What Not to Say to Someone Who Is Grieving The Loss of a Pet

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As a society, we are not equipped to handle grief and loss, and many people don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving.  This can be compounded when the loss is that of a pet.  Even people who are genuinely sorry and want to express their sympathy often don’t know what to say to comfort the grieving person.

It is difficult to know what to say, and as a result, people often, without meaning to, say the wrong things that, rather than providing comfort, only serve to upset the grieving person even more.   Sometimes, the best thing to say is to simply acknowledge the loss – because the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is to not say anything at all.   As I’m dealing with my own grief about Amber, I’m once again reminded of how much some of the things people say hurt, even though they’re offered with the best intentions.Continue Reading

Allegra’s World: Amber is Gone

A lot of things have changed around here since I last got to write on here.  It’s been very confusing.  I’m just a kitten, and I’m not sure I understand it all.  I knew my sister Amber wasn’t feeling well.  The way I knew that was that she didn’t hiss and growl at me when I harassed her.  Mom said to leave her alone, but I kept trying – I just wanted her to play with me!   I thought she’d feel better for sure if she would just play with me!

Then one morning, Mom put Amber in a carrier, and took her away.  Mom was gone all day, too, and when she finally came home that evening, Amber wasn’t with her, and Mom was really upset.    I didn’t understand why Amber didn’t come back with her.  Mom said something about Amber being very sick, and having to be in the hospital so she could get better.  I didn’t really understand what any of that meant, I just knew Mom was upset, and I wanted her to be happy.  So I did the best I could to amuse her, doing my usual kitten things, and that night, I stayed in bed with her all night long for the first time.  I think she liked that.

Amber didn’t come back the next day and the next, and I got used to having Mom to myself.  I actually kind of liked it.  Even though it was a little boring not having Amber here to taunt and harass, it was nice to have Mom’s undivided attention.  I showed Mom that I liked it by purring for her, and rolling around on the floor so she’d pet me.  I could tell that it pleased Mom when I did that, for those moments, it seemed like she felt a little better.  But I could tell that most of the time, she was really worried  and scared.  I wish she’d explained more to me what was going on, but I guess it was just too hard for her.  I just tried to be my normal kitten self, and tried to make her smile.

Then Amber finally came home. I was excited!  But something wasn’t right.  Amber wasn’t in a carrier, Mom was just carrying her in a blanket.  I thought Mom would be happy to have Amber home, but she seemed really sad.  I may just be a kitten, but I do pick up on Mom’s energy.  Amber walked around the house a bit, and when she got close enough to me so I could catch a whiff of her scent, I couldn’t believe my nose.  Pew, did she stink!    She didn’t smell like the Amber I remembered!  She had a really weird smell, like she’d been to a place where bad things happen to kitties.  I hissed and growled at her.  That upset Mom so badly that she put me in a separate room with my toys, litter box and water bowl.  I didn’t understand at all.  I hadn’t done anything wrong!  But it was okay, the room had big windows and I spent my time in there watching the birds and squirrels outside.   Even though I’m just a kitten, I knew something was really wrong, or else Mom wouldn’t have locked me away, and so I made the most of it.

When Mom let me out of the room a couple of hours later, Amber was just lying on the loveseat and not moving at all, not even when I bopped her on the head.  Mom was crying.  She said something about Amber being gone, but I didn’t understand what that meant.  I’m just a kitten.  All I knew was that Mom was really really sad, and I hated that.  The next day, Amber disappeared again.  She hasn’t come back, and Mom has been sad ever since.

I guess it’s up to me now to take care of Mom.  That’s a pretty big job for a kitten who still needs to be taken care of herself, but I think I’m up for it.  I’m managing to coax smiles out of her every once in a while.  I like it when Mom smiles!  I’ve heard her say to someone that I’ve become “much more affectionate” since Amber left.  I don’t really know what that means, all I know is that I’m starting to get more comfortable in my new home, and around my Mom, and it’s easier for me to let her pet me for longer periods of time, and to sleep with her in bed all night long.  I think she likes that.

