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Rainbow Bridge

Postcards from Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge Ch 2

Dear Spencer,

It’s been a week since you died. Numbness and depression has really sunk in. I’m alone. Sam still lives in NYC taking care of his mother most of the time. I’m tired. It’s been a year that he’s been gone. This should be resolved by now. I can’t care for this entire house, all the other cats, by myself. I didn’t sign up for that. Every day that passes, I get less and less interested in my life. I’m sorry to whine at you about it, but seeing you every day, talking to you, hearing your purr, really made it bearable. I just don’t have the connection to any of the other cats, the way I connected to you. They don’t even sleep with me. It’s so weird going to bed alone.

IMG 0883
©2019 Robin AF Olson. A truly lovely gift-a plant (read the message on the container!) from my beloved friends at Royal Bobbles.

Remember how you used to tuck me in? You’d use the step stool at the foot of the bed to jump onto the trunk, then from the trunk you'd jump onto the bed. You’d walk all the way up towards my pillow, then settle down ON my pillow, putting your face and front paws as close to my face as you could. Your long soft fur would tickle my face. Your purr was deafening. There was no way I could sleep with you almost laying on my face. Some nights I could barely breathe with all the floof covering me!

But you only stayed for about 5 to 10 minutes. I think it was your way of sending me off to a sweet slumber. You’d get up and return to the foot of the bed and lay against one of my legs. I can’t say how many nights I would wake myself up when I wanted to turn over so I wouldn’t crush you. Maybe I didn’t sleep well most of the time, but you were there, my furry shadow. You honored me with your devotion to stay by my side. It gave me great comfort. It broke my heart when you couldn't make it up the stairs any more. The last time was late April. I could have carried you upstairs every night, but we both know that would have irritated you.

Yesterday was 9|11. That just made my depression worse. It's a big day for me. My life began to change a lot after that day. I got trapped in New York City, like so many other millions of people. Sam was there, too. We were working together in the same design firm but we had broken up and were dating others. Talk about a weird situation. Then we had to rely on each other to navigate basically being homeless, with nowhere to go, as the World Trade Towers collapsed and our world got a lot more scary.

You hadn’t joined our family yet. Maybe you had just been born or would be soon. I bet you were an incredibly cute kitten. I wish I had known you then. You must have been about a year or so old when I first fostered you.

Before the Pouff in 2002
©2002 Robin AF Olson. One of the first images of Spencer, before his coat grew in and he went up to his highest weight of 16 lbs.

Do you remember the animal communicator? What she said about you? A friend got us a consultation. She did tell me some scary-accurate things about two of the other cats. I hoped what she said about you wasn’t true — that you didn’t want to talk about it. You put those days behind you. I know you were on “death row” somewhere in New Haven and that your time was up. They’d shaved you down. You must have been a matted mess. Your white fur was yellow. On your paperwork it said your name was Skeezix. What a horrible name! The director of the rescue named you Spencer. I didn’t like that name much, either, but it didn’t feel right to change it again. I guess that’s why I called you “Wee-wee” or “Weedie-woo.” …not because you peed all over!

People have been really kind. Did you see all the comments on social media about your passing? So many people were wishing you well on your journey to the rainbow bridge. So many people sent me thoughtful notes, a few sent flowers or a plant with nice cards. I was really honored that they cared so much about you. I guess about me, too.

I keep going back to what a few people said about how we never stop loving each other, even after death parts us. Even if we’re not in the same room any more, that love doesn’t have to stop. I thought I would never feel love from you again, but you sent me a sign, didn’t you?

You did it more than once to make certain I knew.

Here’s what happened (though I bet you already know this): I was watching TV. It was a reality show. I can’t remember which one. One of the folks was named, Spencer. In all the years I’ve watched TV I can’t think of a time when a character had that name. It’s not common at all. My ears perked up when I heard the name out loud. I thought; Did he make that happen? No. Couldn’t be. That’s crazy.”

Then, yesterday I was taking a break, watching “Say Yes to the Dress.” Why do I watch this show? It only makes me angry seeing women flip out over DRESS SHOPPING for a dress they will wear once, they will gladly spend thousands of dollars on, and then feel they have the right to go ballistic if it doesn’t go perfectly and they don’t get what they feel entitled to...and half the time they look like hookers, not bridal. Ugh. I'm particularly horrified by the women who drop over $10K on a dress. I mean, really! Spend $10K on pretty much anything else and that's cool with me, but not a DRESS!

So. Anyway. Here comes today’s bride. What’s HER name? Spencer. Yes, a woman named Spencer. You did that, didn’t you? First time was coincidence, right? Second time? No way. You did that!

Are you still here? If not, where are you? What are you doing? Are you all right? What was your first week like? I hope you’re not scared. I hate that I can’t protect you any more. That was my job. I still feel as though I failed you. I’m trying to do better with all the other cats to make up for something I can never make up for.

I guess this happens every time one of our cat's die. I try to learn a lesson. This one made me decide that we have to find a way to get every cat back into the vet to look at their teeth and set up a game plan for dental cleanings. We started doing that over a year ago. I need to do better. If your teeth had been in better shape, maybe you’d still be with us? But Sam also said that if it was your heart that failed, maybe you would have made your journey much sooner than you did.

I feel so screwed up about your passing. A few days ago, the foster kittens got spayed/neutered. I didn’t expect to be a wreck leaving them at the clinic, but it hit me, they were all going to be sedated. None of them had pre-op blood work because it’s too costly and usually not necessary on kittens, but then I started to worry about the dreaded “what ifs” again. What if I lost one of the kittens? What if one of them didn’t wake up?

Then later that day I took Flap, the little handicapped kitten, to see our specialist, Dr. Deb. She said she might have to lightly sedate him to put a brace on his leg. I lost it. I couldn’t hold back the emotions. I tried to explain why I didn’t want Flap sedated. It was stupid of me to feel that way, but I still felt so raw.

I just want to curl up under the covers and hide from the world.

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©2019 Robin AF Olson. Right after Spencer died and I got home, I walked out into my back yard and sat on a big rock. I looked up and saw this view of the tangled brush. It's how my heart felt in that moment; all twisted up with grief.

But you did it one more time, didn’t you? You gave me another sign. I wasn’t looking for one. I was flipping through the channels trying to find something to watch. On the History show there was a documentary, really a bunch of video clips with no narration, of 9|11. I wasn’t sure I should watch it. I was already so depressed.

I watched for a few minutes. There was a footage of a little girl with her even younger brother by her side. They were standing by a window in their apartment. You could see smoke from the collapsed World Trade Towers rising in the distance. The little girl explained what was going on…saying the building was just gone, gone forever…then she turned to her brother and said: “right, Spencer?”

WHAT? I got chills! Maybe I’m going insane from grief, but maybe this is legit. Maybe you're really out there. Maybe you'll write me again? Is that asking too much? I miss you so badly.

Keep the signs coming or the letters or both.

Mama loves you.

Postcards from Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge Ch 1


On September 5, 2019, my 18-yr old soul-cat, Spencer died unexpectedly during a procedure while sedated. If you'd like to read about his last few days you can go HERE and HERE.

What I could never have imagined is that our connection didn't end on that fateful day. Because of the deep love we shared, a door remains open to us. It's a rare gift, only for those who have a magical bond with their companion animal. Instead of keeping this secret to myself, I decided to share it with the world. Please read on.

 

Dear Mama,

I guess I better start off by saying, I’m sorry. I know you’re hurting right now, not only because I left this mortal coil, but because it was so sudden and such a shock to you. I heard you cried so hard you got a migraine? Is that true? I would never want you to suffer like that, just like you never wanted me to suffer, but there are things that we can’t control no matter how hard we try.

I know you miss me. I miss you, too. 17 years is a long time to be with someone. I never wanted to leave you. Even though my physical form is gone, I'm still with you.

In the end, I didn’t suffer much. I was sedated when my heart gave out. I’m grateful for that. Yes, I was scared because you weren’t there, but I was surrounded by others there that cared about me. Dr. Larry, Super-Deb, Dr. Mary, Judy. They were trying really hard to keep me around, even though I'd been a pain in the ass to them all these years. I gotta hand it to them for trying. I think they really care about you, which is why they were giving it a team effort. The thing is, my heart hasn’t been good for awhile now. You didn’t know it. I wish I could have told you.

Leaving you so fast was a bit of a shock to me, too, but in truth I could feel it was coming. I felt it for a long while now. You saw it in how tough it was for me to walk more than a few steps without having to rest. I didn't come upstairs any more. I missed meeting you at the door when you came home. My legs were getting pretty wobbly. I hated tripping over my paws some times. I know it upset you to see me like that.

I saw you trying to figure out what was wrong. You tried so very hard, for so very long, to find an answer. You took me for laser treatments for my legs. It felt good, but it wasn’t my legs that were needing help. You saw the holistic vet and he gave me some really good remedies and the antibiotics you struggled trying to give me really did help me feel better over my last two weeks.

My health issues were really complicated over the years and man, did you go the distance for me. You raised, what, about $5000 when you didn’t have $100 to your name, just so I could get that big mass removed off my pancreas when I was 16! Then the pathology hinted at cancer, and you jumped on that, fast. You figured out it wasn’t true, but you had to work so hard to get answers about that. Before that time there were a zillion other problems, but you leaned in and learned as much as you could about every health issue I had so I would never have to suffer-“Not on my watch,” you said.

Then you had to give me fluids every day for over a year. I know you hated “sticking me.” It took a toll on you, but you made it comfortable for me so I wouldn't stress out. I even enjoyed getting fluids some times.

Mama, honestly, you blow me away. You never gave up on me, even during so many dark times when it looked like my health was truly failing. I hope you find a way to see that and not feel guilty you couldn’t save my life today. In truth, you did save my life, MANY TIMES, but sooner or later the day will come when “all the King’s horses…” you know how it goes.

And it’s not like I made anything easy for you. There is no way you could have figured everything, because you know how I get. I’m like you. You get pushed a bit too hard and you go into the “red zone” fast. How is anyone supposed to examine me when I flipped out so easily? Kinda like how you got when one of the other cats peed on the sofa (I’m not saying names, but it started with a P., literally and figuratively). Boy did that piss you off.

Yes, I still have a sense of humor. Just because I’m not there with you doesn’t mean I can’t try to cheer you up once in while.

The connection I felt with you when we were together, and now as we’re apart, is on a molecular level. I know you didn’t just love me like all the other cats that have been in your life. We had a bond that was so strong it continues to pull me towards you, to keep reaching out, to let you know I’m okay over “here,” and to tell you I can write you now and let you know how I’m doing. That is, if you’d like to hear from me. I hope it’s not too painful that I keep reaching out. I would not want to add to your grief.

Write soon?

Love always,

Spencer (aka, Wee-wee, Weedie-woo, Baby-Man…just proving to you that it really is ME and I’m okay so don’t worry about me. I miss you!)

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Dear Spencer,

With all my heart and soul I hope it really IS you writing me. When you died a few days ago, a big hunk of me died along with you. Losing you is so painful, I can’t really think about it too much. I can look at a photo of you for only a second or two before the tears well up in my eyes and my head starts to hurt. I think about your last few days, but it’s mixed up with so much regret, remorse, guilt, frustration, anger, and complete heartbreak that I can barely keep myself together.

I can feel the pressure build up behind my eyes. I’m going to cry again. I can’t do that. If the dam bursts I will never stop crying. You were my everything, my sweet fluffy sassy shadow. You saw me through so many tough times. You made me smile, even when you drove me crazy. You always tucked me in at night. You were my best friend and you never stopped loving me.

Spencer Urn and Photo R Olson
©2019 Robin AF Olson.

You never questioned if I loved you. You always looked up at me with this adorable expression of love mixed with curiosity. That purr of yours was non-stop and just gave me another reason to be completely charmed by you. I fell in love the first moment I saw you pop your head out from inside a cardboard cat carrier. You were my first foster fail oh so many years ago. I promised myself I wouldn’t adopt you. I’m so glad I broke that promise.

But this is a game-changer-if I really could talk to you. This is so messed up. I can’t believe it. I just got your ashes back tonight. They’re in a little wooden box in the living room. Dr. Larry and Dr. Mary sent me a big bouquet of flowers. There are thistles mixed with the roses and hydrangeas. It’s perfect. It’s just like you. Beautiful and prickly at times, but I don’t mean it in a bad way. I loved how sassy you were. You didn’t take shit from anyone.

Thistles
©2019 Robin AF Olson. Thistles.

I just hugged and kissed the wooden urn, then a few minutes later, I find your note. That’s crazy!

All I can say is keep writing me, please! What’s it like where you are? What are you doing? Can you see any of the other kitties like Bob or Gracie? Can you visit with humans? Or is the Rainbow Bridge segregated by species?

