Monday, April 30, 2012

The Hardest Decision

Sienna kitten

I first saw a picture of a Somali cat perhaps thirty years ago. I thought they were the most beautiful cats I had ever seen, and I hoped to have one someday. Now I do. Her name is Sienna. She is a ruddy Somali, a longhaired cousin to Abyssinians. Somali breeders are few and far between. I got Sienna from a breeder in Detroit. When I arrived at airport cargo to pick her up, I could hear her before I saw her. Oh she was annoyed. She was about the size of a guinea pig, but she wanted OUT of that crate. I fell in love with her instantly.
Trying to catch the soccer ball
Chewing my straw
Sienna is three years old now. She has indeed grown into the most beautiful cat I have ever seen. She has funny habits; she loves to unroll (and chew) toilet paper, actually to chew any kind of paper she can find. I often discover “hole-punched” papers that she has bitten into. She loves to chew hair, too. At least once almost every day she finds me sitting in the big overstuffed chair-and-a-half in the living room ... she climbs onto my chest and snuggles in, purring and kneading me with her paws, all the while inching upward gradually until she can also chew on the ends of my hair. This appears to bring her supreme pleasure.
Two years ago when we got our Abyssinian kitten, Hobnob, I made elaborate arrangements to keep the two cats separate so they could accustom themselves to each other’s scent gradually. My concerns were groundless. The first time Sienna approached the door Hobnob was behind, she began to chirrup like a queen with kittens. I let her slip inside, and she immediately took over where his own mother had left off, grooming him and keeping him company. When Ezri the Bengal kitten joined the family last year, she received mothering from Sienna as well.
Sienna with medicine port
Last September, Shane and I came home from a week’s vacation to find Sienna startlingly, scarily thin. Her red blood cell count was down to six, almost impossibly far below a normal of low thirties to forties. Her rare blood type meant that we almost lost her there and then. But it turned out that Hobnob shared that rare type, and was able to donate some of his blood for a transfusion. The Somali-Abyssinian cousinship saved Sienna’s life. She spent over two months in a large cage so that she couldn’t accidentally pull out the port that had been installed so that I could give her twice-daily medication through it. Throughout all of this she looked and acted virtually normal - perhaps a little quieter than usual but that was the only difference I could see.
In December,  looking and acting normal again

In December she came off medications and seemed fine. But by January she felt thin to me again. Her red blood cell count had dropped from its high in the thirties back down to nine. Further testing showed that she has a condition called “osmotic fragility.” Basically, her red blood cells are abnormally formed, making them appear foreign and hostile to her white blood cells, which attack and kill them. This is not a curable condition. Sienna and I travel to the vet’s office six days a week for her to get a steroid shot. I could give them to her here, myself, but there is another complication, not a surprising one really. Sienna now avoids me at almost every opportunity. She knows that my walking toward her could end in her being put into her travel crate and taken to the vet for a shot, so as soon as she sees me, she shoots under the bed or down the stairs, as far from me as she can get. Sadly, her limited understanding doesn’t allow her to realize that she is safe once we’ve been to the vet’s office and come home again; she still runs and hides from me, all day long. The only time she feels that I am safe to approach is when I am sitting in the chair in the living room. She will still come and climb on my lap occasionally then.
So, what to do. She looks and acts healthy and normal. She chases and plays with the other cats, avidly watches birds at the window bird feeder, eats with gusto. But she no longer feels safe in her own home. How long should I keep giving her daily shots? Eventually she will develop diabetes or other complications from the steroid drugs. In the meanwhile, though, there is the stressful hunt-chase-capture ordeal involved with getting her daily shot. I could give the shots to her here but I honestly don’t think that would reduce her stress; she is actually rather relaxed at the vet’s office, accepting treats and purring. It’s the hunt-chase-capture that frightens her, and that would have to happen wherever she got the shot. As terrible as it feels to even think about such things, there is also the cost to consider. I am paying $18 per day, six days a week, for her shot visits, plus the cost of a monthly (or thereabouts) red blood cell count check. If the end result of that, after three months or six months or a year, was going to be a healthy cat, it would be worth it, no question. But the sad truth is that this is not going to end well for Sienna, no matter how much money I spend.  If I stop the shots she will get increasingly more anemic until she dies. If I continue them, eventually the steroid overload will kill her.
She’s so beautiful and sweet, and she looks so well. 
But just now I turned and glanced at her, lying on the cat climber watching birds out the window, and when she saw me looking, she jumped down and darted under the bed.

