Gracie and the reversal of feline kidney disease

IMG_0862Gracie is an extraordinary being—calm, content, intelligent, and sweet-natured.  All this despite a rough beginning.  She came to us at eight months of age after having had a litter of kittens and being thrown from a car window by her forearm.

A man and woman found her and took her in while searching for a home for her.  Through a circuitous path, she came to us.  We’ve had her for thirteen years now.  She has been devoted and loving presence, almost Buddha-like, through moving more than once, kids, and a few rescue dogs and cats.  I love her completely.

Several years ago Gracie was diagnosed, as many cats are, with kidney disease—thought to be untreatable.  A savvy DVM  with alternative medicine training put Gracie on a Chinese herb (Ba Wei Di Huang Wan–see below), which improves blood flow to the kidneys (and therefore optimizes functioning of the undamaged parts of the kidney).  Much to the surprise of mainstream veterinarians, repeated blood work revealed that much of Gracie’s kidney disease was reversed, improving her prognosis beyond 6 months/1 year.  In addition, I also put her on low-phosphorus, low-sodium, high-protein (not low-protein) food. She regained weight and resumed a full life.  It’s been four years now, but she’s starting the inevitable decline. The herbs have done what they could.  I am resigned and heartbroken, grateful for the time we’ve had together and for her benevolent presence through these years, and I’m dreading the coming goodbye.  Gracie is nearby as I write this, snug and drifting in and out of sleep.

Info on herbal treatment of feline kidney disease:
Ba Wei Di Huang Wan ( )—500 mg. 2x/day or 1/4 teaspoon 2x a day— available online and through your vet via Natural Path Herb Company. I use the Natural Path ( ) vet-ordered, high-quality version.  Gracie refused to eat it sprinkled on her food, so I bought size 4 empty vege capsules ( ) (larger-size capsules are difficult for cats to swallow) and an inexpensive capsule-making contraption that makes filling it relatively easy.  The effort has been worth Gracie’s quality life extension:


Ollie & Spuds – Chapter 4

© 2014 Carolyn Cott

One evening during Spuds and her kittens’ wanderings, they came to a building from which came a chorus of meows and barking. Spuds listened closely. There was a question in each of the sounds, some complaining, but not fear. In a few of the voices she heard glee.

For the next three days she ventured out on her own during the daytime, hiding in the shrubbery and watching that place of meows and barks. People came and went, some bringing animals in—those people were teary with contorted faces. Some brought animals out—those people were happy and chattering to the bewildered-looking cat or dog. Spuds caught sight of one cat in a box with small metal crisscrossed bars. The cat’s feet were splayed out in front of him, bracing against movement, but his gaze was more curious than anything.

A van came and went often, spilling out a large man stuffed into a uniform with many pockets and shiny buttons. His face was always serious. The dogs he brought in on leashes were skinny and mangy and haunted looking. The cats were yowling. Just wait, communicated Spuds silently from her hiding place, just wait: you’ll be fine.

After the third day Spuds gathered her brood over a feast of two freshly caught mice. When the kittens had finished their meal and Spuds had crunched through the remains of bones and tails and toes, after all of them had washed their faces with their paws and were content, she told them her plan. They listened, then slept.

When the moon was still high between the buildings, Spuds nudged the kittens awake. Yawning and stretching, they meandered after her. She settled them down together beneath a bush by the front door of the place of meow and barks, and waited. As the sun rose pink, Spuds licked the face of each of her babies and looked into their eyes, trying to convey a lifetime of love. When each kitten held her gaze and blinked slowly, Spuds moved to the next.

People started coming to the building, sharp, purposeful footfalls clicking on the pavement. Spuds saw the man in the uniform come up the walk. She nudged the littlest kitten out from under the shrub and told her to meow. The kitten did, and the man looked down. Spuds nudged the other kittens, and they followed their sister.

The man looked down and sighed. He scooped up all four of the kittens in his meaty arms and then saw Spuds. He called over his shoulder to a woman coming up the walk. She reached beneath the bush to grab Spuds, but Spuds eluded her grasp. The woman ran after her, but Spuds was faster. Before turning the corner, Spuds looked back toward her babies, watching as the last stubby orange tail disappeared through the door. She had a moment of panic, then darted under a fence and was gone.

