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 ( https://www.google.com/search?q=ba+wei+di+huang+wan+1+g+buy&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8 )—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 ( http://www.nphc.ca/tips.php ) vet-ordered, high-quality version.  Gracie refused to eat it sprinkled on her food, so I bought size 4 empty vege capsules ( http://emptycaps.com/size-4-vegetarian-capsules-quantity-1000.html ) (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: https://www.herbaffair.com/cap-m-quik-capsule-filling-machine/

 

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The Dog in the Polish Village

ID-10025746 I have no name, but that doesn’t bother me.  What is a name anyway?  I live in the woods near the farmhouse at the edge of the village they call Pierzwin.  The little girl lives in the farmhouse.  She’s small, so small, and toddles when she walks.  She is mine, this I know.  I am hers.  This she knows. The one who doesn’t know is the old woman with whom the girl lives.  The girl must always beg for a scrap of bread for me, which the woman throws far from the farmhouse door, as though this would keep me away from the girl.

When I first saw the little girl playing along the edge of the creek, I knew she was mine to watch over.  She was stooped down looking at a rock, the sun glinting off her flax-colored hair.  I stood downstream, regarding her.  The girl looked up at me and laughed.  I can still hear the sound—like a thin, golden strand twirling up into the air.  I walked to her and nuzzled into the crook of her arm.  She laughed again, breathing sweet breath on me.

Today everything is different.

Yesterday as the day darkened, the little girl played alone in the farmyard.  Snow started, then grew heavy, swirling from every direction.  Instead of going inside, the girl toddled toward the woods.  I watched the farmhouse door to see if the old woman would call for her.  She did not. I followed the girl, a few feet behind her, whining and willing her to turn back.

She meandered to the edge of the creek.  Looking up at the sky, she stuck out her tongue to catch the snowflakes, lost her balance, and slipped down the steep slope toward the water.  I caught the edge of her skirt in my teeth but it did not stop her.  The cloth ripped, the water splashed, and the girl cried.  I leapt to her.  She took hold of my fur, and I pulled us up the slope.

I tried to lead her to the farmhouse, but she turned the other way.  I barked for her to follow me, but she kept her course, away.  I followed.  At the edge of the woods I tried to steer her back, but she sat down, shivering.  I took the arm of her coat gently between my teeth and tugged, but she lay down and cried.  I peered into the darkness.  Was there no one who would come for her?  I thought to run to the farmhouse door and bark, but I couldn’t leave her.  I lay down, circling myself around her small body, willing her shivering to stop.  More snow came.  The girl slept, and so, eventually, did I.

At first light, I heard the calls.  I nosed the girl awake and barked, again and again.  The girl sat up.  I nosed her again: call out, cry out.  She sat mute.  I continued barking.  I sensed the footfalls on the earth before I saw the people.  I ran to the men, then sprinted back and forth between the men and the girl, trying to tell them.  They followed me.  A man scooped the girl into his arms and carried her away.  I stood watching for a few moments then, hanging back, followed.

The old woman ran from the farmhouse door and grasped the girl.  There were so many people, so much noise.  I watched, then retreated.  As I walked into the woods I heard a whistle.  Looking over my shoulder, I saw a man coming toward me.  I thought to dash away, but something in his manner seemed gentle.  I sat down and waited for him to approach.  He extended his hand for me to sniff and touched my head.  “It was you,” he said, “you are the one.  Come.”

I walked a few respectful paces behind him.  We entered the farmyard.  The man said some words to the old woman.  She studied me, then opened the door wide and with a sweep of her hand asked me to enter the farmhouse.  I looked into her eyes for a moment, and then stepped inside to warmth.

