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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.

IMG 7802
©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.

IMG 7681
©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.

IMG 7664
©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.

The Queen of Number Two

Two years ago, a tiny kitten was born outside, part of a litter, to a feral cat. There was nothing particularly unusual about the occurrence. It happens anywhere there are intact male and female cats, but this one kitten was different than the others. Her embryo didn't mature inside the womb in the same way her siblings did. Sometimes differences can be good things, but her differences made survival unlikely, especially if her mother chose to abandon her. Mothers know when something is wrong and will let their offspring die. Only the strong survive.

First Photo of Freya
©2014 Randy S. Used with permission. Our first sighting of little Freya.

Forty percent (or more) of kittens don't make it into adulthood, whether they've been rescued or are facing life on the streets. It's a very sad fact, one that often pushes cat rescuers into retirement because they just can't take the heartbreak of losing another precious life no matter how hard they fight to save them.

 

But once in a great while, a kitten who has the odds stacked against her, survives a little longer than expected, and it's one such kitten we celebrate today.

 

WP 20140909 19 07 23 Pro
©2014 Randy S. Used with permission. Freya with her brother, Pascal.

Her name is Freya, though in truth it should have been spelled Freyja. Freyja is the Norse goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility, gold, war and death. She rides a chariot pulled by two cats. She's one cool babe.

 

When I met her I didn't know any of that, or even how to spell her name correctly. I just knew her as a 1-pound, 4-week old kitten who had a rare birth defect called atresia ani with recto-vaginal fistula. She also had no tail, bowed, too-long back legs, crossed eyes, vision and hearing impairments, and vertebrae shaped like butterflies. It kept her from jumping very high, but other than that, nothing kept her from being a typical kitten.

 

Sweet Dreams R Olson
©2014 Robin AF Olson. I meet Freya for the first time.

 

Her vets and surgeons first warned us she was too tiny for corrective surgery and that she only had a 10% chance to survive. Her very rare condition was only seen, if at all, once in any general practioner's career. Our Board Certified Surgeon had never repaired a birth defect such as Freya's, but had seen it done. The question of whether or not we could do the surgery was very sobering. Odds are it would be a waste of resources to even try. They gently suggested it would be more humane to euthanize her instead of let her go on with dangerous amounts of stool building up inside her with barely any way to even leak out of her.

 

Freya in strawberry r olson copy
©2014 Robin AF Olson. Next to her Snuggle Kitty, I did everything I could to help Freya feel loved and safe.

But Freya was not your average kitten and, not to brag or be arrogant, I was not about to let her die. I've always felt that as long as I put a lot of effort into our foster cat's care, that at least I'd increase the odds we'd have a "win" and not have another kitten perish. It was foolish of me to think I could control the outcome and during our journey there were many times I didn't think she'd make it. It meant me shutting down my rescue efforts while she required round-the-clock care. It meant many sleepless nights, getting up to make sure she was fed every five hours and hundreds of quick baths, rinsing off her filth-covered behind. It meant a kind of stress parents go through when their kid is in the hospital at death's door, but I had to try.

Silly stare R Olson
©2014 Robin AF Olson. Look at that face. That's why I'd slay dragons for this kitten.

I've written at great length about Freya's early days. There are links at the end of this post if you'd like to catch up. Today's focus is about celebrating a milestone. The year where Freya reached her second birthday. Where a kitten who could not pass stool, had corrective surgery that gave her a chance to live comfortably. Though the diet I created for her, also stunted her growth for good, it kept her alive until she was old enough for surgery and today we can look back and feel great joy in our accomplishment.

Freya 11 21 and 12 3 350
©2014 Robin AF Olson. X-rays before surgery showing how impacted with stool Freya was becoming.

Now healed, we joke that Freya is visited by The Poop Fairy, every time I find a poo-bean on the floor because Freya can't hold her stool very well so it does fall out. Trust me, I'd rather they fall out than be stuck inside her, causing her to cross her back legs and fall over in her litter pan simply from straining so hard. That's what she used to do. Those days are gone. Freya can lead a full life, well not "full."

