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. ¬†ūüôā

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 Рwith 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.¬†‚ÄúYou give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.‚ÄĚ

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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All I want for 2017

My desires are simple.

Continued luck with finding excellent homes for my rescues, starting with these three love nuggets, taken in on Christmas Eve. Meet 4-month old sisters Sonnet and Haiku, and brother Limerick. Trapped in a canyon, socialized and ready for a patient new mom or dad who loves to watch a sweet kitty bloom.
  

More evidence of happiness among my ferals. This was taken on Christmas morning – a kitty kiss / head-butt between farm cats – and it melted me.

More cooperation with farms. Don’t get me started.

Enough money to do the work. And then more money to do more work. (Thanks to those who have donated.)

More TIME to do the work. How this will happen I have no idea.

A third anniversary for my Ginger kitty, the geriatric tortie who was taken out of the parking lot two years ago today, diagnosed with terminal cancer, given two weeks to live, and she’s been a joy to me since.

A move in the direction of establishing a sanctuary. See above re: having no idea how this will happen, but perhaps it helps to put it in writing. ¬†ūüėČ

A presidential impeachment. (No, this doesn’t belong here, but I figured as long as I was making a wish list…)

While we’re at it, how about Feral Cat Rescue Day at the San Francisco Giants game?

The ability to make a shelter my ferals will actually USE. So far, batting around .200.

Mostly, I’m just hoping for the river of love that flows through my life to reach a torrent. If it’s true that “love attracts love,” when my grandchild comes this spring I’m thinking I’m primed¬†for more intimate human connection. Having the love of saints and critters is a gorgeous thing. But before I die, I’d also like to hear that word used in reference to ME by someone who loves cats. It’s a tall order, Francis, but I might as well put it in writing. ¬†ūüėČ

Happy New Year indeed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A kitten, at last, for me

Twenty years ago, when Erin went off to college in Maine, she joked that she was concerned that by the time she came home for Christmas, I might have snapped from loneliness and begun putting her baby clothes on the cats.

She knew me well, even at 18. She knew my need to have something to nurture, to tend and cuddle. You could say I went a little too far in that direction, with the menagerie currently living in my home and being tended by me in the wild.

In a way, she bears part of the blame for my feline excesses. I started telling her the minute she finished law school ten years ago that I was ready for a grandchild (she was already with her husband-to-be at that point) but she had other plans. Like career, travel, adventure — all the things I didn’t have myself, having married at 22 and given birth at 24. I could not blame her; she was living her life on her terms, far more than I ever allowed myself to do. But as much as my critters were occupying my time and giving me joy, I still longed for grandmaternal joy, which I knew would be something to crown my life.

In fact I draw a direct line between the loud clanging of my grandmotherly biological clock, and my descent into rescue work. During these years I’ve lost count of the number of kittens I’ve welcomed, socialized, loved, pampered… and then sent away. It’s gotten only marginally easier since adopting out those first two kittens, Jake and Maggie, when I literally hyperventilated with sobs after I got back in my car, feeling I had just given away babies born into my family. I clearly needed one that wasn’t going to leave.

So¬†when Erin told me, three years ago, that she and J had started “trying,” I held my breath and knew that any month I’d get the news I’d waited so long for. But months went by – month after month – peppered with her frustration and tears of disappointment, and my seemingly endless words of encouragement. Grueling fertility treatments ensued, and still no ¬†luck. And finally, this summer,¬†our luck changed. And of course, a cat was¬†right in the middle of it.

It was mid-August, and I was at an emergency appointment at Adobe Pet Hospital with the desperately injured Colby (see previous post) who was suffering from crushed toes on his front paws. They had just taken him from me – hissing fiercely in the trap – and I waited in the exam room for word. The phone rang and it was Erin. Thinking it was too soon for results to be back from the procedure, I didn’t leap to ask if she’d had any news, and we made small talk until she drew a breath.

