What I did on my summer vacation

This summer I questioned my ability to do rescue work. So did a couple of friends who had noticed how upset – even tearful – I would get when talking about it. “I worry about the toll it is taking on you,” said one who has known me for 45 years. Said another, “You need to draw a protective boundary around yourself and try not to cross it. You need to say no sometimes.”

“No” was not a word that could be said when I got a call in August, soon after the kittens had happily turned the corner. A young woman who had adopted Colby (he of the broken toes http://bit.ly/2z2sO24) a year ago had died unexpectedly in her studio home, and he needed to be picked up or the SPCA would be called in. I raced over to Higgins Canyon, and it took two coroner deputies and two sheriff deputies and me almost half an hour to get poor Colby into a carrier, pushing at him with brooms, scaring him out from under furniture until he peed himself with terror.

I thought losing the kittens to distemper was the absolute nadir of my rescue work, but then this happened. Worse, I learned, he had been there with his deceased mom for several days. And she was only 33. It was a moment of off-the-charts awfulness and grief following grief. (His mom and I had become friends since she took him in.)

And (familiar refrain) I had no room for him. But knowing he’d be traumatized, I made him as comfortable as possible in my walk-in closet. There, I thought, it would be quiet and he could collect himself while I helped him get through his trauma, which was considerable. He refused food, hissed when I came near (probably recognizing me as one of the chief broom-wielders) and in general never left his carrier except to use the cat box.

Because my boundaries with critters have become so porous, I could feel his anguish over all that had happened. Even as my joy was mounting as the kittens got stronger each day, I’d go into the closet, lay down and talk to him and end up in sympathetic tears. What a tainted trajectory this kitty has had! From misery and pain with his crushed feet, to happiness at finding a home, to misery again in the darkness of my walk-in closet. He was due for a break.

    

I started to get worried when he was still refusing food after nearly a week, and also noticed that his paws were once again swollen. Did his toes re-break in the frantic scuffle with the deputies and me? I called in the wonderful Dr. Sue, warning her that he was a bit volatile, and to be careful when she approached him. But she is fearless, and animals seem to trust her immediately. She pulled him out of his carrier, and looked his feet.

Because of his previously broken toes, two claws had grown into unnatural circles, and were both sticking into the pads of his feet. As she began to clip and clean him, I left to give her space. And when I returned, she was sitting on the floor with Colby in her lap, and she was petting him. I was astonished.

I lamented that even though Colby was a gorgeous cat, he would be challenging to re-home. He is shy to the point of hostile, and takes a long time to warm up. Not to mention he’d always have “special needs” when it came to his feet.

Then Sue surprised me by saying if I could not find a home for Colby, she would take him on her farm. Out of anguish can come miracles.

It’s because of such things I won’t give up the work. It needs me… and I need it. I’ll try to be better about keeping my boundaries intact, but there will also be times when they crumble like sandcastles at high tide.

Now… St. Francis… how about a happy winter?  🙂

 

 

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Of death and letting go and the miracles that come from it

Apologies for the long delayed update, but it took a while before I could write about the last month with any perspective at all.

I’m still haunted by an agent’s critique of a memoir proposal I wrote six months after my sister’s death. “Put it away, and come back to it in a year or two when you can write about it without opening a vein and bleeding all over the page.” Point taken.

Blogs are also a bummer when the writing is vein-opening and lacking insight, so I waited a few weeks until the misery had turned to miracle, as happens sometimes. So now that I’ve stopped holding my breath, now that I can exhale, here’s the story.

In brief: two months ago, I agreed to take in a feral mama cat and her seven kittens that had been trapped in a canyon. Exotic and jade-eyed, I named mama cat Isis, and named her kittens after prominent Americans (because really, after a while you run out of themes): Teddy Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Quincy Adams, Chester Arthur, Alice Paul, Nellie Bly and Pearl Buck. Taking in the family would overlap with the fostering of Bandita (she of the broken legs) but I thought it would be okay because, you know, I can work wonders! I can!

