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The Never-Ending Rescue: Pistachio. Part 2 of 2.

What the Hell was I going to do? I used to depend on Sam. He helped out when the kittens needed a claw trim (my close-up vision sucks) or he’d hold a kitten so I can give them medication. I needed to de-worm Pistachio again, but Pistachio was fussing around and wouldn’t hold still.

I was too proud to ask for help and even though I went slowly, right after I gave the liquid de-wormer, Pistachio coughed furiously.

I feared the meds went into his lungs which can cause aspiration pneumonia. When it happened the next night, too, I got very scared I screwed up big time.

I took Pistachio to the vet the next day. The kittens were due for their first FVRCP vaccination anyway. I forgot to mention the coughing when Pistachio was examined, but Dr. Larry didn’t hear anything troubling during the exam. It didn’t help that the kitten was purring so loud it interfered with what he could hear. Because I didn’t say anything about the cough, he didn’t know to listen extra carefully.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. One of over 2 dozen trips to the vet. Here Pistachio is being examined by Dr. Mary.

Over the weekend, late at night, Pistachio would cough, a wet cough, not unlike a hairball type cough, but there was something off about it. I called Saturday morning and talked with one of the vet techs. She said if it got worse to come in but that maybe I was over-thinking it. I agreed. Lack of sleep, maybe giving it another day, since Pistachio was bright and running around, would be okay.

By Monday I was sure there was something terribly wrong and thank goodness I went back to have Pistachio checked. On x-ray you could see his lungs looked terrible. If it was aspiration pneumonia, Pistachio could DIE. No joke. Maybe I just killed one of the cutest kittens I’ve ever fostered.

Artistic Cutie R Olson for FB
©2018 Robin AF Olson.

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I was to give Pistachio antibiotics because, as Dr. Larry told me, the bacteria in his mouth was pushed into his lungs, if, indeed I forced the de-wormer liquid into his lungs. It made sense, but I didn’t want to give him the medication because I knew it would throw off his gut bacteria.

I’ve been learning about homeopathy and I’ve seen some amazing things happen for my cat, Spencer, but I didn’t know what to do for Pistachio so I followed Dr. Larry’s advice.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Feel better!

The next day Pistachio didn’t cough that I know of. He seemed to be doing really well, though his appetite was worse than ever. He’d never been a great eater, which is very unlike kittens, who will usually eat anything and everything. Something didn’t add up. I just couldn’t figure it out. I know I’d seen kittens get a cough after being de-wormed. The dead parasites can cause a mild allergic reaction that effects the lungs. I’d seen it a few times but it always went away after a few days. Pistachio was skinny. I could feel his ribs. His wormy belly was gone, but he wasn’t chunking up.

©2018 Robin AF Olson.

It was very difficult to stay strong and keep Pistachio’s symptoms tracked I was so stressed out. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t write. Words failed me. One night I saw Sam sitting in the living room typing onto his laptop. Facebook was open. I could see he was talking to someone in Messenger. It was late at night. Who was he talking to? I NEVER EVER SNOOP. I’m not that kind of person, but he was saying a lot to whoever it was. He got up and walked into another room. I tiptoed over to his laptop, but I couldn’t tell who he was talking to because I had the wrong glasses on. All I know is he saw me looking and he quickly walked over and closed the laptop, then walked back into the kitchen. That’s when I felt the gut-punch of fear well up inside me. Was Sam cheating on me? Would he really do that? For over a decade we’d lived together and I never worried about him having something going on with another woman, but now this? I understood. We’d been under tremendous stress for too long. No fun. No laughter. Lots of hardship. Why wouldn’t he look for love somewhere else? Why wouldn’t I? I couldn’t ask him about it, but I could let the fear fester inside my gut and add to my sinking depression.

I returned to my self-imposed jail, the foster room, and tried to read a book as I sat there trying not to throw up. I didn’t want to be on social media, but I wanted to look at Sam’s posts. Maybe there was a clue there, but I stopped myself. Instead, I made a list about how we would separate the cats. Which ones Sam would get. Which ones we’d have to re-home (yes, re-home). How I would live if I cashed out whatever I have left, sell the house in its poor condition and move. I couldn’t live in an apartment because they’d restrict me from having more than a cat or two. I’d have to buy something, but what? Where would I live? Where could I move where it’s affordable? How would I make a living?

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Off to the vet again.

I realized if Sam and I broke up for good I’d have to shut Kitten Associates down, at least for a year or two, or maybe forever if I couldn’t get back on my feet.

I tried to be positive. Maybe it was time to realize a dream I’ve had for over a decade. I’ve wanted to move to Lunenberg, Nova Scotia since I visited there in 2004. I looked up what it would take to get citizenship in Canada and I’m A) too old, B) don’t have any skill set they need, C) don’t have a $600,000 (at least) business to bring into the country. I think I could live there, just not as a citizen, but I’d have to keep residency here in the USA, right? How could I do that?

I was hit with a crippling sense of failure. I'd waited too long to try to move. Add that realization to depression, well, it wasn't a good mix. I started to have very dark thoughts about maybe I didn't even want to live any more.

My father took his life. I know what suicide does to the surviving family and friends. When my mother was still alive, I had to promise her I wouldn't follow in my father's footsteps. She knew of my struggles. We made a plan. If I ever went into the dark place I could call her. Then my next goal was to get to my next breath-that was it.

I knew if I could just hang tight, I'd feel different in time, but without the support of my mother, I didn't know how I was going to manage to be strong enough to keep going. I had to find some grain of faith and trust that I really didn't want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop. I could find another way.

I started looking around for things to sell. I have a lot of items from my parents estate that I don’t want and that they didn’t care much about. Nothing is particularly valuable but if I sold it all off it might help with a few bills and paying bills would help me feel better. I have an old jewelry box of my mother’s. Inside it I found my father’s wedding ring. He took it off after he had an accident fixing the garage door and spilt his fingers open. It was when we lived in Ohio back in the 1960s. He never put the ring back on after that, though my parents stayed married the rest of their lives. But now the unworn ring gave me a clue about the truth of their relationship.

A few months ago I found out my brother is only my half-brother, that my mother had had an affair with a lawyer just a few years into my parent’s marriage. Maybe my dad found out some time around the accident and that’s why he never wore the ring again. For his sake, I hope he never knew the truth.

It made me sad to see the ring, I missed my daddy so much. I would never sell it, but oh to have one of my parents around to confide in during this time would have been a great relief. My mother’s been gone for over ten years and my dad, nearly twenty.

I put my daddy’s ring on and inside the next small box I found a necklace he gave my mom. It’s a jade heart surrounded by tiny pearls. I love this piece and won’t part with it. On the back it’s inscribed to my mother and dated Feb 14, 1959. 59 years later I held it in my hands. It just happened to be Valentine’s Day 2018. I put the necklace on. It fit perfectly. Through the pieces of jewelry I could feel both my parents with me. I hoped that they were out there somewhere helping me find my way out of a very dark place. I felt so alone. It was unbearable.

I went downstairs and found two Valentines cards from Sam on the kitchen counter. I was shocked. I figured this would be a Valentine’s Day with no celebration. I was too scared to open them, but once I did I was sickened, because one card basically said he wished me happiness and peace. In so many words, goodbye, then he added, I don’t wish you anything bad. In the other card he made a comment about the artwork on the cover; heart-shaped sushi. We went out for sushi the first time we met 25 years ago. It was the first time I ever had it and I loved it.

Inside that card were tickets to a comedy show he knew I wanted to go to. I felt totally messed up and distraught. What was going on? Why wouldn’t he talk to me but yet here was this offering. Was it a goodbye gesture or something else? By then I didn’t have the confidence to imagine it was anything good, so I slunk back into my room and sat with the kittens.

Later that night I went into the master bathroom to brush my teeth. Sam was in bed reading, not looking up at me. I was so sad and broken. I don’t know how I worked up the nerve, but I slipped into the bed next to him. He was startled, silent. I lifted his arm and got under it. Even if he loved someone else, maybe he still had a little bit of love left for me? He didn’t say a word. He put his book down. He didn’t adjust his position. He didn’t hold me any closer. He stretched out and turned the light off. Neither of us spoke. We barely moved. I didn’t know if he wanted me there or was too stunned to do anything. I squeezed his hand. He didn’t squeeze back. I laid there quietly for a few minutes. We were like two corpses, we were so still. The only sign of life was our breath. I didn’t know how long to wait or what to do next. I felt resigned to my fate. After a few minutes I got up and quietly went back to the foster room to sleep. He didn’t stop me. He didn’t come after me. He let me go. It’s amazing how much can be communicated without words and how much it hurts.

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A few days passed. More tension. Continuing inertia on my part. I couldn’t take the stress any more, but I also feared if I said anything to Sam we’d have a knock-down (not literally), drag-out fight. I just didn’t feel like I could do that and I was too down in the dumps to even try. I went out to dinner with some of my cat-rescue lady friends, but it did little to cheer me. I didn’t want to get into a bitch-fest complaining about Sam. I just wanted to go back to my ratty bed in the foster room.

And I was worried about the kittens, yes the kittenS. Cassie started coughing. That meant two things, one: I DIDN’T GIVE PISTACHIO ASPIRATION PNEUMONIA because that’s not contagious and two: whatever was going on they BOTH HAD IT. Was it viral or due to their common health issues regarding parasites? Mia was in the room, too and she seemed unaffected.

I couldn’t keep ignoring my problems. I had to get back on my feet. I had to talk to Sam, so without any agenda, I sat down next to him and started to talk. Thankfully after all the weeks of not talking we’d both calmed down enough to have the start of a conversation. We didn’t fight at all, but we expressed some of what we were feeling. We acknowledged we have a long way to go, if we go together. We need to make a lot of changes but we weren’t going to try to solve it all in one sitting or say everything that needed to be said all at once, too, but at least some of the pressure dissipated.

