Saturday, October 29, 2011

Allergies, Part Two

I made an earlier post about how I've been afflicted with sinus congestion and a cough since July, and wanted to update my status about that and to make a point.  To summarize, for those of you who didn't see it, I mentioned that one of my very real fears was that these symptoms were caused by allergies, and that the allergies might be to my pets.  At the time, I was starting to suspect a mold allergy more than anything, but the fear that my babies might be causing my problems was still gnawing at me.

My symptoms have mostly cleared up.  My cough is 99.9% gone.  I can breathe.  Which is good news!

But it has been a very rough few months.  And I suddenly have a better understanding of why people dump their cats off at the shelter, complaining of allergies.  No, no, I haven't done it and was not even tempted to do so.  I've just developed an empathy that I didn't have before.  Let me explain.

My cough was bad.  I would get started and would be unable to stop.  Sometimes it would happen when I was trying to talk, or when I was trying to eat or sleep.  Sometimes I would cough so hard that I would make myself throw up.  And if that is not demoralizing, I don't know what is.  Remember that all of this time we didn't know what was causing it.  At first, we just thought it was a cold gone into my chest.  But when it persisted for weeks, a month, then two months, we knew that it had to be something else.

It seemed like the entire world,  articles written by medical personnel first and foremost, wanted for me to get rid of my cats.  I read tons and tons and tons of medical literature on how to deal with pet allergies, because I was that scared.  The literature was not helpful.  ALL of it suggested that I get rid of the cats.  And I guess from a purely clinical standpoint, the suggestion makes sense.  Sometimes the literature would make a grumpy-sounding second suggestion, the tone of which sounding like it thought that only a truly unreasonable person wouldn't just ditch the cats.  It would go on to say that I could try shutting them out of my bedroom at all times to give myself a "safe zone" free of cat dander, though usually these articles were quick to emphasize that even that might not work.

My cough persisted.   I worried.

I went down into a deep, dark hole and no one could follow me there. (OK, pause for a moment.  I know that this sounds melodramatic, but that really is what it seemed like. I will admit that I was terribly depressed. Bear in mind that I had also just lost my grandmother, and was dealing with the emotions that come with that.)  There was no relief from my worry, since my symptoms never relented, and at night I would bury my face in the fur of one of the cats, or one of the dogs during the day, and cry.  It never occurred to me that the act of burying my face in fur without triggering a massive allergy attack probably was a clue that the pets were NOT my problem.

My husband, bless him, kept me sane.  He would talk me through my anxiety attacks, reassuring me that even if I was allergic, that we would find a way to keep the animals.  I could take allergy medicine.  Maybe get allergy shots.  I did some research, and discovered a product called Allerpet, which is supposed to neutralize a very large percentage of dander before it even goes airborne.  (Although we never tried it.  Have any of you?)  We would try the cat-free bedroom if it came to that.  But for the moment, we were in a holding pattern.  We didn't want to banish the cats from our sleeping quarters if we didn't have to, or start spending the money on dander treatments if we didn't need to, so I just followed the doctor's orders, taking three different kinds of medication to try to cut down on the sinus congestion which would in turn cut down on the cough.  I also used a Neti Pot in the mornings to wash out my sinuses.  We ran air purifiers on each of the floors of the house.

And my symptoms slowly went away.  I started to feel good again.  My mood is starting to lift.  Hooray, let the trumpets sound.

But not everyone is so lucky.  I had a few things in my favor, when it came to the decision to keep my animals.

1.)  I am stubborn.  If you look up "stubborn" in the dictionary, some editions might just have my picture displayed.  I had extended my protection over these animals, and I would have rather chopped off my own foot than get rid of a single one of them.  This stubbornness grew every time I read an article telling me that I should get rid of them.  Or every time a friend or acquaintance suggested that I do the same.

2.)  I had a good support network.  My husband, certain family members, and a very small group of friends supported me through this time.   The pet blogosphere was a comforting place as well, even if I wasn't yet able to publicly talk about my problems.  (I can't count how many nights I sat there, poised to tell all of you about this, but just couldn't bring myself to do it.  It just made the problem seem too real to write about it.)   When I would, exhausted from coughing and wondering if I was going to die before this was resolved, worry out loud about what I was going to do if this was brought on by dander, these lovely people would soothe my fears.  They would, God love them, remind me of what a stubborn cuss that I was, and that I was, behind the cough, a very strong person.  They would gently push me to start working on an "action plan" that would enable us to keep the animals, allergies or no allergies.  They made me feel a little bit less like a social pariah, which I really was feeling like at the time.

