Monday, May 30, 2016

Home Sweet Dog House: Finding a Residence for the Well-Traveled Pet

Brie and Murphy at the Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal
When I found out that I’d been offered a job in Luxembourg my first feelings were total excitement. Woo Hoo! OMG! I’m moving to Europe! This is the most amazing thing ever!

But about 10 minutes after the initial excitement and shock wore off, I was overcome with a wave of pure and total panic. After all it wasn’t just me moving halfway across the world, I had two dogs and a cat to worry about. Luckily when I had visited Luxembourg during my interview, I had seen enough dogs on the bus, trains, and in the stores to know that the general atmosphere appeared to be pet friendly, but it was at that moment that it occurred to me that I would be completely starting over to build up my web of pet references, resources and referrals.

My first order of business was to find and book a pet friendly hotel, one that would accept both my 85 lbs (40kg) German Shepard, McKayla, and my 22 lbs (10kg) Shih Tzu, Hunter. After scrolling through the lists of rental properties without any luck of finding one that was “pet friendly” I decided that it was best to wait until I arrived to resume my search for appropriate accommodations. And since I would be staying in a hotel for an undetermined length of time, I decided to leave my cat, Zoe, with my parents, and send for her after I’d found a place to live.

The second task was figuring out a way to ship my pets directly to Luxembourg since I wouldn’t have a car initially after arriving. After calling several shipping companies I stumbled upon Jet-A-Pet International. My representative, Leigh, was a Godsend, and took care of everything. The only thing that I had to do was get their shots and health certificate. Jet-A-Pet made all of the arrangements to ship my dogs directly from our house in NYC to Luxembourg. All of the other companies that I had called told me that I would need to send my dogs to Germany and have them transported to Luxembourg by car. However, Jet-A-Pet had an arrangement with Cargolux, which shipped my dogs on a direct flight. They even arranged for the kennels, walked the dogs before they were crated, took care of all of the paperwork, and cleared them through customs. I must admit that I was nervous the whole day, wondering whether or not they would be OK. But in the end Hunter and McKayla were perfect and didn’t seem affected by the trip at all.

My dogs were traveling on a separate flight and I arrived a few hours before them. That gave me enough time to go and find the essentials like food and beds. I asked the hotel where I could go and after searching on Google they directed me to a pet store in the city center. I stocked up on food, bowls, toys, treats, and beds, and since I didn’t have a car, was obliged to take a taxi the 3 km back to the hotel at a cost of €10.

As I was alone in Luxembourg, I had asked my best friend, Rhonda, to come and stay with me for two weeks to help me get settled. While I spent my days at work and lunch breaks looking for apartments online, she would spend her morning calling various rental agencies and afternoons looking at properties. During her stay Hunter and McKayla had company and someone to walk them before I finished work, but as the time approached for Rhonda to leave I was obliged to search for a dog walker and hire someone to come to the hotel and walk my dogs for 30-45 minutes while I was at work.

Needless to say when I finally moved into an apartment after 18 days in a hotel, paying an additional €40 per night for 2 dogs, €50 per day for dog walking services, and €200+ on food, bowls, and toys, I was ecstatic and relieved. I was grateful to the hotel for their hospitality, but I was thrilled to be moving and settling into my new home.

