The Joy of Animal Rescue and Care

“I meant,” said Ipslore bitterly, “what is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?”
Death thought about it.
CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE.”
― Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

This weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering at a shelter and tending to  a tiny four-week old kitten who, while waiting to go to foster today, was screaming his head off. He was no bigger than the size of my hand, but had the vocal strength of a fully grown cat.

I have often said that I am a sucker for kittens, and this was no exception. His black coat was roughly salted with strands of white fur, and he had a thin, white strip down the side of his nose. I immediately thought of him as Stripe. He alternated between begging at the cage door and hissing at me. The begging quickly won out when I opened the cage door. I moved slowly and spoke softly, and he responded right away with sniffs and with head bops.

I wanted just to scoop him up in my arms, but he had wreaked havoc on himself as well as the cage. His water bowl was empty. The litter was totally soaked, as was his blanket, teddy bear, the floor of the cage, and his entire body. Litter tracked on the cage floor. A quarter of the dry food was spread in his cage and another quarter on the tile floor.

I proceeded to take things out of his cage cautiously so as not to scare him. I slowly wiped down the cage as I took out items to clean or replace. I layered a blanket on a thin bed and made sure to include a few small, stuffed toys for company. I gave him a clean litter box and new food, but food was the last thing on his mind.

I had to get some paper towels to soak up the water from his paws and body before I could hold him, but it was a largely futile exercise. My shirt got filthy anyway. Well worth it. He climbed up and down off my shoulder as I leaned into the cage. Stripe pressed his tiny head hard against my chin and pressed his little body against mine. As I pet him, he tried to lay down against me and then would flop over for more petting.

I pet him as long as I could, but eventually I had to go and help with other kitties. Before I left, I peeked into the room to see him sitting comfortably on his new bed. All morning, I had been mentally calculated the logistics of bringing him home with me. I eventually decided against it due to logistics  and the fact that I literally cannot take home every cute kitten that I fall in love with. Believe me when I tell you there have been a lot of them.

During my itty bitty kitty petting session, I started to realize that I had endorphins coursing through my body. I was actually beginning to feel high and loopy from the baby kitten love fest. I think that’s what happens when you provide physical love to a helpless, loving, and lovable baby: the pleasure center in your brain lights up like fireworks to reward you for your altruistic attention and physical affection for another being. Every time this happens, you want it to happen again as soon as possible. I have no kids, but I can only imagine the degree to which this happens to parents. It is addiction in its highest and best possible form.

When I am down or angry, all it takes is for one of my kitties to give me some unsolicited attention and love. Suddenly, I forget what was going through my mind and smile, returning the love that is so willingly given to me.

The Biggest Misconception People Have About Cats

When I was a toddler, we had an outdoor cat named Meesh who had a litter of kittens. After the kittens had found homes, Meesh disappeared. I then spent the next eight years begging my mother to get me another cat. On the Valentine’s Day after my 14th birthday, my mom took me to the North Shore Animal League. We came home with a four-month old black girl kitten. I named her Valentina, but her name quickly became Meesh. Although I did not take her with me when I went to college, I went back to an animal shelter just two months after I moved into my first solo apartment. I have been encatted ever since. That was 23 years ago.

About four years, I began volunteering with a friend at the MSPCA Angell Animal Adoption Center. For two years, we pet kitties of all shapes, sizes, and ages, fed them, cleaned their litter boxes, and gave them medication. We received training in cat behavior and worked closely with the animal technicians in order to learn as much as we could about cats in order to make their transition from intake to adoptee as easy as possible. The only way that happens is if you are paying attention to cats, their body language, personalities, and preferences.

The number one misconception about  cats, as a whole, is that cats are aloof, antisocial creatures. Nothing could be further from the truth! If you were with me when I was volunteering, you would have seen cats meowing for attention who would then rub your hand furiously to get some pets in, rub against the cage to get to you, roll around, and generally put on a show. Yes, they wanted out of the cage, but they were also dying for attention and affection (and, yes, food, too).

Kittens and cats are social creatures, especially when raised by loving caretakers and appropriately handled. Remember that , just like human beings, any particular cat may be more or less independent than another. For example, kittens who are taken from their mothers too young can actually be needier than normal cats.

I suspect that this is the case wtih my cat Norman. He loves to bit a blanket, lay down, and then knead, like a kitten trying to knead the momma cat’s belly to start the flow of milk. Norman follows me around the house like a dog and sits in front of my computer screen when I don’t pay him the attention he wants. If he’s not with me, then he visits with my mother who lives downstairs from me. When either of us goes out for the day, he acts as if he hasn’t seen a human being for a week.

