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Bernice: What's the matter—cat's got your tongue?

Let me introduce you to Bernice, a thirteen year old cat that was referred by her regular veterinarian to my care this summer. As a veterinary specialist, I often see cases that need specialized diagnostic tests (ultrasound, endoscopy) and critical care. Bernice was not eating, and she was vomiting and swallowing in an exaggerated manner. And, oh by the way, Bernice had lost her meow. She would open her mouth and try to meow, but nothing came out. Quite the opposite of the old saying—cat's got your tongue. Something was wrong with Bernice and she needed help. Her owner was concerned that something might be stuck in her throat, which was a definite possibility given the sudden onset of her concerns. We also had to consider that there might be a tumor or other abnormal growth in her throat.

Basic x-rays of her neck and chest did not reveal any problems. She was sedated and an endoscope (a small camera used to examine various areas of the body) was used to look in the dark recesses of her mouth, windpipe and throat. Low and behold, just above the roof of her mouth, was a blade of grass. Bernice, being a cat who loved going outside for her daily constitutionals, had eaten some grass and apparently vomited the grass, as animals will do. Unfortunately for Bernice, a large blade of grass had lodged itself above the roof of her mouth and caused her distress. She had lost her voice and appetite because of this one piece of grass. Within minutes of discovery, the blade of grass was extracted. No damage to her throat was noted. She recovered well from anesthesia and she is back home, meowing again and hopefully avoiding grass as part of her diet. —Cindy Stubbs, Durham

An ode to Big Sandy


Big Sandy is my first old dog. At 15, she's achieved more than her share of accomplishments and bounced back from life's traumas with more vigor and moxie than I can ever muster. When my husband and I adopted her 10 years ago from a shelter in Maryland, she was on her last hours before being euthanized. She has simply run out of time, but lucky for us the timing was just right. Big Sandy came into our lives feral, jumpy, snappy, and hyper, with energy seeming to beam from her auburn eyes. My husband and I were not prepared to manage a dog that appeared so out of control.

Within 6 rocky months of using gentle training techniques, having patience, and many, many trips to the dog park, we harnessed that energy into an amazing drive to learn, perform, and work. Dog sports? Sure. Sheepherding? No problem. Whatever I asked her to do, she dove in, forcing me to catch up to her level of proficiency. Even after losing her leg and tail in an accident, Big Sandy bounced back and needed a new job that seemed to fit her to a tee. So began our teamwork in animal assisted therapy eventually working for six years with children and adults with physical and behavioral challenges. She bee-bopped into every facility and school, wagging her stumpy tail in anticipation of meeting new friends in walkers, wheelchairs, and beds, engaging everyone who saw her. It was as if this was exactly what she was meant to do and she knew it.

Nothing has ever been able to slow Big Sandy's spirit, until her body stopped being able to keep up with her. Now retired from most of her jobs, she spends her days sleeping on her puffy bed and even a short walk together seems to be enough. Gone are the days of required runs and romps and games to diffuse her endless energy. My friend now struggles to climb stairs and occasionally falls down looking to me for a boost, which I gladly give. She sometimes seems confused, seeking comfort and security in a way that I never expected. I know these upcoming months (if we are lucky, maybe a year or a little longer) are her twilight and we fully intend to cater to her every whim.

It is interesting that I have ended up accomplishing more with my own life because of all Big Sandy was able to do. Throughout her life, her disabilities became abilities. I owe her such a debt for helping me see that. There are so many other dogs out there, just like Big Sandy, misunderstood and sometimes mistreated for it. Perhaps we just need to give them a chance and help them discover what they were meant to do. —Jenn Merritt, Efland



I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2001 and quickly found myself in the throes of treatment with bi-weekly chemo sessions, regular visits to the hospital, and very soon after my first chemo: hair loss. After arriving home from my first treatment, I hopped on my computer to find myself a cat...a bald cat. I promised myself then that when I finished my treatments I would get a Sphynx cat to serve as a reminder of my hairless days.

I waited patiently throughout my treatments with kitty collection as my goal and read extensively about the breed. That being said, nothing could've quite prepared me for going into a home with 10-15 hairless cats. It was a lot like stepping onto another planet. Basking in his baldness, unaware that he was a sight to behold or that I'd waited a year and a half to meet him, I held Ernie for the first time. I was afraid immediately that I would break him and was assured that I would not. I quickly found out that he was fearless.

Days later I was told that Ernie had been romping in the litter box and gotten clumping litter in his eye, permanently damaging his sight. I was asked whether or not I still wanted to take him. I decided then to share Ernie with the world in hopes that he could teach children that looking different or having some kind of disability is okay.


Ernie and I made regular trips to local pet shops to learn how to behave in public. One Saturday afternoon as we watched birds flit about in their cages I felt Ernie jump down from my shoulder and duck around the corner of the cage. At the end of his leash I could hear him chirping and purring loudly as a small boy knelt to pet him. The little boy, with not a stitch of hair on his head and donning a Duke Children's Hospital shirt, looked up at me and said simply, "I like your cat." I thanked him and told him that it looked like he and Ernie were fast friends. Moments later the boy's mom walked up and he grinned at her and told her he'd made a new friend to which she replied, "What is it"? He told her very adamantly that it was a cat. He then looked up his mom and said words that changed me forever. He said, "Mom, we need a cat like this because it looks just like me". Hiding tears in the corners of my eyes I scooped Ernie up after the little boy left and I reminded him that the little boy was exactly why we were there. I have never been the same.

