Life and Death Decisions

Today, September 18th, is Paris’s Gotcha Day, the day, nine years ago, when we brought him home from the local Humane Society. He was 25 pounds under weight. You could see every rib in his body. And he spent his days in his kennel staring at the floor, refusing to make eye contact with potential pet parents. So no one selected him.

We didn’t select him at first either. We asked about a couple other dogs. But when we described our household and what we were looking for, the workers convinced us that Paris was the dog for us. We spent some time with him in the visitation room, and he didn’t make any effort to connect with us. But the person who had been working with him assured us that he was a good dog, and somehow he made us believe it, and Paris came home with us that day.

Once here, he parked himself in a corner and looked at the floor some more. It was three days before he decided that maybe he was home, and it might be time to see if we could be trusted. He was perhaps three or four years old with maybe 2-3 minutes of training in his life. We brought in a wonderful dog trainer who used all positive methods to help us help him learn to walk on leash and stop jumping on us, and many other good things. But he was a quick study, quick to please. Someone may have given him up rather than training him, and we could be angry about that, but we’re really glad he’s part of our household.


He doesn’t know it yet, but I got some special treats for his bedtime snack (and Butterscotch’s to0.) Paris has irritable bowel syndrome and he does better with a small snack before bedtime, so after potty breaks, it is “snack attack” time. Tonight’s special snack time involves some really good biscuits.

Happy Gotcha Day Paris! We love you.

And balancing out the goodness of Paris’s Gotcha Day is some sadness. The community kitten I was caring for had to be put down today. I was overly optimistic about his eye problems, which turned out to be (we think) feline herpes, an incurable problem. Day by day his eye got worse, and when he stopped eating I knew it was time. He was an amazing trooper about tons of medicines – antibiotics and eye drops and eye ointments – and until Tuesday he was still eating. Not only that, he was eating Innova…an alley cat with champagne tastes!

After that, things went downhill quickly, and the vet said that even if we could help him get past this current episode, he would continue to relapse and it was likely that would continue until his eye “exploded” (her word). Not a fate I would wish on this poor four month old kitten.

He looked at me this morning, having not eaten since Tuesday, with an expression that said, “I’m worn out…can’t do this anymore.” His eye looked like pain personified, and his other eye was starting down the same path. And so this afternoon we helped him slip off into Kitty Heaven peacefully. I am hoping that this was just one of his nine lives, and that the next one will be better for him. He deserves better. Rest in peace, little guy, and be pain free. Sometimes the best thing we can do for the animals we care about is to release them from suffering, but even so, it isn’t easy.

So it was a good day, and a sad day. Balance. A good glass of wine with dinner helped.

Cat Nurse

Those of you who have followed along know that I volunteer with a TNR (trap/neuter/return) program. One or two weeks a month, we take in community cats and get them spayed or neutered and give them rabies and distemper vaccines. While we have them we also tend to minor, and sometimes major, medical issues. We don’t send anyone back outside sick, unless their is a colony caretaker with shelter and other care arrangements who can tend to the cat. If a cat is dying we can often place him or her in a cat sanctuary to live out the days or weeks or months. Occasionally one comes to live with one of us, as Annie did with me.

We are first and foremost a TNR program, and we have yet to make it through a single TNR week this year without at least one cat who needs medical attention. From kittens with coccidia or hookworm, to cats with lacerated eyes and bites out of their tails, to elderly cats with FIV, and the garden variety upper respiratory infections and eye infections, we seem to get it all.

And I am one of the nursing staff volunteers. Because I put in a little time at a vet’s office years ago, and because I have a houseful of special needs cats, and pet sit lots of special needs cats, it makes sense for me to care for many of the sick ones. This week it is a cat with an eye infection.


Give me anything else….I hate the eye stuff. Mostly I hate it because I know so much less about it than so many other problems. Give me a diabetic, or a dog with Cushings, or a hyperthyroid cat, even a respiratory infection, and I’m good to go. But for some unknown reason the universe seems to think it is time for me to learn about eye problems. I nursed Blackie, the cat with the lacerated eye, for months until she was stable and could go to the cat sanctuary to live in safety the rest of her days. Now there is this little guy, a 3 month old kitten, and believe it or not, this photo of his eye is a huge improvement over what it looked like a couple days ago.