 

German shepherd photo by Maggie Smith

A Letter to Miss Tia

by guest blogger Jay Erb*

January 2015
Dear Miss Tia,

I miss you every day, but this month has stirred my thoughts even more as I remember the 14th anniversary of when we met and the one-year anniversary of when we laid you to rest. Miss Tia 2

You were such a pitiful sight when we met. At 26 pounds, your spine and ribs were showing, ear mites kept you scratching and shaking your head, fleas caused patches of missing fur, and you had an umbilical hernia, but you were still a really cute little dog. Your personality was interesting—so friendly yet so scared that you shook. It didn’t take long before I knew I wanted to adopt you. I bet you really felt better once Dr. G took care of your medical issues, and soon you doubled your weight to get to your healthy 50 – 55 pound range. Every year when you went in for your annual checkup, Dr. G and her staff would comment on what a pretty girl you were and how sad you looked when they first met you.

I really miss our daily walks, and not taking walks with you every day has also really hurt my fitness level. For a while, walking at Coventry Woods wasn’t an option for me, as it felt so empty walking the trails without you. You were such a big part of helping to design and build that trail system. Now other dogs can bring their humans for a hike because of the work you helped to do. I am beginning to enjoy those trails again, because I remember the times we worked on and walked those trails together. Then there were the mental health benefits of our walks. Especially when your Grandmom and Granddad got sick and passed on, those walks in the woods with you really helped me. So many people knew you as my walking partner. Our bicycle rides on the Schuylkill River Trail were a lot of fun too.

Miss TiaThe house still seems really empty without you, especially when I get home and you don’t greet me at the door. Going to bed isn’t the same; I miss your little, contented sigh every night when you’d curl up at the foot of the bed and I’d cover you with your blanket. Meals aren’t the same either, without you lying next to my chair in the kitchen. I continue to see hiding places in each room for your treats when we played your favorite “Find It” game.  I know your Mommy really misses you too.

Thank you for enriching my life, and for being Daddy’s little girl.

Love, Dad

*Jay Erb is Chair of the North Coventry Parks & Recreation Commission.

Ollie & Spuds – Chapter 5

© 2014 Carolyn Cott

Chapter 5 – The Morning Sun Sparking Off Her Fur

Spuds sits in the one beam of sunlight slanting in between the tall buildings. Suddenly she feels her paw needs washing, so she does that. There’s a spot on her back that makes her skin twitch, so she attends to that. Then she curls into a tight circle, wraps her tail neatly around her front paws, closes her eyes and doses.

Ollie trots down the sidewalk, turns into the alley, and stops. The ginger-colored cat is there, the morning sun sparking off her fur. She appears to be sleeping, but her ears move toward his direction. Ollie thinks of the other cats he’s seen. The skinny cats with hissing voices that live in another alley. The next door cat at the house, who had perched on the half-wall between the backyards and glared at him, the tip of his stripy tail twitching. Then he remembers-hears his children’s high voices, their clear-bell laughter. He feels their chubby arms around his neck. He closes his eyes and sighs loudly.

Spuds opens her eyes into thin lines and watches the dog, sensing him. There is sorrow and gentleness. She watches him for a moment longer, then makes up her mind. She rises, stretches slowly, and walks to him.

Ollie looks around wildly, seeking an escape route, but by then the cat is in front of him. With her tail held high, she raises her face and blinks at him once, twice, three times, slowly. With his breath held and his ears up in alert, he looks at her, then he drops his ears and almost smiles. Spuds takes another step toward him, curls her back into an arch and rubs against his nose. She purrs and does it again. Ollie takes a tentative slurp of her ear. Spuds shakes off the dog spit, then sits down and gazes at Ollie. Well, she conveys, what shall we do?

Ollie looks toward the back end of the alley where he sleeps and thinks, sleep, but then reconsiders. He hadn’t found anything but a torn-off piece of crusty pretzel last night and was hungry. He looks at Spuds, licks his chops in answer, and they trot out of the alley. Ollie leads them down the street some distance and into an alley. There Ollie sits down beneath a fragrant-smelling dumpster and looks pointedly between the dumpster and Spuds.