Spuds has a hard time getting comfortable at night without the kittens to curl around. She misses her babies terribly. She holds onto a hopeful image: someone taking care of them, giving them warmth and food and water and comfort. With that picture in her mind, she can let go and sleep. But her first thought upon waking is of them: the way the sun shone on their orange fur, their ticked whiskers alternating white and tan to the tips, their small tails, fuzzy and broad at the base and tapering to a point.

She spends nights wandering around, half-heartedly hunting for food, nibbling at some tidbits in the dumpster. Maybe she should have gone in with her kittens, she thinks. She turns that split-second decision over and over in her mind, not clear why she had turned and fled. But it’s too late now.

to be continued….

Chapter 1:
Chapter 2:
Chapter 3:

Shelter – part 4

© Karla McLaren 2014

As the third round of the greet-and-treat begins, I change my normal pathway through the kennels, and crouch down and whisper to the dogs I treat on my way down the T-leg toward Nana’s – so that she can’t see me coming. As I reach her kennel, still crouched down, I catch her, standing up and peering over her wall, waiting for me. I speak quietly as I stand up, “Hello, you criminal!” and Nana makes a noise that sounds just like Scooby Doo getting caught with a sandwich, “oirp?” Hah! She drops down from her perch, sits properly and quietly, and looks at me with sparkling eyes. ”Good girl Nana, down,” I say. I throw my voice a bit to the dogs near her who are unusually quiet, for once, “Down and quiet, good dog!” Nearly everyone in Nana’s area gets a third-round treat today (for the first time), and as I pass her on my way back, I give her another treat, the outlaw.

The third round goes well, with more than half of the dogs figuring out all three behaviors: seated, still, and quiet. It’s still very noisy; we have a lot of new dogs who are afraid and riled up – but even in the midst of the noise, many dogs are getting the picture and learning how to calm themselves in spite of the clamor. As I continue through the shelter, I take a moment at Peaches’ kennel: the little sweetie has mastered two out of three behaviors. She’s quiet and calm, but she’s still down on the floor, and I don’t actually think she can sit, so I open her kennel door. I carry a leash with me in case dogs need to come out of their kennels for some reason during the greet-and-treats, but I don’t think Peaches can walk, so I close myself in her kennel with her to see what’s going on.

Peaches lifts her head happily and then flips over on her tummy and wriggles nearer to me, and I sit down to be with her. Peaches is a love: soft, cuddly, and wanting to be picked up. As I lift her, she struggles a bit to get herself into my arms, and she curls up like a baby, nuzzling and kissing me. I hug her and kiss her, and talk sweet nonsense to her as I run my free hand over her legs and feet: her front legs seem normal, but both of her back legs are floppy, and they have almost no muscle tone. They’re also pointing backward, which explains her seal movements and her inability to sit. I also gently palpate her umbilical hernia, and she doesn’t yelp or pull away, so it doesn’t seem to be hurting her. I wonder why she’s up front instead of back with Jake and Milton, but she’s so adorable that I think the staff is hoping she’ll be adopted before they start on her surgeries. If I could have a dog, I would totally take Peaches; I think they’ve made a good call.

After a few minutes of kissing and snuggling, I leave Peaches with extra treats and let myself out of her kennel. All of the dogs nearby have been quiet and patient as they watched me in Peaches’ kennel (including, unbelievably, the terriers), so they all get another treat. I head back to the chained-off area, but I see Brandon (one of the staff behaviorists) there, uh oh. He’s taking one of the other T dogs out into the private training area to check her temperament. I hope he doesn’t see the treats I gave Milton, oy.

I loiter around the chain and wait for Brandon to take his T dog outside. When he does, I duck under the chain and peer into Milton’s kennel, and I don’t see any treats – not the one on the blanket, and not the one on the bottom of the kennel door where I left it, whew. However, I also don’t see Milton, and I feel a bit of panic – did they take him? I call to him and kneel down to peer through the small opening that leads to his run, but I don’t see him. I look for Jake, but he’s not in his kennel either. I run (okay, I walk quickly but calmly, so the dogs won’t start barking again) back through the kennels, into the back rooms, past the laundry room overflowing with blankets, towels, and dog beds, and into the small room where the animals are euthanized. The room is empty, and Milton isn’t anywhere. I can’t shake my dread.

