Tipping points of all kinds

We all have tipping points. Malcolm Gladwell’s phrase is now part of the lexicon: the moment when a situation changes, causing you to see things differently, do things different – or at least understand a situation better. Or… it could be when you snap completely, and the train goes off the rails.  😉

I’ve had a few tipping points in the last week – of both the wonderful and mind-losing variety.

It started when Carrie reached a tipping point of her own, when she learned she had to move swiftly from her beautiful art studio. She had thought she could keep the kittens there until they were placed (Mookie already has a home but not until September), but you add stress of moving + kittens getting too big for their crate = time for them to go. Despite not having an inch of square footage in the “main house,” I decided they’d be okay in the downstairs half-bath.

It didn’t take long for them to settle in, and they thoughtfully helped me rearrange the picture frames….

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made sure the faucet was working…

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and ensured the proper motion of the toilet paper…

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… among many other important chores, before they passed out in their triple-decker shelf-bed.

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(And no, Mookie isn’t looking at his brother below; he really is asleep that way.)

It’s been mayhem of the most adorable variety, and in the week since then I’ve struggled to maintain the schedule required to nurture and care for this many felines, at the same time as I’m trying to wrap up the scheduling of my annual, nine-day marathon fall literary festival with 800+ authors. But I managed. Until – yes – came a tipping point or two.

Ginger, my elderly tortie rescue with mouth cancer, went into heat yet again. (It’s happened every couple of months like clockwork since I brought her home from the parking lot 19 months ago. At the time, I’d made the decision not to stress her with spay surgery when she was supposed to only live a few weeks. Sigh.) Suddenly, the tenuous harmony of the household was disrupted by the plaintively horny old gal, who cried and howled throughout the day, sidling up to Big Mike for attention, who politely if confusedly ignored her pleas. She was freaking Iggy and Lena out, so they were acting out. (A GOOD day was when I could come home to only one puddle of Iggy’s self-induced barf on the carpet.)

Add to this the fact that our little nonprofit, Coastside Feral Care , suddenly ran out of money. I seriously thought I was going to lose my mind.

But just like that, a few positive tipping points were reached that lifted me up.

Wendy Stokes, a nonprofit consultant who clearly knows her stuff, put out the word about us on NextDoor – a social media I knew nothing about – and within a few days we had gotten enough in the bank to keep going. (Thank the heavens, and especially Saint Francis, for animal lovers everywhere.)

And Ginger’s heat was blessedly short this time: the caterwauling stopped within a few days.

And a beautiful tipping point happened with Maya, the kittens’ mother. It was that magical moment, as happens sometimes in rescue, where a cat goes from being only interested in the food you’re doling out, to wanting to bond. I put her food down, stroked her head as much as she’d normally allow, and then turned to walk back to my car. For the first time, she followed me. Confused, I walked back to her food plate, thinking she just had not seen it. I gestured to the plate, then realized she was doing the curl-step with her feet, kneading the ground.

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Stunned, I put my hand on her head again, and this time she didn’t pull away. She curled her head and leaned into me gratefully.

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Our relationship has been different since that moment. And now of course I’m anxious to find HER a good home – at least an indoor-outdoor one. Because she has crossed over from being a detached parking lot cat into a potential lap-cat, never to turn back. How could I now watch her spend her winter hiding from the rain and sleeping in a bush?

But perhaps the most important tipping point was when my own perspective got a jolt. Attending an event for the Humane Society, I was telling someone about my brood: two original housecats, and fosters Big Mike whose leg was all but torn off, Charlie who lives on my patio, Pokey the FIV+ boy who’d been hit by a car in his youth, Skeeter with chronic respiratory issues, a terminally-ill (and shockingly fertile) geriatric tortie, and now three kittens. Knowing this was a sympathetic person I was speaking to, I knew she would not label me a CCL (Crazy Cat etc.), but I didn’t expect her to be so charitable either.

“So what you have,” she smiled, “is a sanctuary. What a blessing for these cats – and what a blessing for you!

I came home from that outing to the monsoon of cat hair, bowls to clean, squabbles to quell, kittens to socialize and litter boxes to clean with a new perspective. I might be close to derailing from stress and overwork at any given moment, but I can never doubt that my blessings are many indeed.

