Covered in Cat Hair is about cats-how they make us crazy, put us into debt and how we wouldn't have it any other way. It's also the inspiring journey of one woman's quest to save as many "at risk" cats and kittens from Kill Shelters and life on the streets as possible.
What the Hell was I going to do? I used to depend on Sam. He helped out when the kittens needed a claw trim (my close-up vision sucks) or he’d hold a kitten so I can give them medication. I needed to de-worm Pistachio again, but Pistachio was fussing around and wouldn’t hold still.
I was too proud to ask for help and even though I went slowly, right after I gave the liquid de-wormer, Pistachio coughed furiously.
I feared the meds went into his lungs which can cause aspiration pneumonia. When it happened the next night, too, I got very scared I screwed up big time.
I took Pistachio to the vet the next day. The kittens were due for their first FVRCP vaccination anyway. I forgot to mention the coughing when Pistachio was examined, but Dr. Larry didn’t hear anything troubling during the exam. It didn’t help that the kitten was purring so loud it interfered with what he could hear. Because I didn’t say anything about the cough, he didn’t know to listen extra carefully.
Over the weekend, late at night, Pistachio would cough, a wet cough, not unlike a hairball type cough, but there was something off about it. I called Saturday morning and talked with one of the vet techs. She said if it got worse to come in but that maybe I was over-thinking it. I agreed. Lack of sleep, maybe giving it another day, since Pistachio was bright and running around, would be okay.
By Monday I was sure there was something terribly wrong and thank goodness I went back to have Pistachio checked. On x-ray you could see his lungs looked terrible. If it was aspiration pneumonia, Pistachio could DIE. No joke. Maybe I just killed one of the cutest kittens I’ve ever fostered.
I was to give Pistachio antibiotics because, as Dr. Larry told me, the bacteria in his mouth was pushed into his lungs, if, indeed I forced the de-wormer liquid into his lungs. It made sense, but I didn’t want to give him the medication because I knew it would throw off his gut bacteria.
I’ve been learning about homeopathy and I’ve seen some amazing things happen for my cat, Spencer, but I didn’t know what to do for Pistachio so I followed Dr. Larry’s advice.
The next day Pistachio didn’t cough that I know of. He seemed to be doing really well, though his appetite was worse than ever. He’d never been a great eater, which is very unlike kittens, who will usually eat anything and everything. Something didn’t add up. I just couldn’t figure it out. I know I’d seen kittens get a cough after being de-wormed. The dead parasites can cause a mild allergic reaction that effects the lungs. I’d seen it a few times but it always went away after a few days. Pistachio was skinny. I could feel his ribs. His wormy belly was gone, but he wasn’t chunking up.
It was very difficult to stay strong and keep Pistachio’s symptoms tracked I was so stressed out. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t write. Words failed me. One night I saw Sam sitting in the living room typing onto his laptop. Facebook was open. I could see he was talking to someone in Messenger. It was late at night. Who was he talking to? I NEVER EVER SNOOP. I’m not that kind of person, but he was saying a lot to whoever it was. He got up and walked into another room. I tiptoed over to his laptop, but I couldn’t tell who he was talking to because I had the wrong glasses on. All I know is he saw me looking and he quickly walked over and closed the laptop, then walked back into the kitchen. That’s when I felt the gut-punch of fear well up inside me. Was Sam cheating on me? Would he really do that? For over a decade we’d lived together and I never worried about him having something going on with another woman, but now this? I understood. We’d been under tremendous stress for too long. No fun. No laughter. Lots of hardship. Why wouldn’t he look for love somewhere else? Why wouldn’t I? I couldn’t ask him about it, but I could let the fear fester inside my gut and add to my sinking depression.
I returned to my self-imposed jail, the foster room, and tried to read a book as I sat there trying not to throw up. I didn’t want to be on social media, but I wanted to look at Sam’s posts. Maybe there was a clue there, but I stopped myself. Instead, I made a list about how we would separate the cats. Which ones Sam would get. Which ones we’d have to re-home (yes, re-home). How I would live if I cashed out whatever I have left, sell the house in its poor condition and move. I couldn’t live in an apartment because they’d restrict me from having more than a cat or two. I’d have to buy something, but what? Where would I live? Where could I move where it’s affordable? How would I make a living?
I realized if Sam and I broke up for good I’d have to shut Kitten Associates down, at least for a year or two, or maybe forever if I couldn’t get back on my feet.
I tried to be positive. Maybe it was time to realize a dream I’ve had for over a decade. I’ve wanted to move to Lunenberg, Nova Scotia since I visited there in 2004. I looked up what it would take to get citizenship in Canada and I’m A) too old, B) don’t have any skill set they need, C) don’t have a $600,000 (at least) business to bring into the country. I think I could live there, just not as a citizen, but I’d have to keep residency here in the USA, right? How could I do that?
I was hit with a crippling sense of failure. I'd waited too long to try to move. Add that realization to depression, well, it wasn't a good mix. I started to have very dark thoughts about maybe I didn't even want to live any more.
My father took his life. I know what suicide does to the surviving family and friends. When my mother was still alive, I had to promise her I wouldn't follow in my father's footsteps. She knew of my struggles. We made a plan. If I ever went into the dark place I could call her. Then my next goal was to get to my next breath-that was it.
I knew if I could just hang tight, I'd feel different in time, but without the support of my mother, I didn't know how I was going to manage to be strong enough to keep going. I had to find some grain of faith and trust that I really didn't want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop. I could find another way.
I started looking around for things to sell. I have a lot of items from my parents estate that I don’t want and that they didn’t care much about. Nothing is particularly valuable but if I sold it all off it might help with a few bills and paying bills would help me feel better. I have an old jewelry box of my mother’s. Inside it I found my father’s wedding ring. He took it off after he had an accident fixing the garage door and spilt his fingers open. It was when we lived in Ohio back in the 1960s. He never put the ring back on after that, though my parents stayed married the rest of their lives. But now the unworn ring gave me a clue about the truth of their relationship.
A few months ago I found out my brother is only my half-brother, that my mother had had an affair with a lawyer just a few years into my parent’s marriage. Maybe my dad found out some time around the accident and that’s why he never wore the ring again. For his sake, I hope he never knew the truth.
It made me sad to see the ring, I missed my daddy so much. I would never sell it, but oh to have one of my parents around to confide in during this time would have been a great relief. My mother’s been gone for over ten years and my dad, nearly twenty.
I put my daddy’s ring on and inside the next small box I found a necklace he gave my mom. It’s a jade heart surrounded by tiny pearls. I love this piece and won’t part with it. On the back it’s inscribed to my mother and dated Feb 14, 1959. 59 years later I held it in my hands. It just happened to be Valentine’s Day 2018. I put the necklace on. It fit perfectly. Through the pieces of jewelry I could feel both my parents with me. I hoped that they were out there somewhere helping me find my way out of a very dark place. I felt so alone. It was unbearable.
I went downstairs and found two Valentines cards from Sam on the kitchen counter. I was shocked. I figured this would be a Valentine’s Day with no celebration. I was too scared to open them, but once I did I was sickened, because one card basically said he wished me happiness and peace. In so many words, goodbye, then he added, I don’t wish you anything bad. In the other card he made a comment about the artwork on the cover; heart-shaped sushi. We went out for sushi the first time we met 25 years ago. It was the first time I ever had it and I loved it.
Inside that card were tickets to a comedy show he knew I wanted to go to. I felt totally messed up and distraught. What was going on? Why wouldn’t he talk to me but yet here was this offering. Was it a goodbye gesture or something else? By then I didn’t have the confidence to imagine it was anything good, so I slunk back into my room and sat with the kittens.
Later that night I went into the master bathroom to brush my teeth. Sam was in bed reading, not looking up at me. I was so sad and broken. I don’t know how I worked up the nerve, but I slipped into the bed next to him. He was startled, silent. I lifted his arm and got under it. Even if he loved someone else, maybe he still had a little bit of love left for me? He didn’t say a word. He put his book down. He didn’t adjust his position. He didn’t hold me any closer. He stretched out and turned the light off. Neither of us spoke. We barely moved. I didn’t know if he wanted me there or was too stunned to do anything. I squeezed his hand. He didn’t squeeze back. I laid there quietly for a few minutes. We were like two corpses, we were so still. The only sign of life was our breath. I didn’t know how long to wait or what to do next. I felt resigned to my fate. After a few minutes I got up and quietly went back to the foster room to sleep. He didn’t stop me. He didn’t come after me. He let me go. It’s amazing how much can be communicated without words and how much it hurts.
A few days passed. More tension. Continuing inertia on my part. I couldn’t take the stress any more, but I also feared if I said anything to Sam we’d have a knock-down (not literally), drag-out fight. I just didn’t feel like I could do that and I was too down in the dumps to even try. I went out to dinner with some of my cat-rescue lady friends, but it did little to cheer me. I didn’t want to get into a bitch-fest complaining about Sam. I just wanted to go back to my ratty bed in the foster room.
And I was worried about the kittens, yes the kittenS. Cassie started coughing. That meant two things, one: I DIDN’T GIVE PISTACHIO ASPIRATION PNEUMONIA because that’s not contagious and two: whatever was going on they BOTH HAD IT. Was it viral or due to their common health issues regarding parasites? Mia was in the room, too and she seemed unaffected.
I couldn’t keep ignoring my problems. I had to get back on my feet. I had to talk to Sam, so without any agenda, I sat down next to him and started to talk. Thankfully after all the weeks of not talking we’d both calmed down enough to have the start of a conversation. We didn’t fight at all, but we expressed some of what we were feeling. We acknowledged we have a long way to go, if we go together. We need to make a lot of changes but we weren’t going to try to solve it all in one sitting or say everything that needed to be said all at once, too, but at least some of the pressure dissipated.
I asked him about if he’d stepped out on me. I looked him in the eye when I asked. He said no. Nothing was going on. He was surprised I asked him that, but I told him I had my reasons. Yes, I understand people lie to each other, but I had a choice. I chose to let it go. If there was something going on or still is, it will come out eventually. Since Sam never left home much during the past few weeks and even before that, he couldn’t be hooking up with someone nearby. It would have to be via online, or it was nothing. Part of me was too beat up emotionally to fight about that, but the other part still wasn’t 100 percent certain I wanted to fight for him at all.
Pistachio was doing all right, other than a rare cough, but still wasn't eating well. Cassie hadn’t coughed again since the first time days ago. I thought they were getting better, but without warning, Pistachio started up again. The kittens were a bit quieter than usual, not playing or eating well. To make things worse, Dr. Larry go the Flu and wasn’t in the office for most of the week while I was getting suspicious about the kitten’s health.
