The Light in My Heart   Leave a comment

Mia June 2013 by Lady Birchwood
Mia June 2013, a photo by Lady Birchwood on Flickr.

This girl came into my life four weeks after my beloved Katie died in 2011, and she brought a joy to my heart that I didn’t know was possible in the midst of my grief. When she would cuddle with me and purr, putting her soft paws against my face, my heart soared with a gratefulness that I had been blessed with such a wonderful gift. She’s my princess.

I feel like I’m making a mess out of this cat since the little pirate, Jack, arrived in July a week after Bubba died. She’s afraid of him and wants nothing to do with him. In the five months that he’s been here, that hasn’t changed. If he’d leave her alone, they possibly could arrive at a truce to just live in their own territories, but he takes such affront to her hissing and growling at him that he attacks. Right now, they cannot be in the same space together without a fur-flying, angry mass of seething, roiling cats resulting. I won’t have that. End of story on the subject of “cats duking it out.”  It’s been almost three months now since such an occurrence happened when Jack escaped through an improperly latched basement door, and he and Mia went at it.  I don’t ever want that happening again, although the odds are that it will if we continue to live like this.

Since late July, these two cats have been separated at all times after sharing the space resulted in fur-flying fight after fight after fight. The daily routine has evolved into Jack being in our spacious bedroom and bath during the day with the door closed and Mia being in that space in the evenings and at night. When I’m home alone (about a week a month), I sleep in our room with Mia. When my husband is home, I alternate between the guest bedroom with Jack and Ralphie and our bedroom with husband and Mia. During warmer weather, the basement was also used as a place of separation, but it’s too cool now to confine a cat there for long.

Both Mia and Jack are on Prozac to help calm the aggression. It certainly has made a difference in Mia. She’s no longer Psycho Suzie and can go about her business around the house as long as she doesn’t have to see Jack. Her appetite is poor, though, I think as a side-effect of the Prozac. She doesn’t groom herself much, and she doesn’t have much interest in anything other than going outside. I worry about her and the effect that the medication and the environment is having on her health.  I hate the thought of her health declining because of the newcomer we brought into her life and how we’re trying to deal with it.

Jack is getting a transdermal application of Prozac every evening because he does not tolerate the oral approach. It may be helping him calm down some, but he still wants to go for Mia if she hisses at him, and if anyone is near him at one of these moments, he will bite. Mia hissed at him through the crack in the bedroom door this morning, and he turned and attacked my foot, biting and clawing. Fortunately, I don’t pad around in my bare feet anymore because of my plantar fasciitis, although my bare ankle did catch a claw!

There are times when I think that time and love will smoothe this out, at least to the point where we can live in our home with Jack and Mia being permitted free access to where they want to be.  (I am not optimistic that they will ever be friends.)  There are other times when I think that this is a fool’s game and someone needs to live elsewhere. It would break my heart in a million pieces to give up Mia to another home, and I think that Dale feels the same way about Jack. I think we’ve come close to fighting about it and that distresses me.  I can barely stand the thought of the battering my heart would take, though, if it was Mia who went to live elsewhere.  My grief and resentment would shoot down any further bonding with Jack if that were to happen.  I’m only human, I’m afraid, and my heart knows what it needs.

I’ve been reading Jackson Galaxy’s book, My Cat from Hell, and there have been moments during the book where I have had absolute faith that there is a solution to our cats’ relationship difficulties. Then I read the chapter yesterday over lunch about the cats who just are not meant to live together. He said that you can try everything in the book, but these cats just don’t want to be together. The only solution for a peaceful household is to permanently site-swap: rotate the cats in and out of spaces in the house so that they live “separate but equal.” There are people who have done this for years, and my cat-whisperer guru says that he doesn’t have a problem with this. The only problem he has with it is when humans are trying to make a living arrangement happen that just really isn’t meant to happen. He advises that you need to ask yourself why you’re doing it.  Are you trying to control the workings of the Universe?  That is always folly of hubris, and he points that out.

I could see it if there were absolutely no other alternatives to placement, such as the cat had special needs and was really not suitable for anyone else’s home, either. I would never give up either Mia or Jack to a humane society or a rescue group where the outcome is unknown. I would consider re-homing Jack or Mia with a close friend or family member whose care for this beloved cat could be assured. That is not a poor outcome if months of trying to get incompatible cats to live together doesn’t work.

I’ve had so many thoughts and emotions. There are so many things we haven’t tried yet. More time. More attention. More play and exercise. More “safe” spaces. A professional “cat whisperer”/trainer to work with us.