I walk back out into the kennels and head to the private training area to ask Brandon what happened, but when I get outside, I see him with Milton, who’s off leash and playing (!) in the sunshine with the female T dog. I feel a huge sense of relief, but I play it cool, “Oh hey, you’ve got Milton out again.” Brandon answers, but keeps his focus on the dogs, “Yeah, he’s such a smart dog that it didn’t feel right, redlining him. It was bugging me all night, and today he seemed to get that he had another chance.” I watch Milton running around, twisting, playing, and chasing the other dog, and they begin running around in circles, racing, faking each other out, and escaping from each other. I become a base in their game of tag, and Milton circles me twice before running off, happily engrossed in the game. I stand where I am, breathing deeply. Vast mountains of laundry call to me, but I turn my smiling face to the sun for a moment, and let the tears fall.

for part 1:
for part 2:
for part 3:

for all Untold Animal Stories:

Karla McLaren is a pioneering educator and award-winning author whose empathic approach to emotions revalues even the most “negative” emotions, and opens startling new pathways into the depths of the soul. She is the author of The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, the trailblazing book The Language of Emotion: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, and the interactive online course Emotional Flow. Karla has taught at such venues as the University of San Francisco, Naropa University, Kripalu, and the Association for Humanistic Psychology. She is currently developing new forms of empathy and social interaction curricula for neurologically diverse people.

The Art of Empathy

What if there were a single skill that could radically improve your relationships and your life? Empathy, teaches empathic pioneer Karla McLaren, is that skill. In The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, McLaren presents her groundbreaking model of The Six Essential Aspects of Empathy to help you understand and nurture healthy empathy in every part of your life.  Informed by four decades of empathic experience, plus current insights from neuroscience, social science, the arts, and healing traditions, The Art of Empathy teaches you how to become a healthy and happy empathic presence in a world that needs you.

Shelter – part 2 is pleased to present part two of a four-part tale by pioneering educator and author Karla McLaren.
© Karla McLaren 2014

continued from March 7 post…
We work to keep the dogs calm and quiet in their kennels, but it’s hard because so many new dogs come in regularly, and the cement-and metal kennels amplify their noise powerfully. Today, all the kennels are full – some with two or more dogs who came in together, so we’ve got more than eighty dogs here.  If even ten percent start barking, the noise can be deafening and very stressful for everyone (there’s a huge jar of free earplugs in the lobby; it’s that noisy). My greet-and-treat visits are a way to calm the dogs, and they’re a central part of kennel training and socialization, with a rhythm that’s so predictable that the kennel vets know it by heart.  On my first pass through the kennel, everyone gets a hello and a meaty treat no matter what they’re doing or not doing.  I want each dog to see people as fun, and to look forward to my next visit.  Some of the more savvy dogs predict the desired behavior – they sit calmly and meet my eyes – and I praise them clearly so that the other dogs can hear.

On the second round, the dogs have to perform in some way for their treat.  Any of these three behaviors – sitting, being calm, or being quiet – merits a treat.  And the dogs really can’t fail – even a terrier who leaps all over her kennel like a tiny tornado can at least calm down a little bit.  I help the hyper dogs by making a great show of hunkering down next to their kennel and using hand gestures while I ask “Can you get down?”  Most of the dogs will follow my lead, and the trick is to reward them as soon as they manage a desired behavior.  For some dogs, I have to wait until they stumble onto something – anything – desirable, but if I have patience, I can catch even the most chaotic dog in some form of a correct behavior.

The key is to ignore – completely – any bad behaviors, and reward good behaviors as soon as you see them.  Rewards don’t have to be food as they are at the shelter; petting, hugs, and praise are just as effective.  We use delicious desiccated liver treats at the shelter as a way to ease the general depression that plagues shelter dogs.  Food is not the best kind of love, but it gives the dogs something to look forward to and some bright spots in their stressful days.

