Monday, March 29, 2010


Willow showing off her tummy.
How does one resist just snuggling her up?!

Friday, March 26, 2010


I have been dreaming about constructing an outdoor kitty enclosure from PVC pipe and netting material. I figured it could be put together in such a way that it could be dismantled and stored over the winter very easily.

I started the R & D on the idea and was getting excited about the options. A friend even connected me to a local source of the netting material. But just as the idea was gaining momentum in the household planning committee, it was cut due to budget constraints in the kitty budget.

The tough economic times has at last trickled down to the cats. They will have to suffer another year without an enclosed play area. Bummer!

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I recently watched the Disney/Pixar film Up and it got me. I haven't been gotten by a film in a number of years but this one did. Before going much further, a word of warning, there are spoilers in this blog post, if you haven't seen the movie and plan to, you might want to wait to read this until after you see the film.

In Up, Carl and his wife, Ellie, share a beautiful and playful dream throughout their life together. The film tells the story about how Carl attempts to fulfill this dream after Ellie's death as a memorial to her. After a lot of work he pulls it off and the dream is accomplished!

I hugely fear facing the death of people or pets whom I love dearly. Last May my beloved kitty Max died. In the time since his passing, I frequently get overwhelmed with tears and intense sadness when thinking about his absence. Max meant the world to me.

Some of the intensity of my heart pain may be coming from previous ungrieved loss. I haven't really gotten over Lassie's death (my first dog) from when I was an adolescent. The long lasting intense pain of that loss created an enormous fear of ever having to feel that way again. Even though I have always had a huge love for animals, most of my adult life has been free of pets.

Max was my first. He stole my heart even as I tried to keep myself somewhat safe by not getting too attached. That effort didn't last long, I was powerless against Max's amazingness. His death has created a chasm in my heart. It brings me right back to the pain associated with losing Lassie. There was a good reason I never wanted to feel that much pain again - it is too much. And yet many years later, I dared to love an animal and now the pain returns. While in the midst of the intense sadness of Max's loss, I would chastise myself for setting myself up again to hurt this way. "If only I hadn't been so foolish to go and love an animal again because when they die they leave an excruciatingly painful wound that never heals." Although, had I never known Max, I would have missed out on his delightful gift.

Max gave me a life changing gift - a taste of the abundant joy and crazy fun that is unique to cats. Prior to Max I was a hardcore dog-person, now after Max, I am fully a cat-person.

I could completely relate to Carl as he clung to the stuff and memories that connected him to his wife. I similarly cling to pictures and memories of Max. The memories, pictures and stuff makes the connection feel tangible and recent. Thus I was stunned when Carl began unloading his precious possessions. This scene represented to me the transformation that Carl made from remembering Ellie by clinging to the past memories into living out the life changing gifts Ellie had given him. I don't think that memories or things of past are bad in and of themselves, but the desperateness to which I cling to them, feeling that the thing itself is the last connection to the deceased is not true.

So, for me this means letting go of trying to get Max back and more fully living into his gift of my profound enjoyment of cats. Everytime I delight in a cat, it is a testament to Max. Letting go is hard. I so much desire the concrete, tactile touch. I don't know that my experience of this transformation will be as radical and instant as Carl's but I know I continue to move further along the journey of grieving.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Theo and I have now completed the Pet Partners class. This past Monday was the mock evaluation. We did ok on most of the tasks however Theo was thrown off his game by the reappearance of one of giant dogs, who had been absent for most of the class. Theo never really recovered and remained uncooperative and wiggly for most of the test. Had it been a real test, we probably would have failed.

The big lesson I learned is to schedule the evaluation at the end of the day so that no extra dogs will be present to distract Theo. And I need to keep practicing having him be around unfamiliar people and places.

The evaluation is not till June and meanwhile we have much to practice.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Theo's story

I realized the other day, when I was telling a friend the story of how I came to know Theo, that I haven't included his story on my blog. So, today I rectify that omission.

I first met Theo on Tuesday, December 29th, 2009 in frigid weather in the middle of rural Indiana. Theo showed up on the doorstep of my in-laws as we enjoyed a family holiday gathering. The temperature was extremely cold outside, highs in the mid teens and lows in the single digits and there was several inches of snow on the ground. Theo desperately wanted food and warmth.

It is pretty common for neighborhood cats to roam and I had seen several wandering around. The house across the street had several cats that freely roamed. So, assuming he was a neighbor's cat over for a visit, I watched him through the window for a time as I had watched the others. His behavior was different than the other cats though, he desperately wanted to come inside.