“Well,” she said slowly, “I guess I’m pregnant!” I think I shrieked involuntarily, and we both laughed through tears. The rest is a blur of ecstatic yammering and talk of the next steps, tests, confirmations… And then she had to go. I had maybe a minute to myself to digest the information before the veterinarian came back in to discuss her findings. Seeing me dissolved in tears, she offered a gentle hand on my arm.

“It’s okay!” she smiled. “His toes are broken but he’ll be okay!”

I quickly explained that my tears were happy ones, that I was finally getting my own, longed-for kitten of the human variety. She smiled politely, no doubt figuring me to be yet another CCL (crazy cat lady) speaking in extremes.

It’s been almost four months since then, and now that Erin has lifted the veil of silence on her mother who can’t keep secrets, I can tell the world about my joy. Even more incredible: she is having a girl. So all of my mother’s exquisite¬†hand-made dresses will get a second life. Princess Charlotte will have nothing on this girl, sartorially.

There are so many things I want for her. I want her to be a happy and confident child. As she grows I want her to move through the world unscathed by its heartlessness, even as she grows in awareness of what she needs to change. Of course I want her to be smart and beautiful. A recent ultrasound shows gorgeousness even in utero. ūüėČ

But I also really, really want her to embrace animals, especially the homeless and the hurt, because once you open that part of your deepest heart, you can’t ever go back to being selfish.

2017 will be the year I have my arms fuller than ever before in my life. And it will be the year I finally get a kitten I can keep.

 

 

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The miracle of couch cushions… and crinkle balls…

I confess to having been too aghast, angry and depressed to write in recent weeks, since the implosion of a dream for the first female president and the election of someone who instead champions dispassion and devolution. What will happen to the causes I value (and perhaps their funding) under this new administration? It’s possible that animal rights (and all the wonderful gains in recent years) could be rolled back, along with human rights. The nation seems to be in the grip of distrust and fear.

These are the thoughts that have been occupying my mind since coming home. Pretty much everyone I know has been grappling with how to deal with this turn of the tide… and what to do to make things better. I think the answer has to be conducting ourselves with greater integrity and compassion than ever before, taking stands when called upon, and finding joy in all the small victories.

For me, those often come in the form of progress made by former ferals now adapting to indoor life. The socializing of these sometimes tough cases is more of a zig-zag or a labyrinth than a straight line. But that makes forward movement all the more delicious.

Take Colby, the beautiful young Maine Coon with¬†broken feet. As soon as I got home from vacation, I took him back to Adobe so he could be checked. It had been three months since I found him crawling on the ground because all his toes were broken and badly infected, and I wanted to know if he had healed. When the technicians came into the exam room with their long, “feral gloves” on, I had to tell them that he was not dangerous, and in fact enjoyed being petted! They were amazed and showed me on his chart where someone had marked USE EXTREME CAUTION!

The vet looked at his paws and noted that there a couple of toes were not “normal” (one had a claw that could not fully retract, another could not bend) he was basically sound and able to walk just fine now. Then he showed me the x-ray from three months ago, which made tears come to my eyes. The last bones on all his toes were neatly severed. That he can walk again seems a miracle.

But the bigger victory was yet to come. Upon taking him back to his foster mom’s studio apartment in the canyon, we agreed it was time to let him out of his dog crate, for the first time in three months. We set it up so that he would still have a shelter – a large carrier – but left the door open. My heart in my throat, fearing he would disappear under her bed and not come out, I hugged him goodbye.

The next day, Sara sent me a photo of Colby slumbering peacefully amid her couch cushions. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

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Why did you wait so long to expose me to luxury?? 

And you can also teach old(er) dogs new tricks as well. I’ve had Big Mike for two years now – since trapping his torn-up body out of the same field as Colby. (What the hell goes on up this ravine?) He and I have a powerful bond thanks to the six months it took to repair his shredded leg. And although he’s adapted beautifully to indoor life, like many former ferals it has taken Mike some time to act “normal.” ¬†Robbed of his kittenhood by the harsh conditions of homeless life, he still loiters on the fringes at meal time (the law of the land for non-alphas), never begs for affection… and doesn’t play.

