Meet Nyx

There has been a tiny new addition in our life.  In September our annual renewal to be foster cat parents came up, and I admitted to myself (and to the shelter) that we just couldn’t try again.  After losing four kittens in the first disastrous litter (including one we’d thought had made it) then nursing a cat to heath only to discover his heart was failing, well, the Afthead family’s collective heart wasn’t up for anymore death.

I settled happily into our two cat household.  I started looking for another forever cat for our home.  We’d always been a two cat household, and Adventure and Katie loved each other, but neither one of them was really a people cat.  I wanted a lap sitting purring cat, but my husband laid out a strict rule: we could not get another cat unless it loved our daughter.

Our new cat claimed me on a trip to buy cat food.  PetSmart was having an adoption event and when I walked up to her kennel she stretched up, put one paw on each of my cheeks and started purring.  She didn’t stop purring the whole time I was there.  The clerk said she’d been adopted, but the family decided they couldn’t handle a kitten, so she was never picked up.  I went to pick up my daughter from school and while I waited for her I texted my husband, “Going to go see if our new cat meets your requirement.”  Back at the pet store, the kitten claimed my daughter too.  By 8:00 that night our adoption was approved and our new cat came home.

Her name is Nyx, after the Greek goddess of night.  She’s adventurous,

sleepy,

snuggly,

bathroom loving,

cross-legged sleeping,

water loving,

and adorably two-toned.

She rides our big cats like they are cat horses, waiting until they are sleeping before jumping on their back and biting their scruff until they buck her off.  The big cats do not love her and I’m afraid Adventure is scarred for life.  Her preferred sleeping location is under the covers biting our knees and ankles.  She climbs the screen door and completely wrecked one of my favorite plants, poisoning herself in the process.  She’s recovered and become a fixture in our family.  We love her, and my cat heart is full.  Besides, if we adopt anymore we’ll become crazy cat people.  The rule is that as long as you don’t have more cats than people you aren’t crazy cat people.  It’s true.  I read it on the internet somewhere.

Goodbye Bart

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bittersweeter

Dear Sneaker Squeaker,

Today I got a terrible, but not unexpected phone call.  It was the shelter letting me know that your heart murmur wasn’t just a murmur, but heart failure.  When they took your chest x-ray, nothing was right.  Your heart wasn’t right.  Your lungs were full of fluid.  At 3 months old you had reached the end of your life.

I always thought that something wasn’t right with you.  Your meow was strangled and squeaky, thus your name.  You panted at odd times.  Your eyes never quite opened.  I had hoped it wasn’t a terminal “not right,” but it was.  The news was a blow to my already bruised and battered heart.

When we took you from the shelter you were so tiny and so sick.  I would work on the computer with you in my jacket close to my heart.  I was committed to you even though I wanted to keep my distance.  I didn’t think you’d make it through the first week.  I ran steaming water in the shower and sat with you in the kitten spa to try to make you well, and it worked.  Yesterday you weighed enough and were healthy enough to go in and get adopted, or so thought my untrained eye.

I knew when I saw messages from the shelter that you were sick.  I hoped it was a “we need you to foster him a few more weeks” sick, but it wasn’t.  When I called and they told me the horrible news, I wept.  When they asked if I wanted to come in and say goodbye I paused, and then said “No.”  I had said my goodbyes the day before.  I had kissed your soft fur and told you I loved you.  I couldn’t do any better than that.

I loved your brown and black stripes that had started to grow down your back like a monochromatic skunk.  I love the trusting way you flopped down when you sat on anyone’s lap, certain that they would support you wherever you landed.  I loved how you would play with your sister and the big cat.  I loved your sweet purr, a whisper of your sisters big engine.  Because no relationship is perfect, I need to acknowledge that I didn’t love how you peed all over the house, but that flaw wasn’t enough to keep me from loving you completely.

I had hopes for your forever home, but it turns out I was your forever home.  Your forever was 13 short weeks.  I loved having you here, and I know you loved being here.  Thank you for sharing your life with us.  I hope you and your three siblings are somewhere sharing a sunbeam together.  Know that part of my heart is still with you.