Spuds calculates the distance, crouches, and in one fluid motion jumps to the rim of the dumpster and into it. She emerges with the remnants of a chicken thigh between her teeth and deposits it at Ollie’s feet. He chomps into it, and when he’s mostly done he remembers the cat, backs up a pace, and stands guard while Spuds finishes the feast.

She washes her face while Ollie paces. We have to get out of here now. Ollie looks at Spuds. People will be coming soon. Not nice people.

They slip out in the street and run toward the home-alley, pausing only to lap up some dirty water pooled beneath a downspout. Then they dart into the alley just as more and more cars and trucks are rumbling by. Ollie walks to his pile of rags and cardboard, uses his nose to burrow in, circles three times and lies down. With his head resting on his paw he looks at Spuds: come here. Spuds walks toward him, gracefully jumps up beside him, and nestles into the crook of Ollie’s hind leg. As she drifts toward sleep she realizes this is the first time she’s felt something like comfort in a long time. She lifts her head, gives Ollie a lick, then settles into safe sleep.

to be continued….

Chapter 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/15/ollie-spuds-chapter-1/
Chapter 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/21/ollie-spuds-chapter-2/
Chapter 3:  https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/05/04/ollie-spuds-chapter-3/
Chapter 4: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/05/09/ollie-spuds-chapter-4/

Ollie & Spuds – Chapter 3

Chapter 3 – With that Picture in Mind, She Can Sleep
© 2014 Carolyn Cott

Chapter 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/15/ollie-spuds-chapter-1/
Chapter 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/21/ollie-spuds-chapter-2/

red cat from free digitalSpuds had no plan. By night she hunted. By day she slept. She moved from place to place, restless.

Spuds wandered eventually into the city. Spuds learned to spot potential danger and change direction instantly. She came across a band of other cats in the park tried to live with them, but they were as prone to fighting as they were to grooming each other. She left and eventually made her home in a partially crushed box in an abandoned trash pile. It was often bitter cold, but there were plenty of mice to hunt. Water was the issue. She had to learn to drink when it rained and went thirsty when it did not. When the water froze in winter, she went without for longer periods of time. It was difficult not to crave water; sleep was the only escape from that gnawing need, but sleep was never deep and sound—Spuds learned to keep part of her mind alert for danger even in sleep.

By the late winter, Spuds’ hunger and belly had grown. One cold morning she birthed four tiny kittens, three orange, and the tiniest a pale ginger.

Spuds had never loved as much as she loved her babies. The need for food increased, so she’d leave her kittens huddled together, first communicating to them soundlessly not to move, not to mew. She held the gaze of each of them, then trotted off to hunt for her family.

She came to an area where the air was fragrant with food, women’s high-heeled shoes clicked on the sidewalk, and men’s overcoat tails flew behind them in wind. There were shiny lights and big cars along the street, and fragrant alleys and dumpsters behind the buildings.

The next night she moved her kittens, one at a time, in her mouth, waddling as fast as she could through the streets, to their new home.   She nudged the kittens beneath a stack of wooden pallets. There was no cardboard to tuck into and the concrete was cold, but food was available. There were always trade-offs.

Spuds would jump easily up and into the dumpster, emerging with delicious tidbits she’d present to her kittens. Once the kittens had eaten, she would do so, and then they curled together, the whole lot of them purring. This was her happiest time.

As the kittens grew, Spuds couldn’t keep them sequestered, so they wandered around together with her searching for food. Twice she had to fight dogs to keep them safe. Once the smallest ginger-colored kitten barely escaped the wheels of a passing truck.

