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2017. A Look Back on a Tumultuous Year.

2017 was a lousy year that followed another lousy year (2016). That I’m alive and have a roof over my head sort of surprises me. I’m VERY GRATEFUL for what I have, so grateful. I’m lucky, even with very serious financial problems because it could be so much worse. I feel for the millions of people who lost their homes this past year due to floods, fire, hurricanes, tornadoes…not to mention all the suffering caused by social upheaval, reports of rampant sexual abuse, and the fears stemming from the actions of the so-called leadership of our precious country.

January

Annie, one of our Kitten Associates fosters, fell ill yet again. She’d been punky after recovering from intussusception surgery in October of 2016. Even though Dr. Larry said she looked good, I pushed to do blood work. It revealed Annie was seriously anemic, to the point of an Internist feeling she might have lymphoma. I asked if we could treat her for my nemesis, Bartonella, because there are some forms of the infection that cause anemia. We couldn’t re-test her so we tried a new treatment. Within a few weeks and some TLC and vitamin B12 injections, Annie bounced back and regained her good health, but just as she was recovering I got a disturbing call.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Fly Free sweet Lady Saturday. We miss you so much.

Lady Saturday was ailing. She was skin and bones. I didn’t know. Our foster family called and said she needed to see the Vet. She’d been pretty weak and eating a lot less. When Dr Larry saw her, he was shocked. She only weighed 4 lbs and was near death. We didn’t know how old she really was, but we knew she’d had kidney issues for the nearly two years she’d been part of our foster program. She’d gotten fluids, a heated bed, good food, supplements, but we couldn’t cure old age. On January 16th we said goodbye to our sweet girl.

With all of that going on, my cat Petunia began having focalized seizures. We didn’t know the source even after taking her to a neurologist. We started her on Phenobarbital in the hopes it would give her some relief, but did she have cancer? Would she eventually have a grand-mal seizure and I’d come home to find her dead?

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Petunia is doing better these days and no longer needs medication to control her seizures.

The year wasn’t off to a good start, but thankfully it was pretty quiet as far as rescue went. After years of saying I was taking a break from taking on kittens, I decided I would really do it. Then I saw a post online about a huge feral colony in Waterbury, CT. Over 50 cats were struggling to survive and were breeding out-of-control. Read about the first cat we rescued HERE along with follow up stories them HERE and HERE) While doing TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) isn’t my forte, I thought I could help raise funds for these cats and do some social media outreach.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. My first sighting of the Waterbury Ferals.

My mistake…I decided I had to go to the location to see for myself what was going on, to take some photos, then start raising money for the #Feral50 #waterburyferals. Once I saw a horrifically sick cat, I knew I had to get more involved. I had no idea that instead of taking a break, I was going to be busier than ever for the sake of these cats.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. This little sweetie is feral. She was eventually named Tulip and was the first cat trapped. You can read about her story HERE.

February

I pushed the limits of what I could handle and was pushed beyond my limits by another volunteer who worked doing some of the trapping of the feral cats in Waterbury. The things I saw, some cats barely clinging to life…I found placements for 10 cats, but it wasn’t enough. I had to do more and more and more until February 13th when I ended up in the hospital during a snow storm. I was diagnosed with an ulcer, along with an anxiety attack that I was certain was really a heart attack in disguise. The stress was just too much.

But in rescue "too much" always ends up becoming "just help one more." I decided to take on a pregnant feral from the Waterbury colony.

It was very risky, because I didn’t know what I was going to do with her after the kittens were born and weaned, but as so many other rescues, I just took it one day at a time. Solve one problem at a time-that’s the key. The cat had been named Waverly. She was covered with oil and metal dust. She was too dirty to give birth, but we have a great foster mom who is gentle and patient and who was able to wipe Waverly down every day until Waverly was clean enough to give birth-and just in time, too. By the end of the month, Waverly had given birth to three kittens. Sadly only two of the three survived. I knew that if we hadn’t taken Waverly on none would have made it.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Happy Birthday Willoughby and Weatherby!

I’ve come to the understanding that in rescue you shouldn’t try to do everything. Rescue the kind of cats you can handle and do your bit. Other people, who are great at things you may not be so great at can do their part. It all adds up to be much more effective than trying to take on more than you can handle and getting sick from it. What I learned is that I am not cut out for TNR. I want to give every cat a chance to become socialized. There isn’t time or space to take that on.

While I respect every cat who just can’t become social kitties, and I will return those cats to the outdoors, it kills me because I know their future will be very difficult, even with a great caretaker looking after them.

Meanwhile, Spencer had a re-check of his blood work because in late 2016 we found out his kidneys weren’t working very well. The new test results showed us that Spencer might only have a few months left because his values changed for the worse, so very fast. We were to start him on fluid therapy and see how he did in 6 months.

March

Things started looking up. I was a Guest Speaker at the first ever, Cat Camp NYC. I had a blast, made new friends and saw some of my most cherished cat lady friends. It did my heart good to be reunited with them and energized me for Kitten Season, which was right around the corner.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Artist Cathi Marro (left), Me and Jodi Ziskin of Treatibles (right)

We took on #FairfieldCountyGives and had our best fundraising day ever, raising over $3500 in a single day-most of which were $10 donations. We’d be ready to take on kittens, but where were they?

I got an email from a guy who asked for cat behavior help with his 5-month old kitten, Holly. She’d been peeing on the family beds. The guy turned out to be musician and songwriter, Stephen Kellogg. What transpired next even surprised me. You can read about this crazy trip in these stories HERE (including links to all 5 chapters). I’m glad to say that after all the trials and tribulations that Holly is in her home and that Stephen has become a good personal friend and newly minted Cat Daddy.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stephen visiting Holly while she was here being evaluated for behavior issues.

Weird April

I wasn’t getting calls about kittens. It was very strange. Then I thought about why it might be so quiet. We’d had a very mild January giving intact cats plenty of time to become pregnant, but in February we had a few brutal snowstorms dropping a lot of snow. I didn’t want to imagine it, but I started to believe that perhaps a lot of kittens just didn’t make it and that the “season” would be starting later in the year.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Will Bills was a bit too wild for Bill.

For once I got out on my birthday for a short road trip and lunch at O'Rourke's diner. We stopped at a crazy place called Wild Bill's. The namesake and owner was there as we strolled down the aisles. I didn't think he looked so hot. I guess I was right. He died a few days later. I couldn't help but feel like I better not take having another birthday for granted.

May

Ah, Stormy; a purebred Russian Siberian cat whose owner really was allergic to her entered the picture in May. Her mom, Kim, was sick all the time and though she felt terrible about it, she needed help getting Stormy a new home. The problem was, Stormy was not very nice. I thought it might be due to her being declawed. Perhaps she was in pain? So we did a lot of tests to see if that was the problem.

The bottom line was I promised to help find a home for this 9-year old aggressive cat, but how was I going to pull it off?

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stormy.

I found what I thought was a good home in Boston, but the people were terrible, fearful, posers. A few weeks later they brought Stormy back to Kim’s where I was under even more pressure to find Stormy a placement because her home was about to undergo a serious renovation and they’d have to put her in a boarding facility if she stayed much longer. I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever be able to find Stormy a home. I even tried to get a breeder from the CFF Cat Show, where I took part as a guest judge, to take her on, but with her anger issues it was a lot to ask.

June and July

I wasn’t going out of my way to find kittens to rescue since I never got a break over the winter, but then I got a call from my friend Joan. She told me one of the shelters down south had 65 kittens. They were going to start putting them ALL DOWN in 12 hours. Could I take even a few? She’d foster for me and even go get the kittens.

I decided to take 6 kittens, which turned into 8, except that they counted wrong and there were twins so 8 became 9 and I got another rescue friend to approve taking 3 and somewhere in the middle of that Moe, our other southern foster mama asked me if I could take just one more to make it 13 kittens.

Yes. I’m insane.

I nicknamed the group, the #SweetSuperheroes. If only they had lived up to their name. I wrote about what happened to them, how it broke me in ways rescue never broke me before, but I never published what I wrote. I may some day reveal all the details when I feel I can tell their story without it wrecking me.

In a few words, it was our first experience with Feline Panleukopenia. Within the first week, two of the kittens were dead and the threat of many more hung over us as poor Joan feverishly scrubbed and cleaned, while I spent thousands of dollars on vet bills, cleaning supplies, cages, food and litter for the remaining kittens.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Some of the kittens we rescued. Thankfully, our offering to take so many inspired other rescues to take kittens, too so a majority of the kittens made it out alive.

Some of the kittens were in isolation at the vet in Tennessee, while some remained at Joan’s foster home. We both did as much as we could to get the survivors healthy for the long transport to Connecticut, but in all honesty I did not want to bring them here at all. I was terrified my cats would get sick.

I’m not a fan of the FVRCP booster vaccination, but we had to make the difficult choice to booster most of our adult cats right away because there is no definite period of time for how long kittens who are exposed to PanLeuk are still contagious. To be safe, the kittens were isolated for 6 weeks, which ruined their window of adoption by a great deal, but I also didn’t want them here if there was any chance at all they’d sicken my cats, too.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. In honor of Super Nibs, who died from PanLeuk. You are forever in my heart. I wish you had a chance to grow up and find your forever family as your siblings did.

 

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. and Major Muffin. He died so fast there was nothing we could do to save him from the ravages of Panleukopenia.

I spent most of the end of June and into July crying, worrying, researching PanLeuk and trying to prepare things here for their arrival. It was the first time in years I dreaded taking on more kittens.

Stormy was proving to be a tougher case than I imagined. The shocker, what I realized much later was that Stormy had reverted to being feral from not being handled for many years. She wasn’t in pain at all.

Because she had to be moved into the in-law apartment in the home and be in close proximity to her family, Stormy ended up getting handled more and sure enough Stormy became friendlier. So friendly that a lovely lady named Annabelle flew to Connecticut from Philadelphia so she could adopt this magnificent cat. They’re doing great and Stormy no longer lives up to her name.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stormy says farewell to her sweet mom, Kim and hello to her new mama, Annebelle.

August

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Leslie Mayes gets ready to interview us for #CleartheShelters.

My rescue took part in #CleartheShelters, a national program to help pets get adopted in a 24-hr period. We were off to a great start because Heidi Voight, journalist and Anchor on the local NBC affiliate came over to interview me and meet the #SweetSuperheroes. We did an hour-long live Facebook event and I think we were in the news about 10 times over the next few weeks.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Ready for their big adoption day, most of the Sweet Superheroes.

The problem was, we didn’t have a shelter to clear, so that meant doing an adoption event at Watertown BMW. Being surrounded by $100,000 cars and anxious adopters and yet more news media was literally a crazy ride. The folks at Hoffman Auto Group BMW were awesome, but some of the potential adopters left something to be desired…yes, screaming kids, demanding kids who wanted a kitten “RIGHT NOW” and unapologetic parents shocked and angry with me. They asked why I would deny their application to their face when the dad would declare they would let our kittens outside even after the mom hushed him and said “They don’t allow going outside. Don’t you get it?” Followed by "dad" getting so angry I thought I was going to have to call the police.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. The Kitten Associates, associates from left to right: Grace, Me, Sam, Adria, Jame and Frances.

Thankfully, one kid was nice and his parents were just as sweet. They saw a poster of Buddy and Belle, my ex-boyfriend’s two cats. They’d been in our rescue for almost a year with not one application for their adoption and they would be too scared to be at the adoption event so the best I could do was have a poster advertising them.

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©2017 Kathleen. Buddy & Belle in love with their new mama.

I told the lady their story and she was smitten. A few weeks later, Buddy and Belle were adopted. Her new mom says it’s like they were home from the second they arrived. They’re doing great and the new joke is her son likes to blame things he did on the cats.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Poor Fluff Daddy!