Yesterday I took them both in to see Dr. Larry. The night before they’d been quiet and had actually eaten a meal. I thought maybe I was nuts, the stress of the past month, severe lack of sleep had gotten to me, but I wasn’t wrong.
Dr. Larry took x-rays of Pistachio’s lungs. They were no better than two weeks ago when we last did the rads. He told me if Pistachio was an adult he’d think it was cancer. It did not look like asthma, but perhaps it was P.I.E. (Pulmonary Infiltrates of Eosinophils). Yet another disease I’ve never heard of before. I swear all my cats have weird things wrong with them that my Vet rarely sees. IF that’s what it is, it basically means a severe allergic reaction to some sort of parasite. The problem is it may be a CHRONIC problem, not a curable one.
Dr. Larry asked me if we could x-ray Cassie. I had no reason to believe she was in trouble. I almost said no, but I was glad I agreed.
Her lungs are as bad as Pistachio’s. I almost fainted when I heard the news. What the Hell was going on with the kittens? How would we find out what was wrong?
We decided to do a PCR test on Cassie’s saliva since she had never gotten antibiotics, which would ruin the test results. Dr. Larry said it would rule in or out “some bad things,” (which it ended up doing) but this time didn’t go into detail and I didn’t ask, which is completely unlike me. The tests, the x-rays, the over 10 vet visits have taken a toll on us…and Pistachio’s testicles haven’t dropped. This is called, Cryptorchid.
It’s either one testicle doesn't drop or both sides don't drop, and in his case, it’s both sides which, again, is very rare. This can also be very painful and cause a lot of problems. It complicates his neutering because it turns it into exploratory surgery unless we do an ultrasound first.
It also means Pistachio can’t go anywhere-be adopted-for another two months. If at 6-months of age he still doesn’t have his little nuggets, then we have to do the procedure and surgery and we might as well wait to re-test him for FIV while we’re at it (we did re-test and he was found to be negative for FIV).
It was a real kick in the teeth. So many people want to adopt Pistachio and now no one can. I don’t know when or if the kittens will be able to find their forever homes. First, I have to find a way to get them healthy if it’s possible, and right now I have more questions than I have answers.
If there’s something to be learned it’s to follow your gut with your pet’s health. Even though Pistachio’s cough isn’t every day, it sounds terrible. He still plays and purrs, but his lungs tell another story. He and Cassie have come a very long way in the weeks they’ve been with us and I’m determined to find an answer for them.
As for me, it’s one day at a time. At least my words are back and I have so many more stories to tell.
It was February when I wrote about Pistachio and Catshew, but as the year dragged on, things got worse for me and Sam, for the kittens, too. Spencer just turned 17, which was the highlight of the past few months. Somehow he’s still with us. I haven’t done chemo, just homeopathy and good food. It was a very difficult decision to not give him chemo, but now I feel more comfortable with my choice. Hearing him purr and having him gain back weight he'd lost last year has given me hope he may be with us a bit longer.
But Pistachio. My God. For MONTHS he coughed. MONTHS. I tried homeopathy with both kittens for about 6 weeks and their lungs got about 40% better. I was tracking every meal, if they ate, if they coughed, I timed Pistachio's coughs since he was much more severely effected, even if it was 3 AM. I wrote what kind of cough (foamy or dry-harsh, etc) into the notes app on my phone.
I finally had to give up on homeopathy (which I found out later is fine to do. You don’t have to do all homeopathy or all “traditional” treatments. You can do a bit of both, but that sort of fine-tuning is not something I'm comfortable with yet.)
Meanwhile, Pistchio’s testicles didn’t drop. He frequently goes in and out of the litter pan, but doesn’t always pass urine. I got an ultrasound done to find his testicles and they only saw one. It was pressing on his bladder. The longer we waited to do surgery, the more uncomfortable he would become, but you can’t sedate a cat and do surgery on a cat who has lousy lung function.
We tried antibiotics. Nothing worked. I asked about lungworm, but was told it was too unlikely and his symptoms would be different. We did more tests and talked about doing a trans-trachael lavage (basically they sedate the cat, infuse his lungs with a small amount of sterile saline, then remove the fluid and test it to get answers about what the coughing was from). The problem, not only was cost, but THE CAT CAN’T BREATHE very well! Is this wise to sedate him? Okay, it would be a “twilight” sort of sedation since they needed him to cough as part of the procedure, but it was still risky.
I took Pistachio to see a specialist. We talked about lungworm again. We decided to do a Baermann fecal test. It’s $200. It’s also VERY TOUGH to do because they require a FRESH stool sample..I mean like “right out of the pipe” stool sample. If I didn’t see Pistachio pass the stool, it would be too old. Also, I needed to get the sample on Tuesday-Saturday between 8AM and 6PM. Really? That meant ideally I should be in the foster room ALL THE TIME. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I have to work!!!
It took a few weeks, but I finally lucked out and got a sample. Guess what?
Lungworms are rare here in the northeast, but common in cats in the south. It meant he had to have come into contact with a secondary host somehow. I read it can be from a slug or drinking out of a puddle a slug passed through, but in the winter? Or something else was the culprit because it could be transmitted through him eating another prey animal. Whatever it was, clearly both he and his sister had been infected because they both had a terrible cough.
The treatment was a de-wormer! No biggie. We’d do it for 2 weeks. You can bet I did not miss one dose of that de-wormer!
At last, Pistachio and Catshew stopped coughing so often. Cassie was fine very quickly so I was able to get her spayed. I opted to have it done with Dr Larry just in case her lungs were an issue, but it was very expensive. Pistachio still had a lingering cough now and then, but I could finally get it set up to have him neutered.
It was July. I’d been trying to find a cure for SEVEN MONTHS.
The first week of August we set the date for his neuter. The neuter is really exploratory surgery to find both of Pistachio’s nuts. Dr. Larry said we had to repeat the ultrasound, which dashed my hopes at not having to spend yet another $500 on more tests. I’d taken him to our vet over 20 times and spent over $4000 on his care to date. His surgery was going to be about $750. Normally it’s less than $100 to neuter a cat. His care was breaking the bank.
The day arrived for his surgery. I couldn’t wait. For months I’d been suffering from the stench in the foster room. His urine smelled VERY STRONG-a mix of ammonia and male-cat-stank since he still had working hormones. I couldn’t do much to clear the smell out of the room and I was trying to sleep there each night. Yeah, good luck with that. A few weeks after surgery his hormone level should drop and the smell would go away. I could finally put Pistachio and his sister up for adoption.
Around 6AM Pistachio started coughing again. I had to cancel the surgery. It was too risky. I didn’t know if the de-wormer had failed or if something else was going on. The next time we could do the ultrasound and the surgery was a MONTH later (August 31). I was devastated.
Every time I take on a rescue-cat I always get to a point where I realize this cat or kitten came into my life for a reason. Maybe I’m just looking to make sense of it, to connect random events, or maybe there’s something cosmic going on that I’m responding to. I’ll probably never know for certain why, all I know is that it’s starting to add up with our latest rescues.
It’s been over a month [guess what…it’s been 6 months now] since I wrote what follows. A lot has happened, not all of it bright or cheery, but the puzzle pieces are fitting together. I know that these kittens needed to be here. If they had been given away, it’s very unlikely they would have gotten the care they needed. It’s not to say those people are unkind, just not as experienced caring for kittens. As often is the case, what seemed to be a straightforward rescue has turned into a complicated, expensive journey to get two kittens on the right track.
A text message appeared on my iPhone. “Help needed for a kitten…can you take it?” I get these requests for cats of all ages, all the time. Dozens a day. I refer some, hope-for-the-best for others, network a few, take on ones that will fit into my foster home network when funds allow. It happens so often it becomes a blur of endless anxiety, frustration, and heartbreak for me.
“I’m really tired. I’m on a break…first time in 7 years. Was going to take the winter off from fostering.” was my reply.
This is where I thought the story would end. My soul felt empty from the ravages of years of acute stress without the chance to have a day off, to feel peace again. My cat Spencer has lymphoma. I need to focus my attention on him, not another kitten who needs de-worming and 100 trips to the vet…who might have a contagious virus that will sicken my cats.
Karen, a lady I’ve known for years, works with the place where I get my old car fixed. We’ve talked cats many times. Her husband owns a business where there’s lots of heavy machinery and concrete forms. They have a small feral cat colony and from time to time they rescue the cats and find them homes. This time they couldn’t find a place for the kitten they just found and wanted me to take it.
She sent me a photo. The kitten was black and white, dirty, probably feral, probably full of fleas and mites and worms. I explained I just couldn’t do it. Later that day she told me she found a home for the kitten, but if I wanted to stop by the next morning, I could see him. She said she was already eating solid food and had eaten 3 cans she was so hungry.
First glimpse of the little kitten. I was so tired (probably had compassion fatigue) that I didn't even notice how cute it was.
I felt like she could have told me anything about this kitten and I wouldn’t have cared. I don’t know why I agreed to stop by. I guess I felt guilty. I worried that if the kitten wasn’t going to a rescue, that at least I should make sure it gets de-wormed and make sure it was in good enough shape to go to a home. Why I put a cat carrier in my car before I left the house is beyond me. I just had a feeling I better do it in case there was more going on than I was lead to understand.
I heard the kitten before I saw her. She was crying, backed into the corner of a small dog crate that was placed on the floor in Karen’s office. Karen explained they had bathed her a few times, but you could still smell the odor from burnt engine oil coming off her. Her fur was caked and spikey. She was hunkered down, terrified. That’s when I learned she was found under the hood of a big truck, on the block heater of a diesel engine. Too scared to move, one of the employees grabbed the kitten. It had been so cold outside that the only source of warmth anywhere was under the hoods of the trucks since they were plugged in when not in use to keep the engine fluids warm so they’d start each morning.
I asked her to take the kitten out of the crate. She really stank. Her belly was so big I could barely see her legs. She shuffled over to a stack of papers and pressed herself against some file folders. Her pupils were huge. She was definitely feral and I said as much to Karen.
She was skin and bones under all that swelling. She might have other health issues. Her eyes were watering, then she sneezed. I asked about the person who was going to adopt the kitten and was told they had a cat and dog, but that was about it. I asked if they were going to make sure the kitten got spayed and I didn’t get a firm answer.
