Posts Tagged ‘integrating pets’

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.


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.


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wrappedaroundtheradiatorWhen I last blogged, Hannah and Sam had come together. Unfortunately, in the days that followed, all that went to pieces. Sam began to get aggressive with Hannah several times a day, and they started fighting a lot, so that I actually consulted with an animal behavioral expert at the Animal Rescue League of Boston where I volunteer. Although I help answer calls that come in to the behavioral helpline, now I was the one in need of advice.

And I got some great instructions on separation and rewards, which I put into place. But what turned out to be the real culprit was a physical issue: feline constipation. For the past year or so, Hannah has been the one with that notorious problem so it took me a long while, through a process of elimination (pun not intended but it does seem to apply here!), to figure out that it wasn’t Hannah but Sam, who, quite the contrary, has always had a reputation for stink-bombing the garret with his litter box deposits.

DSCN0987I began to notice Sam crying intermittently before using the litter box, but it wasn’t unusual for him to cry for attention when I wasn’t in the same room, so at first I’d passed it off as nothing. But the tiny slivers of stool continued to diminish in size and got lost in the piles of litter amidst the regular-sized Metamucil-induced poop, so I began to give Sam a dose of Hannah’s daily teaspoon of fiber, then discontinued his portion after a couple of days, in order to track whose poop was whose. And it turned out to be Sam. At times I question my own anxiety due to having PTSD; I ask myself “is this a real problem, or am I making a big deal out of nothing?” But still I worried about Sam.

It wasn’t nothing. In fact, it may be a medical issue – when I talked with the vet (oh the joys of discussing the size, shape and consistency of feline poop at length, along with the signs and symptoms of feline penile blockage), he said it’s unusual for a two year old cat to have constipation, so I’m giving Sam a half teaspoon of Metamucil daily for the next two weeks. If the situation doesn’t clear up, I’ll need to bring him in for an exam, a trip I know Sam desperately wants to avoid. For now, however, the Metamucil seems to be doing some good. There is more poop in the litter box, and more in the garret than ever. I’ve been finding poop in the hallway and on the carpet. At least Hannah and Sam have been getting along better.

IMG_0878On an altogether different note, Wordpress has sent me this blog’s “Year in Review,” in part: “600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.” For whatever that’s worth….

In 2012, readers viewed this blog from 44 countries. The most popular post was (embarrassingly for me) “Cats & My Coccyx“!

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2013, and thanks for your continued readership throughout the year!



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Hannah’s little brother, Sam.

As Hannah’s little brother Sam approaches his 2nd birthday, he continues to do his mission work in the garret household, helping Hannah to heal from her previous trauma (the latest: he’s trying to teach her how to cuddle), and reminding me to laugh, every day. Today he was profiled in The Fluffington Post. Click here to see our Sam.

A little over a week ago, I had to go to New York for my late mother‘s memorial service. I left Hannah and Sam alone overnight with two automatic timed feeders. The evening before my trip, I set the feeder timers so that I could test them both to see if they would deliver food at the appropriate times and amounts of Hannah’s and Sam’s twice daily meals.

When the clock struck “food time,” the feeders made a whirring sound before spitting out kibble into the bowls. At first, Hannah and Sam ran for dear life. But then they became intrigued: food. I’d heard from friends that setting the amount of food to be dispensed from the feeders could be tricky, and it was. Hannah’s hypoallergenic kibble, which Sam also eats by default, is larger than the recommended feeder size. So I set the timer to deliver a larger amount to make up for the deficiency in output. It worked fine overnight. However, in the morning, just before I was to leave, I walked by one of the feeders and it suddenly dumped an extra quarter cup of kibble into its bowl.

Hannah is a grazer by nature while Sam eats anything available; this is the reason why I originally had to initiate timed feedings, to control Sam’s weight. This meant sneaking Hannah food behind Sam’s back, since she wouldn’t eat her meal in one sitting. As I looked at the timed feeders releasing more food against my orders, I let it go. It would be twenty-four hours, I told myself, and Sam would be well-fed and Hannah would need to learn to be there to eat, ready or not. (When I returned from my trip, it seemed all was well.)

Meanwhile, I think Sam’s stardom has gone to his head. He won’t stop gazing at himself in the mirror.


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Last week, I bought my first legal weapon: a cat pill gun. I grew tired of chasing Hannah around with the food bowl, in which I’d crushed up her medication, which she refused to eat. Sam, of course, would eat her medicine whole if I let him (he’ll eat anything, including carpet). So, I went to the vet for a lesson on cat-pilling.

Hannah almost bit off the vet tech’s fingers that tried to open her mouth the old-fashioned way, so the pill gun was going to be my only option. Of course, the vet tech said she preferred to call it a “pill popper,” but I think that makes the cat sound like a drug addict.