One thing I really love is all the different names Mom has for me.  She calls me Allie, Allegrina, Legra-Girl, Leggy and more.  One name she calls me a lot is “Allegrano.”  Her voice always gets louder than normal when she calls me that.  Whenever she calls me all the other names, she sounds really sweet and loving.  I’m a pretty smart kitten, and I don’t think it’s a good thing when she calls me “Allegrano” in that tone of voice.  It makes no sense to me, though.  I really don’t understand why it’s not okay for me to eat stuff off of Mom’s plate, or to bite her hand when I’ve had enough of her petting me, or to attack her ankles when she walks down the hall.  I’m just being a kitten – those things are fun!  But I’m trying to learn – I want to make Mom happy.  And she’s a really cool Mom – she plays lots of games with me!

Anyway – that’s what’s happening in my world and….oh – sorry, gotta go.  Big squirrel sitting on the deck outside.  BIG squirrel.  Really  huge.  Wow!  I could take him!!!  I know I could!

Virulent Systemic Feline Calicivirus

Guest Post by Dr. Fern Crist

Virulent Systemic Feline Calicivirus – What Do We Really Know?

When Ingrid called me to tell me that Amber was making occasional odd gagging noises as if something was stuck in her throat, but that she seemed fine otherwise, I was certainly not expecting Amber to die within ten days.

Two days later, Ingrid told me Amber’s appetite was decreased, and she was throwing up a little bit, gagging a little more but still seemed generally fine.  My brain went on yellow alert, but not red.  After all, Amber was still eating and keeping nearly all of it down.  Her abdomen was not painful.  Most such events resolve on their own, and since Amber gets very stressed with hospital visits, the benefits of getting her checked out had to be weighed against the stress of the hospital visit.  It seemed wiser to “just watch” for a little longer.

Non-specific symptoms

But after a few more days of “she’s not worse but she’s not better either,” I hit my limit of “let’s keep an eye on it,” so into the hospital we went.

I didn’t think of calicivirus right away when I first examined her.  I could hear that her airway was narrowed at some point in her throat, and like Ingrid, I thought she might have a foreign body stuck there.  Cats will sometimes vomit a little if they cough hard enough, so the occasional little “urp” didn’t concern me too much at the time.  She had no fever, and her labwork and x-rays showed nothing significant.  We decided to look down her throat and hope we could pull out an offending object.

It wasn’t until I saw her larynx that I first thought, fleetingly, of calici.  The edges of her larynx were very swollen and her air passage narrowed at that point.  We passed tubes down her trachea and esophagus anyway to be sure, and found no foreign body.  The only real finding we had was laryngeal edema (swelling around the larynx), which can be caused by allergic reactions, many viruses, and a host of other things.  Laryngeal edema is quite often a transient problem in the cat, for which a cause is never identified, but in nearly all cases the cats recover as long as the edema is treated.  We treat strenuous breathing when present because it can lead to the potentially fatal development of lung edema.  So we gave her steroids and fluids, the standard approach for acute laryngitis.  Having seen such cases before, I fully expected her to be much better the next day.

When she wasn’t, I began to seriously consider other possibilities.  And here’s where the calici comes in.

Felin calicivirus (FCV)

Feline calicivirus (FCV) is an important and largely preventable respiratory disease in cats.  It is included in what we consider the “core” vaccination protocol for every cat.  If you’ve ever seen the inside of the mouth of a cat with regular old calici, you’ll understand why.  It’s nasty, very difficult to treat, and some cats are even euthanized because of the terrible pain it causes them.  And that’s the “good” calicivirus.

Calicivirus is an RNA virus (a virus that has ribonucleic acid as its genetic material).  RNA viruses can mutate (change) easily, which means that new strains pop up from time to time.  It likes to set up shop in cat mouths and noses, and is then passed on through pretty much any body fluid.  Calici does not die quickly when exposed to air, so it can be transmitted by such normal actions as petting one cat and then petting another.  Virus shedding is common in cats with no symptoms at all.  Cats with symptoms can have any combination of fever, conjunctivitis, ulcerations in the mouth, sneezing and snotting, and often feel totally miserable.  Some cats will develop inflammation in the joints, kidneys, or other organs.  This creates a variability of symptoms that makes diagnosis tough, and again, this is for the “good” calicivirus.