I looked at the pitiful fur-blob and told Karen that I thought I should take the kitten. My inner voice was yelling at me at the time, but my heart won out. I knew what this kitten needed would be too much for someone who doesn’t work with kittens to deal with. That the kitten would probably turn into one of those kittens who always hides under the sofa because it didn’t get socialized properly. I worried that it wouldn’t get the vet care it needed. As a rescuer, it was against everything I do to leave this kitten’s future up to fate.
I carefully inserted a syringe of de-worming medicine into the kitten’s mouth, then quickly turned her upside down and looked between her back legs. She was a HE. Karen was sure it was a girl, probably because the kitten has a very girlie looking face, if that makes any sense. I saw little nubs, no question in my book of it being a "him", but the next question was…
Oh shit. Now what do I do? Karen agreed it made sense for me to take the kitten and perhaps he could be adopted later by this lady once the vetting was all done.
I called my vet. They could see us right away. I packed up the kitten into my oh-so-conveniently-ready-cat-carrier. As I placed the carrier onto the front seat of my car I said to the kitten; “You don’t know this, but we’re going to be good friends one day. I promise I will take good care of you. Don’t worry.” The kitten replied by crying all the way to the vet.
I had ten minutes to come up with a name for the kitten. He has a little black moustache just under his nose so I named him Pistachio.
A winter storm was due later that day and I had planned to go to the store and grab some supplies, instead of rescue a kitten. My vet had to examine Pistachio between other appointments so I went to the store while they took care of him.
The store was crowded and it took a long time to get everything on my list. So long that I’d forgotten about the kitten when my phone rang. It was Dr. Mary.
She told me the exam went well, but Pistachio looked like he was coming down with an upper respiratory tract infection. They were going to give me antibiotics, but I wasn’t sure I was going to give them to the kitten because they estimated he was about six to eight weeks old and weighed just 1 lb, 9 oz. I knew some of that was fluid build-up from parasites and I didn’t want to harm his immune system right away. As I was thinking about what sorts of digestive support I could give him, Dr. Mary’s normally cheerful tone, dropped a bit.
“It looks like Mr. Pistachio is positive for FIV.”
My heart sank, but then Dr. Mary reminded me that due to his age, it could be a false positive and that we’d re-test in a few weeks. Although I knew it would make finding this kitten a home a lot harder, I also knew FIV wasn’t contagious as long as he didn’t end up being aggressive with the other cats.
“One day at a time. One step at a time.” I thought to myself.
I couldn’t freak out now. I had a long way to go with this kitten. Next thing was to get him home. Get him clean and get him a place to live. I hadn’t worked with a feral kitten for years. I’m not exactly the most patient person. Ugh…what have I done? What if I make it worse and I fail at socializing him?
I got Pistachio home and set up a medium-sized dog crate where he’d be staying until I felt he was socialized enough to let him have free reign of the infamous blue bathroom, the smaller of my two foster rooms.
I was lucky. Even though he’d never been handled much before I got him, Pistachio was willing to put up with my awkward attentions. I did a few things wrong, like cover his crate. I should have put his crate in the living room so he’d get used to the sights and sounds of us and the other cats, but I was worried about spreading illness and stressing him out. Thing is, that’s what would have worked better to start.
I remembered using a baby spoon at the end of a long stick. 1. Put chicken baby food on the spoon (warmed up food of course), 2. offer it to scared kitten, 3. encourage kitten to come forward after a taste of food, 4. repeat as necessary.
Do what I did which was get frustrated, then just pick the kitten up, stick him on a towel in my lap with a plate of food, and have him eat while sitting on my lap. He was not too happy about it, but he wasn’t hissing or growling at all. He was just scared.
I kept him hungry and only fed him off my fingers or in my lap. He had a very bad load of roundworms come out of him (both ends) and it caused his rectum to bleed and get swollen. We went back and forth to the vet about 5 times that first week.
I bathed him over and over again, trying to do it quickly, but also trying to get at the deeply embedded grease that was on his chest and back. He was a good sport, but still looked like Tribble; all fluff and no shape. He was a sorry mess.
The tip of his tail was hairless and frostbitten. It later fell off (Dr. Mary said it was OK and we didn't have to do anything since it was a clean break).
But then I found the thing, the one thing he loved more than food, he loved to be brushed.
A few days after taking him on I got a purr as I brushed his winter-thickened fur. I knew then we’d be okay. I encouraged him to play and that helped him forget to be afraid. It only took a little over a week to get him where I felt it was all right to put the crate away and let him have some freedom. The poor kitten was alone, though, so I made myself a nest of blankets alongside the washer and dryer. It was the only place I could stretch out other than inside the bathtub. Each night I stayed with Pistachio and we watched Netflix on my old iPad after I fed him and played with him. I tried to sleep but I had no chance of success. I was terrified of crushing him in my sleep or if I did fall asleep he would stick his wet nose into my ear, startling me awake. He’d pounce on my face if the nose-in-the-ear thing didn’t work.
Feral Kitten Pistachio's First Week After Rescue - YouTube
My new schedule was to join him around 11 PM, then stay ‘til about 3 or 4 AM. It was difficult to get in and out of the tiny space with the blankets in the way. My back was so stiff I could barely stand to fold up the blankets so I could open the door to get out and to get into my real bed. I was worried Pistachio would have behavior problems being alone so much, so I stayed with him as often as I could.
Meanwhile I’d been hearing there were possibly two other kittens related to Pistachio who were on the property that needed to be trapped. In for a dime, in for a dollar…except that I don’t trap, nor do I have a trap.
I asked on social media for help and I lucked out when one of my best buddies said she’d come help. Katherine runs Animals in Distress. We help each other out from time to time and she is a terrific trapper. I told her I’d get all our snacks and cat food for trapping if she brought the traps. She squawked: “This isn’t brunch. We have work to do!”
Hey, if I’m going to freeze my ass off waiting to trap a kitten or two, I might as well have some good snacks and tea so I ignored Katherine, as usual, and loaded up on treats.
It was about 20° F that bright Sunday morning. I had the key to the gate so we could enter the property where the cats had been seen. We set traps, drizzled stinky food all over the lot, but it was so cold the food froze in a few minutes.
Katherine stood by one of the trucks where Pistachio had been found and began to meow. It was so realistic a cat replied to her! There WAS a cat under the hood of the truck. The problem was…how to get it out? How to get it into a trap? The hood opened towards us, not away. It was about 8 feet high and no way to reach the hood to open it anyway. Katherine continued to meow, but the cat wouldn’t come out.
We had to keep going back into my car to thaw out after only a few minutes it was so bitter cold. I kept thinking about the kittens trying to live in this environment. All over the lot were huge concrete forms. There was no way they’d stay warm inside any of them. We didn’t see any signs of life. It was so different from my experience just the year before in Waterbury where everywhere you looked there were cats.
I didn’t want to think that failure was an option, but we had to give up. We were there for six hours. Katherine was great, offering to come back the next weekend when it was supposed to be warmer. In my heart, I wished we didn’t have to wait that long, but we needed the lot to be quiet and reduce the danger of trucks coming in and out of the lot. I’d also made contact with the caretaker of a second feral colony nearby. She’d given me a lot of information that made me wonder if our kittens were even on the lot at all, but somewhere else.
A Week Later
This time I got fried chicken as a trap bait. I’d heard that Kentucky Fried Chicken was the best, but it was too early in the morning and they weren’t open yet. I opted to hit Stew Leonard’s, a huge local grocery chain, on the way to the trapping location and got fried chicken there. Okay, I got mini-chocolate croissants, too (for us).
The temps were in the 40's and there was freshly fallen snow on the ground. Katherine and I scanned the lot, looking for paw prints and found quite a few. We made a plan to drop bits of chicken near the tracks, hoping we’d stir up some activity. Crows saw the food and started cawing loudly. I put out some dry food to encourage them to come closer. I figured if they put out the call there was food, the kittens would hear it, too.
Katherine and I sat in my car once again, thankfully not shivering as we stuffed mini croissants into our mouths and gulped down hot tea as we waited. An hour or so ticked by, then, in the distance I saw her. It was an adult cat, followed by a tiny kitten!
We were about 50 feet away, too far to see detail, but there was Pistachio’s sibling. I hoped to see a third kitten, but we didn’t see one. They were not near any of the traps. They were just eating the morsels we’d left on the ground. Katherine said that mom was probably trap savvy, which meant the odds just took a nose dive that we’d get any kittens.
The cats vanished soon after we saw them, but their image burned into my soul. I couldn’t just sit there and know they needed us and no do anything. We decided to move the traps further into the lot, closer to where the second colony was located.
As we crossed the lot, I saw the kitten again. I called to Katherine, but I didn’t want to yell. She couldn’t hear me clearly and started crabbing at me (as we always do to each other). I was trying to get her to head left towards a small concrete form. I was on the right. We could have cornered the kitten.
I walked as fast as I could, pointing and motioning to Katherine but she was carrying a trap and didn’t know what I was doing. I got within a few feet of the kitten but there was a huge mound of snow covered dirt in my way. I clambered up the side and the kitten dashed left, but before she did she, she waited a beat and looked me straight in the eyes, daring me to make a move. She turned quickly, then vanished. I was so upset I started to cry. I was ready to pounce on this kitten, get bitten or scratched, just to get her into my coat and off to safe harbor but she was gone. Then I saw her mom run across the street. I called out to her not to go and silently prayed she wouldn’t get hit by a car. Thankfully the road isn’t a busy one and she made it safely across.
I told Katherine what happened. We were both bummed out. We decided to set the traps where we were because to me some of the area looked like good hiding spots for the cats. There were more concrete forms but grasses had grown around them and it looked like a good cubby hole was along the base of one form. There was nothing more we could do other than go back and sit in the car and wait.
We’d waited a few hours, checked the traps, then decided to go meet the caretaker of the other colony since she was coming to feed her guys soon. We thought we might get some good intel on what was going on, but I didn’t expect what I saw next.
Turns out our guys were also part of her colony. She had named every cat. When she called out to them most of them showed up. There were half a dozen cats or so. I gave them some of the chicken and some of the other food I had. The cats were either black or black and white, similar to Pistachio but short haired. The caretaker told us that the kitten’s mom was named Poppy and that she’d had Poppy spayed a month ago and had to quickly return her because the vet said she was still nursing. I don’t know how she managed that or how the kittens survived without their mom for a time, but they did. As the caretaker talked about Poppy, a delicate little tuxedo ran over to the feeding station. It was Poppy. I wondered if mom was here, maybe the kittens were nearby, too. The caretaker said that mom would bring her the kittens when she was ready and she’d never seen any kitten this winter. Poppy ate, then took off. We decided to go check the traps and head home, thinking we’d have to come back again as soon as we could, but also grateful to know that most of the cats had been TNR’d already and had a loving caretaker looking out for them.