A few months later I met a colleague who had just moved to Luxembourg with her husband and two dogs. We ended up comparing hotel experiences, but astonishingly hers sounded nothing like mine. She was staying at the Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal in Luxembourg City (Bonnevoie), and couldn’t say enough good things about their five star level of hospitality towards her, her husband, and their dogs. When I told her about my rush to buy the essentials after arriving, and how I had to take a taxi back to the hotel, she was sympathetic, but not empathetic. She explained that at the Sofitel the essentials for their dogs had been provided upon arrival, that the hotel staff was so nice and friendly, and couldn’t seem to do enough to help them.  
Brie checking in with Murphy and Maya
As the years passed I have run into more and more people who have moved to Luxembourg with pets, and each time we shared experiences there were always some similarities, but more differences. Some endured a longer wait time to find pet friendly accommodation while others were luckier right off the bat. But the one hotel experience that never seemed to be topped was the Sofitel.
Murphy and Maya relaxing after dinner
Curious to learn more about the hotel’s philosophy behind their pet friendly approach, I visited the Sofitel and interviewed their communications and public relations manager, Belen Irazoa. She explained that in 2007 the hotel chain underwent a reorganization which is when they made the corporate decision to treat pets as members of the family. They introduced the program called “My Dog” where they actually established a product for dogs. As part of the program the Sofitel provides hotel guests with beds, bowls, blankets, toys, and dog walking services for just €20 per dog per night. If a guest needs dog food that can be purchased at a store, a Sofitel staff member can go to get it. And if the dog has specific dietary needs, Sofitel can prepare meals to order. The hotel has no hesitation to prepare chicken or beef and rice and bring it to the pet in their room or even at the table while the owners are dining.
Ms Irazola explained, “This approach started as a mentality. We love animals. We really believe that a dog is a member of the family. We want to treat the whole family in that way. We want people to feel like they are at home.”
Settling into the suite
Unlike some hotels that I have visited, when Sofitel described themselves as being “dog friendly” that means more than just allowing dogs to enter the premises. At the Sofitel, dogs are allowed in all of the common areas, to stay unaccompanied in the rooms, and there is no limit to the number of dogs that are allowed in the hotel at one time. This is useful not just for families that are moving to town, but also for participants in dog shows. The rooms are typically 35m2 but normally there is no size limit that the dogs are restricted to. The most important thing that the guests have to remember is that they must maintain their dogs in a responsible way. The Sofitel strives to provide a wonderful five star experience for guests and their pets, and over the years say they have had no problems as a result of allowing dogs in the hotel and instead see only the benefits.
Murphy relaxing in the room
“When you decide one thing, believe in it, and go for it,” Irazola said. “Adopting this program has given the Sofitel a more positive reputation. People that have come here have been very happy. Our hotel is like an experience and we want people to have a good experience whether its business or family, doesn’t matter.”
Christine, Brie, Murphy, and Maya enjoying a drink at the bar
Sharing vital information with other pet owners, like the Sofitel Experience, is just one of the reasons my husband and I created, Petopia – a new web platform that serves as a one-stop-shop providing all the vital information to maintain healthy and happy pets, mainly to people in the Luxembourg region. Our aim is to help as many people reduce the amount of chaos that I experienced after moving to a new country accompanied by pets. If I had known about the Sofitel’s “My Dog” program, that they would take my dog for a walk if I was stuck in a long meeting, or even arrange for my Shih Tzu to visit the groomer, I would have been grateful and a lot less stressed. Some hotels may have different prices and pet friendly packages. Visitors and those moving to Luxembourg should check several accommodations to see what best fits the needs of your budget and family. To me and many people, our dogs are not just our pets, they are members of the family, and we should do what we can to help each other out. 
Sofitel has five star bathrooms for guests and pets


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Help Me to Heal: Mind, Body, and Horse

Horses enjoy our presence most when we are in the "Here and Now"
photo by Thierry Fulconis

At the age of 15, I believed I was going to die. After recently learning about breast cancer and how to conduct a self-exam at-home, I thought that I’d give it a try.  It was a strange sensation to discover a lump that wasn’t there some months before. From what I had learned, women could develop fatty tumors, but when the lump didn’t seem to move around freely, I knew that something was wrong.

At the doctor’s office, it took about 15 minutes before she took my father aside and told him that I needed to be scheduled for immediate surgery. There was no discussion of conducting an x-ray, ultrasound, or even biopsy, just surgery. The chances of the tumor being cancerous were pretty high as the disease runs in my family. And even though they told me not to worry, and that everything would be ok, the look on my dad’s face that day told me everything they were afraid to say and all that I needed to know.

