Wednesday, November 6, 2013

72 hours

Like most people involved in animal rescue, I am barraged daily with requests from various different places.  My facebook newsfeed is full of pictures of dogs needing out of high risk/high kill situations and shelters.   Sweet faces, scared faces with things that say “this dog dies tomorrow if no one can help”…and that isn’t a scare tactic.  It’s the truth.  I am on email lists, chat groups, message boards.  Its all background noise.  It has to be.   Otherwise it is overwhelming and will make me crazy.  We help when we can, but its never enough.  There is always another dog or cat that needs help.  It’s a challenge to help on our terms and not get  completely consumed.  Trevor and I know that in order to be able to help, we have to have boundaries or we will get burnt out and not be able to help at all.

We are on the foster list for one of the local shelters and every week I get an email about cats that need a place to go.  They are either sick, or not doing well in the shelter or have a special circumstance.  Sometimes there is one cat on the email, sometimes there are 6 or 8.  We haven’t made the time recently to take in many sick cats.  I see the emails but haven’t acted on them.  Until recently.

About a month ago we took in a foster from a different shelter.  Shasta was his name. He was very sick and honestly should not have even come to us.  He lasted about a day and then he passed away.  He was just too far gone.  That was tough.  We take in fosters to make them better and help them find a forever home.  Unless we take them as a hospice case  - meaning that they are too old or sick to be adopted and they live out their days with us – we expect them to get better.  We expect them to leave our home for a home of their own. 

Still a little raw from losing Shasta, last week, I got the usual email from Michelle at the Humane Society for SW Washington.  It had a plea for help.  A cat named Mayflower needed a foster home.  The subject line of the email was “special kitty needs a foster home" and included this picture.

Mayflower had come in as a stray and was so matted she could barely walk.  Her ears were so infected that they were deformed.  She had rubbed her face raw trying to scratch at her ears.  They had shaved her and were treating her wounds.  Then she got a cold.   Upper Respiratory Infections (URI) are a huge challenge in a shelter setting.  A cat gets sick and usually doesn’t just get better.  The stress of being in the shelter exacerbates the situation.  If the cat can get out of the shelter into a quiet place, they can rest and recover.  Trevor and I have fostered around 10 cats in the last year who were sick like this. They all got better and were adopted. 

I was getting ready to head out of town, Trevor has been traveling a lot and we have a full house – with one other foster (Shilo), a hospice foster (Poppy) and two older cats with issues of their own (Daisy and Miniver).   Then there is Asha.  Not the best time to bring on another foster, but there was something about Miss Mayflower that tugged at my heart.  I showed her to Trevor and he was like “whatever you want to do”.

I emailed Michelle and told her that we would take Mayflower if no one else could. She emailed back and said someone else was going to take her.  I felt good about that and didn’t think about it again.  That was Thursday.  Friday afternoon I got an email from Michelle.  Mayflower had stopped eating and was going to require syringe feeding.  The foster home who was going to take her wasn’t comfortable doing that and she wanted to know if we could still take her.  I said yes and within an hour I was at the shelter meeting Mayflower.

Here is the thing about fostering….you love them before you even meet them.  I loved Mayflower the moment I read the email about her and saw her picture.  Which is a crazy thing because I know we won’t keep her, I know I will love her and then have to let her go. 

They brought her out to me and she was in pretty bad shape.  She cried and the girl said that was the first time she had heard her cry since she arrived a week ago.  She then went over all of May’s medications.  She had special food and syringes to feed her with, ear drops, medicine for her cold, a pill to give her in 3 days if she still wasn’t eating on her own, a bag of saline and needles for her subcutaneous fluids.    We were taking the entire vets office home with us! 

They said Mayflower was one of the worst strays they had ever seen. I was surprised that they were able to give her a chance.  Seems like everyone felt she deserved a shot at a happy, safe, peaceful life instead of whatever hardship she had endured before she came to them.  I agreed.

