Saturday, October 20, 2012

When A Pet Parent Crashes

Many of us know how hard it is to be a caregiver to a human; but being one to a pet is twice as hard. There is no way to make the pet understand that having continuous accidents on the floor, carpet and/or bed, takes its toll on the one who has to clean it up. There is no way for them to know how overwhelmingly exhausting it is to give medication to them several times per day and still have to make sure they eat, when you know without you coaxing them, they won’t. It is a thankless job but one that we do because we love them. When they reach the age where they are technically over 100, they can no longer control themselves and it’s really not their fault. Yet it’s still very hard on us, there’s no denying that. You can only pretend for so long that it’s not disgusting to pick up diarrhea three or four times per day. Why won’t they just go in the box? Because there is a big difference between a human having IBD and a cat having it. A cat just doesn’t have the control that we do. I’ve heard of people going so far as to cover their floors or carpets with plastic to make the cleanup easier.

But all of this aside, one thing is certain; these diseases wreck havoc on everyone. There are only so many medications to treat these symptoms in pets and they don’t always work. When they do work, it’s only for awhile until their bodies get used to it. Basically it’s hell to go through this with your pet and although Alex didn't have these particular symptoms with her IBD, I am currently caring for a senior kitty that does. It’s difficult to say how to handle this when I’m going through it myself. After Alex died I thought I’d have many more years before dealing with a senior kitty with special needs. But it is what it is and as I said, because we love them, we do it. That doesn’t mean however that we don’t have the right to have our moments. We may be loving parents but we are not perfect and we do need to vent once in awhile.

It’s easy to say “take some time for yourself, do something for you, or don’t let the stress get to you.” That’s all well and good but there aren’t any days we can tell the kitty, “okay I want today off, you’re on your own”. There are no vacations and no sick days for us. One thing I will say is to find a good peer group to talk to. There are so many of them online and it’s never tough to find someone who is going through the same thing. Be aware also when dealing with another pet parent who is crashing that they need the kind of love and support that they are offering you. Telling them to “be strong because their kitties need them” is counter-productive and just feels like more pressure. While good intentioned, it’s not something anyone wants to hear. They want to know that it’s about them and they have your full attention. Tell them you understand and that you’re either going through the same thing now or you’ve also been through it before. They need to know they aren’t alone, not be reminded of what they already know. Just listen with an open heart and mind, that’s all most people need, want and appreciate. If you know someone who’s suffering from caregiver exhaustion, let them know you care.

For yourself, maybe start your own pet caregiver support group online or even in person. Giving others a place to talk about it could very well be great medicine. You’ll meet new people and make friends with fellow pet lovers. Most likely you need to stay close to home to give them medication several times per day. But try to get out occasionally. Take a short ride and enjoy some nice weather, just get out of the house; even if it’s for a short time. Get on the phone with a friend who’s been there, or someone you’ve met through your group, and talk about it instead of typing it. Sometimes hearing an empathetic voice can mean all the difference. We do choose this path and we choose it because we love animals. We know they cannot care for themselves and that’s the tough part. But if you’re starting to crash and you need someone, then reach out. You may be a super parent to your pet but you are in reality, after all, only human.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Visits From the Fur Side

I know this will be a controversial entry. But I think that no matter what anyone’s belief system is, we all want the same thing; a visit from our departed fur-children. I am someone who respects all beliefs and opinions. I myself believe that energy does not die, it simply transforms into something else. Where the energy goes, no one knows for sure until it’s our time. But for the most part many of us have come to accept the idea of the Rainbow Bridge. Whether we really believe in it or whether we accept it to help us through a difficult mourning process is different for everyone. But no one wants to believe their pet simply disappears after they pass.

We all see the Rainbow Bridge differently. I used to think it was silly and never wanted to let myself imagine it. Now it helps me deal with Alex’s passing; even four years later. Before I took Alex in, I had a cat named Patches for 20 years. She was not the love bug that Alex was by any means but I loved her very much and accepted her rough personality for what it was. When she passed away I had the most wonderful dream. It was incredibly vivid and helped me greatly to heal. I dreamed that an angel came to me and told me that our souls were connected (mine and Patches). We were now separated by her physical death but our souls would meet again. The angel was gorgeous and so bright, even in my dream my eyes had trouble adjusting. It was just a dream but it carried me through some dark days.