My mother-in-law indicated he had been hanging around for several weeks and she believed he was an abandoned or lost inside-cat.

Laura went out and picked him up, he snuggled in, purring and kneading his front paws as he soaked in the love and warmth. His claws were quite long and he was looking rather than thin. Otherwise he appeared to be in good shape.

I bought him some food from a nearby store, and he gobbled it up. He followed me anywhere I went. That evening, I sat on the front step in the frigid cold and held him. He was doing his best to merge with me as he sat in my lap, purring, kneading his front paws and meowing passionately. My heart was torn up as I frantically tried to figure out how best to care for his short term needs and long term well-being in an rural area with little to no animal rescue resources.

I asked my father-in-law if there were any warmer places he could sleep. He suggested the three sided sheep barn. I went over and checked it out, with Theo following by my heals. Inside the barn, there were some bales of hay stacked near the sheep enclosure. I found an old pink soft blanket nearby and created a cozy kitty spot on the stack of hay bales. I placed Theo up in the blanket and he settled right in. I brought him some food and water, which quickly froze. Before going in for the night, I placed my fleece jacket on the front step by the door, in case he decided to camp out there.

That night started one of many conversations with Laura regarding possible options for Theo. Take him home with us? Find a local shelter to bring up to? Could he go home with a sibling? The idea of leaving him to continue being cold, hungry and lonely was not sitting well with me.

The next morning, I wondered if he would be long gone. I put on my winter gear and went out to the sheep barn. There was Theo, exactly as I had left him the night before, in the blanket. He greeted me with a big stretch, some enthusiastic meows and lots of purrs.

Theo played in the snow with the nieces and nephews and seemed to have a great time. It was clear he loved playing with people and kids. Even the rough-playing style of the kids didn't phase him in the slightest. At one point one of the kids ran across the field toward the house and Theo bounded after him - he was lightening fast as he flew across the snowy field with his tail sticking straight up in the air! Seeing his easy-going nature with the kids, his adventurous attitude, and his delight in being with people, I wondered if he might be a good candidate for a therapy cat.

Finding Theo a home would require acting fast, as we were flying home early the next day. That left me with the day to figure out Theo's fate. I called around to local shelters and learned that the local county had done away with their animal control services long ago to save money. Other local shelters only took animals from their immediate area. I eventually found a shelter that would take him for a fee, but then I agonized over the thought of such a delightful cat being put down at a kill-shelter because no one could afford to adopt him in the small window of time the shelter would give him.

The option of us taking him home remained. I know of a great no-kill cat shelter, Purrfect Pals, near our home that would guarantee him a good chance of getting his needs met. Or maybe we could keep him, although Laura was not keen on the idea of having three cats. I checked into the airline requirements to take him on the plane, he would need a health certificate from a veterinarian.

A quick call to the local vet and I had a late afternoon appointment. Not wanting to take someone's cat, I inquired with the vet if anyone had reported a missing cat and I had them scan for a microchip. Several dogs had been reported missing, but no cats and no microchip was found. An exam, a few tests, a nail trim and a rabies shot and we were good to go! They even graciously provided me with a hard plastic carrier for the flight and a small bag of cat food. Thank you kind staff of Bush Vet!

A quick trip to the cat-store to acquire some essentials for flying with a cat and we were good to go. Theo spent one more cold night out in the barn with his pink blanket and then the next morning his big adventure started.

He is now fully integrated into our home and he is on track to be my first registered therapy animal! I even had the joy of having Theo asleep in my lap as I wrote this blog post. He is a delightful joy! We chose the name Theo because it means "Gift from God" and he is a lovely gift indeed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Willow's game

Willow has been enjoying a new game lately.

She carries one of her toys into the kitchen, places it in front of the refrigerator or stove and bats it under. She attempts to retrieve it but usually she only manages to push it further out of reach. Then she puts on her most convincing sad-face ("my favorite toy is stuck under the stove, can you pleeeeaaaasssseee get it out for me???") and patiently waits for me to come rescue her.

Of course, I can't resist her sad but sweet request. As I work on retrieving the toy, she works her sweetest charms and acts all lovey - purring loudly and gentling rubbing up against me as I work. When the toy emerges, the lovey stops and she quickly whacks it back under the stove and the sad-face resumes. And so the cycle continues, over and over again.

This game got me thinking about addiction and how people can unknowingly enable the addict. The addict's game is truly crazy, continually repeating a destructive behavior, each time hoping for a different outcome, and yet each time the end result is always the same. The enabler is the one who assists in the perpetuation of the crazy addictive cycle.

