did rescue with told me not to bother, that it would take too long and to let her go. I always regretted listening to her because the cat wasn’t aggressive, just scared. I named her Bronte. Sam and I set up a wonderful home for her using our screened in porch as a home base. We got her two heated cat cabins and made sure she was fed and cared for. Bronte had a daughter I named Madison, and years later another cat, Buddy, joined her, but only for a short time. Bronte was the only one who survived more than a year, out of the three cats.

Feral Cat 1 Trapped
©2007 Robin AF Olson. Bronte.

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

Nearly two years ago, the idea of doing TNR came up again. I was sitting at my desk when I heard a cat yeowling outside my window. I looked up and saw a black and white cat sitting on the hillside partially hidden by tall weeds. I didn’t see Bronte, but I did see this newcomer. My hackles raised. I wanted to protect my girl from this interloper, but he ran off into the woods when he saw me approach the window to get a better look at him. Who was he? Where did he come from? It was very unusual to see a cat outside in my neighborhood.

Sam reported seeing the cat again and again. We put out food for him and sure enough, he began eating comfortably alongside Bronte. Clearly he was no evil-doer and I was glad she had a friend. Winter was coming. We often saw them cuddled together in one of the cat cabins.

Barry and bronte eating rt
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry and Bronte have lunch.

 

We couldn’t handle this new cat. He'd run off if we got too close. We weren’t even sure he needed our help. I designed a flyer and put one on my neighbor's mailboxes. One contacted me and said she fed him but that it was not her cat and that once he came inside her house and flipped out so she put him back outside. She assumed someone dumped him.

 

I asked around, called my friends at animal control, posted his photo on Facebook but no one stepped forward to claim him. I figured I’d borrow a trap and deal with the cat some day, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with him. Would I give him the chance to come around that Bronte never had? I didn’t have loads of space to foster him in and he was far from a kitten. If he was feral I’d have to let him go back outside and I hated having to do it. I know that feral cats are by definition, wild, and that it’s not fair to keep feral cats indoors, but we have coyotes in our yard. Our home is next to a state forest. There are many real dangers here and I didn’t want this cat to become a predator’s next meal.

Barry comes a courtin R AF Olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. the DOOD and Blitzen taunt Barry.

 

The following autumn the cat sat outside my office window once again. Blitzen and Dood were sitting on the window ledge staring at the cat. Within seconds I heard something ripping. I looked up and the cat was hanging off the screen window, ripping at it to get at my cats! He put a big hole in the screen ($100 to fix!) and scared the crap out of all of us. It made me even more concerned about trapping this cat because if he was that ferocious from outside, how would he behave INSIDE my house?

 

But my hands were tied. Sam called out to me a few days later. He had just seen Bronte. She was visibly thin and limping. Something was terribly wrong with her so we put out a trap, hoping we’d be able to get her to our Vet. She’d been trapped a few times over the years and was trap savvy. I knew we might have to get the help of one of my friends who does a lot of trapping and could use a drop trap, but we were quickly running out of time.

Barry Poster 400

The trap was set and we heard it slam shut not long after. We had hoped to see Bronte sitting in the trap, but low and behold there was the big black and white cat sitting hunched over in the trap that was barely big enough to hold him. I had to deal with him now, even though my cat Gracie was critically ill and we were doing almost daily vet runs with her, even though Bronte needed help first. We had him, now he needed to be vetted. I called a favor from my friends at Nutmeg Spay/Neuter Clinic and got him booked to be neutered.

Unfortunately, it meant he had to stay in my garage in the trap until he could be taken care of and the fastest I could get it done was in two days because it was a weekend.

Barry in trap r olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gotcha!

I didn’t get too close to the cat. I changed out the newspapers that lined the trap and gave him fresh food. He wasn’t aggressive with me, but I didn’t want to find out if he was, either. He was a big cat and he scared me. His ears were ripped up and he was missing fur on his front right leg, scars from years of fighting, no doubt. I decided to call him Barry Lyndon. I don’t know why I named him after a truly terrible movie, but I liked the Barry part so it stuck.

 

We continued to try to trap Bronte, but we never saw her again after Barry was trapped. Sam and I had fed her for so many years, never missing a day. She’d become part of our family and now she was gone, never to return. I hate to think of what became of her. We gave her the best life we could. I yearned to hold her, to tell her we loved her, that we missed her and we’d probably never stop looking for her. That’s why I don’t do TNR. I’m too much of a softy. I want all the cats to live in my house and be happy. I don’t want them to have a difficult life and a sad, maybe very scary ending of that life.

