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18671043_10154486604365906_7892019700575037064_nOn May 1, 2017, almost eleven years after I said hello to Hannah, I had to say goodbye.

She’d been struggling with the effects of kidney disease—in particular, severe constipation. Many months earlier, she’d started howling in the middle of the night, a behavior the vet said could simply be a sign of old age (she was estimated to be fourteen at the time of her death, but might’ve been 1-2 years older), but which I began to realize was an expression of discomfort and pain. The howling grew more frequent, occurring during the day, and then every time she sat down. She appeared depressed. Moments of contentment–when she could curl up beside me on the couch–grew further apart. She stopped playing.

One evening in mid-April, for the first time in a long while, she egged me on for a game of chase, our special game, something her little brother Sam never understood how to play. But this time her chasing was frantic in tone. After a couple of rounds she ran near the litter box, stopped, looked up at me, dead in the eye, and howled. I felt she was trying to tell me something: she’d had enough. She needed the pain to end.

I wanted her to go with her dignity still intact. She’d been through a round of enemas and stool extraction, and the screams that came from her then came from deep in her soul. I wasn’t going to put her through that again.

Four days after our last game of chase, I said goodbye–first at home. I spent the morning with her, talking to her, brushing her. She spent the morning rubbing her face all over my head, something she only did when she knew I was sad. That afternoon, at the vet clinic, she was distressed. I was upset. She wouldn’t look at me. I tried not to anthropomorphize–was she angry with me? Would she forgive me? Later, I’d recall that over the years she never looked at me when I took her to see the vet—it was only after I took her home that she’d make eye contact, rub up against my legs, and purr and purr. It’s just that this time she wasn’t coming back home with me. We wouldn’t have that moment.

In the moment we had, I held her close and sang a song into her ear–“My sweet Hannah…my beautiful, my beautiful…”–a song I’d made up after we first met, one that always calmed her, one that turned the word “beautiful” into a noun.

Because that’s what Hannah was and always will be, to me.

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{Although this blog closed a few years ago, I decided to write this post as a tribute to Hannah, to the book I wrote about her, and to all of you who’ve expressed your interest, love, and care over the years. For that, Hannah, Sam, and I sincerely thank you. — TS} 

 

The Dodo

ImageWinter has been interminable here in the northeast. Hannah and Sam have provided much warmth and snuggling (and humor) snowstorm after snowstorm. Although I was sick for two months, Hannah and Sam have been healthy, to my relief.

In other news, The Dodo, a new website dedicated to our relationship with animals, was recently launched by the former CEO of Salon.com, Kerry Lauerman. Several weeks ago, Lauerman invited me to become a founding regular contributor to the budding site. So I began the first of a series of featured posts that will tell the story of my life with Hannah and Sam, starting at the very beginning, with my adoption of Hannah: “My Cat And I Healed From Trauma Together.” You can follow my posts here. Some of my posts will be culled from the Hannah Grace blog, while others will be new stories from our present-day life and times. I’d love for you to follow me there!

The Dodo is open to community posts from the general public as well. If you have a story to share, go to The Dodo and find out how!

– TLS

 

Poker Face

IMG_1998Lately, Hannah and Sam have been squabbling.  At dinnertime, they poke and push and shove each other.

Sam is very vocal about food–he meows and meows and meows an hour before mealtime, increasing his sounds in frequency and volume, like an alarm, until the meal is literally in his tummy (after which he smacks his lips in satisfaction). Hannah is annoyed by Sam’s meowing.

When I go into the kitchen to dish out dinner, Sam’s meows become cries. Hannah calmly and quietly enters the kitchen, and sits politely off to the side. Then, she smacks Sam upside the head.

“Stop it,” I say firmly.

Instantly, Hannah puts on a poker face. She looks up innocently, careful not to catch my eye, and scans the ceiling, as if to say, “What? Who are you speaking to? I didn’t do anything.”

Sam, slightly stunned, tries to hit Hannah back. “Stop it,” I say again, as if I’m speaking to two child siblings. Sam knows he’s in the wrong and runs off for a moment (only to return to cry for food once again).

*

IMG_2002The other day, I was sitting on the couch when Hannah and Sam began to squabble over who got to sit to the left of me (there was plenty of room to the right of me as well). The poking and pushing and shoving started and I said, “Enough!” They both dashed off, then returned a couple of minutes later. But by then I’d made an executive decision: no cats allowed on the couch for the night.