Thanks, Saint Francis, for the reminder.

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… And then there were three!

A week ago, sweet Tulum, the little runt, went to his new home in the East Bay. As of this writing, he’s doing great. They have renamed him Jasper (granted, a much better name for a kitten) and he is slowly taking over the home and hearts of a lovely young couple who were so excited to get him.  Here he is after a few days, making himself at home with his new toys.

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We had a little scare when one of his brothers, Rufus, began to languish a bit in Jasper’s absence. He lost interest in food and play briefly, which made me anxious since these babies went without mama’s milk in their infancy when she was unknowingly taken away to be spayed. It’s been remarkable to me that they are as strong and playful as they are, since that could have been a devastating physical blow.

But he bounced back – literally. Here’s a new video from just a few days ago and Rufus is leading the charge attacking a fly in their crate.

Oh my god, they are so precious. We’re thinking Mookie (the orange boy) would be fine on his own (i.e. with another cat in the house), but Arturo (whom Carrie now calls Jellyface) and Rufus should go together if possible. They are both sweet and very attached.

If anyone is open to a new family member(s), please let me know! They are getting reallllly tired of their dog crate, and need more space.

Saint Francis, thank you for making this ride on the kitten roller coaster one with mostly ups and very few downs! Send me the perfect parents soon.

 

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Update on the wee ones

Two-point-five weeks into their captivity, the kittens – all boys! – are doing amazingly well. They are all purring like mad, growing more confident in their dog crate home, and even enjoying being held. I credit the fast socialization with the fact that Carrie, the Kitten Whisperer, has kindly given them both living space and a lavish amount of attention in her art studio. Also the fact that Maya, the mama cat, is a sharp little smartie, and the kittens are the same. They are quickly getting which side of the bread their butter is on, and one by one the defenses are falling away.

Here’s a video filmed a week ago.

Interestingly, the little gray fellow, since named Arturo for the kindly chef who fed his mama, went from the most skittish to the most loving in the last week. Here he was today with Carrie, clearly having surrendered.  🙂

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And here are the other three heartbreakers: Mookie (orange), Tulum (short-haired blond), and Rufus (fluffy blond.)

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It’s been wonderful having kittens in my life again – even just twice a day for feedings and playtime – though I’d be happy if they were the last, as it would mean we’re making headway in the struggle to trap and fix. They’ve had their first vaccinations and will soon be neutered. And then they’ll fly the coop to new homes (when we find them), leaving me despondent but Carrie matter-of-fact. A veteran trapper, she focuses her energy in being happy that they settled well. I on the other hand am still new enough at this that tears are just freekin’ inevitable. Sigh.

Saint Francis, send me the perfect moms and dads for these babies. After their tough start in life, they deserve the best!!

 

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But I don’t have time for kittens….!

As I said previously, my joy at finding the kittens alive and well was mixed with apprehension that this is a very crazy time of year for me, and I have precious few moments to spare for socializing a brood.

And yet.

The moment the drop trap came down one week ago today, corralling three of the four kittens (yes, a fourth had showed up), there was nothing more important in the world as setting them up in a nice big crate at Carrie’s, with food and soft places to lay their tiny heads.

And even though I had no time, there was nothing as important then as getting that last kitten, which I did the next day with a traditional trap. The sweet little runt, now called Tulum, cried loudly in the trap, causing mama Maya to get frantic and breaking my heart into tiny shards of glass.

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Deposited with his siblings, Tulum quickly settled in and was the first to purr. IMG_5411

We think there are three boys and one girl. In addition to goofy-sweet Tulum there is Kong, the fierce gray boy, so protective of his siblings; Fay Wray, long-haired blond vixen, biding her time in accepting us; and Mookie, an orange tabby charmer, very independent and calm and sweet.

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In this first week, the siblings have come far, from hissing and fearful to acquiescent and even happy. And I’ve had no time for socializing kittens but what better use of time when you wake up on a Sunday morning and learn of a mass shooting? And Carrie might be losing her beautiful piece of property and the life she’s known for 20 years but kittens must be fed, picked up to learn who’s boss, and shown love so they love in return. She has not once complained about the time suck, nor shall I. These are beautiful little lives in our hands and now in our hearts, and they don’t know from shootings or the perils of getting attached to property.