My husband and I recently went on a short trip to visit his family. While Norman spent all his time with my mother, Gwenny hid under the bed. Unlike Norman, she did not get affection for three and a half days. When we got home Sunday evening, Gwenny kept coming over to me to get pet for the rest of the night. Today, she came over to me for pets a lot more than normal. She let me pet her a lot, rolling over and putting her paws into the air so that I could scratch her belly. She loves affection, but especially those belly rubs! Since she was two months old, I have been petting her belly and she loves it. I do not suggest you try and belly rub a cat you do not know or else you might be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Over the years, I have noticed that, the more I give affection, attention, and play to my cats, the more social, friendly, and sweet they become. Is every cat like that? No, and I do not recommend that you assume anything when you meet a cat. However, if you don’t like cats because you think they are antisocial as a rule, then I would like to suggest that maybe it’s because you haven’t met the right cat.

The Guilt of Euthanasia

Trigger Warning

If a frank talk about euthanizing a beloved, suffering pet would upset you, then I suggest you skip today’s post. I write what’s foremost on my mind and important to me, and this is what came up for me.

The Guilt of Euthanasia

You would think that laying down to meditate in the middle of the afternoon would be a relaxing, calming thing to do.  For me, today, that did not happen. Instead, a terrible thought went through my head.

I thought of it, that very moment, when the vet injected the liquid that ceased Hunter’s bodily function in an instant. An excruciating guilt filled with regret and sadness kicked me in the stomach. I spent the next 20 minutes sobbing over having to put Hunter down.

Even though there was no hope of survival. Even though I know we all die. Even know I know that 18 years is ancient in cat years. I keep thinking the following thoughts:

I want Hunter back. 

and

I killed my kitty. 

Even though I know there are circumstances, I feel terribly guilty. I felt caught between two equally terrible decision: to let my cat suffer to a considerable degree until he died, or to have the vet inject him with death-inducing drugs. After loving another living being for 18 years, each decision would have produced its own kind of guilt.

When you don’t act, you can be upset by the thought that things could be different if only you would have acted. When you act, you feel all the responsibility and, sometimes, guilt that comes with acting. A momentous point in time becomes imbued with the weight of that decision, even when the action comes a while after the decision.

After meditation was over, I washed my face to cool down the redness of my eyes and nose. I worked out with my trainer and sorted through the mail after coming home.

I opened an envelope from the pet insurance company. Inside was a generic sympathy card. Just the few kind words in the card had me on the floor crying. Gwenny flopped over next to me, belly up for pets, and purred up a storm. I was happy to hear her purrs, but sad to be reminded that I won’t be hearing Hunter purr anymore.

I used to tell Hunter, “Please just die in your sleep, will you? I don’t want to have to put down another cat.”

If only it would be that easy!

Right now, it feels like I don’t want to go through this anymore. I found Hunter as a kitten, and he stole my heart immediately. Then we became very close, and I felt like he thought I was his momma/petting machine. He had such intense eyes and would stare at you as if trying to communicate psychically. My heart would ache every time.

Now he’s gone. Eighteen years is longer than I had with my other cats, but it feels too short. Maybe it wouldn’t feel too short if the end did not have to come to such an abrupt stop that required my intervention.

But I have two more. Two more cats to live with until they need my intervention at the end.

I guess I could stop having pets so that I would not have to go through with this. While I was meditating, Gwenny curled up in the sun on the ottoman next to me. As I pet her, I realized that she’d have to live her life somewhere. Someone, somewhere would adopt her, probably, and they’d have to do the same thing. This is the ultimate pain of pet stewardship.

I think I would be able to keep the resolve of not having any more cats until the moment when I looked into another kitten’s or cat’s eyes, fell in love, and relived the joy of bringing them home.

Normie and His Nonna

Last  night, I went downstairs to find my cat Normie. We live upstairs in an apartment from my mother, but our doors are often open to allow the cats to visit her. Most nights, I find him and bring him upstairs.

All the lights were off except for the one in my mother’s bedroom. Her door was halfway open. I was about to knock, but I could hear that she was awake by the turning of a page in a book.

“Ma?”

I poked my head inside to see this:

#Mom + my #Normie cutie pie #catsofinstagram #kitty #cat

I bust out laughing. I’ve never seen Normie get under a blanket with my mom before. I had to get a close-up of his cutie-pie face:

Normie wrapped up

Then Normie opened his eyes. I tried to get a shot, but a yawn got in the way:

Momma & Normie in Bed 4

Mom and I can’t help but laugh at Normie. Whatever this cat does contains an element of entertainment:

Momma & Normie in Bed 3

Then more laughing and licking:

Momma & Normie in Bed 2

Finally, the desired shot:

Momma & Normie in Bed 1

Although I still think that my favorite photo was the first one I took because Normie looked pleased as punch to be snuggling under the same bedspread as Nonna.

