Thursday, June 30, 2011

Back in the Saddle

A little bit of history about me:  I was a horse-crazy girl.  This does not set me apart from just about any other girl out there, I know.  What DOES set me apart from at least a great  many of them, was that my dream to have a horse came true when I was twelve years old.

Though I had grown up in the suburbs of Kansas City up to that point, my parents moved us about an hour north, to a farmhouse sitting on 30 acres of Platte River bottoms land.  (One interesting/amusing/terrifying aside - at the time we didn't know it, but the locals referred to that stretch of land as "Rattlesnake Cut." With good reason. Joy.)

God bless my parents, they were willing to be a little adventurous.  A month after we moved into this place, sleeping on air mattresses on the floor while my parents gutted the place and renovated it, my father was a little late coming home one night.  And he topped the hill pulling a horse trailer behind his truck...  with my very own horse in it.  We knew nothing about horses.  Nothing.  I had probably ridden a horse about a dozen times in my life, and every time it was a very quiet, gentle animal, that was used to having kids on its back; trail rides and quiet lessons through the Girl Scouts.  I'd never actually been in complete control of a horse.

I named him Prince.  He was a strawberry roan Quarter Horse; though we later grew to suspect that he might have been a Quarter Horse crossed with a POA (Pony of the Americas.)  He was a good, gentle horse.  But he was young, mischievous, and oh yes, a lazy glutton, but in the nicest sort of way.  But oh, he sized us up.  We were idiots.  Complete amateurs.  How hard can it be to strap a saddle onto a horse, right?

We didn't even know to tie him up before trying to saddle him.  The result was that if he didn't want to be saddled, he'd turn his rump to us.  We'd been earnestly instructed to never stand behind a horse to avoid being kicked, so we'd skitter out of the way like frightened chihuahuas.  Prince thought that this was the most hilarious thing in the world and did it all the time.

He would also take ME for a ride. He'd graze along the way, and when he decided that it was time to go back to the barn, we went back to the barn.  I, the rider, didn't get a say.

A neighbor kindly taught me a few of the basics.  1.)  Tie the dang horse up before trying to saddle him up.  2.) Knee him (gently) in the gut when drawing up the cinch of the saddle to make him suck in his breath.  It's a common horse-trick to blow their bellies out when you're cinching them up - then the saddle is nice and loose when you're actually riding.  Your chances of falling off, saddle and all (as we learned) are quite high!  3.)  Be stern and make the horse go where you want him to go.

Up to that point, I'd been afraid to discipline him.  I was afraid that he wouldn't like me anymore.  My visions of a Lone-Ranger styled partnership were dwindling fast.  I desperately wanted to be friends with him, but he was taking advantage of me every day.  I was a bit afraid that he would hurt me - he weighed significantly more than I, after all.  I had to learn that I couldn't ever show him that fear.  And eventually, I lost it anyway.  Prince wouldn't have hurt me for the world, though he wasn't above bullying me just a bit.

And then I went to my aunt's ranch, out in Colorado, for a month one summer.  It was a life-changing event.

I learned how to master the horse.  Really, she taught me how to ride, and to do it well.  Along the way, I picked up a few other things just by watching her:  I learned how to put steel in my voice when I needed it, to make the horse obey me even without the threat of a riding crop.  I learned how to read the horse's mood by his mannerisms, the positioning of the ears, the posture.  I learned to have fun on the back of a horse, instead of being terrified or tense the entire time.  As a result, the horses that I was riding relaxed.  We had a good time.  I learned that if you fall off, unless you are so battered that you have to go to the emergency room, no matter how terrified you were, no matter how sore you might already feel, you hauled your butt off of the hard Colorado clay and you got back up onto the horse IMMEDIATELY.  It didn't matter if your legs were trembling so hard from fear that you couldn't keep them in the stirrups.  You got up, and you rode.  And you didn't stop until the fear subsided.  Back in the saddle.  Because if you didn't, you'd never get back up on a horse again.

