Grief 101 for Companion Animal Caregivers

It’s always a toss-up as to who gets the keyboard for these posts. It’s my darn blog! But sometimes Mum has to write the stuff because it deals with things I just don’t know. This is one such occasion.

Recent events in the lives of my Mum’s friends, has prompted this. Now I am no expert on grief, as I am only 5 years old, and have never really lost anyone close to me – well except for my birth mum and littermates, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But Mum has a lot of experience, so she can write fairly reliably on the subject. So here is my Mum, Barb, telling you stuff I’m not ready to, yet.

Thank you Andy! You are a good boy (mostly) and a generous soul.

Those of us who love animals, and have companion animals, of whatever species, know that losing them is every bit as traumatic as losing a human loved one. I have lost both parents; Dad in 1989 and Mom in 1999. Both deaths had different ‘grief patterns’. Dad had been diagnosed with Cancer, and it was pretty much untreatable. I knew he would die, and my only prayer at the time, was that he would die gracefully and quickly. He did. He continued to live his life to the fullest until the very last months of his illness, and was cognizant right up until the end. He died sleeping and knowing that we had all said our goodbyes and that we loved him. My Mom however, died while talking to me on the phone. I knew she had a health issue – she had told me that there was a possible aortic artery problem. She had chosen not to have some very invasive surgery at the time, as her quality of life would be compromised. In other words, she didn’t want to ‘live longer, live weaker’. She enjoyed her life right up to the very last moment. I know, because I was chatting with her at the time. But it was a horrible shock none the less. She died of an aortic aneurysm. She died suddenly and without a lot of pain and invasive treatment.

I have also lost many pets over the years of my life. These losses were very sad too. People who don’t have pets, or who view pet animals as ‘possessions’ don’t quite get the level of grief that we feel when we lose these friends. In between my parent’s death’s we lost a beloved pet and a friend. Muff, our cat, had been with us since before any of our kids were born. She was about 17 when she died on New Years Eve of 1991. February of that year we lost our friend Betty to cancer. It was a traumatic beginning to a new year.

My friends, 2020 and Carol Wingert, and Tony Laidig all lost beloved pets recently, while in absentia. This was not their choice. It’s just the way it happened. But It’s harder that way, I know. Aside from the normal guilt we feel, we also feel the guilt of ‘not having been there.’ But that’s just the way it is. The reality is, had they been there, the outcome would have been no different. The problem is, in these circumstances, we did not get to say ‘I love you and goodbye’. The natural reaction is to feel guilt.

Sadness, and grief. These are the acceptable feelings. Guilt is not. We cannot choose our own time of death, nor can we choose our pet’s time. Well, unless of course we need to consider euthanasia…The point being, we all die at some time, and we need to live and love as best we can in the meantime.

My grief patterns at the time were very different. I had time to adjust to my Dad’s impending demise. I took comfort in the fact that he  chose to share with me, his experiences and journey’s into death. When he died, it was devastating, but there was a gentle aspect that only knowing, in advance, can bring. With Mom, it was very sudden and even though I knew it was possible, the loss was much more sharp – so much more a cleaving, that my grief was raw, and rending. Betty also died gracefully with her loving family and friends around her until the very end. Muff, our cat that had sat beside each child as they grew up and out of the ‘Kiddy Chair’ through all the Thanksgiving’s and Christmas’s died on New Years Eve, in my arms. She was old, but I was not ready to let her go.

Well, now it’s 10 and 20 years later. I still dream of my parents from time to time. That feels like such a gift. I loved them and even revered them when they were alive. Muff visits now and again too. Now, their visits are lessons.

Celebrate your loved ones and your lost pets. They have things to say to you, even after they’re gone.

Nothing Whatever To Do With Cats!

Today’s post has nothing whatever to do with cats. But it’s such a cute story, we had to share.

Last Friday Mum needed to cut the grass at her house in town. So Stu loaded up the mower in the truck and headed in, with Mum following a little later. When she arrived, at the back of the house, Stu was just arriving with the lawn-mower at the front of the house. And there was a stranger in the yard! Several, actually.

