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Posts Tagged ‘caring for chronically ill pets’



By Elizabeth Statmore


Fromage died on Saturday, May 12th 2012 at 11:30 p.m. at All Animals Emergency Hospital, surrounded by us and our love. He was dehydrated and disoriented, with a temperature of 105.6. Normal temperature for dogs is 101-ish, with 102 being in the high fever range. So Fromage had a raging fever, probably from a combination of a brain tumor (or nervous system tumor) and end-stage kidney disease.

We knew it was serious when he couldn’t do anything with a Beggin’ Strip — his favorite treat in the universe. And I’d dreamed Wednesday morning that he died. I knew it was a precognitive dream, but I didn’t know how or when the end would happen.

He did his utmost to stay alive for me — to support me and love me through this disorienting chapter of my life. He showed the same heroic courage and love he had shown us all his life. He was an impeccable warrior to the end, but in the end it was time to let him go.

It was the night before Mother’s Day.

It’s the little things that really punch me in the gut — the moments that interrupt my conditioned habits, such as automatically tucking the newspaper bags into the plastic bag collection next to the front door, only to realize that I don’t have a need to save dog poop bags any more.

I put his sterling silver tag on a chain and started wearing it around my neck last night as I went to bed.

He was the only being who has ever called me his mother. On our first Mother’s Day he bought me a pair of dog socks.

He was the dog of my life.

He was the dog of my heart.

I somehow left my favorite fountain pen at school on Friday, but I was too stressed-out and worried yesterday to deal with it. But this morning, all I wanted to do was write, so I drove down to school and back to retrieve it.

When we got to All Animals, Fromage had a fever of 105.6. This was a raging brain fever. He couldn’t even walk down our front stairs. I carried him in my arms down the thirteen front steps — all 60+ pounds of him. David carried him into the car. He was dehydrated and disoriented and scared. He was dying.

I held him in the back seat while David drove. He lay quietly on the back seat, watching where we were going.

He had kept himself alive so he could support me. And now I knew it was my turn to support him by letting him go and by easing his passage into the next world, into his next life.

Fred always said that Fromage was my spirit guide.

Now my heart just aches. David’s too. Fromage loved David so much, even though David felt hurt that Fromage was always so freaked out and demented these last few years. David hugged him and loved him too, even though there was so much dog hair. By last night, no one cared.

I can’t put away his old beds or mats yet. I am still processing the fact that he is gone. There is a giant Fromage-shaped hole in my heart — one with one stand-up ear and one flappy ear. The stand-up ear is his right one. It has a bite taken out of the tip. My lips and fingers know the shape of that missing spot instinctively. Completely. Like a fingerprint.

He’d been staying alive to get me through this tough time. On Wednesday night I got the word that my layoff notice had been rescinded. He went downhill fast from there.

I loved that dog so much.

He loved me more purely and wholeheartedly than I had ever been loved before. It was a healing kind of love. He healed me. He made me whole.

When Crystal and I saw Mary Oliver the first time at the Herbst a few years ago, Mary had recently lost her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, and had been writing about it for some time. A woman in the audience asked how she’d gotten through the devastating loss. “Well,” she said, first you go a little crazy. You go nuts for a while.” That thought comforts me now. I am going to have to go a little nuts for a while while I grieve.

The loss feels cavernous.

It’s also tinged with fear and shame that I might not be experiencing appropriate gratitude for the gift of his life. I *do* feel a bottomless gratitude for his life. It’s just that right now, this is the part where I have to take in and let out the hurting — the loss and the groundlessness of impermanence.

In legal terms, I rescued him, but the emotional truth is that he is the one who rescued me.

He was a magical dog, a magical creature. In mythical terms, he was my magical helper-being.

“A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky,” Mary Oliver writes in one of her dog poems. In so many, many ways I’ve been very, very lucky. Fromage was in good health and good spirits until this very last week. He enjoyed long walks and Trash Night and giving David five and ten and eating Beggin’ Strips until the very last day of his life. He watched for my return through the glass in the front door every single day of our life together.

As we left the hospital room after it was over, I kissed him behind his flappy ear — where, even in death, he still smelled like a puppy — and I whispered to him, “Okay, Puppity, guard the house.”

Then we left the treatment room and closed the door behind us.

I did not look back.


Fromage at the Dog Garden, Dog Garden, San Francisco, California, April 2004, photo © 2004 by Carlos Hillson. All rights reserved.


_________________________



About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

Long is Part I in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage.

