Thursday, December 13, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 66

I’ve been very busy and overwhelmed with the sickness of our cat family the past few weeks, and I still want to write the happy post I’ve got in my pocket, but I decided to update the sad news first.

Mystic is home and recuperating, and Pippin is home and recuperating, but sweet Osage was not able to recover from her battle with Panleukopenia. She was 12.5 years old and although alert until the end, she just couldn’t make it. The vet school hospital staff gave her excellent supportive care, including five blood transfusions, but it simply wasn’t enough to stem the blood loss she was having in her GI tract. She passed away this week, in the arms of her human family, and is now home and buried in our back yard.

It’s been agonizing and we are heartbroken. Pixie remains healthy, and the kittens, Violet and Isobel, are healthy now too. We’re still having to give many medications and Mystic is not yet back to his normal routine in terms of being able to go outside, but we will get there. 

Osage, aka Muffine Eloise, was one of the original three kittens who came to live with us here 12 years ago. She came with her littermate siblings Keats and Dickens, and the three of them were pure joy as they grew and learned how to be indoor/outdoor cats. They all loved the horses and the barn, loved being inside with us, loved the front porch and their freedom. More recently Osage has loved her sunny chair on the front porch, and she has kept us laughing at her insistence on being the center of attention during many movie and TV episode watching. She was sweet and engaging her entire life, a cat who loved having her tummy rubbed, who loved being combed and fussed over, loved butterflies, and would play like a kitten up to the week before she died. I miss her so much. 

In other news, Baloo Corgi was neutered last week, a scheduled event we decided not to postpone. He came home wearing a plastic cone and with instructions not to “play, jump, or run” for 10 days. I knew that was going to be difficult, but by the next morning Bear Corgi had broken Baloo out of the gated bedroom, Baloo busted through the dog door with the cone still on his neck, and while I drove into town hoping to buy a donut collar, daughter texted that he and Bear had gotten the cone off and things were much calmer without it. No licking, less activity. So we went with it. I stopped trying to keep him absolutely still and without the collar and pain meds he resumed his normal behavior. He is now a week out from the surgery and doing very well. I’m considering taking him outside the back yard today for the first time in a week. I’m sure there will be an explosion of activity when I open the gate and invite him to come out. 

We had six inches of snow over the weekend and a few nights of low 20s which has kept it around until yesterday. We are nowhere near dry outside and now the forecast says rain Friday/Saturday/Sunday of this weekend, so I’m dreading the mud. I would like a nice dry month with maybe just enough rain spread out to keep the plant life happy. Santa, are you listening?

Most of the leaves are gone from the trees now and I’ve managed to keep enough of them mulched so the winter grass can maintain itself. My farm helper has done a valiant job keeping all our waterways clear so the water can flow without clogging up at the fencelines. 

There was one day last week when all three cats were sick, we were monitoring the ones who weren’t very closely, and I was on the phone with the vet at the ICU while texting Keil Bay’s vet because it seemed he was having a mild choke episode. She encouraged me to give him time to clear it, and I was watching him, still texting her, talking to the feline vet, and I walked over to Rafer Johnson to give him an ear rub with my free hand. When I touched his ear my hand came away covered in blood, and his ear was totally bloody. Thankfully daughter was home that day and she came out and helped wash the blood away so we could see what was going on. We initially worried it was a bite of some kind, but a series of clues suggested he had gotten the ear hung up in the hard plastic stall grids I have (still!) stacked by the barn. A rabies booster was discussed and the vet, helpfully already texting me, said she felt antibiotic ointment was all he needed. I think that was the day I realized we just have to let go and deal with things as they come. I felt like the domino had tipped. Days like that are when I just have to stop trying to retain control and admit I operate most days pretending I have it when really I do not. It’s a humbling realization for someone who is most comfortable managing things tightly.

Now, I’m focusing on doing all the things that need to be done while enjoying the moments as best I can. There are so many lovely moments! It is at this moment still and very quiet here on November Hill, and after the past few weeks that itself is the best thing ever. 

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Update on our Mystical kit-meow

Mystic was in septic shock when we got home from our son’s wedding last Monday. He went directly to the NCSU emergency vet hospital and was admitted into the ICU, where he has spent every day since. He’s had a number of tests run and a lot of supportive care via IV. What is going on with him remains a bit of a mystery, but clearly his system was assaulted by something.

I won’t go into all the daily details we’ve heard for the past 5 days. Lots of small gains and then some setbacks and concerns. We were at the point of considering a bone marrow test yesterday but decided that the general anesthesia that requires would be too big a strain on his already weak self. We opted to go with treating him with Prednisone, which would be the treatment for a number of things that fit his symptom picture.