I did not have any dreams like that after Alex died but she passed in my car on the way to the ER as opposed to Patches, who passed peacefully at the vet. The way Alex passed affected me deeply and I became shut off to everything. I was incredibly angry and traumatized. It took months for me to even open my mind to the possibility of a dream or visit from her. I was convinced it was never going to happen. Finally one morning I woke up very suddenly to the feeling of a cat jumping onto my bed. I only had Finnegan at that point but he was not in the room with me and the door was closed to him, so it was not him. I sat up and believed it was my imagination until I saw imprinted paw prints on my blankets. I very carefully got out of bed, trying not to disturb the prints and ran to get my mom, who lives downstairs. She came upstairs and the prints were still there, she saw them too, clear as day. It took almost 20 minutes for those prints to fade. Since then I’ve had more visits. I’ve seen Finney and Lacey playing together but acting strangely at the same time, like someone else their size was there playing with them. They’ve both been completely hypnotized for as long as 10 minutes at a time staring at her picture so intently, nothing I do breaks the stare. We’ve all heard a meow here inside my apartment when both of my kits were sound asleep and the tv isn’t even on. Several times it’s happened loud enough to wake them up.

There are more happenings and whether or not anyone believes these things happened doesn’t matter to me. I believe it and it’s made a big difference in my healing process. If you’ve had experiences and visits from your pets that have passed, but are not sure what to think or make of it; my answer to that is to think and feel whatever you want! Don’t talk yourself out of it because you’re afraid of what others will think or because you think it’s not real. Let yourself have the experience and heal from it, never mind if it’s real or not. Go with it and allow yourself to see or feel your baby again. Perception of reality is different for each person and what you perceive to be real and true, is all that matters. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Lessons of furballs

When Alex died I was beyond devastated. I was adamant that I would never again in this lifetime own another pet. I couldn’t take the pain of losing them. I tried hard to honor that promise. I was offered several kittens, all of which I turned down. I loved that I could once again have plants in my apartment, I hardly had to vacuum compared to before and I saved a ton of money. But I was incredibly lonely and severely depressed. Several times I was offered a tiny orange kitten from my vet’s office and constantly turned them down. Finally they took matters into their own hands. I went to their office for one reason and ended up coming home with a little orange boy named Finnegan.

Right away I knew he was trouble with a capitol T; full of more energy than all of my pets I’d ever had put together! It was very difficult to go from having Alex, who was always such a good girl, to Finney the little brat. He sure served his purpose and kept me extremely occupied. In fact he was so bad I thought on more than one occasion of giving him back. I’d never had more than one pet at a time before but knew I needed to do something drastic. So I got him a little girlfriend. I went to the rescue league and looked for hours. I was about ready to give up when this little tuxie kitten came down to see me from her climbing tree. She was cute, spunky and playful, very friendly and got along well with other kitties. It was time to take the plunge, so she got herself a new home.

The two of them fell in love within days and have been inseparable ever since. Recently a friend reminded me of some funny stories I’ve shared over the last four years of these two. They’ve always been double the trouble but triple the laughs. It didn’t take me long to realize there were some lessons here for me. What Alex had taught me was pure and untainted love. I’d always wanted to know what that felt like but never thought I’d receive it from a cat. That was her lesson to me; to let myself be loved and accept it fully. Even with the pain that comes from losing that love. The broken heart I had was worth every second I spent with her.

The lesson I’ve learned from Finney and Lacey is to let yourself laugh again. I mean really laugh, straight from your gut until you cry laughing. These two are like living with a comedy show. Lacey can do a mid-air back flip like I’ve never seen a cat do before. Finney teases her, chases her, makes her hiss and swat him. She runs like the road runner throughout the house and knocks him down; not knowing what hit him, he does a double take. (People that say cats don’t have expressions on their faces have never seen these two). He sneaks up on her and she jumps straight up in the air at least three feet and will make this insane meowing sound before chasing him throughout the house. One of my favorite things things in this world is to watch them play.

But mostly I love to watch them lying on the bed smooching and grooming. They'll make out for the longest time until they finally go to sleep. They are the perfect fit and I’m sure my Alex had something to do with that. They make me happy and even though she’s gone, Alex hasn’t stopped being my teacher. The lesson? I can’t and I shouldn’t live without love and laughter no matter what the cost; even if it comes with a couple of big furballs of trouble. LOL.