And then Fluff Daddy got really sick, really fast...Horrible, bloody mushy stool. I was terrified it was PanLeuk. How did he get it? He had to be confined to a cage, then a few other cats got very mildly ill. Tests came back positive for Giardia. How could he get it? Guess what I didn't know? Adult cats can have chronic episodes of it or it can be intermittent! Gah! It's really contagious, but thank God it wasn't PanLeuk.

Shitty September

The brown month. Diarrhea. Kittens with diarrhea. Kittens squirting the walls, floors, bedding, pretty much everywhere but the litter pan, with stinky, pudding poo. I could not get most of the foster kittens to resolve their runs. We did so many tests and trips to the Vet followed by a zillion de-worming protocols and found NOTHING.

Joan had warned me about Tritrichomonous Foetus. It’s pretty much impossible to test for, though we did do a PCR fecal test (negative) and treatment can cause neurological damage and may not even work. I was to a point where I didn’t want to go into the foster room because it would take over an hour to clean it every time I entered it. I was so angry and frustrated that I imagined kicking the kittens outside, but I would NEVER DO THAT EVER. Instead I just cried as I scrubbed the floor yet again. The kittens were oblivious to my suffering. They were not sickly at all, unless you counted them leaking stool out of their rear ends while they were playing.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Yes, it's poop. The poor kittens couldn't have much of anything soft in their room because it would get filthy so quickly. I don't think any of us got any decent rest that month.

I put the cats on a raw diet. They got better quickly, so as the kittens got adopted, their new families had to promise to keep them on the raw diet. So far, so good.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. The good with the bad...de-wormer for the kittens first followed by a freeze-dried chicken heart treat.

The highlight of the month was my play date in NYC with Mario Arbore who is an architect by day and fantasy cat furniture designer by night. I can’t do better than to have a buddy who builds cat furniture, right? His business is called Square Paws (humans measure space in square feet, so Mario’s coined the term “square paws” to indicate how cats measure space).

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Mario putting the moves on Fluff Daddy.

Mario had been graciously helping me design a brand new foster room for Kitten Associates. We’d bounced a few ideas around over the summer that were truly inspired. The main foster room in my home is totally run down and I want to create a showpiece for our kittens and to allow us to increase adoptions and have a safer, more entertaining home for our fosters. Mario is incredibly creative and though our workload has prevented us from locking down a theme, I hope we’ll get there in 2018.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Uncle Mario surprised Fluff Daddy and the rest of the kitty-clan with a hand-built giant mouse trap for our cats! Check out more of Mario's wild designs at Square Paws.

October

The Big Chocolate Show returned after being on hiatus for a few years and boy was I happy it came back. The show was fantastic. I learned that there’s some kickass chocolate coming from Ecuador and that I will eat as many samples of chocolate as the vendors will hand out.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Thank God for chocolate.

Adoption Day
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Thunder Cake and Wonder Waffles get adopted together!

With Buddy, Belle and many of the kittens adopted, I took time to focus on trying to make a living and for a quick escape to New York City!

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. I actually left the house! Here I am at NY ComicCon where I got to meet one of my idols, Bob Camp, who did the animation art for Ren & Stimpy. I also had a chance to get back to work as a Graphic Designer. I love working with Royal Bobbles on their carton graphics for the main cast of Better Call Saul.

I also had the honor of creating the carton for Bob Ross, the afro-hairdo-headed painter who had a show in the 1970s on PBS that’s in re-runs on Netflix even today.

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To see more examples of my design projects, visit Ultra Maroon Design.

The biggest thrill was having a chance to design the new cartons for over half a dozen of The Walking Dead figures. Those designs are still in development so I can’t show them, but I’m crossing my fingers they’ll be greenlighted into development in 2018. The only problem with this project was I felt I needed to watch all 8 seasons of TWD so I could do a better job with the design. It’s a compelling and interesting show, but watching the entire program over the course of a month left me feeling a bit paranoid. I had to fight off the urge to strap a weapon to my leg when I did a run to the grocery store.

November

Waverly found her forever home with a retired couple named Molly and Sam. I was thrilled that the cat we feared was feral was really just a sweet, mild-mannered lady. Her kittens, Willoughby and Weatherby were adopted together over the summer.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Dear Waverly with her daughters.

Then one night, just before Thanksgiving, my dear 16-year old cat, the Mascot of this blog, Spencer vomited. It was a lot of food. He sounded like he aspirated some of it. Normally I’d wait it out and see how he did, but something told me to go to the vet right NOW because they were going to close soon.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Waverly on her Gotcha Day with Sam & Molly.

Dr. Mary found a big mass in Spencer’s abdomen and feared it was an aggressive cancer. So began our journey of tests, scans and treatments until we realized that the next step would have to be surgery or palliative care and prepare to say goodbye. We'd already lost 4 cats in 2017. I prayed there wouldn't be another.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. The x-ray that changed everything for Spencer.

December and Beyond

Every time my cats get really sick, I get sick with worry. I try to take a breath, have faith, focus on my cat, but I often find myself not sleeping, not being able to concentrate on work and wanting to bury my head in the sand. But it was Spencer. I had to face whatever it was. I had to face that maybe this was it and I had to face that I couldn’t afford to provide surgery for my beloved cat even if there was a chance it could give him more time.

I almost didn’t ask for help, but in the end I did do a fundraiser. Thanks to A LOT of REALLY REALLY REALLY AWESOME people, we raised just enough to have the surgery done. I still can’t believe it happened at all and am blown away that we got the funds together in just four days.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. What do you mean SURGERY?!

Now that I had the funds, I had to decide for sure if we were going to move forward because there were lots of risks involved and quite a few could happen after the surgery was over.

On December 5th, Dr. Weisman removed a 6cm mass off the very tip of Spencer’s pancreas. The amazing thing was it wasn’t cancerous, but there WAS small cell lymphoma found in other areas. It’s extremely rare that a cat has a benign mass like Spencer’s and I was so grateful, because those sorts of masses often are very aggressive cancers and lymphoma is slow-growing. At the time, I didn’t know if removing the mass would help him, but now, a month later, I can say that Spencer is so much better that he often surprises me.

He’s had a lot of ups and downs and I have to carefully monitor what he eats because he did get pancreatitis after surgery. He’s eating all right, not quite enough. He’s given me some very bad scares, like trying to eat cat litter when he got badly constipated and was battling anemia (He lost a lot of blood during surgery and I read that cats who lick cement or cat litter often are anemic.).

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Doing well and I am oh so very very very grateful to have this extra time with my boy.

We recently did new blood tests to confirm the pancreatitis and anemia and were surprised to see Spencer’s kidney values had improved some.

Today, Spencer’s getting up the stairs to come to bed and tuck me in just like he used to do. He’s also smacking foster cat Andy in the face and chasing after toys. He LOOKS better. His eyes aren’t so sunken. He’s grooming himself more. I honestly am completely thrilled to see him like this.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Naked belly requires a heated bed for full napping comfort.

It’s time to start him on Chlorambucil, a form of chemotherapy that we hope will retard the growth of the lymphoma and help him feel even better. I already have him on CBD Oil, which may also help and will certainly keep him comfortable even if it doesn’t effect the cancer. I’ve decided to put off starting him on prednisilone because it IS a steroid and Spencer’s oncologist is ok with not using it right away. I’m hoping the CBD oil will take the place of the pred for now. Why? Because steroids really do a number on the body and I’d rather help give him vitality and protect his failing kidneys for as long as I can.

Needless to say, with all the vet runs and care Spencer needed, Christmas cards didn’t get printed and I didn’t do much to plan for “the day.” Somehow it was still a really nice holiday, aside from all the guilt I had for not getting everything done and for not being able to buy presents for anyone except Sam.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Our Holiday e-card.

Sam and I have had one thing after another go wrong with our finances and honestly I’m terrified that if things don’t improve we will lose our home. We’re trying to keep the faith and we’re both working as hard as we can. So many people have it far worse off than we do, I can’t complain. I’m happy I have a home, it’s not on fire or swept away by a hurricane. I have my dear cats, as much as they often annoy me, they’re still one of the few reasons I get out of bed in the morning.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Bye bye Sprinkie! I'm going to miss you!

And I’m determined, after nearly eight years of constant fostering, to take this winter off and focus on work and getting funds for Kitten Season. The other cat rescue in town surprised everyone by deciding to close after many years.

Their reason, they aren’t needed any more, which is completely absurd. They spun it into making it sound like they solved the feral and free-roaming cat problem in Newtown so they can look like heroes and get out of doing rescue any longer. It just puts a bigger strain on Kitten Associates so we’ll need to ramp up.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Macaroon is a total goof head who loves to fetch her pom pons. Her new family promised to make sure she has as many pom pons as her heart desires.

I expect 2018 to be very busy for us as we shoulder more responsibility in helping local cats, but in a way I’m excited for the challenge and crazy as it seems, I really do miss having little ones here.

Here’s to 2018. May we all have a safe, loved, prosperous and Happy New Year!

Oh, and the last two kittens from the #SweetSuperhero rescue were adopted just after Christmas. Congratulations to the Mighty Macaroon and Professor Sprinkles!

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Last night Mackie and Sprinkie met their new family. Here's Suzanne and Maddie, totally psyched to have their first kitties ever!

-----------------A few hours later------------------

….I just got a text message…“Robin, I just found a kitten. Can you take him?”

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Uh oh...

Saving Spencer: The Everlasting Now. Ch. 3

(continued from ch. 1 and ch. 2)

For a long time now I’ve had this calming feeling as I take my walk around the neighborhood. I’m enchanted by the wind as it scoops up the dried autumn leaves causing them to swirl and dance, and equally charmed by two squirrels who playfully chase each other across a well manicured lawn. I hear birds chirp merrily along as I see their silhouettes on a sun-kissed branch. It reminds me that I’m part of all these things and we’re all part of something much bigger.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Another day, another walk.

On a deeper level, I feel a state of interconnectedness that has no sense of time. It just is. It is just now, but it also feels like all of it has already happened, will happen, is happening. It’s a very big feeling in my soul that as I take another step I’ve already finished my walk, it’s another day, it’s the first time I tried to take a walk and could only walk to the top of the driveway, it’s years from now when I can’t walk any more. It’s not a sad feeling. It feels full, like I don’t have to worry about Spencer because in each breath he’s just being born or has already passed away or is purring on my lap all at the same time. It’s fluid, not tangents on a path. It’s more like a river with a wild current that curls and froths and bubbles up around itself and back again.

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The other day Sam and I finally moved an old tube TV set out of our bedroom to make a space to add a litter pan, now that Nora is 17. She still gets around fairly well, but we’d like her to have a pan upstairs so she doesn’t have to travel too far. Moving the TV was no joke. It’s awkwardly weighted and there’s nothing to hold onto, just smooth edges. We managed to slide it down the stairs on a big flat cardboard box with a blanket wrapped around it like a sling. I held the sling and pulled towards myself as Sam guided it down the stairs. Somehow we didn’t break the TV or our legs.

There’s a place at the town dump where they recycle old electronics. It’s inside an old semi-truck trailer. I wasn’t certain how we’d get the TV out of the car and make the 12 steps or so trip to the trailer. I said as much aloud as Sam opened the hatchback of his old red subaru. A man unloading his car ahead of us heard what I said and offered to help carry the TV. It was such a kind, surprising gesture and I was so very grateful for his help. It made me less sad that in this moment we were throwing away something that took me many hours of work to earn the money to pay for. There was a time I yearned to be able to acquire a nice TV for my bedroom and it was quite an accomplishment to get one, but now it was junk, maybe salvage for its parts and that's about it. This TV saw me through a few uncomfortable days or weeks when I was sick and had to stay in bed, but for many years it’s only gathered dust in the corner. I haven’t even turned it on. It’s too old to work with a digital cable box.