Now he doesn’t have to share, which has never been his strong point.

And Then There Were Two….

Trigger Warning: If you’ve recently lost a pet, are grieving, and would rather skip the details of the last day of a sick, old, and dying cat, you might want to skip this post. If you want to read a tribute to my cat Hunter instead, read my blog from Monday, October 6th.

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When I woke up yesterday, my husband told me that there was something wrong with my beloved 18 year old cat, Hunter. Mark had given him his medication and his subcutaneous fluids. Hunter didn’t move much, nor did he eat more than a nibble of his treats. Hunter did not come at all when food was put out.

I saw Hunter sitting uncomfortably by the water bowl. He moved away, and his back legs stumbled. You could tell he was in pain just by looking at him. When you can see that, you know it’s bad.

Hunter climbed into a chair where he likes to sleep, but he couldn’t quite rest comfortably. He moved slowly and did not lie down all the way. I decided to call the emergency line at my vet’s. I heard from my vet about 15 minutes later. She was already going into the office, so she said to meet her there.

Hunter looked so ill that I began crying. I went downstairs and told my mother to come up and visit Hunter because he was very sick. She was alarmed at how he looked and cried with me.

After getting some coffee, Mark and I drove Hunter to the vet. A physical exam indicated fluid in his stomach. The vet took some out and showed us the foam at the top, which indicated a severe protein deficiency. We considered draining his stomach, but the vet said it would probably fill right back up. We could take him to a specialist for it, but testing would cost at least a thousand dollars without giving us any real hope of him getting better.

Given his poor prognosis and that Hunter was excruciating pain, we decided it was time to say good-bye to Hunter and asked to have him euthanized.

I have loved animals all my life, especially cats. After you spend 18 years doing everything you can to keep your pet happy and healthy, telling a vet that now is the time to end your pet’s life  is nauseating. I hate the very idea of it.

But what are my options? Hunter was already in a lot of pain, and my vet said that he could die at any moment. I do not really feel there are any good options when you come to a point like this.

I called my mother to let her know what we were doing. I could only understand half of what she said through her crying. Since we moved down to New York, Hunter has been a constant companion to her. After she started to give him treats, my mother was Hunter’s queen. He would get on his hind legs and tap my mother’s arm to let her know he wanted food. Other times, he would grab her arm and pull it towards him. Or he would meow, which was more like a cute little grunt than a meow.

Hunter had the cutest little face, the most intense stare, and the softest fur you would ever touch. He used to flop over in my lap so I could scratch his belly. I’ve spent 45 minutes, an hour just petting that cat’s belly at least a couple of times a week since I got him. More recently, he did it only occasionally because he was no longer comfortable laying on his side. I think the last time that we did this was in the last couple of weeks, but it wasn’t for more than 5 minutes before Hunter had to move.

So now our home and our hearts are emptier. Yesterday was three years ago that I first met Gwendolyn, and today is three years that I brought her home. Life is like that. Sometimes you mourn and celebrate on the same day.

When you have them from when they are kittens, like I have with Hunter and Gwenny, they really do think you are their mother. That parent/child bond can exist between you and a being of another species. Hunter was an especially sweet and affectionate cat. He could not get enough of whatever attention that you wanted to give him.

I will miss his snuggling, his belly, his fur, his tail. I used to gently hold it and tell him it was my tail. If he was in my lap, I would lay it against my chest and pet his tail. He would let it stay there. So soft!

Some people claim that you cannot love an animal and that animals cannot love you back, that it is only attachment. To them I say, go to hell. I loved my cat, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loved me back. Sometimes, the final way that you can show them your love is to recognize when it’s time to end their lives. It’s just so painful and goes.

When Hunter was euthanized, he was surrounded by me, Mark, a vet tech, and the vet who had cared for him this past year. She thought he was a great cat, too, even though his pain meant he growled when he received the physical exam or was put on the scale.

After Hunter died, I pet him for a little while, gave him kisses, told him how much I love him, and how much I was going to miss him. I feel like someone shot a cannonball through the place where my heart and lungs used to be. The house feels empty, even though I still have two kitty babies in my life.

Each living soul is different from another. Getting or having another pet doesn’t make the grief less or the grieving easier. Even though it’s painful, I will open my heart and home to cats who need homes as long as I possibly can. The only thing worse than having to put your beloved cat down is having an empty house.