The surgery was schedule for roughly two weeks later, and every day up until then, I cried. Each night I would tell my dad that I loved him, and made him promise to take care of our Alaskan Malamute, Sasha, and not to feed her too many turkey legs. I told him of all the things I wouldn’t live to see and do, as well as my list of regrets. Together we would say the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23, and he would sing to me until I feel asleep.  My dad would wait awhile by my bedside, and after leaving my room and heading to his own, he would often feel defeated.

I am now 29 years old, and living a strong and healthy life. The tumor had been benign, but from the day we found out, our lifestyle changed. All of the foods with hormones were immediately thrown out, and were replaced by organic. Any later medications that I consumed would have to be entirely without or with the lowest possible levels of estrogen. These were just the tangible effects of my ordeal, but the psychological ones that I wasn’t immediately aware of would have a far longer lasting impression.

Up until that time I had been an avid soccer player and a member of a private club team in Westchester. But after the surgery I begin to lose interest. I would make up excuses as to why I didn’t want to go, and eventually I gave up and quit. Out of genuine concern, my dad took me to see a psychologist, a practice that I would unknowingly continue over the next 10 years. Initially it felt odd to sit and talk to a stranger about my feelings and deepest fears, but over time I realized that it was comforting to have a non-family member listen to me, unbiased and nonjudgmental, and try to help me confront my suppressed anxieties that were manifesting in different ways and undoubtedly affecting the quality of my life. Looking back on it now, during those sessions I was always holding onto something, like a pen or a pillow, and doing so gave me the sense of not being entirely exposed. And each time after those sessions ended, when I came home, just being with my dog or cat would reassuringly give me a sense of unrequited peace.  If I had known then that there were ways to incorporate animals into my counseling sessions, I know I would have tried it, but it was only recently that I discovered Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning (EFEL).

Inspired by the teachings of Linda Kohanov and after having come to a cross-road in her life, Ines Kaiser took out a map and randomly picked Luxembourg as the next place to move to in hopes of starting her own business. Ines had tried EFEL after experiencing some difficulties in her life, and understanding the benefits, wanted to offer the same opportunity to others in search of finding themselves and something more out of life.
Relaxing together in the pasture (photo by Thierry Fulconis)
Initially EFEL began with the idea of connecting humans and horses in different ways. For centuries humans have had a dependent relationship with horses and over time that relationship has frequently been one sided. Horses were used as a means for transportation, during war, exploration, survival of everyday life, and humans rarely asked what was the desire and needs of the horse. Horses were critical to human survival and evolution, and the thought to ask the horse if they were willing to assist was never taken into consideration, and instead often times they were brutally forced to oblige. In the later years horses were used by the super-rich for prestige and sport, which greatly served the interest of their owners but more times than not, neglected the interests of the horse. In recent decades, more ethical training methods and horsemanship have developed, but the idea remained that the human taught the horse and not the other way around. However, nowadays, we have arrived at an era where this way of thinking deserves to be questioned, and the intelligence of horses should be deeply considered.
Horses are prey animals that live in herds and love being in the pasture
photo by Thierry Fulconis
Ines began establishing her clientele in 2012, but launched her business,, full time in 2013. She has six horses – Mylie (21 yrs.), Sue (8 yrs.), Grace (7 yrs.), Centu (6 yrs.), Sky (4 yrs.), Bella (3 yrs.) – five of whom she trains with. The clients who come to her are battling with a range of issues such as burnout, depression, anorexia, anger, fear, mid-life crisis, lifestyle transition, calamitous relationships, divorce, in-between jobs, death of family members, and illness. And whatever the case may be they are looking for a change as their current state no longer feels sustainable and is leading them down a path of unhappiness. In all cases, Ines’s clients have managed to suppress their emotions which have resulted from these life altering events, and have come to her to try and rebuild the contact to themselves. And by the time they call to schedule a session, they have already read the information on her website.
“I Invite them to the stables and introduce my approach. I make them experience. When you learn from experience, you remember it differently than something you heard or talked about. When the experience happens on all these nonverbal levels – body, emotion, mind, energy, and soul -- you can feel it.”
Ines’s work involves the horse to teach people how to find themselves and reconnect.
“You cannot develop personally if you can’t feel yourself or perceive what is going on within you. Through the work that I am doing, the question I like to ask is, “What do the horses have to teach us?” Any interaction that we have with them they are teaching us something. I don’t know if they have a direct intention to do so, it could vary from horse to horse, but they communicate very clearly that which we have unlearned.”
As Ines perceives it, in today’s world the modern human mind is too focused on logical thinking. As a result people have lost contact with their emotions and no longer “feel their bodies”. Ines explained that horses are prey animals, and it is in their nature to pick up even the slightest change in their environment. They can feel your heart rate, whether you have high blood pressure, your suppressed emotions, how well you are grounded, and if you are present in the here and now or not. They can feel if you are congruent with your heart.
A moment of affection between this woman and horse, Bella
photo by Thierry Fulconis
The Institute of Heart Math has conducted research in the field of heart intelligence. They have been able to determine that there is scientific evidence proving that humans have the same cells in our heart that are also in our brain, and that when we make decisions based on our heart or our gut feelings, that this is more than just a metaphor.