Glamour girl under the pool table lights

Update February 15, 2013.  I took Sienna off all medication in May, 2012. Her veterinarian thought she might last two weeks to a month. She got thinner and weaker ... but then starting putting weight back on and re-gaining strength. Amazingly, she is still with us, almost a year later. She has periods when she seems frail, but then she gains weight back again. Her spirits are good and she is playful and active. We don't understand it but we feel so lucky. Who knows how long it will last ... Meanwhile we appreciate every day with her.

Update December 17, 2013. Sienna is gone. During her last seven or eight months she got steroid shots at the vet's office once a month, and did very well. But after her December shot, she started going quickly downhill. She became very thin and frail, however stayed lively, cheerful, and active until just a few days before she died, when she began to spend most of her time sleeping. She spent her last evening purring quietly on my lap while we watched a Christmas movie under the lights of the Christmas tree. The next morning she died under the guest room bed. I brought the dogs in to see her body. They sniffed her, and were very quiet and subdued. Then I took them out of the room and brought the other cats in. They spent a long time examining her body. Then Hobnob, who Sienna had raised since he arrived here as a kitten, began to walk around the room, making the little 'chirrup' call that Sienna had used with him when he was a kitten. I have never heard Hobnob call this way before. Afterward, he sat with her body and looked at her for a long time.

We had her a year and a half longer than we expected to. We are so grateful.  

Friday, April 27, 2012

Children Around the World - a Picture Gallery

Here are some photos I have taken of children during my travels around the world - and one at home.

Young boy in the doorway of his home
Agra, India

Little girl
Agra, India

American girl

Little boy, Belize

Girl from dancing troupe, Belize

Island boy with a dog, Belize

Boy with a bicycle, Angkor, Cambodia

Boy with puppy, Cuzco, Peru

English boy

Two Maasai girls, Serengeti, Tanzania

Native Australian girl delighted by walkie-talkie

The chief's son, Ambua, Papua New Guinea

Young man from Papua New Guinea

Youngsters with piglet, Tari, Papua New Guinea

Little girls in the marketplace, Dakar, Senegal

Monday, April 16, 2012

Dogs Around the World

I have always been interested in observing the local dogs when I travel to different countries. Here are some pictures of dogs from countries around the world.


Every dog I saw in Cuzco, and there were many, appeared to be on an important mission of its own. None attempted to interact with people in any way, or even acknowledge that the people were there. A young local man told me that every family had a dog; that the dogs were released from their homes in the morning to spend the day as they wished, but all dogs came home at dinnertime to eat and spend the night at home doing their job of guarding hearth and home. I'm not sure that Cuzco dogs don't live the ideal dog life. Yes, there is some risk, but those dogs seemed grown up in a way that American dogs seldom seem to me. They had their own concerns, their own lives, and were well fed and housed since they had value to their families. I might want to be reincarnated as a Cuzco dog.


Black and tan seems to be a common color combination for dogs the world over. Does anyone know why?

Dogs and horses ran free on Easter Island. These two were keeping company in a hotel parking lot.


I saw several dogs in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. I saw no sign that these dogs belonged to anyone; they were foraging around the town market.  Like most dogs around the world who have been free to make their own breeding choices for enough generations, these dogs were medium-sized (40 pounds) with ears that stood up. 


Like the cows and the monkeys I saw in Cambodia, the dogs of Siem Reap seemed to be independent, self-assured - and very relaxed!  Note that they too are medium-sized with upstanding ears.


This dog wore a bandana and stood at the edge of its property.

This girl strolled around the grounds of the Taj Mahal.

I saw this adorable puppy sitting by a ruined building. When I called "puppy puppy puppy!" its three siblings came running out of a crack in the building, tails wagging wildly. A passing man encouraged me to take them home. Oh, did I want to.  Especially Little Red.

These two had a lovely time playing outside a shop in Agra.


The child is enjoying this closeness. Is the dog?

Ah, that's better. Tropical island life.


 The dogs I saw in Albania were working dogs. That doesn't mean that there were no pet dogs in Albania, just that I didn't see any. This dog is guarding chickens.