I put May in the car and we headed for home.  We have one spare bedroom that is our “sick room”.  Its at the back of the house, none of the other animals ever go in there.  We take the sick cats there and let them heal.  Its quiet and out of the way. No one bothers them there.  When the cats are particularly sick we will sleep in there on the floor with them.   When we adopted our cat Murray, he had a URI and spent his first two weeks with us in the sick room where I slept with him every night for a week.

I got Mayflower settled. She explored a bit and then all she wanted to do was be on my lap. That’s how it would be the whole time she was with us.  If I was sitting down, she was in my lap.  If I was standing up, she was pawing at me and crying for me to sit down so she could sit in my lap.

She didn’t have any fur except on her paws and her head.  She had been shaved.  She loved being petted on her cheek and head.  She would purr and look up at me as if to say “I like that!”  She was so appreciative of our love.  She did eat on her own Friday night and that was encouraging.

I slept with her on Friday night.  Well, I stayed with her…we didn’t sleep much.  May was very restless and just walked all over me.  She was wearing a cone to keep her from scratching at her face and ears and she couldn’t get comfortable. 

Saturday morning she wouldn’t eat.  I gave her all her medicine, some fluids and then I fed her with a syringe.   She was very congested.  She didn’t like being fed that way.  I didn’t like doing it, but kept telling her this is how she will survive.  She needed to eat.

Mayflower had a special visitor on Saturday.  Trevor and I were gone most of the day and our pet sitter, Tamara came over.  We are so lucky to have her.  When I agreed to take Mayflower, I knew that I would be leaving town.  Tamara would be staying at the house and it was already a lot of work to take care of our crew.  One more, with special needs, may be too much to ask.  I emailed her before I said yes to Mayflower and her response was “I would be excited to take care of her”.  It takes a team and we are so fortunate to have a great one.  Of course, Tamara loved her .  

Mayflower was shivering – either from having no fur or being sick or both.  Trevor and I bought her a little coat to wear, hoping that would help her stay warm.  She didn’t mind wearing it at all.  I slept with her again on Saturday night.  She was more settled.  She just slept next to me all night long.  She was still very congested and I knew it was tough to breath.  I took her into the bathroom and turned on a hot shower, hoping the steam would clear her up a bit.  I kept telling her that is she just held on, a better life was ahead for her.  But she needed to hold on.

Sunday came and she still wouldn’t eat on her own.  She had started making a choking noise and would spit up mucus.  I know it takes a while for medicine to start working on  a URI, but I was worried about her.  I sat with her much of the day on Sunday.  She climbed onto my lap and didn’t leave it.  She snuggled in, tucking her head under my arm. I took her cone off so she could relax.  She got a little bit of sleep, which was good.

I have always loved animals, more that the average “animal lover”.  I feel a connection that I cannot explain.  Fostering has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done.  There was a moment when I looked down at Mayflower and was overwhelmed with emotion.  I believe we all have a purpose, some of us fulfill it, some of us spend our lives chasing it and some of us ignore it.  At that moment, I knew my purpose.  And Mayflower knew it too.

Sunday night was another tough night.  I was becoming increasingly more concerned about Mayflowers situation.  She was really struggling to breath.  I emailed the shelter to see if there was any more aggressive treatment we could try.  Then I went to run some errands.  When I came home around lunch time, I knew May was in trouble.

When I came into her  room, she didn’t even lift her head. I thought she was probably mostly deaf due to the condition of her ears, but even when I got close and touched her, she didn’t respond as usual.  When she did, she got up and immediately fell over. I called the shelter and they told me to bring her in.

I knew this was probably the end for her.  I knew it in my heart.  I put her in her kennel, got in the car and started driving. I was crying and so was she. I opened her kennel which was in the passenger seat of the car.  I reached in and petted her head.  Mayflower gently rested her head on my hand.  And then she bit me.  She sunk her teeth all the way into my thumb and wouldn’t let go. I thought she was having a seizure.  I finally shook her off my hand.  She cried and layed her head down, still laboring to breath, her eyes closed.  It wasn’t a seizure, but she was delirious.  I knew then, she was already gone.  Her heart was still beating, but there was nothing left of her.

