Tag Archives: pets

What’s in a Name?

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Linus

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Sabrina

Since I brought home my new kittens last weekend, more than a few people have asked about their names, Linus and Sabrina.

When I decided to get a male and a female kitten, I went on a hunt for a good “couple” identity in literature or popular culture.  So many of those I tried out were wrong because the story ended tragically (Heloise and Abelard), so many were wrong because the names would overwhelm babies and be unacceptably shortened to nicknames unacceptable for the regal cats into which these babies will grow (Antony and Cleopatra), and others came up short as too pretentious (Paolo and Francesca).

Cue my dad.

Although he couldn’t remember the male character’s name, he suggested Sabrina as played by Audrey Hepburn (and Linus played by Humphrey Bogart).  A fabulous film with a happy ending for its protagonists.

Hence, the kittens were named.

Welcome to the world, babies!

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The Rainbow Bridge

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After nearly twelve years together, my little kitty with the bunny soft fur took her walk over the Rainbow Bridge this morning. She was dying of cancer; she was in liver failure, and she was in pain, so I did the humane thing and helped her cross the bridge to relieve that pain. I held her in my arms while the young veterinarian administered the sedative. While we waited for the drugs to do their job, I told her that I loved her and stroked her head and told her that soon she would be with all of her kitty pals who had already taken their journey over the Rainbow Bridge.

I adopted Meadow in January 2003. She was a stray living in my mother’s backyard, and as I had a few months earlier lost one of my other fur babies, my mother thought Meadow would be a good addition to my family. My family consisting of me and one cat. So Meadow joined our household.

When I first integrated her, she was affectionate, albeit a bit hesitant. After all, I had taken her from a life of freedom and the boy kitties to the inside of a 6 room apartment with an overweight and somewhat irritable tabby feline. I gave her space, figuring she’d come around sooner or later. My other cat, however, did not give her space, and the two of them became fast buddies, snuggling together in the sunshine patches on the couch and my bed, curling up together around my feet at night.

Towards me, however, Meadow remained aloof, refusing even to allow me to touch her. I got a few pats in quite by accident over the years by stroking her back as she streaked past me. I was frustrated; I’d never owned a cat that didn’t want snuggles or to be on me when I sat down. I made it my mission in life to win over this cat’s trust, and to that end, I spoiled her rotten.

After four years, I was finally able to touch her with the help of Greenies cat treats. I would lay out a few while I sat stone still a few feet away. Once she ate the first few, I would put out a few more a bit closer to me, and so on and so forth. Eventually, she allowed me to touch her head, but only while she was eating. Our relationship developed at the same glacial pace until about four years ago.

From the first apartment home, I moved her a total of four times, ending in the home where I now live. We landed here four years ago, and almost immediately she became different. She was still aloof and avoided me, but she would twirl around my ankles when I fed her. She would allow me to touch her and pet her while she ate. I made it a point to do that every day.

I found a house-call vet so that I would never have to terrorize her with a car ride again. Dr. Jeremy is a wonderful vet, but he is an even nicer human, and Meadow and I both came to know and trust him. She certainly didn’t like his exams, but she remained mostly calm through them, and I was able to hold her during them! She didn’t seem to hate me for days after each exam, which I took as a positive.

About a year ago, Meadow allowed me to hold her for a few moments while she was eating. I took to giving her snuggles and hugs while she ate, or while she sat in front of the screen door to our back porch watching the birds and chipmunks. As long as I didn’t lift her off the floor, she tolerated my affection, even purring most times. Each morning as we descended from the bedroom, Meadow would greet me or my husband with a chorus of meowing. It sounded as if there were multiple Siamese cats rather than one eight-pound tortoiseshell. My husband even took to talking to her, which was a testament to her sweetness, as he is not someone I’d call a pet person. He likes the cats, but he’s just not attached to them the way I am.

I wish I could pinpoint when I started to notice things were off with her, but the truth is I have been distracted over the past several months with human life, and over the past few weeks with the loss of my husband’s father and my son’s grandfather. She had her annual physical in March, and all her blood work came back normal. She was a tad underweight, so I took to feeding her canned food, and her weight jumped right back up. We figured she just needed different nutrients as she aged.

