If you give a mouse a cookie…

Right after Maddison passed away, I really craved a kitten. I wanted a spark in the house. Even after I adopted Brady, I still felt that pull. And actually, it’s because of Brady that I ended up with Fenway.

Harley, my senior cat, was about to turn 12. Although Harley is pretty peppy for his age and size, Brady seemed to want to play more than Harley’s energy would allow. Being the sweet soul she is, Brady started to just snuggle in next to him and not demand too much. But I could see her aging far too rapidly for her young spirit.

About this time, a mother and kitten were brought to the shelter. The mother, a Ragdoll, seemed incredibly exhausted, especially with a bright-eyed little kitten jumping all over her (turned out she was pregnant again already with what would be a litter of six kittens). I immediately fell head over heels for Fenway — a soft grey and white girl who purred super loud when you came near her. I took her home that night to give her mother a rest and there was no doubt that she would stay forever.

Fenway is about as kitten as you can get. She struts, she climbs drapes, she chases her tail, she chases the dogs’ and cats’ tails. She is a whirlwind who radiates fun and joy. She is a love bug but also is perfectly content to fall asleep on a chair in the corner by herself. She is perfection in a pint-sized wonder.

Best of all she is the missing piece to our puzzle here. She is active enough to engage Brady and bring out her kitten side but gentle enough to snuggle in next to Harley. She occasionally takes on the old guy, getting him in her version of a headlock, but mostly respects his space and toddles along after him. She and Brady crash through the house, up stairs, down stairs, across sofas and under cushions. She has brought out a side of Brady that was lacking, showing her how to be a confident, bold kitten. And in return, Brady hands out the occasional brushed kiss or side rub to her.

It’s fun watching the dynamics of this threesome and how one little kitten can make everyone whole again.

Patience is a virtue…

After six months of patience, pats and kindness, Brady, my semi-feral cat, had the confidence to crawl into my lap for cuddles this morning. Pretty darn cool.

Lost and Found

For a few months, it was sad central here at the homestead. In addition to the passing of Penny, we endured the loss of Maddison, my 11-year-old Maine Coon mix. Maddison had a perineal hernia recur – a condition he had surgery for at age five. Unfortunately, due to his age and the progression of the impaction caused by the hernia, there were no acceptable treatment options and I had to say good-bye to him too.

Sadness doesn’t cover how I felt over such great losses. Although I still had my two dogs and Maddison’s littermate, Harley, the house seemed empty. Maddison was very vocal and everything was whisper-quiet without him. Also, from the time I adopted him at eight months, Maddison would sit on my desk and purr while I worked. Heartbroken, I began a search to fill the void.

Initially, I wanted a kitten. Losing Maddie at 11 and Penny at 7 made me shy away from adopting an older cat. The two years with Penny, while gratifying in every aspect, pushed me to search for a young kitten with no known health issues.

Because we didn’t have kittens available at Baypath at the time, I took a ride down to Buddy Dog Humane Society, another nearby no-kill shelter. On the drive, I called my sister to check the shelter’s hours. She got distracted looking at the available cats and told me I had to look at 1-year-old Sparrow. My sister is not a cat enthusiast so the fact that she found one that intriguing was difficult to ignore.

Buddy Dog, it turned out, had a single kitten at the time and he was in the process of being adopted along with a senior cat. Oddly, his new family also just lost two cats and was looking to soothe the grief.

I wandered around the cages and spotted the cat my sister had described. Sparrow was hard to miss with her gorgeous long black-and-white coat and her adorable half-mustache. She also has a sweet black nose and an assortment of black and pink pads on her paws.

When I first spied Sparrow, she was grouped in a cage with a cat that could have been Maddison’s twin. They were both basking in the daytime sun and seemed content as could be. A volunteer spotted me lingering near Sparrow and suggested I sit in the floor-to-ceiling cage with her. I pet her gently as we sat quietly for a while. She was such a sweetie.