I asked him about if he’d stepped out on me. I looked him in the eye when I asked. He said no. Nothing was going on. He was surprised I asked him that, but I told him I had my reasons. Yes, I understand people lie to each other, but I had a choice. I chose to let it go. If there was something going on or still is, it will come out eventually. Since Sam never left home much during the past few weeks and even before that, he couldn’t be hooking up with someone nearby. It would have to be via online, or it was nothing. Part of me was too beat up emotionally to fight about that, but the other part still wasn’t 100 percent certain I wanted to fight for him at all.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Late one night we get silly.

Pistachio was doing all right, other than a rare cough, but still wasn't eating well. Cassie hadn’t coughed again since the first time days ago. I thought they were getting better, but without warning, Pistachio started up again. The kittens were a bit quieter than usual, not playing or eating well. To make things worse, Dr. Larry go the Flu and wasn’t in the office for most of the week while I was getting suspicious about the kitten’s health.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Catshew finally learns she can relax around me.

Yesterday I took them both in to see Dr. Larry. The night before they’d been quiet and had actually eaten a meal. I thought maybe I was nuts, the stress of the past month, severe lack of sleep had gotten to me, but I wasn’t wrong.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Pistachio's x-rays.

Dr. Larry took x-rays of Pistachio’s lungs. They were no better than two weeks ago when we last did the rads. He told me if Pistachio was an adult he’d think it was cancer. It did not look like asthma, but perhaps it was P.I.E. (Pulmonary Infiltrates of Eosinophils). Yet another disease I’ve never heard of before. I swear all my cats have weird things wrong with them that my Vet rarely sees. IF that’s what it is, it basically means a severe allergic reaction to some sort of parasite. The problem is it may be a CHRONIC problem, not a curable one.

Dr. Larry asked me if we could x-ray Cassie. I had no reason to believe she was in trouble. I almost said no, but I was glad I agreed.

Her lungs are as bad as Pistachio’s. I almost fainted when I heard the news. What the Hell was going on with the kittens? How would we find out what was wrong?

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Cassie's x-rays.

We decided to do a PCR test on Cassie’s saliva since she had never gotten antibiotics, which would ruin the test results. Dr. Larry said it would rule in or out “some bad things,” (which it ended up doing) but this time didn’t go into detail and I didn’t ask, which is completely unlike me. The tests, the x-rays, the over 10 vet visits have taken a toll on us…and Pistachio’s testicles haven’t dropped. This is called, Cryptorchid.

It’s either one testicle doesn't drop or both sides don't drop, and in his case, it’s both sides which, again, is very rare. This can also be very painful and cause a lot of problems. It complicates his neutering because it turns it into exploratory surgery unless we do an ultrasound first.

It also means Pistachio can’t go anywhere-be adopted-for another two months. If at 6-months of age he still doesn’t have his little nuggets, then we have to do the procedure and surgery and we might as well wait to re-test him for FIV while we’re at it (we did re-test and he was found to be negative for FIV).

It was a real kick in the teeth. So many people want to adopt Pistachio and now no one can. I don’t know when or if the kittens will be able to find their forever homes. First, I have to find a way to get them healthy if it’s possible, and right now I have more questions than I have answers.

If there’s something to be learned it’s to follow your gut with your pet’s health. Even though Pistachio’s cough isn’t every day, it sounds terrible. He still plays and purrs, but his lungs tell another story. He and Cassie have come a very long way in the weeks they’ve been with us and I’m determined to find an answer for them.

As for me, it’s one day at a time. At least my words are back and I have so many more stories to tell.

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August 2018

It was February when I wrote about Pistachio and Catshew, but as the year dragged on, things got worse for me and Sam, for the kittens, too. Spencer just turned 17, which was the highlight of the past few months. Somehow he’s still with us. I haven’t done chemo, just homeopathy and good food. It was a very difficult decision to not give him chemo, but now I feel more comfortable with my choice. Hearing him purr and having him gain back weight he'd lost last year has given me hope he may be with us a bit longer.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Spencer & Freya curl up together. I'm so grateful Spencer is still with us.

But Pistachio. My God. For MONTHS he coughed. MONTHS. I tried homeopathy with both kittens for about 6 weeks and their lungs got about 40% better. I was tracking every meal, if they ate, if they coughed, I timed Pistachio's coughs since he was much more severely effected, even if it was 3 AM. I wrote what kind of cough (foamy or dry-harsh, etc) into the notes app on my phone.

I finally had to give up on homeopathy (which I found out later is fine to do. You don’t have to do all homeopathy or all “traditional” treatments. You can do a bit of both, but that sort of fine-tuning is not something I'm comfortable with yet.)

Meanwhile, Pistchio’s testicles didn’t drop. He frequently goes in and out of the litter pan, but doesn’t always pass urine. I got an ultrasound done to find his testicles and they only saw one. It was pressing on his bladder. The longer we waited to do surgery, the more uncomfortable he would become, but you can’t sedate a cat and do surgery on a cat who has lousy lung function.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Guess where they're going? Ugh!

We tried antibiotics. Nothing worked. I asked about lungworm, but was told it was too unlikely and his symptoms would be different. We did more tests and talked about doing a trans-trachael lavage (basically they sedate the cat, infuse his lungs with a small amount of sterile saline, then remove the fluid and test it to get answers about what the coughing was from). The problem, not only was cost, but THE CAT CAN’T BREATHE very well! Is this wise to sedate him? Okay, it would be a “twilight” sort of sedation since they needed him to cough as part of the procedure, but it was still risky.

I took Pistachio to see a specialist. We talked about lungworm again. We decided to do a Baermann fecal test. It’s $200. It’s also VERY TOUGH to do because they require a FRESH stool sample..I mean like “right out of the pipe” stool sample. If I didn’t see Pistachio pass the stool, it would be too old. Also, I needed to get the sample on Tuesday-Saturday between 8AM and 6PM. Really? That meant ideally I should be in the foster room ALL THE TIME. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I have to work!!!

It took a few weeks, but I finally lucked out and got a sample. Guess what?

LUNGWORM POSITIVE.

Lungworms are rare here in the northeast, but common in cats in the south. It meant he had to have come into contact with a secondary host somehow. I read it can be from a slug or drinking out of a puddle a slug passed through, but in the winter? Or something else was the culprit because it could be transmitted through him eating another prey animal. Whatever it was, clearly both he and his sister had been infected because they both had a terrible cough.

The treatment was a de-wormer! No biggie. We’d do it for 2 weeks. You can bet I did not miss one dose of that de-wormer!

At last, Pistachio and Catshew stopped coughing so often. Cassie was fine very quickly so I was able to get her spayed. I opted to have it done with Dr Larry just in case her lungs were an issue, but it was very expensive. Pistachio still had a lingering cough now and then, but I could finally get it set up to have him neutered.

It was July. I’d been trying to find a cure for SEVEN MONTHS.

The first week of August we set the date for his neuter. The neuter is really exploratory surgery to find both of Pistachio’s nuts. Dr. Larry said we had to repeat the ultrasound, which dashed my hopes at not having to spend yet another $500 on more tests. I’d taken him to our vet over 20 times and spent over $4000 on his care to date. His surgery was going to be about $750. Normally it’s less than $100 to neuter a cat. His care was breaking the bank.

©2018 Robin AF Olson. Still coughing.

The day arrived for his surgery. I couldn’t wait. For months I’d been suffering from the stench in the foster room. His urine smelled VERY STRONG-a mix of ammonia and male-cat-stank since he still had working hormones. I couldn’t do much to clear the smell out of the room and I was trying to sleep there each night. Yeah, good luck with that. A few weeks after surgery his hormone level should drop and the smell would go away. I could finally put Pistachio and his sister up for adoption.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. At least Pistachio can get some rest.

Around 6AM Pistachio started coughing again. I had to cancel the surgery. It was too risky. I didn’t know if the de-wormer had failed or if something else was going on. The next time we could do the ultrasound and the surgery was a MONTH later (August 31). I was devastated.

This cat was uncomfortable. The smell was terrible and he continued to cough from time to time. I contacted our specialist and she said we should repeat the Baermann test before trying any surgery. Here we go again…

Meanwhile, Pistachio was growing up. The sweet little kitten got “stud tail!” It’s when an intact male has overactive hormones that create an overabundance of oil in the sebaceous glands. The base of his tail got greasy and it could get full of blackheads and become infected, so back to the vet I went with a new bottle of specialized shampoo for his tail. Pistachio was so fearful he hid under a towel on the exam table.

He no longer trusts me to come near him because of all the vet visits. It breaks my heart more than I can describe to lose his trust. I love this kitten so much, but I have to get him healthy and that means taking him for car trips to the vet whether he likes it or not

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Growing up fast. Pistachio's tail floofed, while the rest of his coat is silky and smooth.

We didn’t wash his tail. It can actually make it worse and because we plan on doing the neuter I HOPE, it’s a temporary problem (and he didn’t have an infection).

He’s a man-cat now, too. I’ve NEVER seen this before because we ALWAYS spay and neuter our kittens at a reasonable time. I would never wait 9 months to neuter a cat unless he had health issues, as Pistachio has, but now, my little guy has a BIG JOWLY HEAD (often called “Apple-head” here in the northeast or “Biscuit-head” down south). He probably weighs 10 pounds. We used to be so close. He loved to sleep on my chest and now he whines if I come near him.