The mowing was put on hold for a while. The stranger is a neighbour and had followed a momma duck and her babies down the alley into Mum’s yard. She seemed content enough to rest there for a while, and didn’t seem to be at all shy. But ducklings, once they are hatched, evidently need to get to water within a few hours or they will die. Mum’s house is in the middle of downtown Neepawa with no water handy. So the three of them; Mum, Stu and the neighbour, very gently herded Momma duck and all her little babies out to the highway just one house South of Mum’s.

Then Stu and the neighbour stopped traffic on the Yellowhead Highway – all four lanes – and herded them across so they could travel unimpeded down First Avenue to Park Lake.

Mum carried on with her mowing, no longer having to worry about scaring the berjipitties out of little baby ducks and Stu carried on with his chores. The neighbour followed the duck family down the avenue to make sure they all got to the lake safely. (Stock Photo’s)

Only kittens are cuter than baby ducks!

Only kittens are cuter than baby ducks!

crossing the highway

Crossing the Highway

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Andy’s Spring Fling!

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Cats are Funny!

It’s Barb here this time. Andy is on an annual ‘Nearly Spring Silly Season’.

And that is the subject of this post. It’s been a while! Anyway, one of my favourite twitter friends suggested that I should change my Twitter Avatar to a picture with me and Andy, face to face, as it were. I laughed out loud when I read her tweet! The very idea!

What my friend didn’t know, and I guess I have never revealed, is that Andy is nearly feral. I don’t want him anywhere near my face for a ‘photo shoot’! Don’t get me wrong! Andy loves me with all his heart and soul. And only me, evidently. Well, he does like his feline housemates, but there are very few humans he will tolerate. In fact, I have seen him warm to only two other people in his entire life. Kathy, my friend who feeds my gang when I am away for any length of time and Stu’s dad. I can’t figure that! Lloyd is not particularly fond of cats and is here very seldom, but Andy seems to think he’s OK. Kathy, of course, he adores. Stu, who lives here, can’t get near to him.

So how does Andy relate to me? Well, he adores me with his eyes. He will wind himself around my legs if I am standing and he cherishes whichever chair I am sitting on. If I am lounging on the loveseat, he loves to come up and tuck into the back of my knees. If I am sitting there, he will come and lean against me and even claim my leg with a forepaw. But he will never sit on my lap. He will never consent to being held, except if I collect him under my left arm, so he is hanging like a wild cat, and only so long as he is liking being scratched under the chin. He purrs all the while, but after about a minute and a half – and he lets me know – I have to let him down, or risk severe lacerations. I can pet him at any time and I am unique in this. No-one else is allowed to. When I am in bed, he will come and tuck into the backs of my knees, my tummy or into my ankles. If I don’t move much, he will spend an entire night with me.

He loves it when I talk to him and sometimes I will stand at the kitchen window and tell him about all the birds outside. He then leaps to the window and chats at me while he catches up with all the bird activity outside. Andy is a unique individual, indeed. I am blessed to have him and be loved by him and that he is such a character that I can create a blog that is his and mine. He is goofy, unique, fiercely loyal, independent, comical, irreverent and caustic all at the same time. Andy is a ‘talker’. He loves to play fetch and all the while I throw small paper balls, he natters and purrs and brings the ball to my feet – to throw again. He especially loves to be surprised or tricked. If he thinks the ball is going one way, and it turns out it’s going the opposite way, he is delighted and says so! One of these days, I will find all these paper balls under something, or behind something and because they will be covered in years worth of fuzz, I hope Andy is sleeping so I can dispose of them without feline interference.

So – I was not prepared to do a photo op with my face next to Andy’s. But he is a beautiful boy so here is a picture of him being a very handsome lad.

Andy loves my stuff

Andy loves my stuff

Just so you know…Andy was one of a litter of six. He was born to a lovely marmalade female, whose name was Rosebud. Rosebud evidently mated with a Siamese as her progeny were two female seal points and four male flame points. Rosebud was fostered just before the kittens were born. The family that fostered her was the family of one our most cherished volunteers. Unfortunately, they were reluctant to disturb Rosebud while her babies were tiny. That was a lesson learned for the education of other foster families. Anyway, some of the kittens were fine. Some of them, however,  were very cagey. Andy is one of the cagey ones.