Virulent feline calicivirus

In 1998, a particularly nasty strain of calicivirus was described in California.  There have been a number of similar occurrences since, which appear to be arising independently.  What this implies about the mutating ability of the calici virus is just plain scary.  These hot strains have been designated “Virulent Systemic Feline Calici Virus” (VS-FCV), although it is misleading to give them all one name, since each is probably a new and different mutation of the virus.  They do have characteristics in common, however.  Their mortality rate is much higher than that of the usual variety, reported to be as high as 67%.  Most of the affected cats are obviously very sick.  Many develop swelling (edema) in the legs and face, because inflammation of the vessels allows circulatory fluids to escape.  Major organs can be hit hard, including the lungs, pancreas, liver, and GI tract.  Often multiple organs fail, leading to death.  Adult cats are typically hit harder than kittens.

To date, there have been fewer than 20 documented outbreaks that I am aware of.  These occurred in California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, and the United Kingdom.  They have been verified by genetic analysis, possible because these mutants are genetically different from the garden-variety calici.  In each case, the outbreak was contained and over quickly.  And to date, there have been no outbreaks reported in Virginia.  But here’s the problem: we really don’t know how many times this has happened.  We wouldn’t, because the less dramatic cases would not get the attention and research that the horrendous outbreaks have.  Most likely, a lesser problem would be treated symptomatically and never diagnosed.  Cats get sick every day with diseases that we never identify.  Most of them just get better; but some of them die.  Unless there are many victims who are simultaneously very ill, a mutant viral event probably will not be recognized for what it is.

Since a successful parasite does not kill its host, it is nearly inevitable that eventually, a less virulent form of “virulent calicivirus” will appear.  And being less fatal, it will be much harder to spot.  A quieter calici mutation might not resemble the popularly reported VS-FCV strain as much as we’d expect.  An affected cat might, for instance, have only one or two organ systems affected enough to be a problem, and may or may not have swelling of the face and limbs, and may or may not have oral ulcers.  After all, the definition of a mutation is that is different.

Could early diagnosis have made a difference?

With Amber, the unusual combination of laryngeal edema with pancreatic or GI dysfunction is what led me to ask whether calici might be the culprit.  Initially, there was no edema or fever, but we eventually saw both.  We had multiple organ failure, including cardiac; we had effusion in the chest and abdomen; evidence of pancreatic involvement; and we found no other explanation. Amber had a positive PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test for calici, but that does not necessarily mean that calici caused her disease process.  We did not do a genetic analysis.  It might have been just an ordinary calicivirus which had nothing to do with her disease.  We’ll never know for sure.

Had I considered calici sooner, could I have done more to help her?  I believe the answer is definitively yes.  There are antiviral drugs purported to help in these cases; I might have used those.  I might have hospitalized her earlier in the process, and maybe kept her from going past the point of no return with drugs to suppress immune-mediated damage.  Monitoring in the hospital would have allowed faster intervention as different systems were affected.  Her surprise development — a hidden heart condition which had never shown up on Amber’s regular bi-annual check ups, but was revealed by the combination of disease, steroids and fluid therapy — would have been detected earlier and managed better.  She might have survived, and she might not have.  But she would, perhaps, have had a better chance.

Ingrid asked me to write this article in hopes that we can help make cat owners and veterinarians alike more aware that mutant caliciviruses are capable of creating disease scenarios such as Amber’s, and that this may be more common than we realize.  Mutant caliciviruses don’t have to be the total train-wrecks reported in the news.  Having the possibility of calici in our heads earlier in the process may save some lives.

This is not an alarm call, and it is not intended to inspire fear.  You should not lock yourself in your house, nor avoid the vet, or anywhere else where another cat might be found.  You should not give up adopting kittens.  Diseases will continue to appear, as they have throughout history, and though most never affect most cats, some cats will get sick, and in rare cases, the outcome will be devastating.

But if you see symptoms similar to Amber’s, perhaps this story will encourage you to wonder whether it could possibly be a case of a more-than-commonly virulent strain of calicivirus.  If the answer is yes and you intervene early, your cat may have a better chance than Amber did.