I also don’t have time to worry about Maya now that I’ve taken all her kittens away, so why do I continue to go by there twice a day, even knowing she gets food from restaurant workers? I mean, I don’t have time. But I need to see her face and know she’s okay and forgiving me, and watch for signs that maybe, just maybe, the pull of human contact might tame her down enough that I can find her a place to live where she might get love. We all need it, right?

Until then, I’ll make amends by taking excellent care of her babies, and will find them perfect homes. Even though I don’t have time.

Thank you, Saint Francis, for schooling me – every single day – about what our time on the planet is for.

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Finally… the kittens appear!

I keep thinking someone is going to call the Sheriff on me someday, as I lurk around the backs of buildings, or trespass into side yards, seeking the elusive stray.

In the last few days especially, as I’ve anxiously tried to locate the kittens I discovered a few weeks ago (see last blog post), I’ve been a class-A lurker behind a local Mexican restaurant, peering over fences and through the slats of gates. After that first sighting, the kittens had disappeared, and I feared the worst. But A) I didn’t want to give up on them, and B) I knew that Maya, the mama kitty, might be keeping her babies away by moving them around. I felt both frustrated and frantic. Finally, I realized I needed to give myself TIME – time to watch and observe, time to be quiet and watch for signs.

It proved a good strategy.

A couple of days ago I fed Maya her breakfast, then sat in my car, stalker-like, and watched her. She ambled off, and I followed her. This time, she ducked under a fenced gate behind the building, and I tiptoed in behind her when she was out of sight. Looking through two sheds, I saw all three of the babies, greeting her playfully, squealing for milk. Suddenly the weight of the last couple of weeks lifted and I was left with pure joy.

I should note that it’s been a tough couple of months on the personal level, with attempts to refinance my mortgage rejected by major banks. Nothing can kill one’s joie de vivre more than the phrase “debt to income ratio.” It’s been a wake-up call about the price I paid – quite literally – for pursuing my passion of cat rescue, paying for it all out of pocket, before I finally got smart and created the Coastside Feral Care nonprofit last year.

That said, because I’m basically a happy person, there are coins of joy in every day that no amount of financial woe can tarnish. Finding the kittens was a shiny coin indeed.

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I plan to use the drop trap on Monday to get all three at once.

Other moments of joy were provided today by seeing all six of the Higgins Farm cats together, looking happy and well.
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(Only a few months ago they were eating leftover beans and rice that well-meaning farm hands left out, while their 16 kittens – now all adopted out – ran amok.)

And closer to home, I’ve had some wonderful laughs today seeing Big Mike, my resident Buddha, interacting so kindly and gently with the volatile geriatric, Ginger.
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Ginger is once again in heat, thanks to the fact that her original negligent owner never had her fixed, and now at 14-15, and diagnosed with terminal mouth cancer when I brought her home from the parking lot, that surgery seemed unimportant. (If she has only a few months to live, I thought, why put her through that?) If I’d known 18 months ago that she would not only live this long, but go into heat every other damn month, I’d have had it done for sure.

Her plaintive yowling and prowling around is disruptive; everyone is freaked out by her but Mike, who allows her to sidle up to him a like the trashy girl in high school who has a thing for the quarterback. He is curious, but disinterested and nonjudgemental.  😉

Anyway, all these things fill my heart and tell me I’m doing something right with my life, even if the bean-counters disagree. Saint Francis, thanks for the daily reminders that happy IS what happy DOES.

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Just when you think you’ve seen everything…

About a month ago, Carrie trapped a female tabby who’d been living behind a Mexican restaurant in town. To her alarm, after she was spayed the vet told her the kitty had recently given birth; to her sorrow, the vet also said she was not lactating, which was a sure sign that the kittens had been stillborn.

Normally, if a trapped cat is judged to have recently given birth, she’d be returned immediately to her turf, for fear the kittens would die if left alone too long. But because she was not lactating, Carrie kept her two nights, to give her time to recover.

Fast forward a month. I went to the cafe for breakfast a week ago, and there was the mama cat (whom I’m now calling Maya) on the steps, sunning herself and waiting to be fed by restaurant workers.

[Feed me, human, but leave me the #&*$ alone! Do I LOOK happy to see you?]

