Friday, May 25, 2012

The Kitten Nursery

I am frequently asked exactly what working in the kitten nursery entails. So here’s the short answer. It entails a lot of hard work but also a lot of fun.

The first kitten nursery opened in 2008 and was the first of its kind in the US, which surprises the hell out of me. It was designed to provide an environment where abandoned kittens could get a chance to go on and have a long and happy life.

Our litters come from the large colonies of feral cats that roam all over the bay area. Mom cats know to run from the people that they fear but, sadly, that means leaving their kittens behind. Without a mother kittens stand no chance of surviving. Kittens require a lot of care. They need so much care that the shoestring staff, which makes up most shelters just cannot handle them. So we have an all-volunteer crew whose sole job is to take care of these little guys, freeing up employees and the vet staff for other tasks.

There are three shifts per day, every day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each three hour shift is responsible for syringe feeding each kitten, cleaning their kennels, tracking any medical problems, and (best of all) giving them love and play time so they are well socialized and, therefore, more likely to be adopted.

This year marks our first full year at our new shelter. The kitten nursery is a large and sunny room with windows out into the corridor so visitors can watch the kittens and see what it takes to keep them going. It also marks the first year where we actually have two separate nurseries. The main nursery is where most of the kitties are housed. Behind the scenes, however, we have a quarantine nursery.

The QN is set up like the main nursery but there are two separate rooms for sick kittens which, for a variety of reasons, can’t be put in with the healthy kits. Sometimes it’s something minor, like getting rid of fleas or lice. Other times it’s something serious, such as ringworm or panleukopenia (feline distemper). The latter is a serious and contagious disease, which, sadly, means the litter, will probably not make it. Our amazing vet staff does everything possible to keep our kittens alive but the sad fact is that we do have to euthanize a few litters each season. That’s the hard part.
The work in the nursery itself can be tiring. We are scrupulous about procedures designed to keep each litter healthy and happy. So in between litters we bleach down the tables, scales, even the floor. Litters are never allowed contact with other litters to minimize the chance of infection. We spend a lot of time scrubbing kennels, taking old laundry out and bringing in fresh towels, and making cozy nests for our charges to nap in.

This year the nursery opened last month and will probably run until October. And our record is pretty damned amazing. Last year we helped approximately 125 kittens find homes – kittens that would probably have been put down if we didn’t have a dedicated nursery to care for them. This year’s goal is 150 kittens. And I think we’re going to make it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Tearing up snapshots to forget a handsome face
is what movie queens do. Elegantly.
But this woman, shredding 3 x 5s at the window all night,
doesn't feel grace.
And she remembers everything.

There are winter nights
when even the street sweeper seems thoughtful
under the falling rain.
And this woman, framed by white curtains
like a postage stamp
on a package, waiting to be delivered,
seems to release moths into the air.

Just erasing the pages of her diary
won't free her from history.
She imagines the pieces of paper float together
in some proper order, that her life can be solved
like a puzzle.
Like the crossword the handsome man used to sulk over
on Sunday,
in bed.
When she was still called "wife"
and lived with a smile in the window of his billfold.

She no longer studies squares of light
staring from other buildings. Nor pigeons
sleeping wing to wind beneath the eaves
painted a color she'd always hated.

She's about to turn away from the window with her hair in spikes,
to look into some camera and paste down a picture of that look.
Which says she's scared.
As humans tend to be when they feel something
flying from their fingers.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy MLK Day
For the past few years I've turned MLK Day into my personal day of doing goodness. One year I took some gloves and garbage bags and randomly cleaned up along one of my favorite walking paths. Another year I went to the grocery store, bought a a couple of bags of food, and put them in the food bank bin. Last year I just did extra hours at the shelter. This year, well, I didn't do anything.

I'm still getting over being sick. I still have the energy of a 20-watt bulb and get winded just making myself some tea. I hate feeling this weak and not being able to do my shelter time. It's an actual physical ache how much I miss being there. But I'm eating a bit more each day and that's making a huge difference. Between that, rest, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated and generally taking care of myself, I hope to be back at the shelter next week.

But today, it's MLK Day.

I find it inconceivable that in my lifetime it would have been illegal for Husband and I to have married years ago. Just because I'm white and he's bi-racial, it wouldn't have been possible. Why? Who could be against us?

And yet today it's still illegal for my friends to marry. My gay and lesbian friends, who are as committed and as in love as Husband and I, cannot legally wed. It doesn't matter what your religious views on the word "marriage" means, discrimination in any form is wrong. Forget the concept of getting married. Is it fair that a couple that owns a house together, live together, pay bills together, love and are committed to each other cannot file a joint tax return? Is it fair that they pay more in taxes than husband and I because they are not legally married?