I returned home with my second horse, Cody, a beautiful sorrel Quarter-Horse/Thoroughbred cross.  But Prince and I had some ground to cover too.  It was like a switch had flipped.  I was in complete control of him the very first time I got up onto his back.  He obeyed me.  My mother tells the story that when I first slipped up onto his back and confidently picked up the reins, and ordered him to c'mon, he turned his head completely around to STARE up at this strange creature sitting on his back.

I went back out to my aunt's ranch the following year, and returned with yet another horse.  She was simply named "Twenty-Nine."  I kept the name to avoid confusing her.  She was also a sorrel quarter horse.  She was young, and spirited, and would have scared the heck out of me just the year before.  She pranced instead of walking, and it didn't take much to convince her that she wanted to run run run and she could do it fast. She was a lot of fun to ride, and when I was on her back I felt truly free.  I showed both Twenty-Nine and Cody in the 4-H shows, and even further improved my riding skills.  I did well.

This series of horses taught me a lot about myself:  that I DO have a voice of steel when I need it, which is something that has served me well with horses, dogs, cats, and dare I say, people.  I could handle one of these beautiful half-ton creatures, even being "just a girl."  I COULD have a Lone-Ranger partnership, once we established a certain level of mutual respect.  It may have been the first thing ever, outside of my schoolwork, that I did well.  It built my confidence.  But I think that the most important thing that it ever taught me, and I hope that it is a life lesson that I take to the grave, is to get back in the saddle.  Even after falling off.  Even if the ground is hard and unforgiving.   Even when being unceremoniously thrown off and trampled.  It doesn't matter if your legs are shaking from terror.  You just do it anyway, because the consequences of not doing it are so very high.

I have no idea of why I've been thinking about those horses and the lessons that they taught me, but I haven't been able to get them off of my mind this week.  I decided to share the story on my blog, which was hopefully at least entertaining.  I hope that you enjoyed my memories.  I enjoyed writing them...  it's been a very long time.  I will have to try to dig out a photograph or two of me with the horses and scan them in.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Kitten Season

I never, in all of my days, knew what a stressful time late spring, summer, and fall were to those involved with cat rescue!  Kitten season sounds like such a lovely, fun time!  But in reading blogs written by people that run rescues or work or volunteer in shelter, I have come to realize that it can be somewhat hellish.  Not because tons of kittens aren't adorably cute, but because there's just so many of them to find homes for.

I was reading Castaway Cats, a blog maintained by an Animal Rescue League cat care volunteer, and saw yesterday's post:

And felt kind of like I'd been gut-punched.  Really?  637 cats in less than one full month?  400 of them kittens?

And they can't be the only shelter that is similarly affected.

Is there an equivalent puppy season?  I never hear about that...  is it because we're getting a better handle on roaming dogs or at least keeping them spayed and neutered?  Or are they just not as fertile as the kitties?  I'm guessing that it's because many people would not hesitate to let a cat roam free at night, even unspayed or unneutered, but probably wouldn't do the same for a dog.

I know that the Animal Rescue League and other shelters and rescues are working overtime to try to get homes for the influx of cats and kittens.  If you were to walk in (or in to their equivalent in your town) and tell them that you wanted to adopt a cat or kitten or multiples of either, they'd probably have to barely restrain themselves from kissing you.

I know that Chrystal over at Daily Dose of Dogs (aka Cats with your Coffee) has had her own influx of kittens, which she desperately needs to find homes for so that they will have room for the others that will undoubtedly come.  (She can and happily does make arrangements for transportation, even if you don't live near her.)

What this meandering post is leading up to is...  if you have even been considering in the back of your mind that you might want to adopt a cat or kitten, you'd be doing an awful lot of good if you could manage to do it now.   It will give at least one little soul a home.  It will make room for the other cats and kittens that are going to come in as the summer months move onward.  It will free up resources that the shelters need.

I know that most of my regular readers are like me and already have a full house of cats, or a full house of dogs that wouldn't play well with cats, but I'm posting this in case I catch the one person who was on the fence.  Or the one person who stumbles on to my blog by accident.