Each time I rescue Willow after she has whacked the toy under the stove, I further enable her behavior, and she promptly repeats the same behavior. She has me trained well and it is very difficult to resist her sad face as she gazes at the toy, stuck under the stove, too far to reach. Walking away from her in that moment would feel cruel and uncaring - after all it's her favorite toy. Yet how else will she learn that intentionally whacking the toy under the stove leads to the consequence of not having the toy again for a long period of time.

The challenge for the enabler is to not give in to the emotional manipulation of the addict and thus be willing to stand firm in truth even when it will cause the addict visible grief and displeasure.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

week in review

Nahum's favorite toys

Willow taking a turn with Nahum's favorite shoe

Nahum & Theo sharing the bed

Irresistible Willow

Willow using Nahum's tail as a pillow

Willow enjoying time on the rack

the soul of a cat

I have recently read Jon Katz's "The Soul of a Dog." Like all of his books I have read, it has been an enjoyable and thought provoking read.

In this book, Jon explores a difficult question, do animals have souls and thus go to heaven? He quotes several well known philosopher/theologian types (Aristotle, Aquinas, etc.) and contemporary veterinarians who entertain this question. Of course no one really knows the answer but the discussion in intriguing.

I don't have the answer either, but I have an answer that works for me.

Human's have freewill and thus can choose to accept or reject God. Animals seem more instinctually driven. What if the whole "entry into heaven requires accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior" bit only applies to humans, since they are the only ones with consciousness of choice. What if animals come with a free ticket to heaven because they are already right with God.

The Garden of Eden had animal and plant life communing with God long before humans were even on the scene. God seems to like animals.

Based on faith and hope, I believe that I will be reunited with all my animal friends in the afterlife. Although, I imagine that relationship will with them will look different than it did here on this side. The Bible indicates that in heaven relationships will be different, for example Matthew 22:30 states that we will no longer be married to the person we are with on Earth, but we will be like the angels. So, maybe something similar applies to our animal friends, we may know them, but the bond we share on this side will look different on the other side.

First Corinthians 13:12 seems to say that we will know a lot more in heaven. So, if we know more, then maybe we will be able to somehow know our animal friends more fully.

Several places in Jon's book, he makes the case for animals not entering into heaven. As I briefly entertained such a notion I was aware of feelings of intensely deep pain. I am more inclined to believe that one day I will get to more fully experience the great delight of holding and loving my dear Max again.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Thankfully, Theo is now home.

His jaw is fine, the problem was a seriously fractured canine tooth. He now only has one fang tooth on the top part of his jaw as the problem tooth was extracted. How the tooth was fractured is anyone's guess. Although it is not hard to imagine as he often runs around wildly throwing his body hard against things.

We also learned from the wear on the broken tooth, that Theo is older than he led us to believe.  The vet now thinks he is closer to 5-6 years old rather than the 1-2 years initially thought.

The other piece of information we learned is that his thyroid test came back higher than expected, which may explain his diarrhea, ravenous appetite and never-ending crazy energy level. Tonight we started him on a thyroid medication and are hoping it addresses these concerns.

It is good to have him home and to know more about what it going on. I am going to sleep better tonight.


Theo is spending the night in the hospital.

This morning, Theo was holding his mouth slightly open with his tongue sticking out.  It was odd, he doesn't usually do that. I did a quick Google search in an attempt to gauge the seriousness of the issue.  I didn't find anything to scary so decided to wait and see how he was when I returned home from work.

This evening, he was still holding his mouth open with his tongue sticking out but now his lower jaw was trembling. He did not look happy. I inquired with the emergency vet regarding his condition and they thought it would be wise to get him looked over. So off to the emergency vet we went.

The vet discovered that his jaw is loose and askew.  She could pop it back in place but it would fall back out of alignment rather easily. When his jaw is askew the teeth prevent his mouth from fully closing and the trembling may be the result of pain. She didn't know what might be causing this and indicated she had not seen such a condition before.  The decision was made to keep him overnight and Wednesday morning our regular vet, Annabelle Zastrow, will begin the comprehensive diagnostic process.

Not knowing the extent of his condition is stirring up all sorts of horrible fears and worries. I keep trying to stop the fear from overwhelming me by telling myself there is no need to worry about possible outcomes - better to wait until knowing some real information based on a skilled vet's assessment. Meanwhile, I pray for my sweet Theo, that he will be comfortable and ultimately alright.