Bless you, my baby Hunter. I hope your journey over the Rainbow Bridge was a good one. If there’s an afterlife, I hope to see you again. Find us a comfy chair where I can sit down and rub your belly for as long as you want.

A Tribute to Hunter

One night, I walked into the Brookline Police Station to contest an overnight parking ticket I had received. I sat along the wall opposite where the hearings were being held. Several other people were waiting with me for their turn at the hearings.

A door to my left swung open. An officer walked partway into the room and said:

“Does anybody want a kitten?”

I looked down to see a gray face with blue eyes peeking out of his pocket. I started to fidget and silently tell myself that bringing home a kitten was entirely off limits. I already had two cats, Jolie who was 4 years old and Misha who was 2 years old.

Several moments later, the officer spoke again, “Well, if no one wants it, I’ll take it to the MSPCA.”

I no longer remember whether the kitten sneezed right before or after the officer said he was taking it to the MSPCA. In my heart, I heard a cry, “They’re gonna kill it!”. I immediately spoke up, “I’ll take it!”.

The officer walked over to a table that was in the middle of the room against a support pole and put the kitten on the table. The kitty started to walk around the table and everyone who was in the room gathered around.

Opposite from me at the table, an older Jewish man engaged me in conversation, “Is there anyone you need to ask before you bring the kitten home?”

I replied, “Oh, no. We’re not asking. We’re just going to go home with it.”

The older man said, “What are you going to name him?” I told him that I did know yet.

The man turned to the officer and asked, “What’s your name, Officer?”

The officer replied, “Officer Hunter.” The name could not have been more perfect for a kitten. I figured the universe was colluding to help me bring home an already-named kitten.

I decided aloud, “Then I’ll name him Hunter.”

The officer got me a box with a lid so that I could drive home to Malden without worrying about a kitten climbing all over the car or, Goddess forbid, go under the brake pedal when I was driving.

For a tiny kitten, he howled the entire 25 minute drive back to my home. I carefully picked up the box from the seat and walked up to the second floor landing in front of our door. I knocked. Mark opened the door and looked at me.

I said, “If you let me keep this one, I promise I won’t bring home any more stray cats. Three will be the limit.”

Mark looked at me and scowled. Then he stepped aside to let me into the house. Because I didn’t know what kind of illness the kitten may have, I decided to keep him in the bedroom separate from the other cats, and I brought him into the vet the next day.

Hunter was approximately 7 weeks old. He had fleas and ear mites. After getting an exam and a flea bath, I brought him home. Here are a couple of photos during this time. These are the ones that I have of him.

Hunter Kitten Hunter Kitten Closeup

For the next month, Hunter lived in the bedroom. I was managing the rehab of our unit so I was staying home to deal with workmen. Hunter got a lot of affection and play from me.  At night, he would often sleep on my pillow or he would crawl on my chest, sit down, and purr. He quickly became my baby and my favorite.

Eighteen years later, Hunter is still with us. Jolie and Misha have gone over the Rainbow Bridge. Norman and Gwennycakes are now the 3 and a half year old younguns. Whereas Hunter was Misha’s whipping boy, he definitely put down his paw when alpha kitty Normie joined the household and thought he could just get his way.

For an old man cat, I have yet to see Hunter give Normie the upper hand even as his health has significantly declined since December 2013 as a result of chronic renal failure.

Late last month, we celebrated a few family birthdays. One of my sisters took this incredible photo of Hunter:

Hunter in Light

As he’s aged and, especially, since he’s gotten more ill, his gray fur has turned brown, as you can see. His eyes are alert, he still knows us, and he gets so excited about meat and treats that you’d think he was a young cat again.

We give him subcutaneous fluids twice a day, Prednilosone twice daily for inflammatory bowel issues, and Procreit three times a week to help stimulate his blood production. He recently was diagnosed with very low blood in his system. Chronic renal failure means that, at some point, the kidneys may no longer make or make enough hormone to stimulate blood production. We went with Procreit and bypassed the blood transfusion hoping that it will work.

I bring him in next week for a checkup. We’re just keeping an eye on him, treating him as much as we can, and enjoying the time we have left with him.

He just screamed at me from the shadows of my desk to let me know that he wanted food. After jumping out of my seat and grabbing my heart, I laughed. Even if I have to take the step of having him euthanized, it will be worth every minute of joy and worry that has blessed my life all because I got a ticket in Brookline and went to the station one night to contest it.

I love you, Hunter.

Volunteering with Kitties – Again!