I drove us across the lot and parked behind a small hill in case the kittens were nearby. We got out of my car and walked over to the traps and then I saw one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.
There was a kitten inside one of the traps, frantically trying to get out. A few feet away, sitting on a concrete block, was Poppy. She was sitting very still, statuelike, while her kitten cried out for her as she banged her tiny body into the wire bands of the trap. I called to Katherine that we’d gotten a kitten and we both ran over to the trap feeling a mixture of elation and misery. I called out to Poppy as she turned away and ran back towards the colony across the street. I told her I was sorry. Katherine said the same thing to the fleeing cat. I called out to Poppy saying we’d take care of her baby. I said I was so so sorry again and again. I didn’t want to break up this little family. The image of the little kitten flashed in my memory, her tail curled up high, chasing fearlessly after her mama just a few hours ago and now that was over, forever. How could I do that to this poor creature?
It was twilight so I turned my iPhone light onto the trap. The kitten’s nose was bloody from struggling to get free. She was quite small and short-haired. I took off my coat and put it over the trap. I made her the same promise I made her brother. She’d be ok one day and one day I hoped we’d be friends, but for the moment a familiar thought came to mind: what the Hell am I doing? What mess have I gotten myself into now?
Katherine and I hugged, finally feeling like we got the job done. We’d heard there might not have been a third kitten, but everyone knew to contact us if there was. In the weeks since we did the trapping no other kittens have been seen. I fear that the others just didn’t make it, but I’m glad, at least, we got these two. Now Pistachio will have company once his sister was socialized enough to be reunited with him.
IF she gets socialized…
Girls! Why are they so difficult? It seems male kittens usually socialize fairly fast if they’re young, but the girls, fuggetaboutit! I named the kitten Catshew (Cassie). She didn’t have her brother’s big wormy-filled belly. She wasn’t covered in grease. She was petite, had her brother’s silly ‘stache markings (though she only has a half-stache), but none of his long fur. Her tail was very crooked at the tip like a waded up ball of paper. I thought perhaps it was from a birth defect but later found out it was broken and already set. She wasn’t in pain so it was okay to leave it be.
[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...]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
I’m not the only person who had a challenging relationship with their mother. I get that, but a few weeks ago something happened that changed how I think of my mother. It left me with so many unanswered questions, mixed with a frenzied desire to know the truth. It gutted me, shocked me, uprooted the foundation of my entire life. Now I find myself going back and thinking about so many moments, having to re-write them, now flavored with different meaning. I am so angry, hurt and confused. I’m not sure how I go on from here knowing that my life has been a lie.
April 7, 2018
My birthday is April 3rd. It fell on a Tuesday this year. The weather was dreadful but Sam and I planned an afternoon away from home. We’d walk around New Haven (ended up being in the rain), visiting a museum, a cheese shop and get cupcakes. It was fine, nothing special, kinda damp day.
Saturday the 7th was set to be “family fun night” with my nephew, Ryan and my ex-sister-in-law, who I consider to be my sister (but who is very private so I’m not even going to say her name). These are the two, most cherished members of what’s left of my family.
My mother died in 2010 and my dad in 1999. I have a brother, sort of, but we had a falling out after my mother died. I haven’t seen or spoken to him in 10 years. It’s not a big surprise, but we never got on that well as kids, either. For my part I tried to get along and tried to love him. It hurt me that I never could find a way to feel close to him except when we were joking around. We both have a great sense of humor, but other than that we are very opposite. After thinking about it a lot, he scares me. I find myself trying to please him, be a good older sister. He lived with me for a time, after he got divorced. He was supposed to look after my cats so I could go away for a few days. I came home and a cat was MISSING. He hadn’t paid attention and let her out when he was busy with his young son. He never told me she got away and got mad at ME when I yelled at him for being so irresponsible.
The cat had one eye and was very old and didn’t know the area where she was since I’d only recently taken her into my home after my mother refused to provide vet care for her. Sure, she’d feed a friendly stray but when the cat showed up one day with one of her eyes bulging out of her head, she withdrew, dug her heals in and demanded that the cat was FREE. FREE to do what she wanted, go where she wanted to go. That what happened to it now was mother nature. I don’t know why my mother said this about the strays she fed, but she said it more than once. I think she felt trapped in her life and was somehow living vicariously through the strays. It made me sick.
It left me feeling furious to the point where I could no longer have contact with her.
My mother had plenty of time and money to take the cat to the vet. Instead, the burden was on me to provide for the tiny gray cat I named Sasha.
When I confronted my brother about Sasha, he shrugged his shoulders, uncaring. I told him he was my brother and I loved him. I couldn’t understand why he’d do this to me. He just stared blankly at me as if I was speaking another language. After that point I began to realize I was stupid for trying to be kind to him. I think his heart is made of dollar bills because that’s all he ever cares about…that and being an all-about-me-drama-queen.
I eventually found Sasha and got her back home.
There are so many things that go on behind closed doors that never are spoken about. There are so many tiny events that only add up to something much later. I never understood why my mother made me feel bad because I wasn’t as cheerful as my brother. I suffer from clinical depression but she labeled me as being “crabby” and make a joke of it.
She always urged my brother and I to get along, yet she played favorites. Only until the last years of her life did she realize my value. It was Dan she favored and that was a bitter pill for me to swallow.
I just wanted my mother to love me.
She never said as much, ever. She was often cold, distant. She manipulated me by telling me a shocking story about her first (then ex) husband Donald, who murdered her new sweetheart in a jealous rage in the lobby of the apartment building she lived in. He was a guy nicknamed, Kaz. Yes, she told me this, crying. Unburdening herself of decades of keeping this guilty secret, then denied it days later after I’d lost my temper and demanded we contact someone and find out if this was true, maybe even the police.
After she changed her tune, saying she did it to get a rise out of me, I stopped answering her calls and wrote her a farewell letter. I didn’t want to have such a toxic person in my life. I was separated from my husband and I needed support, not more drama and lies.
I didn’t speak with her for nearly a year and I was never able to find out about her Ex or Kaz.
This is the same person who I would defend when my father would say nasty things about her when she wasn’t around. He got so mad he tried to kill me when I protected her. He said something really bad about "Jews" and I couldn't stop myself from pushing his buttons, saying; "You married one." He flew into a rage unlike any I had ever seen. I ran upstairs and locked myself in my bedroom and somehow shoved a wall unit across the door before he could reach me.
He got his rifle. Yelling at me to come out of my room. He hit my door with the butt of his rifle, cracking the door in the middle. He eventually realized he couldn’t get in and left me alone, stomping off enraged.
Meanwhile, my mother wasn't home. She was the Crew Chief at the EMS in town and wouldn’t be home until after 6AM because she volunteered during the night shift.
I snuck out of my room around 5AM and hid on the neighbors back deck. I was taking care of their house while they were on vacation but forgot to bring the key. I shivered in the early May cold, waiting for my dad to go to work and my mom to come home. I knew she would comfort me and be proud of me for having her back, but I was wrong.
Instead she shouted at me “Why did you do that? I don’t need you to protect me.”
I was floored, betrayed. I was 16. I wanted to run away, but I had nowhere to go. I went back to my room and tried to move the wall unit to its original location. I couldn’t. It was too heavy.
I never knew how she was going to react, I just knew it would not be what I’d expect from a mother. She even told me, more than once, to never have kids, to never marry. Instead, regarding men she said; “love ‘em, lay ‘em, and leave ‘em.” I thought it was a joke, but looking back I fear it wasn’t.
She was brilliant, a genius with photographic memory, but born too soon because she lived in a world where women couldn’t achieve what they can now. I’ve written about her talents before, but I’ve never said much about the dark side of her icy behavior and her secrets. Most of the time I felt inadequate around her or that I didn’t please her. I wanted to feel the comfort of a hug, but she didn’t want to be touched, especially after my father took his own life.
Years after she died, I found a diary entry saying she could have stopped him, but didn’t. She’d seen him do it and after that shock, she didn’t want anyone near her ever again. She never told us.
She alluded to having a lot more secrets, but by then I didn’t want to know.
Yet, I still tried to make her happy and give her something to laugh about after my dad died. We had our moments where there was a true, clear connection, but it wasn’t very often. I was so stressed out about wanting to make her happy, I would end up failing or her reaction would just gut me. She hated getting gifts, but she liked to push me away when I tried to offer her something. It was about as far from what I would dream of as a relationship with a mom than I could imagine and it still hurts me to this day.
But who really was my mother?
April 7, 2018 2PM
My family fun night was going to start early, at 2PM, so we could bake Easter Pies. It was a family tradition from the Italian side of my family (my dad’s side), though it was ironic that my Jewish mother took over the care and sharing of the recipe. She wrote directions a few times so I’d be sure to continue on after she was gone. Making those pies was one of the few happy memories I have. We’d cut up the meats and slice the hard cooked eggs. We’d catch each other up on what we were doing and make lots of jokes. We’d drink tea and soak up each other’s company.
After the pies baked we’d have the annual discussion on whether they tasted better cold or hot (mother liked cold, daddy liked it heated). This year I had anxiety about making the crust. The last time I tried it didn’t work out. My mother always made the dough the night before so it was the missing piece of how to make the pie great. I’d try again. I found a recipe online that was very close to what I remembered. I made so much extra that I knew I’d have plenty for the top and bottom crust, but wasn’t sure it would hold together once I rolled it out. Even if it failed, it would be fun having my family there. We’d have a little celebration for my birthday and some cake and that would be good enough for me.
But then the doorbell rang.
I opened the door, wondering why Ryan didn’t just walk in. He’s family. He can come right into my home. It wasn’t Ryan. It was my brother and his second wife. I just stood there wondering what to do, what to say. Was he going to pull a gun on me or have a happy reunion? I squeaked out “Hello.” They said hello back. I started to cry. The pain of a decade-long separation got to me, even though I knew I shouldn’t care any more. Seeing my brother suddenly 10 years older was a punch to the gut. I didn’t care what he was going to do. I reached out for him. He gave me a hug. I continued to cry. I wondered if they knew about his son and ex coming over. Maybe they were going to join us and make pies? I should have known better they weren't there to celebrate.
He said he had something important to tell me and thought it would be ok to stop by since he knew I was having company. I thought he was going to tell me he was sick with cancer and was going to die. I was literally shaking as I invited them into the house.