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PS:
I should mention that there is a vaccine available labeled for protection against the virulent calicivirus.  This vaccine was developed from one of the mutant strains; however, since each mutation arises independently, there is no way to know if it would be protective against any new mutation.  It is a killed vaccine, requiring the use of an adjuvant, which we think may play a role in the rise of injection site tumors; and it is a new product, so time has not yet shown if there may be other risks with it.  We don’t even really know how prevalent virulent strains are at this time.  So – would I vaccinate my cat against VS-FCV?  Absolutely not. In my mind, the risk of vaccinating with a product as new as this, with such questionable efficacy, far outweighs any benefit likely to accrue.

Amber’s Last Two Weeks

This past week of tributes to Amber, and all the love, support, kind words and cyber hugs you’ve offered through your comments and notes, have provided great comfort for me during this difficult time.  Thank you, all of you, from the bottom of my heart.

Throughout this past week, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about exactly what happened to Amber.  Even though it’s difficult to write about it, I’m hoping that by sharing the sequence of events of her disease process, I may help other cats who may present with the same, or similar symptoms.  I am not a vet, and I’m writing this from my vantage point of being Amber’s mom – a mom who is still grieving.  Dr. Fern Crist has promised me an article on the calici virus which we think caused Amber’s illness.  It will run here on The Conscious Cat in the next few days, again, in hopes that it may raise awareness about this virus.

I’ve also gotten a lot of questions about whether I need to worry about Allegra getting sick, too.  While there are, of course, no guarantees, the answer is almost definitely no.  The most likely scenario is that Allegra might actually have been the carrier of the virus – chances are that she had a mild form of the disease when she was younger (her medical history is a bit sketchy, and she was also over-vaccinated, so who knows), got over it, and is now immune, but was or is still shedding the virus.

On Sunday, May 2, Amber was stilll fine.  She was starting to get to know her new little sister, who, at that point, had been with us for almost a month.  She had a full breakfast, and spent the day doing all her normal, happy Amber things – napping in the sunny spots, looking out the window, cuddling with me while I was reading.  When I offered her dinner that evening, she didn’t seem very hungry, but ate about half of her meal.  Later that evening, I noticed her making some gagging noises – as if something was stuck in her throat perhaps.  She was breathing fine, and she even purred for me, so I thought maybe some hair had gotten lodged in her trachea, and that she was eventually going to be able to clear it herself.  We went to bed that night, with Amber curled up in my arms, as she had been almost every night since she came to live with me on July 29, 2000.

Unfortunately, the gagging didn’t stop overnight.  She ate a few bites of her breakfast Monday morning, and then went to one of her favorite napping spots for her morning nap.  I called Fern to run these odd symptoms by her, and we both agreed that I would just continue to keep an eye on Amber.  If things got worse, Fern would come and take a look at her.  Things didn’t change much throughout the day, but the gagging got progressively worse throughout the night (why is it that anytime a pet gets sick, things always get worse overnight?).  I didn’t want to take her to the emergency vet.  I knew that her situation wasn’t life threatening, but I also knew that she was very uncomfortable.  To compound things, she also vomited a couple of times overnight.  By Tuesday morning, it became clear that she needed to be seen by a vet.  After examining her, running bloodwork and taking a series of x-rays, we still weren’t any closer to diagnosis.  Fern was hearing high-pitched sounds in the back of her throat, like her airway was constricted or partially blocked.  She also thought she saw some redness and swelling at the back of her throat, but without getting a closer look, there was no telling what was going on.  And in order to take a closer look, Amber needed to be sedated.  There’s always a risk with sedation, but the bigger risk seemed to be to not know what was going on, so I agreed.  The good news was that the exam revealed no tumors or foreign bodies, but her larynx was severely swollen, making it tough for her to breathe.  The treatment would require steroids and supportive fluids.  Normally, I’m not a fan of using steroids because of their longterm side effects, but in this case, something was needed to knock the inflammation down and make Amber more comfortable quickly, so again, I agreed.  Thankfully, I’m able to give injections and fluids myself, so she could come home with me.