I hope that in a few weeks, after his surgery, he’ll feel better and want to be close again. I don’t know if anyone will want to adopt him and his sister since they’re no longer kittens, but I can’t keep him as much as I would like to.

I’ve spent most of this year helping a cat I thought I’d have adopted out so long ago. It was supposed to be a quick rescue, not one that broke the bank, my heart and my back. I don’t regret rescuing Pistachio and Cassie. I know they would probably be dead if I hadn’t fought so hard to find out what was ailing them, but now I really need help for the final hurdle.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. One and a half 'staches.

Thanks to our friend Chris, she will match up to $1000 in donations. We need them BADLY. This year has been the toughest on us. Donations are at about 1/10 of what we normally can raise. We just took in a mom and 5 kittens and we still have Daphne and 2 of her 4 kittens to find homes for. Chanel, who came from a hoarder, is still with us too. It’s been a tough year in so many ways, but I can’t provide for the rescue cats we have without support.

Our goal is to raise $1000 to earn the matching $1000. It won’t even come close to getting us out of the hole, but it will make Pistachio’s surgery possible. If we raise more, then it will go to any and all of the other cats in our care. Ideally, we need to a lot more to cover everyone (at least $900 to do the spay/neuter surgery for Matilda and her kittens). It’s very hard to have to ask for help, but we really need it.

Here’s how you can help:

DONATE

Give a gift of any amount over $1 to Pistachio using our PayPal.me link (you don't have to have a PayPal Account to give a gift) HERE.

Quick shortcuts to donate a specific amount :

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

VENMO https://venmo.com/KittenAssociates

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.

If you wish to write a check, Please make out your gift to: Kitten Associates and send it to: P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354 and add a note that it’s "For Pistachio."

Your gift is tax deductible. Kitten Associates is a 501c3 non-profit. Our EIN Tax ID is 27-3597692.

Please think good thoughts for Pistachio and for me, too. I made a promise to this kitten a long time ago-that one day we would be friends. I kept that promise to the best of my ability, but I can’t help but feel I have failed him, and that doesn’t sit right with me at all.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. So adorable, yet so very sick.

Sam and I have waxed and waned in our ability to get along. Sometimes I’m sure the heart-connection we have is gone and other times it feels unbreakable. We almost lost the house a few weeks ago, but a family member stepped up and helped us with a temporary loan. Our path has been rocky for so long. I'm praying we find a way to overcome these issues and find a way to take a break to recover from the stress we’re under. We’ve got to be able to buy groceries without being scared the lights will be shut off while we’re at the store. I feel like I’m in a pit of despair that I can’t get out of, but I keep trying.

I do it for the cats. I do it because they need me. I do it because I can’t fail and lose everything.

The Never-Ending Rescue: Pistachio. Part 1 of 2.

Prologue

Every time I take on a rescue-cat I always get to a point where I realize this cat or kitten came into my life for a reason. Maybe I’m just looking to make sense of it, to connect random events, or maybe there’s something cosmic going on that I’m responding to. I’ll probably never know for certain why, all I know is that it’s starting to add up with our latest rescues.

It’s been over a month [guess what…it’s been 6 months now] since I wrote what follows. A lot has happened, not all of it bright or cheery, but the puzzle pieces are fitting together. I know that these kittens needed to be here. If they had been given away, it’s very unlikely they would have gotten the care they needed. It’s not to say those people are unkind, just not as experienced caring for kittens. As often is the case, what seemed to be a straightforward rescue has turned into a complicated, expensive journey to get two kittens on the right track.

January

A text message appeared on my iPhone. “Help needed for a kitten…can you take it?” I get these requests for cats of all ages, all the time. Dozens a day. I refer some, hope-for-the-best for others, network a few, take on ones that will fit into my foster home network when funds allow. It happens so often it becomes a blur of endless anxiety, frustration, and heartbreak for me.

“I’m really tired. I’m on a break…first time in 7 years. Was going to take the winter off from fostering.” was my reply.

This is where I thought the story would end. My soul felt empty from the ravages of years of acute stress without the chance to have a day off, to feel peace again. My cat Spencer has lymphoma. I need to focus my attention on him, not another kitten who needs de-worming and 100 trips to the vet…who might have a contagious virus that will sicken my cats.

Karen, a lady I’ve known for years, works with the place where I get my old car fixed. We’ve talked cats many times. Her husband owns a business where there’s lots of heavy machinery and concrete forms. They have a small feral cat colony and from time to time they rescue the cats and find them homes. This time they couldn’t find a place for the kitten they just found and wanted me to take it.

She sent me a photo. The kitten was black and white, dirty, probably feral, probably full of fleas and mites and worms. I explained I just couldn’t do it. Later that day she told me she found a home for the kitten, but if I wanted to stop by the next morning, I could see him. She said she was already eating solid food and had eaten 3 cans she was so hungry.

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First glimpse of the little kitten. I was so tired (probably had compassion fatigue) that I didn't even notice how cute it was.

I felt like she could have told me anything about this kitten and I wouldn’t have cared. I don’t know why I agreed to stop by. I guess I felt guilty. I worried that if the kitten wasn’t going to a rescue, that at least I should make sure it gets de-wormed and make sure it was in good enough shape to go to a home. Why I put a cat carrier in my car before I left the house is beyond me. I just had a feeling I better do it in case there was more going on than I was lead to understand.

I heard the kitten before I saw her. She was crying, backed into the corner of a small dog crate that was placed on the floor in Karen’s office. Karen explained they had bathed her a few times, but you could still smell the odor from burnt engine oil coming off her. Her fur was caked and spikey. She was hunkered down, terrified. That’s when I learned she was found under the hood of a big truck, on the block heater of a diesel engine. Too scared to move, one of the employees grabbed the kitten. It had been so cold outside that the only source of warmth anywhere was under the hoods of the trucks since they were plugged in when not in use to keep the engine fluids warm so they’d start each morning.

I asked her to take the kitten out of the crate. She really stank. Her belly was so big I could barely see her legs. She shuffled over to a stack of papers and pressed herself against some file folders. Her pupils were huge. She was definitely feral and I said as much to Karen.

Pistachio at NCC
©2018 Robin AF Olson. Filthy, stinky, adorable.

She was skin and bones under all that swelling. She might have other health issues. Her eyes were watering, then she sneezed. I asked about the person who was going to adopt the kitten and was told they had a cat and dog, but that was about it. I asked if they were going to make sure the kitten got spayed and I didn’t get a firm answer.

I looked at the pitiful fur-blob and told Karen that I thought I should take the kitten. My inner voice was yelling at me at the time, but my heart won out. I knew what this kitten needed would be too much for someone who doesn’t work with kittens to deal with. That the kitten would probably turn into one of those kittens who always hides under the sofa because it didn’t get socialized properly. I worried that it wouldn’t get the vet care it needed. As a rescuer, it was against everything I do to leave this kitten’s future up to fate.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Oh yes, I AM the cutest kitten, ever.

I carefully inserted a syringe of de-worming medicine into the kitten’s mouth, then quickly turned her upside down and looked between her back legs. She was a HE. Karen was sure it was a girl, probably because the kitten has a very girlie looking face, if that makes any sense. I saw little nubs, no question in my book of it being a "him", but the next question was…

Oh shit. Now what do I do? Karen agreed it made sense for me to take the kitten and perhaps he could be adopted later by this lady once the vetting was all done.

I called my vet. They could see us right away. I packed up the kitten into my oh-so-conveniently-ready-cat-carrier. As I placed the carrier onto the front seat of my car I said to the kitten; “You don’t know this, but we’re going to be good friends one day. I promise I will take good care of you. Don’t worry.” The kitten replied by crying all the way to the vet.

I had ten minutes to come up with a name for the kitten. He has a little black moustache just under his nose so I named him Pistachio.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. A very filthy boy.

A winter storm was due later that day and I had planned to go to the store and grab some supplies, instead of rescue a kitten. My vet had to examine Pistachio between other appointments so I went to the store while they took care of him.

The store was crowded and it took a long time to get everything on my list. So long that I’d forgotten about the kitten when my phone rang. It was Dr. Mary.

She told me the exam went well, but Pistachio looked like he was coming down with an upper respiratory tract infection. They were going to give me antibiotics, but I wasn’t sure I was going to give them to the kitten because they estimated he was about six to eight weeks old and weighed just 1 lb, 9 oz. I knew some of that was fluid build-up from parasites and I didn’t want to harm his immune system right away. As I was thinking about what sorts of digestive support I could give him, Dr. Mary’s normally cheerful tone, dropped a bit.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. After the bath, a forlorn Pistachio.

“It looks like Mr. Pistachio is positive for FIV.”

My heart sank, but then Dr. Mary reminded me that due to his age, it could be a false positive and that we’d re-test in a few weeks. Although I knew it would make finding this kitten a home a lot harder, I also knew FIV wasn’t contagious as long as he didn’t end up being aggressive with the other cats.

“One day at a time. One step at a time.” I thought to myself.

I couldn’t freak out now. I had a long way to go with this kitten. Next thing was to get him home. Get him clean and get him a place to live. I hadn’t worked with a feral kitten for years. I’m not exactly the most patient person. Ugh…what have I done? What if I make it worse and I fail at socializing him?

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I got Pistachio home and set up a medium-sized dog crate where he’d be staying until I felt he was socialized enough to let him have free reign of the infamous blue bathroom, the smaller of my two foster rooms.

I was lucky. Even though he’d never been handled much before I got him, Pistachio was willing to put up with my awkward attentions. I did a few things wrong, like cover his crate. I should have put his crate in the living room so he’d get used to the sights and sounds of us and the other cats, but I was worried about spreading illness and stressing him out. Thing is, that’s what would have worked better to start.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Sizing me up.

