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2015: The Year in Review. 1 of 2.

This might as well be the shortest blog post ever. I could sum up 2015 as the year that, well, as the saying goes; “Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.”

2015 sucked.

January

The theme for 2015 was “the Year of the Vet Visit.” Laney’s older kittens, the “J-kitties” arrived from Georgia in mid-December 2014 and were acting a bit off so I took them to the vet a few times. Eventually we decided to test them for Bartonella. Sure enough they tested strong positive. Freya came up strong positive for Bartonella, too, so they were on antibiotics for 3 WEEKS.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. The J-kitties all got adopted in less than a month after arriving from Georgia.

Lil Snickers, Ivy, Greta, Junipurr, Jasmine and Jasper got adopted so that was the good news, but it didn’t last long. Something was wrong with Freya’s eye so I rushed her to the ER where she was diagnosed with Horner’s Syndrome. The cause? No one really knew.

February

The month for Groundhogs and love…for me, love of taking cats to the vet. Not! Freya continued to struggle. It was bad enough to know that Freya could barely see with her third eyelids exposed as a result of the Horner’s Syndrome, but I began to think she was walking with her head tilted to one side. Back to the vet we went and sure enough Freya had a terrible infection inside her ear that had to be frequently monitored. Was it due to all the antibiotics she’d been on? It was only her right ear causing trouble. Dr. Mary was concerned about how much fluid was building up and that we HAD to put Freya on another type of very strong antibiotics to push this infection back. The problem is, Baytril can cause some very scary side effects. I did not want to give Freya the medication, especially for six WEEKS, but it was the only hope we had, other than doing a CT scan, then risky surgery to drain her ear canal.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. When Freya got Horner's Syndrome I thought I could handle any of her health challenges, but never seeing her turquoise blue eyes again felt like too much to bear.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. My poor baby. Head-tilt, vision problems, lovely.

At least Wallace, the tiny kitten who was rescued by the Danbury Fire Department from inside a wall, was now a big grown boy. He got adopted with the remaining “J-kitty”, Jules. They looked like brother and sister and ended up getting along very well. Jules is madly in love with one of her new family’s other pets—a dog named Coco. They spend too much time together, if you ask Wallace.

Wallace and Jules
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Jules (left) and Wallace (right) in their forever home.

March

Laney, Winnie and their offspring arrived from Georgia. ALL of them broke with a nasty upper respiratory tract infection the day after they arrived. If that wasn’t bad enough, I was terribly worried about Piglet because she was doing the worst of all the cats. Most of her family members got better over the next few weeks, but she didn’t.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Piglet takes comfort with her grandma-Laney and Louie.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Fluff sick again.

Of course you can’t have sick foster cats, then expect your own cats will miraculously not get sick at some point, too. Fluff Daddy was hit the worst and required a few vet visits and many trips to the bathroom where I ran a steamy shower for him. With his smooshy-face, Fluff was having a tough time breathing. He’d had pneumonia a few months earlier so I couldn’t risk waiting it out that he’d get better on his own.

Freya’s ear did not improve enough so we had to continue giving her Baytril.

Meanwhile my 11 year old cat, Petunia, who I have struggled to love all these years, was just not peeing in the litter pan any more. It was a horrible mess. Petunia gets bullied and try as we might, Sam and I have spent a lot of money and effort adding cat trees, barriers, adding litter pans, adding litter additives to attract Petunia to the pan, but nothing worked.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. What can happen to your cat inside her bladder when she experiences long-term stress.

I took Petunia to see Dr. Larry and found out something terrible. Petunia had stress-induced cystitis called, FLUTD. Her bladder was FULL of barbed, painful cysts and she needed surgery right away. Every time she urinated it must have hurt like HELL. If I couldn’t get the other cats to stop bullying Petunia it would continue on, but at least I could help her feel better and maybe that would help her in other ways.

Poor Piglet. She was just not getting better. We ran a DNA test called a PCR on her mucus and found out she had a triple-threat viral infection of calici, herpes and mycoplasma! No wonder she was so sick.

April

Petunia’s surgery was a success. I could tell she was feeling a lot better. The cats who picked on her backed off a little bit, but ultimately we had to do more to help her so we went back to the drawing board to figure out what we could do.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Piglet's struggles continue.

Now Piglet had an ear infection so we began treating her for that. It was odd because it seemed like she had weird-gummy-dirt-stuff (not ear mites) in one ear and that one ear was susceptible to getting infected. She did NOT like being medicated and for a little cat, she sure is strong.

May

May arrives along with a sad realization. Where are my kittens? I usually have rescued a pregnant cat or a mom-cat and kittens by now. I had no space for kittens. Even if I did open up my nearby foster home, I couldn’t oversee their care remotely. I had a full house and most of my cats were either sick or just getting over it. My home was no place for any kitten. It was simply too dangerous. It was the first time since we opened Kitten Associates in 2010 that we didn’t have any foster kittens.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Finally, Freya is doing well.

At least Freya was improving. I could see her beautiful eyes again and she was no longer walking with her head to one side. Her final check with Dr. Potanas went really well. He didn’t feel she needed surgery and he added that she didn’t need ANY more surgeries related to her atresa-ani repair, too. It meant that Freya could be spayed and be put up for adoption. The news hit me like a brick and considering the intense backlash I got for suggestion she ever be adopted, I realized that maybe we needed to consider making Freya part of our family.

June

Although we had no foster kittens, I was helping behind the scenes. By pure accident I discovered that a gentleman who called me about getting a c-section for his cat (no, I’m not kidding), ended up telling me he had 22 cats that were INTACT. He was in his 70’s and was overwhelmed. I put out the call to help and thankfully my friends at Nutmeg Spay/Neuter Clinic and PAWS jumped in to help out. You can read more about that HERE.

July

And then everything stopped and my life came to an end as I knew it.

In late June, I was experiencing severe chest pains so Sam took me to the walk-in clinic right after they opened at 8AM. I was positive I was having a heart attack. I was so upset I almost passed out from worry. I explained to the doctor my weird, radiating pains. I’d read that women present heart attack symptoms differently than men do and I was sure I was in trouble.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Is this my new best friend?

The doctor said the strangest thing to me. He said he believed me but he couldn’t sort out what was going on. They did an ECG and said it was pretty normal but there was something about a q-wave abnormality that might be worth checking into. He said I should follow up with my GP (I didn’t have one) and that if I felt worse to get to the ER.

On July 1 I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. My new doctor suspected angina, too, but didn’t tell me as much. The full story is HERE, but the bottom line is I had a choice to make; change my life or have a very bleak future.

For the rest of the month I didn’t do much of anything. I was already exhausted from doing rescue and never taking any time off. I let adoption applications go down the drain. The cats got the care they needed, but Sam had to help me because I couldn’t lift ANYTHING. I could barely climb the stairs without the pain returning. I felt lost, broken, angry. How was I going to go on?

the rest of this craptastic year in review coming up next...

Staying Strong for Gracie. Part 7. Between a Rock.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3, 4, 5, and 6)

Both of my parents were scientists. I think that’s why when one of my cat’s gets sick I spend a great deal of time trying to sort out what is going on if we don’t have a clear cut answer. I’d been keeping a diary of when Gracie should have her meds, which meds she should get, what time I tried to get her to eat, if she ate and how much she ate. I also added other notes about her, like “Perky today” or “Kinda limp.”

When she’d do badly for a few days I'd look back over my notes for clues. Nothing added up. I also never knew if “this was it”-sort of decline or if she could rebound. We had no idea which, if any, of her medications were helping her. She’d go through periods of not eating for a day or a bit longer. I’d syringe-feed her and she’d perk up and eat again, getting her energy back, too. Though she didn’t return to her “old self” she'd sit up and meow at me when I came near or she’d, at least, walk over to the kitchen, far beyond her regular spot in the living room where she spends a majority of her day. One day I gave her a rainbow shaped catnip toy and she loved it. She even fell asleep with her head on it. She was still a cat by all definitions.

Gracie with Rainbow
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Although the catnip toy didn't make Gracie get frisky, she did really enjoy it and even nibbled on it with the few teeth she has left.

Monday arrived. Test result day. Once again my gut was in a knot. I had my phone ringer turned on and turned up. I carried my phone wherever I went. Every time someone else called me I jumped out of my skin. Would this be the day I find out my cat has a deadly cancer or would it be treatable? We’d been down this road before but truly this time we’d KNOW.

Or would we?

Dr. Carolyn called early that evening and told me that the test didn’t tell us much. There was, once again, no sign of cancer in the spleen. Gracie didn’t have hemolytic anemia. Gracie didn’t have a portal shunt in her liver. What DID Gracie have?

“We don’t know just yet.”