Sam says for me to think that yearning for something and knowing, even in that yearning, that the object is already decayed and dead is very Buddhist of me. He also said something about a relation to quantum mechanics and atoms but that’s too far over my head. The gist of all this pondering is that if you take a step back far enough and look at the world, heck the universe and beyond, we’re all just made up of stardust in different, constantly ever-changing forms. I suddenly feel like I understand reincarnation in a way I never did before. It’s very likely that the form I was in before I was a cat mom was something else. It may not have been a human, it could have been a little bit of many different things, even an old tv. What happens to my body next is it will become a different form that will become a different form again and again. It makes me feel a little bit less sad about Spencer’s future. He’s already part of me and I of him. It’s all the same little bits of stardust, just in different shapes.

Monday 12/4/17

Somehow I managed to raise $4300 in 4 days to cover Spencer’s surgery. I honestly don’t know how I could be so lucky and so honored to have so much support. The stress, the fear of if I could raise the money in time, did a number on me. I didn't know if we'd make it until the night before his surgery date.

I hate to ask for help, but I really felt that doing the surgery was the right thing for Spencer and I needed to make it happen. With a mass inside him, at least it was uncomfortable and, at most, it was killing him and needed to be removed. I assumed it was carcinoma because there was a mass and not tell-tale inflammation that would make us consider it was lymphoma. Big masses usually mean, big bad things. In the morning we’d have a beginning of an answer when Dr. Deb opened Spencer’s abdomen and took a look inside.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Our last morning together before surgery. Spencer's belly was shaved to do the ultrasound the week prior, but even more was removed later that day.

The night before surgery, Spencer ate well and purred away, as he always does. He came upstairs and got into bed and tucked me in as he’s often done over the years. I had to sleep in a weird position so I didn’t bother him. It was an honor to do that. I didn’t know if it would be our last night together. I didn’t know if he’d ever be able to come upstairs again or if he’d even survive the procedure. I was sick with worry and kept wondering if this was the right thing to do. I could still call it off and just do chemo and hope that did the trick and maybe he’d have a better life, maybe shorter, but less pain…I had to stop over-thinking it. I’d consulted 4 vets and 3 said to do the surgery. In my gut I felt we had to try and give Spencer a chance. I just prayed I wasn’t wrong.

Tuesday 12/5/17

I tried to be cheerful about taking Spencer to the vet, think positive, non-jinxing thoughts, even though I felt sick to my stomach. I wore my brand new Lil Bub Sweater. It’s so colorful and adorable, I felt like Bub was watching over us and would keep Spencer safe. How could anything bad happen if I was wearing something so upbeat, right? I told myself that no matter what happened, my memory of Spencer would never leave my heart. I could still hear his wheezing even if he didn’t sleep near me any longer. Whatever was going to happen, was going to happen. I couldn’t control anything. I just had to remain present, be kind, and be open to however things unfolded. I had to be prepared to say goodbye, knowing I did everything I could, even if one day soon I would hate myself for making a choice that ended in Spencer losing his life. I gave Spencer a kiss and handed him over to the vet tech. I tried not to burst into tears.

Watching traffic
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Traffic cop, Spencer.

I gave the vet tech a new ziplock bag with a note on it to please save all of the fur they shaved off of Spencer’s belly. I wanted to keep it to make a memorial out of his fur one day. I was embarrassed to ask for such a silly thing when surgery was all I should focus on, but being a realist I also knew I might need that fur sooner than I’d like to admit.

I was told that surgery was going to begin around 11:30 AM. In a way, I wish they hadn’t told me. It was possible that at the last minute an emergency would come into the hospital and that they’d have to bump Spencer’s procedure to later in the day. Alternatively, I knew that if the procedure was quick, they either got the mass out or Dr. Deb decided it couldn’t be removed at all.

IMG 1069
©2017 Robin AF Olson. It's time.

I sat with my phone either next to me or I held it in my sweaty hand. The ringer was turned on and turned up. I kept checking the time. Thirty minutes passed, then an hour. My heart started to sink as it approached 2PM. Finally, Dr. Deb called.

We go it out! All set! His blood pressure went down a bit too much during the procedure but we were able to get him back up. He’s in recovery now and we’ll be keeping a careful watch on him.”

Dr. Deb explained that the mass had been attached to the very tip of one of the lobes of Spencer’s pancreas. She had to remove that tip, but it was only a very little bit. Even so there was concern that Spencer would get pancreatitis, which would be a very hard on him. It’s something that scares the heck out of most cat parents because it can go on and on causing the cat to not want to eat. If it goes on too long, they can get “fatty liver” disease and die unless there’s a lot of intervention on the cat parent’s part, even a feeding tube may be required. We’d have to be very careful.

The good news was that Spencer’s liver, which had shown lesions on ultrasound, was in very good shape-no signs of cancer there. Dr. Deb said she looked at everything else in his abdomen and everything looked as she would expect. The pathology of the mass would take 3-5 business days so I figured it would be the following week before we knew what kind of cancer it was.

The game plan now was go visit Spencer that night and hopefully get him home the next day.

Spencer was alive, for now. The next few days were going to be really hard on him. I needed to stay strong, but first I needed to take a nap. I felt like I hadn’t slept in a decade from all the stress.

----------

Around 10PM Sam and I drove to NVS to visit Spencer. I tried to prepare myself for seeing him stitched up, wearing the dreaded “cone of shame” around his neck, probably looking a lot older and weak.

Spencer after surgery 400
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Nothing is a worse indignation than the cone of shame.

But before we could see him we had to wait until they could get him ready for our visit. They had a nearly record number of animals being treated-about 18-at the time, so we had to wait for them to move Spencer into an exam room. While we waited, a couple came in with a pug dog. We knew what happened well before they got close to the reception desk-a skunk sprayed their dog. My GOD did the place suddenly stink to the high heavens. The lady kept apologizing, saying she’d changed her clothes three times. Lady, it’s not YOU that got sprayed!

The dog got scratched by the skunk but it didn’t even need a stitch. They needed to update the dog’s rabies shot, but otherwise he didn’t need anything other than about 50 baths. The receptionist shooed them out the door saying they should have called first so they could have treated the dog outside the building. As it was the place had no open windows and we were all suffering. The couple went into the vestibule between the two front doors because it began to rain. It only created an inescapable stink-zone that everyone who entered or existed the building was going to have to walk through. I started to wonder if all the bags of chips in the nearby vending machine were going to stink like skunk, too.

Spencer Eating Baby Food w Cone
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Baby food to the rescue.

We were finally able to go visit Spencer. Thankfully he was too drugged up to be bothered by how badly Sam and I and my Lil’ Bub sweater smelled. His pupils were huge. He waxed and waned between being asleep and being crabby. The tech told us he hadn’t eaten. I offered him a spoonful of chicken baby food. He furiously licked at it, going through the entire jar of food as fast as I could spoon it out. We made a huge mess because we weren’t allowed to take his e-collar off, so some of the food went onto the plastic barrier and some into his mouth.

I took a few breaks to wipe off his face and get the collar cleaned up. Sam held Spencer up so he didn’t fall over. He had an IV line in his leg and the pain meds made him weak. Even with all that it was good to see him eat. I hoped it was a good sign.

Since Spencer got crabbier the longer he had to sit up, we decided to get him settled back in his cage for the night. It would be our first night apart in 15 years, but I knew he was in good hands.

Weds 12/6/17

Spencer pretty much hates being messed with, for any reason. Even drugged up he red-zoned at NVS to the point of them realizing he’d do better at home then be in the hospital for another day. I couldn’t argue the point. I’d set up my home office as his space for the next two weeks of recovery. I’d also be ripping that cone off him the second we got home. If he tore his stitches out that was on me, but he’d be a lot happier without the cone on and hopefully he’d be too tired to do much with the stitches for the next few days.

This is when I decided I better write down everything I was doing with him in case things took a turn for the worse. I made a list of all his pain meds (buprenex, gabapentin, onsior) and when they were to be given. I wrote down what he was eating and how much. I made notes if I noticed he was having side effects-which he did-like diarrhea and extreme weakness. I knew I had to just see this through. I had to support Spencer’s needs, keep him warm and clean. Make sure he ate enough and was comfortable. He might not be himself for some time. I had to have faith he would be feeling better in week or two.

Thursday-Friday

Spencer was a mess. He was so weak he could barely make the trip of a few steps to his litter pan. Once in the pan he would fall over and just lay in the litter. Thankfully I had been meticulous about keeping his pan clean, but seeing him laying there broke my heart. I helped him up, careful not to touch his belly. He strained to pass stool, but could not go. I looked up side effects of all the meds and called the vet. One by one I pulled him off most of the pain meds a day or more early because he was just too sick from them.

Sam gave Spencer fluids every day. It helped him feel better. I gave him an injection of B12 and offered him raw chicken liver. He’d lost 40 mL of blood during surgery. No wonder he felt awful.

Spencer barely moved. He mostly slept. I kept out of my office so he could have peace and quiet. Not being bothered by the other cats was good for him, too, so my door stayed closed.

That night I called NVS. Spencer just wasn’t eating well and I wanted to start him on Cerenia, which combats nausea and could possibly help him want to eat. I started him on the medication that night and prayed it would work by morning.

Saturday 12/9/17

The first real snow fell. It would have been something to enjoy if I could forget the guilty feeling that we didn’t rake the leaves out of the front yard yet and now we’d probably have to wait until spring to do it. Spencer wasn’t eating very well and sleeping a lot. I spent time brushing him because he likes it and he needed it. I hoped the comfort it gave him would help him want to eat, but he had a long way to go before getting back to his old self. I was very worried about his appetite issues so I called our vet and asked for an appetite stimulant if we really needed it-we did.

Sunday 12/10/17

Spencer wasn’t eating more than a few bites of food. I offered him a zillion different options. He’d eat, at most, an ounce of food. I offered him food about 10 times that day. I added it all up and it came to 3 ounces, barely half of what he should have been eating. The good thing was that Spencer was a bit brighter. He was grooming himself and though he still had diarrhea, he was not falling into the litter pan any more.

Now if he would just EAT.

Monday 12/11/17

We gave Spencer mirtazapine, an appetite stimulant. I got varied answers on how long it would take to work-the average sounded like a few days. In the meantime Spencer’s appetite was still lousy and I finally began to syringe-feed him a meal once I’d seen if he’d eaten enough over the day. If he didn’t, I syringe-fed him.

What was interesting was that he seemed basically ok with it. I expected a fight but he almost appreciated it. He even ate something about an hour after I syringe-fed him. I started to wonder if he just needed a jump start to get going.

By now Spencer definitely looked a lot better. The contusions on his belly were starting to fade and though he didn’t move around too much, he was much sturdier on his paws than before.

Tuesday 12/12/17

Dr. Deb called. The results were in. I expected her to say carcinoma, but she didn’t. Dr. Larry, my vet for over 20 years, has this joke about my cats. They’re called “Olson cats.” The reason why is that more often than not, my cats have things go wrong that he has either never seen before or so rarely sees that it’s only because my cats are the ones it happens to. He even knows to look for the weird diagnosis when I bring my cats in for an exam.

It’s extremely rare that a big mass in a cat isn’t cancer, but the mass in Spencer’s abdomen, is NOT CANCER. It’s benign. It’s gone. It’s over and done.

It’s also extremely rare that removing a non-cancerous mass leads to the discovery of actual cancer, but it did. Spencer DOES have cancer. Cells were detected that are “consistent with small cell lymphoma,” so it’s not 100% sure but it’s pretty darn likely.

That said, it kinda IS a miracle because if a cat is going to get cancer, then small-cell lymphoma is the one to get. It’s treatable for a good long time. It grows slowly. It’s not an expensive treatment and Spencer can possibly have a good year or MORE of quality life. That would put him at about 17-18. If it had been carcinoma, we’d be lucky to get 9 months, if that. More likely we’d get about 3 months.