Over the past 6 years Ernie and I have taken our message to many schools in North and South Carolina. We've spoken to children about bullying and how it's really not nice to tease, or fair to judge a book by its cover. It's always funny when first making contact with a school to see how they'll respond to my offer to visit. I prefer not to have to leave a message asking whether they'd be interested in me bringing my bald cat to visit. I've been hung up on more times than I can count, but for the few brave and insightful enough to welcome a cat as a key note speaker there is always a reward. I find it amazing every time we leave the friends Ernie immediately makes that even though adults can talk for years about being kind to one another, a bald cat can teach the same lesson in minutes and can change children forever. —Angie Melvin, Stem

Shoo Fly!


Over two years ago this past May, my wife and I walked into the training room at the Durham Animal Protection Society. She was their fundraiser and the night before was their annual fundraising gala; so no one was really working on a full nights sleep. Before we headed back home to Raleigh we had stopped to see this Border Collie that was about to be euthanized by its owner for "biting" her one year old child.

My wife and I are somewhat familiar with the challenges Border Collies offer since we already had two of them. Saying you have Border Collies figured out would be like me saying I have women figured out; nothing could be further from the truth. After a short introduction and talking with the woman, my mind was made up; this dog had to come live with us.

The woman said that ButterFly(we shortened to Fly) was lucky to get a walk once a week and had all this nervous energy. When the baby started crawling Fly was even more nervous and nipped at the child as herding dogs often do in their negotiations with getting their charges to move in the right direction. After the quarantine time from the bite, she was going to put the dog down, we were her last hope.

Fly was a wild dog when we brought her home. She barely new how to be a dog, more less a Border Collie. While bringing her into our home, she slipped her collar and luckily I was able to catch her a few blocks over. She was not running away at full speed, she was bouncing through the neighborhood exploring. I could go on with more stories about the dog, like the time she had her mouth on my face, her thunder phobia, but alas, I will not.


Instead, fast forward some two years forward from that small training room where we first met. Fly has become a true love of our lives along with our other two Border Collies, Keeper and Wrigley. After a lot of training and direction she has flourished into an amazing, loving dog that exhibits a passion for life that should be emulated by most humans I know. Saying the words "park" or "go" will quickly get you a bouncing, talking dog ready to oblige your offer. I would also highly recommend trying a Fly pillow at night, nothing like having a 35 pound dog share your pillow.

Oh yeah, we know have a 4 month old in the house. When the baby is napping in her crib she has her own guardian underneath. And if Fly is lying on the bed, you can come up to her and lay the baby on her and she will turn and gently give her kisses. Fly now loves traveling, swimming, and anything to do with a Frisbee. Many say Fly was lucky to find us, I would argue we were lucky to find her. —Dan Crawford, Raleigh


Author's note: This is an e-mail to Hank's foster mom.


Dear Natalie,

Sunday morning at 3:45am, Hank saved my life. I had come home around 2:00 from celebrating finishing graduate school, and we were snoozing on the couch. My husband was still cleaning at the bar where he works and would be home around 4:00.

Hank heard a loud noise and ran down the hall, growling and barking. He woke me up, and I followed him to the kitchen. My husband usually calls before he comes home, so when he doesn't Hank bellows and creeps toward the door.

I walk in to the kitchen where I see that someone has busted out our kitchen door window in an attempt to unlock it from the inside. I rush to get our handgun, clamoring like a crazy lady. Upon returning to the kitchen, I hear footsteps running down the back deck steps. I call my husband first (if you knew him, you'd understand why!) who rushes home, and then I call the police. Two minutes later our doorbell rings and it's our neighbors on the other side of the duplex. Someone busted in their window too, but didn't make it in. Once the officer heard the story, he said, "Hank better get lots of treats tonight!"

He did.

We have a deadbolt on our door. Our neighbors didn't. If the intruder(s) had gone to our neighbors' first, they would've gotten in. Thankfully, they ran away, and it all happened, or DIDN'T, because of Hank. Who knows how that night would have gone if we didn't have him as part of our family? He saved my life, and probably our neighbors' lives too.It's been a year since we adopted him. There have been tough times. Lots of things chewed up (most notably, our kitchen floor!), a period of incessant barking—which drove those within a 50-yard radius to drink—but he has turned out to be the missing piece of our little family. Aside from the regular sit, stay commands, he knows how to go to his chair, go to his fort (his crate), high five, go get mommy/daddy, give kisses, and even turn off the lights!

He prefers playing keep-away over fetch. He loves cottage cheese, is allergic to chicken, loves shrimp and peanut butter, hates robot dancing, can catch flies, and is terrified of cats.Ever since the incident, we don't leave him in his crate so he can protect himself when we're not home. He has done so well and has not chewed anything (except our harmonica, which he HATED), and he doesn't bark while we're away.I just wanted you to know what a great thing you did rescuing this wonderful mutt. He's made lots of doggy friends and has kept me company day and night. He's the best snuggle monster around. Since my husband started working evenings, Hank has calmed my nerves and been a great companion.

So thank you, so very much. I knew he had changed my life, but now he's saved it.


—JoEllen Lowry, Raleigh


She was irresistible. A tiny lemon-colored avian dynamo that barked like a chi and whistled like a cockatiel.

