Sunday, April 21, 2013

Happy Birthday up in Heaven

Photo courtesy of Two Birds Photography

To my sweet Princess--

Happy Birthday, sweet girl! Today is the first April 21st that I haven't spent with you in 15 years.  It's not quite half my life, but it's close.  

Every year for six years prior to this one, your Dad and I would be getting ready for your party--a party to celebrate the miracle that you were, the special soul that touched so many people.  It's been hard this year, not having a party to plan.  I know I always went overboard, but it made me feel like I was giving something back to you, because you always gave so much to me. 

I've tried to keep busy this year, during your "birthday season." I threw myself into getting Cimba and I ready for a big horse show.  That helped a lot.  Papa and I have been fostering cats too, sweet boys without a family of their own, who just need a place to get their bearings before finding their forever home.  We got tattoos of your paw print this week.  Sometimes I wish I had taken the stamp of your paw before you died, but now, knowing that this print is a lasting part of your physical being, it's not bittersweet.  I remember taking the print from your cold, stiff paws.  I remember crying while doing it, wishing all the love and pain in my heart could bring that paw back to life.  Knowing that whatever print I put to paper would be forever inked onto my skin, just like you are inked forever onto my heart.  But I feel more complete having your print on my forever.  It doesn't make me sad.  It reminds me of you every time I see it--like you reached down from heaven and burned your image onto me--and it's a happy reminder.  A reminder of what you gave to me, who you helped me become.  I'm a better person because of you, and I know your Dad is too.

It's impossible to be angry that you're not with us today.  You were old and tired, and you chose your time and place to go.  How could I be angry with you for that? But I miss you every single day.  Papa does too.  We talk about you a lot, and we try to remember your legacy, and we strive to be better parents and better people.  I know that sounds cheesy, but it's completely true.  That's part of what made you so special.  No dog is "just a dog." But you were even more than that.  I can't explain it.  I know everyone who loved you understands what I mean.  

So, while I sit here with tears in my eyes, my heart breaking that you are not with me today, I remind myself of what you would want.  You wouldn't want me to cry and be sad--that always upset you.  You'd want me to be happy.  You'd be happy that some of your favorite people are coming over today to keep us company.  You always loved when your friends came to visit.  So we'll be together on this day, all thinking of you, but living our lives and continuing on.  

You'll be forever in my heart, and in Papa's heart.  I hope there is a huge celebration for you in heaven today--a huge theme party like Mama would have done.  A party filled with food and games, but most importantly, with your friends, surrounding you with love. 

Happy 15th Birthday, my sweet angel.

Monday, March 11, 2013

That Time of Year

Every year around this time, I would begin preparations for a huge themed party for Indiana's birthday, something I have done every year since she was diagnosed with cancer back in 2006.  These parties were big affairs, with lots of her friends (and ours), lots of food, games, and prizes, and lots and lots of theme.  I typically started planning months in advance, picking a theme and then designing invitations, ordering decorations, planning a menu, choosing and designing games, buying prizes and party favors, and spending days getting the house and all of the food ready. In the early weeks of planning, I would become consumed (we might even call it obsessed) with planning.  Everything had to be perfect.  Every detail.  Every plan.

I loved planning those parties.  It gave me joy to create something for her, even though she didn't care about all of the details.  She loved her friends though--her eyes would light up with each one who walked through the door.

I remember last year's party--a fitting princess theme for The Princess.  Indiana's health was declining, and we knew it was most likely her last birthday party.  So bittersweet, but we threw ourselves and our love into every bit of it.

I will carry with me forever the memory of my beautiful old dog, laying on her favorite bed, like The Princess she always was, surrounded by dozens of friends and family, all people so dear to us, and to her.  Everyone was singing "Happy Birthday" to her, and the joy on her face, the truly palpable feeling of love flowing through the room--I will love every single person at that party forever for giving me that memory.

And now, nearly a year later, I feel lost.  I don't have a party to plan.  I don't want to plan a party.

Her birthday has been on my mind lately.  After 6 birthday parties, this year there will be none.  How will I spend that day? Do I celebrate her life? Do I keep busy with other things? Everything will hurt.  What will hurt the least?