For people who have a strong mental focus it is important to have them try and connect with their body. The body talks to us through these sensations, and as prey animals, horses are able to perceive all of these things and mirror them back to us through their behavior. In order to identify and acknowledge these sensations, one of the first exercises that Ines does with her clients is called a Body Scan. As she explains:
“A Body Scan is a small exercise where you focus your attention inward. You go through all of your body parts and look for any sensations that may stand out. That could be pressure, churning in stomach, tension, posture, a realization that your shoulders are hunched. All of these simple sensations carry information. I ask them 'Which is the sensation that intrigues you the most?', and they always unconsciously choose the right one.”
Ines explained that an example of this is when a person is standing and looking at the horse and says “I have a nervous feeling in my stomach”. They are to allow this feeling to be and spend a moment observing it. When this is happening, Ines is standing with them and encouraging them. Then she asks them what the message behind this sensation could be and they reply, “I’m afraid because I’ve never been close to a big animal, I’m afraid of being run over by the horse, and I’m afraid the horse will step on my feet”.

Ines undertook a 4 year training in Body Orientated Psychotherapy in Switzerland at the Core Energetics Institute and a 1 year EponaQuest training program in the USA designed by Linda Kohanov in order to be able to properly interpret and understand her client’s projected sensations and realizations. When the client expressed her fear that the horse would step on her feet, this manifested into the realization that the client was afraid of upsetting her family and colleagues, and as a result was over eager to please everyone. She had been unable to communicate her own needs and boundaries to those around her which had resulted in suppressing her emotions and facing years of self-conflict and turmoil.