She was a budgie, a bird indigenous to Australia and a close cousin to the common parakeet. Hyacinth got her name from her lavender cheek spots. She was found at a bird feeder in Fearrington Village. A couple that had an African grey parrot, a cockatiel, and two chis took her in. Since they were moving to Texas, they urged me to adopt..

What I didn't know about Hyacinth shaped our next two short years together. She was accustomed to free flying, but more problematically for me, she was also a chronic egg layer. The former motivated me to potty train her. A clicker commonly used for training dogs worked its magic. Blueberries became her reward of choice. Soon just seeing me would trigger her to drop her "load." However, monthly egg laying, needed a more drastic intervention.

Female birds don't need to mate in order to produce a clutch of eggs.

Hormonal changes made Hyacinth behaved like a stereotypical temperamental female, after laying three or four tiny eggs every month.

Hyacinth threw herself zealously into defending her eggs. Flying, toys, and shiny mirrors no longer held allure. Moreover, she'd bite me when I fed her or tried to change the cage papers. My cuticles were under constant attack. A bird's beak exerts pressure equivalent to ... I wanted a successful intervention! She had become a terrorist! I saw her as a prisoner of these monthly cycles

Bird experts, predicting she'd lose interest, recommended that I try hard-boiling her eggs, then returning them to her nest. Imagine the "culinary" feat of boiling such tiny eggs without breaking them. For several months I persevered. The ultimate result was smelly eggs and a very crabby bird.

Next I was told to substitute other objects for eggs. I became convinced she'd try to hatch anything short of a B-52 after substituting marble eggs for the real ones. Desperate for a mellow animal companion, I approached my long-time vet friend, Dr. John Shontz, for a permanent solution. "I want Hyacinth to have a hysterectomy," I begged. He shook his head saying he would get back to me.

Imagine removing a tiny bird's uterus and the challenge in doing so. Dr. Shontz told me about the risks and dangers, especially how it was impossible to remove the ovary that rested on the aorta. Nonetheless, successful surgery would produce one thing- Hyacinth would never lay another egg.

Dr. John pulled off this surgical feat, giving me a happy animal companion. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer, common to the species, ultimately claimed Hyacinth's life. But not before she was a hit at the Blessings of the Animals service at St. Bart's in Pittsboro where she wowed the crowd with her whistling, bell ringing, and head dancing. I miss her still. —Cheryl Gallan

Attorney seeks Justice


When I was a young prosecutor about to get my first home, I began the search for my first dog as an adult. Staring my search at the local shelter weeks before my house closing was a calculated move to ensure I would not fall victim to an "impulse buy", taking home the first furry face I saw. Knowing I wanted a large, male dog, I made my way through the plexi-glass cubicles of the shelter. As I walked through the pods, cooing to all of the adorable animals, I came upon a gangly female shepherd mix with her back to the glass. It wasn't until she turned and looked directly at me that I melted in an instant. She had a black face and beautiful eyes, with a head that looked too big for her underweight body. It was love at first sight and I was ready to sign on the dotted line.

But then my rational side kicked in, reminding me I could not sneak a 65lb dog up five flights of stairs into my one-room apartment that didn't allow pets, and I moved on assuring myself she would find a perfect home. I returned to the shelter every week for the next few weeks, always stopping to visit with that beautiful dog through the glass. Finally, with three weeks to go until my closing and my rising concerns that she would not make it out of the shelter alive, I did the irrational thing by visiting with her outside and learning her story. She was a year old, not house-trained, didn't know her name, and had been living on a chain for six months (prior to that she had been returned to the shelter another time as a puppy for chewing). The phrase "where there's a will, there's a way" came to mind and I applied to adopt her explaining my circumstances. When I was approved, I took her directly to a facility for boarding and training until I could have her home with me. And Justice has been with me ever since.

I'm not going to say it was always easy, but I will say the decision to take her home was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. She has given me more than I have ever given her and never once asked for more. She is my protector, my teacher, my friend, my companion, my confidante, my family, and so much more. She keeps me in line, reminds me to live in the present and shows me how to be grateful for even the smallest of things. She helped me move forward through painful things in my life and stood by me when I needed courage the most. At almost 12 years old, she remains my biggest fan and I remain hers. I love you Justice. Thank you for sharing your life with me. —Calley Gerber, Raleigh

Lindy Lou's Daring Escapade


Anyone who has driven past Durham's various ponds knows that they are a favorite hangout for geese. My dog Lindy Lou, a pitbull/boxer mix from the APS in Durham, was 2 years old last summer when she had her first goose adventure. On a Saturday morning walk, Lindy's mom (yes, me) accidentally dropped the leash. And off went Lindy. One hour later we had run all around the woods surrounding the apartment complex, playing bet-you-can't-get-me and chase-the-geese. Right into the retention pond. Ugh. When I finally caught up with Lindy Lou, she was covered in mud and pond scum, and missing her leash. The next place we went was the outdoor hose by the car wash area. Lindy has not been allowed to go anywhere near geese or ponds since. —Joelle Andrews, Durham



Sometimes, the best things in life are free. A friend's family in New Jersey had more than 10 rescued Chihuahuas. Mimi just didn't fit in. She seemed more like a human than a dog, really. I could have her.

I didn't notice her at first. She never once barked, even amid the Chihuahua cacophony that greeted you at the entrance to the sunroom in the back of the house. While the other dogs leaped and ran and sped around you in circles, Mimi shuffled along silently, finally reaching her person of choice and carefully placing her front paws on the chosen one's knee, lifting her head for a pet. The other Chihuahuas eyed the new person; Mimi was blind in one eye from an attack by a bigger dog. Finally, while the other dogs were young adults or puppies, Mimi was a golden girl. She could be anywhere from six to 10 years old, I was told.

