The Replacement Cuddlers – Part 2

There is a line in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” that resonated with me from the moment I heard it. Indiana Jones is talking with Dean Stanforth. Indie says, “Brutal couple of years, huh, Charlie? First Dad, then Marcus” The Dean responds, “We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away.”

This past winter was a season of loss in our household. Nadia, our silky calico (Turkish Angoran) was sick for a very short time in December and passed away at the Vet’s office after they had tired a number of things to try to turn her condition around. She was about 10 and a half by then, which, by some standards, is already a “mature” cat. However, with her two “sisters” aged over 17 years, we were not ready to lose Nadia so soon. Her passing cast a gloom over our holiday season.

Then at the end of December, the Friday before the New Year’s weekend, my Mother choked while eating lunch at her assisted living facility, she aspirated, stopped breathing and coded while on the way in to the hospital. CPR was performed and my Mom was brought back, but it was the beginning of the end. Mom had dementia. She was at the point in the disease where we were looking to move her to a skilled nursing facility when this happened. On January 3rd she passed away at Hershey Medical Center.

Gradually as we put more time between us and this past winter, the mood was not so somber any longer. The days grew longer and with Spring, came a feeling of hopefulness.

Then came summer, then as we were approaching fall…then kittens.

Within a couple of weeks of arriving in our house, our FREE kittens both developed conjunctivitis and some kind of upper respiratory infection, Journey showed the signs first. That eye she had been favoring turned “goopy” and she developed a cough that was bad enough we couldn’t ignore it. So off to the veterinarian she went for diagnosis and medication ($$$). Nutmeg followed within a few days ($$$). Into quarantine they went, living in our bathroom and getting eye drops and antibiotics ($$$).

We kept the oldsters and the youngsters separated until the cough and pink eye were gone. They had already been together as the condition was incubating, though. And here is where the second-guessing-myself comes in. Did I hasten the old girls’ demise by introducing kitten germs into the household? Could they have held on a bit longer otherwise? There’s no way to tell. The old girls didn’t experience the same symptoms as the kittens other than maybe a little bit of sneezing. There was nothing that raised a red flag to say, “Take that cat to the vet NOW!”

Our young girls overcame their ailments and quarantine was lifted. We settled back into a more regular routine. We made a rather futile effort to keep the kittens from eating the old cat kibble and the old cats from eating the kitten kibble. They all had “downstairs time” on the evenings and weekends. During the day everyone lived “happily” in our bedroom/bathroom. They two sets of cats seemed mostly to ignore one another. I had worried that the older cats would get bullied, or get angry and “protest” having to share their domain. Thankfully, those things never happened. Isis seemed to be more “demanding” than before, but we sometimes wondered if her hearing was going, perhaps she could not hear how unbelievably loud her vocalizing had become. Xena was still wanting to be lifted up for her night time routine in bed next to me.

Looking back over the past few months, the days have just come and gone so quickly. I can’t peg exactly when I knew we were reaching the end with Xena. She was fading slowly at first. Then, in the period of about 48 hours she went from fading to not eating, to peeing on the cat bed, to gone. The other cats didn’t seem very affected by this. I had placed Xena in the bathroom when it was clear she was on her way out. She was lying on a towel, covered by another towel. I was sitting on the floor next to her, just stroking her, crying, not ready to lose her. In prances Journey who comes right up to Xena and sniffs her, then goes about her kitten business. It was a Saturday in September. At some point I decided I couldn’t just lay there waiting for her to die, watching her every breath, feeling her pulse. I went outside and started to mow the yard. I was more than halfway through when Michael came out and tapped me on the shoulder. Xena was gone. He had already made her a “box.” We wrapped her in a shawl my Mom had crocheted. I drew on the inside lid of her box and we sealed it up and buried her in the back of the yard by our Forsythia bush.

During the next several weeks, we were busy getting the house presentable as my aunt was paying us a visit from the Netherlands. I’ve always found that company is a good incentive for housework. I couldn’t tell if the other cats missed Xena or not. I missed her snuggles at night time.

We had out visit from my aunt and Isis was the belle of the ball. As was her MO, she greeted my aunt and spent much time in her lap. The new kittens were still in their shy mode and hid under our bed upstairs.