As I navigate this spring, trying to keep my mind off of something that has become such a habit, such a joy, I know there will be pain.  I know I will miss her.  I know I will miss giving the gift of a party to her.  But I will think about parties past, about her beautiful smile, and room full of people who gave me a gift I cannot even express--the gift of pure, kind love.

Friday, March 8, 2013


Albert, photo courtesy of Two Birds Photography

Yesterday I shared the story of how Alfred temporarily joined our family as a foster.  A few days later, I felt the urge to foster another cat.  Alfred needed a buddy, didn't he? Jim didn't have any big objections, but instead asked that we wait a bit to see how fostering worked out for us.  That seemed like a reasonable request.  

Friends and family know by now that I am not reasonable.  

Less than a week after we took in Alfred, I went on a "shopping trip" of sorts to a local animal control to pick up a cat that St. Sophia's had committed to.  While there, we shopped around for other cats, not really having a place for one, but needing one for an upcoming cat show into which we had already entered two cats.  One had come down with a minor illness, which meant a spot was open.  It seemed a shame to let that spot go to waste.  As we looked through the isolation room--the place where cats are held until their stray holds are up or until they are healthy enough to be adopted out--I noticed a black cat in the corner of the room, and by the smell of him, we was an unaltered male with some digestive issues.  

Upon approaching this little guy, I was taken by how friendly he was.  He came to the door of the cage immediately and turned on the charm.  I'm a sucker for charm.  So I opened his door, and this large, smelly cat was a puddle in my arms.  The animal control workers came over, all of whom were very fond of this stray tom cat.  He had chronic diarrhea that they were working hard to prevent--even going so far as to feed him expensive limited ingredient canned food and probiotics.  I summoned my friend over, who was skeptical that this smelly, big-headed tom cat was the one for us.  "But he's so sweet!" I cried.  So we waited to hear back from the director of St. Sophia's--what did she think about taking this cat?

Another issue was a foster home for him.  We really didn't have an open spot.  Who would take him? I felt responsible, as I had all but begged my friend to rescue him.  Jim and I had just discussed waiting to take in another foster, but this guy was so sweet, and surely he wouldn't be that much work. Still, I wondered what Jim would say.  On a whim, I emailed him at work.  Minutes later, this kind man that I married instantly agreed to take in another cat.  Just when I thought I couldn't love him any more than I already did...

Soon after came a text from the director--we could take him, and we would place him in the cat show.  My friend thought she was nuts, and both of us got a huge laugh out of a smelly, pooey tom cat off the streets being entered into a cat show.  But he had the personality for it.  And he was safe! 

Albert was committed to on Tuesday, neutered and brought to rescue on Wednesday, groomed on Friday, and spent all weekend at the cat show, placing as high as second place out of ten cats! Everyone fell in love with this calm, cool cat.  

Since that weekend, Albert has lived with us, and more specifically, with Alfred.  He never ceases to amaze us with his calm demeanor.  (Can cats be narcoleptic? Because sometimes I wonder.)  He loves to snuggle.  He loves to rub his face against yours.  He will sleep next to you in bed. His greatest joy is being near people.  But he isn't clingy or needy--quite simply, he is the best friend a person could ask for.  

Also, he wears bow ties.  

Albert is fully vetted and is ready for his forever home.  You can learn more about him on Petfinder or visit St. Sophia's Forgotten Felines on Facebook.  

Albert's official bio:

Albert is an easy-going, loving adult black shorthair male. Found as a stray, Albert has touched all those who meet him with his calm and affectionate demeanor. He was entered into a cat show in the housecat division for St. Sophia's soon after entering our program, and he amazed everyone with how relaxed he always seemed to be. He even took 2nd place out of 10 cats!

Albert is incredibly loving, happy to snuggle next to his people, or sleep curled up next to them in bed. He loves to rub his head against people and receive kisses. His great joy in life is being loved.

