Jumping off the Cliff

When I quit my full time job and let go of my benefits to pursue running a non profit, I felt like I was diving off stable ground into who knows what that was lying below. Two years earlier, I had charged over a thousand dollars to my credit card to set up a 501c3 and it was time to give the rescue my full attention.
The kittens in need are plentiful , that part of the business is simple. In my dream world, they would arrive with a tiny suitcase full of cash, a veterinarian and a lifetime supply of food. In reality, they arrive with less than nothing and needing more than everything. Logic tells me that there is no way to provide all the care every kitten needs with the resources available. Each kitten’s tiny purr tells me that I don’t have a choice.
At any given time, I will have balances at up to three different veterinary hospitals, four veterinary supply companies, three credit cards, two food manufacturers and countless other small bills. Rent, utilities, basic supplies are whole separate set of expenses. When a kitten enters the rescue, what they need is ordered, veterinary care is administered and necessities are provided regardless of available finances.
It’s a recipe for disaster and yet here I am, almost four years later, with a fully functioning, non profit kitten rescue. I make little to no salary, my trusty subaru is 13 years old and has been used more than once as collateral for an emergency loan. I will never buy a house or become wealthy.
That said, I am happier than I have ever been. I get to work with kittens EVERY DAY. Amazing, wonderful, supportive people donate their time, money and skills and open up their homes, making it possible for kittens to be rescued. My family and friends have all pitched in making cards, creating auction items, building our website and volunteering at fundraisers. Facebook and WordPress provide a no cost way to spread our mission to people all over the world. With every heartbreaking case that shows up at the door, hundreds of people lift me up with their comments and generosity.
It may not be a glamorous life, but I wouldn’t choose to live any other way. Bring on the kittens!

Rescue Residents: Baby Amy and Kai

In the one month of quiet before kitten season returns, I would like to introduce our most important volunteers, the rescue residents. The residents help teach the kittens how to be cats. Social interaction including grooming, play, litter box use and the occasional smack, are important parts of kitten training. The kittens are often isolated during the first few weeks of life due to injury, age or simple quarantine. Interaction with resident cats teaches them what to embrace, what to fear, what to scratch and when to be gentle. Most importantly, the residents show the kittens that they are safe and loved no matter what happened before their arrival at Saving Grace Rescue.
Kai was one of hundreds of kittens pulled from Martinez animal shelter when I first joined forces with a rescue group. Kai went in for a routine spay and proceeded to become severely ill in the following week. After a month of diagnostics, it was revealed through bloodwork and color flow ultrasound that Kai had a portosystemic, or liver, shunt. The veins that carried blood through her liver had not formed correctly and her blood was not getting filtered through her liver fully. In this situation, toxins build up and poison the body. Kai was experiencing diarrhea, vomiting, seizures and extreme weight loss. Medications helped a bit but often made her sicker. The future was looking bleak when Baby Amy came howling into the rescue.
Baby Amy is possibly the loudest kitten in history. A desperate looking volunteer walked in with the tiny black and white fluff surrounded by a long, monosyllabic yowl that went on, and on and on. There was one nursing mom in the rescue at the time and we put Baby Amy with her. Baby Amy latched on to nurse and refused to let go for HOURS. The only time she didn’t yowl from then on was when she was actively nursing. As Baby Amy grew up, she yowled less, but every now and then, I get a stern, long, monosyllabic talking to from the resident matriarch. Baby Amy took food seriously from the start and it shows in her well padded physique. Tiny head, tiny paws…not so tiny Amy.
Baby Amy took to Kai immediately. Kai was nearing a point of no return and all treatments had been exhausted. Baby Amy was not put off by Kai’s emaciated appearance or toxic smell. Baby Amy curled right up to Kai and gave her thin body warmth. Sometimes, love does heal. Kai started to put on weight and her seizures nearly stopped. With Baby Amy’s constant companionship, Kai slowly healed to become the sweet beauty she is today. Kai will always have the shunt but her newfound friendship provided the emotional support her body needed to fight. Kai hasn’t had a seizure in four years.
Baby Amy and Kai pass that support and care on to many of the kittens that come through Saving Grace Rescue. They are two of the kindest and sweetest cats I have ever known



Skin and bones, empty stomachs and squinted eyes was what I saw when I peered into the carrier of kittens the couple had brought into the shelter.  The five kittens were at the endpoint of starvation and I let the couple know that it was unlikely they would make it to the end of the day.  Dubbed the saplings in hopes that they would grow into strong trees, the kittens began the long process of taking on nutrition. One, then two, passed away within the first 12 hours.  The remaining three started playing and eating and then, three, another passed.  A sweet white female and an energetic chocolate tabby male remained.   I was hopeful when the little boy started chatting and running to me with excitement at every feeding.  Then, four, he passed.  All that remained was one thin sapling.  Her bright blue eyes were squinted and dirty, she was lethargic and quiet, but eating.  After seven days, her eyes began to clear and her belly started to grow.  Then suddenly, she burst out into the room and flew after a ping pong ball.  Sapling had arrived.