The visit came and went. The weather got cooler. The kittens got bigger. Isis became more vocal, demanding attention. She slept a lot, but was still social, spending time with us downstairs each evening until mid-October. We recognized the signs of her fading away having just been through it with Xena. She suddenly did not eat the wet kibble with gusto. She spent more time under the small accent table in the living room than on the chair or in my lap. Her voice changed. She was still eating, drinking and carrying on with her ADLs until the final 48 hours of her life. Two nights before she passed, she spent time on my pillow during the night. She was still jumping from the floor, to the bed, to the nightstand, to the dresser. The next day, she was mostly sleeping and the day after that, she wasn’t moving off of her pillow on the floor, even though there was water and food right there for her. I hung out on the floor with her knowing it was the end and just wanting it to go quickly for her…and for me. She passed during the day when we were at work.

And then, there were two. Isis’ passing didn’t seem to impact the kittens at all. They sniffed where she had been, but that was about as much attention as they gave the matter. There was life to be lived.

As time has passed, Journey and Nutmeg have taken over some of the duties of our old girls. Journey is the social one. She is not shy, but she hasn’t quite settled into the “cuddler” role that Isis had. Nutmeg is the larger shy one, frequently found sleeping under the bed. She comes up at night and sleeps on our feet. They don’t have free run of the house yet as we have caught Journey hanging from the bird cage one too many times. Their kitten-ness is a wonderful distraction from the sadness of losing our longtime pets. Its hard to be sad when your kitten has just dropped their favorite nippy mouse at your feet wanting to play “Get Mouse” with you, or when the two of them follow you into the bathroom each morning wanting cuddles and mommy time while you get ready for work. Their manner is so joyful, embracing what each new day has to bring.

In May when I first entertained the notion of adding to our “herd” of cats, I would not have imagined our household pet situation progressing as it did. Looking back, I’m glad we brought the kittens into our lives. It has been chaotic and bittersweet, stressful, but rewarding. There is nothing quite so  precious as holding a warm purring kitten in your lap, to hear that puff-box turn on and then fade out as she falls asleep. And even though getting two of them was not originally part of the plan, watching the two of them play together, it was the absolute right thing to do.

The Replacement Cuddlers – Part 1

This past summer I got it in my head that our family needed another cat, more specifically, a kitten. Now, it had been more than 10 years since we had a kitten among the pride of Roberts’ household cats. We were down to 2 very old kitties, Isis who was almost 19 at the time and Xena who was approaching 18 years old. I knew that when they passed on, it would be a difficult time to think about adding a kitten to the household, that there was no way to “replace” our precious pet. The decision to bring a kitten into the “pipeline” prior to this seemed to me to be a practical one.

We were convinced that Isis was going to “go down fighting.” She still ran down the stairs, jumped up on the bed at night and ran across our pillows “meow-ling” in a loud voice. She had a bad habit of shredding door trim when she was younger which she still tried to do, albeit unsuccessfully because we had her front claws removed in the meantime. She made this “snarf” face  — she had her ears back, pupils dilated when she jumped up at the trim, grabbing it on both sides of the door jam and sliding down to the ground. Then she thundered down the hallway afterwards making more noise than you would suspect a cat so petite could possibly make. We were sure she would one day just fall over dead after doing this.

Xena had just settled into old age. She spent most of her time under our bed, coming out at night. During the last 6 months or so of her life she would wait until I was almost asleep and meow to be lifted onto the bed to receive lovies and then groom and snuggle down for a while next to me.

Isis’s nighttime routine involved the running across the pillows and then pressing her wet nose onto some exposed body part seeking pets and lovies. Sometimes she would fall asleep on my pillow. Others, she would go to her “princess pillow” on our dresser, one of the decorative pillows off our bed.

I put out some feelers over the course of the summer, explored the “rescue” websites, visited PetSmart to see what cute critters might be available for adoption.

Fast forward to August, a friend of a friend who had many rescue kitties was looking to rehome some of them. I heard about a kitten who had been on a long difficult journey already in her short life. She had been rejected and abandoned by her mother more than once. She was tiny, but feisty. Then, oh, by the way, the kitten, named Journey, had a buddy named Nutmeg…wouldn’t we please consider bringing her on board too? I saw the pictures. Journey was a grey kitten with darker tiger stripes, a white spot on her chest, white mittens and socks. Nutmeg was almost a year old and a larger, orange cat. It was all over. I was in love.