Albert is good with other cats and remains relaxed and calm even around small children! He will make the perfect companion for anyone looking for a devoted, patient best friend.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Alfred, photo courtesy of Two Birds Photography

About a month ago, my neighbor contacted me, inquiring about how to catch two cats who were living in her back yard.  They didn't seem feral but weren't coming close either.  It was the dead of winter, and though she was feeding them, she was concerned about their well-being long term and wanted to catch them.  Not long after, I awoke one morning to meowing coming from the kitchen.  It was strange, because the meow wasn't familiar to me, yet I wasn't imagining it.  I got up to explore it further, and saw a streak of black tail run through the kitchen towards the open pet door.  Ramona is our only cat with a black tail, so I wondered where in the world she was headed in such a hurry, yet a glance at her favorite spot revealed she was fast asleep.  I knew instantly we had an intruder! Sure enough, I looked outside on the deck, and saw a wide-eyed black and white cat staring at me.  Having a strange cat in your house in and of itself is weird enough.  But we have a nearly impenetrable cat fence, which we call the Kitty Gulag, which makes any movement, in or out, virtually impossible.  How had this cat gotten in? 

Over the next few days, I didn't see him.  Surely he was there, as it's difficult to get in the cat fence but even harder to get out.  Yet, a day or two later, my neighbor informed me that he was back at her house.  Amazed, I figured he wasn't coming back to our place.  Until a few days later, when he walked in while Jim and I were watching TV on the couch.  

Jim and I agreed to try to catch the little guy and try to find him a home.  Our neighbor had already discovered that he was trap savvy, so trapping him wasn't an option; we were left with feeding him and slowly trying to earn his trust.  I knew this could take a while, as cats are difficult creatures.

So for several days, this cat would show up at my house for dinner and would show up at my neighbor's house (a quarter of a mile away) for breakfast.  We still had no idea how he was getting in and out of our cat fence with such ease.  A walk of the perimeter revealed no holes or obvious points of entry.  It remains a mystery to us to this day!

On the third or fourth night of feeding this cat, he allowed me to pet him, and he even came out from under a bench to see me.  Instinctively, I decided to try picking him up.  He let me.  With a strange, stray cat in my arms, out in the bitter cold, I suddenly wondered what to do.  We had intended to catch him eventually and find him a home--this was just sooner than I expected.  With Jim off at work, I simply made the decision to take him inside, marching him up the stairs into our spare bedroom.  And there he has stayed.

A very kind friend heard his story, and being the intake coordinator for a rescue organization, she arranged for Alfred to be taken into their program.  They had a foster home available; did we want to surrender him to the organization? This didn't sit right with Jim and me.  It felt like we would simply be passing him off, happy that he wasn't our problem any more.  And leaving that foster home open meant another life could be saved from Animal Control.  So in an instant, without much discussion, Jim and I decided to become foster parents for St. Sophia's Forgotten Felines. We also knew with little discussion that Alfred wouldn't be our last foster.  After filling out the paperwork, we were officially a foster family.  And a few days later, along came Albert (but he's a story for tomorrow).  We don't have any more room in our family for pets (6 cats is really at our max), but we certainly have room in our hearts and our home to help cats become united with their forever families.  It's a lot of work, but it's absolutely right for us.

So, we welcome Alfred to our foster family, and we hope he finds his way to his perfect family soon.  He tried so hard to make his way to us--he just wants to be loved.  He will make some family incredibly lucky.

Alfred is fully vetted--neutered, vaccinated, and viral tested.  He is ready for his loving forever home. Alfred is available on Petfinder, but you can also visit St. Sophia's on Facebook to learn more about how to adopt him.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Welcome Mona


Late last summer, Jim and I learned of a family of cats being neglected at a home near my parents' house.  There was a mother and several very young kittens.  They were living outdoors and not being provided with any food or water.  My gut instinct told me that these kittens would die if not cared for, and I was right.  Jim and I committed to taking the family in and caring for them.  The very first night, one of the kittens became gravely ill.  I rushed her to the vet, but she was too far gone and had to be euthanized.  Do you know how heartbreaking that is? To make the decision to end the life of a kitten only a few weeks old? 

With food, shelter, TLC, and a small financial commitment, two of the kittens survived and flourished.  Though other health issues cropped up (as they are bound to do in stray cats), Jim and I were bound and determined to raise healthy, happy kittens who would make wonderful pets for some lucky family.

The biggest hurdle (beyond the chronic infection issues of one of the kittens--a respiratory issue that was stubborn to go away) was the mother: a young cat herself, likely raising her first litter of kittens--and very frightened and very angry.

We named her Ramona, and we treated her with love and respect.  Yet she hissed and growled every time we walked in the room, threatening to attack.  After a few weeks, we took to wearing rubber boots around her, to protect our legs from the inevitable swipes from her claws.  We couldn't touch her at all--not even while she was eating.  The vet and I discussed the possibility of separating her from her kittens, so they would be able to be socialized without her negative influence.  We worried we would have to spay her and release her back into the wild.  She seemed untameable.  

