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Spencer

Saving Spencer: One Cat's Cancer Journey. Ch. 1.

The semi-truck appeared over the crest of a hill on a curve in the road. For a moment our vehicles faced each other as I travelled in the opposite direction. All I had to do was stay on my side of the lane and all would be well, but I couldn’t help but feel the desire to turn the wheel hard left. It would take a flick of the wrist to put me into the truck’s path. The impact would certainly destroy my little car and end my life. I was so distraught that the idea of ending it all gave me a momentary reprieve from overwhelming, gutting heartache. I was desperate to stop the pain. As that moment ticked on to the next and the next, I steadied my hands and stayed true, a thick slab of yellow dividing paint on the road the only thing keeping me from making a fatal choice.

A few days later I sit here in my office and try to write. My words have failed to come for so long. I’ve thought over and over about what I would say, how I would let you all know that my love, my friend, my little shadow is going to leave me. I didn’t even want to think about it, I was so shocked at the news. The discovery was revealed so simply, really, but perhaps it was intuition that guided me to do something out of the norm, this one time. Or, maybe my guide was something more divine?

Spencer, the 16-year old mascot of this 12-year old blog, my first “foster fail” 15 years ago, is terminally sick. There is no cure. There are treatments. There may be some things I can do to keep him comfortable for a time. How much time I may have with him has yet to be determined.

This is what I know…

A week before Thanksgiving, one of the cats threw up. Not usually a dire situation, but then Spencer vomited, so I worried there was a virus going around the cats. It was a great volume of food. Spencer has had life-long breathing problems, stemming from scar tissue in his right sinus after suffering from what must have been a terrible infection that occurred a long time before I ever fostered him.

I spent two years doing different tests and treatments thinking he had asthma or allergies, only to find out the most simple answer was the right one. As a result of the scar tissue, Spencer wheezes. I’m always very careful about when he has to be sedated and sadly, because he also can get VERY stressed out in the car (he hyperventilates) and VERY stressed at the vet, I try to limit his trips.

That’s why it was strange that when he vomited, my first reaction was to run him to the vet. He sounded quite bad. I worried he might have aspirated food into his lungs or sinus cavity. I could have opted to wait an hour or two, but my vet was going to close in less than an hour and if I rushed over they could check Spencer out. I was planning on bringing him in for his bi-annual exam in December because his kidneys have started to go downhill and we needed to update his blood work. Something in my gut to told me to go now and not wait. It’s not like I have funds to throw around, but I imagined they’d do an exam and we’d come home and all would be well.

The fates must have aligned that night because Dr. Larry couldn’t see us. His partner, Dr. Mary was the one who examined Spencer not long after we arrived at the clinic. Dr. Mary doesn’t know that examining Spencer is a difficult task. Spencer “red lines” quickly, often hissing and snapping with Dr. Larry. He has to be quick about it or Spencer can require oxygen he gets so upset.

But Dr. Mary is always upbeat and cheerful and speaks so sweetly to all of her patients. She’s very soothing for all of us to be around. She didn’t know about Spencer’s history. I even warned her not to do too much, but she cheerfully continued her exam, while Spencer’s pupils began to dilate with rage when she palpated his abdomen.

“I feel a mass!” Dr. Mary exclaimed.

Dr. Mary's cheerful veil fell for a moment. Sam and I both said that maybe it was stool she was feeling. We’d just brought our senior girl, Nora, in the week before for the same issue-raw fed cats often have very hard, crumbly stool. Dr. Mary shook her head no. She couldn’t break up the mass. Something was wrong. Very wrong. She asked if she could do blood work and an x-ray as my knees went weak with fear.

I agreed we should do the tests if Spencer would allow it, while I tried not to cry. Maybe it was just constipation? Maybe he was just fine. Maybe she was wrong.

Spencer’s blood work looked ok. His kidney function was a bit better in one area and a bit worse in another. Mostly he was doing all right, which was great, but then she showed me Spencer’s x-ray. It was very clear there was a big mass in his abdomen. She explained that it looked like it was in Spencer’s omentum-it’s like a net that holds the intestines in place. She felt it was likely some sort of cancer, but that we should get an ultrasound done right away to learn more.

All I could think was “no...no…not CANCER…not my baby!”

Dr. Mary was very kind and stayed late, even though the clinic had closed for the day. She got Dr. K on the phone to find out if she could come the next day to do the sonogram. Thankfully she could, but it would have to be first thing in the morning. I couldn’t be there. I’d injured my knee over a month ago and was starting physical therapy. Sam said he’d get Spencer to the appointment, but I wanted to skip my therapy and take him. It was a mess trying to juggle Sam’s busy schedule along with feeding all the other cats and foster kittens, while I tried to figure out how to maneuver rush-hour traffic to get to my appointment.

Somehow I managed to keep it together, thanking Dr. Mary for staying late, being polite to everyone and thanking them for helping Spencer, but the second after we left the clinic and the door closed behind us, I burst into tears, nearly howling with anguish.

The next morning, as I drove to physical therapy, I started adding up how I was going to pay for all of this, get Spencer what he needed, and hopefully find out this was all just a big scary monster and that everything was going to be okay.

Except that it wasn’t okay.

Dr. K had to sedate Spencer he was so upset. She found small lesions on his kidney and his liver. The mass in his abdomen might be connected to the “tail” on his pancreas or his bile duct. They called me during the test to ask if I wanted them to do needle biopsies of these organs and the mass and I answered yes right away. We couldn’t waste any time, even though I knew that needle aspirates don’t always provide a definitive diagnosis. We had to try.

But the needle biopsies caused Spencer to have internal bleeding. He couldn’t come home for now. He’d have to stay for the day. They would do a PCV (packed cell volume) test on him every few hours to make sure the bleeding was stopping. I thought I was going to faint from stress. After the shock of the bad news, now I had to worry that the test was going to kill Spencer before I even knew what was going on.

By closing time, Spencer was allowed to come home. The bleeding had slowed and it looked like he would be all right. We were to keep him comfortable and give him time to recover. The test results might take a day or two so there was nothing more to do for now.

©2017 Robin AF Olson. The setup in my office for Spencer.

I have a huge dog bed in my office that has a pet safe heated pad on it. I set up a litter pan not far from the bed and a water dish nearby since Spencer drinks water due to his kidney problems (he gets sub q fluids too). I didn’t want him to have to go too far for anything. He needed to rest and get the sedation drugs out of his system. He walked around like a drunk, but thankfully was very hungry after his ordeal. He ate well, then retired to his bed.

Spencer stopped coming upstairs to “tuck me in” as he has done so many nights over the years. Spencer barely left my office, though in all honesty I didn’t give him much reason to. Spencer would join us in the living room once a day for about an hour but then would wobble back to his heated bed. His appetite was okay, not great. He was still Spencer, but in those days it seemed like he aged a million years.