Will you ever come back to me? Please come back! How will I know it’s you? How long will it be? Oh Weedie-woo, I miss you so much. This house is empty without you and my heart aches all the time. I want this bad dream to be over. I want you to be here with me still. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I never will be.

Please write me again when you can!

Mama loves you, always.

Spencer Sign Photo Urn Candle R Olson
©2019 Robin AF Olson.

Gutted. I've Lost My Best Friend.


Gutted.

I’m tempted to leave it at that, but I need to write about what happened a few hours ago. Writing keeps everyone away from me. I don’t need their awkward attempts to comfort me. No one knows what to say other than; “I’m so sorry.” or the line that makes my blood boil: “He’s in a better place.”

He is NOT in a better place. His place is with ME. If he can’t be with me he is NOT in a better place.

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This morning Spencer was in lovely spirits. He was happy, purring so loudly you could hear him across the room. He was still weak when he walked, but otherwise he was up and being pure-Spencer. It was such a lovely morning, too. Just the right temperature; not too hot or too cold. There was lots of seed out for the birds to eat and I could hear them chirping away through the open windows, as Spencer laid down on the floor by the doorway to the kitchen. That’s where he sat every morning while he waited for me to bring him his first meal of the day. He’d wait there while I fussed with his freezed-dried raw food, I’d add something to it, depending on what he needed. Today would have been pro-biotics because Spencer had been on antibiotics for his dreadfully infected teeth. The meds did wonders. He was truly at his peak of wellness, considering he’s an old fella.

Waiting for breakfast r olson
©2019 Robin A.F. Olson. Waiting for his breakfast just this morning.

Between the birds singing, the sunshine and Spencer looking so fine, I felt hopeful that today’s dental would not only help him feel better, but add years to his life. I had two vets agree we could go ahead with this. No one felt the risks outweighed the need. Instead of giving Spencer his morning meal, I gently placed him into his cat carrier and let him settle before touching his paw and telling him he was a “Good boy” as I closed and locked the crate door.

I was terrified today would be Spencer’s last day. I told myself to focus on being gentle, on having a nice trip to Dr. Larry’s. I’d take the back road, the one that follows along the river. It was a longer trip and slower. No highway. Everything I could do to keep Spencer from stressing out, I was going to do.

I sang.

I sang a stupid made-up song to Spencer. I’ve done it before, but today I really ramped it up. I sang to keep myself from crying...from obsessing with "what ifs"…I would see him again. It would be okay. I kept singing so I wouldn’t think. Spencer purred along with me. It was a good trip.

We hung out in the waiting room once we got to Dr. Larry’s. Someone would come fetch Spencer and take him into the back of the building where he’d wait until his procedure. Until then I had his cage door open. He was calm. Purring. I forgot my phone. I wanted to take a video of him so I could hear him purring. I told myself I could do it later. It was going to be okay. I told Spencer for the millionth time that I loved him.

“You’re a good boy. Mama loves you.”

One of the techs came to get him. I told her to stop doing the procedure if he started to flip out. I told her to do whatever it took to help keep Spencer relaxed. Going into the red zone today was more than dangerous for him. She said she would. I know she heard me. That was it. She took him away and that was the last time I saw him until a few hours ago.

The next time I saw him, Spencer was dead, his lifeless body on an exam table.

At 1:41 PM, EST, Dr. Larry called me. He sounded bad. All I heard was; “Robin…I’m so sorry. He had a heart attack. He didn’t make it.” All I could say was; ”No. No. No.“

Dr. Larry began to describe what happened, how they tried so hard to save him, as I slid down onto the cold tile floor of my laundry room. My chest constricting, hard, my ears started to ring. My mind was going blank. The washing machine is broken. It’s finally getting fixed after a few weeks. I was clearing the stuff off the machine so the tech would have a way to access the top of the washer. I was trying to keep busy so I wouldn’t obsess about what time it was or if I thought I should hear from someone yet.

But the words started to flow together…they’d done the dental as far as they could. His mouth was really bad. They were trying to wake him up but he wouldn’t wake up. They did heroic efforts to save him..chest compressions…injections…they kept trying. It wasn’t just Dr. Larry. Dr. Mary was called in, Super-Deb was there, Judy, the tech who’s done Spencer’s laser for months was there, too. In all 5 people were desperately trying to save Spencer’s life.

But they couldn’t get Spencer back. He died. He was sedated when they lost him. He wasn’t in pain. He wasn’t suffering. I wasn’t there with him, but people who also loved him were there.

I drove to Dr. Larry’s in a trance. I was tempted to drive into oncoming traffic or just let the car drift off the road, into the river. I was angry at myself. I wondered if I had been too arrogant. I should have left Spencer alone. What was I thinking? He was SO HAPPY. He was doing so well the past few weeks. Why did I ruin it? Why did I risk it? WHAT HAVE I DONE!

I tried to rationalize with myself. I did the best I could. Spencer was tough to handle at the vet. He hated being messed with. His teeth were hurting him, really killing him. They had to come out. It was cruel to leave him like that. But he possibly had something else going on that we didn’t know about. The leg weakness made me wonder if his heart wasn’t so great, but we couldn’t know without sedating him to do the exam and x-rays that could have given us some clues.

As I fumbled with my wallet and keys, I started to open my car door. Super-Deb was standing there in the parking lot. She must have been watching for me to arrive. She didn’t say a word. She just grabbed me hard and hugged me tight. She said she had no words. I totally understood.

Deb never touches anyone, ever. She just hugged me. I told her now I would have two reasons to remember this day for the rest of my life. It was a lame joke. She was shaken up. She felt so badly. She’d known Spencer for most of his life. This just wasn’t my loss. It was hurting her, too.

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Deb escorted me to Exam Room 1. They had Spencer waiting for me. We’d been in the same room so many times before, but this time was different. The overhead lights were off. Just the under cabinet lights were on. It was the same way I asked to light the room every time I brought Spencer there. He was much calmer in low light and we could get more done if he was calmer. Now he was laying on his side, covered with the fleece cat bed I’d brought with me that morning. His eyes were still open. His paws were still a little warm. He’d been brushed and was clean. There was a box of tissues by his body left for me.

I stayed with Spencer’s body for a few hours. Sam had to drive up from New York City where he was still caring for his aged mother. I didn’t mind staying there so long. I had time to say goodbye. I spoke with most of the staff. One by one they came into the exam room and told me what happened, how much they cared and were sorry. I got a lot of hugs. It was comforting to know they cared so much about Spencer, about me, too. I even spoke with Betsy, who runs the front desk. We’ve become close over the years. She told me she lost two of her beloved pets in the past year. She is so distraught about it she hasn’t even told some people it happened. I won’t say more to respect her privacy, but I’ve been down this road so many times, I think I said a few things to help comfort her. At least I hope it helped.

We’re all hurting. It just may not be apparent, but scratch at the surface and most people have broken hearts.

In a final act of kindness, Dr. Larry called Mark. He owns the pet cremation service. He asked Mark to come today and take Spencer to be cremated so Spencer’s body would not have to be stored in a freezer for another week. I may even have Spencer’s ashes back as soon as tomorrow.

It’s over. I can’t do anything about it. My love. My sweet boy is gone forever. I will never see him again. I will never hear his purr. I don’t have to fuss over how much he ate today (I’ve kept a diary every day for two years tracking every meal he has eaten, how he was doing, what meds I gave him). I don’t have to give him fluids every day. I don’t have to hold his plate while he eats. I don’t have to come up with a new food or treat to tempt him, but I would do it every day for the rest of my life if it meant he would be here with me.

Paws with Banana
©2019 Robin A.F. Olson. Farewell my beloved. I sent Spencer off with his catnip banana and a letter I wrote to him, along with a photo of us. Sam slipped his own message to Spencer in along with mine a bit after this was taken.

I’m going to write a proper memorial about Spencer one day, but it needs to be separate from this heartbreaking tale.

I am gutted. I am done. I took a chance and lost. I really tried with everything I have to give. I’m so sorry Spencer. I will miss you for the rest of my life.

 

The Lesson is Love.

I don’t believe anyone knows how to have a perfectly functioning, completely fulfilling multi-year relationship, let alone one that lasts multi-decades as Sam and mine has. You can decide to make rules to help navigate the rough patches, so things will go more smoothly, as partners often do. You can choose to attempt the cliché commandment of never going to bed angry. Seems like a fairy story to believe that’s possible, because I’ve never been able to avoid that. It’s a great goal, of course, but the reality, I find, is quite the opposite.

Brasil Fest 1994 ish
©2019 Robin AF Olson. Sam and I a very long time ago at the Brazil Festival in NYC.

There have been so many nights I’ve laid in bed, with my back turned against my annoying-other while an angry silence seeps into the covers. We both pretend to sleep, proving our defiance to the other that nothing bothers us so greatly that we can’t simply fall asleep. My fear: I’m often so wound up as I lay there, at the zenith of anger and anxiety, that the least little thing will cause me to fly out of the bed into yet another rage, my truth (IT DOES BOTHER ME!) revealed. Then he will win. He always falls asleep before I do. This time I will win. I work hard to tamp my feelings down. I won’t lose this round, too. I won’t. I will go to bed angry. I WILL fall asleep!

There have been many horrible words said, accusations volleyed, declarations, and threats made over the years. There have been many times when one or both of us have given up on the relationship, followed by a painful, heavy silence that fills every corner of the house. It can last for weeks.

During this hiatus, we begin a choreographed dance, one that requires no partner. As one person enters a room, the other leaves. The goal is to avoid each other while still in the same house. We can’t afford to move out, so we pretend we just live with a ghost.

If alerted by the footfalls of said shimmering spirit, we linger in place a few moments longer so as not to cross paths with the fearsome “apparition.”

I understand why this happens, but am at a loss for how to right the ship. Yes, we have communication problems exacerbated by stress. The past few years, especially 2018, have been cursed with one thing after another. Last summer, we almost lost our home. The power got shut off once. It’s never happened to me in my entire life. It broke me. We should be better off by this point in our lives.

More than a few times last year, we weren’t sure about how we were going to feed ourselves. Add to that the pressure of operating a non-profit rescue and caring for dozens of cats, with never, ever, a vacation in nearly twenty years, and you can see why this relationship could be doomed to fail. S-T-R-E-S-S.

M-O-N-E-Y

Yet here we are twenty five years later. Sam and I broke up a few times. It wasn’t a perfect run. We dated other people during the early years, but we always seemed to find our way back to each other. I don’t know why. We’re very different. Sam says we have an unbreakable “heart connection.” I’m not sure what to say. Maybe it’s because he never gave up on us, when I have so many times before.

Just as we’ve both been re-thinking what our future might hold, whether or not we care to continue being partners, something happened that slapped us both upside the head. I’m reminded of a line Cher utters in one of my favorite films, “Moonstruck.” She scolds her newly minted lover, Nicholas Cage, to stop worrying about what anyone thinks about their feelings for each other and to go with his heart. In her words; “Snap out of it!”

Well, we got a wakeup call all right.

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“My heart aches badly from missing Sam. I’ve been crying a lot. I can’t even show him my tears. He has too much on his plate. I have to be strong for him.”

 

Though there has been anger and so many things gone unsaid, there’s always been a basic goodness, respect, a kindness that tips the scale in the opposite direction in our relationship. Perhaps the passage of all these years, all these challenges, has given me a gift of understanding that can be summed up in another cliché: You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

Mercifully, Sam is NOT dead, but…

Last September, Sam’s mother fell. It was the middle of the night. She was in her New York City, upper west side, rent-controlled, two-bedroom apartment. She passed out for hours after she fell. When she awoke in the hallway, she realized her arm was injured. She was too weak to stand. She wore an alert button on a chain around her neck, but didn’t press it because a month before she’d set it off unknowingly and her door was broken down to get to her. She was fine, but the landlord pitched a fit. She was terrified they’d break in again and she’d get into trouble. So at 5 AM, she called Sam, her only son, who lives nearly two hours away, to come get her.

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This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. She’s had many chances to call for help locally, but always turned to Sam-and it’s not because they have such a close relationship.

Years before “the fall,” she called the morning we were due to visit her. We had planned to arrive early in the afternoon to celebrate my birthday and Sam’s daughter’s birthday. Instead, she called demanding we come now and not wait. She sounded very odd. She wouldn’t say why we had to hurry, just that we needed to get there right away.

We alerted Sam’s daughter since she lived a bit closer, but she had to travel on two subways, then walk a good way to get to her grandmother’s apartment. Odds were that we still might get there first. All we knew is something was wrong.

 

His daughter arrived a few minutes ahead of us as Sam was parking the car. She called Sam. I could hear speaking, her voice at an alarmed pitch, even though Sam held the phone to his ear. She found her grandmother lying on the sofa in a pool of blood. She’d slit up her forearms, trying to kill herself. His daughter didn’t know what to do.