With deepest affection,

Johanna

P.S.  I do want you to know that when I heard you were dying I adopted your sister.  I hope you don’t mind, but I needed some joy after so much loss.  The sadness was overwhelming.  Her whole name is now Adventure Sneaker-Squeaker Blackie Tiny No-Name as a tribute to you and your brothers and sisters.  It’s a big name for her, but I think she can carry it.  We love you always!

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Bittersweet

Today was a hard day, but a good day.

The Afthead family foster kittens went back to the shelter to get adopted after two months in our home.  It is sad and quiet now, but there is joy in the fact that they survived and now have a chance to find their permanent home.

Last night, when my daughter and I talked about the kittens going back she said, “Do you know what word describes this feeling?  Bittersweet.”

“That is the perfect word, sweetie.  Where did you learn it?”  I asked, giving her a hug.

“My teacher taught me.”

Today, I sent my kiddo to school with a note to her teacher that said:

Our kittens have finally gained enough weight so they can go back to the shelter.  Little Afthead wanted you to know in case she is sad.  This is a bittersweet day, and we thank you for giving us the word to describe how we feel.

After reading the note my daughter’s teacher made the word of the day “bittersweet” and asked if she could read our note to the class.  My daughter said “Yes,” and was so proud to share her foster story with her class.

Today is bittersweet.

Fostering Kittens is Humbling

We are days away from the end of our kitten fostering adventure.  Two months ago I picked up three kittens from the Denver Dumb Friends League.  Of our original three we have one left, and ended up fostering one additional litter mate when his sister died in the shelter.  Five kittens were born together, and this week two kittens will go back to the shelter to find their forever homes.  The experience has been humbling, sad, and full of love and joy.  These fragile creatures are so tiny, yet so big in our hearts.  Reflecting back on the experience, we have learned so much.

The Sorrows

  1. Stray kittens have a rough start at life.  In the family of five kittens three died.  One of the living had a bacterial infection and the other had a parasite and both diseases threatened their lifes.  I learned how to give IV fluids, antibiotics, immunizations, and anti-parasitic medicines.  If my job goes south I have many qualifications of a vet tech now.
  2. Even with all my dedication, hard work, care, and the wonders of modern medicine accidents still happen and kittens still die.  There is a very, very good reason that they stress keeping your toilet seats down when fostering kittens.  Of all the life lessons I hoped our family would learn from this, I never hoped to learn that one.  Life is fragile.  Never doubt it.
  3. When you tell your daughter that the kitten drowning is “family business” she will still tell her friends, who will tell their friends, who will tell their parents, who will ask you point blank at awkward times if a “kitten really drowned in your toilet.”  They are judging you, but you don’t need to judge yourself again.  Horrible things happen and people who don’t risk taking care of the sick and weak will never have to answer such questions.
  4. The animal foster community is amazing.  The foster coordinators who work at the shelter saw me at my worst many times.  They were always loving, took my concerns seriously, and gave the best care to the kittens.  The other volunteers and foster parents were a resource that this new foster parent drew on daily.  Once we were over the hump and the kittens were healthy and growing, the community rejoiced with me.

The Joys

  1. Our kittens were technology wizards.  They quickly learned that heat comes out of laptops and modems and always found the warmest place to sit.    
  2. Kittens do not make good bookmarks.  They are too lumpy. 
  3. Anytime you put something on your head that a kitten hasn’t seen before – earrings; hats, sunglasses, glasses – those objects must be explored and tasted.  
  4. If you are not a good housekeeper a kitten will reveal every bookcase that hasn’t been dusted under, refrigerator coil that needs vacuuming, and errant spiderweb in your house.  They will clean these areas for you, and then you will clean the kitten.  
  5. Baby kittens do not have hair on their bellies at first.  This makes kittens attractive from the top, but unattractive when rotated 180 degrees.  
  6. After 7 weeks of hesitant interactions kittens really taste good.  
  7. There is only room in any sunbeam for one kitten, regardless of the size of the sunbeam.  
  8. Big eyes help kittens get away with a host of transgressions.  

We’ve decided that these are not our cats, and giving them back is going to break our hearts for the hundredth time.  When they leave us I hope they find love, patience, a big cat to play with and a bad housekeeper to love them.  If you ever find yourself in need of a new pet, I encourage you to adopt from a shelter.  You never know the kind of love that may come with your new pet.