During those next few days I had terrible anxiety wondering when the test results would come in. I started to pace around the house during the time when Dr. Mary might call-usually either when she first got in for the day or at the end of the day. Around those times I had my phone in my hand, a pad of paper and a pen nearby so I could take notes. I knew that whatever she told me, I’d probably blank out. Better to write some things down so I could look everything up later.

But there was no call Thursday or Friday.

I felt like a zombie. I couldn’t concentrate. I did some research and talked to a few friends. I played a guessing game with Sam about when and how and why I wasn’t hearing from Dr. Mary (an asteroid hit the lab and Spencer’s samples were destroyed…she had an emergency come in and would call me tomorrow…she’d call when I was going to the bathroom).

I imagined we were probably dealing with an aggressive cancer because Spencer had a mass, not thickening of the intestines or lymph nodes, which would suggest a more treatable lymphoma of some kind. I wanted to know how the Hell this could have happened. I prayed to God that it was just some weird benign thing, not something that was slowly killing my cat. Every time I checked on Spencer my gut hitched with fear. I didn’t know if he was slowly declining…did the needle hit something bad? Was he still bleeding internally?

As Spencer slept, I could see his bubblegum pink belly where he’d been shaved. I saw the tiny round red scabs from where the needles entered his body. I wondered if the fur would grow back before Spencer died. I wished I didn’t think things like that.

©2017 Robin AF Olson. Spencer dreams while I have painful thoughts.

Saturday I took Annie, one of my foster cats, to the vet. I didn’t want to bring up Spencer’s test results. I didn’t want to talk about him. I didn’t want the staff to give me that look, the one I’ve seen too many times, the one that says “I’m so sorry I know your cat is going to die. I’m sorry I can’t do something about it. I’m not sure if I should talk to you about it or not so I’ll just not ask out of respect because I also fear that you’ll burst into tears…“

Annie checked out all right. She’d had a cough for a few weeks and I wanted to make sure it was nothing serious. I couldn’t handle any more bad news. I spoke with Super-Deb, the vet tech and my friend. She talked to me about Spencer after I asked her to review his ultrasound report. She explained that because it was a mass it was probably an aggressive cancer. I was right in my thinking, but I wished I was wrong.

She reminded me that what comes next will partly be due to how Spencer handles being at the vet. He won’t sit still for an IV full of chemo drugs. He might not be a good candidate for surgery, even. She surprised me by saying that Spencer was the top 5 angriest cats she’d ever dealt with—and she’s dealt with a lot of cats in her over 20 years as a tech.

So I went home, heartbroken, wondering when I’d get the news. The weekend passed and so did Monday. I started to get angry, wondering what was taking so long. Of course the call came when I didn’t expect it-when I was just leaving my second physical therapy appointment. When I was alone in the car.

It was Dr. Mary, sounding as cheerful as ever. Somehow the word CANCER didn’t sound so bad when she said it. Even when she said she was sorry, her voice softening ever so slightly, as she suggested I take Spencer to an oncologist I didn’t get upset. I’d already made an appointment for him with Dr. McDaniel since it was Thanksgiving week and I worried that if I didn’t move fast we’d lose another week. I didn’t cry. I already knew it was carcinoma and I was resigned to this truth. This news was just sealing Spencer’s fate.

The day before Thanksgiving, when so many other people were racing around, doing their final errands before celebrating with their family the next day, I was sitting in a waiting room with my beloved cat waiting to talk to an oncologist. I never want to be an ungrateful person, but I honestly did not feel thankful for anything this year. It’s been financially the worst year ever-with my poor fatally sick foster kittens nearly bankrupting Kitten Associates, too. I wrote a very very long blog post that I’m not sure you’ll ever read, but it talks in great detail about how very broken I am and what this year took out of me.

I’ve sacrificed the past 7 years of my life to saving lives and I’m exhausted. My family, for the most part, is gone. I’m very lonely. Holidays have lost their joy. They too often feel like just another day. It shouldn’t be like that for anyone.

And now, after all that, I discover my dear boy Spencer has a heartbreaking secret. I don’t know how I missed it because I watch my cats like a hawk. I try to keep thinking things will get better, but they don’t. I’m a rat in a maze with no way out. It’s hard not to turn the wheel and make it all stop, but I have to find a way.

Spencer needs me. I can’t let him down.

….to be continued….

next up…difficult choices and hopefully how to make good ones...

©2017 Robin AF Olson. A bit worse for wear, my precious boy.

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!

2012 The Year of Heartbreak and Hope Part 2

July

July was even more difficult on us than June. Maria had taken in two more kittens from her neighbor who were very sick. A buff tabby named Tater Tot was the most ill. The Vet told us it was the “wet” form of FIP which is fatal. His sister, Latte was struggling with a terrible upper respiratory infection. Maria took time off from work to care for the cats around the clock. Neither of us slept much. I researched alternative treatments, testing, anything I could think of while we expected that Tater wouldn't be with us for much longer.

TT and Latte before and after.jpg
©2012 Maria S. (inset). ©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Our amazing survivor-Tater Tot.

Because Maria is so good at what she does, she noticed that Tater had tapeworms. We ran more tests. His belly was big and round from the tapeworms, giardia and what was almost pneumonia. Once we started treatment he began to show improvement. It took a few weeks but we were very happy to take FIP off the table as we saw Tater eat on his own and gain weight.

King arrived in my home for a few days. He was quite the charmer, but he wasn't meant to be here for very long. Sam and I drove King to New Hampshire, to his new home where his mom, Judy was waiting to adopt him. I loved this home for him and this good woman and her sister. I never thought King had a chance and here he was 1400 miles from the palette factory in a safe, loving environment.

Two of my dear friends adopted Sabrina and Cutie Pie. Their mom, April, found a home in Brooklyn, NY and their sister Bon Bon was adopted in June.

August

We took on another pregnant mama named Winnie and got a new foster home here in CT. Donna and her husband, Paul are great foster parents. Winnie had five amazing kittens on 8.10.12 named Buttons, Bandit, Honeydew, Charly and Pinkie.

Winnie and fam before and after.jpg
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Mama, Winnie (inset) waiting to see Dr. Chris. Buttons flying high while Honeydew and sister, Bandit look on.

I took another fistful of Xanax and flew to Topeka, Kansas to tour the Hill's Global Pet Nutrition Center. I tiptoed through the “dark side,” but made some good friends and learned a lot more about pet food ingredients.

Something horrible happened to my cat Spencer. He stopped eating and hid. X-rays showed a strange mass in his sinus. I tried to prepare myself for the worst. It turned out to be a false alarm which added many more gray hairs to my head.

September

I was honored to be chosen as one of five members of the Animal Control Advisory Panel, overseeing the operations of our brand new town's Animal Control facility here in Newtown, CT. We had our first meeting and I was delighted to be nominated as Co-Chair of the committee.

Just as I was about to get inundated with kitties from Maria and Cyndie, I found a foster home for two of the remaining black kitties and the final one, Hello Dahlia, was adopted. We got the word that Miss Fluffy Pants found a GREAT forever home and Coco, Chichi, Choco, Tater Tot, Latte, Fred & Barney, and Willow arrived!