Dr. Carolyn went on to describe our next options. We had three:

1. Do a Tru-cut ultrasound guided biopsy of Gracie’s liver because most of the Vets on this case agreed that the culprit still is her liver. Yes, she has benign cysts there that we know of but there’s a chance there's more going on than we realize. A needle aspirate can't get enough tissue to give us a more complete picture, which is why we only found out there were cysts when we had that done a month ago. The Tru-cut would tell us what's happening in the surrounding liver tissue. Doing this type of biopsy, while gets good results, isn’t as accurate as doing a “wedge” biopsy (see below).

With this procedure there's a risk Gracie could bleed more and possibly not recover. It’s a quick procedure and the least invasive. There isn’t even a suture needed, the opening created is so tiny. They'd also do another transfusion, this time doing it FIRST to give Gracie the best chance to survive and feel good after the procedure is done. If she starts to decline they would do a SECOND transfusion, which of course adds to costs and is no guarantee she will come out of it.

Dr. Carolyn felt that this test WOULD tell us once and for all what is going on and if we knew, then there would be a chance for some sort of treatment, though a cure is very unlikely. It would buy us more quality time and we could treat her with appropriate medications and stop giving her ones she didn't need in the first place. It would cost another $1500.00 or so.

2. Do nothing. Keep Gracie comfortable and she may become so anemic she'll die. We could try to up her dose of steroids, but that's not a fix and we'll never know what happened or if we could have done something about it. She'll have much less time with us and potentially be much more uncomfortable.

3. Do a wedge biopsy of her liver. This way a surgeon would SEE her liver and be able to take a sample that was big enough to test, as well as suture closed any bleeding issues. It would cost about $5,000.00. It would likely KILL Gracie before she was even out of sedation.

It was pretty clear we really only had two options, numbers 1 and 2. I wouldn’t cut Gracie open like that. Sure, they could see what's going on, but that’s no way to die. The problem was…what DO we choose to do next?

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Laying on a pet-safe heated bed and some sunshine helps soothe Gracie's discomfort.

I’ve had a number of conversations with all the major players in our story. Two of the three said YES, do the Tru-cut. Dr. Carolyn feels there's a very good chance Gracie WILL survive the procedure. Gracie's 13, not 18. We would finally know what's going on and know if there is more to be done to help Gracie feel comfortable.

Not knowing would be a continuation of the painful roller coaster we’ve endured for months. Gracie would take a turn and we’d wonder if “this is it” yet again. If we knew this was part of her disease, it would be easier on us, too. I could ride out the lows and I’d know better when Gracie was in trouble instead of being terrified all the time. We could treat her more appropriately instead of throwing everything we’ve got at her. She would respond better, too…but there are risks and the price could be her life.

One of the Vets said not to do it because it was too risky and that some times you just don’t know and that we could come in to see him and he’d discuss treatment options. For what? What are we treating if we DON’T KNOW what it is?! Frankly, I think he was back-peddling because he should have caught something worse was going on with Gracie over a month ago and he didn’t.

Sam and I have discussed this a few times. I’ve asked questions and still have more to ask. Three days ago Gracie was not eating and I wouldn’t have done a thing to her. Today she she's on her third day of feeling perky and eating again, but how long will that last?

I want to know what’s killing my cat, but to find out she may die anyway. There’s a very decent chance she'll make it and we’ll have answers, but I have to be willing to let my cat pay the price if I’m wrong.

So now I find myself like a deer caught in the headlights. I don't know what to do. I think we should do the Tru-cut biopsy since Gracie is stable. The costs are an issue. In truth, we need help to make this happen.

If you’d like to take Gracie under your wing and help with a small donation toward her care, it could mean a world of difference to her and would honor our hard work helping others.

We get more of your donation if you donate directly using our PayPal address: info@kittenassociates.org or if you go through our DONATE page on our web site.

You can mail a check to Kitten Associates, P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354. Put a note "for Gracie" it so we can direct the funds to her.

Just SHARE this with your friends who have kind hearts and love cats. That helps Gracie, too.

Your donation is Tax Deductible. K.A. is a non-profit rescue and our IRS EIN is 27-3 597692.

We will stop our fundraiser as soon as we’ve raised $2000.00, which we hope will cover Gracie's care and allow some funds to be banked in case she needs a second transfusion. Any funds we don’t use for Gracie, we'll set aside for other kitties in our program who need help like our recently rescued big guy, Barry.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie.

Thank you to everyone who has been so kind to share their love, prayers and good wishes for Gracie. We can't do this without you. #ComeOnGracie #LoveYouGracie

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Staying Strong for Gracie. Part 4. The 10 Percent Chance.

(Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3)

Monday morning I got up at 5 AM. I didn’t bother Sam, deciding to let him sleep. I walked downstairs, my stomach in a tight knot. I looked around the corner and saw Gracie. She was sitting up. She meowed at me. She was HUNGRY.

I raced over to the kitchen and put some food on a plate, warmed it and added some water so she would stay hydrated. I sat next to her holding the plate in my hands. I noticed she seemed too painful bending over so I held the plate up high and she did better eating that way. The problem was she ate very slowly so I began to cramp up hunched over holding the plate. I didn’t care. She was eating. I knew it was likely just the medication making her do that but I couldn’t help but think that “every bite is a victory.” I knew that good nutrition would possibly help her recover from the anemia and that would go a long way to helping her be comfortable.

Gracie Eating
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie laps at her food.

I got Gracie brushed, gave her fresh water, and cleaned her litter pan. I found she was ready to eat a small amount every 5 hours or so and I was determined to keep her fed. Whatever she wanted she was going to get. The more she ate, the better for her anemia.

Meanwhile, I was falling apart.

I couldn’t think. It was a joke to try to work and I was working on a design project that may be one of the highlights of my career. The pressure of not tending to my job wasn’t enough to get me into gear. If I had to give up this project, so be it. How could I be creative when my cat was in the next room dying?

I couldn’t concentrate, so reading was out of the question. I didn’t answer emails. I didn’t want to go on Facebook and see more sad stories. I had to force myself to eat something-scrambled eggs was all I could choke down. I couldn’t sit by the TV and eat. Gracie was right there. I couldn’t look at my cat and eat breakfast and I didn’t want the sound of the TV to bother her. I went upstairs and grabbed my old iPad. I sat on the bed with my eggs and started watching Fraiser, a TV-show from the early 1990s. It didn’t require any effort to watch the episodes and there were over 200 of them in the queue. I could zone out and let Kelsey Grammer help me forget about how terrible things were for 22 minutes, though nothing loosened the knot in my gut.

Gracie’s Cytology Report Arrives

I forced myself to check my email inbox. There was a message from Pieper Memorial waiting to be read. I knew it was Gracie’s ultrasound report. I didn’t want to read it, but I had no choice. I opened the file and began to read. Other than words like “and” or “the” all the other words were very long, technical jargon. I believed it said that basically there was a good sample of a cyst taken. That there was activity indicating a reaction to possibly some sort of thing…infection maybe? That a cyst or more had ruptured and was bleeding.

What grabbed me was the following:

“The hepatocytes [liver tissue] present are minimally pleomorphic [bacteria that alter their shape and size in response to environmental conditions], and well-differentiated, with no evidence of neoplasia (benign or malignant cancer).”

Neoplasia=CANCER. NO EVIDENCE OF CANCER.

Pages from Gracie Cytology Results 2

I showed the report to Connie, to Katherine, to Warren, to Sam, to the folks on the SmallCell Lymphoma Board and they all said the same thing. No cancer is NO CANCER. Could it be true?!

By Monday evening Gracie continued to show signs of perking up. She sat up a little more, looked a little more comfortable. She wasn’t eating a lot but I stopped syringe-feeding her. We had to decide what to do about Tuesday’s appointment. Gracie seemed a bit better but maybe we were kidding ourselves and we still had to do what needed to be done.

Dr. Larry called to go over the cytology results with me. I was so excited that it wasn’t cancer until he said that he HAD to speak with Dr. Sean before he could feel like we were out of the woods and that Gracie had cysts in her liver that weren’t cancer. My joy quickly faded when he said that Dr. Sean might feel his sample wasn’t perfect or that even WITH a good sample that there was still a cancer diagnosis hanging over us. He needed more time to reach Dr. Sean and since Gracie seemed stable, though weak, he would NOT put her down, not if she was showing improvement. She wasn’t ready to leave us just yet.

I was torn in two. I was so glad we didn’t have to let Gracie go, but I still had no answers. It might be a few more days and maybe we were just dragging out the inevitable. That said, every day I could give Gracie meant something even if I was having a hard time handling it. This was not about me. It was about my cat.

Tuesday

Tuesday at 2pm arrived. I was sitting with Gracie, watching her take dainty licks at her food instead of watching Dr. Larry put her down. Starting from this moment on was “bonus time” for us both. I wanted to see her get better. I wanted a WIN! I didn’t want my cat to die soon, but I also didn’t have a lot of hope.