With Mama at Vet
©2017 Robin AF Olson. The power of the Lil' Bub sweater is strong. Good Job, Bub!

And as the day passed, and the fog of the shocking news lifted, I realized that one thing was very clear-doing the surgery was the right thing to do. If we hadn’t done it we would have assumed it was a carcinoma and treated him with the wrong chemo drugs. It would have been a waste in so many ways, but now we know what it is, what to do, and how to do it…or do we?

But this is an Olson-cat, so things may go a little differently than one would expect.

Next up…meeting with the oncologist and considering a potentially cutting edge treatment that could be a game-changer. The only problem is there’s no research on it yet, only anecdotal information for dogs, and even less for cats. Oh yeah and Spencer's eating...cat litter!

Note from Robin: Thank you VERY MUCH to everyone who made this story possible. Your donations, which ranged from $2 to hundreds of dollars, all added up to making Spencer's surgery a reality. YOU are his lifeline, his rescuers, his friends, and for that I am eternally grateful.

With Heart
©2017 Robin AF Olson Thank you from Spencer, too.

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.

The Rock Star's Fifth Daughter. The Perplexing Case of Holly Kellogg. Part 2.

(continued from Part 1)

After my first visit, I put together a written game plan of steps to take next. I didn’t want to over-complicate things by telling them EVERY SINGLE THING we could do to change Holly’s behavior. It can be overwhelming, so I started simply: add another litter pan, slightly move the one they had away from a drafty doorway and add two sessions of play time to Holly’s day.

The second litter pan was a hit. Holly used it right away, but she continued to pee on a bed every so often and clearly even one time would be too many times. I knew that Holly could be reacting to old stains that were not cleaned up so I urged Stephen to get a black light (because urine and some other bodily fluid stains glow under black light), cleaning supplies (like vinegar and a CO2 enzymatic cleaner). We set another date to tour the entire house.

I tried to make it sound fun; like we were detectives on a mission. Stephen was all for it. He wanted to do whatever it took to get Holly to be happy and not feel like she had to pee on anyone’s bed. Many other people I’ve worked with push back about doing the work to solve the behavior problem but Stephen was intrigued. He’d never really considered how a cat thinks or feels about their environment before. He wanted to dive in, get it right, and return to a happy home life.

 

I felt like Mary Poppins. I arrived with a stash of items in my shoulder bag. I had my own black light and cleaning supplies, too, plus a few other goodies for Holly. Stephen, Kirsten and I began checking every single bed, carefully going over each one with the lights. It was then I discovered a surprising fact. Two of the younger daughters either had or have a bit of a problem wetting the bed or having a diaper leak. Then it hit me. They didn’t have one cat, they essentially had two (one was human) who were staining some of the beds. Maybe Holly was reacting to human urine stains?

The answer was clear right away. First bed we checked had sparkling clean sheets and blankets, but the mattress had a butt-shaped urine mark on it. Of the three of us only Stephen had a decent sense of smell. I think mine died from cleaning one too many ammonia-scented litter pans over the years. He dove in. He didn’t get fussy about it. He sniffed away and acknowledged that the mattress did have some scent. We got to cleaning it, while Holly ran into the room, jumped on the bed and was completely uninterested in peeing on it. She played in the corner on a fuzzy pillow and promptly fell asleep while we continued to scan the beds.

We didn’t find much more, but one of the girl’s bed was going to be an issue so that room was going to be closed off from Holly, period. The last room we did was the master bedroom. Okay now this was a bit weird for me. Rock star bedroom? The inner sanctum!

I tried to be respectful and not have any thoughts about what I know about black lights, but my God, I had to say out loud that the black light picks up ALL sorts of STAINS, not just cat urine (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Thank GOD the bed was very clean other than one small area that had to have been from Holly.

 

Okay, so we had a clean space. The bedrooms would be shut down for now. We’d see how it went with Holly. The Kelloggs looked relieved. Maybe this would do the trick?

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

Being a singer/songwriter means traveling to events or going on tour from time to time. The Kelloggs went out of town for the weekend, leaving the kids and Holly with grandpa. I didn’t hear anything for a few days but when they came back I got a long text late at night from Stephen. Holly had peed on the sofa, passed stool on it and on a sleeping bag that was on the floor and I think peed on a bed, too. I tried to soothe Stephen’s concerns. Firstly, Holly was accidentally locked in a room that had no litter pan in it so a few of the issues weren’t her fault. I didn’t know if the schedule was completely in turmoil or if the girls were acting up because the parents were gone. Maybe Holly was upset by the change. Maybe this would not continue to happen?

But it did.

 

Holly stopped passing stool inappropriately, but began peeing more often in places she shouldn’t. I decided we needed to get her to the vet to be certain she wasn’t sick. They hadn’t looked for infection or other issues and being so young she could have something going on that a urinalysis wouldn’t show.

 

So we took Holly to the vet.

I’ve been to many vets over the years. I was not a big fan of this person. He didn’t want to listen to me but clearly was focusing on Stephen and the fact that they both had four kids. The vet was almost proud to say he was split from his wife and only had the kids on weekends as if it was a relief. I was horrified. Stephen and Kirsten smiled and were polite, listening attentively, adding their take on the situation. I wondered what they thought of the vet and if they shared my disdain. They certainly had far a better poker-face than I do.

IMG 9720
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stephen with Holly-girl at their vet.

 

The vet did a quick exam and suggested tests. Stephen was not used to seeing gnarly vet estimates and the $1000 price tag seemed a bit high to me as well. I worked it out with the vet to cut the bill down by more than half. I felt we could get away with a full CBC and Chemistry Panel, an x-ray, but to not do urinalysis again since they’d just done it a month prior. What we ended up with wasn't what I expected. It was blood work but it didn’t have a Chem Panel and the x-ray showed Holly had a lot of stool in her but it obscured seeing her kidneys or bladder-so it was almost a wasted test. The results we got were normal so the vet suggested putting Holly on a prescription dry food to solve her problem.

 

I had warned the Kelloggs ahead of time that this might happen and to NOT buy the food. The vet gave a compelling pitch about why the food would help her, telling them it had helped other cats because it had “soothing proteins” in it. Excuse me? What the HELL are “soothing” proteins? I almost popped my lid when I heard that line of BS. I could see Stephen was tempted. Heck, I’d be tempted, too if I didn’t know any better, and if I believed just feeding my cat would stop her deeply rooted behavior issue. Thankfully he listened to me and didn’t buy high-carb, grain-loaded junk.

Holly Lateral XRAY SS
All we learned from Holly's x-ray...she needs to poop.

 

Once I got home, I looked up the food on the internet and was completely horrified that it had literally EVERY SINGLE type of GRAIN in it you can imagine. What was soothing about that? Nothing. The supposed “soothing” part was listed near the bottom of the ingredient panel-which also meant the amount of it was far less than any other ingredient. It had .08 L-tryptophan in it, which is an amino acid that is found in turkey. It’s the stuff that makes you sleepy after a big Thanksgiving meal. If you really wanted to dope up your cat you’d have to feed them a heck of a lot more of it to get an adequate dose…oh and this stuff was ungodly expensive to boot.

 

So now what? I really wanted to take Holly to see MY vet, Dr. Larry. He’s a great diagnostician and he knows not to try junk foods on any of my cats, but I’d just encouraged Stephen to drop a lot of money on Holly. I couldn’t ask him to do it again.

Meanwhile, I reached out to a few of my cat behaviorist friends. I ran Holly’s history by them to make sure I hadn’t forgotten something. They all agreed there was nothing more to do other than confine Holly to a smaller space, which was next on my “to do” list.

So we confined Holly to the master bathroom. Perhaps the house was too much for her and the quiet of the bathroom would keep her away from the kids a bit more, in case they were stressing her out. Holly had her own litter pan that was kept perfectly clean, her new diet (which she liked very much) and some comfy beds. This was going to work, right?

Nope.

 

Well, it did work for almost a full week. Holly used the litter pan every day. She had play time and lovey-dovey time. The girls were instructed to let Holly come to them and not grab at her. Things were going great until one morning they let Holly out early in the morning while Stephen and Kirsten went back to bed. Holly peed on the bed while they dozed.

 

 

Then everything fell apart.

 

 

Holly began to urinate in the sink, then the second sink in the master bath room. She used the litter pan, then she’d pee on the bed even if it was right after using the litter pan. I had Stephen track how many times Holly was peeing. It was 4 times a day, then 6, then up to 8. Something was STILL WRONG. We had to see Dr. Larry and the next day we did just that.

 

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©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Two litter pans in the master bathroom: one with the litter Holly used at the rescue and one with World's Best.

I was also toying with the notion that Holly maybe needed a cat-buddy. Maybe her being the only pet in such a large home was too much for her and that a friend would help her adjust. Stephen and Kirsten were open to the idea, but I didn’t want to, again, do too many things at once, plus they’d have to introduce the new cat to Holly and that was just going to add more stress to the situation. No. We had to get Holly’s health issues resolved-IF she had any.

Since the first days I’d begun this case Stephen and Kirsten kept returning to the fact that Holly began peeing on things AFTER she was spayed. I called the clinic who did the procedure and they spoke with their vet who does the spays. I spoke with two of my vets, a handful of vet techs, did research online and found that there ARE incidents where there are post-surgical complications or there are genetic deformities that can’t be visualized on x-ray which could be the culprit. It was rare that this happened and Holly would have shown incontinence issues, along with inappropriate elimination. I knew we’d have to do an ultrasound to get this resolved, but I also knew that there was only so much money we could spend without the Kellogg’s pushing back. In truth, they have to balance the vet costs with the costs for caring for their family. It didn’t make them villains. Everyone deals with this balance who has a pet.

I had high hopes we’d find SOMETHING wrong. In a way it would be a great relief. I felt terrible wishing she was sick, but at least we could probably cure whatever it was and having to deal with cat pee in your bed is very high up on the “sucks!” list.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Holly waiting for Dr. Larry. While I wonder what the heck is going on with this kitten.

Dr. Larry was great. He even suggested maybe Holly needed a friend. He also said that some cats do better going outside-for which he knew I was going to flip out over. He sees this situation over and over again and how people deal with it is as different as are the cats who have the problem. He’s had people want to euthanize their otherwise healthy cats. They don’t want to spend money doing tests. They want the peeing to stop but they won’t do what it takes to really SOLVE the problem.

 

I was SO grateful to the Kelloggs that they were in it for the long haul. Stephen surprised me by digging in, asking question after question, offering his hypothesis; fascinated by the process, the detective work, the documenting, the study needed, to sort out what was going on. He even told me he was fascinated by ME. What? No! Yes!

 

We finally did a full blood panel and the results were normal. Urinalysis and culture were normal, too. Fecal test was normal. IF something was wrong with Holly the only thing we could do was ultrasound and they’d already spent a lot of money. It would have to wait…if the Kelloggs could keep the faith.

By now a month had passed. We’d had good and bad days but trending towards worse days. Maybe Holly was upset from being confined. Stephen had the added pressure of leaving for 3 weeks to go on tour soon. If Holly wasn’t improving how could he leave his wife to care for the family AND deal with Holly’s urinary mishaps?

I returned to the Kelloggs’ home to assess Holly again. I felt like I was losing my mind. I told them new things to try and they had failed. What was so bizarre was that Holly wasn’t peeing on the lovely pure white very soft and fluffy rug in the bedroom. She only peed on Kirsten’s side of the bed. I’d asked her about laundry detergents, perfume, makeup, hair spray, anything that had a scent that could set Holly off, but there was nothing that made sense to cause the peeing.

I contacted one of my mentors and we spoke again about this case and again I was told I had done the right things and that we could continue to tweak how we dealt with Holly, IF the Kelloggs were okay with it.

I also had more detective work to do. I spoke with the lady who runs the rescue where Holly came from. What I found out made me change my opinion again that this wasn’t a health issue. It had to be a behavior issue.