Dood Injured before and after.jpg
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. (inset) the DOOD resting in his cage while his mysterious back injury slowly healed and a few months later enjoying the new cat tree in my office.

Chichi and Choco got adopted right away into a great home.

One morning, the DOOD couldn't get up and walk and was in terrible pain, growling or crying if we touched him. We did x-rays that showed nothing and began talking about taking DOOD to a neurologist or starting him on steroids. It took six long weeks, most of it forced cage rest, before he was well enough to walk again without pain. I think he fell down the spiral staircase to get into the basement where we store food for our feral cat, but we'll never really know what happened.

Jacksons heart before and after.jpg
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson getting oxygen before we raced him to the Emergency Vet and Intensive Care (inset). Jackson at home feeling better.

Jackson fell ill with a temp of 105.1°F. We put him on antibiotics and waited two weeks to do a re-check. At his re-check, since Jackson did NOT like to be messed with, we had to sedate him to get a good x-ray. I didn't like the way his chest looked when he breathed. That day Jackson went into heart failure from the effects of sedation and we almost lost him. He had undiagnosed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and was in poor condition. The next day Jackson was supposed to be adopted. Instead, Jackson fought for his life in intensive care at an emergency Vet. We took Jackson home later that night, unsure of how much longer we'd have with him.

With Maria having space in her home open, we took on a kitty named Bongo who has nerve damage to his front leg. It had been a Hell of a month, but we kept on.

October

Opal went to a sanctuary and is doing well. She is becoming more friendly each day and she may one day be put up for adoption.

There was troubling news about King. He'd been struggling with chronic, severe and frankly bizarre ear infections. He had to have surgery, loads of daily cleanings, antibiotics. The other cats in the home weren't too sure about him. King faced losing his ears and his home, but his mom never gave up on him.

George Bunny Bongo.jpg
©2012 Maria S. Bunny Boo Boo (inset) with Bongo (left) and George (right)-who are all ready to be adopted! Email info@kittenassociates.org for more info.

I rescued a knockout silver tabby Maine coon mix named Nico from a kill shelter in Georgia because I knew I could find him a home and I wasn't going to let him die.

Maria found a kitten in a parking lot she named, Bunny Boo Boo that she rescued on her own and we took on another cat whose former mom was going to lose her home if the landlord found out she rescued a cat from the parking lot nearby. We named him George and he and Bongo and Bunny Boo Boo are great friends.

Hurricane Sandy R Olson.jpg
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Hurricane Sandy, no power for almost a week-just a bad flashback to the year before when we got nailed at almost the same time by “Snowmageddon.”

Hurricane Sandy killed the power and made life HELL for a week making a mess of my home in Sandy Hook, CT.

November

Bobette Farewell R.Olson.jpg
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. You are deeply missed, sweet girl.

More vet runs, some of Winnie's kittens found forever homes, but all that didn't matter after learning the shocking news that Bobette, who was now named, Kissy, had passed away shortly after surgery to remove the same leg we'd tried so hard to save. JaneA drove five hours to be with us over Thanksgiving so we could all mourn together. I had a breakdown, sobbing uncontrollably, saying I wished I could make it better or could have done something different. JaneA comforted me when I really wanted to comfort her. I'd rescued Kissy over a year before and suffered when three of her kittens died a few days after rescue from a kill shelter. Here it was just over a year after I'd saved her life. I'd never worked so hard or for such a long time to make a cat's life pain free and happy and now she was lost to us forever.

December

Nico arrived and was adopted a few weeks later. The rest of Winnie's family found their forever homes. There were lots of inquiries about adopting kittens since the Holidays were approaching. Tater Tot, in a surprising twist, got adopted instead of Willow, who the family had come to meet. Willow, Fred & Barney and Latte were still with us waiting for their forever homes.

I got good news that King overcame his severe ear issues and was finally settling in with his new family. The other kitties were slowly accepting him and King was finding his place. His mom is the sort of adopter I always wish for-after a very rocky start, loads of vet bills and difficulties, she kept on. She never complained. She was completely devoted. My only hope is that her reward is enjoying the love of a very dear cat and hopefully a much easier future.

Spencer Post Surgery R.Olson.jpg
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Our mascot of Covered in Cat Hair and my baby, Spencer before and after surgery.

Spencer had a very challenging dental cleaning where he lost two more teeth and surgery to remove a mass from one ear and another from inside the other. I prepared myself for bad news, but the shock came as the test results indicated it was an apocrin gland cyst with “no content”-meaning NO CANCER.

Sam and I cleared out the garage of recycling one bright sunny morning. After we were done we went to Panera Bread to have a late breakfast. While we were sitting there we saw police cars racing past. I knew something bad had happened and a few minutes later I heard the news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, which you can read more about HERE and HERE.

Sandy Hook Ele Sign R.Olson.jpg
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My home town will never be the same again. The school is a few miles from my home.

Wanting to reach out and help heal the broken hearts in our town, I created “Kitties for Kids” a kitten-therapy for the children, first responders and residents of Newtown, CT. We were featured on national television news and major news outlets online. We got loads of donations of plush toys and the first children and parents began to arrive to visit our kitties.

Although we had no Christmas and sent out no card (for the first time in my adult life), the joy of knowing I was helping people and the overwhelming honor of so many people reaching out to us was my gift.

Sandy Hook Memorials R.Olson.jpg
©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. We will never forget and find a way to heal our hearts.

As the year draws to a close, we have saved over 60 lives by networking, rescuing, fostering…and many of those cats were tough to place. I also helped people keep their cats by offering them suggestions on how to work with their cat's behavior and health issues. I even covered the Vet bill of a few cats in dire need so they would keep their homes, too.

It's been quite a challenging and painful year. I realize that 2013 may be no easier. All I can do is hope that I'll be better able to handle what is yet to come and that for the cats out there who need me, that I'll have the resources to help them when the time comes.

Happy 2013 to All!

That Which Doesn't Kill Us-Part Three

The first morning after Spencer's surgery I went over to his crate and opened the door so he could stretch his legs. I hated having to confine him, but it's only for a few days. There's a pen attached to his crate once the door is open. It gives him more space, but keeps him from running around. He's supposed to rest. He's supposed to wear that damn “cone of shame.” He's supposed to be feeling awful for a few days.

I started placing the dishes out onto the counter. I count to myself the numbers 1 through 9. I have enough plates. Next is to get the raw food thawed so I go over to the refrigerator and pull out a package of food that Sam made up a few days ago. I hear a weird sound and turn. I don't see anything so I go back to what I was doing but something caught my eye. It was Spencer. He was sitting in his “spot” where he usually waits to be fed. He looked up at me and gave me the ever-familiar silent meow, letting me know he was hungry. The sound I heard must have been him jumping over the pen when just the night before there was no way he could manage.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. “This is your cat on drugs.”