OK, so today I can't do any personal goodness in honor of Dr. King. But I can, once again, get on that damned soapbox and ask the world to stop discriminating against the people I love ... just because of the people they love.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Well since the world is, apparently scheduled to end this year I thought I should be more diligent in documenting my dull life. Last week was not dull since it involved yet another ER visit followed by a 4-day admission due to Pancreatitis. Lots of lovely drugs (2 mgs. of Delaudid every 2 hours) but no food or liquid by mouth for 48-hours. That bit? Not much fun. I'm on the mend now, home, and doing my best to get better. I have been ordered by my doctor to gain weight, which I find hilarious. Me. The always pudgy kid is now being ordered to gain. I lost 5 pounds just in the past week and am down to 112. I'm 5'4 so I'm not anorexic or anything, but they would like me to put that 5 pounds back. Hard to do since I'm also ordered to stick to a low-fat diet. Yeah, all those bananas and chicken broth are really gonna pack on the weight. I got dressed this morning and realize I have gangsta jeans that come halfway down my ass unless I belt up, so I think I need to go shopping. Oh yeah, and I can't wear my wedding ring because it falls off.

So, on to better news....

- After taking way too much time off, I've applied for my radio show again so hopefully I'll be back on the air soon.
- My in-laws, two of the coolest people on the planet, gave me THE BEST Christmas present ever! They sent a box of supplies for the shelter cats. Toys, beds, all kinds of goodies to give our kitties a little extra fun and comfort. I love my in-laws tremendously.
- Read Louise Penny. Start with her first book Still Life and go from there. The best new author I discovered in 2011 and a fabulous writer. Lyrical, almost poetic, great mysteries full of good characters and a charming setting.
- Listen to Songs from an African Farm the latest release by Ladysmith Black Mombazo. It's worth it just for their version of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm."
- The Niners are in their first post-season game in 9 seasons. Thank goodness we have an actual team again.
- That's about it. I hope your first few weeks of the new year are happy, healthy, and full of love. And I hope this year brings all of you joy.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday. It's been a lovely day, me and Husband and Cipher (The World's Most Amazing Cat, Screw You if You Don't Agree tm) being lazy. I had a visit from the naan fairy. A serenade from dear friends far away. Presents, cards and even Husband's famous Once-A-Year Gourmet Mac and Cheese.

It's also one of those days where I tend to reflect on my life and how lucky I am. So I would just like to take this opportunity to say thank you.

Thank you to my wonderful Husband for your constant love, support, friendship, and care. You make every day better just by being in it and I am so lucky to have you in my world.

Thanks to my friends. All those crazy, warm, brilliant, creative, loving people who I am lucky enough to call friends. Each of you inspires me. Each of you makes me better, and you all make the world better because of your generosity, your social conscience, your kindness and your commitment.

Thanks to the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA for letting me be a volunteer. Over the past few years I have found true joy and fulfillment. I have made wonderful friends, and I have used my time for something so worthwhile that there are days when I truly cry from happiness.

Thanks to KZSU, for giving me the opportunity to be a radio DJ. The education in world music I have received from you is one that I treasure and which is a constant source of pleasure.

Thanks to the fates for giving me so much. A warm and cozy home in a safe neighborhood. Enough money to pay our bills. Access to good health care. The chance to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Thanks to you, all of you who drop by and read my words. Who take the time to comment. Who share your own lives with me through your blogs. Although invisible, you are dear friends to me.

May your own holidays be full of as many moments of thanks. Be well. Enjoy the holidays. And may we all have a happy and healthy new year.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Because of GB

Our dear friend Gabe passed away on October 25th after a long battle with cancer. Husband and I are both devastated, and at a loss as to how to help his wife and daughter deal with this pain. We owe GB and his wife, The Foreigner, a great deal. You see if it weren't for them, we never would have met. They were responsible for our becoming a couple and when we eloped, they were our only witnesses.

They are, and always will be, family.

Gabe was a wonderful man. He wasn't a superhero or world leader. He didn't invent something amazing or save the planet. He was just a good man who tried to live a good, responsible life. He had a huge social conscience and did the right thing without proclaiming it or drawing attention to himself. He just did what was right. And he made you want to do what was right as well. Because of him we learned of so many amazing causes and organizations. He cared about human rights, the planet, artistic freedom, education.