 

Once we got into the apartment, I assessed the situation. My mother had been an Emergency Medical Technician when I was a teenager and I’d helped her study for her exams. I ended up learning a lot of basic first aid and I knew that Sam would be too distraught to think clearly, so I took over.

I calmly spoke to his mom and asked to see what she’d done. She was pale as a sheet, her flimsy bathrobe covered in gore. She lifted her left arm. It was wrapped in a blood-soaked towel. I gingerly removed the towel and saw the blood was already clotting. It must have been done hours before, but there was a great amount of blood on her and all over the furniture. I could smell it’s dank odor.

She told us she cut herself to stop the pain. Her hip hurt so badly. She’d broken it a few years before and it was surgically repaired, instead of getting a new hip. She couldn’t bear the pain so she decided to end her life. I don’t know why she didn’t tell her doctor or Sam or any of us she was hurting, or why she let it go on for so long that she felt suicidal. I hate to say this, but after all these years I have to wonder if she wanted attention. Her cuts were bad, but not bad enough to require stitches.

It had been a miserable winter, with towering snowfalls keeping Sam from visiting her. She’d become basically housebound, too afraid of falling on the ice and injuring herself. Perhaps the isolation got to her, but she never said a word about it. While I was tending to her, she said she changed her mind about wanting to die after she made the first cuts and didn’t know what to do.

Again, she never called 9-1-1, who could have been there in moments, she called Sam who was 90 miles away.

So I called for an ambulance. The EMTs arrived shockingly fast, along with 3 cops who began interviewing each of us, trying to sort out if any of us were the culprits-which really pissed me off. They were also talking about his mom as if she wasn’t there. It was terribly rude.

As the EMTs worked on Sam’s mom, they got to the point where they needed to transfer her to a gurney. All the cops were watching. She was in a BATHROBE, that’s it. It had to be removed due to all the blood on it. They had dress her in a clean gown before they left. I shouted over their chatting to be quiet and give the poor woman some respect and to turn away and keep their voices down. They stepped back and gave me dirty looks, but I didn’t care. At the time, I felt it was disrespectful to treat her that way. Now I’m not sure I have the same opinion as I once did.

We were in the hospital for about 17 hours waiting for her to be admitted into the Psych Ward. She didn’t need stitches, just good bandaging. She probably said she was sorry, but by then I was so angry I didn’t want to say more. Happy Birthday to me.

I get it. She’s in pain, but she wasn’t just suddenly in pain and suddenly couldn’t do anything about it. She knew we would be there. She also KNEW my father killed himself. Did she have any thought for what her granddaughter went through finding her? You look at this woman and think she’s a nice old lady, but I’m not buying that any more. You can be a selfish, self-centered person in your youth, just as easily as you can still be one when you’re old.

But still, I was raised to be a good girl. I got to work once we could leave the hospital and spent many days scrubbing down her apartment by myself. I didn’t feel it was right to have her son or granddaughter see all that blood. It was everywhere...in the bathroom, on the sofa, on the table, on the mail, drops in the hallway and on top of that the apartment itself was a pit. So I got to work and cleaned that, too. I never saw such grime in my life, in addition to all the bodily fluids. I wanted Sam’s mom to come home to a nice, clean place. She’d be on antidepressants for a time, during the months she was hospitalized after her suicide attempt and for some time after that, but I knew that a better environment would help her find some joy again. She was also getting a new hip.

I tried to move on from that experience. She apologized to me and thanked me for what I did, but I could never truly forgive her. I also had a suspicion she was pulling these emergencies because her circle of friends and family were dying off and she had few left. She didn’t do her physical therapy so she became more and more homebound and more and more reliant on Sam to take her to the doctor or take her to a museum or take her to the park for a walk to get some air.

All this time she knew we were struggling to pay the bills and find more clients or bigger projects so we could make ends meet. She knew it blew Sam’s entire day to run her to the eye doctor. She lives in NEW YORK CITY. She can get transport anywhere she wants, any time. She has a doorman (a nice lady named Iris). But no. Sam has to take her. At first I never said a word, but it kept going on while poor Sam was struggling to be a good son and risking losing his clients in the meantime.

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So Sam raced to his mom’s apartment once again. He got her up, checked out her injured elbow, and sat her on her bed. He asked her if she wanted to go to the hospital. Does anyone ever say YES to that?

She told him she felt tired. I texted Sam and asked him to get her hydrated. Maybe she had low blood sugar? After over 15 years dealing with sick cats I figured many of the same things applied to humans: check her temp, get her hydrated, check her pupils (did she have a stroke?), can she smile evenly, can she hold out her arms in front of her at the same angle or is she having odd mobility issues, slurring her words, etc.

He decided to let her rest awhile while he got some food for them at a take-out Chinese restaurant nearby. Sam was cross-eyed from lack of sleep, no food and stress. He figured she was all right for the few minutes it took to get lunch and maybe it would help perk his mother up to eat something. She was sleeping when he returned, but a few hours later she woke up. She began talking gibberish. This woman has always been sharp as a tack, even if her body is bent and weak. When he told me what was going on, I strongly urged him to call for help.

His mother would spend the better part of the next four days in the ER before they knew what was going on. Sam would spend most of that time by her side in the same clothes, with barely a bite to eat, or a sip of much needed coffee.

She was septic. That’s why she passed out. It was very serious. They were working on locating the source of the blood poisoning, but in the meantime she had to be on a special monitor that was only located in the ER. She rested as Sam sat in a daze watching groups of injured, drunk, crazy people file in and out of the Emergency Department at St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital.

It turns out she had a Urinary Tract Infection. I’ve had that once. It was so uncomfortable I can’t understand how she didn’t know she had one. It was so bad it was making her body a toxic mess. She’s 89 years old. She only has so much ability to fight this off. Her blood pressure was low and the sepsis was making her breathing ragged and fast. We feared that maybe “this was it.” We had to prepare ourselves for what might happen next. Suddenly I felt bad for vilifying her.

I couldn’t go to the city to see Sam’s mom. I had 22 cats to care for and some of them are sick or elderly. It’s not like I can get a pet sitter and take off. It’s just too complicated and takes far longer than most pet sitters could handle, especially in an emergency with no advance reservation. My job was to hold down the fort for the time being.

And so began a painful, time consuming nightmare for Sam with repercussions that couldn’t help but effect me and the cats, too. Sam travelled back and forth to New York City every other day for the next two months to spend a few minutes visiting with his mother and to get updates on how she was doing. I made sure he was constantly bringing her treats or books to help her pass the time. I don’t know how he did it and still found a way to work.

Except the staff at St Luke’s and, then at Amsterdam House, where his mom was in rehab, were terrible. They never called us even though Sam begged for updates. I don’t know if he EVER spoke with a doctor. His mother wasn’t even sure what they were doing to her. Sam has all the legal documents to oversee his mother’s health care. It’s not as if he was a stranger trying to get top secret medical information. They just were too busy to bother and information was few and far between. One day she was in the hospital, the next at the Amsterdam House across the street (which was a miserable pit-please don’t let me ever go to a place like that!). There was no medical reason to keep her in the hospital after the first month, but she was too weak to go home. I did visit her a few times, but once I saw her in rehab I knew it was unlikely she was ever going to be strong enough to go back to her apartment.

What do we do now? None of us have much money and certainly not anything like what we’d need for her to be in assisted living. What little I could find was $5000 or MORE a month. It all depended on if she needed HOME care or HEALTH care. Home care is general help around the house, cleaning, cooking, laundry. The care-person could give a bath or shower, help with “toileting” (yikes), be a companion. Health care was much bigger bucks.

Sam and I began having difficult conversations. What if she moved in with us? Could we provide for her? Could we do it if someone came in to help her get bathed and check her vitals? I’d have to lose two of my three foster rooms. I’d have to empty out our guest room, which is my one space where no cats are allowed so I can safely store family heirlooms somewhere. Sure, I could get a storage space, but it would take more money that we don’t have, more time away from billable hours having to pack her up, pack up our stuff, move it all, move her in, and we’d lose our privacy completely because we live in a wide open, contemporary house.

My biggest fear of all-would she trip over or step on and kill one of our cats. They always flop at our feet. We step out of the way. She can’t. She can’t do stairs. We could put her in the guest room and she’d have the guest bath down the hall. I’d have to find placements for some of my foster cats, which I really do not want to do. I might even have to shutter doing rescue at all. How much work would it take to provide care for this woman? How much of our lives do we have to sacrifice for her? This is a person who has never treated me like a family member, someone who has been polite and friendly, but that’s about it. Now I have to face she may move in one day.

We had more questions than answers, but there was one thing that was starting to become more clear. Sam and I were working like a well-oiled machine. I made a big “to do” list on Google sheets. We talked and talked and talked about options and how we could make this or that work, all while not having a shred of an idea on what was going on with his mom. Sam made calls, did research. We had meeting after meeting about what to do.

Since Sam had to be gone so much, I took over more of the responsibilities at home. I also tried to help make it easier for Sam to come home and focus on his clients and nothing else (okay he had to give my cat, Spencer, fluids, but that was it). I wasn’t going to be a bitch about this even though it was screwing our lives up big time. I knew it wasn’t forever. We repeated our newly minted motto: “It’s just for now, not forever.”

That’s how Sam worked up enough strength to keep going back and forth to the city even though his car was making loud clunking sounds and he couldn’t afford to get it fixed. He just had to hope it would make the trip (which drove me crazy with anxiety every time he left the house---would he make it there? Would he make it home?).

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Then late in October, the call came we both feared. A social worked called to say that Sam’s mom was being released the NEXT DAY and that could he come get her.

THE NEXT DAY?!!

Once again, I shouldn’t be surprised this happened. The staff at Amsterdam house didn’t give a shit. They did what they were supposed to do according to some bullshit rules we weren’t privy to, instead of be thoughtful or caring or smart. Time was up. We weren’t getting a reasonable warning she was being released. It was THEIR choice. Sam’s mom’s health coverage HAD NOT run out. They didn’t feel they could do any more for her so they were letting her go. Our hand was forced.

With no notice, we both knew that Sam was going to have to move in with his mother until we could sort out what to do next. She could not live alone. We both got to work trying to figure out what Sam would need so he could live and do his work in NYC. Then we had to figure out how we were going to get the apartment cleaned up and ready in time.

The next morning, the social worker called again; this time a reprieve. Sam’s mother had a bloody nose. They were going to keep her for another day or two and run some blood work. They moved her over to the Emergency Department at St. Luke’s. Really? The E.D. for a bloody nose? Okay. We had a few more days. We could get better prepared. She had another urinary tract infection!

So I did a mad shopping trip at Target getting bedding and other items for Sam. The cashier, who had no filter on his thoughts, went on and on about the items I was purchasing as he scanned and bagged each one. He wanted to know what all of it was for. I explained that I was helping my boyfriend move out. He found it very entertaining. I was polite, but behind my stiff smile, I wanted to reach across the counter and smack him for being so inconsiderate.

The next day, Sam and I bee-lined down to NYC and started cleaning yet again. For seven hours I cleaned non-stop and all that I got done was Sam’s childhood bedroom was clean enough for him to be able to move in. Sam got busy scrubbing the grime out of the kitchen and we both handled as much of everything else that we could tackle. The place was a mess even though I’ve periodically cleaned. It just wasn’t enough.

It was good that we were so busy, because every time I had a few moments to think, the realization hit me; Sam was moving out in another day or two. I would have to take care of all the cats alone, including giving my cat, Spencer fluids. Not a big deal unless you understand that I hate sticking my 17-yr old cat and I’m so anxious about it, I feared Spencer would react badly. If I failed him it could prematurely end his life. NO PRESSURE!

I’d also have to take care of the housekeeping, do all the things Sam used to do, plus work, plus try to keep Kitten Associates going.

I was going to live ALONE for the first time in 15 years.

It was going to suck for both of us.

By Saturday, October 27th, we knew that Sunday was going to be the big day. Sam would have to head out to drive to NYC to pick his mother up and bring her back to her apartment. It was the official start to us living apart. That night we held each other tight, while the cats seemed to sense what was going on, most of them were huddled on the bed with us, too. I didn’t know how I was going to sleep without him there. I confessed that even though I’ve lived in our house for over 25 years, it creeps me out to be here alone at night. The cats always seem to get spooked by something I can’t see. I used to like being on my own. I didn’t know how I’d fare now.

Sam admitted that he didn’t want to leave. He was starting to realize that although he’d been mighty unhappy lately, the idea of moving away made him start to see that it wasn’t all bad. A surprising amount of tenderness blossomed between us as we talked about our fears that night. He hadn’t lived in his mom’s apartment for over 30 years. How would he adjust to being back in the City?