I hope for the wisdom to know when we’re doing a good thing by persevering and when we’re letting our pride and fear of failure keep on with a situation that needs a different solution. The well-being of Jack and Mia depends on me recognizing the difference.  My own well-being may depend on it.

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Posted December 14, 2013 by StPaulieGrrl in cats

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Changes   Leave a comment

The Trio 2-15-13 by Lady Birchwood
The Trio 2-15-13, a photo by Lady Birchwood on Flickr.

Three months today since Bubba took his leave. How I miss that special boy! So much has changed since he left and little Jack moved in. Only now am I beginning to appreciate just how tender and wonderful the last 12 months of Bubba’s life were to me.

During the first 17 years of Bubba’s life, he and his littermate sister, Katie, lived together with us. They were not particularly close. About the only time the whole family was together in the same room was when the gas fireplace was on during the winter. Then both cats would stake out some space in front of the fire while Dale and I would sit together on the couch. Other than that, it was infrequent to find them hanging out together.

We brought Mia home four weeks after Katie died in 2011. She’s a snuggler! After she and Bubba got over their initial hesitancy about the new relationship, they became friends. I often had Mia next to me on the couch and Bubba on his pet bed on the coffee table. I loved having both of them close to me.

When Bubba was 18, we adopted a baby brother for Mia, and Ralphie, a three-month-old kitten, became part of the family. He, too, was a snuggler. Then I had Mia on one side of me, Ralphie on the other, and Bubba either on the coffee table or the hassock. I felt bathed in a warm glow of contentment having all of them around me.

We had a year together like that. I decided during that year that when Bubba died, I didn’t want to go back to only two cats. Three felt really good. Of course, it was those particular three cats who made me so very happy. It will never be the same again now that Bubba is gone.

Now that Bubba is gone, I often have my two boys, Ralphie and Jack, on either side of me. I enjoy that, but Mia is missing since she is not yet accepting of Jack in the household. I can either be with Ralphie and Jack or Mia and Ralphie right now, but not all three. Maybe it’ll happen someday, but that someday won’t be soon. If it’s before the end of the year, I’d be surprised.

Change is hard. Mia and I know that. We’re trying to get through this with the hope that warmth and contentment will once more preside in our family.

Jack is next to me right now, sleeping on his blanket. I’m not sure where Ralphie is. Mia is upstairs in the master bedroom with the door closed. I’m going to go up to her right now and snuggle her, if she’ll let me. I’ll tell her that everything will be okay, and perhaps I’ll even believe it myself.

It’s going to be okay. Soon.

Posted October 1, 2013 by StPaulieGrrl in cats, Mental Health

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Patience (as in Trying Mine!)   Leave a comment

P8160016 by Lady Birchwood
P8160016, a photo by Lady Birchwood on Flickr.

The last post I made was about the virtue of patience and how it applied to a long and wonderful life with my now-deceased cats, Katie and Bubba. Without putting in a more-than-ample share of patience upfront, we never would have had the pleasure of their company for the many years that we did (almost 17 years with Katie and over 19 with Bubba.) I wrote that to remind myself that perseverance has its rewards, and I need that reminder now.

We brought home a new member of the family only six days after Bubba died in July. The house was so very lonely without the Big Dude, and during the year that we had three cats — Bubba, Mia, and Ralphie — I decided that I really enjoyed having three cats. I didn’t want to be down to two when Bubba died. I just figured, “Let’s do it!”, and Jack became a part of the family. I didn’t spend weeks or months searching for that “perfect” cat. This little guy called to me, and we brought him home.

Three-year-old Mia is a territorial, albeit fearful, female and took an instant dislike to the newcomer. No big surprises there. Ralphie, on the other hand, was very curious and interested in the new guy and they made friends very quickly, playing together and grooming each other. They’ve been good for each other. They’re brothers now, with Ralphie being an estimated couple of months older than Jack.

Jack is not a cuddly little guy. I don’t know how much time he spent out on the street as a kitten, but the fact that he was picked up by Animal Control in May as an intact tom suggests that he could have spent a substantial amount of his first year learning the ropes of a cat with only a marginal home, if any. He lost a couple of inches of his tail, giving it a stiff, shortened appearance, and this could have occurred in a fight with another animal. He’s scrappy and tough, and he has some defenses to let down before he can make a completely successful adjustment here.

When Mia growls and hisses at him, his reaction is to run at her, and they’ve fought. Repeated incidents of this during that first month made her a nervous wreck, understandably, and drove them further apart in terms of establishing any kind of harmonious relationship. Mia is now on Prozac to try to calm her aggression and anxiety, and it has been recommended that Jack be on it, too, to lower his reaction to chase and confront her. Mia has been tolerating her medication. Jack threw up his first dose ten days ago, and I haven’t tried it since, although I am going to try again at a reduced dose. Let me tell you, though! Trying to cut a small tablet into eighths is next to impossible!