Tony, my stepson, and I went into Lebanon to pick up Journey and Nutmeg on August 4th. Journey and Nutmeg were both in hiding when we arrived to pick them up from Tina, their rescue Mom. There were a slew of other cats in the household. I think Tony was in heaven giving and receiving lovies from cats of all shapes and sizes while we waited for our chosen ones to make an appearance. Finally, Journey was coaxed out of her hiding spot and we were able to stuff her in a carrier. She was such a little bundle of fur. Attempts were made to find and capture Nutmeg, but she was a very good hider. Tina agreed it might be best to take Journey home first and then she would bring Nutmeg to us later in the day.

So Journey came home with a goody bag full of cat treats and toys from Tina. We had prepared for a quarantine for the two new cats in Tony’s bathroom, thinking it would be best to keep them away from the old lady cats for a while. We hung out in the bathroom for a good long time interacting with Journey. She was so soft and cuddly. She had a tiny voice. She was into everything in a kitten way, alternately spazing out and then resting, purring loudly while snuggling in our laps.  Tina was eventually able to corral Nutmeg and brought her over later that afternoon. Nutmeg was a scaredy-cat. She did not want to leave the cat carrier when we first brought her into the bathroom. So…Journey crawled inside with her. The sight of the two of them snuggling together in that carrier was so sweet. None of the cats we had before had ever liked each other enough to get that close.

We noticed Journey seemed to have something amiss with her left eye. Tina speculated one of the other cats probably swatted at her when she was playing with their tail.

Within a week, we had all the kitties living in our bedroom. The old ladies for the most part wanted nothing to do with the “kittens.” Journey was determined to make friends. When Isis and Xena didn’t want to play, Journey sought out Nutmeg and they would play fight with much gusto.

We allowed all the cats out for some play time during the evenings and weekends. At first they showed little interest in being downstairs. Then, when they were downstairs, it was impossible to get them to go upstairs (before we employed the power of the “red dot”… a story for another time). The old girls were being remarkably patient with their younger counterparts. They all seemed to be coexisting pretty well.

Then, Xena started to lose weight and the range of movement of her hind legs was decreasing. Michael said this had already started before the kittens came to live with us. I was taking a lot of photos of the cats during these early weeks and could see a difference in her appearance before and after kittens. She didn’t seem to be in pain. She was still eating, drinking, pooping and peeing…just less than before. I hated seeing her decline, but 18 was VERY OLD for a cat…19 was VERY OLD for a cat. She and Isis had lived VERY long kitty lives already.

Life with the cats was bittersweet during this time. The kittens were DEMANDING attention in the way kittens do. There is so much to see and do, new trouble to get into. The old girls were just living their quiet lives the way they had been doing since Nadia left us the previous December.

Nadia was a gorgeous 10-year-old long-haired (mostly) white kitty. The vet had called her a “silky calico.” But she looked like a textbook “Turkish Angoran.” She and the other two didn’t necessarily interact all that much, but the household dynamic had changed when Nadia left us suddenly due to some variety of cancer that the vet wasn’t able to pin down.

…..TO BE CONTINUED…

 

PSA – First Aid Training, Just Do It!

So, I’ve been awake and doing stuff since 11:30pm yesterday. I had some ideas rolling around in my head which have prompted me to post my very first “BLOG” entry ever. I give you one important PSA in 2 parts.

Part 1 – Take that First Aid class you have been putting off taking. Truly, it isn’t that scary. I took a class with MIDSAR (Middle Creek Search and Rescue) this past Thursday.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TG1GI0QvIjg
Now that I’ve watched the video several times, went through the class with Dee Utz, I don’t have any delusions of being an EMT or doctor, but I feel better about my chances of tending to an injury or medical problem until trained help arrives.

Part 2 – If you are seeking an assisted living situation for your family member/loved one, ASK if the aids are trained in first aid and get specific numbers. Last year my Mom was showing serious decline in her ADLs. She was losing the ability to feed herself. The other folks in Mom’s very small “Memory Care” unit had similar issues. One night the cook decided to serve some manner of shredded meat (I am thinking it was pork, but not sure) and 2 of the ladies choked on the meat as I was sitting there helping feed my Mom. One of the ladies needed abdominal thrusts to expel the food from her airway. This was how I found out that the only person on duty that evening who had first aid training was the one Med Tech on duty who was not in Memory Care at the time the choking episode occurred. The aide overseeing Memory Care did not have first aid training. Upon further inquiry with the facility administrator, come to find out, the ratio of “care givers” with first aid training vs. without was astonishingly low. SO…ASK the hard questions and get hard facts. Ask the aids on duty if they have first aid training. PUSH for your care facilities to make it a priority for their people to take this crucial VERY BASIC training.