The Poop Fairy R Olson copyright

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©2014 Robin AF Olson. Freya vs the DOOD.

Over the past year, Freya has found her place with my ten, then nine, and sadly now, eight cats. She's easily the boss of every single one of them, even 24-pound DOOD. In fact, she and DOODIE are BFFs. They often wrestle. She'll charge at him, then turn, pushing her butt right into his face. DOOD will hold her in place and try to clean her behind, but she hates being fussed with and will scream. She'll pull herself out of his grasp then jump on him again, screaming all the while. DOOD, as usual, is completely unfazed by this. They both seem to be having fun, but I can't figure out why she shoves her butt in his face AND that he likes it so much. Weird.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. A very goofy cat, indeed.

Freya still fetches. She only fetches large circumference spring toys, not the skinny ones. I think she sees the color blue best because if the toy is red or green she often can't find it. Her new trick is to load spring toys into our bedroom closet at night. There's a big gap under the closet door and Freya will put her stash into the closet, meowing until she lets the spring go, pushing it under the door. She does this around 1 AM. By morning there are usually 4 springs in the closet so my job, as I'm getting dressed, is to stop between figuring out what to wear and toss a spring over the banister and down the stairs into the living room. Freya will run half way across the house, then back up the stairs, proudly dropping the spring at my feet, she meows, asking me to throw it again.

Freya in dishwasher
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Freya helps with the dishes.

Freya is as chatty as ever. I have a feeling she has some siamese in her gene pool. Each night as I get ready for bed, she joins me in the master bathroom, meowing frantically. I sit on the floor and turn on the video feature on my phone. I ask Freya questions and she often answers. I call these sessions, "Chat with Freya," and if you visit her Facebook page you'll see many of our evening chats.

©2016 Robin AF Olson. Freya fetches.

Freya will always be kitten-sized. Though she weighs eight pounds and, yes, is a bit chubby, Freya's brother, Pascal is twelve pounds in comparison. Freya will always be small, but her personality is tiger-sized.

Pascal Adult
©2016 Chelsea LaManna. Used with permission. Freya's brother, Pascal.

In my 2015 post, Dreams Really Do Come True Pt 17, I wrote that it was time to put Freya up for adoption. She was healthy and strong and my job as a foster cat mom who runs Kitten Associates meant that Freya should be adopted. The reaction from all of you was strong and immediate: "No! You MUST KEEP FREYA! She belongs with YOU!"

The problem in keeping Freya meant added costs that I wasn't able to take on. Though Freya will most likely only need food and regular vet visits for the next few years, it's more than I can handle. But then I had an idea. I created the Freya & Friends Fund. It would allow my non-profit, Kitten Associates, to provide long-term care for cats like Freya, and Mia, who probably will never be social enough to be adopted, and Lady Saturday, who is quite old and has many health ailments.

 

Our heart's desire is to find enough people to sign up for a tax-deductible, monthly "subscription" donation of $15.00 or more. Sadly, though we did get a few wonderful people willing to help, we need more. We need about 20 more dedicated Freya-lovers to make a commitment to helping us provide for her so she CAN stay with us. We're fully funded by donations and none of us get paid for our work. It's a labor of love, but that doesn't pay for cat food or a trip to the vet. We really need YOU to make it possible for Freya to stay with us.

 

Robin and Freya R Olson
©2014 Robin AF Olson. The night before Freya's surgery, exhausted and heartsick, I pray my little girl will make it. Now I need you to help us so she can stay with our family.

 

Rough Retouch of illustration E 475

I never expected I'd be writing this story or that Freya would impact my life so deeply. When I first saw her little face, I was completely charmed. When I found out about her birth defects, I was completely terrified, yet...here we are. Freya made it to her second birthday and, with any luck, we'll be celebrating her birthday for many years to come.

 

Here's a lineup of all our stories about Freya in chronological order from the beginning:

For Freya's Sake

Dear Freya

For Freya. Part 1 of 2

For Freya. Part 2 of 2.

For Freya. Bonus Part 3.