Dr. Larry called again later that day. He’d reached Dr. Sean. Before he said much, I already knew it was bad news. I could tell from Dr. Larry’s tone of voice. He wasn’t his usual jovial self. He was very serious-deadly serious.

He said that although Dr. Sean had gotten a great sample and there was no sign of cancer, that based on her abdominal fluid, the blood in her belly, the many cysts seen on ultrasound that it was likely that this was something very bad. Paraphrasing his conversation he said that Dr. Sean was feeling it was 90% chance it was cancer and 10% chance it was benign cysts. Dr. Larry, always my friend, gave me as much hope as he dared. He said he was 75% sure and maybe only 25% chance it wasn’t malignant.

I asked if we should keep our appointment with the oncologist and he said YES. We needed a diagnosis and Dr. Post was the guy to give that to us. We HAD to keep trying as long as Gracie was stable.

It wasn’t what I was hoping for, but I wasn’t surprised, either. Though I hold Dr. Post in VERY high regard, I knew we also had to be prepared for the costs to put us in a place where we couldn’t afford to care for Gracie. I checked all my accounts and decided I could stitch something together. If I had to, I’d take the last bits out of my retirement account, but I hoped I wouldn’t have to go there. I couldn’t be reckless, but I could provide more for a little while longer.

Wednesday

The Veterinary Cancer Center is an hour west, near where my rescue-friend Katherine lives. She and my other dear rescue-friend, Connie had been in contact with me every day, checking on Gracie, offering advice. I told Katherine about our appointment, in case she wanted to meet us at the cancer center. I needed all my friends more than ever as we were about to get the news I’d been dreading for a week.

Part 5 is next. Yes, this is a long story, but imagine having to live through it! And this final chapter is the one where as a writer you dream of being able to write an ending like this.

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Staying Strong for Gracie. Part 1.

In my last post I wrote about trusting your gut instincts. My 14-year old cat, Gracie hadn’t been quite right after having a dental cleaning. She was barely eating and becoming less and less active. I kept taking her to see my vets, telling them something was still wrong. We all tried to sort out what was going on, but as often happens with cats, they’re great at hiding health issues until they’re in such bad shape that their life is in jeopardy.

A little over two weeks ago, my vet, Dr. Larry, was very concerned about Gracie’s liver. He urged me to get an ultrasound done as soon as possible. It would give us a better idea of why Gracie’s liver looked strange on x-ray. The problem was that the vet who came to his office once a week and performed the ultrasound diagnostics was booked up for weeks.

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Gracie's x-rays. Another good reason to do a baseline x-ray of your cat during a routine exam when they're seniors. (top) You can see how the center of Gracie's abdomen, where her liver is located, looks cloudy. That's the fluid buildup in her abdomen and her liver is enlarged. (Bottom) organs look more defined.

I knew we could get the ultrasound done at one of many emergency veterinary hospitals in the area, but Dr. Larry said he really wanted me to take Gracie to the one he considers top notch and that meant a trip to Pieper Memorial, which is over an hour drive away. Though other hospitals were closer, Dr. Larry trusted Dr. Sean’s expertise and he knew I'd do whatever was asked to get to the bottom of Gracie’s issues.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Waiting for Dr. Larry.

The thought of the trip gave me painful flashbacks to the last time I went to Pieper. It was in 2012 and I had Fred with me; a 10-month old kitten who had lost use of his back legs. Dr. Sean was to look for signs of FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) because that was our fear. I remember pacing anxiously outside the hospital in their garden. It was early April and still cold, but I couldn’t stay inside and sit quietly waiting for the results. I prayed and prayed that Dr. Sean would tell me Fred was going to be okay. Ironically, he did tell me there were no signs of FIP, but sadly Fred did have it and died a few weeks later. I didn’t want to have the same experience now—a clean ultrasound and heartbreak later. I angrily wondered why even bother doing an ultrasound if the results are so questionable, but it was safer than doing exploratory surgery by far.

Sam had been working around-the-clock on a very challenging project and was exhausted. I was emotionally wiped out from worrying about Gracie and didn’t sleep the night before the test. I was going to take Gracie by myself so Sam could stay home and tend to the cats, but Sam somehow dragged himself out of bed, after very little sleep, and we both took Gracie to Pieper. I was so grateful he made the effort because frankly I didn’t want to be alone. I needed him to be with us.

Going to Pieper
©2015 Robin AF Olson. A very sick girl on the way to Pieper.

It was a sunny morning and the commuters were out in full force. I sat with the cat carrier on my lap with the top unzipped so I could pet Gracie. She was not happy to be back in the car yet again, but she was comforted by my gentle caress. I felt sick to my stomach with worry, but we had to know what was going on and if there was a chance we could do something about it.

We didn’t have to wait long before a cheerful vet tech took Gracie from us. I stopped her before she could turn away and asked if didn’t Dr. Sean want to talk to us first and she said no, that he had all her notes. I found that odd and wondered if they didn’t value my observations. I’m not a vet so what do I know. Maybe it’s not necessary. All he’s doing is looking into her abdomen. Whatever I say won’t change what he finds.

I sat against the side of an austere hallway lined with chairs with Sam by my side. Sam was drinking coffee, trying to wake up and I was trying to be calm while my heart was pounding in my chest. I saw a lot of dogs with their parents. I tried to distract myself by people-watching. Did they match their pets? Not really. Did one of them have a really big behind when the rest of her body was tiny? Yes. Did I wonder if the golden retriever with the white mask of fur on his face was going to be around much longer. Yes.

A few minutes later, the tech arrived and said the Dr. Sean was ready to talk to us. My stomach did a flip-flop as I stood. I reached out to Sam for support as we entered a nearby exam room.

Dr. Sean entered and took a seat. I could read by his body language that the news was not good. He proceeded to tell us that Gracie’s liver was full of cysts and she had fluid in her abdomen. It was likely it was cancer, but to make certain it wasn’t just cysts, he wanted to insert a needle into one of the cysts to take a biopsy (called cytology). I asked about the costs and it wasn’t going to break the bank so I agreed. I asked if we could hope for it to be cysts and he said yes, but that it was unlikely. Of course he’d seen things like this before so I had to accept the fact that maybe this was the end of the road for our cat.

We thanked Dr. Sean and left him to do the test. I felt like my heart was going to explode. I wanted to run away. How the HELL did I miss my cat having CANCER? How is this happening? Just the day before all I thought I needed to do was fine tune Gracie’s medications so that we could get her eating better and now I’m thinking my cat is possibly terminally ill.

I needed to go outside. I didn’t want people to see me react to the news. I raced out the door back to the garden. I paced. I cried. I prayed for a glimmer of hope. Sam tried to comfort me but I couldn’t stand still. I wanted Gracie to be okay. I wasn’t ready for this to happen. My mind was swirling with dark visions of what the future held-if there was to be any future-for my girl.

It didn’t take long for the test to be done. One of the techs came outside to find us to tell us we could check out and take Gracie home. It being a Thursday meant that the results would probably not be ready until Monday. MONDAY?! I wondered if Gracie would be alive by Monday—and sadly I wasn’t wrong to worry about that.

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©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gracie's little blankee area where she spends most of her day.

I’d set Gracie up inside a big dog crate with a cat bed and heated pad. She’d spent the last week on the bed, but now she wanted to lay on the cooler flat oriental rug near the crate. I imagined that her belly must have hurt based on how awkwardly she would lay down. I grabbed some soft blankets and made some bumpers for her to rest her head on and one where she could prop herself up. She’d sit up, stretching her abdomen, no doubt to give her enlarged liver and fluid build-up more space inside her. I wanted to keep her as comfortable as possible. I also had to figure out a way to get her to eat.

So began an all-too-familiar odyssey—trying to find the Holy Grail of cat nutrition to keep Gracie alive, at least for a few more days.

Part 2, to Hell and Back, next...and don't think you already know what's going to happen, because no one saw this coming.

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Culture of Killers. The Death of Lions at the Hwange National Park.

Note: As of this writing the initial reports that Cecil’s brother, Jericho was also murdered, are untrue. Sadly what IS likely is a second lion was murdered from Zimbabwe’s biggest park a few days after Cecil was killed. Regardless of which lion died, the death of any creature, especially ones that are endangered, purely for sport, is unconscionable.

Over the past week I’ve barely been able to look at Facebook because it seems almost every status update carries a link to a story about Cecil the Lion, who was murdered by a Minnesotan Dentist named Walter Palmer. Like so many others, I was outraged to learn the King of the Jungle’s death was completely senseless beyond how morally reprehensible it was. With each image I saw of Cecil, laying bloodied and dead at the feet of a psychotically-smiling Palmer, I felt an all too familiar rage boiling inside me towards yet another person causing death to an innocent creature.