Months ago, I stopped volunteering at a pet store and put in an application to volunteer at a large organization. I wanted to be among other volunteers, work in a large shelter, and get to be around kitties and doggies. After learning about a drop-in event, I attended, talked to a staff member, and put in a new application. A few days later, I got invited to volunteer.

I had already been mulling going back to the pet store. My gym is near there, and I have been dropping in occasionally to see the kitties there. As I felt more comfortable there, I wondered if I wanted to go back. When I really thought about the requirements at the large shelter, I would have to drive at least half an hour away in all kinds of weather and then work a four-hour shift. That would mean a 6+ hour day. I realized I would be exhausted, and the shelter requires a one-year commitment. I wrote them back and politely declined, and then I immediately emailed the manager of the rescue organization that I worked with earlier this year and asked to come back.

Last Friday, I went and cleaned two cages that held three male kittens: a grey boy named Jason, and two brothers, Drake and Scorpio, both tiger cats with white chest and paws. They are so adorable! I picked up Scorpio, who has more white on his chest, and he was immediately all about the purring and snuggling. Drake wasn’t sure what to make of me, but I did get a two-handed kitty snuggle in with the two of them. Jason has been there for a few weeks, so he let me hold him. I think he prefers the safety of the cage, tho.

Maybe I don’t get to volunteer with one of my best friends like I used to, but getting to help out kitties in transition is my calling.

Boop!

Pictured in this photo are Gwennycakes (upper) sitting paw-to-paw with Normiepie (lower).

Normie’s idea of getting Gwenny to play is to lick her head a few times and then bite down hard on her jugular while he tries to sit on her. Sometimes, he’s so rough that she cries out in pain. In every instance, she manages to tear herself away and runs under the bed. I try to discourage him by stopping on the floor to prevent an attack, but all I succeed in doing is confusing him and scaring off Gwenny.

Earlier this evening, he had executed this plan (no crying out by Gwenny, tho) and took her spot on the floor. Other than wanting to play, I suspect that the reason that Normie goes after Gwenny’s neck is, as far as I can tell, because Gwenny is in a spot he wants or is getting attention from momma that he wants. His alpha pride won’t allow it, so he bullies poor Gwenny into clearing on out.

Afterwards, Gwenny came back. First, she stalked towards him. Instead of pouncing, she came over and sat down like you see in the picture. Then she took her paw and put it on his nose. Boop! She lifted her paw off his nose and putting it back down a few times more. Boop! Boop! Boop! Then Normie reached his paw out and batted her arm. Boop!

By this time, I am trying to choke back squeals of cuteness and trying to work my phone to get the camera. I managed to get the one photo that is featured in this post. I stepped on a jingly toy that sits under Normie’s back. In an instant, both he and Gwenny jump up and the moment is ruined, gone forever.

Gwenny is sitting on the other half of my desk, and Normie is in a horseshoe shape with his back leaning against a scratching post trying to get some ZZZs.

Not a bad plan.

Happy Independence Day!

I Think My Cat is Dying

I wracked my brain for a good title to this post. How can I adequately sum up this topic? I am feeling a lot of things right now, but witty is not one of them.

I would like you to meet my baby Hunter, who is  17 years and 8 months old.

Hunter

Hunter

In October 1996, I went to a police station in Brookline, MA to contest an overnight parking ticket. While I sat in the waiting room, a door to my far left opened. A policeman walked through the door, stopped, and said to those waiting in the room:

“Does anybody want a kitten?”

I saw a little face with gray fur and blue eyes peeking out of his pocket. Keep your mouth shut, Wendy. You do not need to bring home another cat. I already had two cats, Jolie and Misha, who were 4 and 2 years old respectively. I did not need a third cat. When no one answered, the officer said:

“Well, if no one wants him, I’m going to take him to the MSPCA.”

I can no longer remember if the kitten sneezed before or after the officer declared his fate. All I know is that in my head I screamed: They’re gonna kill him!

Looking back now, I realize that is a ridiculous statement to make. But I felt it so strongly that I found myself saying:

“I’ll take him!”

With that, the officer put the kitten on the table that was in the waiting room. Everyone else, including myself, gathered around to watch the kitten play. Across from me, an older Jewish gentleman wearing a cap said to me:

“Is there anyone you need to ask before you bring him home?”

“Oh, no! I’m just going to bring him home.”

“What are you going to name him?”

“I haven’t thought about it yet.”

The older man turned to the officer, “What’s your name, Officer?”

“My name is Officer Hunter.”

“Well, then I’m going to name him Hunter.”