Please. For Freya.

The Unexpected Turn. For Freya. Part 6.

Antics of a 12-Week Old Kitten

On the Eve of the Birth of Freya 2.0

Freya 20. Neither Snow, Nor Rain, Nor Gloom of Night.

Freya 2.0. In Search of Peace.

Freya 2.0. 12 Little Words.

Freya 2.0. 12 Little Words. Part 2.

Freya 2.0. The End and the New Beginning.

Freya 2.0. The Price and the Curse of the Pink Underpants.

Freya 2.0. Dreams Really Do Come True.

A Spoonful of Despair. Part 4 of 4

(continued from parts 1, 2 and 3).

There’s a kind of silence that occurs between people who have been together for a long time. It’s not the kind filled with tension you can slice with a knife or the nervous energy of being reunited after a long separation. It’s the kind that becomes sacred, where words only create meaningless static, where words do not belong. There is a desire for the silence to become a protective shroud, where no one has to face the fact that breaking the silence means facing a brutal, painful truth…that your cat is dying and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The past four days have been some of the worst of my life. The question of whether or not we should have done the test or whether we waited too long nagged at me.

IMG 2092
©2016 Robin AF Olson. On an IV, Cricket had to wear the "cone of shame" since he kept biting at the line. By the next day he no longer needed the line so the cone came off.

I lived like a zombie. I had to force myself to eat a little cottage cheese, but that was all I could manage to swallow. I was constantly tired, but never really slept because I each night I worried I’d get “the call” from the ER Vet saying Cricket had died. I tried to absolve myself of “shoulds” while work, emails and bills piled up. I didn’t care. I got the foster kittens fed. I scooped their litter pan, but other than that I waited for the phone to ring with news or laid hunched up on the sofa with my eyes closed while Sam tried to work nearby on his laptop.

Sunday, nothing was done. I don’t know why, but Cricket stayed in oxygen and had no further tests. We went to visit him that night and he seemed stable. They neglected to tell me he had collapsed earlier in the day when they took him out of the cage, which was one reason they did no testing. He had begun to eat a little bit on his own, but I struggled to feel hopeful.

IMG 2101
©2016 Robin AF Olson. If only I could have helped him understand what was going on. I hated seeing him like this.

On Monday I spoke with Dr. P, the vet who could do the wash. Once again we grappled with the decision. The problem was, would Cricket’s lungs inflate and would he be able to breathe after the procedure was over? The vet would give him a high dose of steroids, which wouldn’t harm future treatments, but would help him breathe more comfortably. It was rare that a cat died from the procedure but we had to know there were risks. I told him I needed to speak with the oncologist because we’d decided Cricket wouldn’t be able to handle chemo every week. His quality of life would be poor if he had to undergo so much stress. What I needed to know, which no one could tell me, was if we could try chemo even if we didn’t do the test at all?

I couldn’t decide until I had answers.

 

We got a phone consult with the oncologist, who shoehorned us in between appointments. She told me that 70% of cats respond to chemo very well and that about half of those cats can go more than three months and have very good quality of life. She said we could also do a cheaper type of chemo every three weeks, which I thought Cricket could handle. That we COULD try chemo even if we didn’t have test results---again just try and see what works. If the chemo had no effect, we’d know in 24 to 36 hours. If it did nothing then we knew Cricket had a very aggressive cancer and that there wasn’t anything left we could do.

 

Cage card rt
©2016 Robin AF Olson.

Sam and I had a long talk. Dr. P felt that Cricket would do ok. We needed to know what was going on. We decided to do the test so I called to greenlight the procedure. A few minutes after I called, Dr. Larry called me and warned us off doing the test. He said that the odds of us getting a result were small and that he knew we could not afford to do the chemo (he said it VERY respectfully) and that Cricket would be too stressed to handle it. I told him what I learned about the chemo, but still Dr. Larry suggested we do not move forward, that Cricket was too fragile.

I trust Dr. Larry completely. I was so tired and sad that I didn’t trust my own ability to decide. I called Dr P and said I was sorry and to not do the test after all. That we wanted to go straight to steroids and chemo and see if it would help.