Turns out Sparrow had come to the shelter about a year ago at the age of five months with her siblings. Born to a stray cat, she had been kept her first half-year in a basement with no socialization. This essentially made her feral. When she was left at the shelter, she took a good eight months to warm up to the staff and volunteers. But once she did, they said, she was the biggest love bug ever.

I was conflicted about adopting Sparrow. On the one hand, it was honestly love at first sight and on the other, I wanted a kitten. I completed an adoption application, but decided to think about it some more. As I babbled on about her to my sister on my ride home, it became apparent she would soon become part of the homestead. As soon as I got home, I called Buddy Dog, asked them to consider my application and, once approved, I put a hold fee on her.

Two days later, I brought Sparrow, now Brady, home and we both started to heal.

Saying goodbye to Penny

Two weeks ago, I had to make one of the most difficult and perhaps easiest decisions of my life. My sweet Penny, my foster-turned-forever, was failing fast from neuropathy in her back legs and other diabetic issues. Instead of having her suffer, I summoned all my courage and let her go.

I’ve seen my friends go through this process time and time again and I’ve witnessed their pain. But going through it firsthand is so different.

I adopted Penny knowing full well that her life would be riddled with health challenges. After all, her sister, who had been abandoned with her on the shelter’s doorstep, had immediately succumbed to the ravages of diabetes. Penny was getting a second chance but there were no guarantees it would be a lengthy one.

As maintenance, to keep her insulin levels adjusted, Penny required shots twice a day. She took them well, an incredible trooper in my early days when I was just learning how to administer them. Early on when I fostered her, she was having trouble staying high on her haunches – a sure sign of diabetic trauma. However, she would go back and forth with how much it bothered her – some days at a regular stance, some days slung low. It was a crapshoot how she would be from day to day as the disease’s toll deepened. A test, taken shortly before she died, would show that despite these irreversible symptoms, her actual insulin levels were in the excellent range. A cruel irony of this disease.

In her final days, Penny began to have more and more problems with her hind legs, finding it hard to stand or turn around. The day before she died, she was headed to the basement as usual – her favorite hangout – and fell down the steps. After cuddling her for a while, I put all her necessary things down there so she wouldn’t have to venture up and down again.

The next morning, I realized it was time to say good-bye. Through all of her trials and tribulations, Penny had always been a purring, licky, cuddly girl with the brightest light in her eyes. On that day, the light had gone out and she looked distant. I was trying to hold out for test results that would come the next day to see if there was any chance of a turnaround, but one look at her and it was obvious her fight was gone. (The test results, it turns out, indicated the same outcome.)

With backing from friends and family, I scheduled an appointment for early afternoon. She died within seconds of the injection. The sadness I have felt over this has not been for Penny – she was valiant in her battle against diabetes but ready to be with her sister. Instead it was for me. Although there were no promises of a long life for her – she was anywhere between five and seven when I adopted her and between seven and nine when she passed – I was convinced that enough love and attention and safety would enable her to thrive.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had a chance to realize that that’s exactly what she did – thrive. She got the opportunity her sister never did to experience a caring environment where her every need was met, she was surrounded by kindness, and where the affection she gave was truly appreciated.

While I’m devastated that I’ll never feel her sweet snuggle in the crook of my neck again – she was the best at it which earned her the nickname “Snuggs” – I am glad she is at peace and that I was able to save her more days of pain.

Saying good-bye was heartbreaking but knowing she’s at peace makes the decision one of the best I’ve ever made. Our relationship might have only lasted less than two years, but it was one I’ll treasure forever.

Want to run like the wind? Bring your dog

For the past few months, I’ve been indulging my new passion: Running. Better yet: Running races!

I completed 8 charity 5Ks and 5-milers between August and December. In addition, several times a week, I run throughout my neighborhood and around town, trying to improve my time. At one point earlier this month, I hit a wall.

Then, I had the brilliant idea to start running with my Border Collie. I had tried to take her and my SATO at the same time a few months back, but that just led to frustration. Stopping every two inches so Riggs could mark, being jerked back and forth by their different paces, and eventually having to stop because Riggs pooped and I had to carry the bag home. It’s impossible to run with a loaded poop bag. Trust me.