What does a person do when they're down in that deep, dark hole when they don't have my mulish stubborn streak?  Or if they don't have a support network?  What if all of their friends and family are telling them to get rid of the animals?  And what if their doctor joins in?  Are they really going to want to wait three months for the doctors to come up with the perfect combination of the perfect drugs to clear up their symptoms?  Or are they going to start trying anything, ANYTHING to get relief?

Don't get me wrong, I am still very cynical at the high numbers of pet surrenders due to allergies.  I think that many times, the allergies are just an excuse.  Allergies are like the no-fault divorce in the pet world.  You avoid judgment, after all, you're just looking after your own health, and also your pet avoids judgment.  No behavioral issues here.  No one's fault.  A confused, sad animal still winds up in a cage, to be adopted by strangers, or even worse, to be adopted by no one at all.

I know that there are people with very real, very intense allergies to pets.  And that these people have a legitimate medical reason for needing to seek relief by removing a pet from their household.  I think that this number of people is very small...  much smaller than shelter statistics would suggest.

I have to wonder, how many of these owner-surrenders are from people that were in a place like I was?  No confirmed cat allergies.  Just a whole lot of unexplainable symptoms, nights of coughing-induced sleeplessness, and questions without answers.  I felt very lonely during this time, even with my support network.  I felt like no one could truly understand how I was feeling (and in the light of day, I can see how untrue such a feeling was, but in that deep, dark place it made perfect sense.  No one understood me.  No one could.)  What would someone in this position do, if they were feeling the same things that I was feeling?

How many of those people would have kept their animals if they'd been shown how to minimize their exposure to dander, or at least been talked through it by someone, anyone.  Or if their doctors were more inclined to try alternatives before recommending pet removal.  Or if there was at least one person there to support them and encourage them to try to keep their pet.

I'm sure that many, or probably even most, shelters do have something in place to counsel allergy-sufferers.  (Shelter workers, correct me if I am wrong.)  Do veterinarians counsel about pet allergies?  Would someone even think to ask them?  What if doctors were more educated on alternative ways to deal with pet allergies?  Are there non-profit groups devoted to this?

I really don't know what the answers are to these questions - I'm just throwing them out there in case someone DOES know and can educate me.  Maybe if there isn't a non-profit group devoted to this, there should be.    And I wanted to post a very candid piece on what it was like to be where I was...  with the hope that it will encourage someone who is in the same place.  That it might prevent even one animal from becoming homeless.  That someone might not feel quite so alone.  It might not even be pet allergies, but even if there is, there are options.  There might be a way to keep the pets and make the allergy symptoms tolerable at the very least.

I hope fervently that this doesn't sound too preachy.  I am writing from the heart, what has been weighing on my mind for months and I acknowledge that it might be a little heavy in places.  The goal is to help - and yes, to vent, but mostly to help.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Costumes

I put together some quick, inexpensive costumes for the dogs tonight, because we have a Howlin-ween party to go to on Friday night, for the grand-opening of a local doggy daycare, Urban Dog Day Care  (Door fees are going to be donated to Steel City Greyhounds!)

So here they are:

Argos is, as you can hopefully see, Superman.  He looks pretty annoyed about the costume, and that's because he actually is pretty annoyed about it.  He lost patience with me fussing with his cape after oh, five minutes.   That's a cape for a female vampire costume, and a child's Superman logo t-shirt.   We thought about dressing him up like "Bark Kent, Mild-Mannered Reporter," but that one might have been too difficult to make obvious.

Maera is a fairy princess.  That's a set of child's fairy wings, and a child's sparkly sequiny scarf.  You may notice two things.  One, the wings are on backwards (I think.)  If the large wings are anywhere near her face, she eats them.  She turned into a wild bucking bronco in the beginning, because she was desperate to eat those wings.  I have no idea of how the party Friday is going to go...  it may be the most short-lived costume ever!   The other thing that you may notice is that she is NOT wearing lavender feathery glittery "bracelets" around her forelegs.  There is a reason for that.  She wants to eat those too, and I think she might actually succeed at that so am probably leaving them off.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Easy Like Sunday

So as I was looking through today's blogs, I saw that Kat's Kats is having a sleeping photo contest!  Sleeping is what my kitties do best, so now it's just a matter of finding pictures.