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When I reached to pet the feisty little smartie, I could see on her belly some unmistakably swollen nipples. I was both confused and alarmed – hadn’t the vet said this was not a live birth? Could she have mastitis, brought on by spaying so soon after delivering? I consulted a vet, who said it was a distinct possibility, and that she should be trapped again and brought in. The outcome could be dire, the vet said, if a mammary infection becomes systemic.

Sensing the urgency, I started stalking Maya, to discover her routine. Days went by when I didn’t see her at all. My anxiety growing, I meditated for a sign, a solution… something I could do to help her.

Finally on Saturday, I saw Maya again on the steps. This time I came with some good tuna, and gave her a fat bowl of it, which she ate eagerly while keeping her distance from me. I sat for 20 minutes while she toyed with me, sunning herself, licking her fur, in no hurry. Then she picked herself up and ambled away, around the corner of the building. I tiptoed behind her at a distance, ducking behind a tree when she turned around to check on me, aware of how ridiculous I looked. She led me on a 360-degree trip around the building, and when we were almost back where we started, she turned down a sidewalk between the cafe and an old house next door. And this is what I saw.

[Hi Mama! Where’s our breakfast?] 

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Inexplicably, Maya had KITTENS. Three that I could see, maybe 7-8 weeks old, who came bouncing out from under the house looking healthy, frisky and of course adorable. One gray, one orange, one buff. As joyful as I felt, I also could not fathom how on earth could this have happened! When she left them alone for two nights 5-7 weeks ago, how did they survive?? They must be made of hardy stock indeed.

I said a small prayer of gratitude that Maya’s life was not in danger, that she was just in in the iron grip of a benevolent Mother Nature, who’d decided that motherhood was Maya’s mandate. It was, in its own small way, awe-inspiring.

And then I realized… OY!! Kittens! And under a house! Things were about to get even more complicated.

Thank you, St. Francis, for watching so beautifully over your critters, and for letting me be in the right place at the right time.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Just a cat”

A few years ago, my professional partner looked confused when we learned a member of the staff was going to miss an important event because her cat had died that day. Where I understood and was completely sympathetic, he was the opposite. Not wanting to come across like an unfeeling jerk, he reminded me that he was raised on a ranch in a flyover state, where house pets lived outdoors and came and went without fuss or fanfare. And when one was discovered missing or deceased, it was just part of ranch life, not a reason for life to derail. “A cat,” he admitted, “was just a cat.”

I’ve thought a lot about that exchange over the years, and it seems to me that anytime you use the “just a…” to describe a being of any kind – be it a minority of this species or a different species altogether – you are dismissing that being’s potential, wonderfulness and especially individuality. In this case, the implication was that all cats were basically the same, so why mourn the loss of one?

As any cat lover knows, they are like snowflakes; no two are the same. I was reminded of this again this week, with two upheavals in my cat universe. Robbie, the sweet little tuxedo boy who I have joked was a “farm sanctuary reject,” after his expulsion from his first home for freaking out on his lovely adopters, spent two wonderful months in the arms of a friend  I thought would be his permanent mom.

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But it seems Max had other ideas. Such an affectionate little guy that he followed her around like a puppy until he was scooped up for a cuddle, he would, at the same time, lunge at her old kitty with such aggression that blood was sometimes drawn. Robbie is a confusing combination of traits: so gentle one minute, so aggressive the next. Needy of love but independent. (Such a description would fit many people I know. 😉

So he’ll soon move on to the next home – one where he’ll be the only cat. It crushes me to move him again, as he’s had a tough life already. But sometimes these things happen when matching individual personalities. Like a marriage, sometimes the first one doesn’t take.

Also this week, I trapped a big handsome boy I’d started calling Eddie after he began dropping by the Post Office field for the occasional breakfast. I could tell he was intact (sometime I’ll write about feeling like such a pervert, using binoculars to scope out a cat’s backside) but he was weirdly submissive. Gertrude Stein, the elderly (and cranky) dowager  of that colony, could send him running with a mere cross glance. After being trapped, he continued to be a complete gentleman, never hissing or even acting alarmed.