I have to admit, it was a little lonely all by myself, without the two of them next to me, and I’m a bit amused by their sibling rivalry, but I think they learned a lesson: no fighting. Otherwise, no couch!

– TLS

Do your pets fight? Share your stories in the comment box below…

Happy Holidays!

DSCN1586Hannah and her little brother Sam would like to wish you all a very happy holiday season! Wherever you are, we hope there’s a furry friend nearby to keep you company.

This year, I’m grateful that we live in “the spartment,” and that my cats are healthy and happy. Hannah enjoys curling up next to me on the couch and purring as long as I’m there; meanwhile, Sam enjoys stretching out in the cat tree across the room, or right above Hannah, as if he thinks she’s going to give up her alpha status. Hannah has already told him that’s not going to happen. Ever.

Recently, I published an essay in The Huffington Post on the healing power of my therapist’s (non-therapy) dog. Click here to read my story, “Harley & Me: The Power of (a Dog’s) Love.” I’d love to hear what you think (Hannah and Sam have already requested I write about them next).

See you in 2014~

– TLS

The Heat Is On

sam&hannahchaiseI’ve been delayed in posting on the Hannah Grace blog, as I’ve recently been asked to become a regular contributor/blogger with The Huffington Post! While the Hannah Grace blog will still continue (in fact, a new Hannah & Sam book is in the works), I’d like to invite you to follow me in The Huffington Post. Click here to view my latest essays and click on the “fan” link to receive notifications of upcoming posts. There’s a sure possibility that you’ll see something about Hannah and Sam in the near future.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch – or, rather, the “spartment” – the big news is the heat: for those of you who recall the garret (who could forget?), heat was not a given. However, in the new apartment, the heat is on and H&SdeepconversationHannah, Sam, and I are loving it. Who would’ve thought that adequate heat was not only a basic need but a simple pleasure? And yet it is.

Last year, when family and friends asked what I wanted for the holidays, all I wanted were warm things: slippers, a robe, flannel pajamas. Now, heat is a given. And not only that. The back of my bedroom closet shares a wall with the bathroom, where two heating pipes are located. This means that my clothes are warm in the morning. You can bet Hannah and Sam stay cozy.

Hannah is in love with the local TV weatherman.

Hannah is in love with the local TV weatherman.

One other big piece of news: we have a new TV.  The 1998 Panasonic died a couple weeks ago, so I finally joined the present day and purchased a flat screen television. Hannah and Sam have been infatuated with it. Hannah can sit in front of it for hours. In fact, I think she may be in love with our local weatherman.

As we approach Thanksgiving and the holidays, may you all be surrounded by the warmth of family, friends, and your pets.

 TLS

Sam, the night before his vet visit: keep calm and carrier on.

Sam, the night before his vet visit: keep calm and carrier on.

Unlike when we lived in the garret, the new apartment is practically drama-free. This has left me with a lack of interesting material to relay to the reader about Hannah and Sam. Not that anyone is complaining, of course.

A few weeks ago, it dawned on me that Sam was guarding the refrigerator not for a second helping of his duck dinner but for the mouse that might be hiding in the hole in the corner pocket, an unreachable spot for not just a human but a cat.

I was adamant that Sam was not going to catch an escapee mouse as he did when we lived in the garret. I didn’t want to have to dispose of a corpse, for one thing, but even more importantly I didn’t want Sam to acquire a parasite from a mince-mouse meal.

Unlike in the garret, our current apartment has a maintenance team, and they filled the hole upon my request – in fact, they measured it (5×7 inches!) in order to seal it properly (such a deed would’ve never crossed the mind of the garret landlord).

IMG_1560Still, you can bet I worried anyway when maintenance moved the fridge and I spotted what looked to be mouse turds on the floor (mixed in with some dried up peas I’d spilled a week after move-in). I had no idea how long the turds had been there—perhaps as long as the previous tenant. So, at Sam’s yearly appointment with Dr. Parker, our vet, last week, I asked if it was a concern. The answer, thankfully, was no.