She was originally from the Bergen County Animal Shelter, and she ended up with me in St. Louis, and then she drove with me across the country as I moved to North Carolina. Sometimes I wonder how she ended up in the shelter in the first place: did her owner die? Did her family move? Did they just not want her? What was she like as a puppy?

I'll never know the answers, but sometimes I think about what it must have been like for Mimi in the shelter and about the many dogs—of course none can be just like Mimi, but maybe some are similar—who aren't as lucky as she was to find a family to rescue her, and then to find me. Some of these dogs may have few prospects beyond the shelter because people think they want a young, cute, perfect dog, and they also imagine they can only find this in a pet store.

I remember a woman I met once who was blind in a different way than Mimi. Perfectly made up and manicured, she peered over her Chanel shades at Mimi and said: "What is THAT?"

That is a seven-pound, half-blind, graying, probably 12-year-old Chihuahua. That is a dog who loves to eat broccoli and tomatoes and peanut butter and jelly and—well, she likes to eat anything, and she likes to listen to country music, according to my mother at least.

That is the former member of a 10-strong Chihuahua pack, who still grabs a mouthful of food at a time and runs elsewhere to eat it so she can be sure she gets some, and who stays so close to me on walks that she never needs a leash. That is an ambassador for dogs— "cat people" have met Mimi and said they wouldn't mind a dog like her, quiet and lounging and serenely low-maintenance. She sees with her heart what she can't see with her eyes. That is Mimi. —Gloria Lloyd, Carrboro


As a veterinarian who specializes in emergency situations, many of my patients need to see me because they have eaten things they shouldn't. Unfortunately it is the nature of many of our beloved companions to eat socks, dead bugs, used tampons and scraps from the compost pile!

Many owners are guilt stricken because they feel they could have prevented their pet from being sick by being more diligent. I always try to make them feel better because even as a pet mom I know how easy it is for them to quickly scarf down the bad stuff!

My own cat, Rockets, is large and fluffy with an impressive black plume of a tail that would be the envy of any skunk. He also has the sweetest of dispositions. He was an adopted stray who shares our home with two dogs and two other cats.

Unfortunately we left the house recently not realizing that the butter dish, with a half stick of butter inside had been left on the counter. Rocket and his two feline housemates managed to knock over the dish and split the butter inside. The other two cats, Rocket's accomplices, both having sensitive stomachs promptly vomited up the butter. Rockets, whose upper intestinal tract seems to be made of a tougher material, digested the butter just fine start with. Eventually as it worked it's way down he began to have greasy diarrhea.

My husband and I arrived home a few hours later and found several puddles of greasy diarrhea by the front door and two piles of greasy vomit in the kitchen. Sometimes it can take a while to figure out who is responsible for these types of messes but it must be some form of Murphy's law that the pet with the fluffiest rear end will always have the worst diarrhea.

The panic that ensues when you find such a site in your front hallway is not pleasant. Neither is realizing at 11:30pm that your husband's beard trimmers are not an effective way to clip a cat.

After cornering poor Rockets he had to endure the indignity of having his rear shaved down to remove the greasy fecal mat, and his beautiful tail temporarily reduced to a skinny pipe cleaner.

Oh well... hair will eventually grow back, and butter will never again be left on the counter at our house. —Laura Russell, Durham

Sabrina's vet nightmare

There is an old saying that dogs have owners and cats have staff. I became "staff" to a beautiful long haired tortoise shell calico named Sabrina. She was actually my sister's cat, a gift from an old boyfriend that she wanted to forget. I shared an apartment with them both for a short time and it was then that I discovered Sabrina played fetch rather adeptly with a paper ball. Being more of a big dog person, this was familiar ground and our relationship began. I became her major care giver and lap provider, so I was completely distressed when I noticed her breasts dragging on the ground one day. Since she was less than one year old and fixed, I immediately feared the worse and scheduled an appointment with the first vet I could reach. This country veterinary hospital clearly favored large animals so when the doctor came into the exam room, I was not surprised to see a tall thin man wearing cowboy boots, a well worn Stetson, and a half smoked cigar hanging from his lips.

He silently examined Sabrina while I went on and on about her numerous symptoms, my own biology background, my history with animal physiology and that I was quite sure she had cancer or some other life threatening malady. Finally after a few minutes of poking, lifting, and furtive glances my way, he directed a stern glare at me, removed the cigar, and said with a clear Southern drawl, "Well, I tell ya -- your cat is fat! What the hell have you been feeding this thing?" At this point the vet tech, who was quietly observing the exam, completely lost her composure and began snickering uncontrollably. He continued to denounce my pet ownership abilities while I quickly gathered up my now officially labeled "fat cat", laid a twenty on the table, and slunk out of the office. Sabrina and I never spoke of it again for over 18 years. She completely disapproved of the whole affair and from that point forward, I always referred to her as big boned. While she stopped playing fetch shortly thereafter (probably from the stress of the whole ugly affair), she never ceased to amuse and delight in her own fat way. I miss her greatly. —Deena B. Wegner, Chapel Hill



One day in the winter of 2007, I walked into the grooming room at the Durham County Animal Shelter to find several people talking to the ceiling. Of course, I was curious. Shelter employees and volunteers alike had formed a tight little circle. They were craning their necks and baby-talking the ceiling. When I asked what they were looking at, they said, "the attic cat."

