Flora Resurrection

(Video by Sean Steininger.  Hat tip Beautiful/Decay)

There’s a shop in Harvard Square that sells plants.  When I lived in Cambridge, I went in one day, and told the sales attendant that I was looking for a very rare plant.

What plant is that, he asked me.

“A plant I cannot kill.”

I have a jet-black thumb.  A black hole black thumb.  My father can coax purple organic corn from the swamp and sand of southwest Florida.  I can’t keep a single shoot of bamboo alive.

The plant guy sold me a pothos plant, which I managed to not kill for many years, even after two days in a boiling hot car when we moved from Boston to Chicago.  It was finally slayed by my cat Jane, who was steadfast in eating all its leaves, no matter where I put it.

Clearly I need a Rose of Jericho.  I wonder if it withstands cats as well as it withstands drought…

Gift From God – Part 2



My 19 year old cat Jane died last Saturday.  This week I’m writing about the 16 years she spent with us.  Part 1 can be found here.

Most cats don’t do well with moving from place to place. Jane was different.  I, and later we, moved from place to place in pursuit of degrees and jobs, and Jane came with us.  It was the one non-negotiable: any apartment we rented had to allow cats.  Jane was family, and I refused to leave her behind.

After I graduated from Yale in the spring of 2000, I moved up to Massachusetts to take a job at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.  We lived in a tiny basement apartment that was about as big as the living room of the house I live in now.  At first it was just Jane and I; a couple months later my then-boyfriend (now-husband) Pete unofficially moved in after leaving his job in New York City to take a job in Cambridge.  After a year in Salem, we lived in Arlington, MA, for a year, then moved to Cambridge, MA, so I could go to grad school.  Place to place, Jane was a constant.

Other parts of our life changed, though.  Pete and I got married in the summer of 2002.  That fall we helped a friend by taking in his wiry black cat named Babs (the cats hated each other, but eventually learned to co-exist). My son was born in August 2004, and Jane proved to be sweet and patient with him.  Summer of 2005, we moved to Evanston, IL, where we would live for seven years while Pete worked toward a PhD in astrophysics at Northwestern.  My daughter was born there in December of 2006; again Jane was sweet and patient, nuzzling and at times licking her.

In our first year in Evanston, I noticed that Jane was having trouble chewing her food.  I took her to the vet, and they extracted the teeth from the top left hand side of her jaw.  The vet was suspicious of how easily the teeth came out, so she did a biopsy.  It came back positive for squamous cell carcinoma. The vet told me they could do surgery, and chemo, but that it would be expensive and only extend her life a little.  If I did nothing, Jane would die in six months.  I was heartbroken, and prepared myself to lose her.

Six months came and went.  Jane didn’t get sick.  At all.  Babs, on the other hand, started having kidney issues, and died two years later.

In 2011, it looked like Pete might take a position in Germany.  Once again, taking Jane with us was non-negotiable, so I started preparing necessary paperwork.  Jane needed an ident chip and a bunch of shots, so I took her to the vets’  office that had removed her teeth and given her a death sentence.  A different vet saw her.  When he walked in, he had her file in his hand, and looked suitably shocked.

“This is Jane?”


“The same Jane that had some teeth removed five years ago?”


“The same Jane that had cancer?”


She was 16 years old, and perfectly healthy.  The vet speculated that the diagnosis was a mistake, that the person who did the biopsy screwed up.  “We’re not infallible,” he said.

Maybe.  Maybe she was just a tough cat.  Regardless, she was alive, healthy, still with us, and coming with us to Germany.

At least, she would have, had the opportunity in Germany not fallen through.  As it was, we stayed in Evanston for another year, then all of us moved to Tuscaloosa, AL, in the summer of 2012.

Coming up in Part 3: Growing old, last days, and reflections on rescue.


Gift From God – part 1



Jane, my beloved cat, who died this past Saturday.  She was 19 years old, and part of my life for 16 of those, so I figured her story deserves to be told.  Here is part one, with parts two and three to come later in the week.


When I first met Jane, I was disappointed.