 

Meanwhile, Barry got neutered. We found out he was about three years old. Thankfully, he hadn’t gotten FIV or Feline Leukemia, but I had to believe there were lots of baby Barrys running around the area.

Barry in the Garage
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry's home for a grueling 6 weeks.

I wasn’t sure what the heck to do so I set up the biggest dog crate I had and made it into Barry’s temporary home. I’d assess him while he was confined inside the garage and decide in a few days whether or not I should release him or bring him into the house. He weighed 13 pounds and looked like it was all muscle. His golden eyes blazed at me from inside the crate. I wondered what he was thinking.

I had to feed Barry, but I was scared to open the crate. Would he charge at me? Flip out? Instead he surprised me by coming right up to me, then ate every last bit of food. I didn’t try much with him at first, but he was so focused on eating I pet the top of his head. He didn’t care. He just wanted a meal.

Fortunately for me I had begun to take a Cat Behavior Counselor certification course though the HSUS. I knew it would help me with Barry, but I didn’t know I’d need a lot more help than I thought.

Within the first few days I knew Barry was somewhat friendly. I was confident enough to put my hand into the cage to offer Barry food. He’d spilled the contents of his litter pan and I was trying to brush some of it up with a paper towel. Before I realized I was in trouble, Barry lashed out and bit me, HARD. He bit me so hard my hand was black and blue (really purple) for TWO WEEKS. Some how he barely bit into the flesh of my hand. It was a freakish crushing bite.

©2015 Robin AF Olson. How to get bitten.

I asked my instructor for guidance. I was terrified of Barry, though I realized that between his still-surging hormones, being scared and bored in a crate and seeing my hand moving like prey, of course he would bite me. I wanted to believe he didn’t mean it. I didn’t scold him, but in all honesty, I didn’t know if I could give him any more time.

He cried a lot. He wanted out of the crate. I had to crate him for 6 long weeks because the only place I could put him was inside the now famous blue bathroom, where Mia still lived. If I put a fractious cat in with Mia it could be very dangerous for her. Once Barry’s hormone level was down (hence the six week wait), it would be safer for all of us, but it also meant it would really flat out suck for him. He was letting me pet him. He wasn't feral. I had to give him a chance.

During times like this I force myself to look at the big picture. Yes, it was awful to confine Barry for weeks on end, but if I looked at what might be the rest of his life, living in a home, safe, warm, and happy some day, then these weeks would soon be forgotten.

 

And then Barry bit me again.

 

part two next...

A Spoonful of Despair. Part 1 of 4.

 

We all face difficult times over the course of our life, but the dark days often come in measured amounts—a spoonful of despair, a cup of grief. We must take a sip, as bitter as it is, knowing that’s the cost of being alive. There’s the dark but there's also the counterpoint of the light, the happy vs the sad. We assume that after a time of heartbreak there will be love again one day. We push against suffering. We can try to cover up the pain with medication, food, or other neurotic reactions, but it never really goes away. Despair forces us to take another sip and another and another, but there are times we know we’ll drown if we have to take just one more. That’s how I’ve felt these past few weeks as I’ve been struggling against the dark, praying for the light to return soon.

 

Heartache, anxiety and fear have robbed me from being able to write, work, think. As a cat-mom and rescuer, most of what I do has something to do with or for cats. There are bumps in the road that I usually manage, but when a health crisis hits one of them, the all-too-familiar and all-too-painful knot twists my gut, draining my soul. The worse the crisis, the less I can eat or sleep, the more I worry, research, call Vets, try to find an answer while attempting to soothe an anxious, weak, mysteriously sick cat.

Spencer with blitz under the table
©2016 Robin AF Olson. My baby, Spencer, flat, depressed and not eating while Blitzen worries about his old friend.

There was something wrong with Spencer, the mascot of Covered in Cat Hair, my 15-year old shadow. He was lethargic, would not eat, was depressed. He’d been drinking a lot of water and I’d feared it was his kidneys because water drinking can be a sign of kidney disease. At Spencer’s age it's no joke for him to have a problem like this. The issue: getting him to the vet when he’s a very high-stress patient.

This time it was no problem getting him to the vet. That’s how sick he was.