She seemed to be feeling better on Wednesday, and I started breathing a bit easier.  Meanwhile, Fern had done some research on this odd presentation of symptoms, and thought this might be a variant of a particularly nasty strain of calici virus making its way through the cat community.  This calici virus was appearing in other cats that had similar symptoms:  laryngitis, followed by inflammation and swelling in other parts of the body, including pancreatitis.  The way to treat a virus like this is with supportive care.  We thought we were on the right track, and the virus just needed to run its course and work its way out of Amber’s system.

By Friday, she wasn’t any better.  Fern stopped by my house to take another look at her, and still didn’t see anything that would lead her to think that it was anything other than a virus.  We decided to see how Amber would do through the weekend with continued supportive care.

She had a quiet weekend, but she was clearly uncomfortable.  Every afternoon, she’d rally and have a brief period of renewed energy, which gave me hope that things were starting to turn around.  She’d walk around a bit, jump up on the back of the loveseat and look out the window, and then go back to resting comfortably on her favorite sunny spot on the sofa.

However, by Monday morning, it was clear that not only was she not getting better, she was getting worse.  That’s when we took her to the internal medicine department at the Hope Center for Advanced Veterinary Medicine.  Ultrasound and other examinations revealed that she had fluid in her chest and abdomen.  An echocardiogram showed that she was in congestive heart failure – an underlying heart condition we were not aware of complicated matters, and the steroids and fluids she had been given had pushed her heart too far.  She spent the next three and a half days in intensive care.  She was given intravenous fluids, concentrated nutrition through a nasogastric feeding tube, and antibiotics for a complicating bacterial infection.  Thankfully, I was able to visit her twice a day.  It was hard to see her so sick, but she responded to me each and every time I came to visit, and she even purred for me at times.   I tried to cling to the hope that she was going to get better.

Ultimately, the challenge of needing to treat her with aggressive fluid therapy without pushing her heart too far proved to be too much.  On Thursday morning, after she seemingly had a good night, she took a turn for the worse, and while there was more that could have been done, her prognosis was so poor that I decided to stop treatment and take her home.   Her wonderful doctor at the Hope Center agreed that this was the right decision.

Amber and I spent the next few hours together, just soaking up every last little bit of togetherness that we could.  For most of that time, she was curled up in my arms, in our favorite spot.  Fern would come later in the afternoon to help her make the final transition.

I was still having a hard time with my decision.  I knew the decision to stop treatment was the right one, given the circumstances.  I wasn’t so sure about my decision to euthanize that afternoon.  Perhaps there was still a chance she would get better on her own?  Miracles have been known to happen.  Maybe I could have one more night with her?  Fern told me that if I waited too long, fluid would continue to accummulate in her chest, and she’d die miserably, would, in effect, be drowning in her own fluids.  Of course I could not let that happen.  But Amber seemed so happy to be home, and she seemed comfortable.  She just didn’t seem that sick!  She walked around the house, as if reclaiming her space again, then settled on her favorite spot on the loveseat.  She seemed content.  She even purred for me!  When I went into the kitchen a little while after she came  home to open a can of food for Allegra, Amber jumped off the loveseat and walked into the kitchen, tail held high in the air.  I coudn’t believe my eyes.  I offered her some food, and she even sniffed at it, but then turned away from the dish.  Still, the fact that she was interested enough to come into the kitchen….  it seemed like a glimmer of hope.  A little bit later, a friend came over to say good bye.  She brought flowers for me.  I laid the flowers on the coffee table while my friend talked to Amber.  Amber jumped off the loveseat, then up on the coffee table, to inspect the flowers.  My friend and I were speechless.  How could she show this burst of energy when she was supposedly so sick?  Seeing her so interested in what was going on around her made it really difficult to believe that her body was being ravaged from the inside and that I needed to let her go.

However, as the afternoon progressed, her breathing became a little more labored.  She was still comfortable, though.  She climbed into my lap, and curled up for another nap.  She purred some more.  And yet, her breathing continued to worsen.  At around three o’ clock, I called Fern and asked her to come in a couple of hours.  Only two more hours left together.  My heart was breaking, and yet, at that point, I knew I had no choice.

I will always treasure those last two hours.  Gradually, I began to feel more at peace.  I got a sense from Amber that she, too, was at peace.  When Fern arrived, Amber was lying on my chest, sleeping lightly, and occasionally lifting her head to look into my eyes.  Since she still had her catheter from the hospital, we didn’t even need to disturb her.  Fern gave her the final injection, and Amber passed peacefully, looking into my eyes until the last moment.