A couple of weeks ago, as we finished sitting shiva for my father-in-law, I noticed that she had become thin and gaunt. I tried to tempt her with her favorite foods, including roast chicken (much to my husband’s chagrin as she often jumped up on the counter to steal the chicken out of the pan), but aside from a few bits, she wasn’t too interested. On Saturday, my family was here for dinner, and my sister and mother commented that she didn’t look good, so I knew it wasn’t just me being paranoid.

I called Dr. Jeremy on Sunday morning, and he came by to see her. He was equally worried, so he took some blood and other samples. When he called me last night, I knew instantly that it was bad. Meadow had been laying on the couch in our basement since he left on Sunday, so I had my own suspicions, but he confirmed the worst of them. Meadow’s liver was in advanced stages of failure and based on the blood work results, she likely had some sort of massive cancer that was just eating her up. Unless I was willing to take aggressive action, such as a blood transfusion and other invasive treatments, she was going to die soon; even taking the aggressive treatment route wouldn’t guarantee positive results.

When I told him that based on those results, I would in all likelihood be euthanizing her and that I wanted him to be the one to do it so that I didn’t have to take her in the car, he apologized that he was going to be out of town until Thursday; based on her blood work, he said he would be surprised if she lasted that long. He gave me the name of a local emergency veterinary hospital, and said that if I made the decision to go ahead before Thursday, I should take her there.

I spent a lot of time with Meadow yesterday. I tried to tempt her with her favorite foods, but she had no interest. She didn’t even want water. She was weak. Her legs buckled under her when she jumped off the couch to get away from my son. I held her, wrapped up in a fleece blanket so she wouldn’t get cold, and I made her a little nest so she could be comfortable overnight. I wasn’t sure that she would make it through the night.

When I checked on her this morning, she opened her eyes but didn’t move. She tried to move away from my hand when I stroked her, which told me she was in pain. She only wanted me to stroke her head and her ears. I gathered her up in her blanket and held her, talking to her about what she wanted me to do. She looked at me with her big green eyes, so trusting and sweet and meowed. It may sound corny, but I knew she could understand me and I knew that the time had come.

I brought her to the veterinary hospital, and they put Meadow and me into what they call a bereavement room. I held her and told her how much I loved her. She seemed to know that it was time as she just lay on my lap and closed her eyes. She looked up at the young woman who came to give her the injections, but she wasn’t afraid and she didn’t try to run, and for that I was glad. I think she was just tired, and she was looking forward to everything I was telling her about being able to run and play and eat as much tuna as she wanted once she was over the Rainbow Bridge.

Meadow’s death was quiet and dignified, and I cradled her with love until she was gone. I know I did the right thing for her, but my heart is still broken a little bit. I will miss her and her sweetness, her chatter throughout the day, her constant presence hovering just out of reach like my own personal satellite.

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Confronting the Ghosts

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When I was four years old, my mother and her first husband divorced. Her first husband is my biological father. Since about age seventeen, I’ve referred to him as The Sperm Donor (TSD). Until two months ago, I hadn’t seen him in over twenty years.

When I was six years old, my mom and I moved in with the man she ultimately married, who raised me and who is my sister’s and my father. The man who became and who is my dad. The man I call when I need advice. The man who picked me up from the playground pavement, knees bleeding and unable to walk from the pain after the chains broke on the swing I was riding and I fell from what felt like a height of a hundred feet but was in reality probably 8 or 9 feet.

My dad is the man who helped me with my homework, who listened and gave me advice when I’d had a particularly rough tangle with my mother as a teenager. My dad is the man who intimidated my high school and college boyfriends and who stood proudly applauding when I accepted every one of my diplomas. My dad is the man who taught me that it was okay to stand on my own two feet and speak my truth, even if my voice were nothing more than a whisper when I did that. My dad taught me that even if started out whispering if I believed in myself and kept speaking my truth, eventually I would be shouting it so loudly that the world wouldn’t be able to ignore me.

My dad helped me move out of the house I shared with my first husband after that husband, who had sworn to me and my dad that he would love me and care for me forever, scarred me. My dad, along with my mother, walked me down the aisle when I married my darling Ernie in a fairytale wedding.

But I digress. I divorced TSD when I was seventeen. I was told that he and his second wife were divorcing, and I was told why. Based on that information, I developed an instant and intense revulsion for him, white hot, that followed me through my life.  I never knew anything different from what I was told, and it was only the last time I saw TSD in the early 1990s that I even tried to find out his interpretation of events.