I offered them tea. He said no, his wife said, yes if decafe. Then she didn’t believe me it was decaffeinated so I showed her the container. My brother stood in the kitchen looking ashen. He began to tell me about how his wife had taken a DNA test. We all knew she was adopted. She’d met her bio-family, but wanted to know about her health markers and what issues she’d have to be concerned about (so she listed all her worries over and over again “macular degeneration” “parkinson’s”…she’s all about ME ME ME). My brother decided to take the test, too.
I didn’t know what he was going to say next. I’d done a DNA test years ago and it was pretty much what I expected: lots of eastern European and some southern European DNA, no American Indian as I’d heard rumors about as a kid. My brother took out his phone and brought up the app. He showed it to me. Something was missing.
No Italian DNA.
I’d just read that siblings don’t necessarily match in their DNA and I told him as much. I was about 25% Italian, but maybe it was fine that he wasn’t? Then he dropped the bomb. 23&Me showed him family matches of other people who take the test. He didn’t see my results since I hadn’t taken that particular DNA test, but it did show him something shocking.
My brother has a half-brother none of us knew about.
My brother also has a FATHER that is NOT the same father as I have.
My brother is only my HALF-SIBLING. (I have no other siblings)
I almost collapsed, shocked to the core. I couldn’t believe it. My brother said he’d pay for me to take the 23&Me test and of course I agreed right away. This had to be a mistake, right? Because if it wasn’t it meant some terrible things.
It meant that my mother had cheated on my father barely 3 years into their marriage. Some guy, who still lives and is in Florida, is my brother’s dad. This guy has a SON who is my brother’s age so that means…THIS GUY fathered his son and my brother AT THE SAME TIME.
So much emotion settled into my heart that I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. It was too much to consider being possible. So many questions began forming in my head…WHY? Who was this GUY? Was she in touch with him over the years? Did he know? Did my father KNOW? Why did my mother LIE TO US? She had 6 years after my father died to tell us the truth without him knowing. WHY DID SHE LIE? I could not stop thinking about it.
My brother asked me point blank-Did I know?
Without missing a beat, I looked him straight in the eye and told him I would never keep something like that from him, even if he hated my guts and vice versa. I had no idea, but then I realized that was why he came over, to see my reaction.
And meanwhile all this is going on in front of my nephew and my “sis”…who had no idea, either. What a way to drop a bomb, with no concern for how anyone would take the news. It could have been done in private, out of respect for me, for his son, for his ex, but no, it had to be a big drama-filled event.
I asked if he contacted his bio-dad. He hasn’t yet. He reached out to his half-brother, but there hasn’t been any reply. I told Dan I’d go through my mother’s papers and search for clues. She left some journals and letters behind. Maybe I’d find an answer there. There is no one living, other than my brother’s father, who knows what happened.
After that they hugged me and left. They didn’t want to make pies or eat them. They were going out of town for the next week. If I had any info I’d text him, but other than that he didn’t have more to say to me.
My precious sis handed me a bottle of vodka. She grabbed a can of cranberry seltzer and asked me if I wanted a drink. She doesn't put up with anyone's shit, especially my brother's...err half-brother's. She was furious at his behavior and said as much. She was kind and understanding and said she was very happy my nephew didn't get his DNA test back first. It would have made it appear that my sis had cheated on my brother and that Ryan wasn't his son. She laughed because it's crazy to even consider, but I was glad that wasn't even a issue. I don't usually ever drink but went to my cupboard and selected a small glass silkscreened with pink elephants. It's a cocktail glass from the 1950s. I figured if I was going to get drunk, I was going to do it right. I handed my sis the glass, then said "Fill 'er up" as tears slid down my cheeks.
The next few days I was in a trance, obsessed with going through my mothers old letters. There was a journal started from the day my brother was born. She wrote about me and how much she loved me, that she didn’t think she could love anyone more and felt badly about that. I don’t remember ever feeling love from her so this was a surprise.
She noted that my brother had a “weak chin.” Those words shocked me. Why say that about your newborn child?
She also wrote about me staying with her friends on their farm while she was in the hospital. How I was so happy being surrounded by cats. That I was in my element. I was only 2 ½ years old.
Later she penned a rather plain description about moving away from Fulton, NY to Westchester County, NY, about how she was happy to put the last 18-months behind her. She hinted there were dark days, but I have no idea why. I have many letters from my father written to my mother during those days. He was devoted as ever and his tone was loving and affectionate.
I don’t know.
Though I still have more letters and some journal entries to read. I don’t think I’m going to find the answer I’m looking for. The small pile of papers has sat untouched for a few weeks. I think I need to move on, even though I don’t know how.
I keep looking over my life and feeling like it was a lie. I don’t have to feel badly any more that my brother and I don’t get along and that we will never be close in a way I dreamed of. I doubt the doorbell will ring again and he will be standing there, with a sad awkward smile on his face. We never got along because we’re not completely related. He has another family whose blood runs in his veins.
I am the only child of my mother and father.
And I think of my poor father, how he was cuckolded, how he was proud of “his son,” who is not his son. How devastated he’d be. I don’t think he knew. He would have brought it up as a weapon to hurt my mother at some point, but he never did.
My father loved his family and was completely devoted to us, even though he and I had a very few, very bad days. Most of the time I was “daddy’s girl” and felt protected and cherished and now I realize that I really was his one and only child.
With every memory of my past, it’s now colored differently. This is the first Mother’s Day since I learned the terrible news. I find myself wanting to say “F--- you” to my Mother on this day of mothers and get rid of those mementos of hers I used to cherish, but more than that I want to free myself from trying to be a good daughter to someone who clearly did not deserve my devotion.
And my brother? I checked on him via a text when he got back from his trip, asked how he was doing. "Good" was his reply. Any news? "No." I told him I'd always be his sister and if he wanted to go out for coffee, just us, to talk, I would be happy to do that. I wanted to be there for him. He did not reply, but maybe that was his reply. He got what he wanted from me and was going back to his fancy life where I am the poor relative, now half-sister who is not worthy of being in his life. I had already mourned losing my brother so many years ago, before he showed up at my door, and now he was probably gone from my life forever.
We made our fundraising goal for Margo's surgery! Hopefully she will only need one procedure but there's a chance she will need up to two more. We will only know once the first surgery is done and she's healed up. Then we'll see how her function is going, if she has any infection or failure of the reconstruction. She has one of the top surgeons in the country doing her surgery so we hope that will help her have the best outcomt possible.
Next steps: Visit to GP Vet on Friday the 27th where they will do pre-op blood work and some other tests. Then we wait until May 8th for Margo to meet Dr Ellison, at U of Florida Small Animal Hospital. They will be examining her and determing if she is ready for surgery or if we need to wait longer.
Thank you to everyone who made this chance possible for Margo. She would literally die if we don't try and now she, at least, has a chance and that's because of ALL OF YOU for donating, for caring, for sharing.
I truly believe there’s more going on in this world than science can prove with a test. That on a cosmic, metaphysical, religious, however you want to label it-level, there’s something that brings people together for a reason, seemingly rising out of random events. Looking back on it we see the threads connecting us and, as we look forward, we wonder what the result of our connection will bring. Perhaps in our heart we already know the answer and that’s why we’ve found each other at this point in time.
Four years ago I took on a very tiny kitten named Freya. She fit in the palm of my hand. Her family could not provide care for her so they surrendered her to my rescue. She was born with a very rare birth defect called Atresia Ani with Recto-vaginal fistula. It basically means that because she was born prematurely, parts of her body never developed either at all or completely. She has no tail. Where her rectum should be was skin. She could only void a little stool through her vagina, which is a very dangerous problem. Eventually the amount of stool would build up to the point that it would overtake her intestines and possibly burst, killing her from sepsis and internal bleeding.
The vets gave her at 10% chance to live.
Freya will be four years old in August. It was a very difficult and terrifying journey (you can read about it HERE with links to her entire story and the final chapter HERE). I had no one to talk to about this. The vets barely understood it and certainly had no idea on what nutrition she could survive on until she could have surgery. If I had someone to support me, guide me, it would have made a huge difference. It's scary enough having to face this with a fragile kitten, but being alone makes it all the worse.
As a result of my experiences with Freya, and because I created a special Facebook page for her, from time to time someone will find me who has a kitten with atresia-ani. I always help those people because I want them to know someone has their back. Some kittens don’t make it because they got the diagnosis too late. Many vets don’t even know what this birth defect is and diagnose it incorrectly. Some don’t make it because the repair can’t be done, or it’s too expensive to do, or the kitten doesn’t survive the procedure. It IS a risky venture, but some kittens DO make it and live a relatively normal life afterwards.
There are issues that can arise after surgery, ranging from incontinence to death. The kitten might require a second or third procedure because megacolon can occur from the kitten holding so much stool inside her body for such a long time. Another challenge: kittens can’t simply have surgery at any age. They have to be big enough to handle sedation. Their body needs to be big enough so the surgeon can perform the procedure at all, but how do you feed a kitten so she doesn’t fill up with stool? It’s not possible, but it IS possible to slow the pace down by not feeding kibble (EVER) or feeding high carb canned food.
So then one might ask, why bother? The surgery is expensive; the risks many.
We bother because these little lives are precious. We try because it’s possible to save a kitten’s life and give her a GOOD life. We may fail, too, but if we do nothing that kitten WILL DIE and die in a horrible way.
Ten days ago I got an email from a lady named Kathy. She lives in Florida on a little farm with chickens, a cow, a dog, two cats and a handful of children of all different ages. Her husband works hard to provide for them. Their life is not full of frills, but they live a good life. Just as they were about to have their cat Pearl spayed, they realized she was already pregnant. This would be Pearl's first and last litter since they know that it’s important not to let things get out of hand.
On February 4, 2018 two kittens were born. Pearl is a good mama-cat, but her kittens both had birth defects. The boy only had one fully developed eye. His sister was in more challenging condition. One eye did not develop at all and the other was developed but not enough. The kitten was completely blind.
Cats are amazing in how they can adapt to pretty much anything, so Kathy found a home for the boy and kept the girl who was blind. She called out to the kitten, “Here Kitty!” but the kitten would not react. (In those early days she thought the kitten was a boy until she figured things out). As a joke she called out; “Marco!” as one might do playing the game, Marco Polo. The kitten turned to her and came over. So the kitten was initially named, Marco before she realized a name change was called for. Meet Margo.
At eight weeks of age, Kathy noticed something wasn’t right with Margo. Since Pearl no longer cleaned her kitten, Margo’s behind was very dirty looking. Upon close inspection, Kathy saw the malformed rear end, signaling that something was terribly wrong.