A Tribute to Amber from The Boomer Muse

Guest Post by Layla Morgan Wilde

Cat Saturday – In Memoriam
This edition of Cat Saturday is dedicated to Amber, a beloved cat born on July 29, 1998 and died on May 13, 2010. Amber lived with her human mom, Ingrid King near Washington D.C. The beautiful and wise Amber graced our pages as a Cat of the Week #55. She will be deeply missed by her many fans at her blog Amber’s Mewsings at Ingrid’s website The Conscious Cat.

Photo quote de jour

There have been several kitty deaths in both my actual and virtual families in recent months. Every death feels like a sucker punch to the gut. Nothing can prepare for the moment when a beloved four-legged friend dies. This time, the death of Amber treads a little too close for comfort. With Coco and Domino’s health scare, I’m steeling myself for a kitty funeral in my own backyard. Maybe it won’t happen for months, maybe years. In the meantime, I savor every moment and can’t take enough photos of my three. Today, when happily shooting in the garden this morning, I had no idea, Amber was dead but is it possible my cats, through some psychic cell phone knew bad news was in the wind and posed accordingly.  Merlin posed by the peace sign. Those old blue eyes knew something.

Coco was especially meditative in the herb garden. She sends condolences of a heavenly sort.

Domino, Amber’s cyber-soul mate, her long-distance Romeo will have to wait to meet and marry his Juliet. Amber loved her “tough guy”. He’s used to danger and death, and but maybe his heart is little bigger having known love.
 
Link of the Week
Lightning-strike.com – a wonderful pet loss support resource.

Time with our beloved fur friends is fleeting.  Enjoy yours.

All photographs © Layla Morgan Wilde, used by permission.

Layla Morgan Wilde is a writer, photographer, and intuitive life coach.  She shares words and images designed to inspire and amuse on her blog, The Boomer Muse.

 

 

A Tribute to Amber from Catnip Connection

Guest Post by Linda Mohr

Today’s Catnip Connection is a tribute to Amber who passed away on May 13. She was Ingrid King’s inspiration for The Conscious Cat and as Ingrid described her “a gentle, loving cat with a wise old soul.”

The following There is a New Star Shining in the Sky Tonight was written by Sarah Hartwell. She released this essay into the public domain so that it may be freely distributed.

“There is an old belief that the stars shining in the night sky are the spirits of those who have died. They have shed their earthly bodies and exchanged them for bodies made of light; thousands upon thousands of our dear departed friends all promoted to glory in the night sky. There is another saying that the brightest flame burns the shortest.

My friend, you were the brightest star in my own universe. While I burn on, my flame dimmed by grief and despair at your passing, the stars are watching me. They are too far away for me to touch, just as you have gone somewhere I cannot follow until my own star-time comes. They cannot be held close for comfort, just as I can no longer hold you close, though I held you close to comfort you in your final hours. We were together for such a short time, but the stars will burn forever.

One day I will grow tired of this earthbound body, my own star-time will come and my spirit will soar into the sky to burn with all those friends who have gone before me. On the inky cloth of space we will be reunited in constellations of joy. Until then, my flame burns low and dim and cold without you. Through my tears I look upwards to see if you are watching me and what do I see?

There is a new star shining in the sky tonight.”

Peace and hope to my dear friend Ingrid.

Linda Mohr is the author of Tatianna – Tales and Teachings of My Feline Friend.   For more information about Linda, and her book, please visit her website and her blog.

Pretty Litter

A Tribute to Amber from The Creative Cat

Guest Post by Bernadette Kazmarski

It’s never welcome news when a friend’s cat is ill, especially when the friend is a skilled caregiver providing all the requirements for a healthy life. Logic or intuition, or both, may warn you that only the most virulent diseases could get through the defenses your friend has provided her cat, and the outcome may not be good. 

On May 13, our friend Ingrid King said goodbye to her precious Amber. Ingrid always described Amber as “a wise old soul in a feline body”, quiet, loving, gentle, purring constantly, providing comfort and support for her human mom though times of great change and other loss.

