Butterscotch

The Ongoing Aging of Butterscotch

She sleeps more than she used to. Walks are much longer than in days past, but only because we go at turtle pace. Walks are more like meanders, and are more about sniffing than cardio. Getting up on favorite places – couches, beds – is an ordeal oftentimes. About half the time she manages front feet only, and looks to us for a lift to get the rest of the body where she wants it to go.

Butterscotch

Such a sad little face…and pretty much how I feel some days, at 59, when my body reminds me I remember that I’m not 25 anymore.

It isn’t all bad, however. That she is aging is better than her being gone, though that day will come. No rush on that one. And she does sometimes manage to get up on the furniture spaces she covets. Her funniest move is with the couch in the living room. She goes to the middle of the room and takes a running (if you could call it that) start at the couch and does manage to get up at least 50% of the time. And when she wants to get on the bed in the middle of the night, and I don’t feel like getting up to help her at 3 am, she almost always manages to get those little back legs and her body hauled up to curl up with us.

So I take her little pathetic looks with a grain a salt. She has arthritis and some days are surely worse than others, but she’s got some kick left in her too. She can still bounce around pretty well when dinner is being prepared. And when we’re out walking and she sees a dog she wants to meet she doesn’t hesitate to move quickly. Death’s door isn’t looming close by, and that suits me just fine.

Still, she is declining more rapidly these last six months or so than in the past. When she tries for the couch or bed and misses, you can see the look of shock, or perhaps just disappointment, on her face. In her mind’s eye she got up on whatever surface she was shooting for, and you can see the confusion or frustration on her face that the reality doesn’t match what was in her mind.

I don’t like the reminders that she’s 14 and aging any more than she does. Like Mrs. Darling with her daughter, Wendy, in Peter Pan, I’d like her to be young forever.

“All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up”  –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan 

 I share Mrs. Darling’s sentiment each time Butterscotch fails to get on the couch or the bed, struggles to get up the stairs, or slips on them coming down, or any of the other aging things that are part of her daily life now. I wish she could be as she was when I got her from my dad 4 1/2 years ago. As a ten year-old she seemed so much younger.

Butterscotch in car

Her muzzle wasn’t quite so white (“sugar-faced,” as my sister calls it) and she gave me an aerobic workout on her walks, and gave herself one when I let her run in the fields. But there’s something to be said for an older dog who loves to cuddle, who wants to be in the same room with me most of the time. Butterscotch’s favorite new place is the dog bed (on the floor ) in my office where I spend a lot of time when I’m home.  She’s got her belly ready for petting the moment anyone approaches who looks even remotely like they might need to pet a belly.  She’s a good companion for those of us who are slowing down as well. It’s all good.

The end of TNR season

Those of you who have followed along here for awhile know that I’m active with a TNR group in my town. The group got started in December 2012 and now, not quite two years later, we have TNR’d (trapped/neutered/returned) more than 550 cats. With the weather turning cold, and the fact that the cats we care for are kept in a garage, our season is ending. It is getting too cold at nights for cats who have just had surgery.

But we’re not quite done yet. We’ve been busting our you-know-whats the last few weeks, with three TNR weeks in a row (versus one a month normally) to get everyone in who asked for our help by the start of October. Two weeks ago I had 18 cats in my garage. This last week just five guests, but next week (our last) we are expecting 16-18 visiting cats again. You can probably imagine what morning cleaning is like since cats generally do most of their elimination overnight. Let’s just say that we go through a lot of gloves.

The weather has already gotten a bit colder at night than I am comfortable with. Post-surgery cats need some warmth for a good recovery. So we’ve moved the cats, following surgery, into our unfinished basement for their recovery days. They can’t come down before surgery and de-fleaing, but after that they are welcome in the house. So far my own cats have not figured out that they are downstairs, but with so many coming through next week, it is only a matter of time.

Cats in basement

It is actually a little easier to care for them in the basement. Not so cold for the human caring for the cats who get to stay warm. Good deal all around. Everyone has been eating up a storm, and the deal in these TNR weeks is they get to eat as much as they want. I can’t tell you how much kitten chow we have gone through these last weeks! (And how grateful we have been to all the folks who have brought us bags of it each time we’ve asked…we have the best volunteers and donors.)

We have the cutest mama and two of her baby girls this week. (We had her third baby last week.) It looks like they are going to get to be indoor cats when they go home, and I sure hope that works well for everyone. They are quite lovely creatures, and it always does my heart good when the cats are able to come in, and amenable to that as well. Most community cats are quite unhappy in homes unless they are captured and socialized early, so here’s hoping the bond these three have with their colony caretaker is good and strong and they make the transition to being indoor kitties!