Hannah & Sam

Without a significant other to help me hold Hannah down in the garret, I had to learn how to use my own two hands. As instructed, I first loaded the gun with the pill, coating it slightly with some wet food (to make it go down more easily). Then, placing it within reach, I wrapped Hannah in a thick bath towel, in the fashion of a strait-jacket, lowered her hind legs into my lap, clasping her between my knees, her back facing me. From the front (for a moment, I bent forward to check on her), she looked almost comfortable, actually, like a swaddled baby. She appeared mildly amused. Then, I used my non-dominant hand to hold the back of her neck, and pulled slightly so her nose tilted towards the ceiling. Finally, using my dominant hand, I stuck the end of the pill gun into the side of her mouth, which caused her to reflexively open, at which point I aimed, and pressed the plunger: the pill flew down her throat. After that, it was kitty reward time: dinner.

I’m shocked to say it’s been five days now of successful pill gunning. I’m hoping this medicine will help with Hannah’s liver inflammation, which has become a concern. However the good news is, with “medicine time” now shortened from two hours to two minutes, the stress level has gone down tremendously…. though I keep waiting to find a stash of pills hidden somewhere in the garret.


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Hannah (right) & Sam (left), with the garret portable radiator

Do you ever wonder what your pets do, exactly, when you’re not home? Do they sleep? Play? Destroy things? Read the books you’ve neatly stacked on the shelves? Recently, I was away from the garret at a nine-day writer’s residency at Lesley University. I returned most nights to find Hannah and Sam lingering in the hallway, between the door and the living room, looking stressed, meowing “hello!” and, more importantly, “where’s dinner?”

Hannah, who is more independent than her little brother, methodically took in the scents of my day, sniffing at my clothes and hands as if to decode where exactly I had been and with whom. She looked into my eyes and snorted quietly and pleasurably when I rubbed her forehead with my thumb.

Sam, however, ran into the bedroom and hid there, as if I were an imposter, until I opened a can of wet food in the kitchenette. Then he was by my side, meow-meowing incessantly and making gurgle noises in his throat while he circled my feet, bumping his body into my calves, until I finally put the dish down in front of him. When it was my turn to eat, Hannah warmed herself by the portable radiator and Sam tumbled over onto his back before me, showing his belly, purring from deep within.

Hannah stole Sam's laundry basket perch

Although I did come home nightly, Hannah and Sam both showed signs of stress during my absence. One day I arrived home to find the foot-tall cat condo had been half-demolished by Sam, who has a carpet fetish: individual pieces of carpet had been plucked off the sides and top and deposited in a pile on the floor. I hoped he hadn’t ingested any.

When I sat down to give both cats my undivided attention, neither wanted to be second, and Sam pawed and nipped at Hannah whenever she came close. Hannah, on the other hand, became aggressive in her need for affection. She practically toppled me over as she rubbed her whole head around my knees and pushed in. She even (gasp!) attempted to sit on my lap, something she has never done, then decided that curling up right in front of me with her head propped on my thigh was a safer bet. Around the food bowl, she displayed great hesitation. I frequently had to pick her up, holding her close as I carried her back to the bowl, encouraging her to eat. Secretly, I think she wanted the extra physical touch.


Hannah stole Sam’s perch atop the laundry basket. Then, Sam began to sit on my lap, something he has not done since he was four months old. He alternated between my lap, and sitting on top of my feet, as if to make me stay put, the vibration of his purring warming my toes.


What is it like for you, and your pets, when you are at work all day or away on vacation? Share your experiences below!

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It’s been a while since my last update. Dealing with my mother’s death (“Hannah & My Mother“), along with getting used to my new post as liberal arts faculty at the New England Conservatory, has made my days very busy and stressful. I have felt as if I have been walking around in a fog. Hannah and Sam have been my grounding spirits.

Take the other day, for example. Entrenched in managing my mother’s affairs, I suddenly became aware of a ruckus occurring behind my back: Hannah and Sam were jointly hunting a rather large fly.

Hannah & Sam Hunt Mr. Fly

Together, they took turns attempting to catch it – bam! Finally Hannah’s quick paw struck Mr. Fly dead.  She shuffled the corpse close to my bedroom doorway, then began to eat her catch. As the good sibling she is, she shared half of the delicacy with her brother Sam, who enjoyed his portion immensely. Satisfied, they both licked their lips and went to sleep. I thought about reciting Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died,” but instead I simply decided it was time to call it a night. I got into bed, glad I would not have a fly buzzing in my ear.

Last weekend, while penning the final chapter of the book, as I was in the middle of deep concentration, I heard another ruckus occurring, this time at the garret’s back window. When I went to investigate, I saw, looking in through the garret’s precarious balcony window, a raccoon-colored cat, wide-eyed and insistent. She was hissing ferociously at Hannah, who crouched low. Sam sat atop the laundry basket, watching the scene unfold. Instinct took over my intellect and (I admit with chagrin) I hissed back. Nothing. I got the spray bottle. Gone. For a short while, anyway.