I thought it was the best possible name for a cat. After my boy grew up, I started telling people he had the body of a cat, the face of a fox, and the soul of a chicken. I had never met such a scaredy cat in all my life. At that moment, he was going to grow up to be a ferocious hunter!

The officer found me a box. I drove from Brookline, MA to Malden, MA where I lived with Hunter in the box. He yowled his head off the entire ride back.

When I got home, I walked up to our second floor door and knocked. When Mark answered the door, I said:

“If you let me keep this one, I swear I will not bring home any more.”

Mark looked at me, looked at the box, groaned, and said: “Oh, alright.”

Later, the vet would guess Hunter to be about 7 weeks of age. This is one of the only kitten pictures I have of him:

hunter-shock

Kitten Hunter

Because Hunter was too young to get all his shots, I kept him separated in our bedroom from the other two cats. At that time, I worked at home getting the house in order. We moved in mid-rehab and the work was still underway.

I spent a lot of time with Hunter. He would sleep with me at night by cuddling on my pillow next to my face. When he got a little bigger, he would sleep on my chest. Eventually, he got too big but still preferred to sleep laying right up against my side, as he does to this day.

Although it really has gotten a little ridiculous. If I am laying on my left side, Hunter will spoon up against me. We have fallen asleep this way.

 

Hunter snuggles

Hunter snuggles with Momma

When Hunter’s kidneys started to go, I was nervous. His values stayed stable for a long time. When I switched vets after moving to NY, the vet suggested giving Hunter subcutaneous fluids to support his kidney function. First, twice a week and then every day, which was have been doing.

I brought Hunter in recently for a follow-up from December. He lost 1.5 lbs., which is far too much. Although his kidney and blood values are in range, his calcium values have skyrocketed.

Reasons for a high calcium level could be indeterminate, lymphoma, or thyroid cancer. Given his age, the rapid weight loss, and his lackluster appetite for anything but treats, I am fearing the worst. And it would not be without cause.

The first cat I ever had died of cancer. Jolie’s kidneys failed, and she had bladder cancer. Misha had some kind of stomach or intestinal cancer. Now lymphoma or thyroid cancer. Cancer, cancer, cancer! As I saw on an ad, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could give cancer to cancer?” Even if it’s indeterminate, high calcium values eventually lead to kidney damage. So it’s a no win.

On Monday, I am bringing Hunter back in for a follow up. If his calcium values go down, then it’s not cancer, but it means we have to keep looking. I am not sure how invasive I am going to get because of his advanced age.

I can only stand to put him through so much. I do not want to put him down too early, but I don’t want him to suffer, either, especially since my elderly mother has become seriously attached to Hunter.

As she says, “How can you resist the way he looks at you?”

Hunter boy

Hunter

I never could, either, which is why I fell him love with him almost 18 years ago.

Cats Calls

If you think cats communicate their wants to humans only by meowing, I am here to set you straight: their ways and means are as diverse as the whiskers on their little faces.

My eldest cat, Hunter, has discovered that my mother is a sucker when it comes to food. His piercing, unwavering stares cut straight to her heart. On the first day that Hunter stared at her for three seconds, my mother whined at me to let her give Hunter some food. I warned her that Hunter would hound (feline?) her if she gave him food, but left it up to her.

At 17 and a half years old, I feel Hunter has earned the right to treats in the form of cooked meats, like chicken or beef. Two cats who used to live with him, Jolie and Misha, both passed away around 15 and a half years old. Hunter has outlived them both and shows no signs of slowing down, even with some kidney issues. Hunter stalks Norman, rapid-fire whacks him across the head, and then chases after Norman at full speed.

Every day, Hunter yowls at the bottom of the stairs until I let him into my mom’s place. At meal times, he sits right next to my mom. She looks down into his big green eyes, and he knows he has her. He stands on his back legs, brings a paw gently forward, and taps her on the arm before he sits down again. Repeat until she gives him food. My mom asked me to pick up a bag of his favorite treats so she could give him those, too.

Today, Hunter added a new twist to his food begging routine. He rubbed his face one way against the arm of the chair that my mother was sitting in, then he rubbed his face on the chair’s arm on the other side of his face, and then opened and closed his mouth a few times while licking his chops.

Personally, I think Hunter is only a few steps away from figuring out how to pointing a paw at his mouth when he is hungry like Simon’s Cat.

I would love to see that.

Sometimes Cats Are Jerks

Know what the thing I miss most about the home I am renting out? A separate office with a door I can close to get away from my cats, especially since my office and my living room are now the same place.

I was peacefully listening to the Trentemoller radio station on Pandora, weaving myself a comet tail inspired earring, when my small cat Gwendolyn came prowling on my desk.