Ines said that during the first visit she asks her clients a series of questions: Why are you here? What do you want to achieve? What is bothering you in your life? What do you want to get out of these sessions? She continued:
“It is very important that they verbalize their desires because that is how I make my orientation.  This is mostly something inside them, and something that helps them connect to their potential and their power. People strive to find out what they want in life and what will lead them there. When we encounter difficult situations we typically want them to go away and resolve themselves, but those are the greatest gifts to help us find out more deeply who we really are.”
Mostly Ines works with adults, however she also works with children using a slightly different approach. For example, some of the children she sees are introverted and lack self-confidence. In these situations, she designs activities that they can do to work on improving these tendencies, activities where they can make decisions and take action. She lets the children decide what obstacles they want to go through with the horse and what they want the horse to do for them.
“I work to train their assertiveness, and this can be done on or off the horse. In order for them to motivate the horse to do something with them or for them, they have to bring the right energy level to achieve this”.
Some kids pick up on the idea fairly quickly and respond positively to the training almost immediately. For example, she has had cases where kids demonstrate their assertiveness by creating their own fantasy journey as their activity for the session. Ines added:
“We go on a fantasy journey. The horses become unicorns, while I and my partner play the fairies. We encounter obstacles such as how to get by the crocodiles, or past the quicksand. Sometimes we come to a river without a bridge and have to figure out what to do and how to get across. This brings out their creativity.”
Learning and having fun! (photo by Thierry Fulconis)
Other cases are not as straightforward, she explained, and require another approach:
“I went with one girl for a walk in the woods with the horses and I asked her, 'What do you want from life if you could have anything you wanted?'. It took her a while to start talking, but when she did there were a lot of things coming out that were very useful for her to know eluding to some of the challenges she was facing.”
In all of Ines’s cases with children, the parents were very open. If her therapeutic approach didn’t fit, they noticed it in the first meeting. Right from the beginning, Ines makes it very clear to the parents how she works.
“This therapeutic setting cannot be a situation where 'there is something wrong with my child and I need to fix it'. Most children who come for Equitherapy benefit greatly from it. I rely totally on the fact that I can give them an experience. They may not always be able to use this in their lives right now but it may have an influence that is immeasurable.”
This little boy is exploring different positions on the horse's back
photo by Thierry Fulconis

But what affect does all of this have on the horse? People are seemingly improving as a result of their interaction with the animal, but taking into consideration the true essence of EFEL, how does the horse feel about interacting with the people?

Ines explained that horses can handle emotions well, particularly negative emotions as long as we are willing to show them. By admitting to ourselves and to the horse that we are afraid, the horse is more likely to relax. If we suppress our fears, and then try to mount the horse without feeling comfortable, the horse doesn’t know what is going on, the situation doesn’t feel right to them, and they start reacting, mirroring our emotions. For instance, they get uncomfortable, start to move around, become fearful and stressed. Some may start to panic, some just ignore you and turn and walk away, or maybe they become aggressive which is demonstrated when they pin back their ears and swish their tail. These are all clear signs that they don’t want the person too near. Ines added:
“Horses like to be congruent, and want us to admit to ourselves what is going on inside of us. Some people will tell you, 'don’t show your fear to the horse', but they don’t realize that the horse already senses what we are feeling long before we do.
"Many people approach the horse thinking 'I want the horse to love me'. Animals think so differently because they simply love. They do not have this type of conditioning. If the person doesn’t realize that this is a pattern and start to open up to a certain extent, then this can be very frustrating for the horse. It is OK for the person to want the horse to love them. They are projecting their inner conflict onto the horse at that moment and we just want to make this conscious and explore where this need of 'wanting to be loved' comes from.
If we let go of our expectations, we experience blissful moments with horses
photo by Thierry Fulconis

Ines says that it is not the severity of the trauma, but more how the person deals with it. If the person has made their peace with their issues, can express their feelings and self-reflect, then the horses are quite happy to be around them versus a person that is stuck in their ways and remains stuck. Horses communicate strongly through non-verbal channels -- body, energy, emotions – and this communication happens in a very subtle way. It is so subtle that for us humans we have to be taught how to observe.

Many people come to Ines because they've heard about Equine Assisted Therapy, are drawn to horses, feel more comfortable being outside, and want to try this less common approach. Ines shys away from using the word “treated” as it implies that something needs to be fixed or go away. Her approach is not to solve the problem -- the old paradigm or our modern world – but to teach others that there is nothing wrong, only an organism saying to us that an issue needs to be brought to our attention. Humans have many beliefs that are created through social conditioning. We carry a lot of emotional baggage and suppressed emotions, which in turn impacts the horse, and can be quite a lot for them emotionally. The therapist continued:
“Some of the horses can carry your burden with them, other horses are eager to help. If the horse cannot help, they can feel bad. If we spend time in their energy field they have a regulating effect on us, for example, people who have had a bad day at the office and went to see their horse, and afterwards feel so relaxed.”
Relaxation exercise on the horse (photo by Thierry Fulconis)

Since 2014, Ines has been co-leading the Equi Motion Institute in Luxembourg, a continuing training program for professions who want to involve horses in their teaching and become trained equitherapists. These are people who hold a degree in social work, pedagogy, psychology or are medical professionals, and already have extensive experience with horses. As a fundamental key to the program’s success, Ines believes that you can only create a safe environment if you really know the horse species.