Hannah & Sam, Post-Cat On A Garret Roof

Because my mother used to tell me that, if she died, she’d like to come back as a cat, and because I have never once seen a cat on the balcony in the two years I’ve lived in the garret, at first the sight of those wide yellow feline eyes brought on sheer shock. But then, peering out the window, I saw the balcony next door was shrouded in a veil-like flimsy net, which had a wedge of clear tape hanging off the edge, flapping in the wind. Apparently my neighbor thought her cat would like to go outside, three flights up (and did not anticipate the cat would want to wander off the lone two-by-two balcony grate?). How did I find this out? I tried to ring my neighbor but there was no working doorbell. I left a note, but there was no answer. However, late at night, the main fire alarm in the house went off, and my neighbor emerged in a panic. Of course that’s more than my landlord did (see “Mr. Fix-It“). But that’s another story for another time…


Writer’s Note: I’m pleased to announce that my short memoir piece “The Drive,” has just been published in South Loop Review, available at your local bookstore. Also, my short-short piece, “Cashier,” is currently appearing as part of Drunken Boat‘s Nonfiction Portraits issue (click here).

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Last Sunday afternoon, I was volunteering at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, trying to coax a frightened cat out from under his bed, where he had burrowed himself inside his shelter cage, when I received the call: my mother was dying.

My friend Stephanie met me at the garret. She would take care of Hannah and Sam during my absence. I’d left my spare keys with another friend, who was out of town, and so I, for the first time, thanked the garret for being itself: located around the block from a shopping center, where I was able to get a second key copy made in a matter of minutes.

As I stood in front of my opened bureau drawer and threw my clothes into a bag, Sam sat quietly on the floor, looking up at me, watching me calmly, without a blink. Hannah nudged her forehead into Stephanie’s hand, letting me know with her engaging – as opposed to isolating – gesture that she would be okay in my absence: go, go.

I embarked on the four-hour drive to the hospital, becoming impatient with the thick traffic that congested the toll booth connecting I-90 and I-84: go, go, I said half-aloud, gritting my teeth, trying to will the cars to move out of my way. Strangely, I felt my mother’s presence: “You don’t have to rush,” I thought I heard her whispering in my ear, “I’m already gone.” The next moment, from my car radio, my mother’s favorite singer, Barry Manilow, began to sing “I Write the Songs.” (When was the last time anyone heard Barry Manilow on mainstream radio? It’s been at least fifteen years for me.) As I looked through the windshield, I saw above, in the sky, the clouds were like closed eyelids, the lashes spilling streaks of light.

My mother, who was once a practicing writer, was an avid reader of the Hannah Grace blog. She particularly enjoyed the photos. Because she was a very private person, I never publicly mentioned her battle with ovarian cancer over the past year, but I did write of it (“The Interlo-cat-or“). Sam was actually born at the time she was originally diagnosed.

A week before my mother passed, the day before Hurricane Irene ravaged the East Coast, I visited my mother at her condo. We talked a great deal, and we watched some Hannah and Sam videos. She was particularly enamored with Sam’s zest for life, and she pointed out, with a touch of motherly compassion (‘cat’passion?), Hannah’s continued cautiousness, watching it lead into moments of contentment.

When I first adopted Hannah, my mother tried to dissuade me. She was afraid that I would get attached to another being, and suffer the pain one feels when you love and lose. When Hannah almost died from severe pancreatitis in 2009, and I was ashamed of my devastation at the possibility of having to put Hannah down, my mother said, “No, she’s not just a pet. She’s this sweet being. She’s Hannah.”

After Hannah survived, every year for Hanukkah, I gave my mother a “Hannah” wall calendar, filled with photos, which she spoke of with the turn of each month. Although my relationship with my mother was complicated, she was an avid supporter of Hannah Grace, the book, and encouraged me to turn my idea into a reality.

A photograph in one of my childhood albums pictures my mother in bell-bottom blue jeans placing a stray cat in my arms as we stand beside a wooded area. In it, I am four years old. Although unable to recollect where we were or why, I remember the moment, how the cat had approached us, how my mother picked her up, encouraged my interest in this animal, fed my wish for love.

My mother often referred to herself as “a creature of comfort,” just like a cat. Like the feline, my mother became very unsettled whenever her routine was interrupted. She frequently mentioned she would like to “come back as a cat.” When I was a teenager, after my grandmother died, a gray Egyptian-type cat periodically appeared in our backyard, meeting my mother’s eyes. My mother thought it might be her mother, visiting. “Grandma had those cat eyes,” she said.

The day after my mother’s funeral, when I arrived back home to the garret and ascended the steep staircase, when I opened the door, Hannah meowed to me from the living room. I had heard from Stephanie that she had been quite the social butterfly while I was away, allowing Stephanie to pet her (unheard of!), while Sam took up Hannah’s former stance in the presence of strangers in my absence: hiding under the bed, and then staying far away from me upon my return. This time, Sam instantly appeared in my bedroom doorway, and looked at me directly.

“Meow,” he said simply, then led me into the living room, where Hannah was waiting.


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