Goodbye Bart

img_0799

Ah Bart.  Remember him?  He was my attempt to prove to myself that I am not the cat grim reaper (or cat hospice provider as so many of you sweetly suggested.)  I think it is time for me to write his final chapter.

For those of you who missed the early story Bart was a foster cat our family took in back in November when our local shelter became overcrowded with rescue animals from other states.  Our mission was to get him healthy, so he could go to the pet cardiologist to have his level 2 heart murmur evaluated.  (Heart murmurs for cats are graded from 1-6 with the 1-2 range usually not being a big deal.)  Bart was kind of a mess when he came to us, but oh, he was a lover and had a purr that vibrated his whole body.  Over the month we cared for Bart he recovered from a wound on his leg, a multiweek long respiratory infection, a perpetual bloody nose from the aforementioned respiratory infection, and being neutered.  Just when everything was all better and he was healthy enough to go to the cardiologist a surprise gross abscess burst under his chin leaving bloody puss all over his fur and the floor.

img_0442

The shelter people told me to bring him in, that they would evaluate this new wound then check with the specialist.  Even with his new ailment, he was cleared to see the cardiologist, so Mr. Bart went for a field trip to the animal hospital, and I agreed to take him back and get his abscess cleared up before he went up for adoption.  Five more days of antibiotics for Bart at the Afthead house, but he’d get to spend Christmas with us!

December 23rd the shelter called with the results of Bart’s cardiology scan.  He had two defective ventricles.  The shelter vets and specialists conferred and had decided that Bart was going to be euthanized.  His condition gave him only 3 -18 months to live, so he wasn’t eligible for adoption.  Two days before Christmas I got this news, and the extra present was that the shelter said that they would allow me, and only me, to adopt him, but I would have to take him back to the cardiologist and be responsible for his heart medication and quarterly/monthly cardiac checkups.  The single thing that could save Bart was my willingness to take on the time and expense to care for a cat who probably wouldn’t live two years.  I pondered all this while sitting in my study stroking what appeared to be a healthy Bart.

The only person I told was my husband, who doesn’t really care about animals the same way I do, and we agreed that no one else needed this news right before Christmas.  We also agreed that I needed time to decide what we were going to do.  (Mr. Afthead leaves such decisions to me, since I am the one with a breakable heart.)  So I put on my happy face and celebrated the holidays with my family, my own pets, and Bart.

In the back of my head thoughts were churning.  How could this happen again?  Why would life be so unfair to give this sweet cat a defective heart?  Could he continue to live with us?  My cats hated having Bart in the house.  They had stopped entering the basement, which is where their litterboxes are, and had resorted to pooping and peeing on my bed until I put a litterbox in my bedroom.  Could I live with that situation?  Bart was sweet, but a destructive cat and had shredded the chair in my study, his domain, and clawed other furniture when given the chance to explore.  Unquestionably I could have trained him, but maybe not before he died or had a stroke: either likely situations given his condition.  And while we really liked Bart no one in the family felt that he was our cat.  We were doing this so that some other family could adopt this beautiful, big purring cat, not so he would be ours.

There were so many ethical considerations.  Should we tell our daughter about what the shelter had decided?  Should she get to help make the decision about what our family was going to do?  Was it wrong for me to keep the news from my extended family over the holidays?  Was it my responsibility to care for Bart until the end of his life regardless of the cost or quality of his life?  Because I believe in science and medicine I didn’t think the diagnosis was wrong.  If I adopted him he would die.  What should I do?

I searched my heart and my brain but in the end I came to the same place I’d come before.  This was too much.  Without telling my daughter anything except that Bart was going back I took him to the shelter and said goodbye.

For two days I held my sadness in and pretended that Bart might be going up for adoption, or Bart might come and live with us to be fostered again.  Eventually I started to tell my friends and family what had happened.  Because secrets and lies have a way of worming their way to the surface eventually one of my friends told her daughter – a friend of my daughter’s – what happened.  When I found out I knew I had to tell my daughter because kid friends talk.  I didn’t want my child’s trust and faith in her mother to be dependent on the ability of a 9 year old to keep her mouth shut.  I got home from work and said, “I’ve got some sad news.”

“Don’t tell me Bart is dead.”