"What!!!" I exclaimed in surprise. "The attic cat," they repeated. I broke through the circle and looked up. I saw that one of the ceiling tiles was askew. Sure enough, there in the corner, peering down at us was a beautiful little valentine-shaped face.

"Oh, he's been up there about a year," explained the cat technician. "He slipped away from me while I was cleaning his kennel. We couldn't catch him, so he made the attic his home. He seems to be quite happy up there."

Though I was flabbergasted, I knew this was NOT a case of negligence. If you have ever held a gaggle of wiggly kitties in one hand and tried to clean their pooper with the other, you will understand how easily this could happen.

I started calling him every time I came to volunteer. "Here attic cat, come here." He did. I could hear the pitter patter of his little feet as he came running across the attic floor to talk to me. He liked me! He liked the sound of my voice. I learned that the cat tech put water and food out for him on a top shelf in the feed-room, and he came down during the night to partake. She had even been able to get him to come out during the day for a very brief period of take a treat or two.


I dragged out our step ladder and set it up close to his food and water bowl. I got treats and climbed up. I stood on the top rung and called him. He came to see me. He got down from the attic and onto the shelf while I was there. He took treats, started flirting with me shamelessly, and finally, let me touch him. I named him "Magic."

I was so excited; I nearly fell off the ladder. After a week or so of this, I was able to get him to come down. What a beautiful boy! He's a soft, black, domestic shorthair. He has a small tuft of white hair on the under side of his neck and a larger one on his belly. He got a complete physical and was declared healthy -- a little crazy maybe, but healthy. As soon as he had vaccinations and was deemed good-to-go, he came to live with my family.

After a few days at home, he evolved from "Magic" to Sammy. Nothing else worked. He is Sammy. His full name is Samuel Adams Clemens Loomis Sewall Hudson, but we simply call him "Your Majesty." —Susan W. Hudson, Durham



Clementine (Tiny for short), a small feisty calico, lived the first year of her life at a train station in New Jersey. She came into our lives when we met her at an adopt-a-thon after a successful trapping by the local rescue group. For a feral cat she was obviously shy, but grew very quickly to love us and our three dogs and two cats.

Our move to Chapel Hill was uneventful except for the mournful yowlings of our cats as we drove down interstate 95. The animals got used to the new digs. The dogs loved their back yard and the cats, though indoor pets, found even more places to explore. Spring quickly came -- unusually warm with no rain and the summer of 2007 was on its way. Yes, the dreaded summer of '07 was just getting started.

One Saturday we were out doing some errands, and as we drove home we saw a small calico cat by the garage. Tiny? Yep!

"How did she get out?" we shouted in between calls to her as we ran after her around the back, under the deck, and back to the front for what seemed hours. She was freaked! During one of our laps we noticed a screen had fallen out of an upstairs window. We pictured Tiny sitting in the window grabbing some rays when the screen gave way and she fell two stories to the ground. Poor Tiny! I'd be freaked too!

Exhausted and apparently totally out of her mind, she finally bolted out into the woods and as our chase gave way her cries grew more distant. She was gone!

We left food out on the porch and continued the search, but the bowls remained full and our search yielded no Tiny. We placed flyers up, continued to call, and as the days grew hotter and dryer we finally gave up hope.

Three months later we received a call saying Tiny was spotted! How could it be? We drove to a townhouse community about 5 miles away where Kate was feeding neighborhood cats. She had seen our flyer at the local veterinarian and on a hunch gave us a call. Sure enough, after a sweep of the area, there she was. We called and she meowed back and again she ran off. Tiny! We returned with trap and canned mackerel in hand, but two weeks of perseverance left us only smelling of fish.

Then the saga thankfully ended! Kate had Tiny in her house! Kate was able to coax Tiny to her with some of her favorite -- boiled chicken. Gaining her trust she was able to pick Tiny up and bring her to safety. Tiny was skin and bones but amazing well for her ordeal.

Tiny still suns herself - screens reinforced - and we constantly remind her of some of the nine lives she already spent. She remains a sweetheart, but is not quite as tiny as we spoil her with a daily blessing of boiled chicken. —Chip Baker, Chapel Hill

Woodstock climbs every mountain


Despite her small demeanor, Woodstock is a trooper when it comes to keeping up with her active "parents." Woodstock enjoys the best life a dog could ever hope for. She is spoiled beyond belief from her two "parents" who never had children, so the dog has been substituted as their "daughter." During a typical day, she sleeps on the couch and listens to NPR on the radio all day.

Woodstock has been to concerts, parties and is a frequent shopper at the Southern States in Carrboro (a dog-friendly establishment). Everyone stops to give her a pat on the head as she walks around the lake in Fearrington, or trots on the trails at Southern Village in Chapel Hill.

After spending many lazy days at home, her family took her on a trip to Stone Mountain State Park for the weekend. This meant she had to walk with them on two 4.5 mile hikes and another two mile hike in three days! When a dog's legs are only about four inches tall that can be a tremendous task, especially when one of the climbs was up the mountain!

As we begin our walk for the second hike, Woodstock is very peppy. She knows we are somewhere new. There's a different smell to the air, the scent of Galax and rhododendron sifts through the wind. After taking a fork in the path, she begins sniffing around the trees. She gets the scent that another dog has recently been past the same area. She wags her tail and moves forward. "This must be the way," she thinks as she leads her parents up the long, winding trek up the mountain. At times, the stairs are a bit too hard for her to take herself, so her daddy gives her a little ride. But most of the time, she takes the lead, tail up and alert for any signs of wildlife that might cross our path.