Until last fall. Then curiosity and some deep rooted need of which I was not even aware took over my heart and brain. It might have had something to do with the depression into which I’d fallen and couldn’t shake, or the prescription my doctor wrote me to help alleviate my symptoms, or even the therapist I started seeing every week, but I prefer to think of the mystical rather than the logical explanation. Thinking that way makes me feel a little less like a control freak who willed herself into doing something against all common sense.

My entire adult life I was determined never to acknowledge TSD, never to allow him entry into my carefully constructed and protected world, and since my child came along, never to allow him any access to The Boy. I haven’t changed my mind about my son. I have, however, decided that I am strong enough to allow TSD entry into my life, at least in a limited way.

I reached out to TSD. For years, I had kept tabs on him. I was fearful of him, of what he might want from me, what he was capable of doing to me. After all, I had been told he was a monster. I knew from my own observations and experiences that he had not been any kind of parent.

One early memory I have is sitting on his lap in the front seat of a car, I think it was a convertible, driving through a campground, and I had my hands on the wheel and was steering the car. I have no idea how old I was, but I don’t remember my step-sisters being there, so it was in all likelihood before the age of five. Another memory has me riding shotgun in his convertible on Route I-95, southbound from Boston to Willimantic, Connecticut, Jimmy Buffet blasting, TSD holding an open beer bottle between his legs, gulping as we sped along. I recall riding in the back of a pickup truck he owned at least once until my mother got wind of the riding arrangements and put the kyebosh on it. So from then on I rode in the crowded cab with TSD and his second wife while my step-sisters rode in the open bed. Until that summer everything fell apart, I thought they had cashed in the winning lottery ticket as to fathers.

I remember being left with his older sister, my aunt, on her farm. As an adult, I was told that her then-husband later did some bad things, but I just barely remember him, and only that I didn’t think he was a nice man. I recall that the dog TSD had bought me, a Siberian Husky I named Blue because he had one blue eye and one brown, was clipped by a car, and that we couldn’t get him to the vet because TSD had left me there for an extended period of time and my aunt’s husband had siphoned all the gas out of the second car so that he could go off somewhere, so as a five year-old child I watched my dog die a painful, horrible death. I’ve never owned another dog.

There are a lot of ghosts that have accompanied me through life, but TSD was the pink elephant. I didn’t know what would happen if I extended a branch to TSD. I just knew for certain that no longer could I ignore his ghost. So I picked up a stick and handed it to him, not sure if he would take it or if I would be bludgeoned over the head with it. I was shocked when he took it.

That was several months ago. Since then we’ve communicated via e-mail on an every couple of weeks or so cycle and had an in-person meeting once, at his mother’s funeral. That was the other thing that shocked me. At age 44, I discovered that TSD’s mother was still alive at age 95. Better yet, my request to see her was met with generous welcome by two of my cousins and TSD.

I was fortunate and was able to see her twice between the time I found out she was alive and when she died on July 21. Surprisingly, she recognized me and was able to understand that I had a son. Selfishly, I was glad that she seemed unaware that more than twenty years has passed since I’d last seen her; I didn’t want to have to attempt an explanation of my ghosts with her. She lived a long life, and from what I’m told, suffered her share of trauma and insanity. It’s all hearsay since I never heard any of it from her, but if even a fraction of what I was told is accurate, she deserves every happiness she found in life and more.

When my cousin gave the eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral, I found myself crying; not for the life that was lost, but selfishly, for what I missed out on by not having her in my life. I never felt I could have her – or any of TSD’s family members – in my life without also having TSD, and I was always afraid of him, and what he might do or be. I never experienced my grandmother as my cousins and their children did. I never knew her the way they did, never heard all the stories they did, never got to learn anything from her the way they did. Although it would be easy to place all the blame for that at TSD’s feet, I realized too late that the fault lay partly with me; only partly because none of them reached out to me, either.  Perhaps my fears were irrational, but they were based on what I was told, not on anything concrete that I knew for myself.  I never thought about what I knew myself.

Ernie accompanied me to the funeral on July 31. I have only just begun to process what it was like to see TSD and his family after so many years. I was at turns terrified, guilt-ridden, shocked, and heartbroken. I saw bits of myself in those people, and I couldn’t process it. For nearly my entire life, I have observed and been told that I am just like my mother and her mother. On my mother’s side, we were a family without boys until my cousins and I had children. My cousins and I, while various circumstances and geography and other things separate us, are alike in more ways than we may care to admit or may even be able to see.