All I could do was nod.  We cried together about the 8 dead cats she’s known in her 8 years.  She listed each one and the way they died.  Three pets and five fosters all gone.  When we were done with the immediate mourning she told me what I had known all along, “Mommy, we are never, ever doing that again.”  We won’t.  We won’t foster.  We won’t keep big secrets from each other.  We won’t do that ever again.

I love the community at the shelter, and the foster parents.  My foster mentor was so caring when I told her what happened with Bart, and she promised me that my situation “just never happens.”  No one loses 5 out of six foster cats in their first two attempts.  She shared her own sad stories, and even offered to give me a her healthiest foster litter this spring to ensure I have a success.  Behind the scenes I’m sure she raised heck – contrary to the evidence she really thinks I have the potential to be a great foster parent – and a few weeks after Bart died a sympathy card came from the shelter.  It made me cry, but it did not make me change my mind.  This is not my way of helping make the world a better place.  I can’t take any more dead cats.

img_0792

Last time this happened I was able to come up with some silver linings, but not this time.  I’m sad for me, sad for my family, sad for Bart, and sad for the shelter and the folks who work there.  Nothing about this was fair or good or worthwhile.  Everyone poured their heart into this experience and the only glint of silver is that Bart was able to live in a warm house with a family for a month, but that seems so pitiful.

In the end, as always, children are the wisest.  This weekend my kiddo told me, “Mom, I think that all our cats that died are part of Adventure now.”  (Adventure is our only foster that lived, and she’s our pet now.)  She started listing out traits of each dead cat and how she saw them reflected in our pet.  At the end of her speech she looked to me for approval and I told her, “Yep kiddo, I think you are right,” because really I don’t have any better resolution.

Goodbye Bart.  We were all pulling for a happy ending, but it wasn’t meant to be.

If at First you Fail Spectacularly

Fostering cats.  It’s the one thing in life that I can look back on and say, “Well, I sucked at that.”  Last year five tiny baby kittens were taken into my care and four died three different ways.  I broke when the fourth one had to be euthanized and kept the last one to heal my heart.  She has since become a beloved member of our household.


For the past year I’ve held onto this failure.  I have to admit that I have dubbed myself the Cat Grim Reaper.  I’ve lurked on the foster parent group on Facebook and watched litter after litter of healthy kittens grow and thrive under other foster parents care.  I’ve watched sick and hurt cats become sleek and healthy.  Quietly I’ve kept my training up to date in anticipation that I was going to try again.  Once and for all I was going to cement my definition of the kitten event:  bad luck or killer.

Our local shelter just had an influx of animals and needed foster parents to take sick, but not dying, animals home to make room for the new really sick animals.  With little input from my family or friends, I volunteered to take one of the cats.  He has an upper respiratory infection, his leg is bandaged hip to foot, he just got neutered, and he has a heart murmur that needs to be evaluated once he gets over the other ailments.  His name is Bart and he’s a beautiful long haired light grey cat.  He loves my daughter and has a purr that vibrates his whole body when she pets him.


As Bart snores away on the other side of the bathroom door – he is quarantined because of his infection – I’m not confident that he’ll make it.  He hasn’t gotten better in the five days in my care.  We’ve had to change antibiotics, and he’s not eating.  The plan was to take him back to the shelter Tuesday to have his heart murmur evaluated, but already they are saying I might have to keep him longer because he’s not improving.  He is living in a mist of water vapor as I try to keep his nasal tissues from bleeding each time he sneezes.  

Thursday I dreamed Bart was playing with my parent’s cats, and woke with one thought in my head, “This is too much.”  Fostering is just too much for me, for my family, and for my other cats.  I hate saying that.  I feel like some aristocrat looking down her nose at hard work and saying, “Oh no, I can’t do that.  It’s hard and messy and time consuming and inconvenient.”  No part of me doesn’t feel like a failure.  But I’ve had to put a litter box in my bedroom to stop our cats from peeing and pooping on my bed, because the presence of the foster cat near their normal boxes makes them nervous.  My daughter sits stroking his soft fur with tears running down her face. “I’m going to miss Bart,” she says.  I drive back and forth to the shelter to drop him off and pick him up so his bandage can be changed.  I wipe bloody snot off our walls, off of my daughter, and off his fur.  The truth of the situation is that this is not our path, and not our way to help.  Bart will be our last foster and if he dies I will take the mantle of Cat Grim Reaper and wear it, but I will not partake in a third foster experience.  I will find other ways to make the world a better place.