Okay. I can hear it now. Yes, I know I should have placed her back on the floor, but she sat down so I figured it would be fine.

WRONG!

When you weave, you should give yourself extra to make sure that you do not run out before your project is finished. This means that sometimes you pull the needle above you head and back to be able to work the thread taut against the beads.

Apparently, this motion was enough to terrify Gwendolyn into panic mode. Since she was laying on a piece of paper I left on my desk, her feet slipped as the paper slid out from under her. Her back feet tossed a pile of bagged beads and ear wires against the wall and down through the one-inch clearance between my desk and the wall.

The beads I had poured out in five, neat piles on the fleece surface I used to lay the beads were an instant sparkly jumble of blues, whites, and golds.

Moments like these make me want to become a hermit with no cats. Or at least a room with a door that I could close and keep the cats out. A room without their litter boxes. That would make me very happy.  Swapping my living room/office for my bedroom might solve the problem except that it would require a lot of piece-by-piece furniture swapping in an apartment less than 650 sq. ft.

Just thinking about it makes me cringe.

Meditation as Still Life

I have been meditating on and off since May 2010. My physiatrist who treats me for fibromyalgia suggested that I meditate twice a day for 30 minutes, once in the morning after waking and once in the evening before dinner. I had been resisting the idea, and then I thought, Why not? What have  I got to lose?

Unlike my morning meditation in bed, I sit in a rocking chair that used to belong to my mother-in-law Sofie: ornate dark wood with silver-blue satin cushions on the seat and the back. After sitting, I drape a fleece blanket over my lap, turn on my phone’s timer, let my hands lie in my lap, close my eyes, and begin.

Many thoughts fly through my head: what I am going to write about, things I was doing during the day, what I am going to eat for dinner. To go deep into meditation, I bring my attention to my breathe. I feel air tickle the hairs in my hose and the rise and fall of my stomach. A rumble from my intestines shakes through to the surface of my belly. Thoughts come to the front again.

I bring my attention to the sounds I hear. I am breathing slowly. The sound of far away traffic seems to be approaching in growing, pulsating ways. Traffic sounds morph into the high-rotation fan sounds. Suddenly, I am aware of a plane flying overhead, the engines waxing and waning as it moves lower and farther away towards JFK International airport.

GwennyCakes, my tuxedo girl cat, trills as she enters the bedroom. Norman chirps a few times and then climbs onto my fleecy lap to lean against the crook of my left arm and clean his feet, his belly, his legs. I smell the faint odor of wet cat hair. My left arm goes slightly numb as Norman leans back to get good perspective on the next lick again and again. The refrigerator hums from the kitchen, two rooms away.

I think about writing meditation as still life. My brain gets excited about the idea and wants to run with it. I open my eyes for a few moments and then let them drift back down again. I mentally relax my forehead, my shoulders, and my legs. I let my jaw drop gently. I adjust my neck in an attempt to find the sweet spot of no strain and no effort. I sit for 30 minutes until my Chambered alarm goes off. I move to grab my phone on the bureau next to me and turn off my alarm.

 

I am a Kitty Sandwich

Each morning, I wake to an alarm to take my medication. I lay back in bed to meditate because it is more comfortable for my back. The fibromyalgia can make it painful for me to sit in one position for 30 minutes without a lot of back pain. The problem is that I am in danger of falling back asleep.

The warmth of my down comforter, still intense from a long night’s sleep, dreamily welcomes me back inside. Two of my kitties waste no time in sealing me back into position and add to the heat I feel, which spreads nicely through my mid-section. The grey cat is Hunter, and Gwenny is on the other side. On this day, Gwenny decides to give me more room and sleep on Mark’s side of the bed. Normie doesn’t usually join us at all. He’s there, but he’s turned his back to us. Normie is only there because I threw one of his favorite towels on the bed.

This kitty sandwich can be found any day of the week in my bedroom by 8:15am. You can try and order one yourself, but your order will have been placed too late.

2 Ways Volunteering Changed My Life

For two years, I volunteered with a friend at the MSPCA-Angell Animal Care and Adoption Center in Jamaica Plain, MA. Our official title was Cat Cuddler and Condo Cleaner. I would still be volunteering there if I had not decided to move home to NY in September 2013 to be closer to and help out my elderly parents. Volunteering was such a personally fulfilling decision that I thought I would share and encourage you to do the same.

