The Circle of Life
with Dignity, Destiny, and a Cherry Blossom
April is the cruelest month, the poet says. But for us, the most emotional month we’ve had in a long time was March. While our fosters bring us tremendous joy, they sometimes break our hearts too. In March, with our hospice foster Dignity and our beautiful Mama Cherry Blossom, the great circle of life played out in detail and drama right before our eyes.
On March 16, Howard and I introduced the newest member of our family to our IG community. Her name was Dignity. She and her bonded sibling had been adopted as kittens. But after almost 15 years the people she’d always depended on returned her because they didn’t want to deal with her urgent medical needs. We contacted them and asked if she could be reunited with her littermate. They surrendered her sibling to us immediately.
Dignity didn’t have much time left. She had liver disease, and her frail body was full of cancer. But we welcomed her into our lives so she could live the rest of her precious life loved by us and in the company of her sister, Destiny. From the start, we hoped that our fragile hearts could handle this journey.
Despite everything, Dignity sometimes exhibited the spirit of a kitten, playing with her toy mouse and cuddling with me afterward. She loved soft blankets, so we covered her room with them. She also loved basking in the sunshine, and every morning she waited patiently for her breakfast. She ate four to five cans of wet food every day but continued to lose weight.
Loving her was an honor, and though I would do it all again, caring for a hospice cat is not only emotionally taxing, but you also have to be willing to handle the animal’s decline and the issues that come with it. Dignity was very confused at the end and was no longer able to use the litter box properly. It was a lot of work, but I would do it a million times over for her. It broke my heart that her family gave her up when she needed them most.
On March 23, she let me know she was ready. She didn’t eat, she couldn’t move. I loved her so and I didn’t want her to suffer. Destiny joined us on the couch, and we knew it was time. Our fragile hearts barely managed to bear her loss.
Dignity was a warm light in my life for the short time we were together. I will never, ever forget her. And I believe she would be happy to know that her sweet sister Destiny is now in a loving home (below) with former fosters Elliott and ET! She is now called Zoey, which was her original name that she knows.
Then, just three days after Dignity died, the circle of life turned once again, when sweet Mama Cherry Blossom gave birth to three precious nuggets. I was lucky to catch the entire event — nearly 48 minutes’ worth — live for my Instagram followers. At one point, I had to lend a hand — literally — to pull the last kitten into the world. Howard joined me near the end of this small miracle, and we agreed that we should call the little black kitten Dignity.
Just one year old, Mama Cherry is a baby herself, but she’s an awesome mother to her three little ones.
But the drama wasn’t over. Dignity died on Tuesday, Mama Cherry’s beautiful babies arrived on Thursday, and that same day came the news that my other hospice foster kitty, Zaydee, had passed. She was adopted through my program into the home of my good friends Lisa and Dave who founded Dutchie & Renee Senior Cat Rescue.
Zaydee was loved until her last breath. I thank you, Lisa and Dave, for being so strong and incredible to do this time and time again. Heaven gained an angel kitty, and another one of Mama Cherry’s nuggets gained a name. We will call her DeeDee in honor of Zaydee. I hope Zaydee and Dignity are curled up together forever. (We named the third of Cherry’s babies Honor.)
Finally, to complete the circle of life one more time, a young Tortie arrived in my Florida program so pregnant she was about to pop. On March 28, she delivered four healthy BIG babies, including one who arrived foot first!
Mama Florida and her very special deliveries.
At roughly the same time a sweet dog came into my program. Kirby is a German Shepherd puppy who was bought from a breeder by a family who immediately noticed that he could not hold down his food. (I never trust anyone who sells animals and separates them from their mothers too early. He was no more than six or seven weeks old when they bought him.)
The family brought him to Long Island Veterinary Specialists. Dr. Jackie diagnosed the problem and informed the family that he’d been born with megaesophagus, an enlarged esophagus, which means he has to eat every meal and drink his water in an upright position. When his family found out the news, they never came back for him.
At that very moment he became part of my program!
Kirby was an instant favorite on my Instagram and the emails poured in from families who wanted to adopt this special-needs puppy. We spent a long time talking to various families, and chose one who’d had experience with their other megaesophogus dog. Kirby, now “Ivan,” is living the best life in a home absolutely filled with love! Seeing him makes my heart sing.
Kirby’s Journey to Ivan.
At top left, his first post on my Instagram. Above, adoption day with his new dad and Dr. Jackie. At left, waiting for supper at home in the chair his dad built just for him.
As beautiful and difficult as these moments have been, I cannot imagine life without them. They are precious parts of my experience and I would never have had them if I hadn’t decided to become shelter volunteer.