There’s no need to re-hash Cecil’s story here, and in truth, I had no intention of writing about it; but with breaking news, the almost incomprehensible news, that a second lion was killed by poachers a few days after Cecil drives me to say something about it now.

Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park 4516560206
Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park in 2010.

I have to ask: what is the point of their deaths? Was it to feed a starving family or to simply stroke the ego of a heartless bastard, who had to turn tail and run off leaving his or her trophy behind?

As someone who respects all life and who works to help others I can never understand what would drive someone to kill animals for sport. I realize some of us eat meat and those animals are killed so we can live, but to spend an outrageous amount of money to go to another country and purposely kill an animal who is part of a group of animals that are struggling to survive is beyond comprehension.

What makes a person like this grow into an adult who feels they have the right to take life and who is PROUD of their ability to do so? It seems as though Death is their Champion—their supreme ruler. They are the ones who deal the “kill shot.” They are the ones who act like a God deciding which animal lives or dies. It’s sickening.

Walter Palmer s clinic

Raul654. Used with permission. Walter Palmer's dental clinic.

I have to wonder if these same people struggle to stay on the “right side” of a fragile line between showing their true nature and using hunting as a smoke screen for what they really want to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d rather be serial killers, but maybe they’re sane enough to know that posing as hunters of animals is still acceptable in society. Who’s to say their repeated killing of big game animals isn’t just a cover up. In the least they're sadists. If they didn’t have the outlet of killing a rare beast would they have turned to killing humans? Perhaps that’s how the dentist can fit in with society by masking his true desires.

But what is the root cause of this culture of killing? Entitled-elitists and those who cater to them. GREED. Right now you can book a trip to Texas to kill an ENDANGERED Arabian Oryx for $10,000.00 (of course 4-star accommodations are extra, but easily obtained if you're wealthy).

Have you noticed that killers like Palmer or Lindsey or the latest poor excuse for a human being, Sabrina Corgatelli , know exactly how many and of what type of animal they’ve killed? They love posing next to the dead animal proving they did it. They cut off parts of the animal and take it with them so they can look at it again and again to relive the few SECONDS it took them to slaughter an innocent animal. Palmer was quoted as bragging about killing Cecil and waving photos of his dead body as he tried to impress a waitress at a restaurant in Alexandria, MN. She was disgusted, saying Palmer was old enough to be her dad and his creepy way of flirting scared her badly. What kind of twisted mental disorder do these people suffer from?

The flip side of this is mankind is capable of so much brilliance and innovation, compassion and true bravery, but our legacy seems Hell-bent on shitting up the planet and murdering animals to the point where none will be left because the poaching “industry” is well into the BILLIONS OF DOLLARS. Good luck stopping that. Good luck telling Asians especially in Viet Nam that rhino horn does not prove they are wealthy or give men an erection. They’ll still pay $60,000 for a kilo of ground rhino horn. How can we make it more worthwhile to keep those animals alive when there are such high prices on these animals when they're dead?

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I want to know why there’s an airport storage room in Denver with thousands of animal trophies confiscated from hunters trying to smuggle them into the country. Heads of tigers, bodies of lions, tusks of rhinos. And why is it OKAY that our country allows the importing of 440 lion carcasses a YEAR. How many other Cecils were destroyed, setting off a chain reaction of cub and lioness death? How many other animals considered “big game” are suffering the same fate when for FOUR YEARS there has been legislation on the books to ban the import of these items beyond the ivory ban that’s in place now.

I know what will happen next. Everyone who totes a gun around will wave it in the air and shout how it’s their right to have a gun and they can kill animals with it if they want to. Hunting is part of our culture and tradition—just for the “sport” of it, not to provide food for anyone. Just for bragging rights. They can go trophy hunting with a permit and kill animals with a bow and arrow. They can throw rocks at the animals. Who gives a shit about them. They just want their trophy and to feel like someone important, when in truth they are lower than pond scum.

Shame on all of you. Shame.

It’s not necessary to kill a lion to be a real man or to get a thrill. Crawl under an old house in the worst of summer heat. Carefully remove the tiny kittens out from under it who are dying from flea infestations. Clean them off, while you’re covered in debris. Give them nourishment then slowly see the light come back in their faded eyes. Hold them close to your heart so they can feel your heartbeat and know they are loved and safe. Isn’t that a far better thrill?

Or do you stop being a big tough person if you can’t KILL another creature? Or is this about bloodlust? Maybe you need a therapist? Medication? Do you really know what being tough truly means? Do you have any idea how tough it is to care for a terminally ill kitten? How tough of a person you have to be to stay up for days straight trying to save the life of a tiny newborn kitten? With one heartbreak after another that very same person will go out and rescue MORE KITTENS. They will gladly suffer through more challenges involving just as much heartache so those animals have a chance to grow up and have a good life. THAT IS A TOUGH PERSON, not someone who hides behind a bow and arrow or a gun.

THAT IS ALSO A BRAVE PERSON. THAT IS A COMPASSIONATE PERSON. THAT IS A FEARLESS PERSON WHO LOOKS DEATH IN THE EYE AND SAYS. “NOT NOW. NOT ON MY WATCH.”

Mankind will be known for thousands of years of killing each other, animals, the planet. We’ll be known for our “1 percent” who greedily have it all and want more, when they know they could stop trophy hunting and paying outrageous sums for animal body parts and finally do something decent with all that money.

It is NEVER going to end until we ALL DIE from the effects of the greedy-entitled continuing to take and take and take---from aggression and inability to see the power of simple compassion and empathy. Then, at least Mother Nature will do what she does best. She will step in after we’ve trashed the place and the earth will go on without us and it will be far better off.

Or we can look at the deaths of Cecil and the second lion and the thousands of others and say; “No. We don’t need to do this any more. We don’t need to allow trophy hunting anywhere, any time. We don't need to raise lion cubs in captivity and later sell them to be slaughtered later by entitled losers who need to feel powerful over a "canned" hunting simulation under controlled circumstances. We can reward the people who put their lives on the line to keep poachers from killing the animals. We can create programs that support the economies of the regions who need help. We have technology that can increase the effectiveness of our ability to protect those animals. Let's get it where it's needed. We can let the voices of those who CHERISH what's left of the wildlife on this planet rise up over the desires of the rich. We can PROTECT the animals, not sell them to the highest bidder.”

I hope we can find a way to criminalize big game hunting throughout the world and give those animals a real chance to regain their numbers. If the good people of Africa and beyond need tourism to rule over big game hunters, then let’s all go visit. Let’s show our support for doing the right thing and let’s NEVER FORGET this lesson when the next big story hits the airwaves.

These animals have no voice. Maybe that’s the one thing we can do right-speak up. Tell your government official you agree with the Cecil Act which would disincentivize trophy killings. Sign the petition to extradite Palmer to Zimbabwe. Book a trip to Zimbabwe to take photos of those magnificent creatures. Donate to organizations who put their lives at risk to protect these animals from unscrupulous poachers. Let's find a way to work together so heartbreaking stories of wildlife being murdered can come to an end.

Rest in Peace, Cecil...

...and all the precious animals that are being lost to us in record numbers. Your death matters.

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Freya 2.0. Dreams Really Do Come True. Part 17

continued from part 16

I didn’t want to take Freya to the Vet. I was sick with worry about it. If Freya was a “normal” cat I wouldn’t be so concerned, but we already know that Freya has lots of deformities so it wouldn’t be surprising that her ovaries or uterus had some issues. I knew she’d be in very good hands because Dr. Chris, our Board Certified surgeon, was going to do the procedure. He’d also be the final word on whether or not Freya still needed to have her right inner ear CT scanned and if she'd also needed surgery on her ear canal to drain any remaining infection.

Freya 1 8 15 R Olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Our Freya.

I love Dr. Chris, not like I want to run away and bear his children love, but I really cherish working with him. He’s always smiling even though the poor guy has often had to soothe my fears about Freya. He’s extremely smart and talented and I trust his opinion (okay and he’s really cute, too, but that has nothing to do with it. I’m just dutifully relating information as any good writer would).

Freya and Dr P goofing off copy
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Dr. Chris last December with Freya.

So this morning I sat in the now so very familiar waiting room at NVS with Freya at my side, who was snuggled inside her Robin’s egg blue cat carrier. Dr. Chris came out from the back of the building to escort us into an exam room. Just seeing his radiant smile made me feel more relaxed. I hadn’t seen him for a few months and it was good to see him again. After we said a quick hello, I found myself focusing on the mental laundry list of things he needed to know about Freya. As I spoke I noticed he was looking at Freya as she ran around the room. He was smiling, then remarked how great she looked. After all she’d been through I didn’t see her transformation as clearly as Dr. Chris did.

Box of Monkeypants r Olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Freya's nickname is Monkeypants, so this is a box of monkeypants.

