Thomas: Living with Illness




Thomas is one of our three “greys” who hasn’t been formally introduced here yet. He is worrying me a bit today; he didn’t eat much of his dinner last night or his breakfast this morning. That’s a little worrisome with any cat, but Thomas has Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) so not eating worries me more than it would with an otherwise healthy kitty.

Thomas was diagnosed more than two years ago, and completely by accident. He developed a high fever one day –cause unknown. The vet ran blood tests and that was how we discovered he was in the early stages of CRF. He was only 7 at the time, very young for a CRF kitty. Most cats aren’t diagnosed until they are well into the kidney failure, since symptoms are largely invisible until the cat starts losing weight or camping at the water bowl. Because Thomas was diagnosed very early and we can give him subcutaneous fluids at home (kitty dialysis) to support his kidneys, he has been very stable for the last 2+ years. But that will change at some point, and I am always on alert. Is that moment now? Probably not. His blood tests just a month ago were fine. But I worry anyway.


Thomas in window


Thomas is one of the more cuddly kitties of our gang of 6. He wraps himself around my legs all the time, and is first to my lap when I sit down. He and his sisters (the other “greys”) came to us through the local Humane Society almost 9 years ago, and I was told that their beginnings were pretty traumatic. One of their siblings didn’t make it. I don’t know the details, and don’t need to. My focus has always been on their present and their future with me, and making sure they have good lives.

Thomas’ illness isn’t the only one in the house. Butterscotch has Cushings. Paris has Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Stripe has heart problems. Our kitchen counter looks like a pharmacy sometimes. It seems as if we are always worried about one or the other of the animals. We know that Stripe will have a heart attack at some point and die within minutes; there is no cure for her condition, just maintenance. Paris and Butterscotch are pretty stable at this point. And Thomas…things will change at some point. Gabby, Lily, Hiro, and Minh are all fine at this point, for which we are grateful.




The challenge is living with the knowledge that some of our furry family members could take a downward turn at any time, but then again, that’s true of all of us, furry or not. So maybe the real challenge is enjoying the fur kids each day instead of living on the edge. I’m always going to pay attention when someone doesn’t eat or does something else that makes me wonder, but everyone seems fine today. And that makes it a good day.


ButterscotchThere are days when work just seems like work, and other days (most days, thankfully) that I am struck by how fortunate I am to be doing something I love. Caring for people’s pets is a vocation for me, and the rewards are powerful.

Yes, I know that the word vocation is more often applied to the religious life than the “secular” one, but the poet, Robert Frost, says otherwise. As Frost chops wood one day, a task he delights in, two lumberjacks come by and ask to chop the wood for pay. Frost admits that he does this chore for the love of it, and that perhaps the lumberjack’s need for money is more important, but then he reconsiders:
But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only when love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes
Is the deed every really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes. –Two Tramps in Mud Time

The combination of love and need…that’s my life. The income supports me financially, but I love what I do as well.


I realized this anew today because I have been caring for a very fearful cat over the last few months. She lived under the bed for a long time, and used anything but the litter box for her “business.” I was able to suggest some changes, and also spend a significant amount of time with her, and she is using the litter box again, and living in the open. The fearful little feline who waited for breakfast behind the sofa is coming to the kitchen to get her meal. She is actually playing with me and running around, instead of crouching, tucked tightly, under the bed. She is sitting up on chairs instead of under them. These may sound like small things, but they are huge for her, and the changes delight me.

Cat on chair

Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and wonderful writer, tells us that we have found our true vocation when we discover the work “that you need most to do, and that the world most needs to have done.” We are doing what we are supposed to be doing when our “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” My love for this little kitty and her need for change…the work (pet sitting) that I need to do and the work that the kitty needed to have done for her…my delight in the changes in the cat’s life and her deep hunger to live less fearfully…..Vocation. I am fortunate, indeed.

Invisible Cats 2

The incident happened a few months ago but it haunts me still.

In a previous post I wrote about cats who try to make themselves invisible—our clients’ kitties who are shy. But there are also cats out there who are perfectly visible, yet invisible. They are the community cats. Those who care for them, or care about them, can see them. For others, these cats might as well be wearing an invisibility cloak.

The particular community cat I’m thinking about was found by one of my staff on a very cold winter day. The cat was in the middle of a cul-de-sac, hardly able to move, clearly hurt, and the staff person called me to see what should be done. I volunteer with a group in our town that cares for the community cats, largely through TNR (trap/neuter/return) but we try to care for the community cats in other ways when needed, and this little cat definitely needed us.

I grabbed a cat carrier and headed over to where she was. By the time I arrived a postal carrier was with my staff person, both of them very worried about the cat. She had clearly been hit by a car or something of the sort. She was barely able to walk, and her back legs were almost useless to her. One of her eyes was a terrible mess. Using a towel, we scooped her up and got her to the vet who helps us with the community kitties.

It turned out that she had probably been hurt a day or two previous to our finding her. Her wounds were already scabbing. Her lungs were filled with liquid, and her spine had been damaged. There was nothing we could do to save her, and it seemed cruel to put her through anything more. She was euthanized as gently as possible.

But I have to wonder how many people saw her over the day or two that she struggled in freezing cold temperatures and in pain. Or perhaps she just came out of the bushes in time for my staff person to find her, and no one had the opportunity to help her earlier. I wish there had been more we could have done for her, but at least she wasn’t lying in the middle of the road on a freezing cold day waiting to be hit by another car. At least we got her to a warm place and caring hands for her final moments.

Rest in peace, little kitty. I’m glad you made yourself visible enough that we could provide just a little bit of help at the end. I hope your next life is easier.

Boston pet sitters

As a professional pet sitter, my thoughts and prayers are with all of my Boston-area colleagues this morning, who must make choices between caring for pets in their charge, and personal safety. Thinking especially of the diabetic animals, dogs who need potty breaks, etc. May this situation end soon, and may you all be safe.

Bathroom Cats

Stripe in bathroom


I’m not sure how many years it has been since I was allowed to use the restroom without feline supervision. Stripe, one of the three Greys (who haven’t been formally introduced yet) is especially vigilant about this responsibility. She not only goes racing for the bathroom if she thinks there is any possibility that you might want to use it, but she has this yowl that she does along the way: “Waaaaiiitttt for meeeeee!” She is small and stealthy, and always manages to make it to the bathroom before I can close the door. Even if I get up to use the restroom at 2 in the morning.

But she’s not the only cat who haunts the restrooms. Gabby and Thomas like to perch on top of cabinets while I shower, in the hopes that they can rub against my legs while they are still wet. (Which sort of defeats the point of showering in the first place.) And most of the cats just choose to hang out in the bathrooms at times, whether there’s a cat bed or other kitty amenities in that particular bathroom or not.

I have long wondered what makes bathroom supervision shoot to the top of the cats’ to-do lists. The best I can come up with is that this is some sort of reciprocity thing. You know, like when friends invite you to their home for dinner, it is polite to reciprocate at some point? Maybe because we scoop the litter boxes every day, and look at what’s there, and even TALK about it sometimes, perhaps they feel they need to reciprocate, and supervise our potty habits. And if that’s the case, the cycle will be never-ending until some of us perish!

I guess I will have to put up with bathroom supervision for many years to come. But that won’t stop me from trying to hog the bathroom here and there, and taking quiet satisfaction in the one or two times a year that I manage to elude the cats and have the bathroom all to myself.