IMG 2141
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Still our handsome, loving boy.

They began the steroids and after Cricket had chemo we went to visit him. He looked good. He was happy to see us. He was still “oxygen dependent” but he stood up for a moment and eagerly rubbed our hands. The temperature inside the oxygen cage was much cooler than in the exam area, but they had lots of soft blankets for him to snuggle on. We’d brought him a cat bed from home but it was too big. We brought food he liked and treats. Sam and I took turns offering him tastes of salmon, which he ate right up. I asked Cricket to please get better, for the medications to work so he could come home. Even if it meant he would only live another month or two, Cricket NEEDED to come home. I didn’t want him to die here. He needed to be with us.

 

The next day and a half was crucial, but it was pretty clear early on that Cricket wasn’t going to make it. He had no response to steroids (other than giving him some appetite), which also meant the test would have killed him. After a day he had no response to the chemo, either and I was told that taking him out of the oxygen cage stressed him to the point of risking him going into respiratory failure. He could not leave the cage, but he could not stay in the cage forever.

 

IMG 2145
©2016 Robin AF Olson. :-(

An oxygen cage cost about $100,000 so I couldn’t just go get one and hook it up in the living room. As crazy as that sounds, I would have done it if I could. I also knew that every 12 hours we were getting billed more and more for Cricket’s care. The oxygen cage, alone, was over $440 a day.

 

I was literally buying time for Cricket and I knew I couldn’t afford to do it much longer, but I also could not fathom euthanizing a cat who’s organ function was normal, who had normal blood work, who still knew and loved us. If only his lungs worked he’d be fine. How could we kill him when he wasn’t old and frail? What would happen when we took him out of the oxygen cage to kill him? Would just moving him kill him in a painful way?

 

All these questions swirled around my head while Sam and I took turns petting Cricket. He had a few more hours to go before we knew for certain if there was going to be any improvement. We walked back to the car and Sam started the engine and turned on the headlights. The A/C was cool against my face. We sat there for a long time, not saying a word, not feeling like we could move from that spot. If we left, we knew that the next time we’d come back here would be to put Cricket down. I thought maybe we shouldn’t put it off? Maybe we should do it right then and there. Why wait? Why put Cricket through sitting around twelve more hours? What the Hell had happened? How did we get here in the first place? Then I realized I was saying my thoughts out loud as I began to sob uncontrollably. It was game over. We both knew it, but we both promised Cricket we’d give him every minute we could.

Sam pulled the car out of the lot and headed towards home. We’d give Cricket a few more hours and pray for a miracle.

IMG 2152
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Another night, another visit, but Cricket was very weak.

 

That night I knew we would have to face this, to get it over with. Part of me couldn’t wait to be past this horrible time and I felt very guilty for that. I told myself a million things, that we couldn’t do anything else, that we’d prepare and give Cricket the best send off we could manage. I had a special cloth to wrap his body. I printed out a photo of me and Sam, just like I did for Gracie. We’d write notes on it to Cricket to be burned with him when he was cremated. I packed a cat brush to make sure he was clean and well groomed after he died. His body would be respected and honored. We wouldn’t just run away and not face this. We would create a peaceful environment for Cricket. Our tears, our anxiety had to wait…it was his time. That’s all that mattered.

 

The next morning I called Dr. De for an update. Although Cricket’s respiration was a bit slower, there wasn’t any improvement like they were looking for. She’d removed him from oxygen for less than a minute and he was breathing so hard his stomach contracted. We couldn’t bring him home and though she was very sorry there wasn’t anything more they could offer us. By then I felt angry, angry and cheated, not by her, but by what was happening to our cat. He didn’t deserve this. He was far too young. It happened so very fast. I had no time to process it. I had to stop being a zombie and be present and just do this already. Do it. Face it. Stop dragging it out.