I’ve tried many times to engage him with toys, feathers and such, but he finds such things scary and moves quickly away. That is, until recently. I heard heavy scrambling on the kitchen floor and chairs being knocked around and, thinking a fight was going on, went quickly to investigate. And there was Big Mike, having liberated a crinkle ball¬†from the toy box, batting it around with reckless abandon. I was thrilled. Now I offer him a toy every day, just for the joy of seeing him go nuts, and to help this big fella get the exercise he needs.

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These small victories give me hope. If abused and abandoned cats can change – can learn to trust and love, even when fear is ever-present – perhaps humans can do the same.

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“Seeing how the other half lives”

That’s an old expression my parents used when referring to how people leave their mundane lives in order¬†to check out how the wealthy live, presumably without the weight of responsibility for squeezing out a living. (In today’s culture, of course it’s nowhere near “the other half” – more like how the other 5% live, but that’s a post-election discussion.)

In my case, I go on vacation to see how “the other half” – the one without ANIMALS in it – lives! I want what it’s like to live without my own sometimes crushing responsibilities to the rescue work. It turns out, it’s not completely to my liking. Here I am, in a place that is closer to heaven than earth, and every day I choke with emotion thinking of the cats I’ve left back home. I anxiously text the three people it takes to cover my brood and worry about my ferals; it’s such a hard life and I’ve lost so many.

And I obsess about my house cats and how I much I need a squeeze around¬†Big Mike’s middle, lap time with Lena, a drooling nose kiss from Ginger, sleepy cuddling with Pokey in my bed. And Iggy’s heretofore irritating need¬†to drape himself on my chest while I work at the computer becomes, in my mind, something to crave as I write, undisturbed, with this view.

img_5970 The Renoir painting of Puget Sound out my cabin window. Who could ask for more? Apparently, I could.

A neighbor had a friend visit the other day with a Welsh Corgi, who wandered over to my window. I almost gasped with delight when I saw her, and ran to the door to welcome her. I ignored the owner’s shout ¬†– be careful, she’ll let herself right in! – and instead sunk my hands into the delirious luxury of her fur, murmuring sweet nothings to the unimpressed pooch, who did indeed wander around like she owned the place. Only when the owner crossed the fence to retrieve her did I let her go, after one more quick squeeze. I am clearly an addict, and this fix didn’t do the trick.

Sometimes I long for the decades when I was selfish: untouched by the religion of animals, when Saint Francis had yet to snag in his grasp. But the tradeoff is a sense of purpose that I never had before. A cracked-open heart feels more pain, but its reward is a heightened sense of wonder, joy and gratitude.

At the same time, I think I’ve learned that three weeks is too long to be away – even when I justify it as being time I need to write the children’s book (Marvin & Mocha) that will propel the rescue work forward. I find it very hard to write at home, with cat boxes to clean, mats to pluck shedded fur to sweep, and so many mouths to feed. But I need to learn some new tricks so I can. Because when I’m away the writing barely goes better – and I think it’s because I need animal energy to be my best, most creative, self.

What’s the answer? Move my desk to the spare bedroom so I can close the door – metaphorically and literally – on the kitties who prove such a powerful distraction? Start writing creatively in a cafe or library? I don’t know. I just know it calls for some experimentation until I can get this book written. My gut and heart (and spiritual readings I’ve had in the past) tell me Marvin & Mocha could be a difference-maker in the way people view homeless cats. All it takes is one tiny lightbulb switching on in the head of a child, and the future is improved.

Back to working on the book. This is my final day here and then I start driving home to my responsibilities. Hoping my time away has enabled me to embrace them with a renewed lightness and joy. Grateful that distance really does make the heart grow fonder.

 

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