Spuds sensed the time was drawing near when the kittens would wander off and start their own lives. When they settled down to sleep together, she sent them mental pictures of the life she hoped they would lead: images of a warm fireplace, kind hands setting down bowls of food and water, a soft place to sleep, and safety, safety, safety.

to be continued…

Chapter 1: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/15/ollie-spuds-chapter-1/
Chapter 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/02/21/ollie-spuds-chapter-2/

photo by Dan courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

Alex the Befriender

-19Written by guest blogger, Susanne Cott

Alex. He was something.  More, actually, than I could have asked for. Adopted in 1996, Alex was a male tabby with magnificent green eyes and an abusive past. We bonded, deeply. No matter where I was in the house, he sought me out and came to sit beside me. He dozed beside me as I slogged through the voluminous work of graduate school. He accompanied me through various ups and downs in my life. His level gaze brought me a sense of balance. His antics made me smile.

When family members came to live with us in 2009, two cats came with the package. One of them was a black cat named Raleigh, a fearful cat whom we sometimes referred to as a “special needs kitty.” Uncharacteristically of male adult cats, when Alex and Raleigh first saw each other, they simply looked at each other without hostility. They moved closer and closer to each other, and Alex accepted Raleigh into his home as his friend.

When it was time for Raleigh to move to his new home, he had a difficult time adjusting and hid in a closet of his new home for nearly a week. The decision was made to give Raleigh to me, and Alex and Raleigh became roommates. They were always around each other and loved to wrestle. In my memory, I can still hear their little playful meows.

Raleigh passed away unexpectedly, and young, in 2012. Alex was the only cat in the house then. He mourned his friend’s loss—I could tell—because he seemed uninterested in everything.

Several months later, we adopted two kittens—sisters—Tessa and Daisy. We were a bit worried about how Alex would feel having two new kittens in his house. True to his open-hearted disposition, he wasn’t unkind to them. One day, Alex was taking a nap on a sunny spot on the screen-in porch. Tessa sidled up to him and lay down up against him. Alex swung around and looked at her, then apparently decided it was okay. He closed his eyes and slept and Tessa did the same. snuggled up against him. Alex had a generous soul.

Alex greeted me at the door everyday, like a dog, when I came home from work. In the last couple of months of his life, he’d lost almost all of his hearing and I had to find him when I returned home. When I did, he invariably would glance up at me and greet me with an adorable little chirp-meow that sounded like hello.

By November of last year, Alex’s health had declined drastically and he was barely eating and drinking. The vet and I made the decision to euthanize him. We did so on November 29, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. He was, in many ways, my best friend.

Alex was buried alongside Raleigh in the backyard under the bird feeder, which they had spent countless hours watching through the screen. Above their graves there are a circle of stones and flowers, and the birds swoop in for their food.

I believe I will see Raleigh and Alex again one day. Alex and Raleigh, you will never be forgotten, and I love you both.

Shelter

A four-part story by pioneering educator and award-winning author Karla McLaren.
© Karla McLaren 2014

I don’t merely love animals; animals were my shelter and my sanctuary when I was little. The animals in my neighborhood helped me survive the overwhelming emotional realities of a childhood filled with abuse, and to be honest, they helped me learn how to love, how to trust, and how to endure. I don’t merely love animals; I respect them, I admire them, and I value them. I admire their intelligence, their empathy, their dignity, and their sense of humor. When people ask me jokingly, “Were you raised by wolves?” I proudly say “Yes: house wolves and housecats.”

So when my local animal shelter sent out a call for volunteers to help socialize the animals, of course I went, got trained, and began to work with hundreds of homeless dogs, cats, horses, birds, goats, rabbits, turtles, and pigs. This is the story of a few of the characters I met there.

He wasn’t merely not looking at me.  He was staring past me with an intensity that said, “You’re so not here that even the thought of you not being here fills me with disgust.”  I get that every now and then, and though it does hurt, I’ve learned not to crumble.

I gingerly push a meaty treat through his kennel door and onto the left side of his blanket, away from where he sits, but still within his field of view. “Well Mr. Crankypants, Mr. Dark Cloud of the Kennel, Mr. Hate, everyone gets a treat, no matter how rotten they are.” My friend in the next kennel, the silly brindle-colored hound dog Jake, waits patiently (as we’ve been trying to get all the dogs to do).  I move in front of Jake’s kennel, give him a treat from the pouch on my belt, and pet him and talk to him. I overplay our relationship a bit for the benefit of Hate Boy, whose kennel card identifies him as “Milton.”  Really, some people should not be allowed to name animals.