We’ve been keeping Jack and Mia apart, one behind a closed door at all times. Mia spends about half her time in the master suite (large bedroom and bath with walk-in closet.) Some people live in efficiency apartments the size of our master bedroom and bath, and she has what she needs in there. She does, however, lack her freedom 24/7. Jack spends about half his time in the basement with the door closed when Mia is out and about in the house. Again, all he lacks with the arrangement is his absolute freedom 24/7.

The two of them accidentally encountered each other in the kitchen last Sunday when Jack got the incompletely latched basement door open, and the same scenario repeated itself. Mia hissed and Jack charged at her. They fought. Dale pounded them with a pillow to get them to disengage. Mia ran and Dale grabbed Jack (getting some scratches in the process) and tossed him back in the basement.

This is our life right now.

I hate it. I grieve for the peace and love that filled my home several months ago. If someone were to hand me the ultimate clock that would turn back the hands of time, I’d give that baby a good hard crank. How far back would I turn it? Well, what a loaded, philosophical question that is! If I turned it back too far — say, to when Katie was still alive — I’d erase Mia and Ralphie, and would I want that?

Anyway, that’s completely a moot and fantastical concept. Life goes on. There are no magical clocks, and right now, the challenges of getting my homelife back into peaceful, working order seem overwhelming. I grieve for what was, and I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for what currently is.

Jack is part of our family. He called to me for a reason. He’s not merchandise that can be returned if he doesn’t coordinate with the home decor. Mia is also our girl. Goes without saying. This is her home, and we love her very much. Somehow, we’ve got to get these relationships functioning again so that we all can live in this house with the doors open, cats and people being able to come and go freely without fights breaking out.

It tries my patience. We’re not even three months into it, and the voice of those who know say that this could take many more months before it finally smooths out. At least once a day, I’m ready to throw in the towel and find someone a new home. Perhaps that someone should be me!

And then I think what I might be missing if I don’t give it the time, patience, effort and love that I gave Katie and Bubba 19 years ago. I owe everyone at least that much. I owe it to myself because I was the lucky one in the end. I was the one who reaped the blessings of their love and companionship.

Posted September 21, 2013 by StPaulieGrrl in cats

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The Blessing of Patience. Now, Please!   Leave a comment

WhispersNov94 by Lady Birchwood
WhispersNov94, a photo by Lady Birchwood on Flickr.

19 springs ago, two feral kittens showed up on our front porch in South Minneapolis. I had been feeding their feral mother that winter, and she gave birth under a neighbor’s porch. She brought her two kittens (they may have been the only kittens of a small litter or the only two survivors) to the food pan on the porch when they were old enough to follow her around. I believe that it was Mother’s Day weekend when I saw these kittens on the porch for the first time. I figured they were between five and six weeks old.

They were adorable but terrified of human contact, as was their mom. We tried to catch the kittens, which was nothing more than a comical and futile effort on our part. I quickly realized that we were doing nothing more than further terrifying these small creatures and that was gaining no one anything.

I completely changed my approach, using food to do the talking. At first, I would deliver the food and go back inside to let them eat in peace. Then I delivered the food and went back inside but stood at the screen door so that they could see me. Then I made my delivery and stood on the porch by the door. Eventually, I was able to put the food out and sit on the steps four or five feet away while the kittens ate. At no time could I approach them or they would startle and run. This daily process went on for several months. Eventually, they knew that they didn’t need to fear me, but I was allowed to sit with them and nothing more.

As August nights began to cool, I knew that I had to make a move to bring these kittens into the house and out of the approaching fall and winter months. One evening, I put their food pan in the foyer, held the screen door open, and the calico and her white-and-black sibling followed the food into the house. We did that for a few nights, and then supper indoors turned into spending the night. By Labor Day, they were our adopted kittens.

It took months for them to become comfortable living around the daily lives of humans. In Katie’s case, it took years before she was at peace with the touch of a human hand. She was never trusting enough to be picked up and held, although she was my bed partner for many years and didn’t like me out of her sight.

If I had tossed in the towel at two weeks or a month and said, “This ain’t workin'” and walked away from these two alley kittens, these two “street urchins,” they never would have joined our lives. They never would have been part of the family. We would have missed out on almost 17 wonderful years with Katie and 19 years with Bubba. I can’t even bear to think about what we would have missed if I hadn’t had that patience to see where our road would lead.

