(Please see my April 2007 posts about the Cajun Cats for the back story on how I found Evangeline in Louisiana and how she was fortunate enough to get placed with Angel's Gate in New York upon learning that she had Feline Leukemia.)
Pulling up in front of Angel's Gate, the sanctuary seems like just another affluent, sprawling Long Island home. The only clue to its mission is the small dog ramp that rests on the front stairs. Susan Marino, the founder of Angel's Gate met me at the door. "Let's go around the back way." She suggested, pushing back a bevy of curious dogs.
She knew I was here to visit Evangeline and led me immediately to the Feline Leukemia cabin. "She has a bad cold. It started yesterday, so I was about to pull her from the cabin and put her in intensive care." Oh dear. I worried. Sweet Evangeline, the little tuxedo manx that had spent several nights curled up in my hotel room bed in New Orleans. I was grateful that Angel's Gate had been able to take her, since for so many cats Feline Leukemia is a death sentance.
But not at Angel's Gate, the nations first recognized animal hospice, dedicated to helping sick and injured animals finish out their lives with dignity. Two volunteers sat with the Feline Leukemia cats when we entered, lavishing these loving felines with attention. I recognized poor little Evangeline immediately. She looked miserable, with runny eyes and a disheveled coat--a stark contrast from the rest of the leukemia cats, whose bright spirits and good health were a delight. "With the Feline Leukemia cats, some of them die within the first month of arriving--but if they get through that, they usually live for years with very good quality of life. In Evangeline's case, some sanctuaries would just let her cold run its course, but not here. I treat every animal as though it were a human child, giving it the appropriate medications and keeping it as comfortable as possible, with much hope for healing." Susan Marino is a retired pediatric nurse and she puts all of her skills to use at the hospice.
We brought Evangeline to the intensive care unit. "I like using the nebulizer for upper resperatory infections, that way the saline helps clear out their nasal passages and lungs, plus the anti-biotic goes straight to their resperatory system. Its the same thing we used to do for the children in ICU." She places Evangeline in a small box after hooking up the sterile medical equipment. For ten minutes the manx breathes her medication and seems to perk up. After she finishes receiving her antibiotic, Susan administers some IV fluids. "Just like Anitra Frazier, I am a big believer in giving these cats fluids--even for a cold. It really helps them."
Usually, all the cats at Angel's Gate eat a raw food diet that is ground by a butcher especially for them, 50% organic chicken meat and 50 percent organic bones. To that Susan adds 10% grated organic vegetables, colostrum, and a high-protein blend called "Sea-Cure"--as well as other herbal and homeopathic remedies as needed for the cat's condition. However, when a cat is feeling as poorly as Evangeline, she will offer up a prescription diet. She settles Evangeline into her cozy kennel with an offering of wet canned food. After the nebulizer and the fluids, Evangeline has gained an appetite and she relishes her food.
After she eats, she dedicates herself to some grooming--she does look much better already. "I will keep her in the ICU until she is all better. Using the nebulizer two times a day, giving her fluids as needed. I'm sure she'll pull through."
And then it happens. For the first time since I have arrived, Evangeline looks at me invitingly. I reach out to pet her. As I stroke her, she begins to purr and knead at the faux sheepskin that covers the her cage floor. I believe that she remembers me as I whisper sweet nothings to her. "Look at you--a little cajun swamp cat getting Park Avenue nursing care. I am so glad for you Little Evangeline. I hope you are feeling better. Aren't you a lucky girl to be here. Susan is taking such good care of you."
It is hard to leave her again. Especially when she is feeling so poorly, but after half an hour of cuddling Evangeline and visiting with Susan, I know that Susan has alot of other animals to tend to. In other parts of the main house, I got to cuddle with the FIV cats in their special room, and visit a large bathroom that houses several diaper clad cats, as well as meeting the twitchy cats with neural disorders that hangout in the bird room. So many cast off kitties, eager for affection and attention.
"All of the animals here are loved." Susan assures me. The entire place is immaculate and smells like cleaning solutions. "We clean constantly--I am a big believer in scrubbing things down. We don't take any short cuts. The comfort of the animals is our top priority."
Angel's Gate employs some full time staff, including two vet techs. They also depend on some wonderful volunteers and others who are serving out community service sentances. Money is always an issue. My dear, generous friend, Karen, is paying for Evangeline's expenses. But there are plenty of other cats, dogs, horses, geese and others that need support. "Right now I have several animals waiting for important surgeries, so we keep sending out the fundraising letters and making appeals on television and radio. It usually works out, but I can tell you, there are plenty of times when Vic(her husband) and I are living on pasta so the animals can have everything they need."
So what drives Susan to do all this work, day after day? "Its the animals." She says succinctly. "Responding to their needs is a spiritual experience. For me, it is always about the animals."
Preview of Coming Attractions
Over the next several months, I will be traveling across the country in search of cat stories, visiting innovative cat rescues and shelters, interviewing eccentric cat lovers, leading vets and behaviorists and so much more. To view my travel schedule and learn more about my Cat Behaviorist business, please visit http://www.thecatbehaviorist.com/ . If I will be in your area and you feel you have some interesting cat stories to share, please don't hesistate to contact me via my website.