Yet here I was, confronted with the unalienable fact that I was like the women on TSD’s side of my family, too. TSD’s three sisters, my first cousins, and his mother.  My grandmother apparently was a lifelong writer, a lover of books and music, dedicated to her friends and family. She also had a spine of steel and an indomitable spirit, if even a fraction of what I’ve heard about her life is true. She was widowed in the mid-1960s, when she was in her forties and had four children. As far as I know, she was not college-educated and did not have a career on which she could fall back. Some of her children were adults at that point, some were still young and at home.  She raised those younger children alone and never remarried.  I think she was a remarkable woman who had a fantastic life, and that is what I heard echoed in the sentiments expressed at her memorial.

I held myself together admirably – at least according to Ernie – while at the church, but after we had left … well, all bets were off. I began crying in earnest as we crossed the parking lot, and Ernie pretty much carried me to the car. I often joke with Ernie that he is afraid to drive my car (we call her Christine), but he had no choice that day. I sat in the passenger seat and howled while he struggled with the computer-driven controls. I continued crying all the way home, just continuous tears down my cheeks, the waterworks occasionally escalating into sobbing so convulsive that Ernie had to pull over so I could vomit on the side of the highway.  I was sick at my own misinterpretations, my own failure to know, my own uncertainty.  My body simply could not  hold in the evaporation of the past in my mind.

When I was able to hear Ernie over my crying, he commented that he was glad I’d wanted him to accompany me to the funeral. For most of the time he has known me, I had told him that under no circumstances would I have anything to do with TSD or allow TSD any access to my life or family, so, needless to say, he was a tad surprised when I revealed recent events to him. He was, however, fully supportive, and after it was all over, he expressed that being with me in the bosom of TSD’s family allowed him a window into me that he had never known existed and that he felt closer to me for having seen through it.

I haven’t yet been able to process the whole experience fully as I cannot get too far into thinking without dissolving into a puddle on the floor. Part of me wants for everything I have been told about TSD to be untrue; that part is the four year-old girl who desperately wants all the bad experiences with her father to be nothing more than a bad dream. Another part of me believes all the bad things I’ve been told, but that part is the angry, sullen teenager who does not understand – and doesn’t want to understand – the nuances of a very adult situation into which she was thrust. Still a third part believes that there must be a middle ground somewhere, but doesn’t know yet where to find it or even how to begin searching.

The ghosts of my life haunt me. I have found them at last, but now I need to confront and banish them into the flesh and blood people they are, no larger or smaller than life.

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Crazy Cats

Here is my crazy alpha cat, Bella, with her favorite vice, Puffs Plus Lotion tissues scented with Vicks. I don’t buy them because of what happens in this video.  Bella will stalk the grocery bags to get the tissues, but Ernie Hemingway likes them.  And most often loses them to the cat.

Meanwhile, my bunny kitty, Meadow has been reunited with food.  According to my grade-A awesome home visit veterinarian, it turns out that all the artificial tree-eating etc. was likely the result of Meadow not eating enough actual food.  Apparently, crazy alpha cat has been so successful blocking poor Meadow from the food that she was essentially starving to death while Bella was plumping up like a little balloon.  Meadow was down to 6.9 pounds when I called the vet.  I was at my wits’ end, so I decided to stop messing around with the dry food and separating the two when they were eating.  I gave in and bought a few cans of Friskies wet food.

Meadow loves it; Bella hates it.

One month later, Meadow has gained a pound and is happily eating again.  She’s rediscovered her favorite sleeping spot in Ernie Hemingway’s office, and she’s letting me get near her again.

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Bella is eating more dry food than ever, apparently resulting in some body image issues.

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Stupid Pet Tricks

As anyone who knows me well is aware, I have two cats.  Two in a long line of felines who have been my faithful companions since birth.  I love all animals, but I am truly a cat person.  I love everything about cats:  their thick, soft fur and dainty little paws, their inquisitiveness, their playfulness, their ability to make me laugh even when they’ve done something wrong, their ability to know just when I need comfort.  Their purring is a background noise in my life, their presence a solid friend on whom I can always rely.

And I love their never ending ability to amuse and disarm me with their simplicity and yes, at times, stupidity.