When a mom cat or dog, or any other species for that matter has babies, it is imperative to ‘socialize’ the young. This is not invasive and the mom probably doesn’t mind in the least. It is just a matter of petting the babies several times a day. You can handle them from almost the first moment after their birth. And you should! Andy is a case in point. Gretchen, who came to the shelter as a stray, had obviously been well socialized before being abandoned. She arrived as a 3 – 4 week old kitten. But she has always been very outgoing and friendly. She has never met a stranger!

This brings me to Parta and feral cats in general.

Parta arrived at our Shelter via City of Whitehorse Bylaw Service. I’m not sure why they thought she was a nice cat because it was evident as soon as we took possession of her, that she was absolutely feral. Not long after she arrived, it was also evident that she was pregnant! We ended up housing her in a meeting room that had a sink and lots of room for her to get out of the way, once the babies were born. She would glare at staff as they did their work, and sneak up behind them while they filled her water bowl at the sink, smacking them on the backs of their legs. These surprise attacks resulted in a lot of mopping up water, but curiously, she never used her claws. She was very fond of tuna, so staff would set a small bowl of it at the edge of the room, and would use the time she was eating to handle the kittens. Parta was uncomfortable with this at first, but she eventually seemed to understand that we meant no harm to the babies. They grew very well socialized and were all adopted.

I was a little concerned about what to do with Parta after her kittens were gone. As she was then, she was not adoptable. She was very good with other cats though, and was a mother through and through. She took over all the motherless kittens at the shelter. I had a habit of stroking all the cats I came across as I made my way through the days at work and I didn’t think about it, really. One day, as I passed by one of the cat trees I reached into one of the cubbies to give Parta’s last remaining kitten a pat and without a thought, I gave Parta a cheek scratch. Just as I did it, and she snapped her head back, I realized my mistake. It was too late to escape and as I accepted that my hand was about to be shredded, Parta shocked me. She sniffed my fingers and offered me her cheek for another scratch! For many weeks, she would warily allow this familiarity only from me. Eventually she accepted certain staff members and one volunteer couple. I was delighted when the volunteers adopted both Parta and her boyfriend, Pilot.

Parta was my first experience with a feral cat. I have no idea what her life experience was but once she allowed us to touch her, we discovered a pellet under her skin so she certainly had a reason to be wary of humans. There were many feral cats that came in over the years I was there, and it seemed the best way to socialize them was to simply be near them and let their innate curiosity take over. Once they experience petting, their hedonistic nature does all the work.

A Whole New Year!!

Fibre optic christmas tree on new years
Image by Cliph via Flickr

Happy New Year everyone! Wow! Can’t think where the old one went so fast! Last post was in August. I am writhing in shame at my sloth. Well – cats do sleep a lot.

We have been busy scratching up cardboard boxes since then, and hiding all manner of: paper balls, twist tie rings, a gazillion catnip mice and various valuable items that Mum doesn’t know she has lost yet.

So, in September, my namesake – or am I, his? – my Uncle Andrew anyway, came for a visit. That put everything in an uproar! He was sleeping in the upstairs guestroom and was fair game for Cfer and Gus. I only snooze with Mum. Gretchen prefers to sleep in one of Joey’s beds. Oh – Joey is the Jack Russell Terrorist that lives here too. Anyway, Andrew can’t resist trying to cuddle with Gretchen. This usually involves a mad chase, crashing and burning etc. and then some whining. “Why won’t she let me hold her?!”

Mum says “Ignore her. Sooner or later she’ll be begging you for love, and you’ll have a hard time getting rid of her!” And eventually that’s just what happened. Gretchen looking for affection is impossible to ignore! But then the whining was “Why won’t he let me pet him?!” This referred to me. The response was – “Ignore him. When he decides you’re worthy, he’ll let you know.”

She’s a good old gal, my Mum.

By the end of Uncle Andrew’s stay, I realised he was pretty cool and let him pet me a time or two. But I wouldn’t snuggle with him.

October and November went by in a blurr. But I discovered a really neat site! Check out http://www.palmbeachzoo.com and click on the baby jaguar videos. She is such a sweetie!