It was time. Sunday morning. I kept myself busy, fussing with the contents of Sam’s trunk. Did he have everything he needed? We’d already moved a lot of items into the apartment. This was the last load. He’d let me organize and pack up all his stuff into as few armloads of items as possible. I love to organize things, plus it kept me out of his hair. He’d be stuck using street parking, which meant he’d have to follow the ever-changing rules that required cars be moved every day or so from one side of the street to the other. It was a huge pain in the ass. Even finding a spot near the apartment building was a crapshoot. I hoped he’d get a spot close by so he wouldn’t have to take a long back-breaking walk to get his belongings to his mom’s place.

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There have been many times I wished Sam would drive away and never come back and now he was doing just that. I didn’t want him to go. He promised he’d come visit as soon as he could, but it would only be for a few hours, tops. He was going to be New Yorker now. I didn’t know when I’d see him again. I had to suck it up. I had to be strong.

As Sam pulled his red Subaru out of the garage, I walked up the gravel driveway to the mailbox to get the mail. He was starting to make his way out of the driveway and would pass right by me as I walked back down towards the house. As our paths met, he rolled down the window for one last kiss goodbye. I saw the look on his face, I’m sure my expression mirrored his own grief and heartache. I tried to smile. I gave him a quick kiss. I said rarely uttered words; “I love you.” He said nothing back. (He later told me he was so choked up he was speechless.) I walked away as fast as I could.

I heard the sound of gravel crunching under his tires stop. It meant that Sam’s car was at the top of the driveway, turning onto the paved road. I couldn’t look back. I made it into the house and shut the door behind me before I fell to my knees and burst into tears.

Sam was gone.

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Sam’s been gone for nearly five months. It hasn’t been easy for either of us, but we’re both finding something surprising in all this difficulty: we’ve re-kindled what we lost so long ago. Love.

We can’t get in each other’s hair. We see each other usually once a week. Sam can even stay overnight some times. Our visits are filled with errands, but it’s ok. Sam got a huge project and that took a tremendous amount of stress off us because they pay their bills. His car is fixed. He even got his broken tooth taken care of. Though Sam is worn down from his mother being “his mother” (like using her wheelchair to ram into his bedroom door at 7:30 AM to wake him up so he can get her coffee and her New York Times newspaper), he also has admitted something I never thought I’d hear. He misses our home in the woods. He appreciates our life here and even having a garage to park in. He never was a big fan of living in Sandy Hook because he was used to being able to walk to a café, have coffee, and watch the world go by or pop into a museum or be surrounded by culture. That’s all wonderful and I enjoy it, too, but I always felt he lived here just to be with me. Now he sees his life from afar. It wasn’t so bad after all. He no longer feels smothered by it.

And I’m doing well, too. Okay, I talk to myself a lot. I’m not often around humans, but that’s fine with me. I worked up the courage to give Spencer fluids and now I’m a champ at doing it. A few of our foster kittens have been adopted so I’m down to a more manageable number of cats, but it still takes way too much out of my day to clean, make cat food, give fluids and meds, and just keep an eye on each of the cats, then work, etc.

Last Photo of Petunia copy
©2018 Robin AF Olson. Petunia and her mom, Gracie were part of the first kitty-family I ever fostered 15 years ago. This is my last photo of her before we had to put her down.

There have been darker times, too. Especially when one night in early December, my 15-yr old cat, Petunia slipped trying to make an easy jump onto her cat tree. She was usually not happy being picked up, but this time I decided to do it. As I reached under her to lift her, the second I put my hand on her ribcage I felt a huge, hard mass. The next day Dr Larry did x-rays. Petunia was loaded with cancer. It was terribly shocking and heartbreaking. She was supposed to see a specialist the following week to have a challenging dental procedure done. She’d just had an exam the month before-no sign of any masses. I had no idea she was so sick, so fast.

I had to put her down. Petunia was too far gone to even try steroids or chemo. I had to help her pass without Sam there to say goodbye. Sam couldn’t make it. I hated his mother for keeping us apart, yet again, as I held Petunia in my arms for the last time.

Tunies Paws
©2018 Robin AF Olson. Goodbye my sweet girl.

But the gift this lesson has taught us is that we do still love each other. Sam has been incredibly sweet and attentive. It’s not like before, when I felt like we were two strangers living in the same place, or worse, just roommates. It’s surprising that those warm feelings are still there. They were always there, we just needed some space and time apart to re-appreciate our relationship.

Sam’s mother just turned 90 years old. We have no idea when Sam will come home again. Part of me is afraid it will go back to the way it was when he returns, part of me wants this separation to keep going. It’s been so romantic. I missed that feeling of longing, but I also miss the warmth of his body next to mine, hugs, the smile on his face when he looks at me. He’s happy to see me again. It fills my soul.

We got to see what life is like without the other one in it. I’m left feeling both terrified and grateful for this lesson. One day we really will be separated forever. I’m not being dramatic, I’m being factual. One day we won’t have another chance or another day. Before that day comes, we need to cherish what we have, right here, right now, and focus on the love we have that has kept us together all these years.

Birthday Lunch Robin Sam
©2018 Robin AF Olson. Sam and I take a break to have lunch by Long Island Sound to celebrate his birthday last June.

For Margo. Ch 3. From Heartache to Hope.

[Note from Robin: Stories need to be told in a timely manner, but due to the terrible weather, the near-miss tornado that wiped out power and our internet, I’m left feeling as scrambled as the branches of many downed trees in our area. I couldn’t finish this story when I'd planned to, but in some ways it was a blessing some time passed because now the tale will end a lot differently than I imagined. The power is finally back on. We’re reconnected to the world again, so here I go...]

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I understand the error of thinking that there’s a way to control the outcome of a situation, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. Determination, sleepless nights doing research, mixed with palpitations, fear, and anxiety is my offering to the “Gods,” who I hope will grant me my deepest desire. Certainly the sacrifice of my own pain and hard work will change the path of one little kitten, keeping her from dying, right? My suffering is her protective shield. But unfortunately it doesn't work like that.

Cute girl
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Margo in her tiny outfit that held her diaper in place.

It’s been barely three weeks since we ended our fundraiser for Margo, a tiny 13-week old lynx-point Siamese kitten who lives in Florida with her mom, Pearl, her human mom, Kathy, Kathy’s hubby, children, some chickens, another cat, a dog and a young, naughty cow named Daisy.

With mom looking on
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Mama-Pearl watching over her daughter.

Margo was surrounded by love. Even though she was blind, Margo navigated her world with grace, dignity and joy. Even though Margo also had many other birth defects, she was happy, plucky, and curious, still 100% kitten. She loved the amazing world she was just getting to know. In the photos and videos I saw of her it always seemed that Margo was smiling. I couldn’t help but fall in love with her from afar.

Nosy Chicken
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. One of Margo's many chicken-friends looks in on her while Pearl gives her a bath.

Without ever spelling it out formally, instead of surrendering Margo to a local rescue, where her vet bills would be covered, I ended up being Kathy’s liaison and rescue-partner. I gave her advice for how to care for Margo, since I had so much experience with Freya. I helped her sort out the many vet appointments and tests Margo would need. I was in charge of fundraising. Our goal was to get Margo to surgery to reconstruct her biggest, baddest, scariest birth defect–Atresia Ani with Recto-Vaginal Fistula. In awkward terms, build her a butt-hole and close off the abnormal pathway that went from her colon to her vaginal vault. If it wasn't fixed, she would eventually die. Our dream was to relieve Margo from the buildup of stool inside her body, since she was only able to leak stool from her "lady place," and finally give her a way to void safely. We wanted the rest of her life to be the happiest it could be, and the most comfortable.

Kathy’s smart and capable, but anyone in a life or death situation with their cat is going to have brain fog from the stress of being a caregiver. I’m over 1000 miles away, so it was easier for me to keep things on track. I had Kathy’s back. I had Margo’s care as my top priority. I researched vets and found the surgeon, Dr. Gary Ellison at the University of Florida. He’d done this surgery before. He had the skills we needed to move forward, but before we could even have Margo see him, we needed to be budget-conscious and do some pre-operative blood tests with a local vet. More importantly, it would save some travel time for Kathy and Margo too, because Dr. Ellison was 2-hours away.

In cat carrier blood test vet run
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Off to yet another vet visit.

Kathy located a vet that was about 30 minutes away. I reached out to them to set up a rescue-account for Margo’s care. Somewhere in these early communications there was a disconnect between Kathy, the staff and Vets at Prime Vet in Orange Park and myself. They may have assumed that because I ran the rescue group, that Kathy was my foster mom, even though I said she was the owner. We were doing things differently than what is considered the "norm" , but as long as the bills got paid, did it matter? (Note: the assumption: rescue takes kitten if owner can't afford care, rescue deals with paying for care and for having someone else foster kitten, owner has no role so rescue is in charge.). This left Kathy feeling ignored when she brought Margo in for her appointments, but worse, she wasn't consulted or informed about Margo's condition, only I was, and that communication wasn't great, either. Though I was nothing but cordial, respectful and paid our bills immediately, I feel on their end there was something going on behind-the-scenes that they weren't saying to us.

Maybe they felt it was a lost cause to bother with Margo, so why do tests? I don't know, but you can decide if you think this sounds like a great vet "practice" or not.

1. They wanted to do an enema on Margo. In any other cat we might have said yes, but this is a cat with no known pathway in how stool is moving through her body. An enema could have KILLED her on the spot. We said, no, and for good reason. We were both shocked this was even suggested considering the atresia ani.

2. EYE-Rolling. YES, I wrote: EYE-Rolling. Kathy told me that on numerous occasions she would ask a question of staff members and they seemed irritated that she had the nerve to bother them with her concerns. Advice to Prime Vet: If you're going to roll your eyes at a client, I think it's wise to do it WHEN THEY CAN'T SEE YOU DOING IT.

With stepdad
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Stepdad giving her comfort after lactulose made Margo feel awful.

3. They treated Margo like a circus freak. Atresia Ani is very rare. After Margo's second visit they asked Kathy to bring her back so a surgeon they knew could see her. Why? He was Board Certified and had experience with the surgery and just wanted to see Margo. Okay, so show-and-tell? Is that what is going on? We already had a surgeon. Kathy obliged, hoping we'd get a better idea of what we could do to help Margo until she was seen by Dr. Ellison, but that's not what happened.

This Dr. pontificated about Margo's condition, told us he would charge $10,000 or more for the surgery, then said we should do a barium study where they inject barium into her rear end and see where it goes. It would have to be under sedation. We didn’t even know if Margo could handle ANY sedation so why do it in a vet clinic that isn’t staffed 24-hrs if she tanked? We didn't have ANY BLOOD WORK at that point so we didn't know if she had underlying issues. Why do this when we don't have her with our surgeon overseeing the procedure? Or risk doing something, that again, could harm Margo? Again, we said NO and again we must have hurt their fragile feelings because we didn't blindly do what they suggested. I asked if he could send his notes to Dr. Ellison, to give him a heads up on Margo. Well, no. He wouldn't do that unless we PAID him a few hundred dollars. It was ok for Kathy to waste part of her day, stress out Margo for their show-and-tell, then not take 5 minutes to write notes to Dr. Ellison, who he already knew and was friendly with. So once again, we said NO. Why bother? We only learned that he's an expensive surgeon. It really felt like no one cared.

Heat Lamp
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Kathy feared she would lose Margo a few weeks ago after a dose of lactulose made her grow week, but that time with a lot of TLC and a heat lamp, Kathy got her perked back up.

4. NOT CONTACTING US WHEN MARGO WAS SERIOUSLY ANEMIC and they KNEW IT. All we wanted to do was simply have Prime Vet run some blood work, do an exam, make suggestions as to how to shore Margo up until we got her to see Dr Ellison. I'd explained that up front. I was open to suggestions as I always am, but I also have to take Margo's condition into account and therefore I declined some tests.

Instead, they got offended. One of the staff hinted at it to me during a phone call. I assured her we depended on them to guide us but that we also had a surgeon we would be seeing. Why do I even have to tell her this?

So I NEVER got contacted after Margo's blood test results came back in. I was the one who saw in her results OVER A DAY LATER (again I had to bug them for the information) that she was dangerously anemic. It shocked me that I wasn't getting alerted by the Vet. I asked them about it and got a cryptic reply only saying that maybe Margo’s anemia was from her birth defects, not that she had fleas. That was it. No suggestion about what to do about it because by then I'm guessing they just didn't want to help us any more. In the end, I was left to figure it out on my own. WHAT VET DOES THIS TO THEIR CLIENTS?! I consulted with my own vet, Dr. Larry, about what to do. He was alarmed that we hadn't been testing Margo for bartonella right away, that she wasn't getting supportive care for her anemia, that the Vet hadn't bothered to notify us or be concerned about this kitten.

Aching after lactulose
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Margo finds another warm spot for a kitten nap.

5. Which Vet are we dealing with anyway? We couldn’t even get Margo to see the same vet. She saw THREE different vets on her three visits. None of the vets examined Margo in front of Kathy. Instead, they took her in the back of the building and who knows what they did. No one asked Kathy how Margo was doing. I had to chase them down to get exam results and updates even though I'd asked for them a few times.