This was just the beginning of my adventure with Sapling.  I introduced solid food and it came back up.  Sapling wanted to eat but couldn’t hold anything thicker that baby food down.  One piece of kibble would send her into a choking fit.  She would cry and tear at her throat, sometimes until she bled.  Often, sedation was the only way to calm her.  Many of these times I sat on the floor in tears cradling her, wondering if the suffering was too much, counting the seconds until the pain medication started easing her anguish.  Then, as quickly as it came on, it would pass and Sapling would be purring and playing.

When Sapling is happy, she is exuberant, full of affectionate and curiosity.  She had made it this far, I was determined to give her every chance.  At the specialty veterinarian, she was diagnosed with a Persistent Right Aortic Arch and scheduled for surgical repair.  During surgery, I ventilated for Sapling and watched as the restricting bands were removed, freeing her esophagus.  I saw her strong heart beating in her open chest.  Sapling woke up as soon as the anesthesia ended, stood right up.  She was ready to start the rest of her life.

At home, Sapling spent one day resting and then resumed being a kitten.  Only this time, she could eat without pain.  Sapling instantly thrived and soon went home with the couple that fell in love with her.

Today, I cleaned the rooms she had played in.  I recalled the tiny, starving kitten that I met 8 weeks before.  The joy of her first run and the anguish of her painful struggle.  Then I looked at the photo of her beaming in her new home and the comments of all those that became a part of her journey.  Her fans, her supporters, her heroes; those that make it possible for a tiny sapling to grow into a strong, vibrant tree.

Team Peter

I could play the hero and say rescue is a hard, lonely, thankless job…but that’s simply not true.  I have selfless volunteers that give up their time to come to my home and play with the kittens while I work.  There are countless donations of food, toys, bedding and medicine.   Friends and family take on the daunting tasks of advertising and fundraising.  The many encouraging comments and suggestions on my rescue website make each captured moment much more precious and beautiful.

Rescuing special needs kittens is a large task.  Each kittens requires several caretakers to make it through the first fragile weeks.  Occasionally, there’s a kitten that is so special, it needs a team.  Peter is one of those kittens.

Born with severe Manx syndrome, Peter does not have major nerve function from his sciatic to the end of his short, rabbit-like tail.  Manx cats are bred to have short tails causing them to potentially lose spinal cord that normally extends down the length of the tail.  Peter cannot feel his urinary bladder causing it to fill up but not empty.  Stagnant urine can quickly lead to infection, a potentially life threatening complication.  Peter needs his bladder manually expressed at least three times a day.

One would think that a kitten with this condition would be uncomfortable and unhappy, but don’t tell Peter!  Peter purrs and runs and hops with all the energy and excitement of a normal kitten.  His back legs are permanently bent like a rabbit’s due to the lack of hind legs nerves yet he runs up and down stairs faster than his normal kitty counterparts.  On a warm day, Peter is in the backyard digging in the dirt and chasing moths.  Almost a normal life, except for his bladder expressions.

Peter’s adopters both have full time jobs, hardly ideal for a kitten that needs care several times daily.  It’s hard to resist the adorableness that is Peter, though, and they adopted him anyways.  Their solution to his special needs?  Midday visits are often taken care of by a rotating list of helpers that come by and empty Peter’s bladder.  After a short game of Peter style hide and seek, Peter hops out for his midday squeeze.  Peter turned one today and he is all set for a long happy life thanks to his creative adopters and Team Peter.

Rescue is a hard job.  It is also the doorway to a gracious, giving community. From the volunteers that bring love to the website fans that provide brilliant comments to the forever homes that create just the right team, together we are saving kitten lives.


Fragile Fluffs

Teeny kittens are cute.  They play and purr and cuddle and are full of brand new energy and curiosity in a little furry package.  When I am watching them bounce around it is easy to forget how fragile they are.

I created a rescue for the two pound and under group because of their fragility.  Shelters can’t care for them without them fading away which is why they are often euthanized.  Neonatal kittens NEED mothers.  Even with the right care, kittens often don’t live to become cats.

This morning I woke to two tiny playful kittens and one sluggish, straining kitten.  Ghengis, a 1/2 pound male siamese mix, was constipated.  In adult cats, this is a difficult problem.  In neonatal kittens, it is an emergency.  Treating an animal that has only been in the world for four weeks is always a challenge.  Most medications are dangerous for their young organ systems.  The tools commonly used are far too large.  Creativity, innovation, patience and luck are the keys to kitten medicine.

Ghengis and his siblings were found abandoned under a bush in Oakland.  Dehydration from mild starvation most likely lead to dry, hard stools in little Ghengis.  If stools don’t move regularly through a neonate, they can become large and stretch the colon leading to permanent lifelong issues.  If the problem is not resolved promptly, other problems like toxin buildup or simply starvation from being too full to eat can be fatal.  Luckily, little Ghengis is in a rescue and I could provide care right away.

