It just wasn’t enough

This post is a hard one to write. You probably know that John and I foster sweet souls for an amazing cat rescue out of Kenosha, WI. (Check them out here.) In November, we began our third full year as volunteers. 

During our first year, we fostered 64 cats, the second year 100, and we’ve hosted more than 40 this year already. Most of the cats we take in are down on their luck, to be sure. 

People always ask me,”Where do all the cats come from?” Well, everywhere. But the majority have either been picked up as strays or for whatever reason, have lost their homes and found themselves living in cold, steel cages. Ugh. How frightening. And as bad as it sounds to be imprisioned in a cage, for some of these sweet souls, it beats where they’ve been. 

Meet Beth. 

She was a four-month-old, long-haired, blue-eyed kitten who was surrendered to an inner-city animal shelter in Chicago. Our rescue’s director sent me this picture of Beth and asked me if we’d take her in. 

Of course, I said. Beth looks older in the picture than she was. She only weighed about four pounds and still had some baby teeth. See that mark on the tip of her right ear? It was from a cigarette burn. 

Beth arrived at Wolf Crossing on a Wednesday night. The only thing that accompanied her from the shelter was an index card indicating she had been surrendered because her family was moving. I don’t get it, but that’s a common reason people give for surrendering a pet. Whatever. 

Since Beth hadn’t been vetted, I wanted to get her into the clinic right away. She was shy, but very sweet, and she loved to be held. See the Cakes holding her in the picture above? 

But Beth’s blue eyes were dim. She didn’t want to make eye contact, nor was she playful like you’d expect a kitten to be. Still, she was alert and seemed healthy, so we made an appointment for her to get spayed and vaccinated two days later. John took her in Friday morning and picked her up that afternoon. That’s the drill around here. Most cats breeze through the surgery and kittens usually act like nothing ever happened. 

But Beth didn’t bounce back; she never ate again. On Monday, John took Beth to the vet. In the course of trying to diagnose her, our vet did bloodwork and took X-rays. Are you ready for this? Beth had been shot with a BB gun THREE TIMES. Although her wounds had healed, the BBs were still embedded in her little body. 

The following week was a roller coaster of progress and set backs. It was always one step forward and two steps back. Beth was treated with medications and even hospitalized for a couple of days in a warm incubator and given intravenous fluids. When she seemed strong enough, we brought Beth home. Twice a day, we administered sub q fluids, and three times a day we forced high-calorie food down her using a syringe. At times, we’d muster all the optimism we could, and we’d say aloud to ourselves and each other,”It’s baby steps, but she’s  getting  better.” And to Beth, we’d say,”You’re not leaving. You’re not going anywhere. Not on our watch, baby girl. Not on our watch.”

She died anyway. 

Exactly two weeks after her surgery, Beth took flight for the rainbow bridge. It was a sunny Friday morning about 7:30. Her beautiful pink nose had turned white. She lost the battle.  

I could have cried for a week and would still have had enough tears left to make an ocean. But I had to go to work. So I put an eyeliner in my purse while John wrapped Beth’s broken body in a soft pink blanket and took her to a local pet crematorium. The people there are so wonderful. (Dieters Pet Crematorium in Washington, IL.) Beth isn’t the first foster we’ve taken there, and she likely won’t be the last. 

It’s been about a month since Beth left us, and John and I still can’t talk about her. But she is not forgotten. I think about her short life filled with unspeakable cruelty, abuse and atrocities. And cruelest of all? She was so close to safety–she had made it to rescue, but not in time. Fate doesn’t play fair. 

One thing tortures me still. This is the point in the story where I should say something like,”At least Beth died knowing love in her final days.” But did she? It seemed all we ever did was stick her fragile skin with needles and force food down her throat, when the very smell of it made her wretch. Did she know we were only trying to save her? Or did it simply seem like more abuse to her? I don’t know. 

People say,”You did everything you could.” But the raw truth is, it just wasn’t enough. 

For Linda


Although our lady has worked here a long time by nearly any standard, you can’t tell simply from looking. Still, her eyes carry proof of wisdom greater than the sum of her calendar years. Perhaps it’s because she has learned a lot on this journey. Some of the lessons have been hard fought and even harder to sustain; and yet others have come just as easily as a bee flies straight to the nectar.

As you can imagine, she has touched many people in her time here. And the people with whom she has walked are better for having known her, if only for a short while. What do they say about her? They say that she is pretty, but even more importantly, that her heart is good. They say she is smart, but also that she is wise in uncommon ways. And she is not afraid to have a tough conversation. I think I admire this trait the most. It was for this reason you felt good somehow if she had taken you to task over something, because it meant you were important to her—that she cared.

Our lady has a quick smile and uses it freely—it is something else she taught us. And when she listens, she uses her eyes as well as her ears. If perhaps you say something funny, she throws her head back and laughs as if she has not a care in the world, even though she does. She makes everyone in the room feel just a bit more important. And during her time here, she must have said “thank you” ten million times. She is genuine. Although our lady didn’t know her well, she cared very much about the woman who made coffee in the café.