I decided to take the kittens in for vaccination and sterilization in batches. Three little boys  (Quincy, Chester and Teddy) were first to go. The day after they came back, they all seemed to be getting sick. They were seen by a vet, languished, improved, backslid, for one scary week. Two of them started to rebound, while the third, Teddy, started fading. On a Saturday, he had shut down entirely, not eating, curled in a ball. I rushed him to Adobe, where he died as they tried to tube-feed him.

Stunned and horrified, I demanded to know why. How could this happen?? I was told that sometimes kittens just “fade,” but I had to know, because he was part of a large litter that had been living in close quarters. They ran tests, and the dreadful not-quite-conclusion was panleukopenia – also known as feline distemper. Very rare today, very contagious and almost always fatal. Worse, by cuddling Teddy, the virus could spread on my clothes to my own cats.

Now, a cat’s early FVRCP vaccination should prevent them from getting distemper, but it has literally been a decade since a couple of my older cats had been vaccinated. A vet was quickly called to come and give boosters to all the others in the house. Then I waited, my heart in my throat, for the other shoe(s) to drop.

Next was Alice, a sweet and submissive grey kitten, whose descent was also rapid. Determined to put up a better fight this time (because really, I can work wonders!) I took Alice to my local vet hospital, where they kept her for two days of IV fluids and syringe feedings. And then I got the call. Alice didn’t make it.

Dizzy from crying and incredulous that my tremendous luck and gift of healing was seemingly running out, I steeled myself for the next round. This time, Nellie, the spunky alpha-girl, and Jimmy, the little chatterbox runt of the litter, began to fail. Losing their appetites, they became lethargic and withdrawn. This time I was ready with a protocol the vet recommended: round-the-clock force-feedings with a syringe. I would mix special food, probiotics (they had terrible diarrhea), and water, and squeeze it into their miserable faces every four hours, even setting the alarm in the middle of the night. I refused to accept the idea that I would lose another kitten on my watch. This just didn’t happen to me. Even so, over the course of a week they both dropped almost half their body weight, until they were tiny skeletons of themselves.

And I was a wreck. Anxious, angry and sleep-deprived, I began to question whether I had any skills at all, or whether the praise I’d heard for the last few years about “working wonders” with healing kitties was just wrong, an exaggeration based on a few lucky breaks. In near-despair, I sought the counsel of a friend who is an intuitive. She suggested that I put up an image of Saint Francis in the sick room along with some pink flowers. And she told me quite bluntly that she thought the kittens’ chances were 50-50, that they could go either way – toward life or death – but that I needed to let go of the outcome.

“Sometimes the word ‘rescue’ doesn’t mean saving them from death,” she said. “Sometimes it means loving them as they transition.”

This flew in the face of how I’d been approaching things, but after a good cry I realized she was right. I followed her directions with the flowers and the image, which I pasted on the mirror above the bathroom counter where the kittens tended to sleep. The next day, Jimmy started to show interest in food… and Nellie started to die. Lying on her tucked-in face in a curious pose, she was motionless, breathing lightly. I covered her with a towel to keep her warm, and decided there would be no more forced feedings. And there would be no rushing her to the vet, where she would die like Teddy and Alice, without me in a sterile room. She would die at home with me, her mama and sibs nearby – who seemed to be standing vigil.

I checked Nellie hourly through the day, meditating to St. Francis, trying to let go, holding my hands on either side of her to send her warmth and energy. Sensing the battle was lost, I told her it was okay for her to go, that I would take care of her family, and that she had been loved and would live again.

And then… she didn’t go.

The next morning, when I walked in expecting to find her passed, Nellie opened her eyes and lifted her head. And when I offered food, she perked up and licked at it.

It’s been a month now, and both Nellie and Jimmy have gained back all their lost weight and then some. They are bright-eyed, sweet and playful. And the vet is amazed. (“I’d have given them 5% chance of making it,” she said.)