You could see Amber’s inner peace in any photo of her, always composed and calm. A tortoiseshell cat, Amber had the typically unique markings, and Ingrid found her name from the heart-shaped amber spot on the top of Amber’s head.

I’ve gotten to “know” Amber through reading her posts on Ingrid’s blog, The Conscious Cat, in Amber’s Mewsings, but I feel as if I just “met” Amber through reading Ingrid’s book, Buckley’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher. I really appreciated getting to know the loving and free-spirited Buckley who inspired Ingrid to change her career and then to write the book, but always in the background was Amber, quietly providing support and love, never questioning, always devoted to Ingrid. I’ve known cats like her, and aside from all the other lessons in the book I came away loving Amber very much.

A chronic illness can prepare you for a loss, but an acute disease, especially with non-specific symptoms, can send you and your veterinarian scrambling for answers, and the loss can be a shock. After noticing some non-specific symptoms about ten days ago she began treating Amber for laryngitis and coaxing her to eat, but Amber ended up in feline intensive care and was diagnosed with a virulent calcivirus, complicated by an underlying heart condition.

Ingrid has also been a supportive mentor for me as I’ve learned social networking, blogging and using Facebook. 

It’s hard to believe Amber gone so quickly, and Ingrid and her new kitten Allegra must be feeling very lost, so my household will send them love. 

Bernadette Kazmarski is a a multi-faceted creative spirit:  artist, writer, graphic designer, painter, animal advocate, environmentalist.   From commissioned pet portraits to animal inspired merchandise ranging from prints to textiles to greeting cards, looking around Bernadette’s websites is a feast for the senses:
http://www.bernadette-k.com/
http://portraitsofanimals.wordpress.com/)

A Tribute to Amber from Conversations with Eva

Guest Post by Eva Cat

EVA:  Sad week.

R:  Yes.  A very sad week.

EVA:  Sad bunny.  Sad cow.  Sad Amber.

R:  Yes, many sad things this week.  And Amber’s Mom is very sad, too.

EVA:  I love Amber.

R:  Yes, all of us love Amber.

EVA:  Up.

R:  Up.

EVA:  Hugs, please.  Snuggles, please.                  Sad.

R:   Yes.  Very, very sad.           

In Memory of Our Friend, Amber

Eva is the newest addition to a home already full of very needy, special-needs cats that pretty much run the place.  Her human, “R”, does the best she can to try to keep up with Eva and maybe, if she’s lucky, stay one-half step ahead of her.  

A Tribute to Amber from The Daily Tail

Guest Post by Daniela Caride

It’s so easy to become friends with someone whom I admire and who shares with me at least two interests. Hiking, writing, dogs, cats, blogging, community work — I think of my friends and see a huge list of commonalities. 

I’ve never seen cat blogger Ingrid King, though. We live 500 miles apart. I’ve never heard her voice, either. Not even by phone. I “met” Ingrid on the Internet because we both blog about pets and love them unconditionally.

But thanks to our frequent e-mail exchange, I learned how generous she is with her knowledge and love of animals. And maybe because, as bloggers, we reveal so much about ourselves, I can picture Ingrid’s life quite vividly from a distance. 

I can see her working long hours at her desk at home, doing Reiki on her patients, standing by the window beside her kitten, Allegra, drinking tea while watching the snow fall during a cold morning. 

Somehow, I feel very close to Ingrid — like friends who have always lived far away from each other. 

Yesterday, Ingrid’s 12-year-old Tortie cat Amber succumbed to an aggressive virus that weakened her suddenly and inadvertently. I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I read Ingrid’s e-mail. It was sudden and unexpected. 

“I’m still in shock,” she said in the e-mail. “I keep hoping I’ll wake up and find that these last ten days were just a bad dream.”

Now I picture Ingrid watching with her peripheral vision a cat approaching from another room. A second later, her heart skips a beat. She realizes it’s Allegra, not Amber, as she previously thought. I see Ingrid following her routine, reaching for two dishes for the cats’ afternoon meal. Then she feels a lump in her throat. She only needs one dish this time. 