On today’s second round, nearly everyone is figuring out which behaviors are required before the treat is given.  Some hyper dogs can’t stop barking, and some dogs clearly don’t know the “sit” command, but I catch everyone doing something right, and praise them all with a hearty “good dog.”  Today, something unusual pulls my eye to a small dog in one of the kennels near the entrance, which is where the cutest, smallest, and most adoptable dogs generally are.  This one is a sleek, sable-brown little girl named Peaches who squirms around joyfully in her kennel like a tiny harbor seal. She pushes herself nearer to me as I pass, so I kneel down and peer in as I pet her beautiful brown forehead, which she pushes up to the chain links of her kennel door.  She rolls over to show me her belly, and I see a lumpy umbilical hernia pushing up through her skin, and the strangest leg conformation in her hind quarters, but she won’t stop squirming long enough for me to figure out what’s going on.  Her kennel card doesn’t mention anything. I stoop down and kiss her on her nose, which is small enough for her to poke almost completely through a chain link, and I promise to come back.

I head down a T-leg of the kennel rows toward the home of the silly Nana.  She’s a gigantic Saint Bernard with a kidney condition that requires daily medication, and she’s been here a while.  Her owner couldn’t afford to take care of her, so she’s here waiting for someone with a big house, a big yard, and a big wallet for her meds.  Though some dogs become despondent after a long time in the kennel, Nana, who has been here for three months, is endlessly cheerful.  Nana thinks the greet-and-treat game is very funny, and she’s put her own spin on it.  Because she’s so huge, she can rise up and see over the cement walls of her kennel (they’re 6 feet tall).  When Nana sees me approaching, she likes to rile up the other dogs and get them barking.  When I arrive at her kennel, though, she makes a great show of sitting very prettily and being ever so quiet while the other dogs display their very bad manners.  I thank her loudly for being quiet, and I make “shush” gestures at the other dogs.  I usually treat Nana twice in each round – once on the way into her kennel row, and once on the way out.  She’s so big that my little cracker-sized treats are probably just a drop in a bucket!  On round three, I’m going to see if I can get her to stop riling everyone up, even though I do appreciate her excellent sense of humor.

As I near Milton and Jake and the chain again, I wonder how Milton will view me this time – what his approach will be.  This second treat is supposed to act as a kind of exchange between me and the dogs; it’s a prelude to entering into a working relationship.  Some of the dogs already have this figured out – they’re in graduate school.  Some, like the wildly leaping terriers, haven’t even entered preschool, and they’re going to need a lot of work.  But with Milton, I wonder if there’s even a hope of getting him anywhere near the idea of a relationship.

When I reach Milton’s kennel, I approach him in the proper way: I kneel down to his level and present the side of my body to him – I don’t face him.  Many dogs see face-to-face approaches and largeness as a threat (if one dog faces another and tries to make himself appear larger, that’s often an invitation to a fight in dog language).  I also don’t bare my teeth, extend my hand, or poke my fingers into Milton’s kennel.  Those are also threats – they’re aggressive moves, and Milton requires politeness, space, and respect.

to be continued next week…

for part 1:
for part 3:

Karla McLaren is a pioneering educator and award-winning author whose empathic approach to emotions revalues even the most “negative” emotions, and opens startling new pathways into the depths of the soul. She is the author of The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, the trailblazing book The Language of Emotion: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, and the interactive online course Emotional Flow. Karla has taught at such venues as the University of San Francisco, Naropa University, Kripalu, and the Association for Humanistic Psychology. She is currently developing new forms of empathy and social interaction curricula for neurologically diverse people.

The Art of Empathy

What if there were a single skill that could radically improve your relationships and your life? Empathy, teaches empathic pioneer Karla McLaren, is that skill. In The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill, McLaren presents her groundbreaking model of The Six Essential Aspects of Empathy to help you understand and nurture healthy empathy in every part of your life.  Informed by four decades of empathic experience, plus current insights from neuroscience, social science, the arts, and healing traditions, The Art of Empathy teaches you how to become a healthy and happy empathic presence in a world that needs you.