I grabbed a tissue from the glovebox and tried to stop the bleeding from my thumb.  I cried quietly as we drove towards the shelter.  I told Mayflower that it would be over soon, that she was almost done with this world that had been so cruel.  I told her about animal heaven and how she was part of our family now so our other pets who have passed would be waiting for her.  I told her how she would wait with them for me and I’d be there someday. I tell all our animals when they die that I will see them again – for me it will seem like forever, for them it will be the blink of an eye.

I arrived at the shelter, it was closed but there was staff on duty.  We were escorted into the waiting area and the vet came out to meet us.  There were 3 or 4 people working on Mayflower . When they opened the kennel and saw her, it was obvious they knew what I knew.  She was already gone.  She was very pale and cold, laboring to breathe through her mouth, her eyes dilated.  The vet determined that she most likely had pneumonia and there wasn’t anything more they could do. She recommended euthanasia and I agreed.  I felt like I failed them. I felt like I failed Mayflower.  In my mind I knew we did the best we could, the best anyone could do, but its still hard to accept that there is nothing left.

She thanked me and got ready to take Mayflower back to the clinic. I told her I wanted to be with her until the end.  The vet seemed a bit surprised but gladly let me come along.  I was crying. I apologized for that, because that’s what we do, right?  We say we are sorry for how we feel when we think its not appropriate.  I had known Mayflower for 72 hours and yet here I was crying at her death like a crazy cat woman.  So I apologized.  But the truth is that I wasn’t sorry. I’m not sorry now.  I was sad that she was dying and doesn’t every creature, every soul deserve to have someone who is sorry to see them go?

The staff at the shelter was amazing.  The vet was so compassionate and kind.  She asked the vet tech not to lay Mayflower down on her side because it hurt her to breath that way.   If you have ever been there when someone – human or animal -  takes their last breath, you know how powerful it is.  It is tragic and beautiful.  To be there at the very end…to be the last voice heard, the last touch felt,  to ease the last pain.  That is a tremendous responsibility.  I am honored each time I am able to be a part of this transition.  And I am moved beyond words.

And that was it.  As quickly as Mayflower came into our lives, she left.  And I headed to urgent care to get the bit on my thumb looked at.  Cat bites are prone to infection.  Bad infection and the vet suggested I get a jump start on some antibiotics.

I am still very sad.  I had such high hopes for Mayflower.  When I took her, it honestly didn’t occur to me that she wouldn’t make it.  That makes two fosters who have died in my arms in the last month.  Trevor is out of town and when we were talking on the phone about it he said, “I was just thinking that we need to stop taking these tough cases, we can’t keep having them die on us.  But then I realized if we don’t take them, who will?”  And there you have it….one of the many reasons I love this man and the reason why we continue to do what we do, why we always find room.

Mayflower died and that is heartbreaking.  9000 other animals died in shelters all over the country today.  Some were sick, some were not.  Most of them were alone and scared.  At least May had peace at the end.  Knowing that the others didn’t makes me crazy.  It makes me want to scream and yell and hit people.  It makes me want to know why.  It makes me want to know how it will ever get better….how it will ever change.  How much longer I have to look at my facebook newsfeed and see sad face, after sad face that doesn’t make it another day.  Knowing that most people would hide that from their sight because its just too sad.    I avoided it for years and once I finally took a look, I couldn’t look away and I couldn’t stand by and doing nothing.    I know not everyone can do what we do or what others do.   I get it.  There is a ton of suffering in this world –  kids, adults, animals.  If we don’t start feeling something about that and DOING something about that it will only get worse.  So if your reaction is “I couldn’t do that”, thank about what you COULD do….and do it.

Rest in peace Mayflower.  You will forever be a Bryant.

***special thanks to the staff and volunteers at the Humane Society for SW Washington for giving this sweet girl a chance and to Dr Rockey for helping her transition in the most peaceful and kind way possible.