Bless his little heart, he let the vet stain his eye Friday night and check for injury. No scratches or ulcers. Just an infection, and he is getting drops now, which he takes remarkably well for a feral kitten. Yesterday his eye took a turn for the worse and it was nearly closed, except for the inflamed third eyelid, and it was all crusty and icky-looking. (That’s a technical term: icky-looking.) Those kinds of things scare me. I don’t know what they mean and how serious they are so they leave me feeling helpless.

I am very thankful to have friends who are vet techs who answer my texts on Saturday night, and we figured out that the steroid in the eye drops was maybe a bit much for the guy. Backed the dosage down a little, and he is doing much better. He was the last of his siblings to start eating (and pooping) after surgery and he is now doing both, so I can breathe a sigh of relief. He should be good to go home in a couple of days, I think.

And with his recovery I hope the universe is satisfied with my knowledge about eyes and doesn’t plan any further education, but I suppose that’s not up to me. With the help of good vets and vet tech friends, I’ll muddle on through whatever else comes our way this season. That’s the job of the cat nurse position. As Clara Barton said: “You must never so much think as whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.”

Will do, Ms. Barton. But I’ll be glad for the end of our season at the end of October too. I do truly enjoy caring for the sick cats, and wouldn’t have it any other way, but I’m ready to hang up my nurse’s cap for just a little bit. Everyone needs a rest now and then.

P.S. Late breaking news…most or all of the colony we are doing next appear to have upper respiratory infections and maybe eye ickies…better make sure my nurse’s cap is clean. Hopefully I can get the current little guy home before the group starts arriving!



Annie’s Annual

Some of you may remember that a bit ago Annie was scheduled for her annual vet exam, and I was not really sure how we were going to capture her to get her there. Well, it got postponed a couple times. The Orange Brothers needed the space of her first appointment more than she did, and my pet sitting schedule forced postponement #2. But today was the day.

Let me start by saying we are both very tired. It was nearly an all day affair capturing her. The easy part was actually the vet visit itself. Her wonderful doctor works with ferals and had no problem at all examining her.

The fun part, far harder than I thought it would be, was capturing Annie. When she was sick she sat on my lap, purred while being pet, and ate from my hands all the time. Once she was healthy, she reverted to being the older feral kitten that she is. She will still eat from my hand occasionally – very cautiously. And she will come sit and stare at me sitting in a chair, but she isn’t really excited about physical contact. And it is really hard to put a cat in a carrier without touching her.

Annie, the formerly sick and nearly dead feral, is now fast and strong.  My husband and I tried to capture her this morning, but she moved much faster than we can. Think of some of the scenes in Marx Brothers movies and you get the picture. We looked like bumbling idiots compared to her elegant twists, turns, leaps, and dashes. Annie also fits in small places nicely, like behind the washing machine. She spent a lot of time under the couch, and I’m not stupid enough to reach under the couch to try to scruff a cat who is freaking out and telling me with her eyes that she has no qualms about biting me.


Annie and the dust bunnies under the couch are now on a first-name basis.

It was clear that Marley and I were not going to get Annie, so I called in the big guns. One of my trapping buddies, Patricia, can pretty much capture any cat. Would she come help me get Annie? She would.

We tried some of the same things Marley and I tried, but Annie is fast and determined, so out came a trap finally. I’d hoped for the dignity of a carrier for Annie this time, but it was not to be.  Annie ran into the bathroom – a small space without hiding places. Sitting on top of one of the cabinets, back against the wall, she had no place to go but into the trap.


The vet staff was very nice when I walked in with Annie in a trap. Some of them knew I wasn’t sure we would be appearing at all today, but we got it done, and done without sedation! We even got her out of the trap for a full exam. She was so scared that she was pretty cooperative, all in all. Her doctor and I spoke in quiet, soothing tones throughout, with the usual (minor) poking and checking, and a couple 3 year vaccines. She’s gained several pounds since she was so sick last winter. Her coat is soft and shiny, and trying to capture her today I discovered she has muscles, bigtime. Annie passed her annual exam with flying colors.