Momma cat

Momma cat

 

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Now, back to tending cats. One more week and it is time to rest a bit. And keep our fingers crossed that the winter isn’t as cold and snowy as the last one. Winter is such a tough time for these guys.

 

Before and After Shots

I was talking to a friend today who couldn’t believe the new pictures of Annie. She is so different from what she looked like when I swooped in an captured her. My friend thought I should post her before and after shots – the great makeover of Annie. Some of you have seen her before shots, but for those who haven’t, here’s Annie on death’s door last November, filled with hookworms that were eating her from inside out, and Annie today.

Help look

Annie at her worst, days before capture

 

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Pretty successful makeover, don’t you think?

Annie

Curiousity Hasn’t Killed Her Yet

She had an immense curiosity about life, and was constantly staring and wondering.”
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

They say that curiosity killed the cat, but Annie must not know that saying. As a feral kitten brought in late, she is still quite leery of me. I can’t touch her, except for a quick pet when I put her food down. She keeps her distance much of the time, and if I walk toward her she scrams. But she spends a significant part of each day watching me. She usually watches from a distance of maybe 5-6 feet. I’ll find her often looking into my office to see what I’m doing, or even sitting next to my chair if I’m watching TV. She seems endlessly curious about whatever I am doing, or just about me in general.

She won’t stay around if I try to touch her or move toward her,  though last evening she walked right by my chair and took a quick sniff of my hand, and on a good night, if I am still and patient, she will eat some kibble from my hand. But for some reason that only she knows, she watches me incessantly. Maybe some small piece of her remembers that I nursed her back from the grave last year, and that she used to sit on my lap when she was sick. Those days are long gone. The feral part of her took over when she got healthy, but maybe some tiny piece of her brain remembers.  In the meantime, she’s pretty amusing.  Here’s Ms. Annie, caught staring at me, hiding (sort of) on the stairs and hanging out with (and stalking) the gang.

Annie

 

Annie

 

Annie

 

Annie

 

Annie

The Cost of Compassion: Dr. Sophia Yin

The news hit on my birthday, earlier this week. Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist I admire deeply, passed away unexpectedly. A day or two later, we learned that she had taken her own life. The news of her death at 48 years old devastated many of us inspired by her life’s work. The news that she had taken her own life deepened the pain.

Dr. Yin was a veterinarian who also developed a love of the science and art of animal behavior. Like many, she was taught that force was the best training strategy for dogs. Like many others, she discovered that positive training methods work better. Positive reinforcement maintains the strong bond between person and dog, and helps a dog do what is asked of her willingly and happily, not because she is terrified that she will be hurt or punished. I first encountered her work with a book called Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification for Dogs and Cats. A mouthful of a title, and a book packed with amazing techniques, full-color photos of the methods, and even a DVD demonstrating them. Though the book is meant for vets and vet techs, I found it enormously helpful when trying to medicate animals, clip their nails, give sub-Q fluids, and a variety of other things pet sitters do all the time. The book has been my bible in this area since it was published.

One of the saddest details I’ve learned, in reading multiple tributes to Dr. Yin, is that veterinarians have the highest suicide rate of all those in the medical profession.  I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me, but it certainly saddens me. Vets, vet techs, and yes, I will even include pet sitters in this category, see so much that is difficult. We deal with the death of pets constantly, and sit with clients whose hearts are broken at their loss. We deal with clients who give the animals in their guardianship far less care than most of us would like to see, sometimes rising even to the level of reportable abuse. If we are not careful, we are all overwhelmed by the demands of clients at all hours of the day and night – legitimate concerns most of the time – but we all struggle with the boundaries between having a life and caring for those in our charge, a challenge made all the more difficult with cell phones, texts, and social media reaching into our lives at all hours.

I will continue to be sad about the loss of Dr. Yin for a bit longer. And grateful for the huge body of work she left behind. Check out her website for more info if you’re interested. But I am also going to let her death remind me that compassion is good, yet it also has a cost, and I need to remember to maintain a balance throughout. I really don’t need to answer the office phone at 9 pm when I’ve been working since 6:30 am. I can’t, and shouldn’t, do everything myself…there are others who can help too. I grieve deeply for the death of Dr. Yin, and though I am nowhere near the amazing presence she was in the world of animal care, still, any of us who care deeply and work hard to improve the life of these creatures who share the earth with us could find ourselves in the same dark place that Dr. Yin clearly did. Rest in peace with all the animals you loved in this life, Dr. Yin. We will miss you.