We gave Spencer fluids, hoping it would help him feel better, but it did nothing. I knew we couldn't wait this out. Once at Dr. Larry’s office my mind went into overdrive imagining what was wrong with my dear boy. I thought it could be pancreatitis or that his kidneys or his liver was failing but why? Spencer’s on a fresh diet, with lots of protein. There was no reason something would irritate him like that. It had to be that his kidneys were failing so I worried about how we’d give him fluids when he has a very short fuse.

Dr. Larry did some tests that indicated pancreatitis. It was possible I caught it early but Spencer still needed an ultrasound at the ER Vet as soon as possible to make certain there wasn’t something else going on. They kept him there for the full day because he’d been so stressed out, even though he was weak. Just taking his blood was difficult so they had to let him calm down in a cage for a few hours before trying to get the sample. By the time we got home Spencer was flat and even more depressed than before.

Sniffing baby food r olson
©2016 Robin AF Olson. One of my "go-to" things to tempt a sick cat to eat-chicken baby food. Notice I offer the food on a flat dish and elevate the plate not only to make it easier to reach but so that the aroma of the warmed food reaches Spencer's nose faster. Normally I use a soup bowl to elevate the plate but in this case a tissue box was a good height and nearby.

I didn’t want to take my baby to the emergency vet because over the past year they’ve lost most of their staff and I didn’t know if they were hiring any decent vets. I didn't want to believe the rumors I'd heard. Their prices are crazy-high, but they are also a few minutes drive from my home. It meant less stress on Spencer and they could see him the next day so I agreed and hoped for the best.

Even the short drive to the ER did a number on Spencer. He was open-mouth breathing so they rushed him into an oxygen cage until he could settle down. How the heck where they going to be able to an ultrasound on him if he was flipping out? I feared they’d have to sedate him and the after effects of sedation on his old body. This had to be done, but how would they do it without pushing Spencer into the red zone?

Instead of meeting with the Internist, they went ahead and performed the ultrasound. I was surprised that it only took a few minutes. They went slowly and since Spencer was so ill, he was easier to handle and did not require sedation. I waited anxiously in the exam room, mentally adding up what I feared the bill was going to be for the day. The door opened and there stood Dr. De (her nickname to keep her anonymity). She was very nice and polite. She explained right away that yes, Spencer did have pancreatitis and that the key now was to soothe his belly while getting him to resume eating. There was no sign of cancer and the rest of his organs appeared normal. The concern was that if he didn’t eat soon, I’d have to assist-feed him or what worked much better was the placement of a feeding tube.

 

Feeding tube? In Spencer? The cat whose claws I can barely trim if I only try one or two at a time? Oh God!

 

She gave me a list of meds and a schedule along with some bland food (which of course I hated since the ingredients included corn, wheat and soy, but I had to do whatever I could for my boy). I went home and wrote everything out. Pilling Spencer was going to be dreadful but I had to get the job done.

Pancreatitis is no joke and cats can get it once, then never again or they can have flare ups for the rest of their life…or they can DIE.

 

Fluff with spencer
©2016 Robin AF Olson. I constantly followed Spencer around, but not so close as to make him anxious. As he chose a strange place to lay down, near the stove, I decided to sit down on the kitchen floor, too. Fluff Daddy, ever the jokester decided it was a great time to sit on my lap and watch Spencer with me.

Spencer laid on the floor under the table in front of the sofa. He’d lost a good bit of weight and he was depressed and in pain. I began giving him pain meds and something to help the nausea. I offered him some food but he would not touch it beyond a few licks.

Two of my friends got in touch with me when they heard the news and offered to help me if Spencer did need a feeding tube. They assured me to welcome this if the Vet thought he needed it because it made it much easier to provide nutrition and medications and that most cats (hey, not Spencer!) would not be bothered by it, too much. That feeding tubes could extend or save lives.

A very nice lady named Dee even offered to come to the house and show me how to feed, then clean the setup should Spencer need it. I had to prepare myself for doing this. If he needed it then so be it.

Spencer after peeing on the bed
©2016 Robin AF Olson. I took this photo not realizing that Spencer was laying in a large pool of his own urine. He was completely zoned out, between the pain meds and being sick. You can see it effected his pupils as well.

 

The next morning I woke up to find Spencer sleeping next to me. I was so happy to see him after days of him sleeping under a table, but my joy was short-lived. Spencer was also laying in a pool of his own urine. He had peed on the bed right next to me. He has never done anything remotely like that in his entire life. I wasn’t angry for what he did. I was heartbroken. This was not good. Not good at all.