Being treated like this was completely unprofessional, unconscionable and potentially DANGEROUS to the well-being of Margo. I have never, in my life, dealt with such uncaring and passive-aggressive people. It's not like we were constantly bothering them, not paying our bills or being late for appointments or rude to the staff. We did nothing to deserve this! MARGO needed ALL OF US to be on her side and not act like petulant children because someone took their lollipop away.

Xray
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Most of the right side of this x-ray is stool inside Margo.

Kathy already had more than enough stress. Not being able to trust a vet almost made her give up right then and there. I had to encourage her to keep going. I even told her if need be, Margo could come here where I have vets I trust and who treat us with respect and compassion. We were both terrified that Dr. Ellison wouldn’t be any better.

Maybe this is how vets behave in Florida? I’d like to think that is not the case. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do. I just kept trying to right the ship, to let all the vets know that we just wanted to help Margo and we were prepared to cover whatever costs were involved. They shouldn’t even assume Margo's case was hopeless and not to bother when we hadn't determined a definitive diagnosis. We were going to bother. We were going to get this done if there was any chance to do it. We were #TeamMargo.

Wrapped in Towel
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. TLC time.

Finally, on May 8th, Kathy made the long drive to Gainesville with Margo to meet with Dr. Ellison. We couldn’t wait. We knew Margo had anemia and I was very worried about it. I wanted her to finally have a vet look over her results and give us a game plan. Dr. Ellison wasn’t too concerned about the anemia at the time, saying this is something he’d seen before. He felt that there were things that could be done and some tests needed to be performed, especially a dye-contrast CT scan. He was hesitant about the costs, knowing that my rescue, Kitten Associates, was responsible for the fundraising and payment of Margo’s medical bills. During our conference call I assured him we were ready to go. It took some convincing, but he realized we were going to go the distance for Margo. Once he understood, he became more invested. That was just what I wanted. I wanted him to care. It would make a difference for Margo and give some measure of comfort to Kathy. She and I quickly agreed that we both liked Dr. Ellison and felt like he was going to treat Margo right.

Dr. Ellison lightly sedated Margo just to probe her back end and try to get an idea of how serious her atresia ani was. He also injected lactulose, a stool softener, into her opening, so she might be relived of some of the bulk. A few hours later he called again saying that Margo might be a stage III which was not good news. It’s a much harder repair. It’s not that it couldn’t be done, but it would be more difficult, especially at her small physical size.

Feeling crummy
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Sweet slumber.

My challenge, years ago with Freya, who also had atresa-ani, was that I had to keep her going until she was nearly 4-months old. I didn’t dare do the surgery when she was too little, but she could have died on me from waiting so long. I had terrible anxiety from taking on such a risk and here we were again. I knew the next decisions could mean life or death for Margo.

Dr. Ellison wasn’t sure we could wait much longer, either. We went back and forth about what to do. We decided to try to get Margo back home and do the surgery on June 6th. We were to change up a few things to help her with the anemia and hopefully get her strong enough for what was to come next.

It had already been a long road, especially for Kathy, who had to manage Margo’s ups and downs. It seemed every time Margo got lactulose she tanked. She HAD to have the stool softener, but it made her so weak Kathy almost lost her a few times along the way. Margo’s appetite was poor after she got home from seeing Dr. Ellison. She was weak. We thought maybe it would resolve by the next day, but she still wasn’t doing well. They’d done an updated CBC and Chem Panel at U of FL. Dr. Ellison called just as Kathy was deciding on if she should rush Margo back to see him.

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©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Margo's refuge was always with Kathy.

Margo’s PCV (Packed cell volume) had gone from 24 to 21 to 14 (normal is 29-48).

She was so anemic she was at the point where she could die. Kathy packed Margo up and raced to Gainesville. We weren’t even sure Margo would make it to the hospital she was so weak. Kathy had been syringing pedialyte into her and some food, but it wasn’t enough to perk her up.

We had another conference call with Dr Ellison. He didn’t mince words. Margo was probably severely dehydrated, a possible side effect of the lactulose. They needed to get an IV into her, then see if she would perk up. You have to keep one thing in mind-Margo didn’t even weigh 2 pounds. She was so tiny, the only place an IV could go would be into her neck. We didn’t want to do that to her, but it was that or die.

He sketched out the game plan for us. They were to cross-match Margo with a blood donor cat. If needed, she’d get a transfusion. They would see how she did. If she survived the night and showed improvement, they would sedate her and do the CT Scan, then either do the surgery or if she didn’t do so well, send her home until Monday, then do the surgery Monday. Also, there was a chance Margo had a liver-shunt on top of all her other birth defects because maybe that was the reason Margo tanked after getting lactulose. If she did, it was “game over” because it could not be repaired along with her atresia-ani. It was just too many birth defects at that point. So they were going to add a bile acid test, too and see if she had the shunt.

Farewell
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Goodbye, sweet girl.

Kathy said goodbye to Margo. Margo curled her paw around Kathy's fingers, as she had done so many times, late at night while she snuggled on Kathy's chest. Kathy didn't know if she'd ever see Margo again, as she looked down at Margo's sweet smiling face. She could only pray it would be ok and that Margo was in good hands. Kathy later told me that the techs reported that Margo held their fingers, too and that they already loved the little kitten. I sat with my gut knotted up, hoping that all the love and kindness and great skill of the staff and Dr. Ellison would be enough.

And so we began the ever-painful sitting-by-the-phone-waiting-game. We held our breath until we got some answers. We were distracted and couldn’t think about much until we found out what would be next. We prayed, asked for prayers, I lit a candle, we thought good thoughts. We did all those things many of us do hoping to tip the odds in our favor, so things will go the way we most desire.

We got an update a few hours later that Margo had perked up. She was eating and drinking. Her PCV was up from 14 to 21! No need for a transfusion! This was very promising news. I knew that Margo, being a kitten, still had that “kitten power” in that she could respond to treatment well because she was so young. Kittens could bounce back. I’d seen it before. I hoped that in the morning we’d get more good news.

I didn’t sleep that night. Catshew, one of my sick foster kittens, went into heat. She’s been too ill to be spayed and I’ve already had to crate her once to keep her brother, Pistachio from impregnating her. I heard her moan, then saw her squat low with her hind end up in the air. Pistachio ran over to her and mounted her. I clapped loudly to keep him away. I couldn't go to back to sleep because I couldn’t physically lift the big dog crate and bring it upstairs into the foster room without waking Sam. If I couldn't set up the crate to keep Catshew from her brother, then I had to stay awake.

Catshew would have to be crated for the next 10 days. So I was left to keep distracting the cats, while I sat on the pile of old blankets I use as a makeshift sleeping nest. I watched an awkward romance movie featuring Daniel Radcliff that made me realize he's sort of odd looking. I tried not to think about Margo.

The phone didn’t ring that night. I took it as a good sign. No news is good news. If Margo passed away, they would have called regardless of the time.

Around 6:30 AM Catshew got tired and went to sleep. I decided to set my alarm for 8:30 AM and take a nap. I got up just as the phone rang. It was a tech who sounded like the most depressed person in the world. She told me in as few words as possible that Margo’s PCV dropped to 17 and they had the donor cat on standby to do the transfusion. They were going to go ahead with the CT scan and report back later.

My heart sank, but I still still hopeful.

I got up, my back aching badly. I began the “rounds” that take about 2-hours to feed and clean up all the cats and kittens. I did what I had to do to try to keep my mind off Margo. I felt like a zombie. I could only imagine how Kathy was doing, but I didn’t want to bother her.

Then the phone rang again. It was Dr. Ellison, though he simply refers to himself by his last name, which I found both curious and somewhat endearing. His tone was matter-of-fact, with no emotion to betray what he was about to tell me.

He explained that after he saw the contrast study he knew that Margo was staged at a III. She had her fistula well inside her body. It was only 1 inch inside her, but that inch was the difference between reconstruction and no surgery at all. Margo was too tiny. He could try a procedure where they take the fistula and make it into a rectum. It’s just basically a tube after all, but in her body it was more like a thread. It wouldn’t grow with her. How could she live passing stool out of a thread? I knew the answer.

I wanted him to stop talking, not to say what I knew what was coming next, but there was nothing I could do. He told me he’d spoken with Kathy already. She’d given permission to humanely euthanize Margo. He explained that due to the very long distance Kathy could not be there to say goodbye, plus Margo was still sedated and they couldn't keep her like that for the hours it would take for Kathy to get there. Kathy loved Margo very very much and she fought so hard for her. It’s a terrible choice to have to make. I think she was very brave, but it broke my heart that none of us were there with her at the end.

I had to remind myself that Margo was still sedated from the scan so she wouldn’t suffer at all. She would just drift off to sleep gently and peacefully with the staff by her side.

Dr. Ellison also added that Kathy had agreed to allow him and his students to do an autopsy on Margo (called a necropsy). He was very appreciative of the opportunity and grateful that Kathy understood why it was important to allow them to do the procedure.

This will be very difficult for many of you to know, but please read on. It’s horrible for us to imagine ever carving up a precious creature, but this is a teaching hospital. Kathy understood that perhaps someone who examined Margo, and learned about her condition, might be the same person who one day pioneers the solution that results in saving the lives of other kittens. Margo’s life gave so many joy and now in death, Margo's body would allow others to learn and someday save more kittens born with atresia-ani. Again, it was the brave choice to make, albeit so very very painful.

But no one would be with Margo in her last moments. I could not hold back my tears any longer. Choking out the words, I asked Dr. Ellison a favor. I asked him to please kiss Margo goodbye from me. I heard him say to his assistant that of course they would both say farewell and give her kisses and a peaceful passing. I thanked him for trying, for caring so much.

I asked about what would happen to Margo’s body afterwards. He told me that she wasn’t going to be cremated unless we wanted that. That the necropsy would take a few days. Kathy had asked for a paw print (I later found out she kindly asked for two so I could have one). It was the distance that made her choices so difficult, with no time to prepare those choices. She would love and honor and remember Margo always, in her way. She wanted to remember Margo as she was, a playful, happy kitten. Whatever she wanted I would respect. You can’t judge someone for their choices about how they handle mourning or the final arrangements for their cat.

Dr. Ellison was very kind. He thanked me for what I do as a rescuer and for not giving up on Margo. He was sorry he couldn’t do the surgery. I know he would have tried if there had been any chance, but he said it wasn’t fair to her. I would have fought to try to change his mind, but this time it would have been foolish. There are some things you can’t fix and because of that, early this morning, Margo began her journey to the Rainbow Bridge.

All that hard work, sacrifice, begging for donations, anxiety about what we should do next, what test we should do, what the results might mean, what Doctor to work with, what advice to take, how to help Margo feel better...it was over in the blink of an eye. We were not ready. It happened so fast. Kathy and I really thought Margo was going to make it. Losing Margo was completely devastating.

Fly free

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So began the all too familiar crying jags over the loss of a precious life we had tried so hard to save. I never even met Margo, though I had dreams of flying to Florida one day to meet her after the surgery was over and she was stable. It would never happen now.

I wondered about Kathy. We’d become friends. I really liked talking to her. We’d share stories late at night. I’d given her all the comfort and support I could, knowing her road so well from all the times I’d not slept or cried over losing a foster kitten. One night a few weeks ago, in a text she asked if it was too early to tell me she loved me (but “not like that”). She made me laugh and feel honored all at the same time.

Diaper big girl
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Kathy created this little wrap so Margo could still run around the house without making a mess.

Our connection was because of a little kitten we were both fighting to save. We had joined together without any real discussion about it. We just did it and worked hard and worked well as a team.

Kathy is gutsy and brave. She fought like a tiger for Margo. She would have taken on all her post-op care needs, even dealing with a feeding tube, which was likely going to be done had Margo survived. She would get Margo through this and it would be okay.

Except that it wasn’t.

I went for a long walk. I took a shower. While I was in the shower something was nagging at me. I wanted Margo cremated. I wanted her ashes. Creepy and weird as it may seem to Kathy, or any of you, I would ask her for her OK. I have a shrine that’s filled with little boxes and urns. Some are the ashes of my kittens who passed away, like Fred, his siblings, Pebbles and Bam-Bam, like Fiorello, who only lived a day. I have a candle burning year-round in their honor. Though Margo, in life, would never be with us, Margo’s ashes have a place here. I can honor her in my way, as Kathy is doing in hers.

I use humor when I’m feeling scared, I suppose as a defense mechanism. Naked, still wrapped in a towel after my shower, I grabbed my phone and dialed Kathy. I somehow found a way to make her laugh before I asked her the difficult question. She, as always, was gracious in her answer. Of course I could have the ashes and she liked the thought that Margo would be with our other kitties. Maybe it was her way of sharing her with me in a way she never could have done if Margo had lived.