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Gone are the syringes, the pages and pages of charts we logged, the droppers, prescription foods, and red plastic “discarded needle” container with the skull and crossbones. Gone is the hook over the kitchen sink to hang the IV bag; it was made out of an old tent stake. Gone are the alcohol swipes, 15-cent 18 gauge needles, extra towels, warming bowls, and bags of IV hookup tubes.

Expensive medications crammed into limited cupboard space have disappeared. The thick blue folder of Chaco’s veterinary receipts has been filed away. Last week we made a decision to donate the 10 remaining bags of .45 saline IV fluids (from the case we had special ordered to give Chaco’s subcutaneous fluids at home) to the Humane Society. Liz said she would drop the case off after work. She came home on Thursday and handed me a copy of the following letter:


_________________________________________________________________




Chaco S. was born February 22nd, 1996, adopted from the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society in April 1996, and passed away on June 25th, 2009 after a brave battle with kidney disease.

He left a huge hole in our family and will always be remembered dearly for his big purrs and head bumps.

We are donating extra bags of saline in his name. They kept him going near the end and we know how valuable they can be.


Peace, love and purrs,

The S-H Family
Liz, D., Kiev & Mr. Stripey Pants


__________________________________________________________________


This is why I love Liz. She had typed the letter up, added Chaco’s photo, and given it to the woman at the desk of the Humane Society who thanked her profusely for our donation. The intake person was simultaneously talking on the phone to a woman who had lost her cat and advising her of organizations she could contact to help her with her search.

In the short time Liz was there, a woman came in crying because she had to give up her cat. Her husband handed the carrier with their beloved pet over to the intake coordinator. Another man was at the desk to surrender a cat he had taken from a friend because he didn’t want it to be put down; it didn’t work out. He tried to explain. There is no excuse the Humane Society hasn’t already heard.

People desperately trying to find their cats; people desperately needing to get rid of their cats; people grieving the loss of their cats. And I haven’t even gotten to the dogs yet.

The woman at the desk said she would tape Liz’s letter to the box of IV fluids so they would think about Chaco whenever they grabbed a new IV bag for an animal in need. I appreciate the work of caring individuals who volunteer their time to sanctuaries, independent animal shelters, and organizations who care for animals society has tossed aside. There are 81.7 million cats and 71.2 million dogs owned in America. We need to help out wherever we can.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, August 9th, 2009

-related to posts: Chaco’s Creature Comforts (10 Cat Care Tips), From The Earth, Back To The Earth , Winter Solstice — The Quiet Strength Of Bear, Life Of An American Green Tree Frog, Children Helping Children (And Animals)

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Chaco Bell, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Chaco Bell, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December
2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All
rights reserved.



It’s still the dead of Winter in Minnesota, and we’ve got the temperatures to prove it. How do you know it’s January in Minnesota?


  • it’s -8 when you get up in the morning (that’s on a good day, without wind chills)
  • running water (if you’ve got water at all) sputters and spits through sluggish, half-frozen pipes
  • water turned off from 10:30pm Friday to Noon the following Saturday, after you are greeted post-work by a broken water main that creates an ice skating rink on the street in front of your house. All we needed was Kristi Yamaguchi (did you know she was one of the first to be photographed by Annie Liebovitz for the ‘Milk Mustache’ campaign?).
  • the annual Art Shanty Projects kicks off on Medicine Lake
  • the U.S. Pond Hockey Association holds its annual tournament on frigid Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis (See the winners of  the nearly 1,600 pond hockey fanatics that participated in the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships of 2009)
  • close to 9,000 anglers gather on Gull Lake’s Hole in the Day Bay north of Brainerd for the World’s largest ice contest — the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza (from an aerial view, you could swear those were gopher holes!)


Meantime, life inside home and hearth goes on. The week before Winter Solstice, our middle-aged cat Chaco (named after the canyon in New Mexico, elevation: 6200 feet) became seriously ill; we got him into the vet on December 18th. By the weekend, he needed to go to emergency care for IV fluids, medication, and monitoring, then back to our clinic on Monday. So began the last 6 weeks of caring for a chronically ill cat.

On our last visit to Dr. Heidi, she checked his blood again, and after treating a massive infection with three prescriptions of antibiotics, it seems his numbers are up on the kidneys, yet his anemia remains below the norm. He tires easily, but is eating, drinking, sometimes playing. He’s gained 1.2 lbs. of the 2 lbs. he lost. But there’s that nagging anemia.

The problem with anemia in cats is that it’s hard to diagnose the origin; it can be anything, including chronic kidney disease. We’ve elected home treatment for another month to see if we can get his anemia under control. This means continuing antibiotics, vitamin paste, subcutaneous fluids every 2 or 3 days, prescription foods tailored for kidneys (rich in lean meat, low in fats and additives), and monitoring his habits and schedule.