 

After a few days of meds, Spencer began to eat on his own. He liked the crappy food so I was glad that he'd eat anything. I offered him many small meals throughout the day and he’d eat a teaspoon or two at most. He began to perk up a little, but I was still worried about taking him off the pain killers. I also wondered if we did something to his food that made him sick in the first place. We make our own raw food from carefully sourced ingredients, but what if we made a mistake? Surely one of our other nine cats would have been sickened, too?

By day five Spencer was off his medications and back to eating his regular diet. He’s still underweight but he’s back to his old self. I think he’s even friendlier than before and he’s not sucking down copious amounts of water, so perhaps the drinking was a way to soothe his digestive tract and not an alert that his kidneys were failing?

Wee wee squinting
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Spencer giving me "lovey-eyes."

 

But my joy was very short-lived because as Spencer began to improve, our little black cat, Cricket began to go down hill, fast.

 

Next up: A Semi-feral cat, indeed!

Cats Shows and Breeders and Haters, oh My.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay. I decided to give it a try.

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

Cat show poster 1094410968 o

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

But then there were the cats.

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

Baccaruda R Olson 475
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Baccaruda, one of my new BFFs gets shown. He is all fluff, all the time.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Gorgeous Maine Coon R Olson 475
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Stunning Maine Coon KITTEN.

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

 

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

 

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

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

Freya Helps 475 R Olson
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Freya "helps" me pack up for our trip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday to Me. The Best Gift Ever.

It’s the morning of my birthday, a fresh coating of snow outlines the branches of each tree. The temperatures dropped from the 60’s down to the 30s. The wind is picking up. It’s going to be a blustery day. Whatever plans I may have had are cancelled due to the worsening weather. I guess at my age, an age that I don’t even want to admit to, it doesn’t much matter if there is a celebration or if it’s “business as usual.” I don’t want to be old. I’m longing for my youth. I suppose that happens to most of us. We don’t have much choice. There are people who embrace their wrinkles as a badge of wisdom, but I’m not there yet.

Robin Birthday April 1963
©Robin AF Olson. Me, at 2. I was never a skinny kid.

 

On my last birthday I weighed 50 lbs more than I do right now. 50. POUNDS. I still can’t believe it’s true, but looking back on photos of me, I can see it is. My moon-shaped face is being replaced by one that has a jawline and now, a lot more wrinkles, the price of “deflating” I suppose. Most of my clothes don’t fit me any more. I purged some of them because it was a foolhhardy to try to wear pants that only fell off if I slipped them on. It feels like someone played a prank on me. I went to sleep and the next morning all my clothes felt like a tent. I used to wake up in the morning and wish I could magically lose 50 lbs. There was no magic, but the dreamy feeling still lingers.

 

I’ve dropped 4 sizes and very soon I will never have to shop in the “Women’s” department (a term I loathe) or the “Plus” section (it’s disgusting that there’s a separate area for these clothes. It’s just fat-shaming and you know and I know the plus-size girls have to shop in the dark corner of the store, not out in front).

Robin feminella
©Robin AF Olson. The ever-familiar round face. I was 16 in this photo. After going away to college I really started to pack on the pounds.

Maybe part of my journey was inspired by sheer anger. Anger at the media for still making it ok to make fat people feel they don’t belong, of course because we’re lazy (are you kidding me?) and unhealthy, that we all must fit into an ever-changing height to weight ratio. We have to do this and do that. Don’t eat this, but eat that. No. Let’s change it and don’t eat the other thing we said was good because it’s bad. Let’s just all go insane worrying about what we’re eating, drinking, if we’re sitting or running because whatever we do we’re just not good enough as we are. I think that’s a crime of the century and a waste of someone’s life-to fret and fuss and feel unworthy or ashamed of their body. I wish we could all just look at each other as we look at ourselves and love each other and respect each other for our different shapes and sizes. It’s been said much better by others, but if we could only take away stigma of all kinds and be open and accepting of each other, wow, what a world it would be.

I lost the weight because I had two big health scares last July; diabetes type 2 and heart troubles. I don’t have diabetes now and though the heart issues aren’t sorted out, I usually feel a lot better day to day. I gave myself a gift through a lot of sacrifice and continuing day to day struggles, but it’s worth it. My health is not simply a personal thing, I have to be in good shape to care for my own cats and the cats who are in my rescue. I can’t assume someone else will step in and take over if I can’t. I could continue down the path of spaghetti and meatballs many times a week (partially to save money) or eat much better (spend a lot more on food), cut carbs down to the nubs and kick sugar and processed foods in the ass.