He hasn’t eaten for at least the past 6 days but this morning, after last night’s 7 p.m. dose of Prednisone, he woke up and ate two bites of food from his vet student’s hand. When my husband got there and held him in his lap, Mystic ate a handful of dry food and another handful of wet food! Everything in his lab work is much better today, and we are thrilled to see some progress and hope it continues so he can come home and continue the recuperation here.

For those who don’t know, Mystic is 10 years old. He contracted cytauxzoonosis from a tick that had been on a bobcat several years ago and was in the ICU at that time. Cytaux is a very fast-acting disease that is fatal for close to 70% of cats. He beat it. A few years later he had an episode of congestive heart failure and was in the ICU and on a respirator for a period of time. He made a full and complete recovery from that as well! Mystic at home is a finicky cat who doesn’t like people other than us very much, but in the hospital we learned he is a total ham and ends up being the darling of the ICU when he’s there. His caregivers have always been devoted and caring and we appreciate all they’ve done for him.

This is a favorite photo of Mystic. He’s a very special cat and we hope he’s home with us soon!


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Finding a farmsitter, 101

We previously had an amazing farmsitter who stayed on our farm, with our animals, about 20 hours a day. Her fee was surprisingly reasonable. She told me when we first hired her to “write me a book” cataloging all the routines I wanted her to follow with the animals, which I did. She followed it. She sent me texts numerous times each day of the horses, pony, donkeys, cats, and Corgis. She took selfies of herself with our animals piled on top of her, snuggling up just the way they do with us. We were grateful to have her. Sadly for us and especially our animals, she is now in a serious romantic relationship and wants to have a more normal life - not spending nights and days taking care of other people’s animals. We’re happy for her - she deserves it!

When it came time to find a new farmsitter I asked our former farmsitter, our vets, the pet supply store locally, our feed store, friends, and several farm owners who they could recommend. Sadly, finding someone who would stay overnight was almost impossible, but two people I trusted gave me one name and that’s who we hired. I spoke with her at length on the phone and then spent nearly 3 hours with her here on the farm reviewing our routines. She seemed competent, the animals seemed to like her, and although I was stressed about all of us leaving for a weekend (I always do), I thought things would be okay.

The short version of what happened: we came home to a cat in septic shock who had to be taken to the vet school emergency hospital and remains today in the ICU. Bits of evidence that many items in my extensive instructions had not been done, including my PSSM horse not getting even one dose of his necessary supplement. No evidence I could find that she actually stayed overnight. Animals that in general seemed wary and stressed. Mailbox stuffed with mail, packages in the delivery box not brought in. My farm instructions were missing. This document contained much sensitive information about the security of our farm and home, as well as names and photos of animals.

The text messages that followed as I tried to sort out what happened revealed someone who changed her story many times about whether our cat ate, didn’t eat, allowed her to pet him, or not, where the farm instructions actually were, why she had taken them off the property. Once someone changes the story when they know the stakes are now high, my trust and belief in anything they say is gone.

It wasn’t her fault our cat got a serious infection. But it was her fault that in spite of my telling her the cats needed to be monitored very closely, she did not monitor him the way we had discussed, nor did she let me know when he didn’t eat or take his medication. We found dried up food in the fridge that he hadn’t eaten. Had she told me this I would have had a family member come and take him directly to the vet. He would have received treatment sooner and likely avoided being in the hospital.

In one of the last texts she said “It seems like somehow you are upset with me.”

Um, yes, I am.

When you look for a farmsitter, I suggest you seek recommendations and check them out, then ask these questions:

Are you willing to follow extremely detailed instructions to the letter?

Are you willing to text me photos of each animal several times a day with detailed updates about how the animal is doing?

Are you willing to take the time during your stay (or daily visit) to sit and be with cats and dogs individually so you can see that they are truly okay?

Are you willing to transport a sick animal to our vet if needed?

I thought I covered all these things with her, and I thought she understood. In the end we paid a lot of money for very low-level care, and we’re now spending a huge amount of money taking care of a cat who shouldn’t have been allowed to get as sick as he was.

Right now I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable hiring a farmsitter again, but if I do, the interview and the communication about expectations is going to be equal to a top-secret security clearance interview. Which in itself may mean I never find someone to stay here and take care of the animals. I’m writing this as a warning, I guess. Be diligent and don’t assume good recommendations mean good care. I’m sure I’ll never be listed as a recommendation for this farmsitter, and no one will hear the story of the nightmare that happened.