Gabe was brilliant. Not just well-educated, but a lifelong learner. He was an engineer with the soul of an artist. And he knew more about music than anyone I know. (And believe me, I know a lot of people who know a great deal about music.) He was a quiet man who didn't speak much, but when he did it was worth listening to. He was funny and strong, sweet and loving, gentle and generous.

And you could tell by the way he looked at his wife and daughter that they were the center of his world. He was so proud of them. Gabe wasn't overly demonstrative about his affections, but it was so obvious to anyone who knew him how much he loved them. His family was everything.

Those of us who were lucky enough to know him have lost a warm light. And somehow the whole planet seems diminished. His beautiful wife, who we love dearly, will get through this. She has a strength that is astounding. And all of us who loved him will help keep his memory alive for his daughter. But the pain of losing someone so central to our world has rocked us.

Go hold the people in your world a little closer. Never miss a chance to say "I love you."

As for us, we know we were so lucky to have him in our world. But it hurts like hell.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Not-At-All Highly Anticipated Return of Photo of the Day

The Saturday night carnival.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


The kitten nursery is closed for another year. Sigh....

This is Bix (named for jazz great Bix Beiderbeck), one of the cuties who came through the nursery. I just love this photo.

Well, let's see. It's been a while, hasn't it? Shall I catch you up?

One 4-day hospital stay and one ER visit for my usual zarfing mystery disease. (Actually it now has a name -- Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome -- worst name ever.)

Mom successfully moved from senior home to a lock-down home that specializes in dementia care. All good, except now we're fighting various insurance companies because her care is now close to $6000 a month.

Happily volunteered extra hours in moving our shelter animals to their new home. Our gorgeous new facility opened last month and is a huge success already. It's beautiful and a wonderful space for our critters. Big, open spaces. 10 x 10 rooms instead of cages and kennels. Our cats even have condos with windows! And they love sitting on the windowsills watching the birds fly by.

I've received extra training on dogs and have taken to working with them one day a week. At our mobile adoptions they seem to give me either the pit bulls (which I love!) or the problem dogs. Last Saturday we had a dog that was so much of a problem that I had to call Husband to come collect me and trouble-pup from the event and give us a ride back to the shelter. Problem-pup kept barking at every animal that came near him. Considering we had 5 other shelter dogs, a police K9 demonstration, and were massed in front of a pet store -- this was a problem.

Add to that severe writer's block and various personal problems and you have an excuse for my silence. Thanks for checking back. Just look at Bix, that makes everything OK.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New and Improved
The above is one of the new cat condo rooms in our beautiful new Humane Society. Check out this story for more pictures and coverage of our grand opening.

The Tom and Annette Lantos Center for Compassion is our beautiful, state-of-the-art facility that opened yesterday. The day exceeded expectations with 27 adoptions. No figures yet on how many adoptions we had today.

The new space is beyond amazing. Big, bright, beautiful. The cat condos and dog dorms are large and comfy spaces where our critters can sleep, play, and stretch their legs. The cat condos ring the outside of the building so have windows on the world that our cats have already discovered. The window ledges are crowded with happy bodies sleeping in sunbeams and watching the birds in the trees. The dog spaces have comfy big beds and places for them to roll around and play. The kitten nursery is a huge space with viewing windows so customers can watch the kittens being fed and being all cute.

There are new areas for our birds, reptiles, and wildlife. We have a big play space with a retractable roof for our dog training classes and for them to just run around and chase balls. Forget small shelters with chain link fences and small cages. This is the exact opposite. And our animals are already showing the positive changes. They are more relaxed, healthier, and happier. And so are we.

This has been a sad weekend with all of the September 11th remembrances. But for me, it's been a joyful thing to have our beautiful space finally open and for the public to see what we've done.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scenes from Silver Creek: Mrs. Blakey and the Amazing Disappearing Joint

Mrs. Blakey was the least popular teacher at Silver Creek High.

Junior high students were told horror stories about her by their older siblings and went into Freshman Social Studies with severe trepidation. She was like our own version of the boogeyman. Only in polyester pantsuits and a beehive hairdo about 20 years out of date.

She ruled her classes with an iron hand wrapped in an iron glove. And room 402 always smelled of her personal combination of baby powder and chalk dust.

To give you an idea of what a martinet she was, on my first day of her class (my very first day of high school) she gave me detention. Her reason? My older brother, Peter, had earned it but graduated without serving. In her power-mad world this made sense, even seemed fair. But to me it just served to make me loathe her as much as I had been warned I would.