I remembered using a baby spoon at the end of a long stick. 1. Put chicken baby food on the spoon (warmed up food of course), 2. offer it to scared kitten, 3. encourage kitten to come forward after a taste of food, 4. repeat as necessary.

OR

Do what I did which was get frustrated, then just pick the kitten up, stick him on a towel in my lap with a plate of food, and have him eat while sitting on my lap. He was not too happy about it, but he wasn’t hissing or growling at all. He was just scared.

I kept him hungry and only fed him off my fingers or in my lap. He had a very bad load of roundworms come out of him (both ends) and it caused his rectum to bleed and get swollen. We went back and forth to the vet about 5 times that first week.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Roundworms. Lots of them.

I bathed him over and over again, trying to do it quickly, but also trying to get at the deeply embedded grease that was on his chest and back. He was a good sport, but still looked like Tribble; all fluff and no shape. He was a sorry mess.

The tip of his tail was hairless and frostbitten. It later fell off (Dr. Mary said it was OK and we didn't have to do anything since it was a clean break).

But then I found the thing, the one thing he loved more than food, he loved to be brushed.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Sam brushes 'stache into a blissful state.

A few days after taking him on I got a purr as I brushed his winter-thickened fur. I knew then we’d be okay. I encouraged him to play and that helped him forget to be afraid. It only took a little over a week to get him where I felt it was all right to put the crate away and let him have some freedom. The poor kitten was alone, though, so I made myself a nest of blankets alongside the washer and dryer. It was the only place I could stretch out other than inside the bathtub. Each night I stayed with Pistachio and we watched Netflix on my old iPad after I fed him and played with him. I tried to sleep but I had no chance of success. I was terrified of crushing him in my sleep or if I did fall asleep he would stick his wet nose into my ear, startling me awake. He’d pounce on my face if the nose-in-the-ear thing didn’t work.

©2018 Robin AF Olson. Our first week together.

My new schedule was to join him around 11 PM, then stay ‘til about 3 or 4 AM. It was difficult to get in and out of the tiny space with the blankets in the way. My back was so stiff I could barely stand to fold up the blankets so I could open the door to get out and to get into my real bed. I was worried Pistachio would have behavior problems being alone so much, so I stayed with him as often as I could.

Meanwhile I’d been hearing there were possibly two other kittens related to Pistachio who were on the property that needed to be trapped. In for a dime, in for a dollar…except that I don’t trap, nor do I have a trap.

I asked on social media for help and I lucked out when one of my best buddies said she’d come help. Katherine runs Animals in Distress. We help each other out from time to time and she is a terrific trapper. I told her I’d get all our snacks and cat food for trapping if she brought the traps. She squawked: “This isn’t brunch. We have work to do!”

Hey, if I’m going to freeze my ass off waiting to trap a kitten or two, I might as well have some good snacks and tea so I ignored Katherine, as usual, and loaded up on treats.

It was about 20° F that bright Sunday morning. I had the key to the gate so we could enter the property where the cats had been seen. We set traps, drizzled stinky food all over the lot, but it was so cold the food froze in a few minutes.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Find the feral kittens here! Good luck with that.

Katherine stood by one of the trucks where Pistachio had been found and began to meow. It was so realistic a cat replied to her! There WAS a cat under the hood of the truck. The problem was…how to get it out? How to get it into a trap? The hood opened towards us, not away. It was about 8 feet high and no way to reach the hood to open it anyway. Katherine continued to meow, but the cat wouldn’t come out.

We had to keep going back into my car to thaw out after only a few minutes it was so bitter cold. I kept thinking about the kittens trying to live in this environment. All over the lot were huge concrete forms. There was no way they’d stay warm inside any of them. We didn’t see any signs of life. It was so different from my experience just the year before in Waterbury where everywhere you looked there were cats.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Inside the engine where Pistachio was found.

I didn’t want to think that failure was an option, but we had to give up. We were there for six hours. Katherine was great, offering to come back the next weekend when it was supposed to be warmer. In my heart, I wished we didn’t have to wait that long, but we needed the lot to be quiet and reduce the danger of trucks coming in and out of the lot. I’d also made contact with the caretaker of a second feral colony nearby. She’d given me a lot of information that made me wonder if our kittens were even on the lot at all, but somewhere else.

A Week Later

This time I got fried chicken as a trap bait. I’d heard that Kentucky Fried Chicken was the best, but it was too early in the morning and they weren’t open yet. I opted to hit Stew Leonard’s, a huge local grocery chain, on the way to the trapping location and got fried chicken there. Okay, I got mini-chocolate croissants, too (for us).

The temps were in the 40's and there was freshly fallen snow on the ground. Katherine and I scanned the lot, looking for paw prints and found quite a few. We made a plan to drop bits of chicken near the tracks, hoping we’d stir up some activity. Crows saw the food and started cawing loudly. I put out some dry food to encourage them to come closer. I figured if they put out the call there was food, the kittens would hear it, too.

Katherine and I sat in my car once again, thankfully not shivering as we stuffed mini croissants into our mouths and gulped down hot tea as we waited. An hour or so ticked by, then, in the distance I saw her. It was an adult cat, followed by a tiny kitten!

We were about 50 feet away, too far to see detail, but there was Pistachio’s sibling. I hoped to see a third kitten, but we didn’t see one. They were not near any of the traps. They were just eating the morsels we’d left on the ground. Katherine said that mom was probably trap savvy, which meant the odds just took a nose dive that we’d get any kittens.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Poppy and her little kitten, soon to be our Catshew.

The cats vanished soon after we saw them, but their image burned into my soul. I couldn’t just sit there and know they needed us and no do anything. We decided to move the traps further into the lot, closer to where the second colony was located.

As we crossed the lot, I saw the kitten again. I called to Katherine, but I didn’t want to yell. She couldn’t hear me clearly and started crabbing at me (as we always do to each other). I was trying to get her to head left towards a small concrete form. I was on the right. We could have cornered the kitten.

I walked as fast as I could, pointing and motioning to Katherine but she was carrying a trap and didn’t know what I was doing. I got within a few feet of the kitten but there was a huge mound of snow covered dirt in my way. I clambered up the side and the kitten dashed left, but before she did she, she waited a beat and looked me straight in the eyes, daring me to make a move. She turned quickly, then vanished. I was so upset I started to cry. I was ready to pounce on this kitten, get bitten or scratched, just to get her into my coat and off to safe harbor but she was gone. Then I saw her mom run across the street. I called out to her not to go and silently prayed she wouldn’t get hit by a car. Thankfully the road isn’t a busy one and she made it safely across.

I told Katherine what happened. We were both bummed out. We decided to set the traps where we were because to me some of the area looked like good hiding spots for the cats. There were more concrete forms but grasses had grown around them and it looked like a good cubby hole was along the base of one form. There was nothing more we could do other than go back and sit in the car and wait.

We’d waited a few hours, checked the traps, then decided to go meet the caretaker of the other colony since she was coming to feed her guys soon. We thought we might get some good intel on what was going on, but I didn’t expect what I saw next.

©2018 Robin AF Olson. Listen carefully!

Turns out our guys were also part of her colony. She had named every cat. When she called out to them most of them showed up. There were half a dozen cats or so. I gave them some of the chicken and some of the other food I had. The cats were either black or black and white, similar to Pistachio but short haired. The caretaker told us that the kitten’s mom was named Poppy and that she’d had Poppy spayed a month ago and had to quickly return her because the vet said she was still nursing. I don’t know how she managed that or how the kittens survived without their mom for a time, but they did. As the caretaker talked about Poppy, a delicate little tuxedo ran over to the feeding station. It was Poppy. I wondered if mom was here, maybe the kittens were nearby, too. The caretaker said that mom would bring her the kittens when she was ready and she’d never seen any kitten this winter. Poppy ate, then took off. We decided to go check the traps and head home, thinking we’d have to come back again as soon as we could, but also grateful to know that most of the cats had been TNR’d already and had a loving caretaker looking out for them.

I drove us across the lot and parked behind a small hill in case the kittens were nearby. We got out of my car and walked over to the traps and then I saw one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.

There was a kitten inside one of the traps, frantically trying to get out. A few feet away, sitting on a concrete block, was Poppy. She was sitting very still, statuelike, while her kitten cried out for her as she banged her tiny body into the wire bands of the trap. I called to Katherine that we’d gotten a kitten and we both ran over to the trap feeling a mixture of elation and misery. I called out to Poppy as she turned away and ran back towards the colony across the street. I told her I was sorry. Katherine said the same thing to the fleeing cat. I called out to Poppy saying we’d take care of her baby. I said I was so so sorry again and again. I didn’t want to break up this little family. The image of the little kitten flashed in my memory, her tail curled up high, chasing fearlessly after her mama just a few hours ago and now that was over, forever. How could I do that to this poor creature?

 

©2018 Robin AF Olson. Heartbreak and joy and wrapped up in a big knot of guilt. Our first look at Cassie.

It was twilight so I turned my iPhone light onto the trap. The kitten’s nose was bloody from struggling to get free. She was quite small and short-haired. I took off my coat and put it over the trap. I made her the same promise I made her brother. She’d be ok one day and one day I hoped we’d be friends, but for the moment a familiar thought came to mind: what the Hell am I doing? What mess have I gotten myself into now?

Katherine and I hugged, finally feeling like we got the job done. We’d heard there might not have been a third kitten, but everyone knew to contact us if there was. In the weeks since we did the trapping no other kittens have been seen. I fear that the others just didn’t make it, but I’m glad, at least, we got these two. Now Pistachio will have company once his sister was socialized enough to be reunited with him.