Nellie and Jimmy today

The two healthiest boys (Quincy and Chester) were adopted to a wonderful home, and I’m working on finding one for Nellie and Jimmy (they are very bonded after their near-death), as well as Isis and Pearl, who are very attached.

So what’s the lesson from this awful experience? Perhaps that I was too proud that I always knew the right thing to do, that my belief in my ability to always heal and transform was arrogant at best. I’ve been humbled by not having the answers, and by how much I still have to learn.

But this is one thing I did learn: that letting go and just letting love guide your actions can work wonders indeed. Saint Francis, thanks for the help.

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When failure can lead to peace

For four weeks Bandita was in my care, after a crippling accident left her back legs badly broken. After bringing her home from the vet, she flattened her ears, hissed, and knocked the long wooden spoon out of my hands – the spoon that has worked miracles for years now in taming the fiercest of ferals. She was having none of me.

And her eyes: they were hardened by fear, pain and anger at her capture. I would look in those eyes and promise her that I would do right by her. That her crummy life would be better… though I wasn’t sure how.

Over the course of the next four weeks I agonized about what to do with Bandita. If I put her back on the farm, she could easily become coyote bait. And my investigations into sanctuaries that might take a handicapped cat proved fruitless. It seems feral cats are not really welcome at such places.

I consulted with veterinarians, who were also flummoxed at what to do with a feral cat who now had one leg a full 3-4 inches shorter than the other and would likely always walk with a lopsided hobble. One suggested amputation, another euthanasia. But after doing this work long enough, you learn to trust your own instincts, and I just could not give up on her.

I was also haunted by something I’d seen before her accident: Bandita nuzzling with Tommy, the mean old tomcat who ruled the colony. He had a soft spot for the little tortie (probably his offspring) and she for him. Could he protect her if I returned her to the farm? Could she take care of herself?

Heartsick and fearful, I nonetheless made the decision. After one month, during which her bones would hopefully settle and she could regain some of the weight she’d lost, I would let her go.

The day came, and I put up a crate near the ravine at the farm and rested her carrier inside it. (The last thing I wanted was for my crippled kitty to be disoriented and run headlong into the dangers of the creek area.) And I waited, thinking it could take her a few hours before she felt brave enough to leave the protective cocoon of her carrier. It only took minutes.

As her family members gathered around, she rather boldly emerged from the carrier and took a deep breath.

She seemed to remember immediately where she was. I still hesitated to open the crate door – perhaps because I feared it would be the last time I saw her. So I paused and we connected eyes. This time her eyes were soft, unafraid… maybe even grateful.

“See?” I smiled as I felt the lump in my throat growing. “I told you I would do right by you. Now you just have to stay alive.”

I opened the crate door and in a flash she was gone, diving into the thicket on the edge of the farm. It was so fast I could barely see how she walked – it had been a month since she was free and I was anxious about the extent of her limp.

Two anxious days went by and I didn’t see Bandita for the morning meal. Then on day three, this: Bandita after

I was so thrilled. She was walking. Not perfectly, but efficiently, despite the terribly broken legs that bore her up.

Sometimes, even when I fail, things have a way of turning out alright. Thanks, Saint Francis, for the reminder that my instincts are usually trustworthy. Watch over my erstwhile angry girl and keep her safe.

 

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Update on Dita

I was finally able to capture the elusive, injured Dita two days ago thanks to the venerable drop trap. Too smart to go into the narrow confines of a traditional trap, she saw the food in the back of the much larger drop trap and walked in. When I pulled the string and the brace gave away, catching her inside, she stared at me with eyes that spoke of both pain and betrayal.

She was quiet as a mouse all the way to Adobe in Los Altos, where we have (thank god) a donor-funded account. And then she submitted, terrified, to the pokes and probing of the compassionate medical staff there. They had to sedate her to take x-rays, and when Dr. Clare (wonderful) called me over to view the results, I could tell by her face that it was not good news.