“What, me worry?”
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Because Eddie looks a great deal (in body and face) like my beloved Big Mike, and was, like Mike, so quiet and sweet in captivity, it crushed me to have to release him two days post-surgery. But there’s no getting around the fact that my inn is full to bursting, and the length of time it takes to socialize a four-year-old cat is prohibitive. So off he went this morning. For the first time before releasing a cat, I sat with Eddie for a good long while as he sniffed the smells of the meadow from inside his carrier. When I opened the carrier, I was amazed that for once, a cat did not bolt furiously for the green thickets they call home. Instead, he ran about six feet, then turned around and sat down! He watched me with calm green eyes and then began licking the smells of his captivity off his fur.

Eddie is a unique kitty, but then they all are. It costs us nothing to know this, except perhaps in emotional overwhelm when we have to part. Saint Francis, watch over this sweet boy and bring him around for breakfast. I’ll be there every day.

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The myth of keeping a distance

When Ginger first showed up in the field behind the Post Office, a scrawny and beat-up geriatric tortoiseshell, I could tell she was sick. I was still in the throes of seeing Big Mike through his grueling skin grafting surgeries, so I was not excited about adding a patient to the hospital. But she looked so pathetic, oozing crud out of her nose and eyes, and it was such a cold December. I could not turn away.

Two weeks later she was in a crate in my garage, getting used to her first human relationship at the age of 13-14, awaiting her first encounter with a veterinarian. She was too sick to be feisty with me (she is a tortie after all) but she absolutely destroyed the veterinarian’s office when they let her out of the carrier too quickly for an exam. She had to be corralled and sedated, and the sleeping exam turned up very bad news: Ginger was dying of mouth cancer. It was determined that there was no need to spay her, and she was returned to me in the carrier, with the vet soberly prognosticating that she had only “a few weeks to a few months” to live.

I took her home, set her up in the downstairs bathroom with luxurious bedding, all the tuna she could eat, and told her I’d be her friend, and make her life wonderful, until she passed. Having just lost my beloved tortie Mocha a year before, I girded my heart, telling myself that “a few weeks to a few months” was not long enough to develop a deep love – the kind that would result in more heartache and tears. In that amount of time, I could show her the kindness she’d never had: a compassion that stopped short of love.

That was 16 months ago. This was Ginger today. How am I doing on keeping a distance?  😉

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The truth is, when you love animals, sometimes a split second is all it takes for your defenses to crash to the ground. I did my best to keep Ginger at arm’s length; keeping her in the downstairs bathroom, where there’s no room to stretch out and cuddle up, helped. But when I realized she was NOT going to die imminently, and let her out to become a free-range cat, it was all over. She has become a major cuddle-bug in the upstairs bedroom she claimed as her own. Her hilarious bow-legged trot fractures me, as do her clumsy (and futile) attempts to integrate herself into the downstairs clan. She is finally learning that crouching at the bottom of the stairs and yowling angrily at the others is not a good way to make friends. But it all endears her to me, gets her further ensconced in my heart.

Yes, it will now hurt like hell when she does pass, but it really could not have gone any other way. As for why she’s living so long, who knows? I don’t think love can cause cancer to go into remission, but it certainly helps give one reason to live.

St. Francis, thanks for the graphic reminder that we can neither hurry nor deny love in any of its forms. And guide my sweet girl toward her life’s conclusion with love and strength from her adopted mom.

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“Home” isn’t always what we think

About a week after my last post, as I was leaving for a work week in New York, Caitlin started to become afraid of Prince Harry. He was so miserable that he would hiss, spit and swat at her even before she entered the aviary. He was not only NOT making progress, he was regressing in a scary way. The decision was made (tearfully) that he needed to be let go.

This was not at all what I planned, as evidenced by my “cat to-do list” that I carry around with me in my ubiquitous notebook. But ten days ago, after Caitlin told me she watched him fly out of the carrier and into the jungle of the ravine like a genie from a bottle, I sadly crossed off one important item.

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I never thought for a second that Harry could not be turned; that he would rather take his chances in the ravine than stay any longer in the company of humans. But it just shows how A) cats have their own minds, and B) my own evaluations and plans often miss the mark. By miles.

Every day that I was gone, I would get a text from Caitlin, who kindly went by the ravine daily to check on Prince Harry. Nothing, she reported. No sightings. We were both in grief. Then after resuming my feeding duties yesterday, and calling my here-kitty-kittyies, I heard it: a plaintive meow that I recognized.  I called louder, the meow got louder.