IF she gets socialized…

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Girls! Why are they so difficult? It seems male kittens usually socialize fairly fast if they’re young, but the girls, fuggetaboutit! I named the kitten Catshew (Cassie). She didn’t have her brother’s big wormy-filled belly. She wasn’t covered in grease. She was petite, had her brother’s silly ‘stache markings (though she only has a half-stache), but none of his long fur. Her tail was very crooked at the tip like a waded up ball of paper. I thought perhaps it was from a birth defect but later found out it was broken and already set. She wasn’t in pain so it was okay to leave it be.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. We love you even if you hate us.

She hated my guts; hissing and withdrawing any time I got near her. At least she wasn’t striking me. Clearly she was fearful, but I didn’t think she was going to bite me. Once again I did the wrong thing, putting her in the foster room with Mia. Her crate was partially covered, I thought to help her de-stress, but I found out later I should have kept the cover off.

I approached Cassie slowly, tried a few tricks like baby food on a long-handled spoon, but she wouldn’t go for it. I knew if I kept her hungry she’d have to come to me sooner or later and lick food off my fingers if nothing else. It was very slow going.

Someone suggested I wrap her in a towel and hold her on my lap for at least 30 minutes, petting her and touching her gently so she’d get used to me so I did that. She froze up, whined, shivered. I felt terrible and lost about what to do.

Then Pam came to visit.

Pam’s cat, Frida, was the reason for me deciding to help Pistachio and his sister. I’d learned about Frida on Instagram. She was a tattered, dirty, freshly-trapped, rescued and quickly adopted. She looked like Hell, but was also completely captivating. I fell in love with her sweet demeanor and gentle nature as I watched all her videos and waited for her next photo to appear on Pam's page. Frida had been living a rough life on the streets. She had an injury to her face. She needed a lot of TLC. Pam had seen her photo and offered to adopt her right away, not concerned that Frida might have a lot of health issues or behavior issues. She just wanted to give Frida the life she deserved.

Pam was doing everything she could to help her recover, but in barely two weeks after her rescue, it was discovered that Frida’s swollen cheek was not due to an abscess (infection), but to cancer that had ravaged her jaw and was going into her brain. There was nothing that could be done other than to humanely euthanize the sweet girl.

Frida

I never met Frida, but there was something about her that made my heart break when I learned she died. It was the day I was asked to help Pistachio. The next morning I decided to funnel my grief into helping this kitten, to honor Frida. I had no idea my simple gesture would turn into something much bigger.

You see, I contacted Pam and told her about Pistachio and how sorry I was about Frida, that she would live on by another life saved. Then she posted about what I did and the news took off. I was contacted by another gal who said she adopted a cat because of what I did, to honor Frida, too. Then more people stepped up, either naming a newly rescued cat Frida or rescuing more cats in honor of this special girl.

Pam got so fired up she decided to use social media, as I have done for over a decade, to help cats get out of kill shelters and get rescued. She started a new IG page TeamFridaFries and has been highlighting the tough to rescue cats who need a helping paw. In just a few weeks Pam has already started saving lives all over the country, to honor the cat she loved so dearly.

…And Pam had a crush on Pistachio, so I invited her to come and meet him.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Pistachio, meet Pam. Pam, meet Pistachio!

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What I often notice is when someone comes over to adopt a cat that the cat has a say, too, and some times it’s clear the cat doesn’t want that person to adopt them. That was the case with Pam and Pistachio. He just didn’t want her to hold him or pet him. It was so odd. I felt terrible because perhaps I’d been with him too much and I needed to have other people visit with him. Pam was a good sport about it and frankly it was way too early for anyone to adopt Pistachio anyway. I asked Pam if she would like to meet Cassie and of course she said yes.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Pam + Catshew = 4Ever.

That’s when I saw a love-match. Pam didn’t hesitate to purrito Cassie, then hold and kiss her, while she Cassie whined and fussed. The little kitten was confused about what this human was doing to her. Pam lit up. Her energy changed. Cassie settled down and all I could think was “PLEASE TAKE CASSIE!”

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Kitten purrito.

Pam offered to foster Cassie and I said YES right away, but I had to get Cassie to the vet and get her vaccination done before it was safe for her to be near any of Pam’s other cats. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t great and Cassie never got to visit Aunt Pam, but just seeing her with Cassie gave me the inspiration to keep trying to socialize her.

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I kept at it. I got some good advice from a few rescue friends. They said to put Cassie’s crate into the living room with no cover on it. Get her desensitized to life around humans. The second I did that she perked up, happy to see other cats. She still growled and whined every time I went near her, but she would allow me to pet her, always keeping one or both ears flattened down, not sure she trusted me yet.

Meanwhile I was going back and forth to the vet with Pistachio. His rear end was in bad shape from the parasite load. Then he tested positive for coccidia, too. I worried my cats would get it, but I read that they can become immune to it as adults. The last thing I needed was 10 cats to have diarrhea!

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Poor Pistachio. You've just got to get better!

Pistachio was becoming aggressive with me since he had no outlet to interact with other cats. I knew he needed, what I call, Kitten Bootcamp. He needed to be with other cats who would let him know he was biting too hard or being too rough, and that meant he had to be vetted enough so that it was safe to put him into the big foster room with Mia. If Cassie would turn around I could put her into the room, too, but it seemed like it was going to take months for her to be stable enough to move.

When the time came to give it a try, I realized Pistachio and Cassie had been apart for too long. Cassie was very aggressive the few moments she’d seen her brother. I decided to do site swapping so they could learn each other’s scent, while staying safe. I let them have time together, but only while I was in the room because Pistachio was so rough with his sister. It took a few weeks, but I finally got Cassie to purr and I finally felt that it was safe for both kittens to move into the foster room together.

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©2018 Robin AF Olson. Reunion.

What I couldn’t know was that I was going to be moving into the big foster room, too. Sam and I had not been getting along for months and things finally came to a head during the time I trapped Cassie. We stopped talking, eating together, being anywhere near each other. We figured out how to do this horrible passive-aggressive “dance” while we shared the same living space.

If I was in the kitchen, Sam would wait a few feet away until I left before he’d enter the room. At first I was so angry and fed up I didn’t care, but as the days wore on with no changes, I got hit with a depression that was one of the worst of my life. I tried to make a home for myself within the four walls of the foster room, but living with hyperactive kittens running around, who were fighting half the night, trying to sleep on an old hard mattress with a lone spring that poked my hip when I tried to sleep, was robbing me from getting any peace, any rest, any relief.

Things go from better to worse...will Pistachio EVER get BETTER? ...oh, then Catshew gets sick, too. Find out the good, the bad and the ugly next...

When Mother's Day Means Only Betrayal and Rage

I’m not the only person who had a challenging relationship with their mother. I get that, but a few weeks ago something happened that changed how I think of my mother. It left me with so many unanswered questions, mixed with a frenzied desire to know the truth. It gutted me, shocked me, uprooted the foundation of my entire life. Now I find myself going back and thinking about so many moments, having to re-write them, now flavored with different meaning. I am so angry, hurt and confused. I’m not sure how I go on from here knowing that my life has been a lie.

April 7, 2018

My birthday is April 3rd. It fell on a Tuesday this year. The weather was dreadful but Sam and I planned an afternoon away from home. We’d walk around New Haven (ended up being in the rain), visiting a museum, a cheese shop and get cupcakes. It was fine, nothing special, kinda damp day.

Saturday the 7th was set to be “family fun night” with my nephew, Ryan and my ex-sister-in-law, who I consider to be my sister (but who is very private so I’m not even going to say her name). These are the two, most cherished members of what’s left of my family.

Easter Pie Creation
©2002 Robin AF Olson. It would take all afternoon to make these pies but it was always worth the effort.

My mother died in 2010 and my dad in 1999. I have a brother, sort of, but we had a falling out after my mother died. I haven’t seen or spoken to him in 10 years. It’s not a big surprise, but we never got on that well as kids, either. For my part I tried to get along and tried to love him. It hurt me that I never could find a way to feel close to him except when we were joking around. We both have a great sense of humor, but other than that we are very opposite. After thinking about it a lot, he scares me. I find myself trying to please him, be a good older sister. He lived with me for a time, after he got divorced. He was supposed to look after my cats so I could go away for a few days. I came home and a cat was MISSING. He hadn’t paid attention and let her out when he was busy with his young son. He never told me she got away and got mad at ME when I yelled at him for being so irresponsible.

The cat had one eye and was very old and didn’t know the area where she was since I’d only recently taken her into my home after my mother refused to provide vet care for her. Sure, she’d feed a friendly stray but when the cat showed up one day with one of her eyes bulging out of her head, she withdrew, dug her heals in and demanded that the cat was FREE. FREE to do what she wanted, go where she wanted to go. That what happened to it now was mother nature. I don’t know why my mother said this about the strays she fed, but she said it more than once. I think she felt trapped in her life and was somehow living vicariously through the strays. It made me sick.

It left me feeling furious to the point where I could no longer have contact with her.

My mother had plenty of time and money to take the cat to the vet. Instead, the burden was on me to provide for the tiny gray cat I named Sasha.

When I confronted my brother about Sasha, he shrugged his shoulders, uncaring. I told him he was my brother and I loved him. I couldn’t understand why he’d do this to me. He just stared blankly at me as if I was speaking another language. After that point I began to realize I was stupid for trying to be kind to him. I think his heart is made of dollar bills because that’s all he ever cares about…that and being an all-about-me-drama-queen.

I eventually found Sasha and got her back home.

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There are so many things that go on behind closed doors that never are spoken about. There are so many tiny events that only add up to something much later. I never understood why my mother made me feel bad because I wasn’t as cheerful as my brother. I suffer from clinical depression but she labeled me as being “crabby” and make a joke of it.