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©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Holly home from the vet, but when will we find out if she's sick or if it's a behavior problem?

Holly was rescued from a kill-shelter in North Carolina with her siblings where she lived in a cage. She was only 5-weeks old and had no mother with her. She was transported to Connecticut and went into another cage on arrival. Holly spent her life in a cage up until she was adopted at 11-weeks of age. What had gone on with her social skills? She couldn’t learn as much without her mom. Maybe she never had proper experience with a litter pan? What did the stress of being confined, then removed from her siblings, do to her?

 

I imagined her going from a small cage into a HUGE home with 4 kids. Wow. That would make ME pee on the bed, too. I felt really sad for Holly because if she didn’t make a positive change she would lose her home and have to go back into a cage at the rescue until she found another home…and what if she peed in that home, too? Holly could end up being euthanized.

 

[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.]

The Feral50. Unimaginable Joy. Ch 2.

continued from Ch.1

It astonishes me how resilient cats like “Waterbury 1” can be, even with a mouth full of slowly dissolving teeth, infected gums and with burning sores on and under her tongue. Somehow through all of this, W1 has made impressive progress since I discovered her in a parking lot barely alive a week ago.

 

Her vet said she’d never seen anything so bad. W1’s teeth were either falling apart or were fused to her jaw from years of untreated stomatitis. If it was a human, the fragile gums would have been packed with gauze, but with the delicate bones of the feline jaw it wasn’t possible. The vet had to gently suction mucous and bloody pus out of the cat’s mouth before she could even intubate the cat and begin the difficult procedure. She had to remove the roots of teeth that were long gone and separate the teeth off the jaw bone. I don’t want to think about how much pain W1 must have been in and for how long.

 

IMG 7674
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Sweet W1 before rescue, waits her turn to eat.

Every single one of W1’s teeth were removed. My guess is the root cause was bartonella gone unchecked for years, but it could also have been from other issues; we’ll never really know.

Her matted fur was completely shaved off. I asked if she got a bath, but they only needed to rinse her paws off because they were filthy.

I can’t help but imagine her wanting to use her front paws to wash her face before she gave up on trying. She had to have been rubbing dirt from her paws into her already infected mouth if she could manage to clean herself at all. I feel sick thinking about it.

 

Oddly enough she had no fleas, but does have ear mites for which she’s been treated. She’s on very heavy duty pain medication and is on an IV because she’s anemic and has an elevated white blood count.

With all her challenges, W1 still ate food barely a day after her procedure was completed. This remarkable girl wants to live. Though she shows no signs of being friendly, she has only been fearful with the staff, no hissing, no aggression so far.

Our new kitty
©2017 Robin AF Olson. W1's sister with a few of the other colony cats.

We’d gotten W1 medical attention, but the “what do we do now” question returned. There was discussion that W1 would come to me. We’d reunite her with her nearly twin sister, who was just trapped yesterday. I’ve read that relocating ferals is more successful if they’re paired. Thankfully, the sister is not sick AND to our surprise she was spayed a long time ago. We discovered she has a very badly done ear tip, so all she needed done was her vaccination updates. After vetting she was ready to be released back to the lot, but because we wanted her with her sister, we’re holding her for a few days. Maybe she’s friendly and we can work with her. We’ll have to see how it goes.

Or maybe we won’t…

Meanwhile…

 

…one of the Vet’s clients had come to the clinic to drop her cat off to have a dental cleaning. She saw W1 in surgery, then heard W1’s story, and was so moved she offered to adopt the cat if she needed a home.

 

Wait. Adopt a FERAL CAT? Would she live outside?

 

No.

 

W1 would live INSIDE her house, even if she was feral. The woman has a lot of experience with both feral cats and cats who have suffered the same dental issues as W1. W1 would want for nothing, ever. She would get the best care possible. It would be a far better situation than I could give W1, but what about her sister?

I try not to be jaded and maybe I’m afraid that telling you now will jinx it from really happening. That this amazing woman came forward at all turns W1's story into a fairytale of epic proportion. She added when we spoke this morning that she would consider adopting W1’s sister, too.

What I’m learning and finding terribly difficult is this is an extremely fluid situation-more fluid than my brain can process. Day and night I get emails, texts, calls about what to do, who I should call, who told me what, trying to track what everyone is doing or needs and sorting out where each trapped cat was going to go (though I am thankfully not in charge of that). One minute I have a feral cat in my garage (as I did last night). The next minute I find myself signing up to take on two feral cats that may not be a good fit to even live as ferals! I’m asking my foster homes if they can take on a cat or two, or maybe even a pregnant feral if we come across another one. Not to be a complete whiner, but I REALLY wanted to take a few months OFF from rescue and just REST. What have I gotten myself into?

 

Between work, the #Feral50 craziness and finding my cat Petunia having focalized seizures last week I am fried. (and very sadly it looks like Petunia may have brain cancer-which I will write more about later)

 

IMG 7709
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Petunia mid-seizure. We lost her mother, Gracie just over a year ago.

There’s a great divide in my head about what I expected and what I’m experiencing. I realized tonight that it’s akin to dealing with a totally different kind of animal rescue. Getting a litter of kittens to foster takes some vetting and fussing and cleaning and de-worming and such, but with the ferals, it’s all about logistics. After trapping: where do they go? where do they get spayed/neutered? where do they spend a day to three days recovering? where do they go after that? Are they dumped-strays who are friendly and need a home? If so, is there a rescue to take them? If not, how can we get a rescue to take them or should they go back to the parking lot where we assumed all would go but may not be the case now. YIKES!

IMG 7797
©2017 Robin AF Olson. A few of these guys have already been trapped.

I’m surprised that of the first eight cats trapped we discovered a few of the cats were either already vetted and may be friendly and not feral at all. The people who have done a lot of trapping and working with ferals seem different, too. Maybe tougher in some ways and better at going with the flow. I can’t quite put the words together yet because it’s so new to me, but they seem okay with the constantly shifting tasks we need to accomplish times 50+.

And further surprises…

The gray cat with the strange fur was in my garage last night. I didn’t try to touch him, thinking he needed peace and quiet after being trapped. When he went into his foster home tonight he was head-butting his foster mom, soliciting pets! He didn’t even come out of his cat carrier the 24 hours he was here. I assumed he was scared and to leave him be, but he really wanted love.

IMG 7799
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Gray kitty needed help, too, so he was high on our list to be trapped.

 

Some of the others are not feral either. I don’t know how common this is that there are more friendlies than true ferals in a colony, but it’s heartbreaking. All these cats getting dumped for whatever selfish, thoughtless, heartless reason. As a cat behavior counselor I know there are many reasons cats lose their homes that are fixable behavior issues, yet here these poor creatures are, fighting for their lives in difficult circumstances.

 

Last night we had an ice storm followed by pounding winds and rain. I kept thinking about the cats, imagining them hiding under the blue tarps near the warehouse, huddled for warmth. It makes me even more anxious to get all of them whatever help they need. I know they were all getting fed and that goes a long way to keep them alive. Some of the team have begun putting out shelters and I hope the cats will start using them soon.

IMG 7801
©2017 Robin AF Olson. They got him and now I've got him!

Tomorrow there will be more trapping. Eight cats have been trapped and maybe eight more will get grabbed. I thought we were going to have a game plan and do a big trapping all at once, but the folks in charge are just going for what they can trap with the traps they have. I don’t know what is the best way or if it matters how it’s done. It’s just amazing that it IS being done so fast when the donations are barely coming in the door for the spays/neuters. They're finding vouchers from other rescues or calling in favors. They’re just getting it done and I need to learn how to move as fast as they do, but I think I need more caffeine first.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Temporary lodging, gray kitty is hiding in his cat carrier. He ate 9 oz of food over night. Glad he has a full belly.

Waterbury1 is resting in her cage at the vet. She’s clean and beginning her life anew. Her vet wants her to stay at the hospital for the full week so she can continue to monitor her recovery. We raised almost enough for the high end of the estimate. If a few more donations come in we’ll be all set until we trap the other cats who are sick or injured.

This experience is all about how to face something difficult without having any idea beyond step number one about how you’re going to get to step number two. It’s about finding faith that you’ll get there¬—that it will all shake out just fine. If you don’t have enough faith, you’re going to fantasize about sitting in a darkened room with a big box of chocolate chip cookies on hand and plenty of time to eat every single one. Don’t ask me how I reached this hypothesis, but I just know it to be true.

As I’ve written in the past, a majority of the rescue process is about having faith that everything will be okay one day no matter how bumpy the path might be.

The tough part is believing it.

And lastly, W1’s adopter liked my choice of a proper name for her instead of W1: Hyacinth, but then, after some discussion, she added that perhaps she should name the cat, Robin.

NOTE: If you'd like to make a donation towards W1's care, there's complete info on ways you can help on the previous post. Stay tuned for even more news about the #Feral50.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Such beautiful creatures.

The Feral50. Unimaginable Pain. Ch 1.

I still remember the first time I heard about TNR (trap, neuter, return). It was twelve years ago and it was very clinically explained to me by a woman who did cat rescue. I later learned she didn’t have much compassion for cats. She would trap, neuter/spay, return most of the cats, even ones that could have been socialized (due to their age or due to the fact they were friendly cats who had been outdoors a long while and needed time to adjust). The kittens came to me and got homes, but in my heart TNR never sat well with me because I’m a softie. I don’t like to see cats outside, filthy and starving, or worse…but TNR is the only effective way to compassionately care for feral cats and many of them, who have a caretaker, do great. We've had as many as four feral cats in our yard that Sam and I cared for and we loved them dearly.

I get it. Some cats are going to live outside and there are plenty of things we can do to keep them safe and healthy, at least to a degree. Maybe we can’t medicate them or keep them away from predators completely but we can do better than turn our heads and hope someone else will do something for them.

Cats on truck r olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. How many cats do you see in this photo?

 

Over the years, too, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m good at some things about rescue and not so good about other things. I’m not a trapper. I’m better at being a nurse to the sick. I can do a bit of fundraising. I can educate people about nutrition or cat behavior so cat’s can have a better life.

 

The good news is I finally figured out that I don’t have to do everything to rescue a cat because if I can find a good team, between all of us, we can find a way. It always takes a village to rescue a cat.

That’s why a week ago I decided to offer my help when I heard about a colony of over 50 cats in the neighboring town of Waterbury. Normally, this is not something I can take part in, especially a group this size. I decided grant some funds and to help raise more. I knew it would cost a great deal to vet these cats, but it had to be done. With no one doing anything about it, the colony size was exploding.

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Everywhere I looked there were cats.

So I raised my hand and thankfully, so did many other people. People who run rescues, who volunteer, who love to trap cats, who don’t mind driving a truckload of trapped cats to the vet. Some offered room to take on the friendly cats, if there were any. Most of these people never worked together before, but because of their dedication to these cats, they’re trying to put aside any differences and focus on the alarmingly huge task ahead.

 

What’s also amazing is the location is next to a very large manufacturing plant and warehouse. While there is a nuisance aspect to having so many cats on their property, most of the employees love the cats. They just don’t know what to do for them. A few of them even adopted previous litters of kittens. It’ll make our job a lot easier to have their support and permission. In return, I realize we need to educate them and leave them with resources so they know what to do when the next feral cat shows up at their door---and it will happen.

 

Parking lot with cats
©2017 Robin AF Olson. This is where I started to get scared I should have stayed home and hid under the bed, but I couldn't give up on these cats.

 

The main contributing factor to our job is the enormous apartment complex right behind where the cats are living. It’s very clear to me due to the wide variety of cat colors and patterns that many of these cats were dumped. There’s no way they are all inter-related. It makes my blood boil because none of this had to happen, and certainly in not such gross numbers, if only their former families had spayed or neutered their cats. Now we’re the unpaid volunteers who will deal with this situation, spend many long hours and drink too much coffee while waiting for traps to snap shut.