I can’t imagine what life would have been like without the love we shared for close to two decades.

It was a journey begun because two little lives were worth the effort. The price of their adoption was paid with love and patience.

Posted September 2, 2013 by StPaulieGrrl in cats

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Two Months Since the World Changed   1 comment

P8210006 by Lady Birchwood
P8210006, a photo by Lady Birchwood on Flickr.

It’s been two calendar months now since Bubba left this world, nine weeks tomorrow. I haven’t said too much about him, unlike when Kate, his sister, died in Feb. 2011. When she died, I wrote and wrote about her. Bubba hasn’t gotten the press time, but his death has been no less painful.

Bubba was the cornerstone of our feline family these past two-and-a-half years since Katie’s death. We brought Mia into the family four weeks after Katie’s death, and Ralphie was adopted 15 months after Mia, bringing the cat-family size to three for the first time. But Bubba was the kingpin, the Alpha Cat, the priority on which decisions were made and the world revolved. The last two-and-a-half years of his life saw me tending to his every need, telling him countless times a day how much he was loved and special he was. He was priceless, loved beyond measure.

Losing him has crushed me, even though we all knew we were counting his days. Watching him struggle for that last breath and holding his still body close to me, rocking him in my arms as I had done thousands of times over his 19 years, sucked the spirit right out of me. A part of me died with him that morning, and my world has gotten a little grayer.

He was my Buddy Boy, my Twinkle, my Snowflake. He was the Big Guy, the Dude, the A-Number-One Tomcat. His spirit was huge and his presence filled this house with an enduring warmth. I sometimes envision him now sitting in the sunshine, the rays shimmering off his soft white coat. He’s surrounded by that healing white aura. That was and is his essence.

I and the cat family (of which I am the mom of the pride) are at odds right now. We’ve lost the center of our universe. A new member has been added, Jack, and we are struggling with the new configuration. We’re just a collection of pieces right now, hoping that somehow it will all fall into place again. The two young guys, Ralphie and Jack, have paired up, but the two girls — Mia and her mom — are screwed up and stressed. We’re both on Prozac! If she feels a fraction of what I feel, it’s no wonder she wants to beat up on the world right now.

Yes, I feel guilty that a cat’s death and the reconfiguration of my family has bothered me so much.  There are massive world problems right now that make this seem ridiculous.  There are individuals and families in crisis that make this seems like a gnat on an elephant’s ass.    And I’m crying because a cat has died and the 3-year-old and the new guy are at odds?  Sorry…. but we all have our places to go to regroup and gain strength in this often-crappy world, and my place of peace has been profoundly shaken. Finding that new place has been difficult.  Might be working on that one for a while.

Bubba-san
Loved Beyond Measure
3/27/94 – 7/1/13

Posted September 1, 2013 by StPaulieGrrl in cats, Mental Health

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Photographs and Memories   Leave a comment

Bubsie 001 by Lady Birchwood
Bubsie 001, a photo by Lady Birchwood on Flickr.

I came across this photo while looking through our many photos for ones of Bubba after he passed away July 1. This one just gripped me, and I can’t believe that it never made it into the favorite cat photos collection. This one was taken as he sat in front of the Christmas tree in 2009, several months away from his 16th birthday.

His health had been good then. We had him on a twice-a-day potassium supplement because it seemed to run low, although no one was really sure why. All his other blood chemistries and electrolytes were fine. With the exception of that, we had dealt with no other health issues throughout his life.

Then came the day in February 2010, just some weeks after this photo was taken, when I picked him up and I suddenly felt that he seemed awfully light. He had always been a big guy, 16-and-a-half pounds in his prime, although he had lost a little weight and had dropped a pound. At 15-and-a-half pounds, he was still a big cat! But he didn’t feel so big that morning, and I got the scale out and stood on it with him. I was shocked to find out once the math was done that he had lost three pounds since his last check-up which hadn’t been that long ago. I was immediately on the phone, making an appointment to take him in to see our vet.

A couple of days later, we had the verdict that he was hyperthyroid. I had a moment of panic, knowing that friends had lost a cat years earlier to hyperthyroidism, but my vet assured me that it was treatable. We started him on the medication methimazole right away. His thyroid level came down and regained a pound within a month or so.

By the end of 2010, even with his thyroid hormone controlled on medication, he continued to lose weight. He was down to 12 pounds by Christmas of 2010. The vet didn’t know what to do. Wasn’t sure that we needed to do anything, although something didn’t feel right to me. I had the ominous feeling that he was slowly slipping away and we didn’t know why!