And then, there he was: handsome Prince Harry, curling his toes happily at the ground, rubbing comically up against the hedge, and begging for food.

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His forehead is still a little pockmarked from his wounds, but he otherwise looked beautiful and healthy. He came within inches of my anxious fingers before spooking and pulling away. But he was sweet, and trusting, and goofy – the way I remembered him before his terrible fight.

And this morning, he was sitting on the sidewalk in the sun, waiting for me, establishing what I hope is a daily routine. As I watched him prance around, head-butt Margaret out of the way and gorge himself on the food, it struck me: Harry IS home now. He’s where he feels happy, comfortable and free. It’s not the home I’d planned on, but my wishes are not part of this equation.

It will be hard not to worry about him – he’s NOT a very expert stray. He’s very noisy, can be seen from a hundred yards away, and is too trusting. But I have to be okay with his choice, and let it go… let HIM go.

Saint Francis, watch over this sweet boy. And let him know the door isn’t closed. If he changes his mind, and wants a lap instead of a log to sleep on, I’m very happy to try again.

 

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Updates on three male waifs

One has turned the corner, another has put it in reverse, a third has left us.

The challenges of the young year that is 2016 continue. The extremely happy news: Robbie, my farm sanctuary reject, has found a wonderful new foster (and hopefully forever) new mom in my friend Gail. Despite his disastrous introduction to being an indoor-outdoor cat on the farm (http://tinyurl.com/zav85jz) Gail decided to give him a chance. And things are going very well in the last two weeks; the main hurdle remaining is achieving a detente with her current cat, who is not happy about the new addition. She had to leave town for work and asked if I could keep him. No problem – I have a very soft spot for this sweet boy. Here he was tonight, reminding us all that he’s not a psycho-kitty after all.

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The strange news (tho I refuse to be daunted by it) is that Prince Harry has regressed, even as Robbie has progressed. About two weeks after his trip to the ER for wound care, and looking and feeling much better, Harry got pissed. Every time Caitlin would go in the aviary to feed and take care of him, he would get progressively more defensive and hostile, even hissing and spitting. I went over to see if he would be less hostile with me, but sadly he was just as upset. It made no sense. The kitty I was feeding in the parking lot was a love – rubbing up against me happily.

The problem with his regression was that he had an appointment to be neutered, and Caitlin realized there would be no way to get him in a carrier. So it took two of us, and two different medications, to get him limp enough to transport. I felt terrible for him, but was so puzzled. I sought a reading with an animal communicator I’ve used in the past, and she said Harry wasn’t angry, he was just scared out of his mind. But why now? I asked her. She said animals, like humans, have the ability to block an awful incident out of their minds… until they can’t anymore. And Harry was remembering his attack, and scared to death that in this confined state, he couldn’t defend himself if he were attacked again.

Post-neutering, he is still upset, though today when I visited I was able to feed him off a spoon. I refuse to give up on him – partly because he was NOT an expert feral cat (loud and too visible and clumsy) and putting him back where he was would probably mean he’d be easy pickings for a predator. So I’m a little stuck, but still committed to giving him more time, and more chances for a happy life.

I also have to own that my decisions about Harry are impacted by my grief over the disappearance and almost certain death of one of my favorite colony kitties, Dorian Gray. http://tinyurl.com/hd9g4d5

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I kept him for two months last spring when I trapped him and he was so sickly, so of course I got very attached. I released him sadly, but was so thrilled that he was there every day for food, even letting me pet his head. But a month or so ago, he disappeared. I knew almost instantly in my gut that he was no longer with us. Every morning he did not respond to my call I have choked back tears of sorrow and rage that this is the best I can do for these gorgeous beings: patch them up and then throw them back into the wild, where their chances are grim.

So will I give Harry more time to learn to trust and love? Or will I put him back in the ravine? There is only one answer. I can’t lose another so soon.

St. Francis, welcome the spirit of my beautiful gray boy. Bring them into the embrace of Grace, Diego and far too many others I’ve loved and lost. I derive only marginal comfort in knowing they’re in a place of quiet and calm, where no coyotes or speeding cars can hurt them anymore. And send your blessings to Prince Harry! Tell him to open his heart and welcome the life we’re trying to give him.

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