It’s so unfair that this precious life is over so soon. Margo was one of those magical kittens who never let anything get her down, who so wanted to live. Blindness, bent spine, atresia-ani, it didn’t matter. Margo had a smile on her face until those last moments. Now it’s up to us to honor and remember her and maybe for some of us to learn so we can help others not suffer.

Rest in Peace. Go with Love. You left deep paw prints in my heart, Margo, and I will never forget you.

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24 Hours Later...

Kathy and I shared a few text messages after Margo’s passing. In our way, we were both saying goodbye to each other and thank you for everything. My heart was so heavy. Kathy is no longer a stranger asking for help. She is my friend. I feared that in time we would lose our connection. It made sense. It was how it was going to be without Margo.

Kathy lightened the mood by saying her cow Daisy busted out of the fence and was using the patio as a rest room (again!) and that today would be fence-repair day. Then she wrote something odd. “Ok....so I went....but, not to get a fence. Hubby is doing that with the boys.”

Followed by a photo and this message: “My heart is so empty without Margo! All this love and no kitty to give it to...As soon as I walked in here, they reached their paws out to me and started crying!”

The boy kittens
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Ricky & Bobby.

Kathy was in Clay County Animal Services. Not even sure why she was there, once she saw the kittens begging for love and care she took action. She does what so many rescuers do, they direct all their heartache into rescuing another animal. She wasn't there to adopt. She was there to help.

I was floored, thrilled, gutted, delighted, but it didn’t stop there. Kathy continued saying that she was inspired to do more after Margo died, but what, she didn’t know until that morning.

Scared Mama
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Mama-Moon with her newborns tucked beneath her.

She also saw a scared mama cat with 3, 2-day old kittens. She looked at the mom, cowering in her litter pan, with her kittens snuggled under her, and knew she had this cat’s back, too. She asked if she could foster them and was given the green light. Getting them out of Animal Control would help keep the kittens from getting sick and being euthanized.

Kathy turned her grief and love for Margo into rescuing 5 kittens and 1 adult cat. I couldn’t think of a better way to honor her sweet baby. In that moment, Kathy joined the sisterhood of cat rescuers. I wish I could have given her a big hug, I was so proud. She’s so brave and selfless. It doesn’t mean she’s going to forget Margo, in fact it’s because of her that this happened at all.

Holding newborns
©2018 Kathy Ray. Used with Permission. Little lives saved because of Kathy and to honor her love for Margo. If you'd like to follow Kathy's rescue adventures, visit Margo's Friends on Facebook.

Six cats have a chance to live full lives and one day find their forever homes because one person decided to turn their grief into a gift and their heartache into hope.

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Yesterday Margo’s ashes arrived in an absurdly big red plastic heart-shaped urn. I lifted the lid and saw the tiny plastic bag inside the urn, filled with all that was left of Margo. As tears ran down my face, I kissed the bag and said a silent prayer. I gently placed the urn on the shelf alongside the urns of so many others cats I’ve lost over the years. I lit a candle. I imagined Margo's curious smile and the way she cocked her head when navigating her world. I hope that wherever she is now she's still smiling.

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.

Kitty Sick
©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.

Robin Cathi Jodi TIRED R Olson
©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.

Wild Bills Exterior R Olson
©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.

 

Major Muffin
©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...

How to Prepare for Before and After Your Cat's Final Days.

This post is not filled with research data or rules you’ve seen before about determining quality of life, it’s written solely from my own experiences facing the final days of life of my cats. I hope some of these ideas might help you one day, as you have to bear witness to your cat’s last moments.

 

The thing I’ve come to embrace over the years is that when my cat is nearing the end of his or her life that euthanizing them allows their experience to literally be to go to sleep. I’ve hated the phrase “put them to sleep” because they never wake up, but now that I have witnessed euthanasia enough times, I truly respect those words. For us, the cat-mom or cat-dad, it’s a sleep they never waken from, but thankfully for them it can be VERY PEACEFUL as they experience simply going to sleep. To me, that’s the best gift I can give my cat—peace and love in those final moments.

 

But let’s take a few steps back…

How do you face it when you either know or are suspicious that your cat is nearing the end of his or her life? Personally, when it’s been a longer road, like cancer and even though treatments may help, at some point my cat will grow thinner, weaker and have other issues. The sicker my cats get, the less I can sleep, eat or function. The last month of Gracie’s life I could barely cope with getting up in the morning, fearing I’d find her dead, but also secretly hoping that would be the case. I hated witnessing her demise, knowing I could not cure the cancer that was killing her. This is something I think effects a lot of people. Sam can function better and handle the stress better so I began to depend on him to provide some of Gracie’s care (mostly giving her her medication), while I focused on preparing her food and keeping her clean. Having support made it a lot easier to face the last months. If you have a family member who you can lean on to assist in providing care, a team approach can really help. Each person takes on what they can do best and the cat will greatly benefit. If it's not possible, then reach out to friends, family or your spiritual advisor so you have someone to talk to about your feelings during this difficult time. You should never have to feel alone.

What I learned from Gracie’s passing

 

What I aspire to do is to face death with less fear and more gentleness. Our cats live in the moment. They don’t even know about death. They know they feel good or bad right now. They know they are hungry or not. They know they are loved and safe. My goal is to be more like them and live in the moment, not obsess about what is yet to come, then end up not even being emotionally present when my cat needs me the most.

 

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©2007 Robin AF Olson. My most beautiful and sweet girl, Gracie at the prime of her life.

If my cat has a terminal illness, then I need to find a way to accept it, then forget about how I feel and focus on my cat. Is she ok in this moment? Yes. Is she eating? Maybe not. Maybe I’m syringe-feeding her for a few days to see if her appetite picks up or giving her medication to increase her appetite. I’m making certain I’ve spoken with my vet (usually more times than I care to admit) to get feedback about the care I’m providing. It definitely helps to have someone who knows my cat, but is not emotionally involved, weigh in on how things are going.

But what do you do if you don’t know what’s wrong with your cat?

 

Of course, first, get the cat to the vet. Understand that many times they will not be able to give you a definitive diagnosis. It can cause a great deal of stress on the cat’s caregiver because treatments may be iffy, specialized tests, too costly to do, or your cat may be unwilling to be medicated without a great deal of fussing or even bloodshed if they fight you every time they need medication. It's a very difficult balance between providing care for your cat when your cat may be wildly uncomfortable being medicated. Then you have to ask yourself how much you really can do to help when their reaction causes them even more suffering.

 

Your vet may require a consult with a specialist, or for you to take your cat to see one. Getting a second opinion on cases that are not clear cut is a great idea. You may also find out about alternative treatments from the specialist. There are also holistic vets, too. In a way, it can complicate knowing what is the best answer for your cat and many times it’s driven me nuts-especially if you add “Dr. Google” and asking all your friends for advice on what to do. Too many choices can be distressing, but it’s also a great thing, because someone may have an answer that no one else has and that’s what may change things for your cat.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Gracie's final days.

So how do you handle not knowing the best route to take with your pet’s care? The answer is that you will never know the best route (rarely only in hindsight), BUT, if you come from a place of always trying to DO YOUR BEST for your cat, do research, ask a lot of questions, weigh the pros and cons, no matter how things resolve (a cure or your cat dies), then you can sleep at night because you did everything you could.

 

The most important advice I have about end-of-life care for your cat is this: No mater how things play out, this is about THEIR FINAL MOMENTS, NOT YOURS. It’s not about YOU. It’s about them. Yes, you’re going to be upset, scared, heartbroken— but think about your cat. How would they like their final days to pass? Would they like to be surrounded by people who are anxiety ridden, crying, possibly even angry or shut off from the world OR would they like their environment to be full of love and peace?

 

That’s why IF I have the chance (I realize some times the end comes very fast), I make sure my home is quiet, my cat is comfortable, has a low-sided litter pan that’s easy to access (even if it’s in an awkward place for now). We don’t run the TV or talk loud. Every mealtime is a chance for love and affection, too. After I fed Gracie and Sam medicated her, we would brush her because she loved it. You could also spend some quality time petting or just sitting with your cat. Make sure they can easily be in a sunny spot, on a soft blanket, possibly give them a box or covered space that’s in a social area of your home so they can get out of the way but not be away from the family. Hiding them in a room, alone, is not ideal if your cat was usually a social part of the family. If they tend to be fearful, that’s a different situation. Just remember “what is best for them?”

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Because Gracie was weak we set this area up for her so she wouldn't be bothered by the other cats and still enjoy being in the center of the room where we spent the most time. Gracie wanted to be with us and we made sure her space was comfortable with easy access to whatever she needed. The heated pad was always covered with a soft cloth or towel, but she had another unheated bed incase she felt too warm.

 

ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS look at the situation through your cat’s eyes. Ask yourself what would they want to make them happy, feel loved and be comfortable. They might benefit from a pet-safe heated pad or a cat bed with a thermal core to reflect body heat but not be too warm.

 

Also RESPECT this process. It is natural for our cats to grow weaker as death comes closer. They will eat less (if they are not eating then that is very serious if you’re not supplementing them with assist-feeding). They may miss the litter pan (no scolding them if that happens). They may be more vocal at night. Forgive them for anything that you may find difficult to deal with, as long as you’re clear that you understand the underlying health issue.

Do not ASSUME your cat is dying without proper vet care and consultation.

 

There have been plenty of times when I thought “This is it.” and the cat rebounds and is fine for years. This is why it’s so tough to know when is the right time to say goodbye because in many cases, with some effort, medication, dealing with messes around the house, your cat can recover.

Last summer when ALL of our 10 cats got sick, I thought we might lose Spencer and Nicky. They were both over 15 and both were quite ill. Our cat Cricket, had to be euthanized. He was only 12 and it came on very suddenly for him and after a lot of tests and treatments that didn’t work we had no other option. The fear was very real that we’d lose two more cats.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Nicky last July when we had the first bad scare we were going to lose him.

This is where that tricky word, faith, comes in to play. I had to learn to have faith, being brought up in a home with parents who were atheists. I think that folks who have religious backgrounds understand faith better than I do. It’s been a long road and I still struggle, but when your cat’s diagnosis is not clear, sometimes faith is the little bit you need to keep you going and not give up on your cat just yet.

I also want to talk about letting your cat pass away at home. I’ve witnessed it a few times and I want to say it’s okay to do this, but looking back on it it was NOT okay. One cat fell into a coma and passed away very peacefully about 20 minutes later, clearly in no pain, but another struggled and I know I waited too long. On the way to the vet she died in Sam’s arms. Not ideal.

 

It’s too risky to wait and let nature take its course to that last second. The risk being your cat WILL very likely suffer if you don’t help them pass away. That’s why this is so tough. You will never know the perfect time, you just have to do your best and come from a place of love. It will guide you, but you have to be willing to let go and that is so very difficult. The saying goes: "Better to do it one day too soon than one minute too late."

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Our last moments with Nicky a few months after our scare in July. We spent time holding him and helping him feel comfortable and loved.

Eight months ago when we euthanized Nicky, our 16-year old cat. We could have brought him home and hoped to have a few more days with him. It would have been very likely he’d have another seizure and die painfully, but we could have had him euthanized at home. Inasmuch as we wanted him to be home, we also loved him so much that we wanted him to have the best death possible.

Yes, I said BEST death.

That’s the “great” thing about euthanasia-you can have a say on how your cat dies. Yes, in some very rare cases maybe you can let them just fade away at home, but it’s far better to have an opportunity to create a meaningful send-off for your cat.

Some tips:

Light. I think it’s VERY important, if you can, to keep the lights low in the room. At our vet’s they had two banks of lights-one on the ceiling and one under a cabinet. We shut off the overhead lights and it was significantly more peaceful in the room. If you’re at home, you can lower the lights or maybe light a few candles if it’s safe. If needed, use the light on your phone so the vet can see the vein in your cats leg, but you don’t have to have blazing lights on in the room. Cats feel safe in the dark so this will help them.

Sound. We had it very quiet in the room and were whispering. Maybe your cat was used to music softly played or just hearing your voice. You don’t have to say a lot. Of course you will be upset, but keep focusing on the love you have for your cat and just let them know how you feel and let them know it will be okay.

Location. Wherever we are, always try to hold our cats when they pass. Be prepared because many times fluid will come out of the cat after they die so hold them gently wrapped in a towel or have a towel with a puppy pad under it, or place them on a soft cat bed that you won’t care about getting ruined.

If you can, of course be at home with your cat. There are many services that only do in-home euthanasia. Take a moment to look one up right now and put the info into your address book. You may need it right away and knowing you have the info is, in a way, a comfort.

 

Before, During and After Passing

• Preparations. I prefer to have my cat cremated. They can be cremated privately, meaning, their remains are cremated without any other animals. This is a more expensive option, but certainly worth it. You can have your cat's cremains returned to you (or not if you don't want them back) or placed in an urn. Many pet cemeteries can provide an urn or you can make your own or have one made for you on places like Etsy. Your vet will help you make the arrangements.