Dita’s left hip was horribly fractured. The bone that was supposed to connect hip to leg was pointed away from her spine at a shocking angle. On a clock it would be pointing to 9 or 10 o’clock rather than 1 o’clock. The doctor had felt the top of the bone through Dita’s skin, though it had thankfully not perforated the skin. And her right ankle was also broken.

Looking at the x-rays and imagining the unchecked pain she’d suffered, I felt sick. But what an extraordinary critter, I thought, to not only survive this but drag herself back to the feeding place so she could be, if not rescued, at least fed.

How could this have happened? Dr. Clare thought either she was hit by a car or fell a distance to the ground. (Having seen her sunning herself in the highest levels of the farm’s barn, I would not be surprised if it were the latter.) The injury was likely a couple of weeks old, she said, noting that if I’d been able to bring her in immediately, she’d have recommended amputation of the left leg, now several inches shorter than the right. But now, Dita’s frame had settled and she was learning to ambulate with her injuries. One thing for sure: she would be crippled for the rest of her life. No more climbing up in the barn, no more quick escapes from predators.

My house is full to overflowing and I just promised to help socialize some feral-born kittens. My granddaughter needs me and work is harrowing. But I made the only decision I could: I would take her home and let her at least recover a while as much as she could, while I tried to socialize her. (She is already two years old; it will be an uphill battle.) And then I would consider her future.

After a day in the sunniest corner of my house (an western-exposed bathroom) Dita found the courage to let me know what she thought of my attempts at helping her. As I extended a long wooden spoon with tuna on the end, she lunged, planting a claw in the side of my hand, which sent spoon and tuna flying, and me running for the Neosporin. She is just terrified, I told myself, and then backed off on the socializing for a bit, so she could become less afraid and more willing to interact.

Here she was just minutes ago, having emerged from her carrier for the first time. Her eyes are still wary, but perhaps less so after a day.

You can see by the angle of her back legs that they are virtually useless. My heart breaks thinking she might be in pain.

St. Francis, I confess that I am overwhelmed and not sure what to do here. If Dita does not take to indoor living, and eventual adoption, what are my options? Return her to the farm where her injuries will dictate that she will have to live under bushes or in damp basements, where she will be easy pickings for coyotes? I don’t know – perhaps a sanctuary for disabled cats? Any ideas are welcome.

I am grateful to so often be in the right place at the right time to help these deserving beasties, but my heart could use a break.

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The honor of being depended upon

It’s been a few weeks since my last entry – weeks that have been a blur of newness and crisis and joy and pain. But mostly joy.  🙂

In brief, I am finally a grandma. This is after years and years of wanting a baby for Erin – heck, for ME! I knew Erin would be a spectacular mother, and I had a pretty good role model in my own mom, who was of the “foolishly doting” variety, as opposed to the standoffish, send-a-card-at-birthdays variety I myself experienced. I was ready: poised like a spring bulb stuck in the ground and waiting for that first burst of warm spring sun. And now that she is finally here, I feel everyone in her sphere blooming.

I’ve waited three whole paragraphs to show a photo. Here are a few of my precious Shannon Marie Evans, born May 9, weighing 7 lbs. 9 oz. with a dusting of (gasp) auburn hair. At ten days of age she is already opinionated, hilarious and indescribably sweet. And as expected, Erin is a wonderful, intuitive, deeply empathetic mommy. And Jonathan has taken to fatherhood quickly and efficiently.

    

During her first week of life, I spent many hours every day in Oakland with the family, trying to help where I could, knowing new babies can really turn life upside down. I was never prouder or happier to be needed. A couple of times I was able to calm Shannon during a rare bout of inconsolable crying. There is nothing quite so satisfying in life… unless perhaps it’s helping another helpless being – this one four-legged – who also needs me desperately.