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Meadow – sweet, but none too bright

One of my kitties, Meadow, began her life as a feral kitten.  She was born in my mother’s yard, and became quickly acclimated to the life my mother provided:  generous food allowances, a soft place to sleep on my parents’ covered back porch, and ready affection.  Knowing that I had recently lost one of my cats, my mother quickly decided this stray would be a perfect companion for me and my remaining crotchety tabby cat.  I agreed, and we made arrangements with a local vet for the kitten to be spayed and have all her shots.  She came through her vet ordeal wonderfully and I brought her home on a Friday so I could spend the weekend introducing the two cats without bloodshed.

I needn’t have worried.  After an initial thirty or seconds of hissing and fluffed up tails, the two cats took to one another like they had been together all their lives.  They were fast friends, and I would find them curled up together more often than not.  And although Meadow was a little skittish, I expected that after an adjustment period she would come around.  After all, she was affectionate with my mother, and I was the one patting her new friend, not to mention providing food.

I was wrong.  After the first couple of weeks, during which I could touch her from a distance and talk to her, she wouldn’t allow me to touch her at all.  In fact, for the next three years, the only times I touched her were when I had to trap her either to take her to the vet or move to a new place, or on the rare occasion when I could reach down as she streaked past.  She slept on my bed and would snuggle up near where I was, but just out of reach, and if I made a move in her direction – even if it was not for the purpose of touching her – she was gone like a shot.

Then I discovered the key to her heart, and my ability to pet her, and occasionally even pick her up (which she still hates).  Greenies cat treats.  She gets a handful every morning when I come downstairs, and I do not exaggerate when I say she lays in wait for me (or my poor, put upon Hubby).  My alpha cat extraordinaire, Bella, sleeps at the bottom of the bed and if Meadow so much as peeks her head over the side, Bella smacks her between the eyes and chases her away.  Since Meadow is not “allowed” to sleep on the bed, she sleeps on the bedroom floor on top of the pile of extra blankets, a perch from which she can see anyone (or the crazy cat) coming.

Bella - alpha cat extraordinaire

Bella – alpha cat extraordinaire

When my feet hit the floor in the morning, Meadow jumps up from her pile and circles my ankles, chirping at me in her loud (think Siamese cats), staccato voice.  She waits not so patiently while I put in my contact lenses and then runs to the top of the stairs, where she waits until I start down the hall.  Once I’ve hit about level with Muffin Man’s bedroom door, she races down the stairs to her preferred feeding spot – under my son’s art easel where she can take cover while wolfing down her breakfast, and continues her yowling until I’ve parsed out the treats.  It’s during those hurried meals that I am permitted the honor of touching her.  She is so soft, like a bunny, her fur thick and dense, reflecting her past as a feral needing a thick coat to guard against the winter cold.  My sister jokes Meadow’s fur is so soft because it’s untouched by human hands.

But back to the stupidity.

We have an artificial Christmas tree because I am ridiculously allergic to conifer trees.  Hives, swelling of the eyes, nose, throat.  Nasty allergic, developed as a young adult.  Growing up, I was always on alert for cats trying to eat the tree or drink the tree water, but since switching to a plastic tree, it never really occurred to me to worry.  Then again, I have never been able to foresee Meadow and her insanity.  My Meadow eats artificial trees, you see.

Since I put the tree up in November, I have been finding little messes, all deposited very neatly and discreetly in corners, for Meadow is nothing if not fastidious, but still, more work for me than if she didn’t eat plastic pine needles.  I have chased her away from the tree on numerous occasions, risking my already tenuous relationship with her, but she will not be deterred.  I’ve tried everything:  I’ve sprinkled essential oils around the base of the tree on the skirt, figuring the smell might be distasteful to her – no; I’ve put our Polar Express train around the base of the tree, thinking the obstacle might throw her off her task – no; I’ve even tried spraying her with water.  She flattened her ears and narrowed her eyes, but even that didn’t deter her.  The only thing that deters her is having people in the room, or keeping the tree in a bag in a closet, which is not really an option for the months of November and December (and January this year, because I’m still sick and get out of breath going up the stairs at night, never mind lugging around an eight foot fake tree and boxes of ornaments).

So for now I simply tell her, every morning, that she shouldn’t eat plastic pine needles.  I’ll give her more food and treats in the hope that perhaps it’s hunger driving her to ingest prickly little pieces of plastic.  And once the tree is down, I’ll begin searching for a “cat stay away” cure for next year.  Suggestions?

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