She was just fine going back in the trap and the end of the visit, and really happy to be back home. Thomas, one of our senior cats, is her best bud, and she rushed back to the downstairs cat room to tell him all about her crazy day. I saw them conferring briefly but they both gave me the “go away, private moment” look, so I left them in peace.

I have a lot of work to do before next year’s annual. But for now, I deserve a nice glass of wine, and Annie deserves a good dinner. Phew!



The Pet Sitter’s Broken Heart

I’ve been quiet here lately, in part because business was very brisk last week. Looonnng days. But also because I have been feeling rather heartbroken for the last week or so.

One of the most difficult parts of my job (and the job of anyone who works with animals and loves them) is dealing with those who care less for the animals for whom they serve as guardian that we would like. While straight abuse of animals is awful and horrifying to witness, it is also reportable. You can do – or try to do – something about it. What is almost harder to handle are the people who just seem not to care about what their dog or cat needs. The people who think of their pets as decorations, get angry when the animal actually has real needs (like play and exercise, love, health care) and find meeting those needs inconvenient. Or people who put their own egos ahead of the needs, and even the life, of the creatures in their care. I am grateful that I don’t encounter this terribly often, but there have been a few lately who have simply broken my heart.

Whenever I interview someone for a job with me I ask them about this. How will you deal with the client who doesn’t provide care at a level that we would like to see? When you ask yourself if this particular animal is better off in this home than in a shelter where they may be killed, can you live with the answer? How will you cope with the client who refuses or perhaps can’t afford tests needed to provide a diagnosis and proper care for the dog or cat in your care? Or just doesn’t listen to you when you tell them that healthy cats do not throw up one or two times daily.

There are things I will not do as a pet sitter. Activities in which I will not participate. And I have no qualms about reporting what is truly abuse. I have no qualms either, about making suggestions, about trying to help make a situation better, about hooking people up with resources if they need them. I risked alienating a very good client of mine earlier this year when he wanted to provide a potential pet with an environment that was dangerous for that creature; I told him I would no longer pet sit for him if he proceeded. And happily, he decided to provide that pet with a proper and safe habitat. Had he not, however, I would have made good on my promise. I will not participate in practices that hurt the creatures I am there to care for.

Butterscotch belly rub


But there are times when I have to live with the fact that I am not every animal’s guardian, and that I cannot make everyone care for these amazing creatures as I would. There are times when I simply want to take an animal away from their person, and it breaks my heart to leave a dog or cat with someone who does not truly value them. Confidentiality prevents me from telling the story here, but there have been a number of sleepless, tear-filled nights in the last week, and lots of prayer that all goes better than I fear it will.

There are many joys in caring for animals. Many new friends – you’ll see a couple of them on Wednesday’s post. Lots of laughter and exercise and people who are grateful for what we do for them and their animals. One of my clients, who has had a rough road for the last few months, sent me a very nice gift card to one of my favorite restaurants today just to thank me for helping to care for their animals while they were dealing with other difficult circumstances. So there is balance and joy as well as sadness and heartbreak. I am more aware of the heartbreak right now, but the joy will return.

“Compassion for animals,” writes Arthur Schopenhauer in The Basis of Morality, “is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.” (Or woman, we might add.) Seems right to me after living through the last couple weeks. Those that I have witnessed lately who lack compassion for the animals also seem to lack it for the people around them, and probably for themselves as well. It is a sad way to live, and a sad path to walk. Choose compassion…it is the better road.

“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson



Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure – Kittens!

The photo challenge this week asks for photos of adventures, and there are few creatures in this world who love adventure more than kittens. When young (and silly) they are absolutely fearless and ready to pounce on just about anything or anyone.

“A kitten is, in the animal world, what a rosebud is in the garden.”
Robert Sowthey

Enjoy these photos of our most recent “rosebud,” Annie who is forever pouncing and playing and annoying the daylights our of our older cats in the name of adventure.








Thomas and Annie


Thomas and Annie




Minh and Annie