Adopt a kitten!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Interspecies Relationships

It's so odd how things happen.  We've had Argos for a year and a half, and he and the cats have tried very hard to ignore one another.  Their relationships weren't antagonistic, they just had very little to do with one another.  And in one day, we get all of these pictures...  go figure.

What is this...  Argos and... CHARLOTTE?  That's the pairing up that I never thought I'd see happen.  Charlotte just isn't the type.

What we think happened is, Argos jumped up to claim his usual spot at the end of the couch before he noticed that Charlotte was already there.  Instead of freaking out and jumping back down, he sandwiched himself in.  What surprises me is that Charlotte stayed up there, and looks reasonably calm about it.

Later that night, we had the foster cats downstairs with us to let them socialize with other humans besides us.  (We had a few friends, all cat-lovers, over.)  Mitchell and Patches have no fear of Argos.  As you can see with the pictures of Mitchell below.

Maybe if I close my eyes, he'll go away...

This picture just makes me smile.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

We Are Like Gods

At least, from the perspective of the animals that are completely dependent upon us.

Although we'll never know EXACTLY how another species views the world, I've tried to get behind their eyes.  Have you ever wondered what they might be thinking when they see us doing things that we ourselves take for granted?

1.  Let's start with what's most important.  FOOD.  We have access to these marvelous cold boxes that contain food.  All we have to do is open the door and take it out.  It's no wonder that they want us to show them that "trick" over and over again throughout the day.

2.  Sometimes, people come to the door and give us food.  This much seem like such a wonderful thing to them... their people are being paid TRIBUTE by other lesser humans.  The same goes for any animal that's ever been in the back seat of the car when we go through a drive-through.  Amazing stuff!

3.  Our territories are enormous.  We can go anywhere we want, range as far away from home as possible, and no one stops or challenges us!

4.  We have remarkable cooling devices such as fans and AC units.  All of mine have been claimed by animals at the moment; each one has one of the fur-kids lying in front of it.

5.  Cars.  These things take us zipping across the ground faster than even a greyhound can run.  The greyhound thinks that's fantastic; it terrifies the cats.  Why we would ever want to leave the house is beyond them, why we ever insist on taking them with us is unthinkable.

6.  Dog and Cat Food.  We always seem to have food to give to them.  To them (if you're doing it right) it's a limitless supply of food for them, which they do not have to hunt, kill, or scavenge.

7.  Furniture.  Do you know how unbelievably soft and warm these things are?  They probably wonder why we humans ever get off of them.

8.  Garden hose.  Beautiful, cold, clear water, on command.  Whether this is intriguing or terrifying depends on the animal.

Those are the big ones that MINE are certainly enamored with.  There's probably tons of other stuff.  Most of the others that I could think of, though, my animals don't even seem to register.  (TV, music, etc.)

Is it any wonder then that they put up with all of our other foibles?  Why even an abused or neglected dog will often try desperately to curry favor with a human?  We ARE like gods to them.  Whether we are benevolent or malicious deities depends so much upon  us.

I recognize no god but myself, thank you.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Being Multi-Lingual

Many people like dogs, but don't care for cats.  Many cat-lovers don't care for dogs.  I'm sure that there are just as many of us in between - that love both of them.  They speak both dog and cat.   I'm not even sure that I could make a choice between them - both species are dear to my heart, and I have a lifetime of my happiest memories attached to both of them.

Whether it was Snowball, a white kitten turned tomcat that I adopted when I was five, Harley, a little black stray that I rescued from McDonalds, Wickett, my childhood best friend who happened to be a Pekingese, and the only reason I stayed sane in a school where no one wanted me, or of course any of my current furry loves.  I can no more imagine deciding to get rid of any of them than I can imagine cutting off one of my toes.

What is it that draws us to each?

I think, and this is my opinion only, that there are personality tendencies that draw us to one or the other or both.