She always urged my brother and I to get along, yet she played favorites. Only until the last years of her life did she realize my value. It was Dan she favored and that was a bitter pill for me to swallow.

I just wanted my mother to love me.

She never said as much, ever. She was often cold, distant. She manipulated me by telling me a shocking story about her first (then ex) husband Donald, who murdered her new sweetheart in a jealous rage in the lobby of the apartment building she lived in. He was a guy nicknamed, Kaz. Yes, she told me this, crying. Unburdening herself of decades of keeping this guilty secret, then denied it days later after I’d lost my temper and demanded we contact someone and find out if this was true, maybe even the police.

After she changed her tune, saying she did it to get a rise out of me, I stopped answering her calls and wrote her a farewell letter. I didn’t want to have such a toxic person in my life. I was separated from my husband and I needed support, not more drama and lies.

I didn’t speak with her for nearly a year and I was never able to find out about her Ex or Kaz.

This is the same person who I would defend when my father would say nasty things about her when she wasn’t around. He got so mad he tried to kill me when I protected her. He said something really bad about "Jews" and I couldn't stop myself from pushing his buttons, saying; "You married one." He flew into a rage unlike any I had ever seen. I ran upstairs and locked myself in my bedroom and somehow shoved a wall unit across the door before he could reach me.

He got his rifle. Yelling at me to come out of my room. He hit my door with the butt of his rifle, cracking the door in the middle. He eventually realized he couldn’t get in and left me alone, stomping off enraged.

Meanwhile, my mother wasn't home. She was the Crew Chief at the EMS in town and wouldn’t be home until after 6AM because she volunteered during the night shift.

I snuck out of my room around 5AM and hid on the neighbors back deck. I was taking care of their house while they were on vacation but forgot to bring the key. I shivered in the early May cold, waiting for my dad to go to work and my mom to come home. I knew she would comfort me and be proud of me for having her back, but I was wrong.

Instead she shouted at me “Why did you do that? I don’t need you to protect me.”

I was floored, betrayed. I was 16. I wanted to run away, but I had nowhere to go. I went back to my room and tried to move the wall unit to its original location. I couldn’t. It was too heavy.

I never knew how she was going to react, I just knew it would not be what I’d expect from a mother. She even told me, more than once, to never have kids, to never marry. Instead, regarding men she said; “love ‘em, lay ‘em, and leave ‘em.” I thought it was a joke, but looking back I fear it wasn’t.

She was brilliant, a genius with photographic memory, but born too soon because she lived in a world where women couldn’t achieve what they can now. I’ve written about her talents before, but I’ve never said much about the dark side of her icy behavior and her secrets. Most of the time I felt inadequate around her or that I didn’t please her. I wanted to feel the comfort of a hug, but she didn’t want to be touched, especially after my father took his own life.

Years after she died, I found a diary entry saying she could have stopped him, but didn’t. She’d seen him do it and after that shock, she didn’t want anyone near her ever again. She never told us.

She alluded to having a lot more secrets, but by then I didn’t want to know.

Yet, I still tried to make her happy and give her something to laugh about after my dad died. We had our moments where there was a true, clear connection, but it wasn’t very often. I was so stressed out about wanting to make her happy, I would end up failing or her reaction would just gut me. She hated getting gifts, but she liked to push me away when I tried to offer her something. It was about as far from what I would dream of as a relationship with a mom than I could imagine and it still hurts me to this day.

But who really was my mother?

April 7, 2018 2PM

My family fun night was going to start early, at 2PM, so we could bake Easter Pies. It was a family tradition from the Italian side of my family (my dad’s side), though it was ironic that my Jewish mother took over the care and sharing of the recipe. She wrote directions a few times so I’d be sure to continue on after she was gone. Making those pies was one of the few happy memories I have. We’d cut up the meats and slice the hard cooked eggs. We’d catch each other up on what we were doing and make lots of jokes. We’d drink tea and soak up each other’s company.

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©2006 Robin AF Olson. The making of the last Easter Pies. My mother died a few months after this photo was taken.

After the pies baked we’d have the annual discussion on whether they tasted better cold or hot (mother liked cold, daddy liked it heated). This year I had anxiety about making the crust. The last time I tried it didn’t work out. My mother always made the dough the night before so it was the missing piece of how to make the pie great. I’d try again. I found a recipe online that was very close to what I remembered. I made so much extra that I knew I’d have plenty for the top and bottom crust, but wasn’t sure it would hold together once I rolled it out. Even if it failed, it would be fun having my family there. We’d have a little celebration for my birthday and some cake and that would be good enough for me.

But then the doorbell rang.

I opened the door, wondering why Ryan didn’t just walk in. He’s family. He can come right into my home. It wasn’t Ryan. It was my brother and his second wife. I just stood there wondering what to do, what to say. Was he going to pull a gun on me or have a happy reunion? I squeaked out “Hello.” They said hello back. I started to cry. The pain of a decade-long separation got to me, even though I knew I shouldn’t care any more. Seeing my brother suddenly 10 years older was a punch to the gut. I didn’t care what he was going to do. I reached out for him. He gave me a hug. I continued to cry. I wondered if they knew about his son and ex coming over. Maybe they were going to join us and make pies? I should have known better they weren't there to celebrate.

He said he had something important to tell me and thought it would be ok to stop by since he knew I was having company. I thought he was going to tell me he was sick with cancer and was going to die. I was literally shaking as I invited them into the house.

I offered them tea. He said no, his wife said, yes if decafe. Then she didn’t believe me it was decaffeinated so I showed her the container. My brother stood in the kitchen looking ashen. He began to tell me about how his wife had taken a DNA test. We all knew she was adopted. She’d met her bio-family, but wanted to know about her health markers and what issues she’d have to be concerned about (so she listed all her worries over and over again “macular degeneration” “parkinson’s”…she’s all about ME ME ME). My brother decided to take the test, too.

I didn’t know what he was going to say next. I’d done a DNA test years ago and it was pretty much what I expected: lots of eastern European and some southern European DNA, no American Indian as I’d heard rumors about as a kid. My brother took out his phone and brought up the app. He showed it to me. Something was missing.

No Italian DNA.

I’d just read that siblings don’t necessarily match in their DNA and I told him as much. I was about 25% Italian, but maybe it was fine that he wasn’t? Then he dropped the bomb. 23&Me showed him family matches of other people who take the test. He didn’t see my results since I hadn’t taken that particular DNA test, but it did show him something shocking.

My brother has a half-brother none of us knew about.

My brother also has a FATHER that is NOT the same father as I have.

My brother is only my HALF-SIBLING. (I have no other siblings)

I almost collapsed, shocked to the core. I couldn’t believe it. My brother said he’d pay for me to take the 23&Me test and of course I agreed right away. This had to be a mistake, right? Because if it wasn’t it meant some terrible things.

It meant that my mother had cheated on my father barely 3 years into their marriage. Some guy, who still lives and is in Florida, is my brother’s dad. This guy has a SON who is my brother’s age so that means…THIS GUY fathered his son and my brother AT THE SAME TIME.

 

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©1957 Feminella Family. My parents wedding day.

So much emotion settled into my heart that I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. It was too much to consider being possible. So many questions began forming in my head…WHY? Who was this GUY? Was she in touch with him over the years? Did he know? Did my father KNOW? Why did my mother LIE TO US? She had 6 years after my father died to tell us the truth without him knowing. WHY DID SHE LIE? I could not stop thinking about it.

My brother asked me point blank-Did I know?

Without missing a beat, I looked him straight in the eye and told him I would never keep something like that from him, even if he hated my guts and vice versa. I had no idea, but then I realized that was why he came over, to see my reaction.

And meanwhile all this is going on in front of my nephew and my “sis”…who had no idea, either. What a way to drop a bomb, with no concern for how anyone would take the news. It could have been done in private, out of respect for me, for his son, for his ex, but no, it had to be a big drama-filled event.

I asked if he contacted his bio-dad. He hasn’t yet. He reached out to his half-brother, but there hasn’t been any reply. I told Dan I’d go through my mother’s papers and search for clues. She left some journals and letters behind. Maybe I’d find an answer there. There is no one living, other than my brother’s father, who knows what happened.

After that they hugged me and left. They didn’t want to make pies or eat them. They were going out of town for the next week. If I had any info I’d text him, but other than that he didn’t have more to say to me.

The Feminellas Judith Joseph Robin and Daniel
My family.

My precious sis handed me a bottle of vodka. She grabbed a can of cranberry seltzer and asked me if I wanted a drink. She doesn't put up with anyone's shit, especially my brother's...err half-brother's. She was furious at his behavior and said as much. She was kind and understanding and said she was very happy my nephew didn't get his DNA test back first. It would have made it appear that my sis had cheated on my brother and that Ryan wasn't his son. She laughed because it's crazy to even consider, but I was glad that wasn't even a issue. I don't usually ever drink but went to my cupboard and selected a small glass silkscreened with pink elephants. It's a cocktail glass from the 1950s. I figured if I was going to get drunk, I was going to do it right. I handed my sis the glass, then said "Fill 'er up" as tears slid down my cheeks.

The next few days I was in a trance, obsessed with going through my mothers old letters. There was a journal started from the day my brother was born. She wrote about me and how much she loved me, that she didn’t think she could love anyone more and felt badly about that. I don’t remember ever feeling love from her so this was a surprise.

She noted that my brother had a “weak chin.” Those words shocked me. Why say that about your newborn child?

She also wrote about me staying with her friends on their farm while she was in the hospital. How I was so happy being surrounded by cats. That I was in my element. I was only 2 ½ years old.