One such critter presented itself on Mother’s Day. Bandita (Dita for short) is one of six farm cats I’ve been feeding for a year and a half since we discovered them living on beans and rice that farm workers put out. You’re not supposed to have favorites among your kids or cats, and yet she has been mine. She is a gorgeous little calico around 2 years old, very shy, and yet anxious to bond. (When I arrive there every day, she stares deep into my eyes and comes as close as her fears will allow, then skitters away when I try to pet her.)

About a week ago, Dita disappeared. My heart was in my throat every day when I arrived there to feed and I’d fight tears when she didn’t show. The canyon is rife with predators, from bobcats to coyotes to even mountain lions. And then on Mother’s Day, she emerged from the bushes – but something was clearly wrong. She would walk only a few feet at a time on wobbly back legs, and have to lie down again. She had clearly had an accident, or perhaps fallen from her perch in the barn. But she was a wreck – like an old wagon lurching forward with the back wheels coming off.

Dita injury

I raced home to get a carrier, but when I returned, she had eaten and gone. And every day this week I’ve tried to trap her with a variety of mechanisms, to no avail so far. While the other cats scamper up to me and my plates of food, Dita hangs back in the shadows, watching me closely as I carry the trap close to her. If I take one step too close, she wobbles off. I set the trap with great-smelling tuna, then sit in my car and wait while Dita goes halfway into the trap…. and then backs out again. Every day I’ve told her that I love her, and it’s my duty as her human guardian to help her. So she might as well relax and cooperate.

It hasn’t worked so far. But knowing I’m the only human she allows to even get close to her, it feels like an honor to try.

It’s not too different than changing a wailing Shannon’s diapers, or swaddling her when she’d rather fling her arms around like fireworks. I tell her softly in her ear that I am her grandma, and I will someday take her to Paris, and grow a garden with her, but in the meantime I have a duty to help her even when she doesn’t think she needs it.

I won’t stop trying to catch Dita until I do; I won’t stop doing whatever Princess Shannon needs me to do, in order to be a good grandma. It’s interesting to learn that love is love – whether of the two- or four-legged variety. In any form it’s an honor to bear its burden.

 

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Of major diagnoses and minor miracles

Despite the dedication of this blog to St. Francis, I am not, nor have I ever been, a religious person. (With the possible exception of when I belted “Jesus loves me, this I know” in the youth choir at church. Singing always put me in touch with spirit, even at age 5.)

But I had a recent event that makes me wonder if miracles do indeed happen. Miracle is defined by Webster as “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.” And something I learned on Good Friday might indeed qualify.

My growing awareness that scientific law had been tossed aside began a few weeks ago when I noticed Ginger scrambling around manically on the kitchen floor after a cat toy. With any of my other cats, this would be a normal occurrence. But Ginger, as you might recall, is supposed to be dying. Dying cats don’t play.

Two years and four months ago, Ginger the elderly tortoiseshell appeared to me in the parking lot, scrawny and sick, with discharge coming from every orifice. I trapped her and took her to the vet, who said she was around 13 years old, never spayed, sick with an upper respiratory infection… and dying of cancer.

When they sedated her (she was a wild thing and unafraid to use her claws) they found a tumor in her mouth and had it diagnosed: later stage squamous cell.  The prognosis: a few weeks to live.

Heartsick, I took her home, and installed her in my downstairs bathroom, which I had decked out with comfy beds and plenty of food. I decided against trying to mitigate the cancer medically, but would instead make her last weeks on earth full of love. I’ll show her that her life mattered, I told myself, even if she was neglected her whole life until now.

She slowly began to turn around. The respiratory infection cleared up. She relaxed into her first indoor home and began to welcome my affections. As happens in rescue, it’s nearly impossible to keep an emotional distance from the beautiful beings you’ve taken in. I would look at her sweet face and get tearful, knowing I would have her for such a short time. To deal with the reality of her impending death, I began to talk to her with an affectionate, matter-of-fact tone.

“Good morning,” I would say, kissing her head, “Dying girl.”