It would be a good hour before the food was warm and Jackson, too, was fussing about wanting to eat. Who am I to say no to them after the last day we had?

I grabbed a few cans of one of their favorite canned grain-free foods and scooped some out on a dish. I hid Spencer's antibiotics and Jackson's pile of pills into the food after I'd coated them in my favorite stuff-Flavor Doh. It really works to hide pills! I put the food down and within two seconds, pills and all, it was gone. Spencer ate normally for the first time in MONTHS. He'd been chewing out of once side of his mouth, a telltale sign of some sort of dental problem. Here he was, like nothing ever happened. Meanwhile, Jackson was chowing down, wanting more. I couldn't be happier.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Purple-buprenex-haze.

Later that morning, as I sat at my desk, Spencer ran over and jumped into his favorite cat bed which is at table top height and is right next to me. I was so glad to see him, even though he was supposed to be in his cage resting. He seemed very comfortable even though he was still on Buprenex and was a bit loopy. Blitzen and Nicky were also in my office fast asleep. I felt safe again with them here. I couldn't get over how dreadfully lost I felt without them less than 24 hours ago. We were a family again and everyone was basically okay.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson, back to his old self.

All that remained was to wait a few more days for Spencer's biopsy results to come in. I knew it was probably cancer. I just didn't know what kind it was or if we could treat it or if it would mean disfiguring Spencer to save his life.

I've said it many times before that my finances are in the shitter. Part of it was due to how much we spent trying to keep Bob Dole (my cat) alive, along with some other very costly Vet visits. I knew if Spencer had cancer I'd have a very very very hard time paying for his care. I would find a way, but when you're in a deep hole already, you don't have much energy or tools to dig deeper.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My lovely floor.

Meanwhile Jackson was back to his old ways. He was LOUD, meowing the second we went to bed, then starting up again very early in the morning. He wants his pills/snack at 7:20AM. I do not need an alarm clock with him. He's almost spritzed cat urine in the bedroom but I watch him like a hawk and have stopped him a number of times. It's exhausting. I don't know what it would take to get him to stop doing it. There's competition for the bedroom and he rarely stays the night. He's probably trying to scent the place so he can take over. Meanwhile it's pee pee pads by the front of the bed to protect the rug and a lot more policing then I'd like to do.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Yummy goodness, but naughty boy.

Jackson is not deaf. He MAY be hearing impaired to some degree, but I'm not sure how severe it is. He CAN hear me, especially if I YELL at him to NOT PEE on the BED. As for more subtle sounds, he may have a problem. More testing needs to be done.

For now it's simply watch and wait—make sure everyone stays out of trouble, eats their food, takes their medicine. Spencer's been very good about not picking at his sutures and for that I continue to be happy.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Spencer with the only Friskies I allow in the house.

I also have one more thing to be HAPPY about.

Lauren called from Dr. Larry's office. She asked me how Spencer was doing, then told me the biopsy results were in a FEW DAYS EARLY. I had NO TIME to ready myself for the news, but she sounded very cheerful so she was either a sociopath or had good news. Spencer's growth is BENIGN. It has “no content,” to which I interjected, “You mean like my life?” Lauren laughed. “It means it's NOT CANCER.”

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Soulful Jackson.

I could barely speak and I had to hold back my tears as I thanked her profusely and hung up the phone. I ran to Sam to tell him, the tears falling freely, before I could get the words out, leaving him to think it was the worst before he realized it was the BEST NEWS EVER!

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Not only was Spencer just fine and dandy, but the weight of worrying about how I would pay for his care lifted. What a great gift! It was completely unexpected and so very very sincerely appreciated. My boys were back home with me, just where they belong. I wanted to hold each one tight and never let them go.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Me and my baby. It's going to be okay.

I may not have ever had human children, but I suddenly felt like I understood how the bond between a Mother and child-how it must feel to almost lose someone you love very much, then yank the back from the edge of the cliff at the very last second. It's been quite a week and this time we get a happy ending. I know it won't always be like this, but for now it's all good.

That Which Doesn't Kill Us…Part 2

Jackson made it to the Vet without dying, but he cried pitifully once we entered the waiting room and were met by two big dogs. I blocked Jackson from seeing them as much as I could, fighting off the urge to grab the dogs and run them out of the building and release them into the parking lot while their owners ignored their interest in my cat.

One of the Techs took Jackson into the back room. This time I wasn't invited to join them. She came back out and we discussed Jackson's symptoms. We'd noticed he was a bit off and on over the past few days, but he'd maintained his good appetite until that day. He'd regurgitated his food after eating two days ago, but other than that he was just a bit more quiet than usual.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. At the Vet, now would he survive the Exam?

That was it. Now we wait. We wait for two cats who are at some risk of having a really bad day. I asked after Spencer, but they hadn't gotten his blood work back yet, which would either allow them to do his surgery of have to postpone it. Sam drove us home. Neither of us spoke a word. I closed my eyes and tried to rest. I realize stress is a killer and I have to work on how I deal with situations like this. What I really wanted to do was crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head.

When we got home, as I walked in the door, I stepped on my stupid-jeans again, re-igniting my irritation. If it hadn't been such a cold day I would have yanked them off then and there. Instead, I got to work and focused on keeping myself busy. I kept looking at the clock, trying to imagine what was being done.

Shortly after 2PM Dr. Larry called me. He's just finished working on Spencer and wanted to give me his findings.

Spencer's mouth was a MESS, his gums were like “hamburger meat.” Spencer needed two molars removed which were very difficult to get out. The other teeth looked remarkably good. I need to insert a note here that I've recently learned that the theory about WHY cat's teeth are SO BAD is because they no longer gnaw on food as they would if they were killing a mouse or chewing on a bone. They can't crunch dry food and canned is too soft. Since their teeth have no real pressure on them the blood supply is reduced, hence poor oral health. To solve this if you're like me, you'd give the cats raw chicken necks, wings or turkey necks or wings to give them something to sink their teeth into. NOT COOKED with brittle bones-just rinsed with cold water and served raw.

Dr. Larry removed the small wart on the back of Spencer's leg (that I discovered as I was loading him into his cat carrier that morning).

He removed the ugly black growth on Spencer's left ear and sent it out to be biopsied. He DID NOT remove the growth INSIDE Spencer's right ear-why? IT SHRANK. It was TOO SMALL to excise without a scope and a laser…

…and Dr. Larry didn't feel comfortable taking it now. We'll keep an eye on it instead.

The good news was that Spencer's blood work was “very good,” ”nothing remarkable.” Considering Spencer is about eleven years old, having good blood work results is something to be proud of-Go Raw Diet!

Dr. Larry offered to give Spencer a shot of Convenia to which I adamantly opposed. He doesn't like it for oral issues anyway so I'm to give Spencer Clindamycin for the next two weeks as well as give him pain meds for a few days. Spencer is to get cage rest and wear “the cone of shame” until “he doesn't need to any more.”

I HATE CONE OF SHAME, but not as much as Spencer does!