 

The first time I walked the property it reminded me of being on a ride at Disney World; the one where you ride a boat around a lagoon. You turn left and an alligator pops up out of the water, then right and you see a monkey swinging out of a tree, towards you on a vine. At the lot, it was almost as if the cats appeared on cue. As I opened pouches of food, they slowly walked towards me. I’d see one sitting on the hood of a car, then realize there were really three cats there. They blended in to their surroundings so well my eyes had to adjust to seeing cats everywhere I turned.

Lots of cats r olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Getting ready for snack time.

Within a few minutes, I quickly counted twenty cats. I was told that the rule of thumb is to double the number you see in the daytime because many more come out at night. The workers had told us they counted up to 63 cats, but until we start trapping we won’t really know. We just know it’s a bad situation even though the cats are being fed every single day by a very very wonderful lady who works across the street from the lot.

Of course, as I looked at each cat I had to fight off the urge to try to pet them. They came close to us, but did not solicit attention. Some of them were fairly dirty and a few looked like they had a slight upper respiratory tract infection. One had lost a good deal of her fur, another had a slight limp. I expected to see things like this, but I was not prepared for what I saw next.

 

I was standing next to a flat bed trailer, opening more pouches of food. I looked down and what I saw made me gasp in horror. It was a small black and white, long haired cat. At least I think it’s fur was long, but it was so seriously matted and filthy it must have given up grooming itself months ago. In contrast to the other cats in the lot, this cat was in dire condition. It still had lovely crystalline green eyes and a sweet face, except for the band of thick, ropey mucous or maybe even pus, coming out of his mouth. He moved very slowly. I could tell he was skin and bones and in a unimaginable amount of pain.

 

Waterbury 1 by tire r olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. My first glimpse of pure heartbreak.

He or she walked past a pile of kibble. I doubted he could smell it. I happened to have some fish flavored canned food and he could smell that. He came over and greedily tried to eat turning his head to the side, then scooping small mouthfuls out of the side of his mouth as fast as she could.

Most of the other cats had enough weight on their bones, but this one did not. He needed to get to a vet as soon as possible, but without a trap it was going to be tough to get him.

Waterbury 1 with other cat
©2017 Robin AF Olson. She looked even worse in person.

 

I had to fight the urge to try to scoop him into my arms and race to the vet, but it was vital he eat something. If I took a step too close he would back away. I stood as still as possible so he could focus on trying to get food into his mouth. As I stood there my chest tightened and my eyes burned as I fought off crying over this poor animal. I’ve seen lots of very sick kittens in my day and I’ve had to humanely euthanize some of them, too, but I’ve never seen anything this bad in my life and it was ripping my heart out to see this sweet kitty suffering.

 

I called over to my associates and told them about the cat. We all agreed he had to be the first one we trapped. Though we did try to coax him into a cat carrier, he was too timid. I almost got him, but he was still strong enough to know to stay away from us. We knew if we didn’t act fast he’d die.

It broke my heart to leave. I didn’t sleep much that night. I kept thinking about that cat and all the others, trying to find a warm dry place to sleep, most probably full of parasites or fleas. What a lousy life.

GOOD NEWS! The next day, I was thrilled to learn that the cat got trapped. It took all afternoon before it was found, then trapped. But shortly thereafter we realized we had to quickly figure out the answer to the “now what do we do” question. We had this cat, but we didn’t have time to do a fundraiser for the spays/neuters that needed to be done, let alone an emergency vet visit.

Waterbury 1 close up
©2017 Robin AF Olson. That discoloration under her nose is a great deal of mucuos.

I offered to cover a some of the costs through my non-profit, Kitten Associates, until we could fundraise, but it was a Friday night and the vets were all closing.

We also had to have a depressing conversation about what would cause us to tell the vet to humanely euthanize this cat. First, could he be saved AT ALL. Were we already too late?

 

Would we put him down due to costs? No. Would we put him down if he was positive for Feline Leukemia. No, not right away. We would re-test a positive result and honestly, I think as long as he had good odds to recover we’d find a safe placement for him. If the vet said there was no chance to save him, then we agreed we’d have to let him go.

 

Now began the long painful wait to get answers on this cat’s future.

 

With tech at vet watebury 1 400
Trapped! A good start, but are we too late to save her life?

 

None of us wanted to start this mass-rescue by killing any of the cats, especially since I had to make the painful choice to put Lady Saturday down just a few days before. Her age and failing kidneys had caught up with her. There was no way we could help her other than to let her go with peace and surrounded by people who loved her. I couldn’t face that again, even if it was with a cat I didn’t know.

 

One of our teammates got the cat to her vet. It was late and they couldn’t do much for the cat until the next day, but right away they got her on antibiotics and pain meds. They only had time to shave her behind so they could tell that we did have a SHE and not a HE.

It took another day to find out the answer to the big question: did she have FIV or FeLV? Thankfully, the answer was NO. She was clear of those diseases.

Waterbury 1 perspective
Waterbuy 1's view of the world as she begins her life version 2.0.

 

The cat needed to be groomed to cut the filthy, smelly mats off her. She appeared to be 3 to 6 years old, but it was too tough to tell because one way is by looking at her teeth and her mouth was in one of the worst conditions the vet had ever seen. She has such severe stomatitis that it’s amazing she could eat at all. She also has ulcers on her tongue, too. It must hurt like Hell.

 

 

ALL OF HER TEETH HAVE TO BE REMOVED if she is to have any chance at a comfortable life.

 

It’s a painful, long procedure and quite expensive, but in the end she should be able to live a normal life, with one big exception.

SHE CAN NEVER GO BACK TO THE COLONY. She would not survive without her teeth and she’d freeze without her fur. She needs a safe, warm place to recover from her procedure, then a forever home. We need to sort this out, but right now we need to get her dental done ASAP.

 

The good news is we’ve already raised $800. The bad news is we need to raise about $800 more and that’s just to cover this cat’s dental care. We also need to raise funds beyond the $800, to spay/neuter the remaining cats and based on the two other sick cats, funds to help them, too.

 

Estimate2It's hard to read but the estimate is basically $1000-$1600.00. Our vet's info is below where you can confirm with them or make a donation.

If you’d like to help give this feral kitty a chance to have a pain-free future, here are ways you can make a big difference.

The kitty is named Waterbury 1, but we'll give her a proper name soon.

DONATE: DIRECTLY TO HER VET-A special fund has been set up for her with:

Dr. Kristine Matz

"c/o Kitten Associates and Waterbury 1"

Animal Medical Care of CT

490 Cornwall Avenue

Cheshire, CT 06410

203-439-2597

DONATE: TO KITTEN ASSOCIATES and we'll provide the funds to the Vet. Any left over funds will go to our spay/neuter needs or to vet care for another sick cat from this colony.

Use these quick links:

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

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

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

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

To mail a check, make it out to: Kitten Associates, P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354

Your gift is tax deductible. Kitten Associates is a 501c3 non-profit. Our EIN Tax ID is 27-3597692. PLEASE PUT A NOTE ON YOUR CHECK: "Waterbury Ferals" or "Feral50" so we can direct the funds appropriately.

TO HELP SPAY/NEUTER CATS DONATE DIRECTLY TO NUTMEG CLINIC. Please add a note that it's for KITTEN ASSOCIATES, WATERBURY CATS/Feral 50

 

THANK YOU for loving and caring for cats and their well-being. We can't do these rescues WITHOUT ALL OF YOU.

 

Waterbury 1 in cage at vet
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Already in love with this sweet baby, I've got everything crossed that she will be okay one day. We're off to a good start.

 

UPDATE: Waterbury 1 is stable and I will have news about her condition shortly. Stay tuned for more news...and news about a few other kitties who have just been trapped! 8 cats trapped and a bunch more to go (including, dare I say it, the newest member of my family?).

 

What's Bugging Annie and How it Can Help Your Cat.

Over the past few years I’ve come to understand that it isn’t always possible to get a firm diagnosis of what's ailing a cat. It’s extremely frustrating and often ends up being very expensive, as well as potentially stressful on both the cat and the cat-mama/dad. The goal is to find balance between what could be garnered by such a test, the cost, and the stress. Personally, I want to go to the ends of the Earth for every cat, until it’s clear that the value of a test result does not change treatment. In my cat Gracie’s situation, we were told she either had cysts or cancer in her liver. The treatment would be the same, but sadly her time with us would be much shorter if it was cancer (which is was). She was too frail to risk a biopsy so we began palliative care, monitored by our vet, until she passed away.

Annie and Mr Peabody 12 16 16 650
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Annie and Mr. Peabody take a lap break on yours truly.

What it means for Annie, is that right now we don’t know for certain what is causing her to be “unthrifty” (she’s thin, bony-thin even though she eats well and is hungry) and have non-regenerative anemia (she’s making new red blood cells but the tax on her from whatever is infecting her is so high that she can’t make enough red blood cells fast enough). Her white blood cell count is high (which means infection) and she has other wildly high or low values on her blood work, but the anemia and white cells are the most concerning.

The ultrasound has been done, but we don’t have enough funds to keep going with tests and Annie is nowhere near getting a diagnosis. Treatments have been started but they're only an educated guess on whether or not they’re what she ultimately needs.

Annie at NVS 12 15 16 650
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Annie waiting for her ultrasound.

This is the assessment from the Ultrasound:

“Renal asymmetry with left kidney smaller with abnormal architecture compared to right- r/o congenital dysplasia vs other- both kidneys appear to be growing steadily with her increasing age, which is appropriate. Messenteric lymphadenopathy –r/o reactive (infectious, inflammatory) vs age-related vs less likely FIP, neoplasia, other.”

 

Annie Jones Internist Exam 12 15

We knew Annie’s kidneys were wonky but so far they’re working all right. The scary part of the assessment is some of the things that might be making Annie sick. Neoplasia is cancer. FIP is something no one ever wants to hear or read. It’s a fatal disease and in Annie’s case it would be the dry form, which we lost our dear Fred to four years ago. The disease that is so horrible I swore I would stop doing rescue if I ever had to face it again.

 

But what is more likely and treatable is if Annie has Bartonella (the bane of my rescue-existence because I see this all the time but it manifested very differently in the cases we’ve had before) or another infection.

 

Annie at NVS 12 15 16 exam
©2016 Robin AF Olson. You're going to shave my belly...AGAIN?

This is what our Board Certified Internist wrote on Annie’s discharge papers.

“Suspect infectious disease-Bartonella, Toxoplasma, tick-bourne illness, other… I suspect that Annie has an underlying infectious disease and that likely given her flea history and outdoor exposure that it is Bartonella, but toxoplasma and tick-bourne illness are possible as well. As we discussed, Bartonella testing is frustrating (note from Robin: Annie WAS tested in Sept and was +1, meaning no need for treatment at that time) and can be quite expensive. Therefore, we are going to empirically treat her for it. We are going to test her for toxo and tick-bourne (Robin note: later she was negative for tick-bourne illness like Anaplasma and Erhlichia).”

Annie Jones Discharge Notes 12 15

 

Here’s where things get dicey.

 

Normally we treat Bartonella for 4 weeks with Azithromax. It usually clears the infection, but our Internist said to put Annie on Zeniquin (Marbofloxacin) in addition to the Clavamox Annie is already getting. That’s two very strong antibiotics and in the case of Zeniquin it could be bad news.

 

Every time I have to treat a cat with a medication I'm not familiar with, I look it up on the internet. I read the manufacturer’s information sheet about the medication, noting the side effects so I’m prepared should I see the cat exhibit any odd symptoms.

 

I was sitting in bed, barely awake, when I realized I hadn’t looked up Zeniquin even though I’d already given Annie her first dose. I first read the sheet on my phone screen. What I read made my blood run cold.