I knew going to the vet was going to be a nightmare for Sam, and that even getting him “familiar” with the carrier days or weeks before was not going to quell his anxiety, as it didn’t last year, or the year before, or when we moved. I used the Feliway spray and Rescue Remedy, again to no effect. I hated having to chase Sam around the living room—while Hannah hid under the bed—and extricate him out from under the couch, a crawlspace not intended for a cat Sam’s size. I held him in a towel as I lowered him into the carrier and shut the door. His whimpers turned to terrible screams, and an old lady who lives downstairs came running. I think she thought I was in the process of killing a child.

“It’s my cat,” I told her.

Her chest heaved, “Oh, there, there,” she cooed at Sam. “It’s okay.”

IMG_1519Sam got a clean bill of health and even—dare I say—enjoyed sitting on the scale (he lost a half-pound since last year, to the delight of Dr. Parker), despite his persistent crying jags. Our cat sitter, who works at the vet clinic, tried to soothe Sam with petting, but he was inconsolable.

“I know, I know,” Dr. Parker said softly to Sam, examining him gently. “You have such a hard life.”

Sam whimpered in agreement.

After it was all over and Sam was back in the carrier, and I took him to the reception area to pay the bill, a familiar stench permeated the air: in his upset, Sam had lost all bladder and bowel control.

IMG_1606When we finally arrived back home, Sam scrambled out of the carrier (Hannah was still under the bed, probably worried she was next) and, after cleaning the carrier and putting it away, I sat down on the couch, let out a breath, and closed my eyes, trying to still the vibrations in my mind. All that screaming had activated my PTSD.

Sam quickly forgave me, of course. It was dinnertime, after all. And soon enough, he and Hannah were on the couch, sleeping soundly.

 TLS

Does your cat or dog enjoy seeing the vet? Share your stories and comments below.

In Remembrance

IMG_1506Ever turn to your pets for comfort? *Raising my hand*. It’s funny how Hannah and Sam behave differently when I’m sad. Hannah, who’s gotten into the habit of whining insistently for me to pet her every minute I am home, instead sits quietly next to me, calm and purring. Every so often, she turns her cheek and wipes the tears from my wrist. Sam sits in the doorway like a guard, looking on, until I quit the tissue box. Then he starts meowing and goofing off to make me laugh.

It’s Labor Day. Two years ago, my mother died on Labor Day, though that year the holiday fell on September 5, so I’m uncertain whether or not to mark the anniversary today or later this week on this year’s 9/5. It’s all still a blur to me. Perhaps next year I’ll feel differently.

My mother and me, with a stray cat, 1977.

My mother and me, with a stray cat, 1977.

We must remember where we’ve been to appreciate where we are now, to look forward to where we are going. I’d like to re-post this blog’s story from that day, in remembrance. Much has changed since my mother’s passing. For one thing, Hannah, Sam and I no longer live in the garret (thank heavens!). Good neighbors and friends abound. Today, I am not standing in an ICU in a hospital in New York, holding my mother’s hand, watching her go. I am in Harvard Square, writing this post, finishing up a book manuscript, preparing for a new teaching semester.

Today, we may mark the end of summer, but I feel the beginning of something new and affirming. Despite today’s rain, hope is in the air.

 TLS

Writer’s Note: My essay, “Why We Write: A Topic Too Risky,” about writing on trauma, appears in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. The piece is only available in print, but you can find an online snippet here.

Sam's new cat bed design: the canopy.

Sam’s new cat bed design: the canopy.

During these lazy days of August, Sam has been busy designing a new kind of cat bed: the Cat Canopy. It’s quite inexpensive — simply find a usable curtain. Nothing else is required. There is absolutely no cost to humans.

I think Sam was watching The Sound of Music when he acquired the idea to use the curtains — if Fraulein Maria could find such a creative and useful purpose for them, so could Sam. When I first saw him under his new Cat Canopy bed, however, I went over to investigate, concerned that he was hiding. I soon realized he wasn’t frightened of anything; he was just relaxing.

“Sammy?” I said, peeking underneath the blue fabric.

The "wrap-around": there is a cat in there.

The “wrap-around”: there is a cat in there.

“Mnn?” Sam responded contently, then took a deep breath and went back to sleep.

The Cat Canopy is quite versatile and can be adjusted to fit a cat’s mood, from the “umbrella” to the “wrap-around.” However, some cats — such as Hannah, for example — feel they are too refined for this type of cat bed. Those cats prefer the couch, or the bed.

 -TLS

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1173738_10151534035380906_200440028_nWhere do your pets like to sleep? Share your stories and comments in the comment box below! 