By 6PM Spencer was ready to come home, but what of Jackson? I hadn't had any update. I didn't even know if he was ALIVE. When we reached the Clinic the first thing we asked was; “Do we have one or two cats to bring home tonight?”

The answer was TWO.

Okay, good start. They brought Jackson out. He was sitting up, meowing loudly. He looked GOOD, perky, ready to go HOME. Dr. Mary did his examination and talked about how she worked hard not to upset Jackson, which also meant she couldn't do many tests other than an examination and get his temperature. She gave Jackson more lasix to help move the fluid out of his lungs and around his heart. Jackson sounded VERY WET when he coughed and I'd already spoken with Dr. Larry about changing the dose, but he wanted to wait. Cats don't do that well on diuretics so adding more has to be done very soberly and thoughtfully.

After the injection, Jackson took a big pee, then perked up. Because his lungs are really wet and they could be breeding bacteria, she also gave him antibiotics (which I will continue for two weeks). We discussed changing Jackson's meds and will work something out there. For now he was to go HOME, get something in his belly and see how he does.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Feel beter, Jackson Galaxy!

The one thing they wanted to add was something quite surprising-JACKSON MAY BE HEARING IMPAIRED OR DEAF!

It would answer the question of why he yowls just as we go to bed each night. He can't hear where we went off to and wonders where we've gone. He may be causing fights with the other cats because he can't hear their cues/warnings to get away. I said we'd observe him and report back. My goodness Jackson's certainly keeping me on my toes.

They brought Spencer out and he was growling a little bit, clearly whacked out on painkillers. They forgot to give me the cone of shame and I silently hoped he wouldn't pick on his stitches. Ears can bleed a lot and if he messed with the stitches I'd have to get one on him right away. He can get very crabby. Having to cage rest him for a few days would be asking too much of him already.

I had my boys back home and I hoped they were changed for the better. It was back to watch and wait to find out if they'd benefited some long term positive results. I had a better idea of what I was dealing with and they both survived the day.

I made the right call about Jackson. Who knew how bad his condition would have become if we hadn't acted so quickly? Jackson probably would have drowned in his own fluids. I guess it wasn't so crazy to run him to the Vet because he missed a single meal.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Spencer in his pen with Blitzen wondering what's going on.

Once home, I was finally able to take off my annoying jeans and toss them into the laundry. Next stop the dry cleaners to get the dammed things hemmed up or maybe dig out some duct tape to do the job?

But what happened once Spencer was back home? Did he blow his stitches out and bleed all over my ancient oriental rug? What about Jackson? Did he relapse? Is he really deaf?

Stay tuned for part three!

That Which Doesn't Kill Us…Part 1

The past 24 hours have squeezed the life out of me. I could barely make it to my bed last night I was so tired.

The morning started off too early. I wanted to go back to bed as soon as I left it, but I pushed myself to get into the shower. Get dressed. Get going. I had to get ready to leave for Dr. Larry's with Spencer in tow. It was finally time for Spencer to get his MUCH NEEDED dental cleaning done, as well as the removal of an ugly black growth from the edge of his right ear. Spencer also had a small growth INSIDE his left ear that had to go, too. It was these two unwelcome guests that I was most worried about. Was it CANCER?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My baby.

Was this the beginning of the end for my sweet boy?

I got dressed and put on a new pair of jeans. I managed to get them half price on Cyber Monday. It was the first new pair of clothes I'd had since I could remember. They fit great but were a bit too long. As I walked I kept catching the ends under my feet, causing me to hike up my jeans as high as they could go, but then they'd slip back down. I'd get them hemmed later, but it made me crankier.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Growth highlighted. Was VERY difficult to notice this until it was bigger due to Spencer's coloring.

Spencer was a dream to get into his cat carrier, but once we got into the car, his pupils dilated and he started to, well, not meow, per se, but sort of squeak. Spencer doesn't meow. He never has. I call what he does "air meow" because he WILL look at me, then open his mouth; it's just that nothing comes out but some air from his lungs.

I took the back roads instead of the highway, determined to keep Spencer as comfortable as possible. Just before we reached the Clinic, a cop car whizzed past us, lights and sirens blaring. I knew from the days when I volunteered with EMS that it had to be bad news, the more noise and fuss the car was making, the worse the situation. I wondered where he was going as a sense of dread filled my heart. I hoped this wasn't a bad sign of things to come.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. This is Spencer's favorite spot, right next to me when I'm working at my desk.

It was quiet at the Clinic so I asked if I could set Spencer up in his cage and to spend a few minutes saying goodbye. I've been a client of Dr Larry's for over 15 years so I get to go in the back where client's aren't usually allowed.

There were two big dogs barking loudly. The Tech got them to quiet down, but it ticked up my anxiety wanting to protect Spencer from these beasts. Spencer didn't want to come out of his carrier. I couldn't blame him. I ended up having to tip the carrier up on its edge hoping gravity would do the trick and it did.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Dirty, yucky, teeth and gums.

I spent a few minutes talking to Spencer, petting him, kissing him, somehow trying to capture this moment because of the fear under all the other fears—that I would never see Spencer again. I realize it may sound dramatic, but over the past few weeks so many cats have died that I just felt this sense of impending doom. I kept thinking about Bobette and how we all thought she was going to be fine and she didn't survive her surgery. I pushed back my fears as best I could, but I wasn't raised to have faith, my parents feeling we should decide our own path to religion (if we had one at all). It left me struggling with my feelings.

I didn't go straight home. I decided to go grocery shopping, get just a few things. I was tired of being hungry and broke, but I certainly had enough to buy some bread and eggs, maybe some soup. The store was not crowded, being that it was not even 9AM. I enjoyed the meditative quality of walking up and down the aisles, looking at all the food, wondering what was on sale and what would make for an inexpensive meal while my tummy rumbled reminding me I'd skipped breakfast.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Not comin' out!

As usual, I bought more than I anticipated, but took advantage of the sales and saved $40.00, for which I felt quite proud. I distracted myself long enough to forget my worries about Spencer. He was in good hands. I had to wait and see how things would unfold, but I couldn't fool myself completely. I was really cranky from being tired and from struggling to not to be worried. By the time I got home I was in a bad mood.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Too fluffy for feet? Spencer in his cage.

I got the car unloaded and Sam helped me put the groceries away. He didn't say anything to me until we were done.

“I need to talk to you about Jackson.”

I felt a ice pick in my gut and my legs go wobbly.

“He didn't eat this morning and is hiding in your office. I can't get him to eat. Something's wrong.”

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. This makes me sick-I think of all the “urgent” cats who need to get out of shelters and I look at this photo and see my sweet kitty-how much I love him-how easy it could be for him to be one of those cats.

I began rattling off questions as we walked into my office. Sure enough there was Jackson with his front legs tucked under him. It's called “meatloafing” and it's an indicator that Jackson was in pain. I squatted down and petted Jax. He didn't respond. Normally Jackson would press his head back into my hand and start purring right away. He just sat there in stone silence.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. The day before he was a bit “off.”