Not surprisingly, dogs in Australia were much more similar to the dogs I was used to seeing in the USA than dogs I had seen in many other parts of the world. Clearly there was a good deal of human involvement here with selecting and breeding different types of dogs. Here are a few dogs that I encountered in Western Australia.

Snoozing at the roadside
Delightfully, this fellow was a pub mascot.

Easygoing fellow
A lovely Staffie


Finally, to my amazement, I encountered a free-ranging Beauceron on the streets of Dubrovnik. This fellow looked as if he was searching for his owner - but he did not want any help. Now that I have my own Beauceron his physical signs of stress are even more apparent to me. Thankfully for the sake of his safety he was in the pedestrian-only part of town. I hope he is home safe and sound now.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Mysterious Distance Between a Snail and a Walnut

I grew up in a family that loved to play with words, in both conventional and unconventional ways. My parents always worked crossword puzzles and unscrambled the word jumble in the daily newspaper (today at age 90, they still do). They also played word games with me when we went on road trips in my childhood.  One game started with a tag line or theme, such as “Born Free.” Then anyone could contribute a related clue for the others to figure out. For example, someone would say “How does a sheep feel when it has escaped with all its wool?” Answer: “Shorn Free.” “Now that we’ve just crossed the border out of Kansas, we are...” Answer: “Corn Free.” And so on, until every possibility had been exhausted. Points for cleverness!
I still love word games. I play Bookworm on the computer almost every day, and go to a great deal of trouble to create the longest, most interesting words I can. My favorite game with words, though, is one that dates back to my early 20’s, maybe earlier. 
Somehow, somewhere, it occurred to some friend(s) and me to replace the word “love” with the word “lunch.” Song titles alone improve immediately. Here are a few examples:
“Prisoner of Lunch”
“(Money) Can’t Buy Me Lunch”
“All You Need is Lunch”
“Everlasting Lunch”
“You Can’t Hurry Lunch”
You will notice that this word substitution only works when “love” is being used as a noun. “She Lunches You” is not acceptable. However, there are two rare variations on the love/lunch theme that may sometimes be used. The first is when “lovin’” becomes “luncheon,” as in “All My Luncheon (I Will Give To You).” The second, even rarer variation is the replacement of “love me” with “lunchmeat,” as in “Lunchmeat Tender” - but not "Lunchmeat Do," ugh. Please use good judgment when attempting these rather tricky variations.
Lyrics can be even more fun than titles. Here is a sample. If you know the song, sing it. 
from “Fanny (Be Tender With My Lunch),” by The Bee Gees 
Be tender with my lunch; 
You know how easy it is to hurt me 
Fanny, be tender with my lunch, 
'Cause it's all that I've got 
And my lunch won't desert me 
Once you have mastered the love/lunch substitution, you may begin replacing the word “heart” with “hamster.” Some classic song titles are:

“How Can You Mend a Broken Hamster?”
“Stop Dragging My Hamster Around”
“Everybody’s Got a Hungry Hamster”
and a nice combo:
“Put a Little Lunch In Your Hamster”
A quick lyric example from “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” by Yes:
Owner of a lonely hamster
Owner of a lonely hamster
Much better than - a
Owner of a broken hamster
Owner of a lonely hamster
Finally, the words “walnut” and “snail” may be used to replace “woman” and “man.”  Song title examples:
“When A Snail Loves a Walnut”
“She’s Always a Walnut to Me”
“Stand By Your Snail”
“Ballad of a Thin Snail”
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Walnut”
A sample lyric from U2’s  “A Snail and A Walnut”:
I could never take a chance 
Of losing lunch to find romance 
In the mysterious distance 
Between a snail and a walnut 
No I could never take a chance 
‘Cos I could never understand 
The mysterious distance 
Between a snail and a walnut
Mysterious, indeed!
There is no need to limit yourself to the world of music ... lunch, hamsters, walnuts and snails are everywhere.  Who hasn’t heard these common sayings?
I wear my hamster on my sleeve.
All’s fair in lunch and war.
No snail is an island.
Frailty, thy name is walnut.
We find many fine examples in movies:

And books:

A quick look through the self-help section of Barnes and Noble produced these gems:

I hope you are inspired to go forth into the world in search of lunch, hamster, walnut, and snail. Bring your favorite discoveries back and share them here, I would love to see them.
And always remember:
“Lunch makes the world go round.”
Or is it “cold hands, warm hamster?”