Hannah prefers the couch.

Hannah prefers the couch.

Hannah & Sam greet our resident lady bug.

Hannah & Sam greet our resident lady bug.

Summer has been flying by…I just returned from the Tin House Writers Workshop in Portland, Oregon, where I was in a memoir workshop led by the author Cheryl Strayed. I left Hannah and Sam in the care of a wonderful cat sitter, a woman who works at the vet clinic. It was the hottest, most humid week of the year here in Boston, but Hannah and Sam did well in my absence. Sam actually made friends with the cat sitter, emerging from his hiding spot under the bed to rub up against her legs and meow a few hellos. Hannah took everything in stride, but this was another first for Sam.

It’s been a summer of new beginnings. Can’t wait to see what August brings.

 -TLS

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Hannah and Sam, on the new couch in our new "spartment."

Hannah and Sam, on the new couch in our new “spartment.”

Greetings from our new digs! It’s been one week since Hannah, Sam, and I moved out of the garret and into what a friend termed “the spartment,” a word that comes from the merging of “spa” and “apartment.” Why? Because after living in the substandard garret for four years, the spartment, a spacious one-bedroom apartment with its full-sized refrigerator, up-to-code electricity, high ceilings, and many windows, it feels like we’re living in a spa.

The move itself wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. Sure, I had to get after the city traffic and parking office since they forgot to post my moving truck parking permit signs in one location, and then I had to call the police to tow a car parked in the other location. But the movers got us out of the garret and into the spartment in two-and-a-half hours. As for Hannah and Sam, I kept them in the garret bathroom at first, turning it into a virtual playroom. I sprayed the carriers

Garret bathroom, as Hannah & Sam hideaway, on move day

Garret bathroom, as Hannah & Sam hideaway, on move day

with Feliway and gave Sam some Rescue Remedy. Although in my “test trials” of the stuff neither had any effect, perhaps using them is why, to my surprise, I was able to place both cats in their respective carriers without struggle. However, then the wailing began…mostly from Sam.

At the spartment, once the movers were gone, Hannah was the first to venture out. Within a matter of minutes, she was in love with the place, as seen by her enamored look on the new couch (a couch!), a piece of furniture we have not had in years. Sam, on the other hand, stayed in the carrier, whimpering, for hours. I sat beside him every half hour or so to pet him and feed him treats, but he would not be consoled. After all, the garret was the only home he’d ever known (Hannah, on the other hand, had already moved with me twice before). Eventually, I picked up Sam, taking him out of the carrier, and brought him from room to room, showing him the food and water bowls in

Hannah & Sam, upon arrival at the "spartment."

Hannah & Sam, upon arrival at the “spartment.”

the kitchen, underneath a lovely windowsill where birds were congregating; the living room with the garret cat tree; the bedroom with the familiar bedspread comforter; and back to the bathroom, with the litter box.

Sam decided then he’d camp out under my bed for the next twenty-four hours. Hannah cried for part of that first night, but for the most part she relaxed like I haven’t seen her relax in years.

Finally, the next evening, at dinner time, Sam came out. He spent part of the evening perched on the windowsill in the kitchen, quickly running back under the bed when he saw I saw him enjoying himself – he wasn’t going to forgive me too quickly for taking him out of his garret.

Hannah is in love with the spartment couch.

Hannah is in love with the spartment couch.

Now, just as the thick air of summer has arrived, the cats and I are beginning to settle in to our new home. There are still some rules to work out – the other night I caught Hannah leaping onto the couch arm and then proceeding to use it as a scratching post, despite the four real scratching posts in the place – and Sam is still a bit disoriented, occasionally missing the window sill when he leaps up (the garret windows were much lower) or slipping and tumbling on the hardwood floors (he’s only had carpet), and scaring himself silly. But those small bumps aside, I can say with great confidence that we are happy.

– TLS

Sam finally came out from hiding the evening of our second day, looking to Hannah to show him the way.

Sam finally came out from hiding the evening of our second day, looking to Hannah to show him the way.

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Hannah loves every inch of the spartment.

Hannah loves every inch of the spartment.

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Sam’s favorite spot is the kitchen window.

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*Writer’s note: Look for my essay, “A Topic Too Risky,” appearing in the Sept/Oct issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, arriving on newsstands in mid-August!cs-gy-88x31-4