My first task this morning was to make a non-toxic enema for a tiny kitten, surgical lubricant and warm water.  Then I had to fashion an enema tube out of a nasogastric feeding tube and hope that my my mixture was thin enough to go through the tiny tube but concentrated enough to get things moving. When the mixture is too thick, the tube pops of the syringe and sprays lube everywhere but in the kitten.  Not one of my more glamorous moments.  This is followed by a kitten colon massage and a small oral dose of lactulose. Then a full day of watching, waiting and gentle manual expression.  I also perfect my kitten bathing and drying skills on these occasions.

Luckily, by 9pm tonight, things are moving very nicely for little Ghengis and he is eating and starting to play again.  Unless he has a problem that I am not aware of, he is most likely in the clear now. He also smells much better.

Neonatal kitten rescue is rewarding and full of adorable, cuddly, playful, giggly moments.  It’s also a constant balancing act between life and loss.  Teeny tiny furry purring reminders that every moment is to be cherished and every effort is worth it.

From fragile fluffs to forever homes, Saving Grace Rescue.

Carl, Ghengis and MeiMei

Baby Amy’s babies

Baby Amy showed up at an adoption event in 2006.  My rescue partner had just scooped her up at animal control.  A yowling ball of tabby and white coarse hair, Baby Amy continuously emitted one long, insistent meow.  To shut her up, we put her in with a nursing mom.  Baby Amy latched on and nursed with all her might, and I mean ALL her strength, because mama cat wanted nothing to do with her and was anxiously trying to push the new little fuzzball OFF.  Baby Amy lasted through mama’s protests and continued to nurse for several hours.   Eventually, mama reluctantly added Baby Amy to her brood and she grew to be a strong, healthy kitten.  She gained a full belly and a warm, luxurious coat that had softened with the care of a momcat, but she never lost her love of yelling. Her long, monosyllable eeeeeeeeeeooooooooooooeeeeeeeooooooooowwwww is one of the favorite things to imitate in my house.  Baby Amy also has a distinctive smudge on her face and a rather large body that mocks her teeny tiny paws.  However, Baby Amy is about the sweetest kitty you will ever meet and she tolerates the teasing if you just pick her up cuddle her.

Finding a mama gave Baby Amy a new start in life and she passes this gift on in the Saving Grace Rescue resident role of temporary mama.  When the kittens are healthy and old enough, they join the resident population to finish their socialization and prepare for forever homes.  If a kitten cries, Baby Amy is there right away to calm it’s worries.  Baby Amy grooms, plays and cuddles with all the motherless tiny kitties that enter the Saving Grace Rescue.  The kittens bloom and flourish under her gentle nurturing.  If you frequent the SGR facebook website, you will see several photos and videos of Baby Amy and her temporary babies.  The most demanding kitten has grown up to be the most giving cat.

Baby Amy before her belly with big brother Noor

Auggie plays

One week ago, an emaciated, flea dirt covered kitten was rescued by a previous adopter and brought to Saving Grace Rescue. Dubbed Auggie by her finders, the little girl could barely lift her head due to the wasting of her muscles. Her body was at the end of it’s resources and she was picked up just in time. She was frightened for the first day and basically just a pair of eyes peeking from behind a pile of fuzzy baby blankets.
By the next day Auggie started to realize that those itchy fleas were gone for good, human hands were warm and comforting, and chicken baby food tastes really good.
A week has gone by and with a few jars of baby food, several bowls of Royal Canin babycat and several warm blankets and heat discs, Auggie finally looks, and feels, like an eight week old kitten. Today she ventured out of her safe corner, found a toy and began to play.
Everybody knows that kittens play but few people see kittens that rediscover that joy. Auggie tentatively reached towards a feathered toy, pushed it gingerly a few inches, and then exploded into a running, bunny kicking, fur covered, ball of joy.
Watching Auggie regain her kitten nature and learn to enjoy life all over again reminded me why I am in the business of rescue. Auggie’s joy is a reminder of how amazing life moments can be. These kittens rescue ME.

Auggie’s first day:

Video of Auggie:   Auggie plays

Kittens kittens kittens

Welcome to Two Pounds and under, Saving Grace Rescue’s kitten diary.

I will keep it simple for today but this will be the place to find the daily stories and challenges associated with tiny kitten rescue.

Today was a big day for the Oakland shoebox kittens Stretch, Muffin, Sunshine and Pacman. They played, slept and purred their way through a five hour photo shoot. Their photos will be used for an iPhone app that I can’t tell you about yet or I will have to give you a kitten but I promise it will be very very ridiculously adorable.

The added bonus for me is that they are all asleep now.

In other news, Lyra, the severe cerebellar hypoplasia kitten, had a ball chasing after the cameramen and props. Lyra loves people and she loves action so three new people with bags of props and equipment were a bobbing, weaving dream come true.

Check back and I will do my best to provide cute, funny and sometimes moving tales of rescue