It was the summer before my junior year, and I had decided to live off-campus.  My studio apartment was tiny and spartan, but the only thing it really lacked to make it home was a cat.  I had heard about the Greater New Haven Cat Project a couple years before, when a woman in the lawyer’s office where I worked managed to box up a mommy feral cat and her kittens that lived in the bushes next to the office’s parking lot.  I knew the group rescued strays and were always looking for homes for the cats in their care.  All the cats in my family had been rescues – from the Humane Society, a Kmart parking lot, a neighbor who was moving – so I contacted the GNHCP to ask what cats they had available for adoption.  They told me there was a three year old female tortie that was in immediate need of a home since her foster was moving out of town.  I agreed to see her.

The foster was a law student who was graduating and moving to New York City and, as much as it obviously pained her, she couldn’t bring the cat with her.  She greeted me, then called for the cat, and Jane came running into the room, then ground to a halt when she saw me.

She wasn’t what I expected.  I had wanted an affectionate and pretty cat, and Jane was shy with mottled brown, tan and black fur.  As disappointed as I felt, though, I didn’t have the heart to turn her down.  If I didn’t take her in, she would go into a cage to await someone else willing to adopt her, and how long would that be?

When I first brought Jane into my apartment, she sniffed every single square inch of the place…then hid under the couch and refused to come out.  I waited patiently, reading and browsing the web for a couple hours.  She stayed hidden.  Finally, I got a can of tuna.  The minute I peeled back the top, Jane came creeping out.  She let me pet her while she ate the tuna, and we were friends from that moment on.

She was still very shy at first.  Whenever other people came into the apartment, she would go right back under the couch.  My friends would joke that they didn’t believe I even had a cat, because they never saw her.  It took a while, but eventually she would come out to sniff at the occasional hand, endure the occasional pat.  When we were alone, though, she would curl up in my lap while I studied, or at my feet while I slept.  Like many cats, she had an uncanny ability to know when I was feeling sad or stressed (all too often that year) and would come to me purring, butting her head against my leg or my arm.

My senior year, I decided to return to campus, which meant I needed to find a place for Jane for the year.  My good friend Sarah, who had graduated the year before, offered to take her in.  It seemed like a good arrangement for both of them; Jane had someone who would take good care of her, and Sarah had an increasingly friendly cat to keep her company and make her own place feel like home that first year out of college.


IN PART TWO: a feline nomad, an adversary, and a death sentence…

Caring for an ailing kitty


I’m going to be uncharacteristically brief today.  Our 19 year old cat Jane is doing very poorly.  She had a seizure on Tuesday night, which we didn’t think much about, since she’s been having them occasionally for almost a year now.  On Wednesday, though, I discovered she was too weak to jump up to her bed and food on the bathroom counter.  She couldn’t walk very well, and continued to grow weaker until she slipped in what appeared to be a coma.  I stayed up with her on Wednesday night, and Thursday, yesterday, I stayed home, convinced she was about to die and not wanting her to die alone.

When my husband came home that afternoon, we decided to try giving her some water with sugar.  She woke up, obviously aware of her surroundings, yet still unable to do much besides weakly and slowly move her paws.  We’ve been giving her sugar water periodically, and she drinks it from the syringe now instead of us having to trigger her swallow reflex.  She seems to be getting a little stronger, obviously trying to get up from her position on her side, even if she doesn’t have the strength to do so.

When I was convinced she would not regain consciousness, I figured there was nothing a vet could do. It would just be wasted time and money.  Now, though…I wonder if she could recover.  So I’m going to call the vet’s office at 2pm…the end of their surgery time…to see if we can bring her in sometime today.  Until then, I’m here at home with her, giving her sugar water and petting her, wishing I could somehow do more.


UPDATE: Took Jane to the vet.  She’s dehydrated and malnourished, which makes sense considering she hasn’t been eating or drinking.  The vet gave her some subcutaneous fluids and vitamins, and handed me a tube of Nutri-Cal and instructions on when to give her water and how much.  She already looks much better…she’s holding up her head, which she wasn’t able to do before.  God willing, she might be able to get through this.  We’ll have to be much more careful about her drinking and eating enough from now on.