Dr. Chris examined Freya as we spoke about what should be done today. We went over the costs which would range from $1800.00 to $5100.00, the low price being only the spay. Of course many of you who do rescue know we can get spays done for under $100 at a clinic, but Freya couldn’t go to a clinic since we didn’t know what was yet to be discovered inside her.

Freya at the Vet again R Olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. At the vet yet again. At least Freya's not scared being there.

It was a tough nut to swallow, but I knew we had to do what was right for our kitten. Dr. Chris said that he didn’t feel Freya should have the CT scan yet. Clinically she was doing very well. She was playing, eating, passing stool. She no longer had a head-tilt, though she does have some deafness, which could be something she’s had since birth. Instead of spending that money on the CT now, he thought it was wise to wait and give her more time. If she relapses then we’d have to do the scan, but for now the less we do to her, the better.

All that was left to decide was when to do her spay surgery. Again, I was surprised by the answer. Dr. Chris felt that Dr. Mary or Dr. Larry could do the spay and that as a rescue it would be better for us to bank the savings so we could rescue more cats than spend it on having him do the procedure. I asked if he felt it was safe to have our G.P. Vet do the surgery and he thought they could easily handle it. He also said I could bring her back and he would still perform the procedure if our other vets didn’t feel comfortable taking her on.

Freya and Raccoon R Olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Freya meets the raccoon.

He added that it was very unlikely Freya would ever need the “twist” surgery that Dr. Pavletic pioneered to aid her rectum function. The plan was for it to be her final surgery when she reached her first birthday. Since she never ended up developing megacolon, which would have been corrected during her spay, there’s no need to do that either. So instead of needing three surgeries for her colon/rectum, she was done after just the one we did last year. Wow!

I agreed to call Dr. Larry and to determine whether or not we could have Freya’s spay performed today since she was already fasted and ready to go. Then, what I never expected happened. In my writer’s mind I'd describe a romantic scene about being alone in the exam room with Dr. Chris; about how our eyes locked in an intense gaze across the room, the passion building between us, undeniable, magnetically drawing us ever closer, but also knowing his peers and my friends might read this; I’ll have to keep a more detailed fantasy to myself. In truth, what really happened was very straightforward, COMPLETELY professional and G-rated.

Loving Aunt Nora R Olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Freya loves Aunt Nora.

Dr. Chris is leaving NVS. I will never see his smiling face again.

It was a bitter pill to swallow after such a long journey. After discussing the results of a million x-rays of Freya’s colon, after a hundred tears worrying about my kitten, after all this; it was over. Dr. Chris said his residency is wrapping up in Newtown and he’s accepted a position in Miami and will be leaving in July (in that heat?!).

Resigned to this disappointing news, I gave Dr. Chris a hug goodbye and told him I was sorry to see him go (along with my silly schoolgirl crush). He walked us over to the reception desk, smiling politely as he said goodbye, then turned, greeting the next couple waiting to meet with him.

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Two hours later.

Freya and I were in the exam room at Dr. Larry’s office. As he entered the room I could feel the energy shift. I knew that Dr. Larry’s in-law had passed away a few days ago and that he was truly hurting. He looked visibly thinner and tired. Before we could talk about Freya I reached out and gave him a big hug and told him how sorry I was for his loss. Dr. Larry’s my brother from another mother and I hate to see him suffering. I felt badly for even asking him to spay Freya. He should be home with his family.

What is this tail thing
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Freya's tail obsession goes into overload when she sees Spencer's tail.

I gave Dr. Larry the rundown and explained to him why I felt it was okay to at least try to spay Freya. We had a few rounds of blood work done in the past that were very clean. She’d had a 2-hour long surgery and did well. She was eating and playing normally. She went into “heat” so that meant something was working inside her. We just didn’t know how well it worked or if there were other surprises.

Dr. Larry listed his concerns, which all made sense. He told me she could have part of her reproductive organs fused to other organs or her digestive tract or a whole host of other issues that could kill her.

Freya watches Deadliest Catch
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Yes, Freya watches TV.

In the end I agreed that he should consider this an exploratory surgery and if she was well enough to be spayed, to do so and if not I’d take her to Dr. Chris for a surgery at a later date.

He told me that he’d call me right away if there was a problem and that if she did all right he’d wait until he was done to let me know how things went. Basically if there was no news any time soon, that was good.

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Three hours later.

Dr. Mary, Dr. Larry’s partner, called me. She sounded as cheerful and bubbly as ever. She said; “Well, Miss Freya is all set. We did the spay and she’s recovering now.”

Fluff Fight R Olson copy
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Freya vs. Fluff Daddy.

“That’s it?”

Yes, she did fine. Everything was normal. She may act a bit odd for a few days since she her hormones were still elevated, but other than that she’s doing well. You can pick her up later this afternoon.”

After I hung up the phone it hit me. It’s OVER. Freya doesn’t need any more surgeries and hopefully will never need a CT scan. She’s spayed. She’s had her shots. She’s been de-wormed. She’s passed all the milestones our other foster cats have passed. It just took a lot longer and we never were sure we'd make it this far.

Tuesday Morning w Freya R olson

No more worrying about if she’s going to survive her surgeries. She did. No more worrying about her being able to pass stool. She does.
No more wondering if she’ll ever hold her head straight or have both eyes open. It’s all good.

Then I recalled something I wrote in my very first post about Freya:


“In my mind’s eye I can see Freya, sleeping on a soft bed that is bathed in sunlight. She’s comfortable and plump. She looks like she’s smiling as she sleeps away the afternoon. She is healthy and well and these dark days are over for her. She didn’t have to die, she got to live. That is my dream for Freya...”

And for once, my dream came true due in part to so MANY generous donors who offered not only financial support but sent cards and gifts to Freya, who put tires on my old car, who sent us emails and called and told us they cared so very much about our little foster kitten. To our amazing Vets: Dr. Chris, Dr. Larry, Dr. Mary, Dr. Pav, Dr. Deb and Dr. Cory--yes, it took all your expertise to bring us to this fine day and I appreciate it so much. To Chelsea and Randy, who gave up their kitten because it was the right thing to do for her, even though it meant giving her up (and it was Chelsea's birthday that day, too), thank you for your bravery and trust in letting a rescue take over when you weren't able to.

I guess there's only one thing left to do. It’s time to put Freya up for adoption.

Freya after Spay R Olson b
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Home from being spayed, Freya gets some much needed rest.

Amazing Mabel. From Kill Shelter to Hoarder to Home.

It's been a year since Mabel made her BIG ESCAPE out of a Kill Shelter, then home of a HOARDER, then from a SECOND KILL SHELTER and finally to my home to be fostered. In some ways she’s like many of the adult foster cats we've had. I expect it to take a long time for her to find her new forever home after her adjustment period is over. We don’t have a shelter or do many adoption events and that’s usually the best way to get adults into homes. In other ways, how Mabel got here and my reluctance to let her go is unique.

Mabel After Spay in 2010 Adopt Robin AF Olson copy.jpg
©2010 Foster Mom Moe. Used with Permission. Mabel, called Cali-Mama back then, just after being spayed.

Mabel, along with her two kittens, Moonpie and Pattycake, were our first rescues under the Kitten Associates banner. Everything back then was so nerve-wracking because I’d only ever fostered kittens before under the guidance of another rescue. I never had to take on the responsibility for paying for their care or screening applicants, let alone sorting out what vet care they required or how to know they’d be good candidates for adoption. Mabel and family were in Georgia, too, which added to the difficulty in sorting out what the next steps for her would be as well as who would help me accomplish those things from 1000 miles away.

Moonpie and Patty 2010 Robin AF Olson copy.jpg
©2011 Robin A.F. Olson. Moonpie (left) and sister Pattycake (right). Mabel's kittens.

I suppose I should have expected to make mistakes, but when you’re dealing with LIVING CREATURES, instead of a commodity like a pair of shoes, it can be devastating to make any errors. I had to get it right each step of the way.

I’d had it drilled into my head by my former “boss” at another rescue that adult cats should be avoided. “Just focus on the kittens.” I didn’t agree with that but I admit that taking on Mabel made me nervous. She was barely a year old, but I was so accustomed to fostering 6-8 week old kittens that she might as well have been 10 years old. It left me feeling anxious about finding her a new home, but I couldn’t let her die in animal control where euthanasia rates are 98%. It wasn’t fair that she and her kittens should die. I couldn’t take the kittens and leave her behind either, as some rescues do. It wasn’t right.

What surprised me was that before the kittens were even put up for adoption, I got an email from someone in North Carolina who wanted to adopt Mabel. The woman had read my blog post about her and seen her photos. I had a long email volley with her about Mabel and talked on the phone a few times. I had a good feeling about her, but my error, one I will regret forever, was that I never asked her to fill out an application. I trusted her without checking on her background. I never called the Vet for a reference. It’s all it would have taken for me to find out she was a hoarder, but I didn’t do that. I sent Mabel off to her doom with a smile on my face, believing she was going to a good home.