I shouldn’t be in this part of the kennel.  I’m just a volunteer, and I’m not supposed to go behind the sign that says “Staff Only,” but I nearly always ignore the rules and just shrug apologetically if anyone catches me.  This area is a chained-off part of the shelter, which is made up of rows of roomy kennel cages on either side of a cement walkway. My job this morning is to “greet and treat” all of the dogs so that they’ll associate the front of their kennels (and people peering at them) with positive things.  We want them looking eagerly at people – not sulking or shivering underneath their blankets, or sitting alone out in their private dog runs.  We want them to have the best chance of being adopted.

Milton, Jake, and the other dogs in the chained-off area are isolated from the public for some reason, and I’m not supposed to interact with them.  I used to stop at the chain that separated them from the rest of the kennel, but their crestfallen looks were just too hard to ignore. All of these dogs’ kennel cards explain why they’re behind the chain and separated from the other dogs.  Sometimes, they’re recuperating from surgery (all animals at our shelter are spayed and neutered, thank goodness).  For instance, my goofy friend Jake had a twisted leg that required surgery, and he’ll be in this isolation area until his cast comes off.  Sometimes, these dogs are waiting to be temperament tested (denoted by a blue “T” on their cards).  Sometimes, they’ve been temperament tested and found wanting (the blue “T” will have a red line through it), and they’re awaiting a decision about their fate.  Milton’s T was red-lined; he was a fate boy.  But this didn’t mean he couldn’t have a treat while he was waiting – at least that’s what I think.

Temperament testing is different than training testing – where we find out if a dog knows basic commands.  All of the staff and volunteers are taught how to train and resocialize animals, because no matter what their previous owners write on their surrender sheets, many animals end up at the shelter because they’re poorly trained.  They’ve been rewarded for rotten behaviors, and ignored when they’re being good, so they become what their owners inadvertently ask them to become.  We expect that, but what’s really frustrating is that we can usually get a dog turned around behaviorally in just a few training sessions.  If people would just swallow their pride and pay for some training, they’d have happy and well-adjusted animals that they wouldn’t need to bring to the shelter.  Habits can be changed.  What I’ve learned is that most animals are very reachable, and they’ll do whatever their human wishes if they’re just asked in the right way.  However, if a dog (like Milton) is temperament tested and found to be unreachable, he’ll most likely be euthanized.  At this shelter, we get basketsful of puppies and kittens, crippled animals and sick animals that owners can’t afford to treat, older pets whose owners have died, stray animals from all over the county, and renters’ pets whose presence actually stops their owners from finding a place to live.  No matter how many adoptions we manage in a day or a week, more animals come pouring in and the kennel is nearly always full to capacity.  There’s just not enough shelter space for animals like Milton who have decided that people are the enemy.  We can only do so much.

When people learn that I work at the shelter, they imagine that I’m overwhelmed by the need and sadness of the animals, but really, that’s not how it works. The trick is to just love everyone and not get too attached to specific personalities. A little bit of love can go a long way, and the more love the animals experience, the more likely they are to feel welcoming toward people and end up being adopted. No matter what, the names on the kennel cards will change, and life will move forward. Adoptions happen regularly, foster parents step forward, and many of the animals find homes.  There is hope, and whatever sadness I might feel is actually reduced by being here, by helping, and by loving the animals.

I finish giving treats to the dogs in the chained-off area, and as I head back into the regular kennel, I throw Milton a kiss, just to be funny – but he steadfastly refuses to look at me, and he hasn’t touched the treat I gave him.  Oh well. It’s time for my second round through the kennels.

to be continued next week…
for part 2: https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/14/shelter-part-2/
for part 3:
https://untoldanimalstories.org/2014/03/21/shelter-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.