Ollie & Spuds – Chapter 2

(continued from previous post)   The cat’s name is Spuds.  The old man she’d lived with thought she looked like the color of yellow Finn potatoes.  He’d pulled her as a kitten out from under a bramble—mewing and shaking—on a busy roadside.  He gently stroked her fur with large, rough hands, looked into her gold-green eyes, and took her home.

Spuds had a life of luxury with him: curled up on the rug by the wood stove in winter, lounging on a sunny perch on the screened-in porch in the summer watching red cardinals and blue birds.  Spuds liked the old man, a lot; they understood each other.  But one morning when she went up to his room to remind him it was feeding time, something was different.  She jumped up on the bed and stood on his chest and peered at him.  She could sense him, but he wasn’t in there his body.  She called out to him.  Then she saw him in her mind’s eye, and his eyes were dazzling.  Then he receded and was gone.

Four days passed before anyone came to the house.  By then Spuds had clawed her way through the bag of cat food and found that fresh toilet water wasn’t completely undrinkable.

People came then, many of them, people who had never come before.  They pawed the old man’s possessions, argued with each other, and carried things out of the house.  Spuds watched.  A woman noticed the cat and picked her up, bangle bracelets clanging together, and put Spuds outside.  Spuds sniffed at the air, then turned to go back inside.  The woman blocked Spuds’ way with a well-shod foot.  “You’re free now kitty, go away.”

Spuds looked for a long while at the closed door.  Then she walked down the driveway and before turning onto the road, looked back at the house.  The windows glinted empty and cold in the sun.
Ollie & Spuds will be continued

Chapter 1:

Chapter 3:

Ollie & Spuds – Chapter 1

There is a lane I recall, somewhere deep in dim memory.  I see it snow covered and winding and edged by black trees.  It is the way home.  I never returned there.
© 2014 Carolyn Cott

He lifts his nose to the wind and sniffs.  Something new.  With his head still resting on his paws, he opens his eyes and sees a flash of a ginger-colored cat, skinny and in pursuit of something, at the far end of the alley. red cat from free digital

Ollie climbs out from under a pile of rags and cardboard and stretches, keeping an eye on the cat.  The cat pounces and misses as the mouse leaps into a small hole in the brick wall and disappears.  The cat saunters into the one ray of sunlight angling between the tall buildings, sits down and begins washing herself.  The sun sparks on her ginger-colored fur.  Her movements are measured and deliberate.  Her eyes are slits, but she sees, she knows he is there.  She is watching.

It’s been three days now that the cat has appeared in his alley.  He thinks of it as his alley because he’s been there how long now?  Maybe two months, maybe four.  He remembers coming there.  There was snow.

The man had hunched over the steering wheel, his jaw set.  Ollie wanted to enjoy the car ride, but something was very wrong.  The kids weren’t there, although the back seat smelled vaguely of peanut butter.  The woman wasn’t there.  She had cried and stroked his fur before the man unchained him and yanked him toward the car.  The woman had whispered something to the man, who swung around toward her, his teeth clenched, saying, “No.  No.”

The man stopped the car on a deserted street.  He looked both ways before opening the back seat door, pulled Ollie out by the scruff of the neck, and sped off.

Ollie ran after the car as it moved farther and farther away, turned, and was gone.  He memorized the place where the car had turned.  It might be important.  Panting, he sat down, only then noticing the coldness of the snow.  He looked around.  The sun had just risen, casting chilly light on the faces of the buildings.  There were no people.  A tattered awning blew in the wind. A spear of an icicle crashed onto the sidewalk.

For two days Ollie ate only snow to quench his thirst, but it made him shiver.  He wandered the streets, looking for a familiar landmark and searching for food.  Then he found the alley.  It smelled of garbage and food.

Ollie tucked himself behind a stack of wooden palettes and waited.  A man in a stained apron pushed his way out a door and heaved a luscious-smelling bag into a dumpster.  When the door clanged shut behind the man, Ollie scampered up a pile of cinder blocks and bricks, dropped down into the dumpster, tore at the bag with his teeth, and ate.