Now! Christmas is over, it’s 2009, and there is a whole new year of possibilities ahead. Are you excited?!

Cat watching magpies

Cat watching magpies

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Spaying and Neutering

Whew! At last we are back on track after a very busy summer. Andy is still in lazy summer mode and this is a sensitive subject for him anyway. So It’s Barb blogging.

Today’s topic is spaying and neutering your pet – and why you should. Everyone loves baby animals. They’re so darn cute!

Awwww!

Awwww!

 But when you realize how many thousands of cats and dogs are destroyed every year, in shelters and pounds just in North America, you can see the case for spaying and neutering your pet. As well there are many compelling health reasons affecting your pet, that make neutering preferable. The only possible case for not doing so, is in the instance of reputable breeders of purebred animals. And this in no way condones so called ‘puppy mills’ or other similar breeders. That is a whole subject in itself!

I know that many well meaning parents feel that allowing a pet to have a litter, is a good learning experience for their children and that having baby animals can teach them responsibility and empathy. This may well be true but those babies will quickly grow up and if you haven’t found homes for them – good homes, they will likely end up at a shelter and perhaps the only future for them then, is euthanasia. A better way to teach children those qualities, is to volunteer with them at a local animal shelter. Many shelters have excellent programs and volunteer opportunities. And they are very grateful for the help.

Another compelling reason to spay or neuter your pet is to preserve its health. There are many serious health conditions that can arise in intact animals. There can be problems with urinary tracts, uterine problems and injuries resulting from fights amongst potential suitors.

When I ran an animal shelter, one of the more common reasons for surrender was behaviour problems resulting with an un-neutered pet. As they reach sexual maturity, animals become aggressive and territorial and will act accordingly with marking and fighting. A spayed or neutered animal is more relaxed and even tempered.

One time, we received a small dog, a little mop-like thing, cute as a button and very rare at our shelter. We mostly got Shepherd/Lab/Husky crosses – ‘Yukon’ dogs. As this little girl was mature she was scheduled right away for spaying the following Tuesday. A young family came in on Friday morning to look at her and one of the attendants took them back to meet her. They fell in love. A short while later the young wife came running back to the office to tell me they definitely wanted to adopt her, but she wanted to know about the spay/neuter policy and if it was mandatory. I explained it was, and why, and she seemed to understand but she said her husband was not going to like that at all.

Then he came out and said all the same things – wanted the dog, didn’t want to have her spayed. I was curious and asked why. He said he didn’t believe in it and had never had his pets fixed. He had a registered Boxer (I think?) at home already and wouldn’t think of neutering him. I said that was fine, the dog was registered and he might want to breed Boxers, but the little lady in OUR shelter was neither registered nor purebred and she would be spayed according to our policy. And she would be spayed before leaving our shelter to go to her new home.

At this, the young man became quite agitated. We argued back and forth a bit with me explaining all the very good reasons for altering the animals we received, the main one being that every animal there had been surrendered, stray or abandoned, and he, red faced and bouncing, arguing that it was un-natural. And besides, he assured me, he would not allow the two to breed.

In the course of this argument, I learned that he worked, sometimes very long hours, and she was a stay-at-home Mom. I was thinking….hmmmm…hubby wants two un-altered dogs in the same house, he’s not there most of the time, and it would obviously be the poor young Mom having to keep the dogs apart. That sure did not work for me.

He was livid by then, and, bouncing up and down, he spat the worst thing he could think of at me. ‘Well! Have you been neutered?!’ 

His wife slapped her hand over her mouth and spun around so her back was to me when I answered in all honesty…’Yes I have as a matter of fact.’

I imagine she didn’t want him to know she nearly burst out laughing.

Another incident happened late one evening just as we were closing. Three native gentlemen, from a community about 100 miles away dropped by and were perusing the sign on the building that outlined the adoption fees. One of them had thought he could just drop by and pick up a dog. I explained the adoption procedure, which included a 24 hour wait period after applying and assured him that he could take the application home with him, fill it out and fax it to me, and the 24 hour wait period would be included then, when next he came into the city. Also, I told him I would put on reserve, whatever dog he had chosen.