After we reach the peak, Woodstock wags her tail and is happy to sit on mommy's lap for a well-earned rest. However, the hike is only halfway complete. On the way down the slope, we take the longer, easier route and go down to a beautiful waterfall. We can't resist, so we all get in the water and Woodstock begins to shiver from the cold, mountain stream. She shakes the water from her ears and is ready to run down the path. After we hike another mile or so, we get to the old Hutchison farm. Woodstock sniffs around the placards and drinks a little water as the sun is beginning to blaze in the sky.

Woodstock slows her pace a bit as we begin our trek back to the car. There's a log lying across the trail, and just as we think she will duck underneath, she gathers her strength and jumps over the log.

As we reach the car, she is happy knowing she spent a great day in the wilderness with her two favorite people in the world. She wouldn't have it any other way. —Jamie Nunnelly

Bus station baby

Author's Note: This is a semi-fictionalized account of the early life of a kitten I met when volunteering at the APS of Durham. It's from the kitten's point of view. The setup and the scenarios that occur are based on some of the things we deduced about him judging by his condition when he came into the shelter.


I don't remember being born or how I got here. All I'm really sure of is that I'm very small and that this is some kind of central hub for transport for creatures much bigger than me. I think the creatures are called peoples and the things they ride in are called greyhounds. The greyhounds are big rectangles that float along the road on black circular things called tires. It's not the greyhounds that scare me so much as their tires. I keep to the bushes most of the time.

I wish I knew how I got here. There's this longing feeling but I'm not sure for what. The longing is there even when I'm not hungry. Is it possible to miss something when you don't know what you're missing? Maybe I used to know what it is that I'm missing and I've just forgotten but the feeling is still there. I don't know. When I'm hungry the longing still stays stronger because I think whatever I'm missing had something to do with preventing hunger.

It had something to do with keeping me safe.

No time to really think about it too much. My legs don't work so good. Somehow I know I'm supposed to be able to climb things and jump but getting moving at all takes up most of my time and effort. The front legs are better than the back ones, but it's still hard to keep all four of them under me at the same time. It feels like my back legs can't keep up with where I tell them to be, and when I use my front ones it can be kind of hard to breathe.

But I've made it this far, however long it's been that I've been here. I think I'm learning the rules. The peoples have feets which are kind of like the greyhounds' tires and just as dangerous for me. Neither the peoples nor the greyhounds know where their tires or feets are going and that's scary because I'm tiny. If I stay out from under the greyhounds tires and the peoples feets I can be okay.

Right now I'm really hungry but it's very bright outside. There's this yellow and orangey thing in the sky that hurts my eyes and I think makes peoples see me better. I don't want them to see me if I can help it. I feel safeter when the orangey thing goes away and they can't see me as good. But I'm so hungry. I wait until two greyhounds go away and I don't see any peoples and I try to run out of the bushes.

"Hey!" someone shouts but I'm not sure if it's at me. I run behind a dumpster and then peek out. A woman is looking around the bushes where I just was and then looking over towards the building near the dumpster. She looks distressed and wrings her hands and goes away. I think I hear laughter and I strain to walk around the other side of the dumpster. There are three peoples behind the building. I think the building is called a convenientstore. Peoples drive up to it in little greyhounds and just sit there for a few minutes then drive away. They make some kind of food in there, too. I think the three peoples out back have something to do with the food making. I can tell because I can smell it.

One of them drops part of something he was eating on the ground and makes a groaning sound. The other two peoples laugh at him. He's sitting on a milk crate and the foods he dropped is on the ground. I weave between the milk crates as carefully as I can and I start biting the foods on the ground. It's something juicy and savory, thin like a leaf. But the piece is small and I'm done eating it already. They're laughing more now and I look up to see them all laughing at me. Should I run? Another one of the peoples takes something out of the foods in his hand and leans down towards me. My heavens, it's a gigantic piece of whatever was on the ground.

My mouth fills up with saliva. He dangles it above my head. It's hard to breathe right now, my chest feels tight. I reach for it with one paw but can't get it. I take as deep of a breath as my chest lets me, then I push hard with my front paws to rear up on my back legs. But I fail. My back legs can't hold me and they split apart to the sides and I'm rolling on my back now. They laugh louder and start to walk away. I'm still hungry but at least they didn't hurt me. They're gone. But suddenly one of them comes back. He looks very sad. Glancing both ways, making sure the door to the convenientstore is closed, he pulls out a whole entire foods from his pocket.

There is some kind of wrapping around it, which he takes off and lays on the ground. He opens the foods and lays it on the wrapping. With two fingers he rubs my head once and leaves. In my throat I can feel a rattling sound rising, like a low version of the sound the greyhounds make. I'm happy. The sound feels right. I keep doing it as I eat something green and leafy like that's on top of the foods. Then there's this big round red thing with juiciness. And a whole pile of that savory brown stuff. Meat. All of that was between these sweet-smelling slices of bread that have yellow and white paste on them. I know what bread is because the peoples at the greyhound place often drop pieces of it when they have too much on their foods. I eat it all.