He fell into a routine, wandering the streets in the night and returning to his alley in the early morning when cars and people came into the streets.  He had learned it was not good to be out when people were on the streets.  There was an afternoon when the boys chased him: chubby-cheeked, dressed in blue uniforms, with book bags dragging behind them, they ran after him pitching stones at him.  Most whistled past, but one hit.  He yelped and slowed down, and the boys laughed.  They were almost upon him when he ran again, cutting across a busy road and turning a corner to lose them.  Returning to his alley exhausted and thirsty, he went to the low depression in the concrete at the base of a downspout looking for water, where a small puddle remained.  Then he curled up into the tightest ball he could, and slept.

Ollie & Spuds…to be continued

Chapter 2:

photo by Dan courtesy of

Frankie Valli & Phoenix – Part 1

DSC_0679He’s a steer who was named for his breed (Jersey), and his gender (boy).  They dubbed this Jersey boy Frankie Valli.  Because his people find it odd to holler “Frankie Valli” across the pasture, and because he trots over to half that name, he’s just “Frankie.”

I’d heard my people talk about him, this young, comical, undignified steer.  The creed of cows is this: We turn slowly toward points of interest.  There’s gravity in our movements.  We study things ruminatively.  Frankie does none of these things.

I’d heard people talk of their plan:  I was to be moved to Frankie’s place.  I thought: nope.  People are peculiar.  They’re so industrious, always in motion and transporting things here and there, driving from place to place and back again, and talking, talking, talking.  We cows stand in the pasture and eat and observe.  Who is the wiser species?

The day came when they slipped a halter over my head, and a parade of people walked me away from my home to Frankie’s.  Walking at the center of the procession of children and adults, I enjoyed the view, gazed at the hills and the yellow and purple flowers dotting the meadow, and listened to the clip-clopping of my hooves and the people’s softer tread.

At the pasture, they set me free.  Frankie lifted his head at my arrival, pulled his neck back in disbelief, then gamboled over to the fence that separated us.  He kicked up his hind legs and danced.  I was not impressed, so he tried harder.  To settle him down, I strolled over and touched my nose to his.  This calmed him, and we walked along our respective sides of the fence together.

When the gate opened I went into Frankie’s pasture.  He playfully put his head down and pushed against mine.  Not a good idea.  I pressed him into walking backwards.  Once I’d made my point, Frankie behaved, and we passed the rest of the day grazing on sweet grasses.DSC_0663

When the dimming of the day came, I began to miss my family and the comforting scent of my barn and kin.

to be continued

Michael and Cheeky the Squirrel

Squirrel by cherieCheeky the squirrel jumped into the truck then, realizing what she’d done, dashed out.  She stopped a stood a few feet away, curling her forepaws to her chest and gathering herself.  Michael shook his head.  He rummaged around in his glove box, found a bag of old, unshelled peanuts, and held one out to her.  Cheeky stood on his foot and took the peanut gently from his hand.

He hadn’t seen her in a year since he’d moved to a different part of town.

Michael had first seen her on the roof outside the kitchen window, peering in at him.  He slid up the screen a fraction of an inch and pushed a walnut through the crack.  She snatched it and ran off, jumping from the rooftop and the locust tree in one graceful arc.

The next day she came again, and the next.  Each morning she waited, squinting in through the glass’s reflection, for him to notice and feed her.  On snowy days, she hopped from one foot to another to keep from freezing.

By spring she abandoned the rooftop and waited instead on the rail by the front door, somehow knowing each day when he left.

On summer mornings Michael sat in the garden drinking his coffee.  He held the newspaper with one hand and dangled unshelled peanuts for Cheeky with the other.  She slipped them from his fingers with exquisite gentleness.

When he was getting ready to move across town, he worried about her.  Would she have enough food?  On walks in the neighborhood Michael counted the nut-producing trees and judged the distance to the trickling stream.

On the morning he packed the last of the boxes into his truck, he waited for Cheeky to arrive, but she never came.  Maybe she was watching him from somewhere.

Michael  thought about her from time to time.  The day he returned to the neighborhood to visit a friend, he closed the door of his truck, leaned against it, and looked around.  He saw her coming toward him, stopping and looking, then advancing.  He swears they were both smiling at each other.

•photo by co-founder Cherie Damron,