Later she penned a rather plain description about moving away from Fulton, NY to Westchester County, NY, about how she was happy to put the last 18-months behind her. She hinted there were dark days, but I have no idea why. I have many letters from my father written to my mother during those days. He was devoted as ever and his tone was loving and affectionate.

What happened?

I don’t know.

Though I still have more letters and some journal entries to read. I don’t think I’m going to find the answer I’m looking for. The small pile of papers has sat untouched for a few weeks. I think I need to move on, even though I don’t know how.

I keep looking over my life and feeling like it was a lie. I don’t have to feel badly any more that my brother and I don’t get along and that we will never be close in a way I dreamed of. I doubt the doorbell will ring again and he will be standing there, with a sad awkward smile on his face. We never got along because we’re not completely related. He has another family whose blood runs in his veins.

I am the only child of my mother and father.

And I think of my poor father, how he was cuckolded, how he was proud of “his son,” who is not his son. How devastated he’d be. I don’t think he knew. He would have brought it up as a weapon to hurt my mother at some point, but he never did.

My father loved his family and was completely devoted to us, even though he and I had a very few, very bad days. Most of the time I was “daddy’s girl” and felt protected and cherished and now I realize that I really was his one and only child.

With every memory of my past, it’s now colored differently. This is the first Mother’s Day since I learned the terrible news. I find myself wanting to say “F--- you” to my Mother on this day of mothers and get rid of those mementos of hers I used to cherish, but more than that I want to free myself from trying to be a good daughter to someone who clearly did not deserve my devotion.

And my brother? I checked on him via a text when he got back from his trip, asked how he was doing. "Good" was his reply. Any news? "No." I told him I'd always be his sister and if he wanted to go out for coffee, just us, to talk, I would be happy to do that. I wanted to be there for him. He did not reply, but maybe that was his reply. He got what he wanted from me and was going back to his fancy life where I am the poor relative, now half-sister who is not worthy of being in his life. I had already mourned losing my brother so many years ago, before he showed up at my door, and now he was probably gone from my life forever.

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©1969 Judith Feminella. Big sis and little bro.

2017. A Look Back on a Tumultuous Year.

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

January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March

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

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

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

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

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

Weird April

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

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

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

May

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

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

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stormy.

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

June and July

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

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

Yes. I’m insane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Poor Fluff Daddy!

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

Shitty September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October

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

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Thank God for chocolate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

November

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

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

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

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

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

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

December and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pistachio at NCC
©2018 Robin AF Olson. Uh oh...

Saving Spencer: The Everlasting Now. Ch. 3

(continued from ch. 1 and ch. 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 12/4/17

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 12/5/17

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

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

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

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

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. It's time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weds 12/6/17

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

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

Thursday-Friday

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

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

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

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

Saturday 12/9/17

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

Sunday 12/10/17

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

Now if he would just EAT.

Monday 12/11/17

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

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

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

Tuesday 12/12/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what I know…

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

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

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

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

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

“I feel a mass!” Dr. Mary exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except that it wasn’t okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there was no call Thursday or Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….to be continued….

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

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

The Rock Star's Fifth Daughter. The Perplexing Case of Holly Kellogg. Part 8

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

I’ve been writing in my Stephen Kellogg embossed journal every day since Holly arrived five weeks ago. Today I made the final entry.

Mabel and Journal
©2017 Robin AF Olson. My cat Mabel with my journal. Keeping a diary REALLY helped a lot. I was able to track how many times Holly peed, but more importantly what I was doing to change her behavior. I tried feeding her on the spot where she'd peed before. It worked for a few days, but then she still peed on the bed. That was a good data point to help me decide what to do next.

DAYS ON PROZAC 19

GOOD DAYS 14

 

It was time for Holly to be reunited with her family. There weren’t any more tests I could put her through. The next one would be to see how she does once she’s home with her family and without the companionship of other cats. I warned the Kellogg’s that Holly might need more time before she completely stopped peeing. We couldn't know how much stress she’d experience making such a big change. I felt she should not start off in a small space, but just come home with access to her usual places so things didn't seem different to her (all of which had been steam cleaned while she was gone). They'd have to monitor her carefully and remember that it takes at LEAST 4 weeks for the Prozac to take full effect-more like 6 weeks.

 

IMG 1797
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Stephen did come to visit Holly after he returned from his Tour and she was very happy to see him again.

I wrote the Kellogg’s a letter from Holly and sealed it into an envelope, along with a personal note that I'd leave with them to read after I'd left. Here's Holly's letter:

“To My Dear Family,

My name is Holly Ivy. I may look familiar to you on the outside, but inside I’m a different kitty. While I’ve been away, I’ve been on an adventure. I met some terrible beasts, but they became my friends because of my inherent good looks and charm.

I also met some people, who, at first I wasn’t so sure about, but guess what? They became my friends, too. One of them, I call her Aunt Robin, was super nice to me and because she is so squooshy, she made a nice bed for me to sleep on.

Another new friend is Dr. Larry. He has a pretty loud voice and where is his fur? It certainly is not on his head. That is weird. Anyway, Aunt Robin and Dr. Larry said that I was a wonderful kitty, but to unlock my magical powers I needed a little bit of help so I could become the best kitty ever, a Kellogg-kitty.

 

I told them that sounded good to me, but how would these powers be unleashed? Honestly, I still don’t know, but whatever they did must be working because I don’t get scolded any more and no one is tense around me any more. In fact, everyone can finally see me for who I really am…the super-prettiest, the pom-pom-fetcher, the smile-maker, the love-bug, and fifth Kellogg daughter.

 

I missed you all so very much and I am so glad to be home. I hope I never have to leave you again, because even though everyone was really nice to me, there’s no place better than with my family. I hope we can forget the past and move forward with joy because that’s what life is all about.

Love,

Your Holly-girl

I wanted the Kelloggs to have a clean slate and start fresh with Holly. I knew it was a lot to ask, but I’d also shown them that Holly could go a few weeks without resorting to her old habits. I’d come to understand that cats can learn to outgrow their inappropriate behaviors while on Prozac. It could take six months to a year. She might always need to be medicated, but at least we have something that worked for two weeks. Now comes the true test.

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

Stephen met me at the door in his loungewear (PJs?). I guess he felt comfortable enough around me to be himself. I wasn’t trying to be cool any more, no longer worried about what I was wearing, either. We were at ease as he bent down and nonchalantly opened Holly’s cat carrier. She walked into the kitchen, tail up, excited. Within seconds we could tell she knew she was home. She gently rubbed her cheeks against a toy filled basket on the floor and again on the corner of the kitchen island. She was a busy bee, refreshing her scent around the main rooms of the first floor.

Stephen was busy filling up the litter pans and sweeping up some loose grains from the floor. I kept an eye on Holly, tossing her a pom pom, which she ran after, or following her into the room where she’d often peed on the sofa. This time she was exploring and though her pupils were rather large, she still had a confident, happy air to her.

IMG 2199
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Holly-girl with her daddy.

 

Kirsten returned home from dropping the children off at school. She was clearly happy to see Holly again. I’d suggested they didn’t tell their daughters that Holly was going to come home today so they kept it a secret. Their second oldest daughter, Adeline, had asked before leaving for school if they could visit Holly this week, anxious to see her again. I was grateful there was still a connection even after all this time and wished I could see her face once she realized Holly was home.

 

I was grateful, too, that although Stephen has been clear he does not have the bandwidth to go a crazy distance with Holly (again), he is willing to give it another try. I’m guessing because of how hard I worked to solve this problem he's willing to continue…and I think, too, because he trusts me (and that is a great gift).

IMG 2216
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Two normal and cool people with Holly and...yikes.

I showed Kirsten and Stephen how to hide Holly’s magic pill into her food. It’s a bit of a fussy thing to have to do, but it’s only once a day. We gave Holly a snack and she ate it right up. It was a good sign that she was adjusting to being home after only a few minutes. It gave me hope.

 

Holly returned to her favorite spot next to the vent under the refrigerator. The warm air was soothing and the Kellogg’s often found her there. We gathered around her in a semi-circle, all sitting on the floor. Stephen took a selfie of all of us together, but I didn’t realize I should sit up so I looked like an idiot laying on the floor while they sat up, smiling for the camera (so I sort of fixed it in photoshop!). I really wanted this last image of us together to be the one that would bring this story to a close, perfectly, but as so many things go, events unfolded in ways I never expected.

 

Group Photo w Holly RT
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Ha ha ha...photoshop!

 

Three months ago, a guy sent me an email asking for help with his cat, Holly and I never could have imagined where our paths would take us. Today my heart is full. I’m fighting back tears, but it’s a losing battle. I worked so hard to save Holly from having a terrible future. I gave up a lot of my time and resources. I asked so many of my peers for help. I pushed and begged and cajoled, and in the end, at least, so far, knock wood, it was completely worth it.

 

A few hours after I got home, Stephen texted me a photo of Adeline. Although I can’t share it (because I respect her privacy). I can tell you what it looked like. He took it the moment she realized Holly was home. She’s crying. Her expression is a mixture of pure heartbreak and joy. Kirsten is holding her tight, comforting her, but you sense that in another moment Adeline will be reaching towards Holly so she can hold her again and tell her the words she never thought she’d be able to say: “Welcome home my Holly-girl, welcome home."

…12 hours later...

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

 

Holly peed on the eldest daughter’s bed.

 

[yep, one more part to go then...we'll see.]

IMG 1590
©2017 Robin AF Olson.