And so today, as she prepares to leave this place she loves and the people she cares for, we are happy for her. True, we will miss her and we know she will miss us, but we are excited for her future. And she has prepared us well. Someone once said that the ultimate legacy is leaving a place better than it was when you found it.

Yes, indeed. Our lady has done very well.

For My Friend Sam


And so on his last day, he dressed as though it was his first: a pale green patterned wool suit with blue button down oxford shirt, navy silk tie and argyle sweater vest. Perched atop his head was a wool tweed flat cap, just like an English professor might wear. The way he dressed said a lot about this day—the day he left a job where he had been employed for the past sixteen years and eight months.

It had been a job where he practiced his craft. He was a writer of uncommon ability, and his gift had been too good for that place anyway. You see, his capacity to breathe life into words and make words into symphony was far superior to any task he could have ever been given there. Still, whatever touches he could add, he did; whatever wisdom he could give, he gave.

The way he dressed on this day said a lot about the man himself, too. It said that while others may decide that his work there was done, they would not decide how he would go. They would not decide how he would feel. They would not decide—ultimately—his future.

And so on his last day, he dressed as though it was his first. Because in every way that mattered, it really was.

Our 2014 Miracle

There are ten days left in 2014. How did that happen? It’s been a year full of beginnings, but among the most obvious, this marks the first full year John and I have been a foster home for SPCR–a purebred cat rescue based in Kenosha, Wisconsin. ( Just last week, cattie number 64 for the year checked into the Wolf Crossing Cattie B&B. It’s been fun and rewarding to help save so many catties. I have to say, tho, if not for John being retired, we would not be able to operate at this capacity. Still, I’ve kept decent records, and if I were good at Excel, I’d create endless pivot tables and analyze how many guests we’ve had at any given time to predict next year’s traffic flow based on history. But I’m not.

It makes sense that when you have more than sixty cats pass through your house, you risk falling for a sweet soul you’re unable to part with. Especially true given that you’re the kind of person willing to house sixty cats to begin with. Well, it happened to us this year. Meet Windsor.



He’s a classic silver shaded Persian with emerald eyes encased by black eyeliner and sports brick red nose leather; his wide-set rounded ears are breed standard. And I love those ears! According to the shelter who delivered Windsor to rescue, he was a product of divorce. Three years old, Windsor was matted, filthy and flea infested when he arrived at Wolf Crossing. I took one look at him and those enormous sad green eyes melted my heart. Windsor also has a snaggle tooth, which endears him to people, but according to our vet it’s the result of previous trauma to his jaw. Hmmm. How does a cattie get a broken jaw?

When Windsor arrived, he wasn’t neutered, either. So, getting that remedied was top order of the day. But we soon learned that Windsor wasn’t healthy. After his neuter surgery, Windsor simply stopped eating to the point where his life was threatened. He was weak, lethargic and couldn’t even hold up his head. Of course we took him to the vet and followed directions incuding force feeding Windsor from a syringe three times a day. Ugh. If you’ve never force fed a cat, be advised it’s a messy affair designed to upset all involved. During this time, he weighed around five-ish pounds and lived in our bathroom.

And so Windsor progressed, but didn’t really thrive. Sometime in early summer, we officially adopted him and cemented Windsor’s future at Wolf Crossing forever, in spite of the fact he consistently vomited two or three times a day. I mean huge vomits where the entire contents of his stomach landed all over my house, carpet, clothes and furniture. And he was ravenous. So there was a lot.

Windsor featured in a photo for a Facebook post.

Windsor featured in a photo for a Facebook post.

During these months, we took Windsor to our vet for a series of tests, but the only conclusive determination was that Windsor was one sick boy. Our vet is very competent but he, like most vets in small clinics, simply does not have the resources for state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment. And so, he referred us to the University of Illnois Veteranary School of Medicine in Champagin, IL–a one and a half hour drive for us.

imageEarly one Wednesday morning in October, John took our sweet boy to Champaign with hopes of understanding and fixing whatever was wrong. Wow. Were we in for an astonishing ride. First of all, this vet school hospital is amazing. It’s just like a people hospital with surgeons, radiologists, cardiologists and you-name-it-ologists. Who knew there were so many kinds of specialized veteranarian doctors? We didn’t. But luckily for us there are, because within three hours of Windsor’s arrival at the hospital, the team had conclusively determined that Windsor had a sliding haital hernia caused by his severely restricted airway. In other words, Windsor had such difficulty breathing through his tiny nostrils, the negative pressured caused by the sheer force of his effort to breathe caused him to suck his stomach up into his chest cavity. This phenomenon is well-documented in brachycephalic breeds of dogs like bulldogs, but has not been formally studied in cats.

imageAnd so, Windsor’s surgery was scheduled for the next day. I drove to Champaign that evening with hopes that I would get to see him. They’d planned to open his nostrils by removing tissue, making it much easier for Windsor to breathe. In addition, they were to suture his stomach to his abdominal wall to prevent it from sliding in and out of his esophagus. And, in as much as possible, they’d planned to repair his stretched esophagus. In addition, they’d discovered bladder crystals and hoped to flush those out as well. His surgery went very long, but I finally got to see Windsor at around 10:00 pm that night He was so happy to see me. Even though he was very out of it, he reached out his paw to touch my hand. But it actually touched my heart.