I’m getting the yucky part out of the way - I’ll share the wonderful part of our weekend in another post.





Monday, November 19, 2018

Autumn, and slowing down



I was thinking yesterday as I raced toward my massage therapy appointment that it would be nice if we were able to momentarily stop time when we’re running late so we could slow down and get there safely. Then I wondered how stopping time would affect everyone else, and the quandary became complicated enough I abandoned it. We seem to be bound by time, and more specifically the clock, and our own expectations, and the expectations we think our culture has for us.

This morning I woke up to a list of things to do that applied pressure to me the moment I glanced at my closed daybook. The list includes a few things that do in fact need to be done, but much of it is my own effort to do it all, and before Thanksgiving day. Those items could be lost or crossed through and nothing would happen. No one would even notice. I would probably not remember the items myself after a few days’ time. Yet they have the power to make me feel mild panic, like there are Things That Must Be Done and I am the only one who can do them.

The truth is we have the power to stop time. Not the clock. Not for the entire world. But we can, if we choose to do it, take a moment, or a few minutes, or even a little break in our day, to catch up to ourselves, center ourselves, and rejoin the forward movement of the world when we’re ready.

When I travel to the NC mountains I am always comforted by the pull-offs, places along the way where you can literally pull your car off the road and sit for awhile, usually to view a gorgeous vista, or a mountain stream running over rock. Often these pull-offs have short trails you can walk, into the forest, to waterfalls or overlooks. These little roads less traveled beg to be taken.

I wish we had these everywhere, marked for ease of finding them, but again, the truth is they ARE everywhere. We simply have to stop and take them.

Autumn is a perfect metaphor for slowing down. The dormant stage of many plants and trees, a brilliant show of color so breathtaking it forces us to stop and look. This week, as holiday plans and travel and expectations might run high, make a point to pause. Take the long way to where you’re going. Let that extra entree you’ve decided you need to make go. Don’t fret the mess you think you need to clean up before friends and family come over. Go take a walk instead. Stop before every brilliant tree, stand in every scattering of fallen leaves. Watch how the sun angles down now that the leaves are gone. Stop your cooking to go watch the sunset.

If there’s an item on your list that desperately needs doing, do it and let the others go. The world will keep turning, we’ll all continue living and breathing. Play with the kittens. Take the dog for a long, leisurely walk. Ride your horse without doing the chores first. Look at the land around you and sink your feet where you stand. Stay there longer than you ever have and let every detail of nature come to your attention.

Happy Thanksgiving from November Hill.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 65

First, we have a new family member joining us in February. His name is Ciro and he’s my daughter’s dog. He’s learning a lot of things between now and then, and we get to visit him every week. Here he’s showing off his sit. 



 The gardens are beginning to fade a bit. This is the very last horsemint bloom with a carpenter bee taking full advantage. I cut the horsemint back recently as it was getting damp and powdery mildew was trying to set in, and beneath the huge mound was this late bloomer.




I was away for a week writing at my beloved Porches, where color was a bit ahead of ours on November Hill. It was a fabulous five days and I got a lot of work done. 



Back home in Poplar Folly, the newly-titled Prince of Poplar shows off his throne.




Keil Bay’s ACTH came back at 68.5, so the vet has prescribed Prascend and since we’re at the end of the seasonal rise and his number is not sky-high, I’ve consulted with my homeopathic vet and will be using a protocol of two remedies between now and January. We’ll redo the test, see where his level is, and proceed from there. I have the Prascend ready if we need to do a slow tapering on of that medication. The good news is, it’s early PPID if at all, so hopefully he won’t ever experience a negative symptom beyond the mild skin infections he had this summer.




The asters are going completely nuts and a few days ago I spotted the first honey bees I’ve seen this year. The asters were covered in honey bees! Check out her pollen basket!




Meanwhile, inside, Pixie proves once and for all that girls LOVE science.




And the Prince of Poplar keeps his eye on the kingdom from his front window perch. I rely on him to let me know if I need to check anything out.




Overall, it’s a beautiful time here. The dogwoods are peaking in color and the oaks are starting to change now. The leaves are falling and temps are dropping and projects are slowly moving forward. Right now I’m still finishing up what’s already on my plate. Not planning anything new for the rest of this year. This Monday the barn is getting a thorough cleaning inside and we’ll be making a few small repairs to get it ready for the winter months. I have a couple of already-in-progress projects that we’ll finish up and enjoy. The main project is to enjoy November and this amazing herd!