Yet Jim and I persisted.  We weren't willing to give up on her yet.  One day, with hatred and fear in her eyes, she lashed out at me while I was wearing the boots.  I thought, "I am afraid of you, and you know it.  You are taking advantage of me. I have to take back the power.  Go ahead and attack me all you want.  I won't be afraid any more." And attack she did.  But when I didn't react, she became calm, looked me in the eye, and walked away.  From then on, because I showed no fear, she showed less aggression.  And one day, while she was eating her dinner, I reached out and touched her back, just once.  Over time, once became twice, which became three times, and so on and so on, until miraculously, this feral, angry cat was tamed.  

Once Mona wasn't angry, and I wasn't afraid, we slowly became friends.  She seemed excited to see me, grateful for food and attention.

The day came when her kittens were ready for their forever home--with a perfect, loving family who wanted them both.  I worried about how she would react (I tend to anthropomorphize animals); would she miss them? Would she be sad?

While I wept at saying goodbye to the kittens, Mona seemed unfazed, even relieved.  Jim and I couldn't bear to keep her locked up by herself, and she seemed to need the socialization, so we allowed her into the general population of cats in our home.  She seemed really excited and happy and took to our cats right away.  Everyone accepted her like she had been there forever.  

Mona discovered the cat tree in the corner of our living room, and she fell in love.  She claimed it for her own and rarely leaves it.  And this angry, feral cat somehow became one of the most loving cats I know.  She is patient and loving, gives kisses with abandon, and is easy-going and simple to care for.  How could we not keep her? Her life had been uprooted enough, and we loved her.  So she has stayed and is now a full member of our family--the last to join before the doors were closed on cats.  We're full up.  But we have full hearts.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Always Learning From You

When I first started writing a blog, and was trying to decide what to call it, I knew that the dog I was learning things from--Indiana--wouldn't be around forever.  Could I still dedicate my blog to her? Would the title still have relevance after she was gone?

The answer, of course, was yes.  I haven't posted much in the months since Indy died.  How can I talk about my life, my feelings, when I don't even understand them myself? It's been 8 months since Indy left us, and I still think about her every day.  I miss her.  I would give almost anything to put my arms around that precious body one more time and inhale the scent that was completely and absolutely her.

But I can't.  That fantasy has to live on in my memories.  I hope every single day that I never forget the sensation of her fur, or the comfort of her smell.

And this blog?  I am still learning things every day--how to care for my pets, how to understand them, how to make their lives even more fulfilling.  All because of one very special black dog.  She inspired me to become more.  That's never going to stop.

As the months pass, I find myself wanting to honor her by being a better person.  Not just a better pet parent, but a better human being all around.  I want to be kinder, more patient, more loving and understanding.  More accepting of others and their differences.  Because as cheesy as it sounds, that's the kind of dog Indiana was.  If she had been human, she would have been the best of the best.  I'll never live up to that, but I can sure try.

Now, as life has continued on, and I have gone on this journey to become the true me, Jim and I have been inspired to become cat foster parents.  With six felines of our own, we feel like we're at our max.  But our desire to save, and our desire to fix has not wavered.  Maybe we can't welcome more animals into our home permanently, but we have room in our lives, and in our hearts, for these little beings who are lost and trying to find their way to a permanent, loving forever home.

Because if Indiana taught me anything, it's that love is important above all.  And I will always, always honor that lesson.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Hello, everyone, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for joining us today. At first, the thought of having a memorial service for a dog seemed odd. We’d never heard of anyone doing it before, and we worried that no one would come. But then we remembered, Indiana wasn’t just a dog. She was so much more. She conquered so much in her short life. She inspired. She encouraged. She brought people together. For Jim and I, she made us better people.

Sitting down to write out what I wanted to say today was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. How do you condense 14 years of such intense love and friendship into one speech? I don’t think the right words exist to say what is in my heart. I hope my words can do her justice.