I don't know if this one counts, because his eyes ARE open, but here is foster-cat Mitchell (who would dearly love to have a home of his own, by the way!) soaking up the late morning sunshine.
Propriety?  Meh.  I've never let propriety stand between me and a good sun-soak.
And here is my all-time favorite sleeping shot, of my heart cat Charlotte.  She is on top of a quilt that is in turn, in top of me, so I was desperately trying to position my iPhone and get a picture snapped without waking her up or moving too much.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

State of the House

I have been quiet for awhile lately, because my mom was visiting from out of town.  We had a great time, but there was not much time left over for blogging!

So, now it's time to get people back up to speed on the comings and goings in the House.

Let's start with the cats.  They're all doing very well, and I have to say that I firmly believe that Foster Cat Mitchell's adjustment period is over...  he has been completely accepted by the other cats, and no one is trying to terrorize him.  I guess that just goes to show that our contentious lot CAN let in newbies, if that newbie has the right attitude.  It makes my heart break anew for poor Romeo, who was never accepted even though he lived here for a year.  But...  Mitchell plays with Annie and Bit (the latter being Romeo's primary tormenter) and is even tolerated by Charlotte. (Charlotte barely tolerates Annie, who she has lived with for three years, so I think it's about the best that we can possibly hope for.)

Moo-om...  this is a kitties-only club.  You can't come in!
Now that the weather is getting chilly at night, I'm finding that I am once again waking up with one or more cats sleeping on top of my legs or pressed up against my side.  They might get annoyed with me for not feeding them gooshy food every hour of every day, but I do serve as a good heat source!

The cats did well with having Mom here...  most of the time, they are very shy around anyone who isn't us.  Charlotte even jumped up and napped in her lap one afternoon, shocking all of us.  She barely does that with us!  Even timid Bit climbed up in her lap once.  That makes me happy.  It shows that our attempts to socialize them better are starting to pay off.

The dogs are doing great as well.  Maera lovedlovedlovedLOVED my mother, and was almost embarrassing with how she fawned all over her.   I would frequently have to pull her off of her so that the poor lady could have a cup of coffee in peace.

 We've enrolled both dogs in basic obedience training for greyhounds, and had their first class yesterday.  We've introduced them to the concept of the clicker, and both of them seemed to enjoy the class a lot.  (Probably because they got tons of treats as part of the clicker training!)  They both did a good job, though Maera is so timid in unfamiliar surroundings.  For much of the class, her tail was firmly between her legs, especially if she was approached by any people or dogs that weren't us or Argos.  That is something that I'm trying to work with her on, and I'm sure that she'll get her confidence eventually.

Around the house, it is a completely different story.  She is a riot there, and is always galloping about with something in her mouth.  Hopefully it's a chew toy.  Sometimes it's a shoe.  Or a dish rag.  Or a throw pillow. I think today took the cake, though.

Yeah, that is supposed to be a kitty scratching post.  That's the base at her feet.
Argos just gives her a look that very eloquently says, "What is your PROBLEM?" when she starts acting like that.  Then he gives me a worried look like he thinks that I'm going to blame him for her bad behavior.

Please don't blame me for my sister being such a spaz.
Anyway, we're going to be getting back to a regular schedule starting tomorrow...  I just got back from taking my mother to the airport.  The dogs are going to be very sorry she's gone.  She stayed home with them every day last week, even when we had to go to work, and gave them treats and took them outside for extra potty breaks.  They're really going to miss that!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Well, okay, ALMOST wordless.  Let me just say that this shocked the heck out of me, since Charlotte was the one who jumped up and planted herself there.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I have made a couple of comments here and there about a sickness that I just can't seem to shake.  I got a cold when I went to Philadelphia in July, and can't seem to get rid of the resulting post-nasal drip and bronchitis. Yes, I STILL have it, though after some heavy-duty prescription medication from the pulmonologist, I am seeing strong signs of improvement.  A light at the end of the tunnel.

One possibility for the post-nasal drip is allergies, and not a cold at all.  Allergies to what, we don't know.  Right now, I'm trying a series of medications prescribed to me from the pulmonologist.  We are working on clearing the cough up first, and then perhaps we can explore the root cause.  