I hustled back into the kitchen, my jeans getting caught up under my feet. I wanted to rip them off and throw them out. My mind racing, I thought of things I had on hand to tempt Jackson to eat. Nothing worked. I even brought out the big guns-DRY FOOD. He wouldn't even sniff it.

I called Dr. Larry and they said to bring him in-of course, but HOW could I do that? With Jackson's bad heart, the stress of the trip could kill him.

Once at the Vet we wouldn't be able to do anything to him other than an exam because the stress, again, could push him into heart failure. Jackson was only to have home visits from Dr. Larry, not trips to see him!

We started to get ready, then I stopped Sam. We both sat down in the living room, looking at Jackson, who'd relocated along with us. I didn't want to rush a decision. He'd only missed ONE meal and we were running him to the Vet. How nutty did that sound? Maybe we should wait a day and see how he does? Maybe he's in trouble and we need to bring him in right away?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. We chose to risk the trip to the Vet. It was up to Jackson if it could make it.

We went back and forth weighing the pros and cons.

My gut told me to GO. Jackson was NOT behaving normally at all. We had to try for his sake.

We offered him the cat carrier and he got up and went right inside it-no fuss-no stress. It was a good start, but would we MAKE it to the Vet?

I asked Sam to drive slowly, to take the back road I'd just been on an hour before with Spencer. We stopped part way into the trip because Jackson started to cry. I was sitting next to his carrier with the door open, my arm snaked around the door so I could offer him what comfort I could. He was sitting awkwardly, crying as I scratched his neck. I wondered if I'd made a terrible mistake and if this trip was sending Jackson's heart into dangerous rhythm.

Stay tuned for part two…the shocking news about what ails Jackson and an update on Spencer's surgery results.

The Silver Lining and the Black Clouds part five

I think we all need a reason to smile after everything that transpired this week. It's fitting that I have some good news at last. A week after all Hell broke loose there are promising signs that things are changing for the better.

This morning ALL the cats showed up for breakfast. They sat in their usual places, near their food plate, clearly hungry. Though we're not feeding their regular diet, they were all receptive to the grain free canned food we put down. Each cat walked over to their plate, sniffed, then licked at the warm mound of food, tentatively, then with more gusto.

The cats I'd been most concerned about were Gracie and Petunia. They've eaten the least amount of food and been afflicted the longest. Knowing that they ate their breakfast was a tremendous relief. Perhaps the worst is over?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Meanwhile, my foster kittens "help" me make the bed in their room.

The PCR test results are not in yet, but we hope to have news that will guide us to an answer. We may never know what happened to our cats, but today I learned from our foster mom, Cyndie that some of her clients had similar problems with both their cats and dogs down in Georgia. Our cats had zero contact with these animals, so I wonder if there's an odd virus out there or this was just another red herring?

I'm still busted up about Spencer. He's feeling better and comes to me to tell me he's hungry every few hours. He's eating small meals, but eating with the enthusiasm he had before he fell ill. He hates getting ear drops, but he forgives me soon after I apply them. It was very lovely that so many people cared about him possibly having cancer. It means a lot to have such compassion and support when I felt like giving up. Thank you to everyone who shared their messages both here and on Facebook

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Human scratching post, NOT!

The silver lining began a week ago, before our cats began to get sick. My good friends Lynne and her husband, Steve, came over to visit my black foster kittens. It was their third visit, but this time I had a feeling they weren't going to leave empty handed.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Fresh kittens ready to be adopted!

Steve had a cat named Clevie, who he rescued from a video rental store (which will give you a hint as to how long ago it was). Clevie was Steve's little girl and he loved her dearly. After he and Lynne married, Clevie became part of their kitty-family. Sadly, Clevie was diagnosed with cancer and a few weeks ago she passed away. Clearly this is not a time to adopt another cat.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. You gotta sandwich there? Can I have a bite?

The first time the couple came to visit the kittens it was just for fun, but one kitten left a lasting impression. Lynne and Steve pushed their feelings aside, knowing it wasn't the right time.

After Clevie passed they came to visit the kittens again, but it was too soon. I couldn't push them to adopt and they were grieving. I think seeing the kittens helped cheer them up. Who can't smile when they see kittens being kittens?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. A rare sight-kittens sleeping.

The third time they came to visit, they brought an empty cat carrier. The cat they'd fallen for was Cutie Patootie, partially because of her silly floppy, extra-toed feet and partially because she is very outgoing and loving. Cutie was the kitten I worried about most. I didn't think she'd survive her first few weeks and I was constantly bottle feeding her so she wouldn't have to compete with her five sisters for nourishment. Secretly, Cutie was my favorite and if she had to go, I was glad she was going with my friends. I'd get updates on her and even get to see her once in awhile. They're great people and so devoted to their cats. I couldn't ask for a better home.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Cutie.

Though Cutie would have two other adult kitties to play with, Lynne and Steve had other plans. They'd also fallen for Sabrina, the kitten with the cutest little black toes-the kitten with the goofy markings on her face. 'Brini was another gem, truly all the kittens of this litter are extremely loving kitties. When they offered to adopt Sabrina, I was delighted. The girls would always have each other and be in a loving home.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Sabrina, growing up fast and looking lovelier than ever.

We did the paperwork and got the kittens ready to go. I gave them a quick kiss on the head and wished them happy journeys. For once, I didn't even cry when they left since it wasn't really saying goodbye, it was just saying goodbye for now. I knew I'd see them again one day.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Steve & Lynne with their new kitties.

-------------------One week later-----------------------

The girls have new names. 'Brini is now Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in the Alien movies), and Cutie is now Neko Case (Neko Case is a wild haired singer and just Neko means “cat” in Japanese). I'm told they're doing great, eating like piggies and keep trying to bust out of their room (just as they did here every day!). They can't wait to meet their new kitty family and be able to race all over the house to their heart's content.

-------------------Breaking News!-----------------------

Boogie, the feral kitten I was working with is doing better, but he won't be coming back here again. One of the Vet Techs where he's staying is going to give him a forever home and work with him to help him out of his shell! His brother, Otis, is getting adopted in a few hours by a young family and I've offered to take Milo and put him with my girls so he can have company until we find him a forever home.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Otis is getting adopted today!

-------------------And More Good News!-----------------------

Update on KING: King is able to go UP AND DOWN the stairs in his new home! Not only that but his mama-Judy reported the following about King meeting the alpha cat-Yasmin: “At one point she was lying on my bedroom floor - she sort of lies on her side with all her legs stretched out in front of her - and King Arthur lay down in almost exactly the same pose about 2 feet away from her, they looked like bookends, it was cute. Then he kept looking at her, and he'd scootch over a little to be closer to her - then he would wait a minute and do it again. This went on for maybe 5 minutes until they were maybe 6 inches apart. I kept waiting for her to jump up and bop him one, but she didn't do anything - I'm sure she knew he was there even though her eyes were closed. If they were people, I'd say it was like a little kid trying to get closer so they could hang out next to the cool teenager (or cool old lady in this case). So they just napped there together for a little while - I thought that was kind of a breakthrough.”