The “few weeks” of expected lifespan turned into months, and finally years. She still drooled and had trouble eating, but as time went by, even these issues seemed to lessen. And when I saw her playing, I finally had to investigate.

Soon afterward I was at my vet for a prescription, and took along Ginger’s biopsy from 2.3 years ago. I asked her how many cats she’d heard of with squamous cell mouth cancer who had lived this long. “Zero,” she told me, then examined the biopsy. Mystified, she offered to redo it.

It took me a few weeks to get my sweet little hellcat into a carrier (she was NOT having it) and off to the vet, but I finally managed – ironically on Good Friday. When Ginger was finally sedated, and Dr. Lawson looked in her mouth, here’s what she saw: nothing. Not a smaller tumor, no tumor. She did, she noted, having terrible teeth, four of which need to be pulled because they were infected. This would explain the drooling. As for why the growth in her mouth went away, she could not offer an explanation.

It’s possible, she said, that since the body is supposed to combat cancer cells, and Ginger was so sick and starving when I took her in, her body was incapable of fighting it. But as she regained her general health, perhaps her body was then more able to conquer the cancer? “I’m sure love and good food helped,” she smiled.

Emphasis, perhaps, on love? We’ve heard that it “conquers all,” but now I’ve seen with my own eyes that it can also create small wonders “not explicable by natural or scientific laws.”

Thank you, St. Francis, for guiding me on this little adventure.

I now have to change my thinking about Ginger’s future. My pity and compassion that she is dying has shifted to the reality that this cranky, adorable senior citizen who cuts such a swath in my home will be with me for a while. To help wrap my brain around it, I now greet her in the morning with a new salutation.

“Good morning,” I say, kissing her head, “miracle girl.”

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Tuxedos come, tuxedos go

A few weeks ago, a handsome black-and-white cat started coming around the Post Office field in the morning for his morning meal. I named him Balthazar because he was very kingly in size and bearing, and was fearless and outgoing. I vowed to trap him and get him fixed, before spring fever really took hold.

And as has happened too often in this area, something got to Balthazar. He showed up one morning limping, with a deep wound on his leg. After  several attempts I was finally able to trap Balthazar and take him to Adobe for help. He was an exceptionally good boy – with nary a hiss or complaint, as if he knew we were trying to help him.

Okay okay you got me.. now fix me!

I took him home with instructions to keep him as long as possible so his wound would heal. And of course after a week, and with him purring to my touch and rubbing up against my hand, I found it impossible to return him to the dangers of the Post Office ravine. At the same time, he clearly was NOT happy being confined; every morning when I went to the garage to greet him in his double-dog-crate condo, he had trashed the place like a frat boy on a bender. He’d look up at me innocently from the rubble of his towels, bowls, scratch posts and toys and just blink. (You know I’m a feral cat! There’s only so much you can expect!)

Grappling with my mandatory rule that I will NEVER place a cat in anything but an indoor home, I realized certain rules might need to be bent for certain cats. So I placed a “job wanted” post on NextDoor.com for a barn cat gig. And lo and behold, I got an excellent response! Off he went to his new indoor-outdoor farm home, with a woman who clearly liked him immediately. Case closed. (Though holding my breath that he works out there, and sticks around rather than disappearing.)

The VERY NEXT day, I discovered a cat, almost identical to Balthazar, begging for food behind the Post Office, dragging a useless hind leg behind him. I could not believe it. It was another black and white tuxedo, smaller than Balthazar and clearly older, scrawny and unhealthy looking. Another cat who has come face to face with the ravages of this area and come away damaged.

(I have not even written about the disappearance of my dear Gertie Stein, the cranky dowager of the Post Office colony. And I shall refuse to, until it becomes clear she is gone for good. But something wicked that way goes.)