In addition to equitherapist training, Ines provides therapy for horses who encounter behavior problems such as rearing up, biting, kicking, bolting, or difficulties with trailer loading, just to name a few. Ines evaluates the horse to see what they are doing and under which circumstances. She then strives to renegotiate these behaviors, works to rebuild or build the trust and set boundaries. She also observes the owner to see what the relationship between them and their horse is like. She asks what the owners’ expectations are, and then delves into whether or not those expectations are justified and realistic. Her main focus is what the horse wants and how they feel.
“All behavioral issues or trauma that the horse has was created by humans. There is a lot of work required with the human. The animal put us into a position where we need to grow into more conscience beings. You cannot approach an animal with pure human logic.”
Ines with her horses, Sky and Bella; the next generation of 4-legged helpers
photo by Thierry Fulconis

Some of Ines’s clients have been with her since 2012. Some come on a regular basis for a long period of time, others for 6 months every other week, and some give her a call from time to time. She said she leaves the level of frequency entirely up to them and does not try to influence them:
“Every person needs to have a high motivation to work on their personal issues and when they come for a session it’s because that’s what they want, not what I suggested.

“Every encounter has its own purpose, and who am I to judge, or say something about a person. I can only be there to accompany them in whatever they are experiencing.”
After a session Ines emotions vary. She reflects quite a lot, considers the outcome, and replays the events and conversations, the decisions that were made and her input.
“In general I feel very satisfied and enormously grateful to the horses because they often bring things to the surface that I couldn’t have and never would have thought of.”
Ines and her horse, Sky, spending a quiet moment enjoying the sunset
photo by Thierry Fulconis

Ines’s work has changed her life entirely. The way she relates to humans and animals has forever changed, and the horses have become her biggest source of inspiration. Last year Ines invited Anna Evans to do a seminar with her. Anna founded the approach “Communication Intuitive” and has the unique ability to non-verbally communicate with horses. Anna had the chance to communicate with Ines’s horse, Grace, and told Ines that this is what Grace said,
“When I work with Ines, I, Grace, am the professional and Ines is the assistant. And this interaction between myself and humans, this is how I express love.”
Ines and her horse, Mylie, and dog, Maui, doing liberty work
photo by Thierry Fulconis

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What to Expect: Illnesses in Senior Cats

At times it seems like my 10 year old cat, Zoe, is an extension of my arm. Whenever I am sitting at the desk and working on the computer, she comes over to me, nudges my chin with her head, and plops down somewhat beside and somewhat on top of the keyboard, and rests her head on my arm. And any time that I even think about changing positions, or move my wrists just the slightest bit, she opens one eye, glares at me, and shuts it again as if to say “Don’t even think about it”. The funny thing is that I actually try to oblige her and feel guilty if I move too much while typing and forget to use my left hand to activate the mouse instead of my right. I mean, after all, I am right handed, but even that is no excuse.

Another example of how well she has me trained is that whenever she grants my husband and me the pleasure of her company, and chooses to sleep in our bed, she picks out her spot and is not to be disturbed for the profound impact that it could have on her sleep. 99.9% of the time she chooses to sleep right next to me curled up in my arms, and I am very careful to give her enough space so that she doesn’t fall off the edge of the bed. On these occasions it is my husband who has to adjust and sleep close to the edge on his side, simply because he chooses to come to bed later than Zoe and me. The simple rule is “first come first served”. But in all fairness, if I manage to wake up when he enters the room, I am sure to remind him that Zoe’s sleeping so he doesn’t make too much noise or ruffle the covers too much when he’s trying to get situated and comfortable.