Cats can be independent, though I have a couple that defy that stereotype by being a bit clingy.  I think that independent spirit attracts some of us and yet annoys others to no end.  I'm sure that independence is why you don't hear about cat obedience classes; unless you have a truly unusual kitty, it just is not going to happen.  I can coax my cats into doing what I want - but only because they get something out of it, whether it's food or attention.   It's certainly not out of obedience.  When I'm trying to coax Charlotte out of the basement for the umpteenth time for the afternoon, I can see her sitting back in the dark corner, and I can SEE the wheels in her brain turning as she thinks about whether she should come out to greet me or if she is going to skulk in the shadows and make me come get her.   I greatly admire their independence and sense of dignity, and try really hard to help my kitties maintain that even if they are, in reality, completely dependent upon me for everything.

Dogs tend to want to please you, so are usually more biddable than cats.  (Though there are tons of exceptions, so maybe they're more free-thinking than we give them credit for.)  For example, if Argos was for some reason in the basement, and I wanted him to come back upstairs, all I would have to do would be to snap my fingers and call his name.  That would be it... no consideration, no bribery.  I call, he comes to me. They are pack-oriented, and really, really want to spend time with you and just hang out.  They are loyal, and devoted, and some of them are protective.  It's been a great comfort to me to know that no matter what is going on, if I call Argos, he will come to me.  He will sleep beside me on the couch all day long if that's what I want for him to do, or go out into the yard to help me with my gardening if I feel a little more active.  He never complains.  His obedience and his devotion are a balm sometimes, when I am reeling with whatever life has chosen to throw at me that day.  I can't always rely on the cats to show me the same devotion - thought they might, if they feel like it.   Some people don't like how dependent dogs are, compared to your average cat.  And in a way, they're right: it takes a lot more work to get Argos ready for his day or for bed than it does the cats.  But it's a chore that I've never regretted taking on...  the work is well worth it when he looks into my eyes and wags his tail in greeting.  My dog is always happy to see me.

I think that dogs and cats give us different things, maybe affirm different parts of our souls.  There are things to admire in each, and yes, let's face it, things that annoy the crap out of us in each.  But it's all good.

Friday, June 17, 2011

They're Taking Over!

Yeah, that is was my office chair.

Now isn't that the cutest picture?  Our foster boys are so very sweet...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thoughts from the Week

It's been a difficult week for us.  As many of you know, Romeo passed away last Saturday evening, from heart complications at the emergency vet's.  I truly appreciate the care and concern that the pet blogging community has shown to me this week - it really did help me through the worst of the days to read your comments, blog posts, and tributes to him.

We planted catnip plants in the back corner of our yard, one for Romeo, and one for Guido, my mom-in-law's cat that passed on a couple of months ago.  It is the start of a memorial garden that we would like to make - for those two and the other animals that will join them as time goes on.  (For I know that unless we ourselves come to an untimely end, we will outlive all of them.)  We would like to make it a little fenced in area, with an arbor as a gate, a bench to sit, and of course some pretty plantings.  So far, we have two catnip plants and an Allegheny Serviceberry tree (which I planted in April, not knowing what we would eventually decide to do with that corner of the yard.)

Otherwise, we've just been trying to muddle through.  I took Monday off from work; I have a very understanding boss, and decided that I needed an extra day to get a grip on my emotions before going back.  And of course, the animals have been a great help to us.

Bit decided that I needed to be distracted...  as soon as I saw what was happening, I had a choice.

I could get upset at the shredded toilet paper, or I could laugh so hard that I cried, and take pictures.  I think you can see what my choice was.

Charlotte and Annie got along better this week than they ever have.  They even shared a recliner for a couple of days.

While neither one of them cared much for Romeo while we had him with us, I think that his disappearance made them feel insecure... either that or they were picking up on our emotions.  I was constantly walking in and finding them either sharing the chair or the couch, something practically unheard of.

Argos, sensitive soul that he is, took the emotional upheaval the hardest.  He and Romeo were never snuggle-buddies, but they did spend a lot of time together, as we'd leave them alone together when we went to work. And Argos was the only one that knew for a fact that Romeo had died... he was out in the yard when we buried him, and got his scent.  He was also upset because WE were upset.  He followed us around constantly.

He placed himself in the middle of the study, between my computer and Jeff's and would watch back and forth, highly concerned.