I started calling him Buddy as he was such a sweet sad sack, and it took me more than a week to catch him – finally using the reliable drop trap. Again, perhaps because he’s related to Balthazar, he made barely a peep when at the vet for x-rays and neutering. The diagnosis was that he has no major breaks, but his leg is badly atrophied – probably from nerve damage to his spine when he was younger.

Let’s face it – I’m a mess. 

And he is indeed older – they thought perhaps even 7 or 8. How a cat that age can limp around in a predator-filled area and stay alive is a mystery to me. Maybe I should change his name to Lucky.

Once again, my conscience will not allow me to put him back there; the prognosis for his leg to ever regain normal use is poor. I might as well be putting him on a plate for coyotes and bobcats. So once again I’ll be looking for a barn cat home so he can have at least a little safety surrounding him. I’ll do it with my heart in my throat and anxious for his future, but knowing this is the best option for him.

I seem to be breaking more rules these days than I’m living by, but I have a feeling St. Francis would be okay with that. After all, he earned the rebuke of the high church at the time by preaching to animals. When choosing between breaking rules and honoring animals I’ll choose the former every time.

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Riding the roller coaster

As I continue to come out from under the dark clouds of my father’s death, I am reminded of the huge range of feelings that come from doing this rescue work. Nothing I’ve done in my life so far has subjected me to such lows, nor treated me to such highs.

Maybe I do it because as a child I eschewed the merry-go-round at amusement parks and instead rode the roller coasters as much as possible? I must enjoy it. But rarely have I experienced two such highs and lows in such rapid succession as in recent weeks.

I had seen only two quick glimpses of a stray black kitty with a messed-up tail behind the post office before I learned it had been killed by rogue raccoons. (Yes, I maintain that most coons are not killers. But just as there are aggressive and dangerous dogs, the same goes for our nocturnal friends.) This alone would have made me sad, but when I learned that this kitty was cornered in a shelter I made, I was sickened.

I know the drill. You have to create shelters with an entry AND an exit, for easy escape. But someone had given me a small dog house, and it’s been raining so incessantly that I put it out in the meadow hoping it would help. It was shallow enough (and the door wide enough) that I thought any cat seeking shelter could escape. To my horror, it was not so.

I’ve always been the kind who will gloss over her successes and dwell on her failures, so I let this spectacular failure puncture my already fragile mood for days on end. I kept repeating to the spirit of the little black cat that I was sorry – I was only trying to help, not create harm.

And then, the miracle. A sweet and very docile male kitty had taken up residence behind a restaurant on Main Street, and the owner asked us to help find his owner. Maggie created this flyer, which she put up all over town. A month went by with no response. And the day my father died, Maggie got an excited call.

A man had seen the flyer, and recognized the kitty as the one he’d been looking for. It was the treasured pet of his daughter, who lived with him and had recently died of cancer. When hospice had been at the house, the kitty had gotten out. He was sick with sadness about the loss of something that reminded him of her, and when he saw the flyer, his heart leapt up. Soon they were joyfully reunited.

I don’t know for sure, but I sense that my dad, who finally in recent years started asking “how’s the rescue work going?” was making connections for me from the rivers of light where he currently resides. Thanks for the boost, Pop.

And thanks for the reminder that despite my failings, the successes come close to achieving a balance.

 

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True giving

I’ve been turned intently inward since my father’s death two weeks ago today, trying to focus on the things that need to be done (obituary, memorial planning, separation of his worldly goods etc.) but a couple of things have lifted me out of my self-pity and reminded me of the true nature of giving – and how lucky I am to receive.

I’ve gotten some beautiful flower arrangements in recent weeks – expensive ones with exotic lilies and beautiful vases. They were all enormously appreciated and helped heal my wounded heart. Then today my cleaning lady of two decades came for her twice-monthly visit. With five children to support and married to a gardener, I knew money has always been an issue for her. So when she shyly handed me some fresh-cut flowers from her tiny garden wrapped in newspaper, I just dissolved.