 

I also bring with me a photo of me and Sam and a few special items that I will have cremated with the cat. With Gracie, we sent her off with a photo of us, she was wrapped in a beautiful, colorful cat bed and with her favorite catnip toy. For Nicky, we wrapped his body in one of Sam's softest fleece shirts because he often held Nicky in his arms. You'll know what special things you can do for your cat to give him or her the proper send off.

 

• The Process. If you have your Vet help your cat pass, the process itself is usually very quick. They will have to shave a small area on one of the legs to access a vein. Then there should be two injections. The first one is a sedative (ask for this if your vet doesn't usually do it-they really should), which does not kill your cat. It just helps them relax and go to sleep. This is when you can truly say goodbye. Your cat won't feel any more pain now and will be resting. You can take a moment before the final injection. The last one is an overdose of Sodium pentobarbital which will slow their heart beat down and finally cause it to stop. It is very fast acting and often-times you won't even know your cat is gone until your vet verifies by listening to their heart for any sign of function.

I ALWAYS ask my vet to take a paw print impression from my cat after they have passed. It's a little thing I like to have. Some folks cut a small lock of fur. There's even a fibre artist who makes memorials out of your cat's fur (you can have one made while they are still alive, too).

Just After. Although I've wanted to run screaming out of the room after my cat dies, I stay put. It's very very difficult, but this is a time when you can say your goodbyes. I take time to clean any mess off my cat's body as a sign of respect and love. I will often brush them and place them on the special cloth or item of clothing I want them to be cremated with. I've written them a note and placed it with them, along with a photo of myself. I find doing these things very comforting. I stay with their body for as long as I feel I need to-some times it's been up to an hour, some times because our vet wasn't open and our cat passed away at home, we kept their body with us over night surrounded by candles in a makeshift memorial. How you choose to spend your final moments with your cat is up to you.

• Religion. Do whatever feels right either before, during and/or after your cat passes. After Gracie and Cricket died we did a Buddhist ritual for them. Perhaps if you feel it would be appropriate and if there’s time, ask for help from someone in your spiritual community to be there or prepare a special service for your cat and invite your friends and family to be there after you get your urn back. This is about you and how you want to honor your cat. Everyone is different. Some, like me, feel better having their cat’s ashes and some prefer burial. Whatever is right for you, is the right way to go.

Crickets Urn Insta Version R Olson

The Bottom Line

How each cat passes is unique. How you handle it doesn’t have to be. You can flip out, run away, not deal with it and make an excuse why you let them suffer because you were afraid, or you can use this experience to truly cherish those last days, to celebrate them both before and after your cat passes away. This is not an easy path but we all have to face it. Being prepared and resolute in your roll will go a long way to making those last days blessed and at some point you will be able to look back and feel comfortable with the choices you made.

I wish we never had to say farewell to anyone, beloved pet or human we love, ever, but knowing our time together is limited makes it all the more precious.

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©2012 Robin AF Olson. I wrote this post in honor of the One Year Anniversary of Cricket's passing. I miss you so much, Crickie!

2016: The Year in Review

I’m not certain if there was some weird alignment of stars or something funky in the water, but 2016 was the worst year ever, not just for me, my rescue, my cats, but for a lot of folks. Do I want to look back over the year? Not really. Honestly, I could easily sum up the year in a volley of expletive-deletives and leave it at that.

January

Sick cats. Lots of sick cats.

Winnie and Barry, the big lug who had bitten me four times, had to be medicated for a month, each. Yes, to treat good old Bartonella. I’m constantly discovering Bartonella positive cats, and witnessing the mayhem it causes. At least they both responded well to treatment.

Bright Side

Winnie, Laney and Piglet got adopted TOGETHER! It had been a VERY VERY LONG road (well over a year) to find the right adopter, but I was so thrilled they went to a nice home in Boston. Sure, it meant me taking them ALL to the vet one last time to get their Health Certificates so they could travel out-of-state, but it was so worth it.

No, it wasn’t.

 

A week later, the adopter gave up on the girls, forcing me to drive to Boston while she was out of town, to bring the girls back home. It was six hours of miserable driving conditions, three of those hours spent listening to the cats hiss and growl at each other. Read more about the “fun time” HERE.

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. After a year and a half, the girls finally get adopted together...or do they?

February

My beloved washing machine crapped out…for two months. It cost $1000 to fix it (6 visits from different techs) and the whole time I’m pretty sure it was because a part wasn’t plugged in properly (vibration pulled it apart?), but I will never know for sure. I've come to detest laundromats as a result. Also, yes, I know I could have bought a new washer, but when this misery started I only thought it was going to require a few hundred dollars in repairs.

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After a few months of wondering, and being too scared to talk to them about it, it was clear that I’d managed to lose my biggest design client or, at best, had been downgraded to getting work very rarely instead of being counted on for everything. It resulted in the rest of 2016 becoming a financial nightmare. I’m not great at replacing clients and I mourned the loss more than I can write about here.

Bright Side

Larry and Louie get adopted together by a very nice local family. My faith in humanity was restored!

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©2016 the McCubbins. The boys in their new home.

March

Something was not right with Jelly Belly’s leg. Was I imagining it or not? Vet said he had a luxated patella and, surprise, he needs surgery and 8 weeks of cage rest and his other patella isn’t in such great shape, either. Ka-ching!

Bright Side

A couple was interested in adopting Jelly and Lollipop, but since Lolli was so shy they decided to come over ONCE A WEEK and hang out with the cats until they were ready to adopt and had their house completely cleaned, repainted and prepared for their new cats to arrive. The guy was a chatterbox so their visits went into multi-hours long, including me setting them up with carafes of tea to sip while they visited the cats. It was okay they stayed, but they kept putting off deciding even though they brought treats and toys for the cats each visit. They had multiple conversations with Dr. Larry about their patella issues-and I even had to bring Lolli in to get him checked. BINGO! He had the same issues, too, but not as bad. Hey, do you want to adopt two cats who will need surgery?

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Poor Jelly, home from surgery, feeling lousy.

 

I jumped over and under and through every hoop to make the adoption happen, but in the end the father-in-law of the chatty guy showed up with a pair of kittens and, of course, they could not say no to him and make him feel bad. Instead they wasted my time, resources and tea!

 

April

I decided after having the worst birthday ever, I was going to treat myself and finally dye my hair MAGENTA, ORANGE AND YELLOW. DO NOT DO THIS. REPEAT. DO NOT DO THIS.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Looks cool, right? Don't do this to your hair.

My stylist told me that you have to strip the color out of your hair first or the color won’t be vibrant. What I didn’t realize is it causes your hair to get so brittle it will break off and fall out in clumps after awhile. The only solution is to chop your hair off. This began THE GREAT HAIR FAIL OF 2016 (that I'm still recovering from).

Also, no one but Sam even saw it because right after that…

…there is no bright side….

 

I got the flu from being at the salon. I got it so bad, I had a high fever and violent headache for over a week, followed by vomiting for six hours, laying on the floor in the bathroom, praying I wouldn’t die, then passing out cold. Followed by being so weak I could barely stand for another month. I had to miss out on my one scheduled trip to a conference given by the New England Federation of Humane Societies and I got way behind on everything else. All I did was sit in bed and feel lousy.

 

I was so ill, I didn’t pay close enough attention to Jelly after his surgery. He got at his surgery incision and it got infected from him licking at it. He almost had to have another surgery because of my poor care of him. Thankfully, we both recovered, but I still feel guilty about Jelly.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Sweet Cricket.

My sweet boy, Cricket got sick. He tested positive for Hyperthyroidism. We began treatment, hoping he would feel better soon.

May

A couple came to visit Laney, Winnie and Piglet. I was so resigned to them never being adopted together that I was surprised when they had a connection to the girls. They both had that “glow” about them that told me this might be the match I’d been hoping for, but I didn’t want to get too excited about it.

The home visit went great and the girls got adopted. I began waiting for the email or call saying they couldn’t manage all three cats, but the call didn’t come.

Laney Lolli Girls R Olson 475
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Lap full of love with Laney, Piglet, Winnie and Jelly.

Meanwhile, a superlative lady named Hallie, came to visit Jelly and Lolli. She knew about their issues and was appropriately cautious about adopting them. She was going to Yale to get her Masters to become a Midwife. She understood their health challenges and wasn’t turned off by Lolli being shy. She was going to move soon so we agreed she would come visit every week (sound familiar?) until the time was right to decide about the adoption once she had moved.

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©2016 Hallie M. They boys in their new home.

She decided to do the adoption. There’ve been some rough patches along the way but Hallie and the boys are doing great. Lolli came out of his shell and loves his mom. Hallie had to be patient for a long time, but I’m glad to report it was worth it.

June

Rescue Month was in high gear: Izzy and her four kittens arrived. A week later the six “Bee” kittens came up from North Carolina, then I took on four kittens from Bridgeport, CT. The Bees were full of fleas (surprise!) and so begins “THE MISERABLE FLEA OUTBREAK OF 2016.”

Snuggling with Mom 6 2 16 650
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Izzy and the McFarlands.

 

ALL OF OUR TEN CATS GOT SICK, REALLY REALLY SICK. Spencer and Nicky got pancreatitis, all the others were vomiting, not eating. Cricket didn't respond to treatment for hyper-t at all. Something was terribly wrong. Spencer was so ill we almost have to put a feeding tube into him, but thankfully at the last moment he began to eat a very little bit.

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Resting after one of many flea baths.

I think all I did in June was go to the vet about a zillion times.

July

Some of my cats began to improve, but Cricket did not. Juggling over a dozen sick cats (some foster cats) was taking its toll. We didn’t take a day off or celebrate our anniversary (sam and mine and the 6th anniversary of Kitten Associates). Nicky had to be hospitalized for five days on an IV. I was terrified, wondering when things were going to get better.

Spencer with blitz under the table
©2016 Robin AF Olson. My poor 15-year old cat, Spencer barely moved or ate.

On July 6th, Cricket had to be hospitalized and placed into a oxygen chamber while we frantically tried to sort out what was wrong with him. Thank God for one of my friends. She knew we were drowning financially and she threw us a life-preserver so we could afford Cricket’s care.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Cricket looked so beautiful, but he was terribly weak and could no longer survive outside of the oxygen cage.

 

Cricket, who was just 12, somehow suddenly seemed to have lung cancer, which is usually a secondary cancer. It meant he had cancer somewhere else, but we didn’t have time to find it. Cricket couldn’t leave the chamber or he’d die. It’s called Oxygen Cage Dependent. On July 14th, we had no other choice but to put him down.

 

Crickets Urn Insta Version R Olson 450
©2016 Robin AF Olson.

Sam and I were shell-shocked. We’d lost Gracie just nine months before. We hoped we were done losing cats.

August

The Bee kittens were passing around an upper respiratory tract infection so my vet visits became almost a daily occurrence. They were jammed in the blue bathroom and I was anxious to move them into the bigger foster room, but Barry was still with us and I was afraid he wouldn’t get along with the kittens.

Bright Side

As fate would have it, a great family contacted me asking if Barry could be with young kids. They had a 4-year old daughter and they were just in love with Barry’s photo, but I’d put on his Petfinder page that he couldn’t be with kids because he’d bitten me so many times. He’d come a long way and hadn’t bitten me in months but I didn’t want to take a risk. The mom said that’s how cats teach kids not to be idiots. Her easy-going attitude made me decide to take a chance. It was a love connection from the moment they met Barry.

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Barry loved this family. It was as if they’d been together forever. Barry was featured on their Christmas card, along with a note that made me cry. Barry sleeps with everyone, gets belly rubs and hasn’t bitten anyone. He had been with us for two years, but I was glad I worked with him. It really paid off.

September and October

Things were finally quieting down a bit. Spencer and Nicky had their appetite back and we were working hard to get them to gain weight. Annie and Andy got sick from being in the same room with the Bee kittens, but I could finally start getting everyone spayed/neutered so they could get adopted. Annie and Andy would wait until they got better.

The Bee kittens adoptions happened fairly fast once they were ready to go. Slinky and Beanie are first to find a home, then two of the McFarlands got adopted. Aunt Bee and Mrs Beasley were next to find a home. That left Mr. Peabody and Herbie, Annie and Andy and Noodles and Oodles (Molly).

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Mr Peabody, Slinky, Beanie and Aunt Bee.

Since we had space in our program, I agreed to take on a 2-yr old deaf cat I named Pippin. Pippin went to our foster home with Linda, where he remains today and for good. Linda was so smitten with Pippin she decided to adopt him (even though he loves Linda’s daughter, best).

Aunt Bee and Mrs B
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Aunt Bee & Mrs Beasley, boy was this almost a foster fail!