Mrs. Blakey was approximately 137 years old and, it was rumored, had actually always lived on the site of Silver Creek High even before it was built. She was some sort of ageless, eternal evil siren and her lore only increased once you realize that nobody ever saw her outside of room 402. Ever.

She was never seen in the grocery store or the library. Nobody ever saw her walking across the parking lot in the morning. She was never witnessed going into the teacher’s break room or the cafeteria. I always supposed that she hung from the ceiling at night.

Because I have always had awful luck I drew Mrs. Blakey every single year. And by senior year she and I had reached an understanding: she would ignore me and I would stick pins in my Mrs. Blakey voodoo doll while she wasn’t looking.

Scene: room 402. I’m sitting in the last row of the classroom, trying to be invisible and counting the minutes until lunch. In the desk next to me Ricky Garcia is trying to be invisible and practicing his joint rolling technique while hiding behind his textbook. Out of nowhere, Mrs. Blakey calls on Ricky to answer some lame question about the Continental Congress or the Gross National Product of Peru. And Ricky, in a cannabis haze, panics and throws the joint into my lap.

Mrs. Blakey, seeing something flying across the aisle, stomps back in her Frankenstein shoes, her lime green polyester pantsuit making sparks as she walked. And there I am, all bored innocence, with a joint in my lap.

Thankfully, at that moment, Grace Minolli (always a kiss up) starts to answer the question about the Continental Congress or Peru and Mrs. Blakey is momentarily distracted. So I did the only honorable thing: I throw the joint across the aisle to Liam O’Connor. Who throws it to Andrew Neison. Who tosses it to Laura Fontaine. Within minutes this become the most well traveled doobie in the history of drugs. In an informal debriefing in the locker corridor after the Social Studies period it was decided that out of a class of 28 students, at least 17 had at one time had this joint on their person.

The only problem was that at this same debriefing it was also discovered that nobody walked out of the class with the contraband. Or at least nobody admitted to it.

At the end of the school day, when my friend Sean and I walked past the closed door of room 402, it was noticed that the room had a certain aroma surrounding it.

And that day Mrs. Blakey was finally seen off of the school grounds. Buying Hostess Twinkies at the 7-11.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thanks everyone for your good thoughts, kind wishes, prayers, and general support. It's been a rough week, but we're hanging in.

Mom's new situation is going as well as possible. She's not happy, but she hasn't been happy in over a year. The new place is, ultimately, safer which is what's important at the moment. There's 24-hour nursing care and they check on her frequently so our fear of her falling again is dimmed somewhat. In her old place she had her one one-bedroom apartment and unless someone was with her or just outside the door, chances are she'd fall and wouldn't be found for a bit.

We haven't seen her, but the management has been great about keeping us updated. She was very confused and angry at first, no surprise. She was moved from the hospital to her new place by ambulance and they got her into her new room as quickly as possible. I don't know if she's on her new meds yet, but this place specializes in dementia care and know all about dealing with someone as difficult as mom is these days. They say she's eating well, talking to the care aides, and everything is going as well as can be expected.

My family is dealing with all this in their usual manner. My eldest sister, mom's primary caregiver, is wracked with guilt and generally falling apart. My brothers are being "men" and handling the paperwork and insurance details. And me? I'm nicely detached, thank you. Filling in holes, being calm and reasonable. Trying to help while staying away from most of the soap opera.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mom Update
Short story: not good.

She's deteriorating rapidly. The other night she was found wandering down the street in the middle of the night. Proving beyond a doubt that her current senior home is not right for her. Luckily the police found her and took her to the hospital. No injuries, but confused, agitated, and aggressive.

We found a lock-down facility for her. (The sounds awful!) It's not a prison, just a secure senior residence that specializes in dementia and Alzheimer's patients. She'll be unable to wander away and will have access to more medical care than the place she has now. She'll have her own room, a shared bath, a and 24-hour nursing staff that has a lot of experience dealing with people like mom.

She was released from the hospital today and taken by ambulance to her new place. They suggested we stay away for a bit to minimize her confusion. So we'll stay away for a few days. This weekend we'll move her things out of the senior home and back to the house. At her new place we'll just move over photos and a few personal items.

It's been a very stressful week. Lots of e-mails shooting around between the siblings. Phone calls. Tears. Guilt. And more stress. But I think this is the best we can do. Her new place has gotten a good review from everyone we've spoken with. Mom's new doctor will work on her meds to figure out the best mix to address her anger and aggression. And she'll be safer in a place she can't get out of.

And, all in all, the whole thing sucks big time.