Mabel could have gotten sick and died in the filth she was trapped in, but she didn’t. After a year someone reported this woman to Animal Control. They seized all the 22 cats and 1 dog (I was only told this person had 1 cat and 1 dog). What’s even more shocking was that she called ME to complain. I was expected to come to HER rescue. I told her flat out not to talk to me any further, that Mabel was OUR cat and that I would do everything I could to get her back. I told her to get a lawyer. I was furious. She was stunned that I had no compassion for her situation, yet another red flag that maybe she was a few fries short of a Happy Meal. How could her home smell so badly that people could smell it from the OUTSIDE? She tried to make it sound like she was a victim when she had done nothing but LIE to me.

Summons copy.jpg
Video still of the Summons sent to the woman who was charged with Animal Cruelty.

That began a painful, humiliating journey lasting nearly 2 YEARS. I called Animal Control right away so they knew someone would take at least one of the cats back. They couldn’t tell me details, but confirmed the situation at the home was ghastly. They grilled me about my rescue and in so many words chastised me for being so gullible (hey, I deserved it).
I could check in with them and they’d let me know when, if ever, I could take Mabel back.

Every month thereafter I wrote to Animal Control asking if Mabel was free to come to us. Every month they said the owner was taking it to another Judge, fighting to get her dog back, which were a package deal, so the cats, who she gave up on, were stuck until the entire case was settled. Meanwhile, I didn’t even KNOW if Mabel was ALIVE because they never seemed to have time to verify that the cat I was trying to get back was still there.

Mabel At Iredelle Robin AF Olson.jpg
©2012 Iredell Animal Control. Used with Permission. My first confirmation Mabel was alive after 2 years.

Every month I wrote and every month when I saw they’d replied I felt sick to my stomach, wondering if this was the time they’d tell me she was gone. There are so many illnesses that can run through a municipal animal control and only so much vet care they can provide. It means a quick death to most animals because they don’t let them recover. It’s too costly and they can quickly spread disease. In this case, the fact that these animals belonged to the Court also meant if they got sick, they could not be euthanized unless it was an incurable illness, but once the case was resolved, any cats that were the property of animal control did not have long to live. During the two years I found out that one cat had to be put down, but I never was sure if it was or wasn’t Mabel.

But somehow, though she did get sick while caged for all those months, Mabel recovered. Finally, one day in late January of 2013, I got the email I was hoping for. The case was decided. She’d lost custody of all of her animals. Mabel was free to be released into my care and when did I want to come get her? [The answer was YES because that very next morning I had a friend in the area who could sign her out.]

Mabel with Pickel Robin AF Olson.jpg
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. First time NOT in a cage and probably first time with catnip, too.

It wasn’t enough that I knew I could get Mabel out of the Kill Shelter. As penance for my wrongdoing and out of love and respect for the others left to die, I worked very hard to find placements for those surviving 12 cats. Thanks to SPCA of Wake County and some smaller rescues, every cat got out alive. I even heard from one woman who ended up adopting Jethro, one of the cats who was part of the seizure. I was so happy these dark days were coming to an end, but for my efforts I got hate mail from this woman’s friends. I was stunned. If it hadn’t been for me, all those cats would have been euthanized.

Mabel finally arrived in Connecticut in February of 2013. What shocked me about her was that she seemed unscathed by what she suffered. Right away she was affectionate. So unaccustomed to being petted, that when I ran my hand over her back her tailed pouffed out. She let me rub her belly. She purred right away. Her only fear seems to be the sound of someone walking in hard-soled shoes across the floor. I wonder if it was the sound she heard of the ACO coming to get the next victim to be put down to make space for more.

Mabel in Sink Robin AF Olson.jpg
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. Mabel makes herself at home just about anywhere.

Over the past year Mabel’s almost been adopted a few times, but I’ve been so overprotective of her that I’ve had to say no when push came to shove. The homes were all GREAT, but they lacked something, too. I didn’t see love in their eyes for her. I didn’t know if Mabel would be happy alone and every home would have had her as the only pet. I found myself trying very hard to move forward with each adoption and finish the process, often taking it way too far before I put the brakes on, leaving MANY people very angry at me.

I’m not proud of this and in my own defense, I was feeling very mixed up. As a rescuer, every cat I take on I love. I love them, but I admit to having a little barrier there, too. It’s just enough so that when the time comes I can part with that cat without falling to pieces. It’s too much pain if I don’t have that little wall and I have to think about my own mental health and the stress on me. I can’t save more if I’m a wreck.

Mabel Sleeping on my Lap.jpg
©2014 Robin A.F. Olson. This is when I know fighting to save her life (again) for two years was worth it.

I also feel that I’m being irresponsible if I take on any more cats and declare them as my own. I have very good friends who have more than 20 cats. They provide them with loving care in a nice home. They manage that but I do NOT want to take that on. I have had over 20 cats, but most were rescue kittens. That’s fine for me, but to be a cat-mama to that many, plus extra foster cats, too? No. I need to have at least some of my home be set aside for humans and to not take on too much.


©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Mabel fetches!

So there's my problem in a nutshell. The barrier I put up with Mabel was being worn away. I’d watch Mabel run across the room with her precious pom-pom in her mouth. Mabel is a freak about pom-poms and even fetches them from time to time. She somehow manages to meow while she holds the pom-pom, too. Her chubby butt wiggles left and right as she races across the floor with her tail held high, proud to have her sparkling possession. It makes me laugh, while at the same time I cringe inside. She was really getting under my skin. What the heck was I going to do?

Can I let her be adopted after all she's been through or will I find relief in knowing I finally have the perfect forever home for her? Find out in the NEXT POST!

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The Clementines Arrive with Lots of Unwelcome Friends Part 1

Three weeks ago Sam and I drove to Philadelphia. With miserable traffic on a Friday night and rainy roads it took 5 hours instead of 3, but we were determined to get there. Our goal was simple, eat a big sandwich at Tony Luke’s and pick up 6 orange kittens who were scheduled to arrive via a legged transport. They were nicknamed the Clementines, but some might have called them the Lucky Ones because we had rescued them from a small rural animal control in eastern Kentucky just hours before their lives were scheduled to end.

Urgent Clementine PF.jpg
There were six kittens from one litter and one kitten (the dilute calico pictured here) from another litter. The dilute was “pulled” from the shelter by a rescue group right away, leaving the orange kittens behind.

I’d never done a rescue from Kentucky before and I had to trust people I didn’t know who promised me they would make sure the kittens were quarantined properly and vetted before they arrived. It left me feeling very uneasy because I had no choice but to hope that the kittens were really cleared of fleas, de-wormed, given their first vaccination and checked before leaving for Connecticut. I feared that coming out of a shelter they would be sick, but was assured they were healthy. The last thing I wanted to do was put my other foster cats or my own cats at risk of getting a disease or parasite.

Before we even started our trip, I got a call from my friend, Izzy. She and her hubby, Mark, will frankly drive just about anywhere to help cats in need get to their home and on this day they’d offered to drive from Pennsylvania to West Virginia and back to Philly to rendezvous with us. I’ve depended on them many times as my link to make some of these rescues happen. Izzy’s voice sounded a bit funny as she started to speak. I knew something was wrong.

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©2013 Friends of Powell County. Not a life for such lovely creatures. I'm so grateful we could get them out thanks to the efforts of people in Powell County.

“Did these kittens get treated for fleas, by any chance?”

I told her they had been bathed only and a vet had seen them just the day before to give them a clean bill of health.

“Well I just killed a little bugger coming off one of the kittens and now I’m seeing another one.”

My heart sank.

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©2013 Foster Home in KY. Just for the record, this is NOT QUARANTINE.

During the supposed two week quarantine, I learned that the kittens had been brought outside, Vet’s orders. He said they needed 15 minutes of fresh air every day. When I learned that I just about popped. What kind of foolishness is this? I sent my contact a number of emails, furious that they kept breaking quarantine by going outside. She wouldn’t understand why that was wrong. I saw photos of them in a cage outside in someone’s yard, but when I saw photos of then running around in the grass that just infuriated me. You can’t have quarantine if the cats go outside! Am I crazy? I felt like I was losing my mind. They just didn’t get it and I knew they were exposing the cats to who knows what. So much for having “clean” kittens arrive. It also made me very worried-did they REALLY get ANY vetting? How could a vet see them the day before, say they were ready to travel, when they were crawling with fleas? You might get a stray flea after seeing the vet, but a lot of them? No way.

Blossom breaking quarantine.jpg
©2013 Foster Home in KY. Blossom enjoying "quarantine."

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

“Well, we can stop at Walmart and I can get some supplies and bathe them while we’re driving.” Izzy said without skipping a beat.”

“What?!”

“It won’t be perfect but it will be something. I’m seeing a lot of fleas.”