Warning about marbofloxin

Clearly this is not something you give a cat unless you really have to AND clearly you are not supposed to give this to a KITTEN. Annie is 8 ½ months old.

I called the Internist and told her my concerns. I realize that with any medication there is a risk of side effects and if you need to kill a bacteria explosion you need to do something. I remember years ago I had to take antibiotics and one of the side effects was a black furry coating on the tongue! Thankfully I only got an upset stomach, but what could happen to Annie?

Cartilidge warning

We had a good conversation and it was very respectful. She assured me that this is a more effective way to treat Bartonella, but that if I wanted to go to what we’ve used in the past that was OK, too. I should discuss with Dr. Larry as he was already up to speed on Annie’s case and I agreed.

Last night I spoke with Dr. Larry and this is why I love him as my vet-he told me he’d never used Zeniquin on cats, period. Not that it was bad, I’m not saying that and neither is he, but he was not aware of that as a treatment for Bartonella. We talked further about the risks and he asked me to keep Annie on it until Monday, when he would call Zoetis and get information from them. If this WAS a better treatment we needed to know about it, but if it could put Annie in danger, we needed to know that, too. I am gathering facts before I flip out.

So I gave Annie a second dose, but with a heavy heart. I sat with the foster kittens for a few hours after the dosing. Annie seemed to be a bit perkier earlier in the day already. I’d given her an injection of Vitamin B12 and some iron-rich raw chicken liver.

I didn’t know if the medication or the iron boosters were helping her, but then she jumped off my lap and laid down on the floor. She chose a strange spot to sit, not really hiding, but not in her regular hang-out place. She cried a tiny cry, then got up and used the litter pan, peeing quickly then jumped out of the pan, laying down in another odd place. She seemed flat again and in pain.

 

I decided to give her another meal and she and the others ate every bite. She seemed a bit better after that, but I'm definitely not feeling very comfortable about all these medications. Tonight, when her next pill is due, I’m not sure I’m going to give it to her.

Annie and andy silly 650
©2016 Robin AF Olson. A moment of levity in an otherwise troubling day.

 

We don’t even know what it is wrong with Annie for certain, which makes this choice even harder. Maybe she doesn’t even need these antibiotics or maybe she really does and not giving it to her will make her get even more anemic..and that could be VERY VERY BAD.

 

Annie doesn’t need a transfusion, yet, but if she continues to go downhill she will.

All that remains is our sad little fundraiser. We didn’t make our goal and our accounts are in the dust. I’m praying for a holiday miracle that we can pull in another $500-$1000 (ideal) so that we can get Annie’s blood work updated and cover the costs of changing her medications if needed.

If Annie has a bad reaction to the current medications, we won’t be able to afford to take her to the Vet for care. That’s how bad off we are right now and it’s not a place I want to be in.

 

 

Please consider making a gift to help our little polydactyl calico.

 

Use these quick links:

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

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

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

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

To mail a check, make it out to: Kitten Associates, P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354

Your gift is tax deductible. Kitten Associates is a 501c3 non-profit. Our EIN Tax ID is 27-3597692. Thank you for helping Annie!

Annie Heart Vinci r Olson 500
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Annie hasn't sat up and looked comfortable for a long time. When she did, I couldn't believe what I saw. She's got a heart-shape on her chest!

The Sweetest Cat in the World Needs Us.

Maybe it was the big paws, the “mits” that look like baseball gloves, that did me in. When I first met Annie and her brother Andy, they had recently been rescued off the streets from a rough and tumble town south of here. It only took a look at Annie’s curious markings, her kohl lined eyes, her “tail light” white-tipped fluffy tail, and her extra toes, to capture my heart.

First sight of annie R olson
©2016 Robin AF Olson. My first meeting with Annie.

 

There was something else about Annie, a gentle sweetness that is rare in kittens. She didn’t fuss or fight. She didn’t hiss or growl during her veterinary exam. She was relaxed and calm. I couldn’t believe it. I thought maybe her true kitten-nature would come out once she had time to eat some good food and relax in the safe surroundings of her new foster home with me, but she remained as-ever, relaxed and at ease.

 

I admit I love Annie, and Andy far beyond how I feel about most of my foster cats. They are very lovely animals. I knew they’d get adopted right away so I made sure to spend a lot of time with them, knowing we’d only have a short while together.

I got many applications for the kittens. Most of them I turned down for one reason or another. One of them was from a VERY affluent senior citizen who lives in a multi-million dollar home overlooking a lake. She and her husband could provide anything they wanted, but, during the home visit I didn’t see anything for the cats other than a very old, ratty cat bed and some well-worn toys and a poisonous plant I warned her about. Her reaction was that the last cat never touched the plant so it wasn't an issue and I had to insist it be moved or removed from the house. Judging by her reaction I felt I was getting lip-service. She had no intention of moving the plant. As I spoke with the woman, she went to great lengths to show me her amazing home and tell me the history of it, but when she began to tell me about her former cats I began to have serious doubts about her as an adopter.

Annie and Andy R Olson 650
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Never far from each other Andy with sister, Annie.

Thankfully, I was with one of our dear friends, who also is an amazing artist and volunteer for our rescue. She heard the same things I did about the woman putting her cats down after either not providing care for them, even though she knew they were sick (because apparently in her mind that’s what you do, just let them decline and die in pain) OR she spent a lot of money only to give up on the cat when the cat needed further care for a few weeks to a few months. She acted as if she was a Saint, when she was heartless and cold. I thought perhaps I was misjudging her, weighing too heavily that she was also 74 years old and I wasn’t sure any of her adult children (one had 6 kids of his own and is a busy physician) would even step in should something happen to her.

No sooner than we left the opulent grounds of the estate, my friend said; “No f-ing way.” I agreed. You can’t have cats, then not provide proper care when they were in bad shape. You can’t let them just die especially if you can afford to provide whatever care they need. If it takes effort and work, you do it. You don't just kill your cat. She was cruel.

 

I got a lot of flack from the woman because she was not used to anyone saying no to her. I’m sure she just threw money at whatever she wanted because she’d hinted to me at a big donation to my rescue at adoption. Money doesn’t buy me or my kittens. Now, I’m even more glad I said no because surely Annie would be dead right now if she was in that home.

 

Not long after the failed adoption, Annie got sick. She had a soaring fever, was slightly anemic, had high white cells. We did tests and put her on an IV. She got somewhat better, but not truly well. We later found out via ultrasound that she had an intussusception, a folding in of the intestine into itself causing a blockage, which is a life-threatening emergency.

Annie sick 650
©2016 Robin AF Olson.

I got on Facebook, crying, and begged for help. So many of you jumped at the chance to provide a precious gift so Annie would get the surgery ASAP. It was one of the most difficult, but amazing days of my rescue-career because Annie did great. The surgery went smoothly and she recovered very well. The surgeon was thrilled. We all thought she was out of the woods. Next stop, find Annie and Andy a forever home.

But something still wasn’t quite right.

Annie seemed thin. She also seemed a bit too quiet. She was always a quiet cat, but…

 

I compared Annie to Andy. Andy is bigger, more robust, but kittens often aren’t the same size. Annie was eating. She wasn’t vomiting. Didn’t have diarrhea. She just seemed to be a bit limp. Was she really sick or was I imagining it?

 

Last Friday I was to drive Annie and Andy to Fairhaven, MA, to attend a cat show where they would be our Kitten Associates representatives. For fun I was going to have them judged, too, in the Household Pets Division. The night before we left I thought Annie was a bit flat, but by morning she was perky and eating like a champ. I decided I was being too protective and thought she’d be healthy enough for the trip.

Annie and Andy on the Beds 650
©2016 Robin AF Olson.Chillin' in the hotel, but sadly no room service.

 

Annie did great. She and Andy were superstars at the Cat Show. Out of 20 cats in their division, they always made the top 10 over the 5 times they were judged that weekend. I was so proud of them. They had fun in the hotel room. They ate well. They used the litter pan, but…one of the judges thought she felt a bit thin and that set off alarm bells.

 

I decided to get Annie checked out. I found a good adopter for her and Andy, but I wanted to make certain she was all right first.

 

We visited Dr Larry yesterday. He did an exam and thought Annie looked good. I told him my gut feeling was that she was not well and he told me that 18-25% of the time the only way a Vet can know if a pet is ailing is because the owner is very observant and knows when their pet is not right. That’s when he knew we needed to do some tests.

 

At the cat show R olson
©2016 Robin AF Olson. First time in the judging ring Annie scores 4th place!

We ran blood work. Annie is anemic and her white blood cell count is up. There are other issues with her blood, too, but her kidney function and other organ function is good. Dr. Larry thought the IDEXX machine was not working right and wanted us to come back the next day to re-run the test. If Annie truly had these issues, something concerning was going on and we would need to get to the bottom of it fast. Kittens don’t get anemic for no reason.

We returned to the vet this morning and after the year I’ve had, I was not happy to be there. I was scared. I was scared for Annie, that it was going to be really bad news. Our cat Nicky just died a few weeks ago and the health scares with our new foster cats Belle and Buddy did a number on me. Here we are at the cusp of the Holiday season and I am terribly behind in my work and holiday planning. I have too much on my plate, but nothing is more important than the well-being of our cats.

In my suitcase
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Ready to go home. Annie jumps into my suitcase as I pack the last night of the cat show.

 

The second round of blood tests showed Annie IS sick. She does have an infection somewhere and is anemic for some reason. They did an x-ray and saw nothing, but x-rays aren’t the best diagnostic tool for a situation like this one. Annie needs to have an ultrasound done as soon as possible. Dr. Larry couldn’t say what was wrong, but it could be a result of the surgery she had or sadly, it could be something that has been going on, undetected for a long time.

 

 

We looked back over Annie’s medical records and saw that she was anemic before her surgery and now she's worse. She had a high fever and responded well to antibiotics back in October, but maybe she had TWO things going on…the intussusception AND some sort of infection that we didn’t get a handle on 100% and now it’s coming back…or does she have a chronic type of anemia? We just don’t know right now.

 

Annie 650 in carrier
©2016 Robin AF Olson. On the way to the vet this morning.

The only thing I do know is even though we just raised money for Annie, then for Belle and Buddy, we need to raise more. We are down to our last few dollars and between Annie’s two vet visits and tomorrow’s ultrasound with a specialist, we need to raise $1500 by TOMORROW afternoon.

We may need more than that if Annie needs additional care, but I don’t want to ask for more until I know we need.

 

Annie is the dearest, most lovely kitten I’ve ever rescued, but now she needs ALL OF OUR HELP so she has a chance to get better. Please consider a Tax Deductible Gift of any size. It all adds up! If you can't help with a gift, then please share this with your friends because that helps, too.

 

It's easy to donate just use these links:

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

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

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

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

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

 

To mail a check, make it out to: Kitten Associates, P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354

Your gift is tax deductible. Kitten Associates is a 501c3 non-profit. Our EIN Tax ID is 27-3597692. Thank you for helping Annie!

Lovely Annie R Olson
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Can you help save my life?

UPDATE 12/15: We are $500 short of our fundraising goal. We did further testing today and it looks like Annie has some sort of infectious disease. We're to start antibiotics and shore her up wtih Vit B12 injections and iron-rich food as she has non-regenerative anemia and high white blood count. We REALLY need funds so we can continue with vet care costs. We're praying for a holiday miracle that we can still get help for this sweet girl.

Of Cancer, Carbs and Cats: The End and the Beginning. Part 3 of 3

continued from parts 1 and 2

The next morning I got Belle into a cat carrier. The game plan was to pick up Buddy, then get Belle examined. Sam would meet us an hour later with Nicky and we’d all go home in a mini-caravan.

Dr. Mary examined Belle. No surprise, her teeth are terrible. Two canines (fangs) are hyper-extended and loose. One back tooth is broken. There’s a lot of gum disease and irritation; possibly more than those three teeth need to come out.