I'm wondering if I should stay here in case more foods come, but I'm very sleepy and there's nowhere to hide back here. I go back to the greyhounds where all the good bushes are. I'm slow anyway, I know, but my full belly makes me slower. It feels like it takes forever to get back the bushes. When I finally do, I sleep for a very long time. Maybe for days.

There's lots of noise at some point and I wake up. The orangey thing is out of the sky and there aren't any of those little bright dots anywhere. Lots of peoples are getting off of some greyhounds and going into the building. I stay close to the edge of the bushes in case any foods fall out of their bags. None do. I take as deep of a breath as I can and slide forward pushing with my back legs and sniffing the ground.

"Hey kitty."

I would have jumped if I could. Instead I push back slowly towards the bushes. It's a little peoples. Two little peoples. They are crouching near my bush and looking at me. It is cold and they have big jackets on, so I can't tell exactly how little they are, but littler than average for sure. One of them reaches into his jacket and pulls out a small bag. He reaches into the bag and pulls out a small round thing, which he places near me. Then another. And another. The two little peoples are backing away as they make this line of colorful little beacons. I sniff the one nearest. It smells so sweet. I bite it. The taste is sweet and slightly gritty, brown and soft inside of a slightly crunchy outside.

Tentatively, cautiously, I slide forward to bite the next one. The line of colored beacons winds around the edge of the building. These things are SO good! Peoples have the best foods!

Around the edge of the building is one of the little peoples. He upturns the little bag he is holding and the rest of the sweet beacons fall into a little pile. I gobble them up and my throat rumbles automatically. He's touching my back, stroking my head, scratching my ears while I eat. Is this what heaven is like? After I finish, he picks me up while I lick my chops. I don't know where the other peoples he was with went, but I don't care. I'm too happy to care. He holds me against his shoulder and I kiss his ear. Then I can hear him laughing and it makes me uneasy for some reason.

That's when something strange happens. Far from my body, far behind me, I hear a click. In the distance, something is hurting. Behind me, further below than even the base of my spine. A tingling hurting. Something's wrong. My throat stops vibrating and I look around. The little peoples that is holding me is still laughing, and I feel the hurting getting closer. There's a light coming from behind me and someone else is laughing with him. It's his friend, the other little peoples.

The hurting is at the base of my spine now and I scream. I need to get away but the laughing peoples is holding me tight. I'm too small. He's too strong. I squeeze him with my claws but they are too small to penetrate his thick coat. Summoning all the strength I can, I stretch out towards him with one paw and catch one of his closed, laughing eyelid with just one little claw. I feel it dig all the way through and he's screaming too now. His grip slackens a little and suddenly he tries to shove me away from him. I feel something rip on my snagged claw and I'm flying.

I feel smoke and wind and leaves and twigs and briefly, dirt. Then nothing.

When I wake up I feel very sick. My mouth is dry and my throat is too sore to make a sound. Was I screaming? I screamed too loud, now I can't scream at all. I see bright daylight coming through the leaves of the bushes but I don't want to get up. I feel so bad that I want to die. Away from me, below my spine, there's a lot of hurting. I strain to look back and I see my tail hanging down, blackened. It smells very bad, like garbage. When it touches the ground I feel a jolt of pain through my entire body, but my legs are still spread too far apart and they can't hold my hips off the ground. So the tail keeps touching.

Then, all at once, I feel something rise up my throat. My eyes close instinctively and I vomit. Then I feel my legs getting wet and my tail is getting covered by sticky waste, too. I couldn't even get out of the way of myself in time. I go to sleep again, right there, against my will.

This time I wake up and find that not only do I not know how much time has passed, but I hardly even care. My stomach and chest are pressed flat against the stiff, clammy soil beneath the bushes. Dark, chilly breezes bite at me. I can't find the energy to bite back. The hurting at the base of my spine has disappeared, replaced instead by numbness. My splayed back legs feel like they're threatening to go numb, too. There's a strange, slightly creepy feeling as if small creatures are running along my shriveled tail, jumping up into my bones and swimming through my bloodstream. I can't tell if it's just in my head or actually happening.

Beneath me, my belly seems to be curved outward but I don't know how. I haven't eaten; it can't be full. I try to turn myself around, moving closer to the building slowly. Maybe some foods along the wall somewhere? There are! Sprinkled in little patches are these strange, robust-smelling pellets. I see a tiny brown critter, tinier than me, eating one of the pellets. He sees me and runs away. I want to chase him for some reason, but I can't. I sniff at the pellets and wonder how all of these meat pieces got here, and why. Or rather, I would wonder at it if I weren't already eating them.

They might be the best thing I've ever eaten. That's the last thing I think before I fall asleep again. This time, though, it's not from hurting or exhaustion. It feels like the night itself comes down to scoop me up and envelop me. It's a happy feeling. No, happy is the wrong word. Relief. I feel relieved. Maybe free? I ate the pellets but I can feel them eating me back. My head, especially.

But then I wake up once more. The light filtering through the bushes is brighter than ever. I cringe. From everywhere, this horrible light is pouring into my eyeballs. I try to run from it with energy I pull from I don't know where, but I just crawlslide slowly near the side of the building. Not even the meat pellets are alluring enough to stop me from struggling to get away from this awful light.

As I turn the corner, I see the little mouse from the night before. (Was it the night before? Or was it forever ago?) He's sleeping on his side. I try to wake him. I want to help him get away from this hurting light. He doesn't wake up though. He's very cold and still. My head is floating. Through the air. Through water, then mud. I can't see anything and my eyes hurt so bad.