“Great.”

So Izzy rigged up a small container with apple cider vinegar and a drop or two of dish soap and water. She soaked the kittens up to their necks as Mark drove 65 mph towards Philly. She picked off and killed as many fleas as she could while I sent off an angry email to the folks in Kentucky.

During Transport in Crate Izzy.jpg
©2013 Izzy. Fleas anyone?

Once I had time to let the news settle I became fearful I was now going to have to deal with an explosion of fleas throughout my house.

I made a few calls and talked to some of my rescue friends. They assured me it’s not that big of a deal, but to not take it lightly, either. There would be a great deal of vacuuming in my future and washing all the linens that the kittens were exposed to.

Due to having limited space for fosters, I had planned to crate the kittens in the one room we NEVER allow cats. It’s the room that has the expensive family heirloom rugs and precious family items I can’t risk cats destroying. I didn’t want the kittens in the room, but thought for just one night it would be okay since they had been vetted. Now I had to worry about the kittens dropping fleas all over the rugs and them getting into the nearby linen closet. I just didn’t have much experience with fleas. You’d think I had after over ten years of doing rescue, but most often the cats have been quarantined before I get them.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. The photo is not great, but the dark blobs in the photo are clumps of dead fleas. The bottle was full of them

I had a big tub of diotamaceous earth. It’s fossilized algae and it gets onto the exoskeleton of the flea and basically dries them out and they die. It’s very safe for pets so I sprinkled it liberally all over the room, the bedding where the kittens would sleep, anywhere that made sense. The plan was to re-bathe them at their new foster home that would open up the following morning. I just had to keep the fleas at bay for one night.

This foolishness cost me. I had to buy 16 doses of Revolution® to cover my cats and the foster cats. I could not risk letting one flea start a nightmare throughout my cats. I had to buy another 12 doses (for now) to cover the kittens (a 2-month supply) once they were big enough to be treated. I didn’t dare do it right away because I was told they were all very underweight and probably a bit too young for much more than a bath.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. After three tries I finally named all the kittens. We have: Mango (top left), Sherbert (below Mango), Marigold (center), Mandarin/Mandy (lower right), Buttercup (top right) and Blossom (not in photo) .

I couldn’t give them Capstar, which kills fleas in 45 minutes, because they were too fragile. It was very frustrating.

We arrived in Philly around 8:30pm and had a few minutes to eat before Izzy and Mark arrived. The sandwiches we’d been looking forward to were VERY spicy, not at all what we remembered. Just as we gave up on finishing them our friends arrived.

Izzy got out of the car. She was holding a plastic bottle that at one time held a beverage. She showed it to me. It was the wastewater from bathing the kittens. It took me a minute to make sense of why the water was MOVING. There were probably over 100 fleas wiggling around in the fluid. I felt sick.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Sherbert before things got really bad for him.

“I didn’t get them all, but I got a lot of them, nasty buggers.” Izzy said as she shook her head.

I bent down and looked into the cat carrier. It was dark and tough to see the kittens. I could barely make out their faces, but I could see their coats were ratty and they were anxious, unsure of what had been happening. I told them it would be okay and that they were almost home, but I feared this was just the tip of the iceberg with having problems with the kittens and sadly I was right. Having fleas would be nothing compared to what was to happen next.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. The first sign of problems to come. Blossom's eye is infected. Will this happen times 6 kittens?

Part two next up…

After 15 Months, a Surprise for Barney. Part One of Two.

The sun’s not even up yet. I was woken up by wild animals fighting somewhere outside in my yard. The cries lasted for a moment, my half-asleep brain ticking off a checklist of what it could have been. I couldn’t replay the sound so I left my warm bed and went downstairs, turned on the flood lights that illuminated a sliver of the yard and searched for answers. Finding nothing, I returned to bed. There weren’t cats taking up the space on my side, which was odd. I stretched out, then as I struggled to get comfortable I realized I had a bad headache. I laid there, hoping to return to my dreams, but I couldn’t get Barney out of my mind.

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©2012 Cyndie Tweedy (inset). ©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Barney then and now.

Barney got adopted barely 8 hours ago. I can’t believe I’m writing those words. Though the road to this moment took over a year (15 months to be exact), the actual event of his adoption took a little over an hour. One moment I was holding Barney in my arms, giving him a kiss goodbye and in the next, he was in a cat carrier in the car of his new dad and on his way to his forever home.

What never made sense to me was that why did it take this long to find a perfectly friendly, cute, orange and white cat a home? I yearn to search for meaning in all of this when perhaps it was just events unraveling as they will. There was no twist of fate or string theory or whatever you believe in that made a difference in this cat’s life—or is there?

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©2012 Cyndie Tweedy. Baby Fred comforting Barney as they sleep.

The more I do adoptions, the more I believe I DO see connections. Perhaps I’m training myself to be more aware of the interconnectedness of these events and that’s what motivates me to follow through on an application instead of let it sit open on my computer screen for days on end.

Barney didn’t even have an application on him, not one. Last year a woman came to meet Barney and his brother, Fred. For some reason they were shy with the newcomers and the woman realized she didn’t feel ready to take on the responsibility of having two cats. Barney and Fred were overlooked as the six other cats that shared the foster room with them got adopted. Tater Tot, Chi Chi, Choco, Coco, Latte and Barney's best friend Willow. Not long after that, Barney began to lick the fur off his sides and his belly. The vet couldn’t find anything wrong.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Barney was badly effected by Fred's passing.

Two months later, it was clear that Fred was sick, not Barney. Two months after that, Fred died from the dry form of FIP, leaving Barney as the sole survivor of the litter of four kittens. I found myself reluctant to let Barney go after that. Barney had lost his entire family. His mother, Opal was semi-feral and through our friend Bobby, we were able to place her in a sanctuary of sorts. We were assured that they would work with her and if she could be socialized, they’d find her a good home in time. What surprised all of us was that over these many months, Opal has turned into a very friendly cat and the owner of the sanctuary has decided to keep her as her own. Now if only I could find a happy ending for Barney.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Barney and George were fast friends.

Barney’s alopecia began to resolve and his fur grew back nicely. All the other cats he’d been sharing the foster room with had been adopted, so he got to meet our new fosters Bongo, George and Bunny Boo-Boo. They made fast friends and everyone seemed quite happy, but still there was no interest in Barney while George and Bongo found their forever home together.

After a period of grieving, I decided I needed to rescue orange kitties in honor of Fred. I took on Minnie, who looked like Barney's sister, and her kittens. When the kittens were big enough, they got to meet Barney and Bunny. It didn’t go well at first. Barney was irritated by the energy of the five kittens and I worried he would harm them, but his anger soon subsided and he became their big brother, fussing after them if they didn’t feel well or playfully chasing them around the room. Each night I’d sit with all of them on a heated blanket and they’d all purr and groom each other. Inasmuch as I knew I had to get these cats homes, I was reluctant for this newly formed family to be broken apart.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Barney watches Confetti Joe get crazy.

I got a call from the fellow who adopted Willow in March. She was urinating around the house and he needed my help to resolve the issue. As we talked, I learned that one of his two other cats wasn’t happy to have Willow around and that he had rushed their introduction.

Of course this would cause peeing and he couldn’t say for certain if it was only Willow doing it or one of the other cats. I went to his house to assess the situation and discovered that Willow had fleas, flea-bite dermatitis and a reoccurrence of a nasty upper respiratory. She had lost a pound, her fur was ratty and looked terrible. I was heartbroken.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Barney with his newly made family of foster kittens and Bunny Boo-Boo.

After more discussions I learned that Willow and another cat had been killing mice, which would explain the fleas. Stress would cause her illness to return and even though he’d been to the vet, I’d warned him to go easy on antibiotics so he opted to wait thinking she was doing better on her own, but clearly she was struggling to breathe. I wanted her out of there, but I could only remind him I’d take her back if it wasn’t working out and if the things I suggested didn’t help the situation.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Willow returns, a pound lighter and in much worse shape than when she left us in March.

He said he wanted to see it through even though he reluctantly told me he was getting divorced and his wife had already moved away. We made a date to get Willow back to the Vet in a few days. I’d go over her care with Dr. Mary and get everything sorted out. I even offered to pay for some of the visit since I wanted to do a more sensitive test on Willow to see if we could sort out what was causing the upper respiratory issues.

What I didn’t expect was a call the day before our Vet visit from her adopter asking me to take Willow back. I'd just been to his home a few days before and he assured me he wanted to keep her. I was shocked by his change of heart, but he felt he was over his head and even though he “liked her very much” he had to give her up.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Lolly, one of Willow's new roommates. Would they get along or would it be a blood bath? I had no choice. These cats had to be housed together, like it or not.