Lily alone, though, is a different story. She’s fast and focused. Together we’ve gotten my time down by 10 seconds – my first sub 6:00 kilometer! She’s also great at distracting me so that I don’t notice how far we’ve gone or, worse, how much we still have to go. She amuses me to no end – watching her perfect gait and effortless speed. It makes me want to match her and at times try to challenge her.

Getting to run like that also is healthy for her mind and body. A bored, unexercised Border Collie is apt to get into trouble, bark incessantly, and quickly put on weight. A well-exercised Border Collie is obedient, happy and perfectly proportioned.

Running with Lily is far more fun than running without her. I can’t wait till I’m confident enough to take her on a dog-friendly 5K! Watch out, personal record. You’re about to be defeated.

P.S., Riggs is my official cool-down partner, running with me until he has to go and then we walk the rest of the way…. Poop bag in hand.

The help you might need

Last week, as I was loading up on my holistic dog food and prescription cat food, it hit me how much I spend on pet food alone. Then, a realization came soon after that I was fortunate to be able to afford to feed my pets – especially in a more “upscale” manner.

Recently the Metrowest Pet Pantry contacted me to share information about their services. With unemployment reaching for double digits in the U.S., feeding pets is becoming a greater challenge for many families. The Metrowest Pet Pantry, located at 376 Village Street in Millis, Mass., aims to provide families with low-cost/no-cost food for their animals to alleviate one stressor in a financially challenged environment.

In addition to food, they offer blankets, beds, leashes and collars as well as lower cost spay/neuter and other veterinary services. Potential recipients need only fill out a help request form to qualify for this assistance.

I feel that services like these will go a long way to keeping pets with their families. At the shelter, cats and dogs are surrendered because their owners, who love them dearly, can’t support them with these basic necessities. Knowing help is available would enable them to reconsider this difficult and heartbreaking decision and ride out their hardship together. Trust me, I’d rather see an animal remain with their beloved family than have to endure rehoming. And frankly, it’s essential for families to have access to the companionship of their pets during emotionally challenging times.

If you’re interested in the pantry’s services, donating (they rely completely on food and monetary donations), or volunteering, check out their site at www.metrowestpetpantry.org .

[Note: Sorry for the long absence. I took the summer off to travel, rest and well, foster a few pups. Details to come on those adventures.]

Kennel creatures

Finding that perfect kennel where your dog feels comfortable is akin to nirvana. I consider myself incredibly lucky as a friend referred me to a great kennel as soon as I adopted my first dog seven years ago and have been going there ever since.

From day one, Grafton-based Gibson Kennels, especially owner Bob Gibson, has made Riggs, Lily and frankly, me, feel at ease with whatever length separation we endure. I’ll never forget that first time dropping Riggs off. He was no more than 12 weeks old and I had to head out on a business trip. Bob got down on the floor and let Riggs lick his face for what seemed like forever. Despite the fact that Riggs took to Bob instantly, I was a wreck. I was nervous, bludgeoned with self-induced “mother’s guilt” for leaving him, and broke down in tears. Bob let me give Riggs a hug and then he took him out back. He came back to find me still crying and told me to call during the trip and see how he was doing. That would make me feel better. I took his advice and sure enough, to hear that he was tearing around the play yard and charming the staff eased the anxiety I had.

That didn’t stop me from tearing up the next half dozen times I dropped him off – I was traveling a lot in those days. However, I never was sad for Riggs after that, only for me. I knew he was going to have a blast, but I was going to horribly miss him.

By the time I adopted Lily, I had pretty much stopped most business travel so it was a while until she had to be kenneled. Again, I worried how my high-energy Border Collie, who was used to my daily presence, would do in a cage. I booked her in the same run with Riggs so they could be together and despite my worrying, she took right to the place, wagging her tail every time she sees Heather, Bob and the rest of the crew.

These days when I travel, I can enjoy my vacation and take comfort knowing the dogs are going to a great kennel where they feel safe and happy.


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