I believe we have a Silver lining on quite a few or our dark clouds. It's been a Hell of a week. I wonder what will come next?

The Silver Lining and the Black Clouds part four

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.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.

“There's another mass in Spencer's ear. It's very small, but I think we need to get in there and remove it.”

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©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.

“Is this cancer? Does Spencer have CANCER?”

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.

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©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 can't go through that with SPENCER. He's only 11 years old. He's the mascot of Covered in Cat Hair. He's my love, my dear friend.

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.

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©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).

The Silver Lining and the Black Clouds part three

Everything that wasn't related to caring for cats, cleaning up after the cats, or trying to figure out what was wrong with the cats, was put on hold over the weekend. Plans were cancelled. I made notes about who was eating, what they ate, if they vomited. I did research and spoke to my friends who were as confused as I was as to what was going on. We tossed around some ideas: Feline panleukopenia/Distemper, Parasites, a virus, food bourne illness. Nothing really added up. Four of the nine cats weren't eating. One cat was vomiting. Two cats had diarrhea (that I knew of). Four cats were “limp.”

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Mr. Unhappy at the Vet. Thankfully Spencer's blood work was normal, good even, for an 11 year old cat.

I was in a trance of despair. I couldn't do much other than worry. My temper was on a hair trigger. As I laid in bed Saturday night, hoping that by Sunday things would get better, I realized I was alone. There were no other cats on the bed. Spencer, who has a little routine with me most nights, was nowhere to be seen. My heart sank as I realized how much he meant to me. My inner voice chided me with a quote from an unknown author; “You never know what you've got until it's gone.”

Usually after I get into bed, I turn over onto my right side. Spencer will walk from the foot of the bed up towards my head. I have my right hand under my pillow. He'll lay across my arm and place his front paws onto my pillow, pining me in place. He's so fluffy that his fur covers my face. His purr is so loud I have no hope of sleeping. It sounds terrible, but I like it. I like the closeness-that he wants to send me off to dreamland even if it means he's smothering me (in a nice way, I'm sure).

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Spencer giving me a nasty look because I interrupted him when he was getting ready to spoon with me.

Other nights he'll wait until I turn onto my left side. He'll make the same initial approach, but this time he'll turn his back to me and snuggle under my arm, effectively spooning with me. He never stays more than 15 minutes or so, but it's his way of saying good night. As I pet him, I relax and can fall asleep knowing all is well with my little cat-world.

Yet there was no good night that night or the next. I woke each morning in a panic, wondering where Spencer was. He was hiding between two storage containers under the bed or he found he way back into the basement to hide so well it took another hour to find him. I couldn't bear it.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. At least the DOOD was spared from getting sick-so far-knock wood.

Worrying about Spencer was bad enough, but it's curious how something completely banal, like feeding your cat, becomes the most precious moment of the day when your cats are sick. I so desperately wanted my cats to eat, but even the ones I didn't believe were sick barely touched their food.

By Sunday, with tempers flaring between the human residents, I left the house. It wasn't to escape, even if in my heart I wished I could just keep driving. It was simply to buy cat food. My goal was to purchase a wide variety of food, from expensive delicacies to what I would consider total junk. We were on day three. The cats HAD to eat.

Everyone who works at the store where I buy my cat food knows me-no surprise. As I walked into the store, Lindsey came over to say hello. She took one look at my expression and asked me what was wrong. I told her about the cats being sick and she walked me over to the cat food aisle to help me make some choices.

Most of you know I'm very picky about what my cats eat. They NEVER get dry food, but this time I had to make an exception. I figure if I eat cookies (more often than I care to admit-like right now while I'm writing this), they can have kibble this ONE time IF they'd eat it. I'd get something high quality, with only one grain. I'd also by lower quality canned food and some very nice “on your birthday” type of expensive canned food. At that point it didn't matter-as long as they ate.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Oh Lindsey, you slay me!

Linsey excused herself, then returned a few moments later. She asked me what I thought. I looked up and in her hands was a huge sex toy. My eyes almost popped out of my head! Before I could say a word she said; “No…it's a DOG toy…for DOGS.”

For a moment, all the tension in my body slipped away as if a trap door opened up under it and it rushed into a puddle at my feet. I took a photo and smiled, appreciating the fleeting moment of happiness. Just as quickly, my shoulders slumped and I sighed as I turned to select a few more cans of food. Back to it. I had to get home soon.

Petunia and Gracie weren't eating. After trying many options, I finally cajoled 'Tunie into eating a small amount of dry food, but the second the other cats heard the sound of it hit the dish they ALL wanted some. Since Petunia is skittish, trying to feed her without the other cats interfering was nearly impossible. I had to toss them pieces of kibble so they'd run off to grab them as Petunia took wary mouthfuls, ready to dash off if I moved too fast.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. I blocked some of this out. You get the point without having to see the goo in all it's “gory.”

Nicky remained the most sick of all the cats.We caught him moving his bowels on the floor, then caught him peeing on the floor. Either he was too sick or in too much pain to make it to the pan. All we could do was clean it up and move on.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Gracie getting 150mL of fluids.

I decided we needed to give the sick cats subQ fluids. I'd completely forgotten how beneficial it might be, especially if they had diarrhea they'd suffer fluid loss. We had a phone consult with a homeopathic Vet in Florida (thanks to Jen for hooking us up at the last minute!) who agreed that fluids would be great. We were to also try some remedies that I had on hand and we had to get some Bentonite Clay to help cure the liquid stools without having to use harsh pharmaceuticals.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Spencer got 80 mL because he was too cranky to get more.

Sam and I were barely speaking to each other at that point, but we worked together to get the cats their fluids. I also took the temperature of some of the cats (I want to keep all my fingers so I couldn't temp all of them) and gave them their remedy and the Bentonite Clay. I felt that in doing something like this it was at least buying us time. Maybe it would help, who knew? None of the cats I tested had a fever. That was good news. We could hold off on going back to the Vet for awhile longer.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Petunia only got 100 mL of fluids, but I felt lucky to get that much into her.

I felt a glimmer of pride that we got the job done. I was rewarded a few hours later when Spencer came over to me and “told me” he was hungry. He didn't eat much, but he did eat.

No other cats seemed to be getting sick, but that could change in a heartbeat if this was something that the cats could reinfect each other with. So far the kittens in the foster room were eating well and behaving normally. At least they were all right (so far, knock wood!).

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Both feeling sick and tired, Spencer and I have a nap.

Any satisfaction I had was short lived. I got sick, too. Was this a coincidence or was this yet another clue? I felt awful and though I wasn't vomiting I did have other similar symptoms to what the cats were experiencing. What the HELL was going on?

Stay tuned for part four, the PCR test of POOP that may tell us what happened, the triumphs and the surprise…yes there's more to this story…the silver lining is coming soon, I hope.