I told Dr. De I understood and that we had decided it was time to let Cricket go. She agreed it was the correct decision to make and that she would help us whenever we were ready to do so. I know she was being kind, but she didn’t know me or our cat. If Cricket had to die I wished he could be at home and have Dr. Larry there to help him pass, but Cricket wouldn’t have even made it out the door of the facility, let alone survive the 15 minute drive home.

I took a shower and put on the nicest outfit I could. I didn’t bother with makeup because I’d end up crying it off later anyway. Sam chose a colorful shirt to wear with jeans. I made sure I had everything I needed. I knew they’d want to be paid and there was some issue with the bill, which had grown to over $5000. At that point I didn’t care. I just wanted to pay the bill and do this horrible thing. I was facing the brutal truth, but I didn’t have to like it.

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Though I could go into detail about how Cricket died, I don’t feel it would be right. It was our private time with our boy and it was his final moments on this earth. I will tell you that after it was over we spent time with Cricket since we didn't have to worry about him being outside of the oxygen cage any longer. Dr. De helped him pass very peacefully in Sam’s arms. I will tell you that we cleaned him and combed his fur so he looked as nice as he ever did. We wrote him special notes. I don’t know what Sam wrote. Those words were not for me. We folded the photo and slipped the paper under Cricket’s head and placed it on top of the special blanket he was resting on. Those two items would be cremated with him.

 

Robin and Sam for Cricket
©2014 Robin AF Olson. The photo of Sam and me I printed out to place with Cricket's body after he died.

I held his front paws in my hand. I told him how proud I was of him and how brave he had been, about how he was such a very good boy, but mostly how much I loved him and would miss him forever. Even in death he was beautiful. His coat was thick, plush, soft, and the deepest black.

We stayed for a long time, but eventually we knew we had to go home. The cats and foster kittens needed to be fed. Life would go on whether I wanted it to or not. The twisted anxiety in my gut was gone, replaced by a tightness in my chest, the rippling pain of heartache and grief was here to stay, an unwelcome old friend returned.

 

I had one last task left. I had to tell our nine surviving cats that Cricket was gone. I was careful not to touch anything after I petted Cricket for the last time. Once home, I slowly approached each cat and let them sniff at my fingertips. Some of the cats backed up, upset, but more of them took a long time, sniffing carefully as if they were making sense of what they were smelling, a few of them gently licked at my fingers as a way to say their farewells.

 

2005 Cricket and Me 475
©2005 Robin AF Olson. Our most beautiful boy when he was just a few years old.

I hate death. I hate cancer. I hate that it robbed our boy of the long life he should have had. Now I have to figure out how to go on with another hole in my heart.

Fly free darling Cricket. I hope to see you again one day. July 5, 2004—July 14, 2016.

Crickets Urn Insta Version R Olson 450
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Cricket's urn remains on the cat bed he spent many happy days upon, sleeping in the sunshine. In a way it comforts me to see him there, but it also breaks my heart.

EPILOGUE: July 24,2016. Here I sit, wrapping up this monumental post, while another of our cats has fallen ill. Our 16-yr old cat, Nicky has been hospitalized for five days and is on an IV. We suspect he will be there for at least a few days more. His kidney function is not good and he has a fever and infection somewhere…or his elevated neutrophils could be a sign of cancer. I keep wondering how we can go on with one cat after another becoming so ill, so quickly. I keep wondering if these events are related, but we knew Nicky had kidney problems for which he’s been treated with fluid therapy for 4 years. He fell ill so quickly it was terrifying. Despair has never left my side this past month. I need her to leave me and my family alone. We’ve had more than our share of heartache and I can't take another sip, even if she tells me I must.

A Spoonful of Despair. Part 3 of 4

Cricket is the kind of unassuming cat most people would pass by. He’s not a fancy breed and he’s small and keeps to himself. When someone would come to visit we’d usually point him out hiding in a basket under the table, then warn them not to touch him because he had been feral and we didn’t want anyone to get bitten; that he only trusted us.

 

But Cricket had more going on than we thought. Very slowly, over the years, adding more and more cats and having more and more people come to our home, Cricket began to stand his ground. He was never aggressive, he was determined. Cricket had a brave heart that burned inside him and he wasn't about to spend the rest of his life hiding. With our encouragement, this little cat blossomed.