April is National Volunteer Month, so I’ll take this moment to send a shoutout to all my volunteer colleagues in animal sheltering. They not only help with the care of the animals, but they give them love and attention that they are longing for until they find their forever families. Shelters could never save so many lives without volunteers, that’s for sure.
Every April, North Shore Animal League America chooses a few volunteers to honor in recognition of all the volunteers who help make NSALA the largest rescue and adoption organization in the world. This year, I want to highlight these generous people for the hard and loving work they do. Here are our volunteer stars for 2021. To learn more about them and the volunteer program, please visit animalleague.org/volunteer.
Sisters Chelsea and Bailey Livian make volunteering a family affair. Bailey says, “When they go home, you’re so happy because you know they’re getting a better life.”
Why does Ivonne Attard volunteer? “As volunteers, we are the closest thing to family that these dogs will get until they get a home,” she says.
Former Marine Sunny Singh says he learned compassion from his first dog, King, adding that volunteering at NSALA has given him purpose. “To know I’m clearly making a difference is probably one of the most rewarding things in my life,” he says.
Completely by chance, I happen to know Linda Stio because she adopted Cheeky from me, one VERY special foster. Now known as Nala, this kitty was born with eyelid agenesis, which means that her eyelashes were growing into her eyeballs causing pain and discomfort. She had successful surgery with Dr. Kim at LIVS and is now comfortable and thriving with Linda’s family and new fur siblings. Linda and her family are incredible. She volunteers with Community Outreach at Animal League America and also helps the feral cats in her own community. “I don’t like to see anyone hungry,” says Linda. “Maybe it’s the Italian in me!”
My life as a foster mom clearly has joys and frustrations. In the frustrating category, my relationship with our resident cat Mooshu Peaches stands out. Since we adopted her more than two years ago, she has simply not liked me. She loooooves Howard, but he spent months and months working with her to gain her trust. It was a long process, but worth it. On the other hand, she literally would not let me near her, and it was very frustrating for me. Then…at the end of March …I had a major breakthrough with her.. and she gave me her belly and let me pet and even kiss her! I cried. This could have been one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve ever had. Adopting a shy animal, especially an adult, brings such personal joy with even the smallest acts of progress. Time and patience truly heal!
We did it, The Moosh!
P.S. I must mention seven of my many recent adult adoptions: Babycakes, Cloudy Bay and Rhonda, Nancy and Buddy the Hugger, and Kaylee and Katie!! They are all thriving in their new homes! And the families who adopted them…. Amazing people to open their hearts to older kitties.
Three wonderful fosters, Buddy, Nancy, and Babycakes, all came from a household of nine cats. When their owner passed away, their human’s family was able to re-home six of them. Buddy and Nancy were clearly a bonded pair, while Babycakes (above) was a bit of a loner. We were concerned about six-year-old Babycakes’ eyes, but a thorough evaluation revealed that she is fine, with some corneal scarring from an untreated infection as a kitten. We found her a great home.
Buddy is a passionate hugger, and he gave hugs to everyone, especially Howard (above left). Nancy, with me above, is a sweet lap cat. I loved her so. They are now in a home where they can hug and snuggle all they want.
Cloudy Bay, above left, my boyfriend, and his sweet sister, Rhonda, (aka the sweetest Tortie in the world), were brought to me after their human of 12 years got engaged to someone who is allergic to them. They are declawed (ouch!). It was a blessing their human gave them up because they hadn’t been to the vet in years, and both had very bad teeth (perfect now!) and Cloudy had undetected hyperthyroidism. He needs daily pills for life, and he takes them in his wet food feedings so easily. Neglecting your pets is abuse. They touched my heart so heavily, and I’m so happy that their new family adores them! These two dreamy kitties will never be neglected in their new home!
Eleven-year-old sisters Kaylee and Katie came to me because they were afraid of their previous human’s new puppy. It’s always shocking to see how callous people can be with animals, even after many years. These beauties were so easy to love. They enjoyed brushes and lap time, both of which I’m sure they’re getting lots of in their new home in Pennsylvania.
P.P.S. Despite the pandemic, North Shore Animal League America is conducting its 21st Annual Tour For Life®, ending on May 2. In partnership with Purina®, we’re teaming up with partner shelters and rescue groups in 53 cities and 37 states to promote safe adoption events to make it easier to find your new best friend. To see if we’re coming your way, visit animalleague.org/tourforlife. And whatever you do, be sure to visit your shelter and become a volunteer. It’s the best feeling in the world.