I was glad to have Willow back, but the truth is I didn't have room for her. I scrambled to figure out where I’d put her and knew I’d have to add her to a room with two newly rescued kittens, Lolly and Clark because they had fleas, too and I didn’t want to expose Barney, Bunny and the kittens to them.

It just had to work out.

Stay tuned for final chapter of this two-part post! Is Willow going to do well back in foster care with Lolly and Clark? How will Barney react to seeing his old friend again?

Tags Click a link below to find more articles on that topic.

PRODUCT REVIEW and MYSTERY: The Case of the Neko Flies String

Your cats are bored. They get into fights. They bite your ankles or the just lay around with a glazed look in their eyes. They're little hunters with nothing to hunt (unless you let them outside, but please don't do that!). Can you imagine not having an outlet for your deepest desires? To be crass, that would really stink.

I try to have play time with my cats every night, but getting them to chase after a toy can be daunting because my cats are either 2 years old or 12 years old or older. What would I use that appeals to all of them?

Some cats are “air hunters” while others prefer to stalk prey at the ground level, so I'd need a toy that works well dragged on the floor, mimicking the movements of a bug, and something I could gently whip back and forth to get my air hunters to jump.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Stan is the consummate high-flyer when Neko Flies are around.

Usually I've solved this problem by having more than one toy in my arsenal. I still believe that you should offer options for your cats, from small balls to faux mice and catnip laden toys. That said, I can only hold so many toys in my hand at one time and I needed something that covered all the bases. At last I've found a series of interactive toys that gets cats off their big behinds and turns the lights back on in their eyes. I give you, Neko Flies!

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Jellybean Mel inspects mysterious package.

Unlike many wand toys I've used in the past, Neko Flies feel well made. Their clear plastic rod has a comfortable rubber grip. At the opposite end of the grip is a clip with a charming braided green and black cord that's attached to a variety of “Lures” that resemble and move like real bugs or mice.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Gracey grabs her Kattiepede.

Ellen, the creator of Neko Flies, underscored the importance of creating unique, carefully crafted (some elements are done by hand) toys that are as safe as possible for cats. She told me they constantly look for ways to improve their product, from finding ways to use less glue (they already only use a few drops), to finding thicker material for the wings of their Kragonfly cat toy as well as for better ways to anchor the loop into the toy so it doesn't pull free when cats tug on it. Ellen seems almost obsessed with designing toys that truly appeal to cats and are not just a collection of feathers glued to a string or that utilize materials that are so cheap they fall apart after one use.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. What IS this?!

It was tempting to write the world's shortest review by stating: I LOVE NEKO FLIES. Rather, my CATS love Neko Flies.

But then something happened…

One of the cats bit the green and black cord, severing one-third off it, along with the Kragonfly. I took the fly away so they wouldn't eat it, thinking I would just trim the end of the cord and reattach the Fly to it. In the meantime, since I was cooking dinner and trying to play with the cats at the same time, I would just have them chase after the string, without the toy attached because they seemed to like it just fine.

Ahhh…hindsight is 20-20 vision, as they say.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Love at first bite.

I'd gotten into the habit of hiding the Neko Flies where the cats couldn't get at it to keep them from destroying it. These toys are SO ENTICING you can't leave them laying around. It's just not safe. Really. If only I had READ THE BOX the Neko Flies came in because I would have seen the WARNING on it. I didn't read the WARNING on their web site, either, which I'm sharing with you here:

Some cats become so enamored and hooked on NEKO FLIES that they have been known to try and get the toy off a shelf by themselves! This is an interactive toy for a human to play with the kitty, so keep your Neko flies tucked safely tucked away in a drawer or closet until you are ready to play with your cat again!

Neko Flies Warnings R Olson.jpg
[Neko Flies Lure is attached to a card with this warning printing on it. See? They told me so!]

“Neko Flies are designed as a toy for you and your cat to play with together. The lures at the end are designed to move in a lifelike way which is a great part of their appeal, even to cats who usually are not interested in toys or playing. However, these toys are not intended to be left with a cat to chew or destroy (as she would actual live prey). Once your cat manages to catch a toy you should praise her and then get her to release it right back to you by offering her a really tasty treat - doing a "bait-and-switch" the way you would with a human toddler or a dog who have gotten something you don't want them to possess. Because the Neko Flies lure toys are so enticing to cats, there is a warning that they should never be left anywhere your cat can get to them without your participation. This is a wand toy, not a chew toy! Neko Flies satisfy your cat's primal instinct to hunt and chase - but it is up to you to then protect the lures from your cat's instinct to "kill!"”

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson.

I turned my back on my cats to check on dinner. I didn't even leave them alone for more than a minute. I looked back and the green and black cord was one-third the length it had been. Clearly, one of the cats had chewed it off and possibly EATEN IT. In decades of being a cat-mom, this was the first time I ever had to worry that a cat ingested such a large part of a toy.

I searched the living room. I knew the culprits were either my tiny foster cat, Mabel or my big bruiser, the DOOD. I had a bad feeling it was DOOD because he's, well, not the sharpest pencil in the box.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Stanley goes nuts for Neko.

I couldn't find a thing. In a panic, I called Neko Chan, home to Neko Flies. Ellen, herself, called me back right away. We talked about what materials were used in the cord (polyester).I called the ER Vet and told them about what material I believe one of the cats ingested and they suggested I bring both cats down, spend $1500.00 per cat on endoscopy-that was IF they could get an internist to come to work late on a Sunday night. They also told me to get a cat to vomit is some sort of “holy grail” treatment because the chemicals they might use to make them vomit usually kills them.They told me to watch for the cat to become listless, vomit, not eat and if that happened to RUSH them in for EMERGENCY SURGERY because the cord could twist up in the intestines and basically KILL the cat.

OR…it might pass on its own…out the “other” end.

Great.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Petey prepares to pounce.

The next few days were absolute Hell on my nerves. I ripped apart the living room the next day and checked everywhere I could, but no string was found. I hovered over the DOOD and Mabel, but they ate as usual and seemed unaffected. Then I started to worry that maybe it wasn't them, but another cat. I have 9 cats running around! This was going to end badly, I just knew it.

Ellen checked in with me, hopeful I had good news, but there was no sign of the missing string. I thought maybe I was getting Alzheimer's and this was the first sign? I was so paranoid that I carried the remaining section of cord in my purse, in case I had to take one of the cats to the ER so they would know what to look for yet still…nothing.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Gracey and Joey enjoying their new toy..

Six WEEKS passed. I was getting breakfast ready for the kittens and I saw a GREEN ball with pale colored ball next to it on a paper towel on the counter. I asked Sam what it was and he said he found it when he was scooping the litter pan. I looked at it for a moment, then the alarms went off in my head. It was cat excrement with the STRING from the Neko Flies in it!

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Woah. Green Poo (and no ham).

Being the offspring of two scientists, I HAD to get a magnifying glass out and inspect the green stool. We feed our cats a raw diet so their stool is VERY pale, hard and dry. I teased apart the green ball and saw fibers. I put the section of string I had in my purse next to the questionable object and the color matched. Whoever ate the string passed, at least some of it out. Thank God.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. Six weeks later, the green string is found.

Although I'll never know if that was ALL of the string, hopefully it was enough so that it won't adversely effect the cat who ate it (most likely the DOOD). I don't know if the raw diet slowed the process down since the cats don't pass much stool or if it helped. All I care about is that my cats are fine and my pocket still has a few bucks in it.

After all this would I still tell you to go out and buy Neko Flies. Absolutely, YES I would! I want you to know about my foolishness so that you truly appreciate the warning from NekoChan. Their toys are so enticing we must be careful in how we use them and our reward for that mindfulness is that our cats will get the exercise they need and have their hunting desire sated. I'm still using the Kattipede today and hope to add more Lures to my collection soon.

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If you'd like your very own Neko Flies: Foxifur Kittenator with Rod, simply leave a comment in this post to enter. Tell me what's the weirdest thing your cat has eaten or just give me a good reason why you should win. Make it funny, entertaining, creative.

Best entry as Judged by me, Robin Olson of Covered in Cat Hair, will win ONE FOXIFUR KITTENATOR with ROD. You may only leave ONE comment for ONE CHANCE to win per person. This Giveaway ends FRIDAY, AUGUST 30, 2013 at 11:11 AM EST and is open to residents of the USA and CANADA (yay Canada!) only (sorry guys outside of those areas!). Rules, quantities and whatever else I forgot are subject to change without notice.

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©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. DOOD.

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After careful consideration, from time to time I write product reviews. If you see it here, it's because, at LEAST I think it's worth you knowing about even if I have an issue with it and, at BEST, I think it's amazing and we should all have one, two or more of whatever it is I'm reviewing. I get NO reimbursement for writing these reviews, though to write a review I am supplied with the item, as I was in this case. This review is MY OPINION, ONLY. The result you experience using this product may differ (I can only hope there will not be any ER Vet visits!).

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