The foster cats were sweet, and made me laugh on more than one occasion.  Patches waits until I lie down and fan my hair out behind me.  He then lies down on TOP of my hair, and starts playing with it, rolling in it, batting at it, having a great time.  And it made me giggle, which seemed to please him.

Here is Patches, lying on the most coveted kitty-bed in the house.  It is a simple mesh bag, a freebie from LexisNexis.  I'm not sure that Lexis would entirely approve of this "off-label" use of their branding merchandise, but the kitties think it is the best.

And here is Mitchell, checking out the new drinking fountain that we bought in an attempt to have plenty of fresh water available for them.

So... the animals have kept us busy and entertained.  This is something that I am grateful to them for.  It didn't eliminate my grief, of course, but it helped keep me distracted, and gave me reasons that I HAD to get up off of the couch.  I might have been saddened and depressed, but Argos had to have dinner.  Charlotte needed her medicine.  Bit was crying and needed to be snuggled and reassured.  The fosters needed to come out of their room for some exercise.  Argos needed to be walked.  It was all a huge help, actually.  Giving me something to do was the best thing that they could have done.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Brief Tribute

I don't have it in me to write another post about Romeo, as a tribute to his memory.  But I'm capable of posting some pictures.  I need to do this, to help myself remember the way he was when he was healthy and alert and reasonably happy.  And I hope that you can enjoy the photos of my handsome boy as well.  RIP, Romeo.

If you're like me, and sometimes find these blog posts out of order, I did make a post explaining what happened right before this one.

Romeo's first day with us.  He's already stolen the dog bed.

Classic Romeo pose.

Probably the first day we got him.  Or soon afterward.

Demonstrating his need to go on a diet.

Romeo's perch in the study.  He loved watching out that window.

Romeo, head-butting me to get more attention, on the couch.

A Sad Day

I don't even know how to start writing this.  So I suppose that I'll just come out and say it and then fill in the details.  Romeo died this evening.

It completely came out of the blue.  The veterinarian called us this morning to say that the urinary blockage had been cleared, and that he was going to remain there on fluids until he was able to urinate on his own.  They made it sound like we'd be going to pick him up either late tonight or early tomorrow morning.  Everything sounded great at that point - I mean, sure, he'd been hospitalized, which is never great, but the doctors knew exactly what to do with him.  It's not like it's unusual for neutered male cats to get urinary blockages.  We were even told that the blockage had been cleared out very early on, that we were lucky to catch it so early.

Which is why it was such a shock to receive a call this afternoon to say that they had to take him off of the fluids, because there was fluid build-up around his heart, and that he was on oxygen (in an oxygenated cage.)  The vets said that this did occasionally happen when a cat was on IV fluids, and that dosing them with Lasix usually did the trick.

Half an hour later, we got a second phone call.  Romeo was completely unable to breathe on his own, and they were intubating him and clearing his lungs out ASAP.  They said that the next step was to put him on a respirator, because he simply wasn't breathing enough on his own.

At this point, we had had enough of sitting at the house waiting for these terrifying updates, so jumped in the car and drove over to the clinic so that we could be there to make whatever decisions needed to be made.

To make a long story short, they spent another hour trying to stabilize him.  They did their very best, and were very competent and professional about it, and kind to us, but it wasn't enough to bring him back.  He never completely woke up from the sedatives that he was on.  When they came back to tell us that despite the assistance with breathing, the tons of lasix and other drugs that had been pumped into him, that he was failing.  The doctor said that there was really nothing else that we could do for him at this point, besides putting him on a respirator - and even then, his chances of survival were not good.  So we made the painful, but I think inevitable, decision to euthanize him.  He never woke up from his sedatives, so he went quietly, and without fear or pain.

They think that he probably had an underlying heart condition that just hadn't started manifesting in any obvious ways yet.  The fluids weren't the cause, but were what revealed it.  If the fluids had been the cause, he should have rebounded after getting lasix pumped into him.  (In another post, someday when my heart does not feel so bruised, I may rail against the fates for giving us not one, but TWO cats with heart problems.)