Chaco -- Room To Heal, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Chaco — “Room To Heal”, Minneapolis,
Minnesota, December 2008, photo ©
2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights
reserved.



Those of you who have cared for ill animals know the drill. It’s good to call on friends who’ve been through a “cat crisis” when you need to make hard financial and emotional decisions involving care for ill pets. It’s truly a miracle that Chaco is alive. Right before Christmas, our vet told us the staff was begging her to put him down. But she saw a few signs of hope in his numbers; otherwise, I would be doing a very different kind of post.

The bottom line with seriously ill pets, is that it’s a very personal decision you must make about how much money to spend (prepare to dip into your savings), what kind of long-term care you are willing to sustain, and if the animal’s quality of life can be maintained without pain and hardship on either side. Tough choices.

Liz and I take it a day at a time. And are happy for the time we have left with Chaco, whatever that may be. On March 22nd, he’ll be 13 years old. With Liz caring for him most of his life, he’s lived like a prince!

We’ve learned quite a bit about cat care over the last month. Perhaps others can benefit from what we’ve been through.


 

Creature Comforts – 10 Cat Care Tips


Below is a short list of Creature Comforts that have made our lives easier over the last 6 weeks of caring for a chronically ill cat. Some can be found around the house. Others take a little cash up front, but we found it helpful to stock up on items that make long-term medical care more bearable for both cats and humans.

We created a home base (see photo above) tucked away in the bedroom where we could monitor Chaco, and followed his movements closely during the first few weeks. Creating a space where he felt safe was important. We also set aside a centralized place in the kitchen for his food, meds, syringes, vitamins, and a high place to hang the Sub-Q bag. Below are other ideas and product brands, but experiment and find what works best for you.



Products and items we’ve found to be helpful during the critical first week:


  1. Complete For Cats, A Fresh Approach To Home, disposable litter box — portable, made with 100% biodegradable, recycled paper with a unique, patented material that will not leak, tear, or shred.
  2. ExquisiCat Scoop, hard clumping, easy scooping litter —  or Scoop Away Odor Control litter. Make clean-up as easy as you can; you’re going to be tired!
  3. Simply Out! 30 floor protection pads — extra thick, ultra absorbent, fragrance free, leak-proof. Treated to attract pets, controls odors, no leaks, guaranteed (pet training pads but work great when pets are sick).
  4. Old towels and rags, plastic tarp as a base — and sanitary wipes like Scott MoistWipes. You may go through a lot of these.
  5. Heating pad, water bottle, reflective heater — to keep everything warmed up and cozy!


Products and items we’ve found to be helpful over the long haul:


  1. Sub-Q fluids and fresh needles on hand, along with web links to videos on giving subcutaneous fluids — Videos can help augment the vet training you receive before bringing your pet home. We found that watching a few different videos gave us a better-rounded picture of the process, and details of ways to handle problems that cropped up along the way. (If you are needle phobic, Sub-Q is NOT for you. You may have to pay your vet to administer fluids.)
  2. Stash of prescription foods (wet & dry), medications, and droppers for water and meds — cats like food, meds, and Sub-Q fluids better at room temperature. Experiment with different prescription foods until you find a few your cat likes. Two of our cats will drink from a dropper (good to know when they don’t feel well enough to drink on their own).
  3. SmartyKat Kitty Canyon Pet Bed — all of our cats love this. It’s plush, deep, and flips inside-out for a quick style change! It’s also Eco-friendly, made of EcoRest fibers, using 8 recycled 1-liter soda bottles. In the beginning, when Chaco was having trouble walking, carrying him this way gave us more mobility.
  4. Collar with bell to track movements in the night — Liz had one of Chaco’s old collars around and we strapped it on so we could track where he was during the night.
  5. Keep a handwritten log of your cat’s progress, from beginning to end — you can’t keep all this in your head! We made up a grid with categories for Meds, Food, Sub-Q, Bathroom Habits. You’ll also want to keep your veterinary and emergency clinics’ numbers handy at home, in your cell phone, and in your wallet. We have made a lot of phone calls!


I know there are many who have done long-term care for aging or sick pets. If you’ve got any other cat or pet care tips, we’d love to hear them. Please feel free to add them to this post. And remember, cat care is stressful, so take advantage of all the winter sports the Great White North has to offer and get some exercise!



Miracle Cat, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Miracle Cat, Minneapolis, Minnesota,
December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by
QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Helpful Links:



-posted on red Ravine, Monday, January 26th, 2009

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