2012 with care bears
©2014 Robin AF Olson. Super-sized me at Toy Fair in 2014.

 

Again my anger flared. FUCK YOU to the food companies for putting SUGAR in pretty much everything, like chicken broth. Why the HELL does chicken broth need sugar added to it? It’s chicken and water and spices. And FUCK YOU food companies for LYING to the public about what you put into the food, how you know those additives make us yearn for more. You make it cheap (fast food) and use lousy ingredients that we’ll love to eat more and more of because it hits our taste buds just right because you have labs and food scientists making sure of it.

 

It’s a joke, but a painful one; who CAN eat just one potato chip? Well, that’s the whole idea. You can’t.

They want you to eat and eat and eat so they can make a buck. Then someone else wants you to not eat and not eat and exercise so you can stop being a fat pig, but how can you break being addicted to sugar, fats, all the other secret goodies in food? If we’re so fat, we’re getting sick (as I did), then how can we fight back? We can’t. We’re too tired from the mid-day slump. We’re too caffeined up from not sleeping well because we need a C-pap machine to sleep.

 

Birthday 2005
©2005 Robin AF Olson. My dad committed suicide a few years before this birthday, I went through a divorce and a year later my mother would be gone. Lots of reasons why I gained, but I own my choices. I could have not taken out my pain on myself.

It’s not adorable that there are a zillion combinations of Oreo cookie. It’s not good for any of us to believe that anything that says “all natural” is better and worth the cost. Arsenic is natural and so are a whole host of other things that are either poison or that screw up our metabolism and push us into taking acid pump inhibitors (by the way DO NOT DO THAT you need the acid and produce LESS as you age…look it up!).

For me, losing weight was terrifying because I feared 1: I could not do it, 2: I could not stick with it, 3: If I did lose weight I couldn’t keep it off because hardly anyone who looses CAN keep it off and 4: I feared the effects of diabetes on my body (amputations, neuropathy, macular degeneration and more). It was not easy to lose weight and I had to re-tool my life and re-learn to cook. I doubt it’s easy for anyone, but I was lucky that I had already cut out most processed foods and no fast food, a long time ago.

 

In a way I’m just like my cats. I had to cut all the junk out of their food, ditch the dry and get them onto a fresh diet with wholesome ingredients. Most of them slimmed down, increased in their energy and zest for life and stopped getting IBD, pancreatitis, diabetes and other disorders. I’m giving them a better future and I guess I finally felt like I deserved the same.

 

Me at Toy Fair with Duck copy
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Me and Duck at Toy Fair 2016.

I feel a lot better. I’m happier. I sleep better. I have energy all day. In all these months I only once felt like I had to have a nap. Am I perfect about my eating habits? No. Do I expect to be? No. What I expect is that I will take it one day at a time for the rest of my life. That’s it. If I eat something on the bad list then I will go for a walk afterwards, but I find that less and less I’m even interested in eating those things. I recognize the addiction to carbs and sweets is a powerful one, but I’m trying to acknowledge it, but not let it rule over me. I’m not a bad person if I eat a cookie and I certainly felt a lifetime of guilt over doing just that.

Sprinkles make the world go round copy
©2013 Robin AF Olson. If looks could kill.

So on the morning of my birthday I know I will not have a cake or candles to blow out. I might have a scone with high tea or allow myself a few finger sandwiches on white (gasp!) bread, too. After I eat those things, when I start to feel a brain fog, a stomach ache and tired, I’ll remind myself that those things are what’s keeping me from my next birthday and maybe one day I’ll learn, but I’ll also go back to eating well as soon as I can.

And to everyone out there who is overweight, I love you as you are. If you want to lose weight, you can. If you don’t want to, then don’t. You have the power to give that to yourself, but you have to find motivation to stick to it and you most importantly have to FORGIVE YOURSELF when you have a misstep and not use it as an excuse to give up. Just start again and get back on track and again if needed. Keep at it. It does get easier AND in truth, better food tastes a lot better. You’ll find you feel gross if you don’t eat well.

Portrait 4 2016
©2016 Robin AF Olson. The new, older me.

We’re all just a skin bag full of chemicals and what works for me, may not be the best thing for you. Talk with your doctor, but also do some research, ask friends, ask another doctor or someone who works holistically. Don’t look to a pill to fix whatever ails. It’s on the plate in front of you. Put the right things on it and just like our cats, with good nutrition we can do a great deal to correct many of the medical issues we face and give us a much brighter future.

Happy Birthday to me. I made it another year.

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