My life was changed forever the day I brought home a tiny, fuzzy little black dog back in the summer of 1998. I had had dogs my whole life, but now, about to start my senior year of college, I was ready for a dog of my very own. I remember choosing her because she seemed sweet, and calm. Maybe she chose me as much as I chose her. And as I drove away with her, leaving her mother and sister behind, I cried, and I promised her that I would always take care of her the very best that I could.

I made a lot of sacrifices for Indiana--and in the early years, I think that says a lot for a college student. But I had wonderful friends and a wonderful boyfriend, and they spent a lot of time at my house, so I could be home with Indiana during my down time.

She was a spirited puppy, to say the least. Though she wasn’t destructive to furniture and personal goods, the inside of my house was covered with as many, if not more, sticks than the outside of my house, all chewed into tiny little bits. I think there were times we couldn’t see the carpeting.

Indiana was your typical puppy--she loved to play with toys, to take walks, to nap on the couch. She was whip smart from the beginning and was housetrained in less than a week. And when the time came to expand our family, she enthusiastically welcomed baby Isis, gently playing with her and teaching her everything she knew.

Indiana was there through all of the major milestones of our adult lives. College graduation, new jobs, new homes, marriage (where she proudly acted as ring bearer, a job Isis could not be trusted with). She was there during happy moments and sad. Indiana was very sensitive to emotion, picking up on our feelings, and, I believe, even taking them on from time to time. As she aged, we learned to avoid being sad around her; it simply made her too sad as well.

Our lives and hers changed forever in June 2006, when we almost died from cancer. I think everyone here knows the story, but her survival during that period really was a miracle. None of the doctors expected it. But we knew we owed her a chance to fight; her time here wasn’t done. So we fought for her, and she fought back. And we were blessed with nearly 6 more years with her, during which time we grew as parents, and as people.

I know I made a lot of mistakes with Indiana in the years before cancer. I was doing the best I could with the information I had, and for the most part, I have forgiven myself for my ignorance. I know Indiana did.

As the years passed, Indiana’s needs grew. She faced a new health obstacle with every turn. First cancer, then a mass in her heart. Next came arthritis, Cushing’s Disease, hypothyroidism, hip dysplasia, then kidney disease and cancer yet again. She almost died again in 2009, and again in the fall of 2011. But still she persevered. And did it all with a smile.

That is the thing I’ll always remember most about my baby girl: her smile. When she smiled, her whole face lit up. And she smiled a lot. She faced every challenge with grace and dignity, and always, always with that smile.

I dedicated most of the last two years of her life, and certainly the last 8 months, to her health and happiness. I suppose I sacrificed a lot, but it never seemed that way--doing the right thing for Indiana was always so easy, because she inspired that in me. I wanted to be a better person for her, to give her everything. Because that is what she gave to those she loved.

The time eventually came when we were more focused on the quality of her life than the quantity. We agreed to stop any invasive treatments and only do the things that would make her comfortable. It seems like it would be hard to make that decision--to stop medical treatment for someone you’d fought so hard for--but it wasn’t. Indiana was nothing if not completely clear at all times about what she wanted, and this was no exception. We knew she was getting tired, and that this was what she wanted. It was easy to simply abide by her wishes.

Every parent of a pet dreads those final days. You wonder, “How will this end? What will take her? Will we have to make the decision to let her go?” I honestly thought we would. I feared it would be because she would be unable to walk. But would it be the cancer? Or the kidney disease?

But in the end, it was none of those. On June 5, 2012, Indiana simply left this world on her own accord. She was tired, and she was done.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two months thinking about her life. Who she was. What she gave me. What she gave others. I am a better person because of her--not only a better parent, but a human being better able to understand love and sacrifice. She inspired me to help others struggling with cancer, as I am now able to help others who are caring for an older pet or those who are grieving.

Indiana was so many things to so many people. She was beautiful, inside and out. I never stopped being proud when a stranger would comment on her beauty, or when one of our vet staff commented on her calm, sweet demeanor. Because she was those things--beautiful, calm, sweet. She was the most intelligent dog I have ever met. Her spirit was unlike any other. I always felt like God made a mistake when he made her--putting a human spirit into a dog’s body, but taking out all of what makes humans flawed. What he created was one beautiful, perfect creature. One of a kind. And I was so blessed to have her as my daughter, my best friend.

When Indiana left, she took a huge part of my heart with her, a part that I will never get back. My life is certainly worse for losing her, but, in the end, it is exponentially better for having had her in it.