The Silver Lining and the Black Clouds part two

German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said; “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”After enduring the past four days I would add; “That which does not kill us, makes us eat a bag of Lays Wavy Potato Chips and a container of French Onion dip—and feel no guilt in doing so.”

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. You can tell from Nicky's posture that he doesn't feel well.

Nicky was the camel and white colored canary in the coal mine. It started on Friday. Nicky wasn't “right.” He wouldn't eat and he vomited. As I was about to brush my teeth, I heard the sound of water running. I turned to see Nicky urinating on the floor a few feet away from me. A few hours later, he walked over to the base of a cat tree and began to urinate on it-not even stopping as I started to scream, unable to reach him through the jungle of furniture blocking my way. I was jumping up and down like a two year old having a tantrum. I had no effect on his eliminating. He just kept peeing. There was no way to get to him from where I was standing so all I could was watch him ruin something else.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. With Dr. C and Super-Deb.

Nicky has Chronic Renal Failure and has been known to get urinary tract infections (as I wrote about HERE). Clearly something was WRONG. Dr. Larry was out of town until Monday so I made an appointment to bring him in then. I HATE it when Dr. Larry goes away because we often seem to have an emergency when he's not available. As the day wore on, Nicky grew weaker. I took his temperature. It was 103.2°F. He had a fever. We couldn't wait until Monday.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Fun at the Emergency Vet…and this was the cost to basically have them hook up the IV to Nicky's catheter (which was in place already) and giving him a place to lay in over night.

Dr. C examined Nicky and took his temperature again. It was over 104°F. They took some blood and did an in-house test. The good news was that basically the values did not indicate something terrible was going on-like kidney failure or high white blood count, which would show he had an infection. The bad news was that we didn't know what was going on but with a fever on the rise we agreed he should be on an IV. The Vet closed in two hours so they could get him started, but we'd have to move him to the Emergency Vet to continue treatment overnight.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Portait of a sick kitty.

Sam and I cringed. Hearing “Emergency Vet” means huge expense. How were we going to pay for all of this? How could we not? We HAD to find a way. Both of us were panicking. We had to wait and see how Nicky would respond to treatment first before we'd even know if he needed to be moved.

Nicky's temperature when to 105.1°F. After two hours it went down to about 103°F so there was a chance a few more hours of treatment would benefit him.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Another Vet, another examination with Sam reaching out to comfort his cat.

It would have been somehow manageable if we only had to help Nicky, but after getting him settled at the Emergency Vet and putting another charge on my AmEx, we discovered he wasn't the only cat who was not feeling well.

With all the commotion going on with Nicky, I didn't get to pay as much attention to the others cats as I would have liked. Even with that, I did notice something out of the ordinary. When we got home around 7pm, I realized I hadn't seen Spencer ALL DAY. I knew he hadn't eaten his breakfast. He's not always a fan of turkey, but this cat always shows up for a meal.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky with Sam.

Sam and I tore through the house, calling out to Spencer. The longer it took, the more I started to panic. Had he gotten outside? Was he stuck in a closet? Spencer has no real meow, so he couldn't cry to us for help. Where the heck was he? Why wasn't he showing up for dinner? Now that I thought about it, where were the rest of the cats? None of them were hungry and waiting by their food dishes. Something was wrong. Something bad.

Sam found Spencer in the basement, which is very tough area for the cats to get into. For Spencer to not be near me or near any of us was a bad sign. Spencer wouldn't eat his dinner. In fact most of the cats were off their food. I told myself there was no need to panic. No one would die without eating for a day.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky at the Emergency Vet hooked up to his Heska VetIV 2.2

The next morning we got the news that Nicky's fever broke and he'd eaten a small amount of food. He was ready to come home. The news should have been cause for celebration, but Spencer had vanished again and I knew he had to go to the Vet, too. It wasn't a big, obvious sign of sickness but it's so out of the ordinary I had to make sure he wasn't sick, too.

Again I started to panic. We'd just spent so much money on Nicky, would anything be left for Spencer? I was angry and resentful, all stemming from the fear that I wouldn't be able to do for Spencer what we just did for Nicky. If Spencer was ailing, I HAD to do something for him, but my own Vet refused to just give me antibiotics without seeing the cat firstI realized they were right, but I was truly hurting. There's dust in my bank account. I thought about home remedies and trying to avoid a Vet visit, but Spencer was due for blood work and a checkup anyway. If I could avoid hospitalizing him, I'd be able to have the exam and tests for done, but I couldn't do much more.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Saying good night to Nicky.

I took Spencer's temperature. It was 102.3°F which put him in the range to be percolating a fever. I was really missing Dr. Larry and wishing I didn't have to see Dr. C, but he'd seen Nicky so he could compare the cat's symptoms.

The exam went fairly well. The Vet retained use of his fingers. Spencer's not the easiest cat to mess with and he gets crabby if he's at the Vet. I warned the staff and fussed over Dr. C, worried he'd get bitten. Spencer was pretty good-for Spencer. They managed to get some blood and sent it out for testing. Since we didn't know what was going on the Vet suggested putting him on antibiotics “just in case,” but I won't do that without having a darn good reason. It could make whatever is going on even worse. I'd do the best I could for Spencer until we had the test results.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky being a good boy, as usual.

I started making charts and lists of each cat-if they ate, if so, what they ate. I was looking for a pattern. I began to have suspicions that Gracie, Petunia and Jackson were also getting sick based on my notes about them not eating and their behavior. I knew I'd just had Boogie in the house. He was separated from my cats and I washed my hands and showered after I was with him, even though I didn't touch the kitten until the last day he was here. Boogie was VERY sick, but he had an upper respiratory infection, not something potentially gastrointestinal. What was going on?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Hiding under the bed between two storage containers-not a good sign.

Feeding time was bizarre, maybe one or two cats showed up for their food. The others weren't even in the vicinity. I'm so accustomed to the energy of feeding time, the cats circling, meowing, the sound of them lapping at their food. It was too quiet. My babies weren't eating. My fear factor increased tenfold.

Did I bring something into the house to sicken them? How was I going to be able to provide more and more Vet care for ALL my cats at the SAME TIME? How was I going to keep each one alive? Some of them are very tough to handle. How could I help them survive whatever was going on?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My poor, sweet baby, Spencer-the mascot of Covered in Cat Hair.

Saturday night the mood in the house was downright miserable. Nicky stopped eating again. of course, the benefits of the IV wore off. Whatever he had, whatever Spencer and the others may have was not going to just go away. We had to buckle down and figure something out. The clock was ticking. The spector of Hepatic Lipidosis was hanging over our heads. If the cats didn't start eating soon, they could all sicken and die. This is why you can't put a cat on a diet. This is why if you don't get some food into the cat after four days, your cat could enter a whole new world of pain.

We were approaching day three. Time was running out and we had more questions than we had answers….

Stay tuned for part three next..and YES, there IS a silver lining coming…

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