"Oh my god," I hear. And still again, darkness.

This was the longest sleep ever. I didn't want to wake up from it and was disappointed when I did. At first. There were loud noises, screeches. Metal banging against metal. Scrapes. Digging. No light anywhere. Wait, something's on my head. I push up against it. It's soft, like fur. It smells clean and wonderfully ordinary. I push along it, my legs working no better than usual. My back feets feel trapped, like they're trying to move as one. They don't push outward like they normally do. They're under me. I'm not used to this.

Finding light suddenly seems very important. But when I find it, when the soft cloth falls off my head and I peek out, I wished I hadn't. The light is just as horrific as it was before, feeling less like I'm seeing so much as being forced to see. And see too much.

"Hey! Little guy is up!"

That's loud. A people's face appears at my cage. I back up under the blanket again, hoping he didn't see me.

"Aw, you scared him."

That's less loud. Soft, even. It sounds like something I heard a long time ago.

"Just leave him be, he's anxious."

They move away from the square of light I saw. From under the blanket I can hear them shuffling around, talking. I hear other animals talking to them, too. Animals like me. I can't see them, though. But they're close. I stay hidden until the noise gets the lowest it has been all day. It takes me a little while to crawl out from under the softness, because my back feets feel funny.

Once I make it out, I see only dim light. No real light, nothing that lets me see the outside, no way to tell what time of day it is. But a tiny light near the floor over that way keeps the place from being totally dark. Finally, I can see better. I don't know why my eyes been hurting so bad. I'm in a tiny room that's in a bigger room. Three of my walls and the ceiling and floor are flat, dull metal. One wall is where the lights come from and where the people were. There are bars over it. It's a cage. As I waddle towards the front, I finally take a look back at my oddly-behaving feets. They are bound together somehow, held about an inch apart. As I stand still, I feel like they want to slide outward. But the binding is preventing that.

Briefly I wonder whether this is a good or bad thing, but then I look around. I'm standing tall. Or rather, I'm standing at all. I can see so much better. It's even a little easier to breathe. I call out, just wanting to say "hi," and a large paw suddenly darts out in front of my cage from the cage to the left. It startles me and I hobble backwards. My butt bumps a large plastic box and a sharp sting shoots through my body. I look back at what stung my tail but find nothing.

And by nothing, I mean no tail. Nothing stung it because it's not there. I lay on the blanket and stretch back to see. On top of my butt is a little stub. The stub is bald except for some scabby black parts and what looks like some kind of wire sewn into the tip.

What is happening to me? I cry out. I hear other cries immediately after. Some are sympathetic. Others tell me to shut up, go to sleep. Others are just joining the noise for the sake it. Where am I? I don't want to be here. I listen to the noise all night and try to sleep. Later, I don't know how much, I feel the blanket I'm under being wrapped around me and I'm getting carried somewhere. Soft humming floating down to my ears from outside the blanket. I purr.

There is a click and the humming stops. The blanket opens up and I'm staring at the face of a tall, skinny peoples. She has frizzy gray fur on her head and big round glasses on her face. Scooping her paws under my front feets she hefts me into the air, turning me this way and that, studying me closely.

"How is he?" someone says from behind her. The person walks into view. It's a short, fat, bald peoples. He has a squeaky voice.

"His tail's healing nicely, and his legs are making great progress. I think he'll grow out of the flat chestedness," the tall peoples says. She lifts me up high to get another look at me, and I feel my eyes hurting again from being close to the light. She gasps and suddenly turns down the light in the room. "His eyes aren't dilating properly."

"Think he ate something he wasn't suppose to?" the squeaker asks.

"Probably. Something chemical, I'm guessing."

They talk some more. I think they call me something like FCK or FCKS and talked about me having "swimmer legs" like it was a hurting thing of some kind. Surely it has never felt right somehow to be me, but neither can I say that it has ever been hurting. Me is all I know. They say the FCKS thing is fixing itself. I didn't know a problem could fix itself. And my slipping-sliding feets are getting better, apparently. They gently admonish me whenever I try to bite the tape. But I can't help it. It doesn't belong there, so it should be picked at. Am I right?

The building where the greyhounds and constantly moving peoples lived seems to be getting further and further away in my brain. I get used to the clangs and scratches that surround my little metal room in a room. There are different peoples every day but they're all so nice. They all wear similar shirts, colored gray or maroon or navy, and seem so happy to be here. Each day they move me to an empty cage and then move me back to my cage a few minutes later. But there will be a different blanket and mat waiting for me. The food will suddenly be full and the plastic box full of sand will be fresh and won't have my dookie in it anymore. And they pet me lots and lots.

Every few days they take me out and inspect me all over very closely. They poke me with a sharp needle or rub my tail nub with something that stings. Sometimes they put a little tube in my mouth and squirt this gross watery stuff in there. I don't like when they do all that, but when they put me back in my cage I always feel really good right after. It's very weird.

The cage feels like home. Well, more like home than I've ever gotten to feel. The other cats in the room tell me that it's bad to think that, though. They tell me I should be afraid. Only three out of every ten of us will make it out of here, they say. Sometimes less, depending on what time of year it is and how many of us there are.

But I'm not scared. Not even a little bit. I think. It's hard to be scared. Compared to the life I had, a metal box with an old blanket, dry food, and a sandbox all to myself is paradise. Three out of ten? I'll take those odds. Still, I hope those odds don't take me. —S. G. Woods, Durham


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