Kathy began to do research online and found me. She wrote, asking for help for her little kitten. She attached a photo of the wee lynx point Siamese mix kitten hugging her mom. Those cosmic strings tightened and I knew I had to take action.
My reply was short, “Call me.” I said and left her my number. I explained to Kathy that Atresia-ani has to be dealt with very carefully and quickly to keep the kitten stable until she’s big enough for surgery, IF surgery can be done. I told Kathy I would find a rescue in Florida to help her with her kitten. Though it pained her very much, she said she would give up the kitten to a rescue if it meant she would be cared for, because sadly, there is no way she can provide the funds needed for surgery.
I began to search, contact all my rescue friends in the south, and ask them to ask around on my behalf, for help. I spoke to a number of rescues, and boy do some of those folks LOVE to talk and talk and talk, but only one offered to help. After some digging around I found out their rescue had been visited by the animal control and had over 28 animals removed from the property. There was NO WAY Margo was going there.
I worried that wherever this kitten went, if I wasn’t 100% sure she was safe that I could not move her at all.
Meanwhile, I asked Kathy to get Margo to the vet just for an initial check and test for FeLV and FIV. I knew if a rescue would take the kitten it would be easier if they knew she didn’t also have another health challenge. Kathy wrote back and said Margo didn’t have FeLV or FIV, so that was great news. She only weighs a bit over a pound, so she has a long way to go before she could have surgery.
But now what do we do? What do I do to help this kitten who lives over 1000 miles away? My non-profit cat rescue, Kitten Associates, has helped cat owners in the past by paying a small portion of their vet bill when they prove they cannot afford it. We usually can’t provide much, but when we have it we do try to help. It wouldn’t be out of the question to help Margo, but we have never had to raise thousands of dollars for an owned cat. It could effect my ability to fundraise for my foster cats. I grappled with what to do. What would our supporters think? Would they help us or tell us we can’t help a cat who has a family already?
I had many conversations with Kathy trying to sort out what to do. She sold three of her chickens to pay for Margo’s initial vet bill. I could not, in good conscious, walk away from this situation when someone tries so hard to help their kitten.
Back to the “cosmic” threads I mentioned…earlier this year I said to Sam, my VP of Kitten Associates and partner in life, that I was thinking maybe I wanted to focus on difficult medical cases and only take on a few cats a year, not try to fill up the house with kittens.
I put that intention out into the universe and I thought that Pistachio and his sister, Catshew were the answer to that need, but in truth though they battle health issues (mycoplasma pneumonia), it’s not really what I had meant.
Then I learned about Margo and I realized I could do more. I CAN help this kitten. I CAN try to provide the funds for her life-saving surgery. It doesn’t matter whether or not she is in my foster program.
Our Goal: we’ve found terrific Board Certified Surgeons at the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital, not too far from Kathy’s home in northern Florida. We’re putting together a plan for Margo, but it’s not perfectly laid out just yet.
Normally, I get a detailed estimate on costs, then ask for help. Without 100% transparency how would anyone trust our need? In this case, we can’t get a line-item estimate just yet, BUT we need time to raise the funds. We won’t get a complete estimate until just before Margo has surgery, but by then we won’t have time to put the funding together!
We need to act NOW to be ready when the time comes.
I’ve pushed the matter of the estimate with UofF, but all I have is a rough estimate of $3500-4500. This won’t include, pre-op blood work. We may need to do an ultrasound. In my perfect world we WOULD do a CT Scan, but it’s another $2000 and we can probably get by without having to do that, too. My goal is to ask for a reasonable amount and no more, with the understanding that we could need a lot more if things go sideways.
My goal is to raise, $5000.00 for Margo. My rescue will hold the funds and disperse them directly to the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital. That way all donations are tax-deductible. Also, should we NOT use ALL of what we raise, I will either give Kathy the leftover funds for future needs, or if she wishes, we will use the overage for our foster kittens. Either way all donations will go to provide for Margo and/or our foster kittens.
If the worst happens, and we lose Margo after we raise the funds, but before surgery happens, we will direct the funds to the other cats in our program.
Be a part of Margo’s Life Saving Team:
Give a gift of any amount over $1 to Margo using our PayPal.me link (you don't have to have a PayPal Account to give a gift) HERE.
Please note: We choose not to use fundraising web sites because they charge a fee on top of the fee PayPal charges us so we get less of a donation. Some of the fundraising sites also take a LONG time to relinquish the funds and we do not have the luxury to wait. If we reach our goal I let you know so that we can close the fundraiser.
If you wish to write a check, Please make out your gift to: Kitten Associates and send it to: P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354 and add a note that it’s "For Margo."
Your gift is tax deductible. Kitten Associates is a 501c3 non-profit. Our EIN Tax ID is 27-3597692.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
For a long time now I’ve had this calming feeling as I take my walk around the neighborhood. I’m enchanted by the wind as it scoops up the dried autumn leaves causing them to swirl and dance, and equally charmed by two squirrels who playfully chase each other across a well manicured lawn. I hear birds chirp merrily along as I see their silhouettes on a sun-kissed branch. It reminds me that I’m part of all these things and we’re all part of something much bigger.
On a deeper level, I feel a state of interconnectedness that has no sense of time. It just is. It is just now, but it also feels like all of it has already happened, will happen, is happening. It’s a very big feeling in my soul that as I take another step I’ve already finished my walk, it’s another day, it’s the first time I tried to take a walk and could only walk to the top of the driveway, it’s years from now when I can’t walk any more. It’s not a sad feeling. It feels full, like I don’t have to worry about Spencer because in each breath he’s just being born or has already passed away or is purring on my lap all at the same time. It’s fluid, not tangents on a path. It’s more like a river with a wild current that curls and froths and bubbles up around itself and back again.
The other day Sam and I finally moved an old tube TV set out of our bedroom to make a space to add a litter pan, now that Nora is 17. She still gets around fairly well, but we’d like her to have a pan upstairs so she doesn’t have to travel too far. Moving the TV was no joke. It’s awkwardly weighted and there’s nothing to hold onto, just smooth edges. We managed to slide it down the stairs on a big flat cardboard box with a blanket wrapped around it like a sling. I held the sling and pulled towards myself as Sam guided it down the stairs. Somehow we didn’t break the TV or our legs.
There’s a place at the town dump where they recycle old electronics. It’s inside an old semi-truck trailer. I wasn’t certain how we’d get the TV out of the car and make the 12 steps or so trip to the trailer. I said as much aloud as Sam opened the hatchback of his old red subaru. A man unloading his car ahead of us heard what I said and offered to help carry the TV. It was such a kind, surprising gesture and I was so very grateful for his help. It made me less sad that in this moment we were throwing away something that took me many hours of work to earn the money to pay for. There was a time I yearned to be able to acquire a nice TV for my bedroom and it was quite an accomplishment to get one, but now it was junk, maybe salvage for its parts and that's about it. This TV saw me through a few uncomfortable days or weeks when I was sick and had to stay in bed, but for many years it’s only gathered dust in the corner. I haven’t even turned it on. It’s too old to work with a digital cable box.
Sam says for me to think that yearning for something and knowing, even in that yearning, that the object is already decayed and dead is very Buddhist of me. He also said something about a relation to quantum mechanics and atoms but that’s too far over my head. The gist of all this pondering is that if you take a step back far enough and look at the world, heck the universe and beyond, we’re all just made up of stardust in different, constantly ever-changing forms. I suddenly feel like I understand reincarnation in a way I never did before. It’s very likely that the form I was in before I was a cat mom was something else. It may not have been a human, it could have been a little bit of many different things, even an old tv. What happens to my body next is it will become a different form that will become a different form again and again. It makes me feel a little bit less sad about Spencer’s future. He’s already part of me and I of him. It’s all the same little bits of stardust, just in different shapes.
Somehow I managed to raise $4300 in 4 days to cover Spencer’s surgery. I honestly don’t know how I could be so lucky and so honored to have so much support. The stress, the fear of if I could raise the money in time, did a number on me. I didn't know if we'd make it until the night before his surgery date.
I hate to ask for help, but I really felt that doing the surgery was the right thing for Spencer and I needed to make it happen. With a mass inside him, at least it was uncomfortable and, at most, it was killing him and needed to be removed. I assumed it was carcinoma because there was a mass and not tell-tale inflammation that would make us consider it was lymphoma. Big masses usually mean, big bad things. In the morning we’d have a beginning of an answer when Dr. Deb opened Spencer’s abdomen and took a look inside.
The night before surgery, Spencer ate well and purred away, as he always does. He came upstairs and got into bed and tucked me in as he’s often done over the years. I had to sleep in a weird position so I didn’t bother him. It was an honor to do that. I didn’t know if it would be our last night together. I didn’t know if he’d ever be able to come upstairs again or if he’d even survive the procedure. I was sick with worry and kept wondering if this was the right thing to do. I could still call it off and just do chemo and hope that did the trick and maybe he’d have a better life, maybe shorter, but less pain…I had to stop over-thinking it. I’d consulted 4 vets and 3 said to do the surgery. In my gut I felt we had to try and give Spencer a chance. I just prayed I wasn’t wrong.
I tried to be cheerful about taking Spencer to the vet, think positive, non-jinxing thoughts, even though I felt sick to my stomach. I wore my brand new Lil Bub Sweater. It’s so colorful and adorable, I felt like Bub was watching over us and would keep Spencer safe. How could anything bad happen if I was wearing something so upbeat, right? I told myself that no matter what happened, my memory of Spencer would never leave my heart. I could still hear his wheezing even if he didn’t sleep near me any longer. Whatever was going to happen, was going to happen. I couldn’t control anything. I just had to remain present, be kind, and be open to however things unfolded. I had to be prepared to say goodbye, knowing I did everything I could, even if one day soon I would hate myself for making a choice that ended in Spencer losing his life. I gave Spencer a kiss and handed him over to the vet tech. I tried not to burst into tears.
I gave the vet tech a new ziplock bag with a note on it to please save all of the fur they shaved off of Spencer’s belly. I wanted to keep it to make a memorial out of his fur one day. I was embarrassed to ask for such a silly thing when surgery was all I should focus on, but being a realist I also knew I might need that fur sooner than I’d like to admit.
I was told that surgery was going to begin around 11:30 AM. In a way, I wish they hadn’t told me. It was possible that at the last minute an emergency would come into the hospital and that they’d have to bump Spencer’s procedure to later in the day. Alternatively, I knew that if the procedure was quick, they either got the mass out or Dr. Deb decided it couldn’t be removed at all.