He is scheduled for sedation and x-rays at 10am tomorrow.  I hope sometime soon after that to have a better idea of what is going on.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Willow's hour

Theo has been really annoying me lately. He has a way of taking over a room. Recently, I have noticed he seems to be really hard on Willow.

Willow likes to play on her own with either a rattly mouse or a small soft ball.  She loves to position the object behind something or under something and then bat it around. Lately, whenever she would start to play, Theo would come over and either steal the toy or wrestle Willow to the ground.

So, today, I locked Theo and Nahum on the back porch for an hour so Willow could play freely.  She loved it! She played wildly and uninhibited - what a delight to see!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

being self

The thought occurred to me the other day, the thing Willow does best, is simply to be Willow.

I have never seen her trying to be like Nahum, Theo or some human.  That's not to say that Willow has not been influenced by others, but through it all she remains solidly, Willow.

This made me think about how much time have I spent trying to be like someone else? Probably most of my life.

I remember as a kid, looking up to my oldest brother, and trying to be like him.  Once in third grade, I was in front of the class for something (I was not in trouble!) and I remember intentionally trying to display an expression of being cool and at ease like I had seen my oldest brother do countless times. It didn't work, the class roared with laughter and I didn't feel cool.

I wonder what it would be like to be the best me I could possibly be and to let go of trying to be like others.


A good friend, Sarah (aka The Cat Lady), once told me, "Do something once for a cat and it will always expect it." At the time I wasn't so sure I believed her, but now Willow is teaching me the truth of that wise axiom.

Nahum likes his greens, and so yesterday, after he ate his dinners, I put down a few lettuce leaves for him to enjoy. He and Willow happily gobbled them up.

Tonight, after Willow ate her dinners, she went over to where the bowl of greens was the previous night and sat patiently waiting for her salad to be served. Of course I could not resist her cuteness and promptly brought her salad. She ate it up.

Willow is training me well.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


There is something about a sleeping cat that really brings out the cute.

Monday, March 1, 2010

lap test

This morning in the Pet Partners training class, Theo got to practice his lap sitting.  Cats and small dogs get to hang out in three stranger's laps where they are to settle-in and not fuss.  While the cat is in the stranger's lap, the handler can offer the cat verbal and physical encouragement. After this visiting time, the handler gets to choose one of the people to get an additional 30 seconds of lap time. The cat then gets to hang out in the stranger's lap with only verbal encouragement from the handler (no touch).  The cat is suppose to settle into the stranger's petting.

Theo did great!  He seemed to enjoy the petting and love by the other people in class.  He had no problems at all settling into someone's lap for 30 seconds.  He did check in with me every so often to make sure I was still there and available to him. Some of the people in the class have been asking for weeks for an opportunity to pet Theo, so they enjoyed the opportunity.

I felt like a proud papa, as my cat was given great praise for his gentle nature.  Way to go Theo! Yahoo!

It was very fun role-playing having Theo visit people. Experiencing Theo's gentle way of giving and receiving love and my classmate's and teacher's response to him was very intoxicating.  This experience certainly has further stirred my interest in possibly exploring such an endeavor down the road. Very exciting and a bit of a surprise.  This was not something I was expecting going into this class!

sticky paws

The cats have been using our little sofa as their favorite scratching spot. Even though I bought them a state of the art, super-expensive, hand-made scratching post they prefer to scratch up the corners of the sofa.

I have read about several ways to curb the cat's desire to scratch furniture. One way to do so, is to use double sided sticky tape on the places where they scratch. The idea is that cats don't like the feel of the sticky on their paws, so after a few attempts at scratching, the negative experience will make them find a new spot. That sounds simple enough.

So, Saturday at the cat-store, I found a package of Sticky Paws, the package claims "Stop cats from destroying furniture!" That is what I was looking for, so, $15 later, my furniture's salvation rests in the hopes of Sticky Paws.

I followed the directions and applied three strips along the edges of the sofa that get scratched the most.  Initially, the cats paid no attention even though they watched as I affixed them.

The next morning, as I was siting on the couch finishing up a blog post, Nahum approached, sniffed a Sticky Paws adhesive strip and immediately started pulling it off with his teeth. He somehow knew not to use his paws and so used his teeth.

"Who stuck this sticky stuff on my favorite scratching spot? I fix it."

Willow assisted in the removal. A few minutes later, they were working on the second strip.

Instead of getting a scratch deterrent, I gained a new source of entertainment!