And after a year-end donor campaign for Coastside Feral Care was over, during which some kind and well-to-do friends wrote some generous checks, I was alerted in recent weeks by PayPal that a $30 donation had come in from a friend in the East Bay who had adopted two feral kittens from me a couple of years ago. Janine said in a note that it was from her seven-year-old son, Wagner. Every six months, she explained, her kids donate a portion of their allowance to a charity and this is the cause that Wagner wanted to support. Again, I dissolved.

Further, she asked, could they come sometime and see how Wagner’s money is spent? I said I would be delighted, and on a cold morning while my father was in his final days, Janine brought her three kids over to the coast and went with me on my morning rounds. My rounds, which always lift my spirits, took on an almost physical joy on that day. So anxious to interact with the kitties, it was near-impossible for Wagner and his twin, Michael, to restrain themselves when Janine cautioned them to watch quietly from a distance, and yet they did admirably. They asked questions in whispered tones (“could one of these cats be related to Charlotte and Wilbur?” “where do they go in the rain?”) and were amazed by how happy some of the kitties looked.

Janine and her husband Matt may not even realize the amazing lessons they are imparting by both adopting former ferals, and by raising their kids to be excellent animal custodians. If you can watch this video of three-year-old Wagner (and equally little Wilbur) without turning to mush, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.

It’s sweet to see him try to contain his toddler energy and not play too rough with Wilbur. And now three-plus years later, he and his siblings went on my rounds with me. What amazed me is that they weren’t forced into giving up a holiday morning, they genuinely wanted to be there to see how homeless kitties are helped.

These two anecdotes recalled to me a quote I loved by Kahlil Gibran. “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

How much more precious is a gift of allowance money or garden flowers from those who have little? And how lucky am I to have been the recipient?

Such awareness softens the blow of my loss. I am graced, and grateful. Thank you, St. Francis, for the reminder.

 

 

 

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Grief makes sweet bedfellows

Most of the folks who read this blog are my friends, therefore they would already know that my father died on Friday. He was 95. Nine days earlier, he’d had a small stroke that put him in the hospital, unable to swallow. This would be what finally killed the guy we all began to think was immortal.

It was a life event so devastating to me that I wasn’t sure if I could write coherently about it in blog form. What could I say? How does my feline universe tie into my loss?

Like this. The day before my dad died, I adopted out two of my three foster kittens to a wonderful friend. That meant their brother was left behind. I felt okay about this, as the two sisters were very shy and attached, and Spats (so named for his funny paw markings) was brave and independent. That is, until he lost his sisters. I came home from the hospital Thursday night and went straight to see him in the big walk-in closet that’s been his home. He was crouching in a corner, big-eyed and anxious, and came quickly to sit in my lap.

As I stroked his silky fur, I sensed that the death of my father was soon to come. I broke down in sobs, and he stared at my face with such tenderness and curiosity that I knew he was somehow understanding. He, too, had just experienced a terrible loss. It was a transcendent moment, a connection between species.

Not wanting him to mix with my two bedroom kitties who are ailing with upper respiratory issues, I reluctantly put Spats back in the walk-in closet for the night – and he was not happy. He cried (something I don’t think he’d done before) and scratched the carpet under the door. I was so exhausted that I drifted to sleep quickly – only to be awakened in the middle of the night by a flash of fur galloping across the bed.

And when I woke up the next morning, this is what I found in bed next to me.

Spats had somehow freed himself from the closet during the night and had settled in nicely among my sheets. Remarkably, neither of my bedroom kitties took offense. I spent a few minutes luxuriating with his sweet purr in my ear, letting the sound of it soothe my anguished heart and gird me for the day I feared was ahead.

Then I got up, went downstairs, and got the call from my sister that my father had passed.

I’m not sure what this story says except perhaps that animals – cats especially – can be as intuitive as many psychics. And the angels that buffer us from grief.

There is no cure for the pain I feel right now, but four-legged love is the best medicine we can hope for. Thanks, Saint Francis, for prescribing these sweet remedies in my life.

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