 

Most mornings, Sam would make coffee and Cricket, hearing the sound of the beans being measured out or the water poured into the carafe, would come running into the kitchen. He’d sit on the bench nearby and ask for pets. It was their special time together.

On my lap
©2014 Robin AF Olson. A proud moment for me, Cricket sat in my lap. I think this was the only time he ever did it, but I was so grateful.

Later in the morning, Sam would often sit on the loveseat, typing with one hand on his laptop and petting Cricket with the other and Cricket loved the attention. Cricket was the master of giving head-butts. He loved to rub his face against us, marking us as his own, rubbing and rubbing over our hands and arms. He was not shy about it either. I’d sit with him from time to time, too, leaning over and letting him rub my face and forehead. I never worried he would nip me or hurt me in any way. I felt proud that he was claiming me as part of his family.

This was no feral cat.

Cricket was a fixture in our home, but we also knew that we could probably never take him to the vet because he was still fearful about us picking him up and certainly ever taking him anywhere in the car.

Cricket on the BED R Olson copy
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Brave enough to come upstairs and lay in bed next to me when I had the flu. Cricket rarely entered the bedroom since the other cats claimed that space. I wish he could have spent every night with us.

Two years ago our hand was forced. With friends visiting us one night, Cricket walked past one of them and I gasped. His rear end was covered in blood. It appeared his anal gland had ruptured and he needed to be vetted, and soon, but how?

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. The second, worse rupture in 2015. He never acted oddly or in pain and with his black fur it was tough to see if there was something wrong until it was too late.

Thankfully my friend, Katherine, who has a lot more experience handling cats than I do, was willing to come up and get Cricket crated for us. In the end it wasn’t as bad as we feared. Cricket was ten years old and though very scared no one was harmed getting him packed up to go to the vet.

Cricket was in sorry shape, but we had his teeth cleaned and got him stitched up. Shockingly, a year later the other side blew out. This one was very serious and we had no idea why it was happening. In fact it blew out two days before Gracie died so you can imagine what sort of nightmare we were facing with two critical situations going on at the same time.

CRICKET ON THE BED
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Cricket looked angry but never was. He was always a sweet boy.

After Cricket’s scary health issues early this year he got an upper respiratory tract infection, along with a few of the other cats. Everyone eventually got better, but Cricket still had runny eyes. It also seemed like he lost his sense of smell. Getting him to eat became more and more difficult.

 

We returned to the Vet and we started him on antibiotics, but his inappetence got worse. We changed medications but they did nothing. Feeding Cricket became a frustrating chore, so we tried another Vet visit and this time they did x-rays looking for a polyp or problem and found only that his kidneys were small and oddly shaped. His kidney function was okay but the real shocker was that Cricket was hyperthyroid…AND…a very rare kind of hyperthyroid that was idiopathic in nature…meaning he had no signs of the disease at all. He did not drink water. His coat was beautiful. He was not eating all the time, in fact, the opposite. He was not yeowling at night. Cricket never meowed. How did this happen? At least it could be treated with medication or radioactive therapy, but I couldn’t help but be shocked.

 

We began treatment in pill form until we could afford the $1600 radiation treatment. The medication could cause many other health issues so we had to re-check Cricket’s blood work in about a month. We also began a steroidal eye drop into Cricket’s nostrils to see if it would help him smell his food.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. To the Vet yet again.

It worked great. Cricket began to eat again and I was becoming a master of learning how to hide his daily pills so we didn’t have to stress him out all the time trying to pill him.

But something still wasn’t right.

Cricket stopped showing up for mealtime. He began spending a lot of time in a cardboard box with a blanket in it in the basement. We had a harder and harder time getting pills into him and we assumed he was staying away from us because of the pills. Maybe they were making him sick?

Cricket wasn’t eating much at all. Just as Spencer began to get back on his paws, I brought Cricket to the vet. It was eight days ago today.