Windsor reaching a paw to touch me just an hour or so after his surgery.

Windsor reaching a paw to touch me just an hour or so after his surgery.

See the amazing intensive-care accommodations for Windsor after his surgery? That bed is heated from the bottom. Every effort (including pain medication) was made to keep him comfortable, and it seemed like each breath was counted. Initially, the surgeon was very pleased with how his surgery had gone, but Windsor was far from out of the woods.

Day three after his surgery, Windsor had us worried. We took this photo on our visit.

Day three after his surgery, Windsor had us worried. We took this photo on our visit.

The next few days was an emotional roller-coster of good news mixed with concerning news. He ended up needing another emergency surgery for a blocked bladder, requiring a blood transfusion and contracting pneumonia. But through it all, we visited as often as we could and the doctors took exceptional care of our boy, keeping us informed every step of the way. Thankfully, after a week the good news started outweighing the bad, and we brought our baby home a week after his surgery. At his lowest, he weighed in at 4-1/2 pounds. I held him all the way home, wrapped in a baby blanket.

imageWindsor came home with a feeding tube, which while not as messy as traditional force feeding, was still challenging. We gave him his meds through the tube and fed him through it, too, if he didn’t eat enough on his own. At first it seemed overwhelming, but we soon got the hang of it. imageAnd within a few days, Windsor was eating enough so we didn’t have to push food through the tube; and within a week, the tube was out. There were other ups and downs along the way including a white-nuckled midnight emergency run back to the hospital, but he got a little better each day.

Fast forward two months later, Windsor has made a full recovery. Was it expensive? Yep. Would we do it again? You bet! Windsor eats like there’s no tomorrow and weighs nearly seven pounds–which according to our vet is exactly perfect! And while there is still an occasional puke, the bond that we’ve developed with him is like no other. It always amazes me that many of the catties who have been through the worst times are the sweetest and most loving. A lesson for us, maybe?

Windsor fully recovered!

Windsor fully recovered!

The Baby Cakes Says

The Baby Cakes just turned four last Wednesday. In four short years, she has said so many hilarious things that I could have written a book by now. I’m sorry that I’m just now taking time to write them down. Even so better late than never. I’ll be back from time to time to update.


Baby Cakes at 3-1/2 years

Animal Doctors

We’re driving in the car a few months ago, and we pass our veterinarian’s place. “What’s that?” says the Cakes.

Me: It’s Mo and Alice’s doctor. They call animal doctors ‘vets.’

Cakes: Vets? A vet?! I’ve never heard of such a thing!

Me: Yeah, well, you’re three. There’s a lot you’ve never heard of.

At the Movies

We’re sitting in the theater waiting for the movie to start. Baby Cakes looks at me and says, “I’ve been wanting to see this movie my whole life.” She just turned four.

In a Day’s Work

I work for the world’s largest premiere construction machinery company. When she and I are in the car and we see one of those famous yellow and black machines, the Cakes squeals at the top of her lungs, “Nana tractors!” With all of the construction on I-74 between Peoria and Morton, it can be non-stop. And the Cakes thinks I single-handedly built each and every one of them.

“Look there’s another one!! And it’s moving!” the Cakes squealed with delight after about the tenth machine. “Wow, Nana. You sure do have a lot of work!”

Stopping for Rainbows

We keep the Baby Cakes every Thursday and alternate Saturday mornings. The Cakes is,  in a word: Amazing. She teaches me something everyday. We pick her up at daycare and usually head out to Wolf Crossing for tea parties, pancakes and Peppa the Pig videos. Last Thursday was no different. And now that Grandpa built the coolest playhouse in the world out back at Wolf Crossing, the Cakes can hardly wait to get there. IMG_1904[1]IMG_1898[1] Now she has a set of pots and pans and lots of fake food to serve anyone who comes to visit her in the tiny house! The time flies when you have such cool stuff to play wiith. Last Thursday before we even knew it, it was time to go meet Mommy.

We loaded the car, buckled our seat belts and headed to Peoria Heights. But before we got out of our subdivision, I saw a rainbow high in the evening sky. I was certain Baby Cakes couldn’t see the rainbow, and even tho we were running late, I asked her if she had ever seen a rainbow. She said, “No.” So I pulled over and the two of us got out of the car so we could see it. “It’s full of beautiful colors!” the Cakes squeeled with delight while pointing at the sky and jumping up and down. She was so happy to have seen her first rainbow and I was blessed to share it with her. Afterwards, I was so glad that we had stopped and gotten out of the car.

I hope that someday, after I’m gone, whenever Cakes sees a rainbow, she will think of me and smile.rainbow