I could continue on with more examples of how I habitually put our cat’s comfort above that of my own and often times even that of my husband, but I think the first two should give you a pretty good idea of how much she means to me. That being said, when she got sick last month and I wasn’t sure if she was going to make it, you can imagine the pain and agony I felt with the prospect that she might die and that all the discomforts that we regularly endure would become our fondest memories.  

Zoe weights 6.9 kg (approx. 15 lbs) and is no stranger to eating. In fact, it is her favorite past time, next to sleeping. We’ve tried everything to increase her activity level including toys, walks, yard time, and laser lights, but nothing has worked. She is committed to eating and there are no exceptions. So one night, about a few hours after dinner, when she regurgitated her food, we thought it odd but not too serious. It was only the next morning when she started repeatedly vomiting up bile that we knew something had to be seriously wrong.

It was 6 am Wednesday: our only option was to take her to the emergency hospital. The vet's initial steps were to perform a physical examination, take an x-ray to see if anything was lodged in the stomach, take the temperature, administer a Cerenia injection to stop the vomiting, and start re-hydrating her with IV fluids. She remained in the hospital all day and was released that evening as the vomiting had ceased and she had started to regain her appetite. The hospital gave me some medication to assist with digestion, but after she got home it seemed as if things were getting back to normal.

The next day her appetite level went back down. She was no longer my hungry kitty, and instead wasn’t interested in eating at all. This time we headed to a second veterinary hospital in order to have an ultrasound of her abdomen and additional blood work done to try and determine the extent of the problem.

During the ultrasound the doctors noticed that her pancreas seemed inflamed, so the initial thought was that she could have pancreatitis. To be sure of the diagnosis, the vets took additional blood work to review her enzyme levels, but as it turned out her levels were considered normal. They then administered additional IV fluids to increase her hydration, and waited overnight to watch and see if her appetite returned before releasing her to come home. When I picked her up from the vet hospital the next day they explained that Zoe had an inflammation of the stomach lining otherwise known as gastritis and sent me home with pain and an anti-acid medication to give her for the next 2 weeks.

Zoe’s apatite steadily increased, however, the following Thursday, just 6 days after leaving the second veterinary hospital, the refusal to eat returned. I immediately took her back to the first veterinary hospital that performed the initial examination, and they repeated the ultrasound and another full blood work analysis to see if the previous diagnosis had worsened. The good news was that the pancreas and stomach lining were back to normal, but the stomach motility had seemingly decreased.  That same night I was able to take her back home, even though her apatite hadn’t returned during her stay at the hospital. They gave me medicine to increase the motility and special veterinary a/d food to hopefully stimulate her appetite. The blood work took 24 hours for the results so we had to wait until the next day to see if the condition was more serious than anticipated. At home that evening Zoe ate a little, but nothing impressive, and the next day was worse than the previous one. She wasn’t eating at all and was lethargically staying in one place. I frantically called our family vet who dropped off an appetite stimulus medication. By late afternoon the blood work had returned indicating that everything was in order, and there was clinically nothing more to be done to explain the lack of appetite and lethargy. Soon after giving Zoe the appetite stimulant medication, our vet, who was involved in this from the beginning, and coached me through this traumatic process every step of the way, came over to do one more physical exam. As a last resort she gave Zoe an antibiotic injection after noticing her straining to swallow. And strangely enough, even though it may not have been very scientific, it was the only thing that worked. Hour by hour Zoe’s appetite began returning to normal and the lethargy faded away. A few days later she was back to being our hungry kitty, and I couldn’t have been happier to feed her whenever she asked, day and night, or sleep in awkward positions in the bed so that she was comfortable and slept soundly.