 

But something was wrong with Annie. She was vomiting, lethargic, not eating. She had a 105°F fever and had to be on an IV. Her blood work showed an infection, but we couldn’t determine the cause. She came home after a few days but she REALLY vomited this time-a huge lake of watery vomit. Annie was in a crisis.

 

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Annie's boo-boo belly (all healed up now).

Turns out Annie needed emergency surgery. It was life or death for Annie and it forced me to go on Facebook LIVE and CRY and BE EMBARRASSED and have to BEG for $5000 so we could get the surgery done that day. Thankfully you guys saved Annie with your generous donations AND Annie’s surgeon is a rock star. Annie recovered well from her Intussusception repair. Things were good again, right?

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Felling better? Maybe not quite yet.

November

I was done with vet visits and sick cats. Turns out my cats had fleas. I had been cleaning and scrubbing down everything I could to prevent that from happening, but it happened. So began “The MISERABLE CLEANING and RE-CLEANING of the HOUSE” to get rid of the damn fleas.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Belle eventually lost 15 teeth she was in such bad shape when she arrived.

We’d done enough adoptions where I finally felt like the pressure was off, so of course one of my ex-boyfriends contacts me out of the blue, says he has terminal cancer and then begged me to take his cats.

Ugh.

 

Belle and Buddy (more on them HERE) are 6-years old and never went to the vet. Buddy needed emergency surgery for bladder stones and Belle’s teeth were FALLING OUT OF HER MOUTH they were so bad. My ex didn’t help with funding nor would he respond to me begging for some financial support for his cats. Both cats had to be at the vet at the same time. Meanwhile our 16-yr old cat Nicky didn’t look so good. He had a seizure at my feet so I raced him to the vet about an hour after I’d just gotten home from dropping Belle off there.

 

Buddy a few days later 650
©2016 Robin AF Olson. Buddy before sugary.

Nicky’s kidney disease had progressed to the point where his kidneys were failing. It was causing the seizures. He was severely anemic. We had three cats at the vet, but only two returned home with us.

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

 

We had to make the painful choice to put Nicky down. It was shocking, unexpected and completely shattered us. We’d lost three cats in a year. Our heartache was immeasurable.

 

Nick and Nora 2007 R Olson
©2007 Robin AF Olson. Nicky with sister, Nora, who is mourning her brother's passing.

December

By now it was clear 2016 would not end joyfully. I had a quick break, judging a CFF Cat Show in Fairhaven, MA. I brought Annie and Andy with me, just for fun, but something was bugging me about Annie. She seemed thin and was a little bit off. One of the Judges mentioned it to me, too and that pushed me to get Annie to the vet the day after we got home.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Andy kicks butt at the cat show, but is something wrong with his sister, Annie?

Annie had non-regenerative anemia and an infection. We repeated her ultrasound and words like neoplasia (cancer) and FIP were mentioned. We started Annie on a questionable treatment for Bartonella that could harm Annie for life if she had a bad reaction to it. There were many phone calls between myself, Dr. Larry and Dr. D (our Internist). I began the treatment and right away Annie started to perk up.

Bright Side

Annie is responding to treatment. Her anemia is beginning to resolve and she gained a full pound in the two weeks between vet visits. We’re still observing her and she had more blood tests done, but right now things are looking up for this adorable girl.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. It's been a very tough road for Annie, but we're hoping she'll have a full recovery soon.

A gal named Danielle came to meet Mr Peabody and Herbie. It was another love-match so the boys got adopted. They’re re-named Simon and Theodore and they have their own Instagram account. You can keep up with them HERE.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Last day with Mr. Peebs and Herbie.

Final Words about 2016

After six years of running Kitten Associates and of losing a tremendous amount of potential income by doing so, the ramifications are clear. I need to make changes in 2017. I also need to take care of myself. My heart has been broken over and over again and the stress of running a rescue has aged me.

2016 took a lot out of me and Sam. We’ve had no chance to recover and if we don’t build our business back up, we’re going to lose our home. We can’t live like this, but we have to sort out what our next steps should be. It may mean moving away. It may mean doing less rescue. I know I have compassion fatigue, but not so bad that I don’t care at all and I’m not turning to drugs or booze (okay maybe carbs though).

 

Helping people, educating them about feline wellness, nutrition, behavior, saving the lives of little kittens and adult cats, makes me happy. It’s something I NEED to do, but I need to find a way to do these things and still have a roof over my head (that doesn’t also leak), and where I don’t have to fear the phone ringing and the bank asking where the mortgage payment is again.

 

I don’t know how 2017 will unfold and I'm glad I don't know what lies ahead, but I'll try to have faith that with the New Year comes a fresh outlook and fresh start.

May we all have a loved, peaceful, Happy New Year and may we do right by the next cats we rescue.

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Goal for the New Year, meditate more. Freya knows best.

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

continued from parts 1 and 2

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

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

 

Belle weighs over 17 pounds. She is obese.

 

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

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

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©2016 Robin AF Olson. Adorable Belle.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nicky was gone.

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

The Last Feral Cat. Part 1 of 2.

Cat rescue doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone who does it. What I’ve found over the years is that most folks tend to specialize in the area they feel most comfortable. Some people, like me, will take on a pregnant cat or foster and socialize orphan kittens, while others prefer to do TNR (trap, neuter, return) of feral cats.

Within those areas are so many other facets. Some people prefer to specialize and only take on blind cats or cats with feline leukemia, while others take on the tremendously difficult task of caring for neonatal kittens (difficult because easily 40% of any litter of kittens can die even if you do feedings every two hours around-the-clock, keep them warm and clean, do everything you’re supposed to do..it's not for the faint of heart).

Ready and Waiting
©2007 Robin AF Olson. My first attempt at trapping.

I no longer feel like I have to do it all. I can’t. I’m not that great at all aspects of rescue and thankfully, I don’t have to be because usually if I can’t do it, I can find someone who can.

Eight years ago I tried doing TNR but I always felt badly letting the cats go. I trapped a cat in my own yard and was tempted to work on socializing her, but the person I did rescue with told me not to bother, that it would take too long and to let her go. I always regretted listening to her because the cat wasn’t aggressive, just scared. I named her Bronte. Sam and I set up a wonderful home for her using our screened in porch as a home base. We got her two heated cat cabins and made sure she was fed and cared for. Bronte had a daughter I named Madison, and years later another cat, Buddy, joined her, but only for a short time. Bronte was the only one who survived more than a year, out of the three cats.

Feral Cat 1 Trapped
©2007 Robin AF Olson. Bronte.

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

Nearly two years ago, the idea of doing TNR came up again. I was sitting at my desk when I heard a cat yeowling outside my window. I looked up and saw a black and white cat sitting on the hillside partially hidden by tall weeds. I didn’t see Bronte, but I did see this newcomer. My hackles raised. I wanted to protect my girl from this interloper, but he ran off into the woods when he saw me approach the window to get a better look at him. Who was he? Where did he come from? It was very unusual to see a cat outside in my neighborhood.

Sam reported seeing the cat again and again. We put out food for him and sure enough, he began eating comfortably alongside Bronte. Clearly he was no evil-doer and I was glad she had a friend. Winter was coming. We often saw them cuddled together in one of the cat cabins.

Barry and bronte eating rt
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry and Bronte have lunch.

 

We couldn’t handle this new cat. He'd run off if we got too close. We weren’t even sure he needed our help. I designed a flyer and put one on my neighbor's mailboxes. One contacted me and said she fed him but that it was not her cat and that once he came inside her house and flipped out so she put him back outside. She assumed someone dumped him.

 

I asked around, called my friends at animal control, posted his photo on Facebook but no one stepped forward to claim him. I figured I’d borrow a trap and deal with the cat some day, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with him. Would I give him the chance to come around that Bronte never had? I didn’t have loads of space to foster him in and he was far from a kitten. If he was feral I’d have to let him go back outside and I hated having to do it. I know that feral cats are by definition, wild, and that it’s not fair to keep feral cats indoors, but we have coyotes in our yard. Our home is next to a state forest. There are many real dangers here and I didn’t want this cat to become a predator’s next meal.

Barry comes a courtin R AF Olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. the DOOD and Blitzen taunt Barry.

 

The following autumn the cat sat outside my office window once again. Blitzen and Dood were sitting on the window ledge staring at the cat. Within seconds I heard something ripping. I looked up and the cat was hanging off the screen window, ripping at it to get at my cats! He put a big hole in the screen ($100 to fix!) and scared the crap out of all of us. It made me even more concerned about trapping this cat because if he was that ferocious from outside, how would he behave INSIDE my house?

 

But my hands were tied. Sam called out to me a few days later. He had just seen Bronte. She was visibly thin and limping. Something was terribly wrong with her so we put out a trap, hoping we’d be able to get her to our Vet. She’d been trapped a few times over the years and was trap savvy. I knew we might have to get the help of one of my friends who does a lot of trapping and could use a drop trap, but we were quickly running out of time.

Barry Poster 400

The trap was set and we heard it slam shut not long after. We had hoped to see Bronte sitting in the trap, but low and behold there was the big black and white cat sitting hunched over in the trap that was barely big enough to hold him. I had to deal with him now, even though my cat Gracie was critically ill and we were doing almost daily vet runs with her, even though Bronte needed help first. We had him, now he needed to be vetted. I called a favor from my friends at Nutmeg Spay/Neuter Clinic and got him booked to be neutered.

Unfortunately, it meant he had to stay in my garage in the trap until he could be taken care of and the fastest I could get it done was in two days because it was a weekend.

Barry in trap r olson
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Gotcha!

I didn’t get too close to the cat. I changed out the newspapers that lined the trap and gave him fresh food. He wasn’t aggressive with me, but I didn’t want to find out if he was, either. He was a big cat and he scared me. His ears were ripped up and he was missing fur on his front right leg, scars from years of fighting, no doubt. I decided to call him Barry Lyndon. I don’t know why I named him after a truly terrible movie, but I liked the Barry part so it stuck.

 

We continued to try to trap Bronte, but we never saw her again after Barry was trapped. Sam and I had fed her for so many years, never missing a day. She’d become part of our family and now she was gone, never to return. I hate to think of what became of her. We gave her the best life we could. I yearned to hold her, to tell her we loved her, that we missed her and we’d probably never stop looking for her. That’s why I don’t do TNR. I’m too much of a softy. I want all the cats to live in my house and be happy. I don’t want them to have a difficult life and a sad, maybe very scary ending of that life.

 

Meanwhile, Barry got neutered. We found out he was about three years old. Thankfully, he hadn’t gotten FIV or Feline Leukemia, but I had to believe there were lots of baby Barrys running around the area.

Barry in the Garage
©2015 Robin AF Olson. Barry's home for a grueling 6 weeks.

I wasn’t sure what the heck to do so I set up the biggest dog crate I had and made it into Barry’s temporary home. I’d assess him while he was confined inside the garage and decide in a few days whether or not I should release him or bring him into the house. He weighed 13 pounds and looked like it was all muscle. His golden eyes blazed at me from inside the crate. I wondered what he was thinking.

I had to feed Barry, but I was scared to open the crate. Would he charge at me? Flip out? Instead he surprised me by coming right up to me, then ate every last bit of food. I didn’t try much with him at first, but he was so focused on eating I pet the top of his head. He didn’t care. He just wanted a meal.

Fortunately for me I had begun to take a Cat Behavior Counselor certification course though the HSUS. I knew it would help me with Barry, but I didn’t know I’d need a lot more help than I thought.

Within the first few days I knew Barry was somewhat friendly. I was confident enough to put my hand into the cage to offer Barry food. He’d spilled the contents of his litter pan and I was trying to brush some of it up with a paper towel. Before I realized I was in trouble, Barry lashed out and bit me, HARD. He bit me so hard my hand was black and blue (really purple) for TWO WEEKS. Some how he barely bit into the flesh of my hand. It was a freakish crushing bite.

©2015 Robin AF Olson. How to get bitten.

I asked my instructor for guidance. I was terrified of Barry, though I realized that between his still-surging hormones, being scared and bored in a crate and seeing my hand moving like prey, of course he would bite me. I wanted to believe he didn’t mean it. I didn’t scold him, but in all honesty, I didn’t know if I could give him any more time.

He cried a lot. He wanted out of the crate. I had to crate him for 6 long weeks because the only place I could put him was inside the now famous blue bathroom, where Mia still lived. If I put a fractious cat in with Mia it could be very dangerous for her. Once Barry’s hormone level was down (hence the six week wait), it would be safer for all of us, but it also meant it would really flat out suck for him. He was letting me pet him. He wasn't feral. I had to give him a chance.

During times like this I force myself to look at the big picture. Yes, it was awful to confine Barry for weeks on end, but if I looked at what might be the rest of his life, living in a home, safe, warm, and happy some day, then these weeks would soon be forgotten.

 

And then Barry bit me again.

 

part two next...

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