From afar, I feel hopeless sitting at my desk and writing about Amber, not able to ring Ingrid’s bell, give her a hug, offer my sympathies as any other friend. 

But maybe I’ll be lucky enough to make Ingrid understand, through this mournful letter, that the distance doesn’t mean that much. That, from afar, I am holding her hand.

Daniela Caride is the publisher of The Daily Tail (http://www.TheDailyTail.com), a participatory blog about pets with stories, tips, and reviews. She lives with three cats, Crosby, Gaijin and Phoenix, three dogs, Frieda, Geppetto and Lola, and her husband, Martin, in Cambridge, MA.

This Week on The Conscious Cat: A Tribute to Amber

After losing my beautiful girl so unexpectedly and suddenly last Thursday, I’ve been struggling.  I’ve experienced loss before.  I lost my first cat, Feebee, after a lengthy battle with lymphoma in April of 2000.  I lost my office cat Virginia two years later after a brief decline, caused by her FIV positive status.  And I lost Buckley Thanksgiving weekend of 2008 after receiving a dire prognosis of restrictive cardiomyopathy a few months earlier.  All of these losses were difficult.  I coped as best I could.  I survived.  And I thought that, as a result of getting through these past losses, I would be better prepared to deal with this most recent one.  After all, I’m the person others turn to when they need help coping with losing a pet.

But when I had to let Amber go after a brief, severe illness, I was completely blind-sided by the depth and intensity of my grief.  I had never lost a cat without having lots of time to prepare.  Anticipatory grief, like all grief, is painful, but by its very nature, it is, for lack of a better word, a bit more gentle.  This sudden, unexpected grief has been simply devastating.  I’m still unable to really put this experience into words, and I’m still struggling. 

Amber was my heart.  She was the inspiration behind The Conscious Cat, and it just doesn’t feel right to return to “business as usual” when I’m still in deep mourning.  

The one bright spot during these dark days have been my friends – both real life and online.  The outpouring of support from my online friends has been overwhelming, and incredibly comforting.   For the most part, these are people I’ve never met in person.  We’ve connected through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail.  Most of us have never even spoken on the phone.  And yet, they’ve all been there for me in various ways – offering cyber hugs, expressing their sadness and support in comments on this site and on Facebook, sending private messages and e-mails.  Their love and support feels no less real than the love and support of my real life friends.  I’m blessed to have every single one of them in my life.

Several of my online friends also ran tributes to Amber on their blogs.  So, instead of our regular fare of cat health information, feline lifestyle and book reviews, this week, I’ll be honoring Amber’s memory and celebrating her life by running some of these tributes here on The Conscious Cat

Thank you, all of you, for your outpouring of support – each and every one of your comments, e-mails and private messages means so much.

Amber

Amber
July 29, 1998 – May 13, 2010
Be at Peace, Beautiful Girl

My beautiful girl died peacefully at home in my arms late yesterday afternoon, with the loving and gentle assistance of my dear friend and Amber’s vet, Fern.

As some of you already know, she had been sick for ten days and at the Hope Center for Advance Veterinary Medicine in intensive care for the last three and a half days. We just received confirmation today that what we had suspected was true – a calici virus had ravaged her system, causing multiple problems ranging from laryngitis to pancreatitis, complicated by an underlying heart problem we didn’t even know she had, which made it impossible to find the right balance between providing supportive care and not pushing her heart too far. Yesterday it looked like she was getting better, but yesterday morning, she took a turn for the worse, and her prognosis was so poor that I decided against further treatment. I took her home and spent the afternoon with her. The final good-bye was very peaceful.

Amber was a wise old soul in a feline body. Her gentle, loving presence brought so much happiness and joy to my life these past ten years. She was the inspiration behind The Conscious Cat, and even had her own column here, titled Amber’s Mewsings. You can read her entire story here.

I’m still in shock – I keep hoping I’ll wake up and find that these last ten days were just a bad dream. I’m going to miss my beautiful girl terribly. Her little sister Allegra only got to know her for a little over a month, and it breaks my heart that the two of them never got a chance to become close.

Amber taught me to slow down, to appreciate the gentleness in each moment, and to listen with and to my heart. Every cat we loose takes another little piece of our hearts. Amber took a big piece of mine tonight.