I sat with my phone either next to me or I held it in my sweaty hand. The ringer was turned on and turned up. I kept checking the time. Thirty minutes passed, then an hour. My heart started to sink as it approached 2PM. Finally, Dr. Deb called.
“We go it out! All set! His blood pressure went down a bit too much during the procedure but we were able to get him back up. He’s in recovery now and we’ll be keeping a careful watch on him.”
Dr. Deb explained that the mass had been attached to the very tip of one of the lobes of Spencer’s pancreas. She had to remove that tip, but it was only a very little bit. Even so there was concern that Spencer would get pancreatitis, which would be a very hard on him. It’s something that scares the heck out of most cat parents because it can go on and on causing the cat to not want to eat. If it goes on too long, they can get “fatty liver” disease and die unless there’s a lot of intervention on the cat parent’s part, even a feeding tube may be required. We’d have to be very careful.
The good news was that Spencer’s liver, which had shown lesions on ultrasound, was in very good shape-no signs of cancer there. Dr. Deb said she looked at everything else in his abdomen and everything looked as she would expect. The pathology of the mass would take 3-5 business days so I figured it would be the following week before we knew what kind of cancer it was.
The game plan now was go visit Spencer that night and hopefully get him home the next day.
Spencer was alive, for now. The next few days were going to be really hard on him. I needed to stay strong, but first I needed to take a nap. I felt like I hadn’t slept in a decade from all the stress.
Around 10PM Sam and I drove to NVS to visit Spencer. I tried to prepare myself for seeing him stitched up, wearing the dreaded “cone of shame” around his neck, probably looking a lot older and weak.
But before we could see him we had to wait until they could get him ready for our visit. They had a nearly record number of animals being treated-about 18-at the time, so we had to wait for them to move Spencer into an exam room. While we waited, a couple came in with a pug dog. We knew what happened well before they got close to the reception desk-a skunk sprayed their dog. My GOD did the place suddenly stink to the high heavens. The lady kept apologizing, saying she’d changed her clothes three times. Lady, it’s not YOU that got sprayed!
The dog got scratched by the skunk but it didn’t even need a stitch. They needed to update the dog’s rabies shot, but otherwise he didn’t need anything other than about 50 baths. The receptionist shooed them out the door saying they should have called first so they could have treated the dog outside the building. As it was the place had no open windows and we were all suffering. The couple went into the vestibule between the two front doors because it began to rain. It only created an inescapable stink-zone that everyone who entered or existed the building was going to have to walk through. I started to wonder if all the bags of chips in the nearby vending machine were going to stink like skunk, too.
We were finally able to go visit Spencer. Thankfully he was too drugged up to be bothered by how badly Sam and I and my Lil’ Bub sweater smelled. His pupils were huge. He waxed and waned between being asleep and being crabby. The tech told us he hadn’t eaten. I offered him a spoonful of chicken baby food. He furiously licked at it, going through the entire jar of food as fast as I could spoon it out. We made a huge mess because we weren’t allowed to take his e-collar off, so some of the food went onto the plastic barrier and some into his mouth.
I took a few breaks to wipe off his face and get the collar cleaned up. Sam held Spencer up so he didn’t fall over. He had an IV line in his leg and the pain meds made him weak. Even with all that it was good to see him eat. I hoped it was a good sign.
Since Spencer got crabbier the longer he had to sit up, we decided to get him settled back in his cage for the night. It would be our first night apart in 15 years, but I knew he was in good hands.
Spencer pretty much hates being messed with, for any reason. Even drugged up he red-zoned at NVS to the point of them realizing he’d do better at home then be in the hospital for another day. I couldn’t argue the point. I’d set up my home office as his space for the next two weeks of recovery. I’d also be ripping that cone off him the second we got home. If he tore his stitches out that was on me, but he’d be a lot happier without the cone on and hopefully he’d be too tired to do much with the stitches for the next few days.
This is when I decided I better write down everything I was doing with him in case things took a turn for the worse. I made a list of all his pain meds (buprenex, gabapentin, onsior) and when they were to be given. I wrote down what he was eating and how much. I made notes if I noticed he was having side effects-which he did-like diarrhea and extreme weakness. I knew I had to just see this through. I had to support Spencer’s needs, keep him warm and clean. Make sure he ate enough and was comfortable. He might not be himself for some time. I had to have faith he would be feeling better in week or two.
Spencer was a mess. He was so weak he could barely make the trip of a few steps to his litter pan. Once in the pan he would fall over and just lay in the litter. Thankfully I had been meticulous about keeping his pan clean, but seeing him laying there broke my heart. I helped him up, careful not to touch his belly. He strained to pass stool, but could not go. I looked up side effects of all the meds and called the vet. One by one I pulled him off most of the pain meds a day or more early because he was just too sick from them.
Sam gave Spencer fluids every day. It helped him feel better. I gave him an injection of B12 and offered him raw chicken liver. He’d lost 40 mL of blood during surgery. No wonder he felt awful.
Spencer barely moved. He mostly slept. I kept out of my office so he could have peace and quiet. Not being bothered by the other cats was good for him, too, so my door stayed closed.
That night I called NVS. Spencer just wasn’t eating well and I wanted to start him on Cerenia, which combats nausea and could possibly help him want to eat. I started him on the medication that night and prayed it would work by morning.
The first real snow fell. It would have been something to enjoy if I could forget the guilty feeling that we didn’t rake the leaves out of the front yard yet and now we’d probably have to wait until spring to do it. Spencer wasn’t eating very well and sleeping a lot. I spent time brushing him because he likes it and he needed it. I hoped the comfort it gave him would help him want to eat, but he had a long way to go before getting back to his old self. I was very worried about his appetite issues so I called our vet and asked for an appetite stimulant if we really needed it-we did.
Spencer wasn’t eating more than a few bites of food. I offered him a zillion different options. He’d eat, at most, an ounce of food. I offered him food about 10 times that day. I added it all up and it came to 3 ounces, barely half of what he should have been eating. The good thing was that Spencer was a bit brighter. He was grooming himself and though he still had diarrhea, he was not falling into the litter pan any more.
Now if he would just EAT.
We gave Spencer mirtazapine, an appetite stimulant. I got varied answers on how long it would take to work-the average sounded like a few days. In the meantime Spencer’s appetite was still lousy and I finally began to syringe-feed him a meal once I’d seen if he’d eaten enough over the day. If he didn’t, I syringe-fed him.
What was interesting was that he seemed basically ok with it. I expected a fight but he almost appreciated it. He even ate something about an hour after I syringe-fed him. I started to wonder if he just needed a jump start to get going.
By now Spencer definitely looked a lot better. The contusions on his belly were starting to fade and though he didn’t move around too much, he was much sturdier on his paws than before.
Dr. Deb called. The results were in. I expected her to say carcinoma, but she didn’t. Dr. Larry, my vet for over 20 years, has this joke about my cats. They’re called “Olson cats.” The reason why is that more often than not, my cats have things go wrong that he has either never seen before or so rarely sees that it’s only because my cats are the ones it happens to. He even knows to look for the weird diagnosis when I bring my cats in for an exam.
It’s extremely rare that a big mass in a cat isn’t cancer, but the mass in Spencer’s abdomen, is NOT CANCER. It’s benign. It’s gone. It’s over and done.
It’s also extremely rare that removing a non-cancerous mass leads to the discovery of actual cancer, but it did. Spencer DOES have cancer. Cells were detected that are “consistent with small cell lymphoma,” so it’s not 100% sure but it’s pretty darn likely.
That said, it kinda IS a miracle because if a cat is going to get cancer, then small-cell lymphoma is the one to get. It’s treatable for a good long time. It grows slowly. It’s not an expensive treatment and Spencer can possibly have a good year or MORE of quality life. That would put him at about 17-18. If it had been carcinoma, we’d be lucky to get 9 months, if that. More likely we’d get about 3 months.
And as the day passed, and the fog of the shocking news lifted, I realized that one thing was very clear-doing the surgery was the right thing to do. If we hadn’t done it we would have assumed it was a carcinoma and treated him with the wrong chemo drugs. It would have been a waste in so many ways, but now we know what it is, what to do, and how to do it…or do we?
But this is an Olson-cat, so things may go a little differently than one would expect.
Next up…meeting with the oncologist and considering a potentially cutting edge treatment that could be a game-changer. The only problem is there’s no research on it yet, only anecdotal information for dogs, and even less for cats. Oh yeah and Spencer's eating...cat litter!
Note from Robin: Thank you VERY MUCH to everyone who made this story possible. Your donations, which ranged from $2 to hundreds of dollars, all added up to making Spencer's surgery a reality. YOU are his lifeline, his rescuers, his friends, and for that I am eternally grateful.
I’m sitting back on the bed in the foster room, propped up against a few ratty old pillows. Foster kitten, Mighty Macaroon (Mac for short), is sitting high up on my chest, purring loudly, rubbing her face against my cheek. Her nose is wet. It makes me squirm. One at a time I can feel the tip of one of her claws extend, then retract, extend and retract as she flexes her toes. It hurts. I realize Mac is overdue for a claw-trim, but I can’t get to it right now. I’d rather sit here and stare at the TV while she makes tiny pinholes into my skin. Being in this room is my escape from what is in the room below me, Spencer, laying on the heated bed, wheezing ever so slightly as he sleeps. He’s doing all right, right now, but I don’t want to think about what may or may not be inside his abdomen.
It’s the night of Thanksgiving and I am not thankful for anything. I’m just tired and angry and scared. Getting lost in a TV show is my escape. A healthy, purring kitten makes me forget about the senior who is not, even if my escape only lasts a little while.
I haven’t been going for my walks. The pain in my knee is too much. I’m not eating well. I know I’m gaining weight. After all I did to drop over 50 pounds, my fear of it coming back is likely to be realized. The stress is too much. I should probably start boozing it up or taking anti-anxiety medication or running away from home and getting myself into more trouble, but I also know I can be strong. I can face these things I fear most and I can fight to protect my loved ones. Maybe I just need a break and “hiding” in the foster room is as much as I’m allowed.
Dr. McDaniel reviewed Spencer’s case with us. As often happens, though we did have needle aspirate results, they only pointed to the likeliness of it being carcinoma, but it was not definitive by any means. There are times when you must know what you’re dealing with, but many times it’s a gray area.
In Spencer’s case, it’s becoming more clear that we need to know for a variety of reasons.