I am thankful that after two weeks of uncertainty, a bucket full of emotional turmoil, two ultrasounds, two IV fluids, one x-ray, three blood tests, and about five medications that my story still had a happy ending, but unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

Dorthe Brandt’s cat, Pjerrot, was just 6 weeks old when she found him abandoned and sitting on the side of the street in 2002. She picked him up and took him home where he fell into bed and just slept for the first two days. Dorthe suspected that Pjerrot was deaf when he wouldn’t react to being called by his name or the sound of things dropping on the floor. He was very clumsy and couldn’t do simple things like walk along the table next to a glass without knocking it over. He was always bumping into things which is unusual for cats as they tend to be very graceful and cautious of their surroundings. It was because of this that a friend of Dorthe’s 5 year old girl thought he should be named after the famous Danish clown, Pjerrot, who acts as a mime. At two months old he was officially tested at the animal hospital and they determined that he was in fact 100% deaf. Dorthe had suspected it all along especially since he was an all-white cat, and she understood that they were prone to being deaf. This simply meant that Pjerrot would have to be kept indoors as it wasn’t safe for him to be outside alone when he couldn’t hear any dangers approaching. 

Ironically enough, the fact that Pjerrot was kept indoors to keep him from being run over by cars didn’t stop him from loving to ride in them. On Sundays when the weather was nice, Dorthe used to take Pjerrot on long drives where he would look out the window at enjoy the scenery passing by. She remembers that by the time they arrived home, Pjerrot would be so exhausted that he would walk into the house, head straight for the bed, and fall fast asleep.  During weekdays when Dorthe was getting ready for work and was putting on her high heels, Pjerrot would take this as his cue to go and sit by the door and wait in hopes that she would take him for another car ride.
Like Zoe, feeding time for Pjerrot was a sacred ritual that should never be broken. Pjerrot almost had Dorthe believing that cats could tell time and set alarm clocks as he always knew when it was 6 am, the time that he expected his breakfast to be prepared and served. If Dorthe was sleeping he would brush her hair until she woke up to serve him, and if that didn’t work he would pounce on the bed until she got up. His determination was immeasurable and he was just as vigilant about dinner time, screaming at her unless his meal was served promptly at 6pm.

As the years passed by and Pjerrot got older, Dorthe read articles about senior cats and what to expect, but it still didn’t prepare her for the day when his illness actually came. Pjerrot had been losing weight, but it was nothing alarming and he had even received a clean bill of health at his last check-up about a year before. He was still eating and screaming, as deaf cats tend to do, so when Dorthe decided to go away on holiday for a weekend she’d made the decision to take him to the vet right after she got back. When she returned home that Sunday Pjerrot wasn’t standing at the door to meet her. Instead he was hiding underneath the duvet. When she found him he was still trying to greet her, but the sound of his purring was totally different and she could see that something was completely wrong. Dorthe immediately called the vet and took him to the hospital. When she lifted him out of the kennel he tried to scramble away and fell onto the floor and screamed. Dorthe reached down to pick him up and place him back onto the table but he took his last breath and passed away in her arms.

The entire act happened so quickly that the veterinarian didn’t even have time to examine Pjerrot before he passed away. The vet said that when he arrived he was breathing very fast and his illness could have affected his heart. The vet had tried to massage Pjerrot’s heart while he was lying on the table, but it didn’t help. It was already too late. In the end, the  prognosis was that Pjerrot died of heart failure.

Pjerrot was extremely loving and enriched Dorthe’s life for the entire 14 years they were together. Pjerrot had never been sick a single day. When looking back on his life Dorthe remembers the good times, and that he was such a happy cat always off in his own little world. When asked to describe her last moments with him she said, “I literally think, maybe it’s me wishing to think, he was waiting for me to come home so he could die while I was here”. And even though he is gone and watching over her from above, she will forever hold onto her fondest memories, “When the sun starts getting up, we are going to get up, even if its 4am. And if I tried to crawl back into bed he would come wake me up saying, now it’s time to play.”