Then his sister, Katie, died in February 2011, he just seem despondent and withdrawn. He didn’t have much of an appetite. He was having trouble maintaining his weight at 12 pounds. I took him into the vet in May because he seemed so fatigued and depressed. When the lab work came back normal, I refused to take “everything’s fine” as the answer. I insisted that it wasn’t fine. Something was wrong. After this discussion, the vet ran a test for pancreatitis and it came back elevated. We had him evaluated at the University for underlying causes, but with the exception of a cyst in his chest, everything came back looking pretty normal. He had changes consistent with both chronic pancreatitis and possibly inflammatory bowel disease. We didn’t pursue any treatment. None was suggested.

I decided then to go ahead with the radioactive iodine treatment to cure his hyperthyroidism. We could get him off the medication and eliminate that as an aggravation and possible source of him not feeling well. He did perk up after the treatment in July 2011 and regained some weight. Actually, things went pretty well for about 10 months, until his appetite dropped off and a flare-up of pancreatitis was diagnosed.

We then started prednisolone to control the pancreatic inflammation. He had a bout the summer of 2012 of his white count soaring and an abdominal abscess was suspected. An antibiotic brought that back down to normal. We kept him on the prednisolone, kept increasing it, put him on an antibiotic when he was uncomfortable. I took him in to the vet in March 2013 when a sudden weight loss alarmed me. He had developed diabetes.

We were in to the vet every week or so, trying to get his blood sugar normalized. He was hospitalized for two days over Memorial Day weekend 2013 after a sudden pain attack and difficulty breathing. He recovered, came home, and life went on with the daily regime of prednisolone, an antibiotic, and insulin. Then something respiratory set in a couple of weeks after we brought him home from that hospitalization. We couldn’t get rid of the wheeze and rattles with the antibiotic he was on. He got worse. He went into respiratory distress the last weekend in June and died the morning of July 1.

I love this photo of him. It is the last one of him whole and apparently healthy, before all the ailments started, before the long, slippery slope to decline and death loomed before us. I just want to reach out and stroke his head, run my hands through that soft, silky fur , still luxurious and healthy. My heart just aches with my longing to touch and hold him again, at a time when chronic illness wasn’t a part of our daily lives together.

“Photographs and memories
All the love you gave to me
Somehow it just can’t be true
That’s all I’ve left of you…”
–Jim Croce

Posted July 21, 2013 by StPaulieGrrl in cats

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Repose   5 comments

Repose by Lady Birchwood
Repose, a photo by Lady Birchwood on Flickr.

In the spring of 1994, when we still lived in South Minneapolis, I was feeding a feral pregnant cat who gave birth under a neighbor’s porch. When the two (surviving?) kittens were five or six weeks old, she brought them to the food dish on our front porch. I spent the entire summer of 1994 earning the trust of two feral kittens who were terribly afraid of humans. By Labor Day, they were in our home and a part of our family. Since our nearly-19-year-old cat, Mandy, was in failing health, I called these kittens my “kittens from God.” Mandy was my first cat as an adult, adopted when I was 20, and her death in late September was devastating. We were a childless couple, and Mandy was the third member of our family. If it hadn’t been for my “kittens from God,” I don’t think I would have pulled through that loss as well as I did — which wasn’t at all well at times. However, Katie, the little calico, and Bubba, the bigger white guy with the black ears and tail, taught me about the healing power of love and the need to move on.

Katie died two years and four months ago from chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal failure. Bubba and I struggled on, bringing 8-month-old Mia, a brown tabby, into the family four weeks later. In a very short amount of time for a senior cat, he had accepted her as a baby sister. A year ago, we added then-3-month-old Ralphie, an orange tabby, into the family, and Bubba accepted him as well. Ralphie looked up to him as the figureative patriarch that he was.

Bubba coped these past few years with chronic health issues. He had hyperthyroidism that we successfully treated with radioactive iodine (I-131) and essentially cured this disease process. He also had issues with chronic pancreatitis these last couple of years which we tried to control with prednisone this last year. The chronic inflammation eventually led to the development of diabetes. He was diagnosed with this the day after his 19th birthday in March. We were trying to get that under control with daily insulin injections when respiratory problems set in a few weeks ago. In spite of antibiotic therapy, he developed pneumonia and died from respiratory distress on the morning of July 1.

He was very, very loved and he is now very, very missed. A huge, wonderful presence is now gone from our lives, and we’re all trying to pull it together now. Particularly this grieving mama.

I made this slideshow video for Bubba on Monday after he died. If you’d like to view it, please do so. I share it with love in his memory.

Posted July 4, 2013 by StPaulieGrrl in cats

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