I held myself together fairly well while I had to, but now that it's all over, I'm sitting here at my desk trembly and tearful, and I feel so bereft.  I find myself glancing off and on over to the window ledge where he'd be sleeping, if this was a normal night, and am somewhat startled when I don't see him gazing back at me with his knowing eyes.

Romeo was with us for almost exactly one year... one year and one week, exactly today.   I didn't write about his "Gotcha Day" over Memorial Day weekend, because we were busy with family, but I'd planned on writing it this weekend now that things have settled down.  His time with us was filled with its ups and downs; everyone that reads this blog probably remembers that he never quite fit in with the other cats here... in fact, they were complete and utter little bitches to him.  But through trial and error (and I'll admit, a small amount of grumbling) we found a way to let him carve his own niche; and I do think that he was happy for the most part.

Romeo was a cat that was happiest when he was surrounded by the humans that loved him.  Preferrably, to have us both petting him and talking to him and giving him attention at the same time.  He would purr and purr, rubbing his face first on me, then on Jeff, then back to me, repeat.  He was a lover.  He had his days when he seemed sad, and it always upset me to see this.  I have wondered if he was remembering and missing his first family, or maybe he was sad that the other cats weren't friendly to him.  But the days when he was happy, and  in all honesty, that was most days, he was a bright spirit, and was always glad to see us.

RIP, Romeo.  I'm torn between feeling like we did everything that we could for you,  and wishing that we could have done more.

Exhausted and Worried

Last night, the Friday night I'd been looking forward to with such anticipation, my plans for total relaxation were thwarted.  Midnight found us at the 24-hour emergency vet with Romeo...  we had started noticing that he was squatting and straining in his litter box, but not even producing one drop of urine.

The temptation to wait to take him to his regular vet during daylight hours was high:  after all, Romeo has been taken to the vet now on two different occasions for bladder issues, and both times we were told that it wasn't actually a blockage, but was related to stress.  And we all know from my recent posts that Romeo was under quite a bit of stress.  Eventually good sense won out though - we figured that NO urine produced couldn't mean anything good.  And something about his demeanor had me completely unsettled.  It was subtle - anyone with cats knows that it isn't that unusual for them to try to hide pain and illness from you.  But he didn't start purring immediately when I'd go over to pet him; in fact, he looked more annoyed than anything.  And his eyes weren't quite as bright as they had been.  We packed him up into the cat carrier and drove him to the nearest emergency vet, who we are sadly very familiar with.  We had hoped that it would be like the other times we've taken him him for bladder issues, and that we'd be sent back home and told that he was just having these issues due to stress and that it should clear up on its own.

Alas, this was not to be.  It was a good thing that we did take him in when we did.  As it turns out, he was blocked, and there were urinary crystals.

He is still at the hospital, on IV fluids and recovering from the blockage, catheterized until they're certain that he can pass urine on his own.  I don't know when he'll get to come home.  The vet said that an average stay is about 36 hours after the initial blockage is removed, so let's hope and pray that it is just an average stay.  Because of course I'm primarily concerned about Romeo's welfare, but from a pocketbook perspective as well, this is totally not what we needed.  We'll be fine - the estimate given to us was cringe-worthy, but not impossible for us to take on.  But there's nothing wrong with hoping that the final bill is on the lower side of the quoted estimate, right?

Anyway, I'm very worried about him.  I now think that last week's peeing on the floor incidents were an indication that something was wrong even then.  Though he DID start peeing in the box again once we got him upstairs, else he would have wound up at the vet sooner.   Maybe he was partially blocked then, and it all just came to a head last night?  Regardless, the vet's message this morning  (which must have been left when we were passed out cold from exhaustion during the wee hours of the morning) sounded confident that the crystals and the blockage were caught very early on, which is probably good news for Romeo.

Everyone keep paws and fingers and toes crossed for us!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Table Cat

You are telling me to get off of the table?  Me?  But I'm sick!  How could you ask a sick and dying cat to do ANYTHING that she doesn't want to do?  Look into these big, sad, hypnotic eyes...

And that is my life.  Giving in to Charlotte on nearly a daily basis.

Manipulated much?  I thought so.