At this point, I at least have anecdotal evidence that my cough is practically non-existent if I take care when stirring up dust (I wear a dust mask when I clean now) and make sure that my clothes are not left in the sometimes damp basement for any length of time - no more getting dressed out of the dryer for me.  This makes me think that there is every possibility that I have a mold allergy and a dust allergy.  This is good, but I didn't even have this tiny bit of reassurance until the past week.  Why would I think that a mold and/or dust allergy was a GOOD thing?

Ah yes, the elephant in the room.   Pet dander.  I have had several people suggest that I might be having a reaction to the pets in my home, and I have been living in fear all summer that they might be right.  After I had the doctor put to rest the fear that I had cancer (don't we always think it's cancer?) my single biggest fear was (and still is) that I am allergic to my cats.  Every time I hear the suggestion that I might be allergic to them, I feel sick inside.  And it's rather difficult to argue with those that suggest it when I have some very real symptoms that cannot be hidden or explained.  

I feel somewhat better about it now that it might "just" be mold or dust.  

But I'm still terrified that I'm going to find out that it is true... that I'm allergic to the pets. 

And if I am?  

Some people, and unfortunately many of them are in the medical community, would suggest that I start getting rid of pets, like they're, I don't know... defective toasters or something.

But who would I get rid of?

Charlotte, with her heart condition?  Would I find someone who would be able to pay all of her medical expenses, be willing to give her medication twice a day, and love her with all of their hearts, even knowing that her time is short?  Give me a break, I'd be signing her death warrant by sending her anywhere but here.  

How about Bit, who is lying on top of her "crow's nest" on her back and making trilling noises at me to lure me over to pet her?  She is Daddy's Little Princess too, so I'm not just breaking her heart and my heart, I'm breaking my husband's too.  How do I look into my husband's eyes and tell him that he has to find her a new home?  It's inconceivable.  Bit has been with us since she was 3 months old.  We are the only family that she has ever known.  

Or Annie, who loves me so fiercely that she is my most devoted shadow, and constantly talks to me and licks my hands out of affection?  She guards me while I bathe, and purrs if I even look at her.  Do I say "Sorry" and dump her off at the shelter?  Do I tell her that the long two years of trust-building were for nothing, and that people can't be counted on for anything good?

Or Mitchell, who has nowhere else to go?  Mitchell, who misses his buddy Patches so much that he sleeps plastered up against me all night long (without triggering an allergy attack, I might add.)  I know that he is "only" a foster-cat, and so will ideally find his forever home and will eventually leave me, but I just can't bring myself to prematurely kick him out of the "nest."  He trusts me.  He is happier here than he was in the shelter.  I see no reason that he shouldn't stay until a good adopter speaks up for him.  

I'm naming the cats, since usually people's allergies are to cats, but I am going to be just as stubborn about the dogs.  I can't imagine dropping either Argos or Maera off somewhere, even if it was to our reputable rescue, and saying that I couldn't keep them any more.  I would remember the sad, betrayed eyes, and Argos' cries as I walked out, leaving him behind with strangers,  for the rest of my days, and my friends, I couldn't live with it.  It is unbearable to even think about; even writing about it for this short amount of time is making my eyes fill with tears.  No, these dogs are going away over MY DEAD BODY.  

I think that those that know me know what I'm leading up to.  I'm NOT getting rid of anybody, for any reason...   I don't care if the doctor tells me that I'm allergic to them.  (Well, I do care, but that is not going to motivate me to get rid of any of them.)  

I know that I'm not the only (potentially) allergic pet person out there. I know that some of you have commented on my blog that you have allergies, and pets, and have found a way to live with it.   Does anyone have advice for me, should I have to travel down that road?  I don't know that I am allergic to pets, but the fear is still there.  And for me, the best way to conquer a fear is to plan the heck out of it.    If I am indeed allergic, can you give me some tips and advice so that I can make a plan of attack?  Here is what I already do, because it will help me no matter WHAT it is that I'm allergic to:

  • I have two big air purifiers, one on each floor.  They run constantly.  
  • I bought a vacuum with an allergen filter.  Not a true HEPA filter, though.  That was yowza expensive.
  • I am trying to be more diligent about sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping the floors.  I only have hardwood, tile, and laminate flooring, so there's no carpet to contend with.  
  • I'm wearing a dust mask when I clean up, and am trying to vacuum dust and no doubt dander off of the furniture on a more regular basis.
I welcome any advice that helps me keep my furry friends, family members, and long-term guests in my home with me, where they belong.