 

They repeated his x-rays to find a shocking change. Cricket’s once normal lungs looked like there’d been an explosion inside them. It wasn’t a normal pattern of pneumonia, or even asthma. Dr. Larry feared it was neoplasia (a nice way to say cancer), but how could this be true? The x-rays barely a month before were clean and now my cat was showing an interstitial pattern indicating something terribly wrong was going on. Was it a reaction to the drugs? Was it something we did? If he was in the basement, did he get a fungal infection or was it from not treating the upper respiratory tract infection hard enough with antibiotics? WHAT WAS GOING ON? CRICKET HAD JUST TURNED 12 YEARS OLD.

 

Dr. Larry told me Cricket needed a wash of his lungs (TransTracheal Lavage). They would insert a small tube into Cricket’s lungs, inject a small amount of sterile saline into them, then tap his chest to loosen up the material inside them and take a sample. This would be done under sedation, but Dr Larry could not do this procedure. I had to go back to see Dr. De and it would easily cost over $1000 to do this test, but it was the only way to know what was sickening my cat.

The problem was, I didn’t even have enough money to pay my mortgage.

I decided that if my own rescue granted funds to other families to help them get Vet care for their cat that we could do it for Cricket, too. He was a rescue, he needed help. It had to be done somehow. I had a few dollars left in my IRA. I would deplete it if need be. Cricket wasn’t a broken car. He was my cat.

Cricket and Gracie
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Cricket and Gracie, about a month before Gracie died.

 

I posted about Cricket on Facebook and that night something happened that I still can’t believe. Years ago I wrote a post about a cat who needed help. The cat got a rescue and a new, loving home. I later helped this person with other cats, but never thought anything about what I would get from this. I was just doing my thing, helping others. We became friends and often sent each other encouraging messages on Facebook and she even helped us do some fundraisers from time to time. She reached out to me and said she wanted to help Cricket. She had set aside some emergency funds for her cats and wanted me to have them. I warned her it was going to require a lot of money, but she did not back down. She told me, though she wanted to remain anonymous to everyone else, that in a few days she could grant us enough money to cover Cricket’s procedure. She was grateful for my help and told me I was her inspiration. That because of what I’d done for so many cats that she, too, had found her place doing rescue and had saved many lives. Not only was she making it possible for me to save my cat, she had given me a gift of knowing that what I do makes a difference. She wanted to pay it forward, so she did.

 

She was the reason all our donations for Cricket were matched. She was the reason why when he needed more than I ever thought possible, I could say yes, do the treatment…do the test…but I digress.

Wednesday was the day. We were to do the wash and get some answers. The problem was instead of being about $1000, the estimate was nearly $4000. The grant money would not be to us until the next DAY and even with that it would wipe out all our funds and I still have 14 kittens to provide for. Cricket sat in an oxygen cage while I debated what to do. It took me three hours of call after call to Dr. Larry, to Sam, to my friends who have 30 cats and know every little thing about them. The test might result in no answers at all because whatever was going on was between the bronchioles, not inside them. They'd have to hope that when the tapped on his chest that something would loosen up and move into the brochi so they could remove it..or it would loosen up something terrible and it would kill Cricket. Also, it would not be responsible for me to spend what little we had, risking all our kittens.

I asked if we could do something else. After speaking with Dr. Mary, Dr. Larry’s partner, she said we could hit Cricket with a high dose of antibiotics for a few days. If he improved we knew it was bacteria. If he didn’t it was more likely cancer or a longshot, a fungal infection. We could take him home and better yet, take a few days to get funding ready. It made sense, but it was also very risky.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. The last day Cricket was home.

I brought Cricket home, but he did not do well. By Friday we realized that we HAD to do the procedure because Cricket was getting worse. I called too late in the day and the Dr was not willing to stay late to do the test. With the weekend beginning there was no one there to do the test until Monday or she could do it on Tuesday. I couldn’t risk moving Cricket to another vet over an hour away. We had to wait and pray we could keep him comfortable until we could get the test done. We’d keep up on the medications and hope they would kick in, but Cricket wasn’t eating so I began the difficult task of assist-feeding him to keep him going.