It isn’t all terrible, don’t let me mislead you.  There are moments like this. I hope that Bart recovers and some amazing family gets to enjoy this giant  purr for years to come.

For all those who care for shelter animals, either at the shelter or in their homes, I applaud you. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I wish you all the strength and courage to keep doing what you do.

 

The Third Day of Third Grade

I watch you.  I watch you watch them.  The pair labeled your “best friends”and the other one.  They laugh and touch and a little girl gravitational force pulls them together as it repels you.

I watch you.  I watch the jealousy and anger coil up inside you and I hope that it finds release before you snap inappropriately.  You stare unblinkingly with your ice blue eyes and the look is pure hurt because you are left out.

I watch you.  I watch as your new friend, “Well maybe friend,” you’ve said, “but not yet” walks up to you and you don’t even acknowledge her presence.  I talk to her and compliment her sweatshirt and make pleasantries, which you should be doing, but you don’t because you can’t stop staring across the blacktop as your best friends and the other laugh at something.  They are too far away, so we cannot hear what they laugh at, but we can see they are having fun without you.

I watch you.  I watch as the second maybe new friend walks up and you ignore her too.  Opportunities surround you but you can’t see them because you want to be over there with them in their class.  You want the comfort of last year.  You want familiar.  You want to be inside the threesome again and not stuck outside looking in.  The two maybe new friends stand silently ignored and you continue fester until you turn and say, “I told you I’m not popular anymore.”

I want to hurl idiotic phrases at you.  You catch more flies with honey.  Life isn’t fair.  Make new friends, but keep the old.  I want to stop your stare and refocus it on the sweet kids around you.  I want to plaster over your hurt and wounded heart and tell you it will be okay, but I don’t do any of that.  It might not be okay.  You might lash out at your old friends and miss the opportunity for new friends.  You might lose them all.  I wish for a tree to sprout between your class’s line and the other class’s line so that you don’t have to see them having fun without you.  I know it might be a long and lonely year.

I think of Rachel and Stacy 34 years ago on my playground.  I remember wishing for what they had: for the heads close together and the whispers and hand games and true friendship and wondering, “How do they do that?”  I remember longing for what they had, but never finding it.  I watch you and hope the hurt of my third grade isn’t repeated in the next generation with a different pain of loss instead of longing.

I watch you and feel the agony of a mother’s anguish.  I watch you and hope it will be okay.

The bell rings and the pain of everything makes reach for a hug and kiss, needing to be loved too much to remember I’m embarrassing.  I pour my heart into you, because you are loved and you are amazing and you can do this, and then we part.  I watch you.  I watch you walk away alone.

 

 

Fireman Boot Fetish

I love the random day when firemen appear in the street holding their big boots going from car door to car door collecting money.  When I was little, I didn’t care what they were collecting money for.  I only cared that they were standing in the middle of the street, so dangerous, and I could crank down my window to put money into their boots.  No, “Keep you hands in the window” yell from mom on that day.  Now as an adult I don’t know what the attraction is:  the philanthropy, the novelty, the Muscular Dystrophy Association or the firemen.  Whatever it is, I am giddy when I see the firetruck by the side of the road, lights flashing and firemen with boots.  I pull out my purse and start rummaging for whatever cash or change I have.  $20? $5? $1? I roll down my window and hang out the money.  (I wonder how many accidents happen in the MDA fireman campaign.)

This year I dropped money in the boot four times.  As I was collecting my fourth sticker — if you have a kid you get a sticker for your donation — I had an epiphany.  Maybe they just don’t do this in Denver, Colorado.  Maybe there are firemen all over the country with their boots out collecting money.  Maybe, gasp, maybe this happens at a set time every year and I just am not aware enough to notice.

A little bit of web sleuthing led to a little bit of information.  The MDA Fill the Boot effort has been going on for 60 years, and always happens in the summer.  This is how I remember it, always in the summer.  However, I can’t find any information that tells me if this happens the same time every year for a given locale.  For now the mystery is alive.  At some point next year, in the summer, I can expect to see boots held out in the middle of the road and I can hope that I’ll have money to put in them.  If not, I’ll head to the ATM machine and circle back around.  That little ploy wasn’t utilized this year, but it has in the past and it will be again.

Were the boots out in your neck of the woods this weekend???