Dr. McDaniel reviewed our options:
1. Surgical removal of the mass. Have it biopsied. Examine the pancreas, liver, kidneys, etc and biopsy or remove the liver lesions if appropriate. We would have to talk to the surgeon, Dr. Weisman, to get more details on how this would happen. Being that Spencer is 15 and has kidney disease and is cranky are all factors to consider. That said, it's likely that removal of the mass could extend Spencer’s life a YEAR or more if we follow up with some sort of chemo.
2. Chemotherapy administered in the hospital via an IV. This is not an option for Spencer because of how fractious he is so we didn’t discuss it much. She did add that this sort of chemo might not give us much of a different result than her third option.
3. Palladia®. It’s a relatively new therapy for dogs with mast cell tumors. Apparently it can work very well on different types of cancer and that cats can tolerate it well. It does have some scary, hopefully short-lived, side-effects.
It can possibly stop tumor growth and reduce the size of any existing tumor. The pill is given 3 times a week at home and it would require a monthly vet visit to check blood work. Dr. McDaniel has had good results with it in cats and feels like it could be beneficial for a time. We could skip the surgery and just go to Palladia, BUT ONLY IF SPENCER HAD A GOOD response to the chemo. He might get 6 months or so.
4. IF Spencer is a good candidate for surgery, the best result we could get would be surgery plus Palladia, or potentially another drug, given at home once we have biopsy results post surgery. That way we could target the medications to what sort of cancer Spencer has.
Spencer has a weird cough. It started early in the autumn. I thought it was seasonally related and mentioned it to Dr. Larry. He said we’d explore that when I brought Spencer in for his 6-month recheck in December since Spencer wasn’t in distress. Since we didn’t get to do that and I mentioned it to Dr. Mary, she did see something on Spencer’s x-ray. Dr. McDaniel saw the x-ray, too and wanted to get a better angle on Spencer’s chest because she was concerned there was a mass behind Spencer’s sternum.
Dr. McDaniel explained that there’s a lymph node in the area of concern and it could be inflamed. Though odd to imagine, that lymph node is responsible for draining fluid build-up in the abdomen. So, it would make sense that this could be lymph involvement instead of cancer. Could we do another x-ray? It would mean Spencer would have to be lightly sedated again.
Knowing that a mass in Spencer’s lungs would tell us the cancer had metastasized, would also mean it wouldn’t be worth considering surgery. We’d have been too late in the game to try so I agreed it was worth getting a second look at his chest. Spencer was none too happy about it, but thankfully they were able to get a good image.
Dr. McDaniel wanted a radiologist to review the image and give us a report. It was the cusp of the holiday so she was hopefully she’d have news that afternoon, but it wasn’t a sure thing. Once again it was time to play the waiting game. Every time Spencer coughed or swallowed awkwardly, until we got the report, I wondered if it was a mass.
We brought Spencer home to recover. He was really hungry and it was comforting to see him chow down. He bounced back from the sedation very well, but meanwhile I was left to wonder where the update was and why I wasn’t getting any news.
Of course…the holiday craziness…so I waited…Friday passed, Saturday, Sunday…I called and left a message for Dr. McDaniel to call me. I found out she didn’t return to work until Tuesday. I called to speak to Dr. Mary and found out the same thing. I was resigned to waiting another day, but it was killing me.
Monday night, Dr. Larry called. He’d gotten the report and said the radiologist felt it was not neoplasia (cancer), but normal geriatric changes. Though it seemed to be good news, he warned me that sometimes he’s pushed back on a report and got different results. He said that it still could be cancer and to talk to the oncologist about it again.
On Tuesday, Dr. McDaniel called and left me a message. She was bright and upbeat. No cancer in the lungs. All was well. I was hesitant to be happy about this news until I heard the rest of her message…she’d asked her colleague, Dr. Porter, who is the Emergency & Critical Care Specialist, as well as our surgeon, Dr. Weisman, to look over Spencer’s x-rays. They all agreed it was geriatric changes, NOT cancer. Maybe there was some light at the end of the tunnel? Our next steps, she suggested, would be to talk to Dr. Weisman about surgery if we felt that was an option for our boy.
I reached out to my friends and colleagues and asked them their opinion. Some said that Spencer’s had a good run and to not do the surgery on him, that it would be too much on him and what if:
• They open him up and find he’s full of cancer. They’d put him down right then and there. Could you live with that?
• What if he doesn’t survive the surgery?
• What if he dies shortly after the surgery?
• Why not just do the chemo at home and make your peace with it? It’s certainly more affordable and less stress on everyone.
Yesterday we met with Dr. Weisman. She’d done surgery on our boy, Bob Dole, five years ago. Last year she saved Annie’s life when we discovered she had an intussusception and needed a portion of her intestines removed and stitched back together. I trust Dr. Weisman completely. She doesn’t sugar-coat anything and is a straight shooter. I like and respect her very much. She has the skills and is Board Certified. If someone was going to cut Spencer open, I’d want her to do it.
Before we arrived at our appointment, Sam and I spoke about what to do for Spencer. One vet said not to do the surgery and just do Palladia, but what if Spencer didn’t have a good response to it? What if it wasn’t the right treatment for his type of cancer?We wouldn’t know what we were dealing with so we’d waste resources trying this and that.
Spencer’s been doing well at home. He brightened back up. He’s eating. He’s grooming himself. He even played a little bit a few days in a row. If we’re going to do this it has to be soon, while he’s strong. Also, the mass is large and it must make him feel uncomfortable.
Is it fair to Spencer to let him live out the rest of his life feeling uncomfortable with a mass inside him?
I was thinking maybe we shouldn’t do surgery, but I changed my mind once Dr. Weisman filled us in on what she was planning on doing and how she felt things might transpire. Then she blew my mind telling us something I didn’t even want to hope for.
She reviewed Spencer’s records and even with his age and kidney issues, she felt he was a good candidate for surgery. She does these mass removals, literally EVERY DAY. What a sobering fact that cancer is on the rise that a majority of her surgeries are mass removals. She says pets are living longer so it’s natural they would get cancer. I’m not sure I agree with that, but the bottom line is, she has a great deal of experience doing what she called an exploratory surgery on our boy.
Dr. Weisman would open Spencer up and assess the situation, then quickly come up with a game plan. She described some masses as being a simple blob with lots of fine tendrils hanging off it. It’s really easy to remove that type of mass and get it biopsied. It takes all of 15 minutes. The question is, in Spencer’s case, there are concerns that the mass is connected to a portion of his pancreas or his bile duct.
Dr. Weisman explained that she could remove the ends of the pancreas but that depending on how it was connected to the mass, she might not be able to remove anything. She would, of course, biopsy the mass so we could target treatment more appropriately. We’d also know what else is going on with his intestines and the lesions that were seen on ultrasound. Whatever needed to be removed, would be removed and/or biopsied.
I asked about her putting Spencer down during surgery if he had a belly full of cancer. She said there was NO WAY she was going to do that. Even if he did have cancer all over, since he was doing well at home, he could come home and we’d still do chemo and give him more time. We’d just know we probably wouldn’t have as much time as we had hoped for.
I asked about him surviving the surgery and her assistant said 95% chance, which is pretty normal of most surgeries.
I asked about protecting his kidney function and they would do everything they needed to do to make sure his kidneys didn’t get worse, but, like anything else, we don’t know 100% how his kidneys will respond. In my mind they’d just be more fluid filled and flushed out so in theory Spencer should not feel any ill effects from that.
The bottom line was that Dr. W. felt Spencer was a good candidate if we didn’t wait too long. We could take a few days to consider our options, so we set a date for the surgery so we’d have it if we wanted to move forward. It would mean a two-week recovery time for Spencer at home, with one to two days in the hospital right after the surgery was over. I’d have to prepare myself for him not being his perky self and trying to find faith that I could not only get him back to feeling good, but maybe even help him feel better than he’s felt for a long time.
The devastating problem is, as much as I feel the surgery could give Spencer a very good year, or maybe more, there is no surgery if there is no way to pay for it.
I’ve begged, borrowed, drained out my 401K. There’s nothing left. I have to depend on the kindness of all of you to consider helping Spencer have that blessed bonus year. There are no guarantees, but…Dr. W. said one thing that made my jaw drop.
It might NOT be cancer. It could be a necrotic fat mass. Though the odds were about 25% that it was a benign mass, there’s still a tiny chance it’s not cancer at all. We will never know if it’s not cancer, or possibly give him chemo that he doesn’t need, if we don’t do the surgery and find out what that mass is.
To possibly gain a year or more of GOOD quality of life, Spencer MUST HAVE SURGERY on TUESDAY, 12/5/17.
I feel a lot of shame asking for help, but I need it badly for my boy. I’ve been asked to please not post a photo of the costs of each procedure or service, but I can post the total costs. I need to raise at least $4300.00 by MONDAY night (eastern time), December, 4 (a 75% deposit of the high amount is due when I drop him off before surgery). I realize it’s a breathtaking amount of money, but I have to try.
How to give Spencer a bonus year…
Don’t donate if it’s a hardship. You don’t have to tell me you wish you could, but you can’t right now. That’s ok. I totally get it so don’t worry. If you feel like it, let your friends know our mascot needs their help and maybe some of them can provide a loving gift…tell them that a lady who has spent so many years helping others, needs it now, more than ever, for her cat, not for herself.
Give a gift to Spencer HERE. Your gift is tax deductible and this is a great time to get a deduction before the end of the calendar year.
It's easy to donate a specific amount just use these links:
Please note: We choose not to use fundraising web sites because they charge a fee on top of the fee PayPal charges us so we get less of a donation. Some of the fundraising sites also take a LONG time to relinquish the funds and we do not have the luxury to wait. If we reach our goal I let you know so that we can close the fundraiser.
If you need to write a check, those gifts will go to Spencer’s ongoing care since they won't arrive in time. Please make out your gift to: Kitten Associates and send it to: P.O. Box 354, Newtown, CT 06470-0354 and add a note that it’s for Spencer.
Your gift is tax deductible. Kitten Associates is a 501c3 non-profit. Our EIN Tax ID is 27-3597692.
My goal is to make the most appropriate decision for Spencer, not a rash, emotional wish. I know that only hindsight is 20/20 and the rest is well-meant, hopefully thoughtful and not selfish, good intentions based on advice from medical professionals. The rest is up to him, his body and the secrets that lie within.
If you have any questions about this fundraiser or Spencer’s care (by the way, we also plan on working with a holistic veterinarian and I hope to have some helpful information for you regarding those treatments) you can contact me at: email@example.com