 

Being a nurse to a sick cat isn’t my strong suit because I get upset when they get upset. Sam has a much better temperament and I honestly think we work great as a team. Where I become unglued, Sam will step in. He would carry Cricket over to me and I would prepare the food, track the medications and feeding. Then Sam would hold and comfort Cricket while I awkwardly syringed soft food into him. I hated doing it, but I wanted to save Cricket’s life. I was in such shock that he could have cancer, my head was spinning. What did we do to cause this? If it was a primary cancer, meaning it started in his lungs, it was VERY VERY RARE. Most often lung cancers start someplace else, but we did an ultrasound on Cricket and everything other than his lungs looked just fine. His blood work was normal yet he had a demon lurking inside him and it was moving fast.

 

Saturday was awful. I kept wondering if we should start Cricket on steroids. Giving him steroids meant we could NOT do the test. It would effect the results. It could effect how he gets other treatments. I had steroids from when Gracie was in her final days. I could give them now because Cricket’s respiration was going up and up. After giving him a pill or feeding him he’d get so bad he’s open-mouth breath, nearly passing out. That night I started him back on his thyroid meds, hoping it would help slow down his breathing because hyperthyroid basically causes the heart, liver and kidneys go to into overdrive. I hoped the next morning I’d see him feeling a bit better.

During a crisis like this I don’t sleep well and don’t eat much. I have a hard time functioning at all because I am so deeply concerned for the well-being of my cats. I’m so scared to find them dead or in distress that it pushes me over the edge. I constantly wonder if I should medicate myself so I can get through it, but the other part of me thinks I have to face it directly. Where is my faith that it will get better? I had none. I couldn’t run away from this fear even if I had horrible visions of finding Cricket dead on the floor flashing through my head.

Cricket began to hang out on a big cat tree near the window in the living room. Sam and I made a rule to not mess with him when he was on that tree so he could feel less like he needed to hide in the basement and it seemed to work. On Sunday morning the first thing I did was to check on him. Seeing him alive was a small comfort, but as I sat near him, I watched his breaths. They were more rapid than ever and he seemed as if he was about to pass out and I wasn’t even touching him.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Safe space on the cat tree and Cricket's special yellow towel.

I asked Sam what he thought. Was Cricket worse? We weren’t sure. Maybe it was just that he thought we were going to pick him up and give him a pill? In days past we couldn’t even lift him to put him on a scale do check his weight without him going into a panic.

I didn’t want to see that Cricket had gotten worse. It was Sunday. No specialists on hand at the ER, yet we needed Cricket in an oxygen cage and we needed to do it soon.

I was terrified. We waited too long. Maybe they could get him stabilized until the next day. Maybe a day on oxygen would help him feel better. I called Dr. Larry, who was taking a few days off with his family. He agreed we needed to start steroids right away and that the oxygen would help.

 

Although I felt like I was betraying Cricket to take him back to the Vet, it had to be done. Sam drove while I sat in the back seat with Cricket. He cried out and began panting. The ER knew we were coming and were ready to put him into oxygen right away. A few times I thought Cricket was going to die he was breathing so fast. I petted him and tried to soothe him while my own heart was going to burst from grief. I wanted to help him, not see him suffering. If only he could understand we were trying to help him feel better.

 

As we walked in the door, a tech ran out and took Cricket away. We met with the Vet on call and she said they would keep him on oxygen and go over his case then decide what to do next. That steroids certainly would be called for, but right now they wanted to let him rest and recover. The bill for one night was over $1000, but at that point we had to do what he needed. I signed the estimate and we went to see him before we went home. It was so difficult to see him struggling and knowing he was scared. I felt Despair tap me on the shoulder, then asked me to take another spoonful. I opened my mouth as tears ran down my cheeks, the bitterness of what had already transpired was more than I could bear.

Next up: another spoonful and another...

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. In oxygen cage for now, but will Cricket ever be able to come home again?

A Spoonful of Despair. Part 1 of 4.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Next up: A Semi-feral cat, indeed!

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