 

Belle weighs over 17 pounds. She is obese.

 

Belle at the Vet first time 650
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Belle being a good girl during her vet visit.

We updated Belle’s vaccinations and I got an estimate of $700-950 to do the dental procedure. We’d just spent $2000 on Buddy. There wasn’t much left. I’d have to do another fundraiser for Belle and hope we could make it happen soon. Having bad teeth for easily over a year was cruel. Again, I thought about O.F., ignoring his cat’s health, while they were in pain. All it would have taken was a trip to the vet once in awhile and even a slightly better diet would have helped.

IMG 6104
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Adorable Belle.

Sam arrived with Nicky. As always, Nicky was meowing loudly as Sam entered the clinic. I was anxious about the blood test. I prayed it would be ok and that Nicky’s numbers weren’t too much worse. In July, Nicky got really sick and had to be on an IV for a few days, but he recovered. His kidney function had gotten worse and Sam had to give him fluids every day instead of 3 times a week. It was a small price to pay if it kept Nicky with us longer.

IMG 6129
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Sam and Nicky waiting for the results.

 

I was hoping that Nicky’s phosphorus levels were high. We could fix that. The side effects of lethargy and weight loss fit, but that was true of a lot of issues. Dr. Mary examined Nicky. He’d lost a dramatic amount of weight. He was down to 14 pounds, when he’d been pretty stable at 16 pounds for years. They ran the blood work and the results were shocking. Nicky’s BUN and Creatinine were so high the brand new IDEXX machine could not factor them. His phosphorus was up. He was very anemic, too. Dr. Mary said we could put Nicky on an IV and see how he responded. Nicky also had recently, within a day or so, chipped one of his canine teeth. Dr. Mary thought either Nicky fell, or more likely had another seizure we didn’t know about and broke his tooth. We discussed giving Nicky fluids for a few days, then trying to do a quick dental to get the tooth out. It would be touch and go, but we’d give it a try, of course. This was Nicky. He'd had many health issues over the years, but we always found a way to shore him back up. Even if we were not sure how we were going to pay for his care, it was going to get done.

 

So we agreed to leave Nicky at the vet and bring Belle and Buddy home. Sam loaded them into his car and I drove ahead in mine, thinking I’d unlock the front door and be ready to help him get the cats into the house when he arrived. But even a simple task like that turned into a high stress situation.

IMG 6070
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Buddy getting ready to come back home.

Sam got home safely and I was waiting for them as planned. I removed Belle from the car and began walking to the front door.

No sooner than I got her inside I heard Sam yell my name. Sam NEVER yells. I put Belle down and ran to the car to find Sam scrambling to grab Buddy who was sitting IN THE DRIVEWAY. The cheap cat carrier had fallen apart when Sam lifted it and Buddy fell out.

Thankfully Buddy was too scared to run and Sam scooped him up before he dashed off into the woods. I quickly escorted both of them into the house, making certain Buddy wasn’t going to harm Sam or blow his newly minted stitches out and need to be rushed back to the vet.

 

We got Buddy and Belle settled. They were both upset and cranky, but at least they were both starting to eat something other than dry food. I tried to get some long overdue work started, but the phone rang. It was Dr. Mary. Though she always sounds cheerful and upbeat, her message was not. She reported that Nicky had just had a grand mal seizure. They gave him more valium. He was resting, but she wanted me to know. I told Sam the bad news, but that was nothing compared to what was going to come next.

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

A few hours later, Dr. Larry called. He wanted to speak with me and Sam. He has never asked to speak with both of us at the same time so I knew it was bad news. He said he had looked over Nicky’s test results and apologized for interfering with Dr. Mary’s assessments, but he had to give us his opinion. He’d been Nicky’s Vet for most of Nicky’s life. Dr. Larry often joked about catnapping Nicky because Nicky was such a great cat, one he had a special connection with. We knew that Dr. Larry was as devoted as we were to giving Nicky the best life we could, but what he said next we were not ready to hear.

 

Dr. Larry told us that in his many decades as a Vet he rarely, if ever, saw a cat or dog come back from off-the-charts kidney numbers and live very long after they were taken off an IV. On top of that, Nicky also had something else going on. It was either lymphoma or meningioma. Something was effecting his central nervous system, causing the seizures. When Nicky had seized, Dr. Larry was the one who held him through it and gave him comfort. He told us that with what was on Nicky's plate and all the challenges he faced, that the best thing for Nicky was to let him go.

 

Goodbye Nicky 400
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Final moments with our beloved boy.

Before we could ask he added that, yes, we could take him home for the night, but Nicky was at high risk of having a deadly seizure and dying in a lot of pain. We could take him to the ER Vet and spend a few thousand dollars keeping him on an IV for a few days, then see if his numbers responded well, but again, if it did buy us time, it would not be much time at all and Nicky would be in a cold, sterile place with strangers and die with them. If he survived that, maybe we’d be able to bring Nicky home but we’d face the same issues all over again, the same fears about seizures and his kidneys were shot. We couldn't fix that.

We've always known that Nicky would not be with us forever, but we were not ready to say goodbye to him so soon. The world was spinning out of control and we just wanted it to stop. Having to see my old boyfriend and know he was going to die, after the stress of getting his cats, trying to raise funds with no time to do so, trying to get his cats to eat, not fight with each other, not be so horribly depressed…now this.

Nick and Nora R Olson 2006
©2007 Robin AF Olson. Nicky and his sister, Nora, who is still with us, was named after the characters Nick and Nora Charles from the Dashiell Hammett novel, The Thin Man.

Nicky and Sam have always been deeply bonded to each other. Though I talked with Sam about our options, it was only right for Sam to choose what we would do next. It was 5 o’clock at night. The Vet closed at 7 PM. We didn’t have much time to make a life or death decision.

 

We talked. We cried. We listed very “what if” we could think of, but in the end we both agreed we wanted Nicky to have peace if there really was nothing else we could do. With no kidney function, Nicky was being poisoned by his own bodily fluids. It wasn’t right to let anything cause him any further pain.

 

I began to fuss, preparing as fast as I could for what we would need. Staying busy kept me from falling apart. We just lost our dear cat Cricket four months ago. Here we were again, in this terrible place. I listed what to do in my head as I began gathering items: find a nice cloth to wrap Nicky’s body, bring something for Nicky that he would like as a special treat, print out a photo of us to put with Nicky’s body after he passed away, figure out how to get a paw print if we could. I didn’t want Sam to have to do this. Nicky was his boy. I would drive us to the Vet. I would take on the burden as much as I could, even if my heart was breaking, too. Sam didn't need to have to worry about anything else.

I’d just left the Vet a few hours before and here I was again. I’d been there every day that week. We were silent as I drove us to the vet, our hearts so heavy a single word would have burst open a dam of heartache. I didn't want to walk in the door. I wanted to turn around and run out, but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that to Sam or to Nicky.

They brought Nicky in to see us in an exam room. Seeing him again made my stomach hurt and my legs go weak. He looked worn down, but calm. The vallium, no doubt, was wearing away any stress he was feeling. They told us to take our time. I took out a soft towel and put it in Sam’s lap. He cradled Nicky as he'd done so many times over the years. Nicky rested comfortably in his arms. The only thing different was that Nicky had a catheter in place in his left front leg from being on an IV.

The overhead lights were too bright. I turned them off and Sam turned on the softer lights that illuminated only the counter under some cabinets. We were both crying and petting Nicky. I took some photos, not sure I’d ever want to see them again. We told Nicky how much we loved him. Nicky relaxed, “made muffins,” in the air and purred. I gave him a catnip banana. He enjoyed rubbing his face on it while he relaxed. He didn’t appear to be a cat who needed to be euthanized. He was still our Nicky.

Dr. Larry came in to talk to us. Again he told us why he felt it was time, but respected that if we disagreed it was okay for us to do something else. Dr. Larry has always been understanding, no matter what we decided about treatment. We asked more questions, hoping to find an answer not thought of, a treatment or case he knew about where we could still have hope, but there were none.

IMG 6143
©2016 Robin AF Olson. The final photo of Nicky.

Dr. Larry left to prepare the injections after we agreed it was time. He gave us as much time as he could, but the clinic was going to close soon. We’d had a final hour with Nicky, loving him as much as we were able, but now it was time to say goodbye forever.

Sam held Nicky, while Nicky continued to purr in his arms. The hushed tones in the room gave way to a feeling of love that filled the space. Nicky was with his favorite people, including his friend Dr. Larry. As Dr. Larry gave him the first injection Nicky's purr silenced as he relaxed further. I was standing behind Sam and Nicky, just petting Nicky, not wanting to see him die. I couldn't look any more. The second injection was given. I turned my head and continued to pet Nicky and tell him I loved him over and over again. I could hear Dr. Larry fussing with something. He took his stethoscope out and listened to Nicky’s chest. There was no sound. He nodded, turned and silently left the room.

 

Nicky was gone.

 

 

I got to work. Not wanting to see Nicky’s lifeless form. I got the photo of us out of my bag and wrote a note on it to Nicky. I took one of Sam’s fleece shirts and carefully placed it on the exam table, spreading it out flat, removing all the wrinkles. This is what we would wrap Nicky’s body in because when the sleeves where folded over him, it would be like he had an eternal hug from his daddy.

 

I was sobbing so hard I could barely stand. I tried to focus on my tasks, but my head felt like it was going to split in two from agony. I tried to be strong for Sam but I was failing.

I offered to take Nicky so Sam could write something on the photo. Nicky’s body was limp. We often joked he was a boneless cat, but he was limp in a way that was more like a wet rag. It was difficult to hold him.

 

I gently placed Nicky onto the fleece. I placed the catnip toy next to his head and slipped the photo under his body. I wrapped the sleeves across him and gave him a last kiss. Nicky would be cremated with all these things. I hoped that somehow he would know and it would comfort him.

 

I wanted to get out of that room and never come back again. This couldn’t have happened. We didn’t just have our beloved cat put to sleep. We had no time to prepare. No warning. It happened all too fast.

I’d spent 12 of the past 16 years loving that cat. He became part of my family when Sam moved in. Sam had had Nicky since he was a few months old. Nicky’s death felt more like losing a limb. I didn’t know how we were going to walk in the front door and know we would never seem him again, let alone live another day without our sweet, silly, boneless, goofy, loving, gentle, giant who often hogged the bed when he spooned with Sam each night.

I’m going to write a memorial about Nicky some day. Right now my heart is broken. Over the past year we’ve lost Gracie, Cricket and now Nicky. 2016 has been one of the worst years of my life. I keep thinking that things have to get better, but they don’t. I keep wondering how Sam and I can keep going forward when we feel kicked to the curb over and over again.

 

I’m grateful, at least, that we gave Nicky a very loved, peaceful, gentle passing. His experience really was to just go to sleep. He wasn’t in pain and he died in his daddy’s arms; the arms of the guy who loved him most in the world.

 

 

We will always love you, Nicky, and miss you and wish your life didn’t have to end so soon. Fly Free sweet boy. July 2000—November 17, 2016.

 

Nicky vinici R Olson
©2007 Robin AF Olson. Our handsome boy.

And as for O.F., I’m truly sorry you’re so sick. I’m not sure how sick you really are, but I do know how sick your cats are. For someone who has indulged himself, cheated on his partners, lived large most of his life, it wouldn’t have cost you much to provide a half-way decent diet to your poor cats, to get them a scratching post or a toy, to have a vet look at them, even a few times. Now I’m left to pick up the pieces. These poor cats are depressed and in pain and have been so for years.

In all honesty, if you told me you were well and wanted your cats back I’d tell you to shove it. In the weeks they've been here you never contacted me even ONCE to see how they were doing. You don’t deserve the unconditional love these cats give. They are gentle, sweet, and so very charming. You told me you believed in Karma and didn’t understand why this happened to you. I believe in Karma, too, and I totally get it.

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