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

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

Ten Days Later

 

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

 

IMG 1494
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Screen shot from my web cam footage showing Holly peeing in her own cat bed. Andy is peeing in "her" litter pan (they were all using either pan by then) but he got in there AFTER she started peeing in the cat bed.

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

IMG 0680
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Good thing she's cute.

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

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

IMG 0802
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Everyone on my lap.

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

 

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

 

IMG 0809
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Funny-Face.

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

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

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

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

IMG 1224
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Fits in like one of the Kitten Associates family now.

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

--------

Day 3 of Prozac. Nightmare.

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

Script

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

The Next Day

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

IMG 0901
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Come on Holly-girl!

 

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

 

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

The Rock Star's Fifth Daughter. The Perplexing Case of Holly Kellogg. Part 6

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

Annie and Andy’s (A&A) possible adopter was willing to wait a few weeks, while Holly stayed with us. It also gave me a few more weeks with A&A, who YES, I love way too much (if there is such a thing as too much) and who I'm reluctant to adopt to anyone.

 

The Kellogg ladies did come visit. I offered to take them over to Wildflour Confections and Tickled Pink, which I consider to be a perfect girlie-afternoon adventure. They were in agreement because really, cupcakes and cute girlie things to buy? What is better?

 

Tickled Pink Easter R Olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Tickled Pink.

We began with a visit with Holly, breaking up the large family into smaller groups of two so Holly wouldn’t get overwhelmed. Greta and Sophia and I were having fun with the kitties while Kirsten, Noelle and Adaline were with Sam in the living room. Holly was playing fetch with her pom poms and all was well.

After a while we switched things up. Greta and Noelle were downstairs with Kirsten and Sam while I was with the older girls and Holly. Suddenly I heard a tremendous crash from downstairs. I could not, for the life of me, even guess what the sound was, other than breaking glass, a lot of glass.

I ran downstairs to find the 1950s glass topped table that’s in the room by the front door, turned onto its side with everything that was once on it in pile on the floor. Pressed up against the wall was Greta, terrified, not saying a word, not admitting she tipped the table over while her mom had gone outside to get something from the car. There is no other explanation and somehow I had to bite my tongue and not flip out as I carefully picked through the things on the floor to assess the damage.

Kirsten was immediately apologetic and confused-as we all were. If I had thought there’d be a risk of the table being turned over I would have taken precautions. Luckily, the table was ok, but one glass piece, not a valuable one, was destroyed. Later I discovered my kitschy bowling ball decanter that had a music box in the base, was also broken. That would be tough to repair and I knew everyone felt terrible and Kirsten wanted to make it right. I get it, things like this can happen. It’s only stuff and no one got hurt. I was afraid that our afternoon trip would be cancelled, but thankfully we agreed to move past it and focus on having fun.

Kirsten got everyone into their 8-seater van so we could travel together. She has so much energy and is so bubbly, I don’t know how she does it. My guess is she goes to bed at 7PM because it has got to be a tremendous amount of work to just stay present and pay attention to four children, let alone care for them and keep them all safe.

IMG 0855
©2017 Robin AF Olson. The lovely Kellogg ladies at Tea with Tracy.

We had a very lively conversation during our drive. The girls mostly occupied themselves and, once again, I was impressed by how quiet they were.

IMG 0390
©2017 Robin AF Olson. STRAWBERRY. POPTART. CUPCAKES.

I urged Kirsten to head for the cupcakes first because I was worried they’d run out since it was a bit later in the afternoon by the time we arrived (full disclosure: I NEEDED A CUPCAKE). The girls had fun choosing cupcakes and though I had every intention of only getting 4 cupcakes (to share with Sam), somehow I got 6 (thank you to Kirsten for buying them for us!). After getting cupcakes, we decided to try to have high tea down the street at Tea with Tracy. On a Saturday afternoon, the odds were not so good we’d get a table. The owner was very nice to us even though he was booked up he said if we could order and be done in 30 minutes he could seat us. We took on the challenge and had the fastest tea in history. We didn’t even finish so cups of tea were transferred to “to go” cups and the food was boxed up. No one complained. Everyone did their part and had as much fun as they could, promising they would do it again when they could make a reservation ahead of time. I was sorry we couldn’t have stayed longer, but it was nice to be part of a family for a time.

Wildflour cupcakes r olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Wildflour Confections.

Our last stop was Tickled Pink, mecca for girlie-gifts. As we walked around the shop, the girls were allowed to choose one modest gift for themselves. We broke into smaller groups pointing out things we liked. Little Greta chose a stuffed white kitten toy and clung to it as we continued looking at the displays of adorable giftware. She saw some hair combs that looked like a tiara. She tried to put one onto the kitten’s head. It kind of shocked me because a few weeks before I had done the same thing to a real kitten (I didn’t use the comb part on the kitten, just placed the tiara-comb on her head). I showed the girls the photo and we were all amazed by the synchronicity.

Will with Crown Robin Olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Princess Willoughby.

 

I think we all enjoyed our time together. Kirsten congratulated me for surviving the day with the girls, but in truth I enjoyed myself. I haven’t been around children much, other than my nephew and he’s going to be 24 soon. I find that I like kids a lot. Maybe it’s because I still feel like one inside.

 

I kept in touch with Stephen, updating him on Holly's progress. He sent her some video messages to keep her company, assuring her he still cared about her. The problem was I was the human on the other side of the messages and in a lot of ways the messages felt like they was directed to me, even though rationally I knew they were not. My God this man can make a person swoon, no doubt there. With his permission, this is what he sent Holly [see below] (and by the way, Holly heard his voice and pawed at my phone, then meowed, so his swoon-powers work on cats, too).

©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Used with permission. [SWOON!]

So things moved along. Holly began to settle down. I wondered if she’d start to pee on the bed once she felt safe in the room and if she began to bond with me. I began looking for a kitty-buddy for Holly since the Kellogg’s decided adding Annie and Andy would be too much to take on. I wasn’t surprised at all, but it would have been the easiest transition for the cats.

©2017 Stephen Kellogg. Used with permission. Holly-girl, Stephen's special nickname, along with the special message that made Holly swoon, too.

I found a possible cat-candidate with my friend Katherine who runs AID. He was the right age, mellow cat, who liked being with other cats. I trust Katherine and knew she would back him up if it didn’t work out. The Kelloggs were anxious about getting a second cat and looking forward to adding to their family. They knew I had to offer them a cat so I could carefully assess them up front to give them every chance of making a good match. I wish I had a cat that could be a solo cat but none of my fosters fit the bill.

I also realized I needed to push Holly a bit to see if she would react inappropriately, so two nights ago I didn’t clean the litter pan before going to bed. That day I hadn’t spent much time with the cats because two of my own cats, Spencer and Nora, had health emergencies. I was also trying to wean Willoughby and Weatherby off their mom, Waverly, and onto cat food. I was tired and stressed out. Annie, Andy, Mia and Holly only got the basics that day.

 

The next morning, Holly peed on the bed…on MY side of the bed where I spend my time hanging out with the cats. I was pretty shocked and saddened to see the large stain on the sheet. Thankfully I had prepared the bed beforehand using a waterproof mattress pad, topped with a shower curtain, topped with puppy pads, THEN covered with a fitted sheet. The urine was mostly absorbed by the pads, but one pillow did get a bit wet so I did a few loads of laundry.

 

Pee On Bed
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Heartbreak comes in the form of a puddle of urine exactly where I sat each night with Holly.

I thought about what this means for Holly. It could mean she will lose her home. I have to talk to Stephen about it, but I want to have more data points before I tell him.

Sam and I spent yesterday (Saturday) afternoon with Holly and the kitties. Their pans are cleaned three times a day. I made sure Holly got a snack so she wouldn’t be stressed from being hungry. Right before bed I cleaned out the pan again.

IMG 1428
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Being prepared made a big difference. There was no way any urine was going to get on the mattress with a shower curtain under these puppy pads.

This morning the bed was dry. I got up early to make sure it was ok. I scooped the pans, then went downstairs to get the cat’s food. About an hour later I served breakfast. Everyone ate well, then started using the litter pans so I scooped them since I was there. While I was scooping, I heard a noise on the bed. Holly was sniffing the area where she’d peed the day before and was furiously pawing at the area. I responded by making a short loud hiss-like sound at her. She stopped, jumped off the bed and into the litter pan and peed.

Holly pees in pan r olson
©2017 Robin AF Olson. Whew.

I didn’t know if she was reacting to a urine smell that I didn’t clean well enough or if she was energized by my being there a few times so early in the morning and by just eating. She corrected her behavior immediately once I hissed, but what was the bigger meaning here?

Was she stressed from me being gone the day before and wanting to have her scent mix with mine? Was she just having an “oops” moment that needed a quick correction? What I knew I couldn’t tell Stephen was definitively what we had to do for Holly. I couldn’t guarantee anything would work. In my own home I still deal with inappropriate elimination issues because I have 8 cats. It’s not bad compared to how it was years ago, but if I’m not careful there are still things that can trigger a cat to pee somewhere they shouldn’t.

Could the Kelloggs still love Holly if they knew they’d have to clean up after her from time to time? Maybe she would grow out of it. She'd gone TWO WEEKS without one misstep. I know she can do it and maybe in a few more months she will be using her box all the time?

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©2017 Robin AF Olson.

 

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©2017 Robin AF Olson.

 

The problem is, I can’t know how she will behave. I can put her on anti-anxiety meds, but she is only 7-months old. I’m going to talk to Dr. Larry tomorrow and I’m going to work up the courage to talk to Stephen. He’s only on the road for another week so my time is running out.

 

 

I’m afraid Holly’s is, too.

 

[to be continued...]

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

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

Then this happened…

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

Or not.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

[To be continued…]

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