Life Changer #1:  I nurtured relationships with those who shared my values

The best relationship that I cultivated during this period by far was the relationship I had with my friend Alicia, who had suggested we volunteer together. Every week, Alicia would drive to my house and pick me up. We would volunteer for 2-3 hours, and then she would drive me home. We started looking for places to have brunch together, and, after a few weeks, ate and Veggie Galaxy, a vegan/vegetarian diner which quickly became the only place we went to lunch.

We listened to each other, offered each other support, and made each other laugh. We shared a love of kitties, a love of our husbands and our families, and of volunteering. When she became pregnant with her daughter Claudia, I did all the cleaning and the litter for nine months so she could still volunteer. We seemed to have similar outlooks, philosophies, concerns, and ethics. I stayed with her for five days after Claudia was born to help them out. Now that I am in NY, we Skype so that I can get to know my niece and keep in touch with two of my best friends. From one close coworker, I’ve added another best friend and one niece to those I deeply care about.

Life Changer #2: I gave love, care, and medicine to countless homeless animals, which helped me, too

Caring for animals is a topic dear to my heart. Even so, I can only adopt so many. I live with three cats in a small space: Hunter, who is 17.5 years old; Gwendolyn, 2 yrs 3 mo; and Norman, 2 yrs 8 mo. Because so many animals need help to go from crisis to their forever home, I felt like I could do my part by volunteering. The more often I went and the more animals I helped, the happier I became. I was living out my values in ways that benefitted the animals first and myself second. Or maybe at the same time. It doesn’t really matter. I was able to give and receive joy and affection that lasted well beyond the few hours I was there.

No matter what your values are, I am sure there is an organization that could use your help. Don’t wait! Do it now. Your life will change for the better.

Writing with Cats

How do I know I am a writer? I have three cats who helpfully use their antics to keep me from writing. Yes! Blame the cats… Blaming the cats is the way to go.

Who sits down to write and flips through Facebook for three hours? My cat Gwendolyn, of course! From the far away location of my bedroom, Gwenny telepathically makes me type the letters FA into my browser address bar and then press TAB, my eyes glazing over as I go from cat video to cat picture to cat forum…

As if that is not enough, Gwenny has the nerve to jump on my desk and stand over my keyboard, tail swishing. She gnaws on the corner of my silver hearts-encrusted picture frame with my reminder to write. Gwenny turns around and starts to chomp on the computer cord, which is followed by chomping on the hard plastic corner of a Fiskar paper cutter. Yes, I know you’re hungry! I’m trying to write.

I have a book called ‘The Cat on My Shoulder: Writers and Their Cats’ edited by Lisa Angowski Rogak, which is a compilation of stories of and by writers who have cats. I am not sure why writers and cats seem to go together so much. All the cats I have lived with need constant attention or demands that make an uninterrupted day a impossibility. As I write this, Gwenny has returned to my desk and is chomping on the end of pens and pencils in the mesh holder.

Gwenny got bored and left, but she’ll back to gnaw and disrupt. Oh, look! A cute kitty!

What I wanted to write

After yesterday’s post, I solemnly swore that I would take step one towards eliminating my internal struggles with writing. I remembered an idea I heard once to keep a list of writing topics nearby. That way, I could have a handy list of ideas and get to writing. No excuses!

I took out my book of square lined paper, wrote ‘Writing Topics:’ with an underline, and put down the first thing to do: I wanted to write about what I will write about in this blog. That was properly serious enough to get back into the habit of daily writing, whether or not anyone reads it.

My black-and-white, mask-and-mantle cat Norman, however, had other ideas.

I went downstairs to visit my mother and help make phone calls for her. I asked her where he was because I had not seen Norman in a while. She said she remembered him going upstairs. So did I. I walked around and I called for him in my apartment but heard nothing. In the first floor foyer, I could hear him crying. It sounded like he was in the closet behind the foyer or in the basement ceiling. I retrieved a bag of Whiskies tuna treats from my bedroom dresser drawer. I walked around my apartment, the entire first floor, and the basement, shaking the bag and calling for Norman. I checked closets, opened closed bedroom doors, and stood under open basement ceilings. He answered a few times but did not come.

If you know Norman, then you know his hiding from you is not normal. Finally, my mother decides to look underneath the recliner chair because she was sitting in it earlier. Norman was not under the chair. Nope! Instead he was here:

Image

Normie was inside the back of the recliner chair. Although we looked, we could not find an entrance to the back from underneath. The back flap, seen here were Normie is sticking his nose out, was velcroed inside the back. Off came the velcro and out came Normie. I gave him some treats.

My mom said, “You know, Norman’s probably going to think that if he gets stuck in the chair, you’ll rescue him and give him treats.” After the way my heart pounded and my stomach churned when I could not find him, I think I am pretty much OK with that.