He mulled that over for a bit and then asked why there were all different rates on the board for adoption. I explained that we had different rates based on the care of animals, dogs being more costly to feed and care for, and the neutering costs. If animals came in already neutered, the cost of adoption was lower as we didn’t need to factor in that operation. Since neutering was mandatory, we factored in the cost of that to the adoption fees. So a dog to adopt, already fixed, was $60. Cats were $45. If we’d had them neutered, the cost which included the operation, was dogs, $160, and cats $120.

The three of them, standing outside the building bathed in the light shining down on the sign of adoption rates, and I in the doorway, and one of them asked, “So you’re saying that neutering is mandatory?”

“Yep” I replied. And I kid you not – all three of them shimmied in distaste and said “ewwww”. 

Since a great many of our worst cases came to us from their community, I could only file that away in my brain and assure them that “It’s the animals we neuter, not their owners!”

Bottom line – some of the nicest animals I have ever met, were surrendered to my shelter because of behaviour problems associated with not neutering them before they reached sexual maturity – around 6 months of age. Once they were neutered, they turned into the most wonderful pets.

Introducing…Cats in the House

My usual distractions seem to be MIA (read – my procrastination techniques) so I thought it would be a good time to introduce to you, my roomies and tell you a little bit about them. I did promise to do that a while back. I’m writing a short e-book about our travels halfway across Canada where you will get to know them better. I’m pretty sure it will be a freebie.

The oldest is Cfer. She was actually Uncle Andrew’s cat, but for reasons I won’t get into here, she ended up coming to live with us. She is a Siamese cross. Her markings are mostly tabby, but she has dark blue eyes. When people come to visit, Cfer is always the favourite. She never has met a stranger and loves equally, anyone who is kind to her. p.s.  yesterday, Cfer got out of the house somehow, and the dogs had her cornered under the deck. Mum didn’t realize and assumed it was the feral cat hanging around here. When she went out later, she recognized Cfer’s meow under there. It had been raining so Cfer came in a muddy mess!

Cfer in the sun

 

 

Gus is the gal who came to live with Mum when I did. Gus and I are just a week apart in age. Gus is a big boned gal, with lots of grey fur. She has bright, yellow eyes – an oddity in this household. She has a very sweet, high voice and sounds like a very tiny kitten when she vocalizes. Not that she often does, but every now and then she goes on a tear. She loves it when the Pen lazer comes out. It’s really the only exercise she gets!

Gus in the sun

 

 

Gretchen – the baby – came to live with us quite a while after the three of us had settled into our cat routine. Did she ever shake things up! She is like a little kid and always will be, I suspect. She is a Siamese cross too, with seal points (for those who don’t know, the points are ears, nose, tail and toes and Seal refers to ‘almost black’.) She is a ‘cross’ because her points aren’t perfect; she has white on her toes. Actually she kind of wears mitts. She is a polydactyl, so she has extra toes on both her front and hind feet. Her front feet look like she is wearing baseball mitts and her hind feet look like snowshoes. Her attitude matches her somewhat goofy appearance. She is in every way, the baby of the family. She prances around with her tail straight up and the tip waving back and forth. Happy personified. When she wants some motherly love, she demands it, either seizing Mum at whatever she is doing and curling up by her neck and nuzzling whatever is in reach or by literally  climbing up her legs like a toddler, with her arms up as if saying ‘pick me up, Mummy!’ Gretch was abandoned way too young, but she is pretty well adjusted after-all. Mum calls her mostly, Kitten or Baby.

Gretchen as a kitten 

 

 

Gretchen and Gus were given their names by Mums human kids. Andrew named Gus for reasons we haven’t figured out, and Heather named Gretchen for reasons we won’t mention. Mum named me for Andrew because he and I both have an ‘attitude’. Cfer was given her name because they  couldn’t think of one. She became Cfer – as in C for Cat. She responds to it when she wants to so I guess that worked.

And finally, here is a picture of me as I haven’t figured out to get me on here otherwise…

Handsome Andy

 

 

 

P.S. Watch for the next post. It’s kind of a funny story from the E-book Mum and I are writing…