A little piece of rainbow

My kitty Westin on the right with his brother Morgan.

Those of us who’ve had the great privilege of having pets in our families understand the joy these creatures give us. I have been incredibly fortunate over my life to have cared for myriad animals that delighted me—even when they misbehaved—and which comforted me when I was sad.

The problem, of course, is that their lifespans are so much shorter than ours, which necessitates tough decisions for those of us who love them. I should be used to that special room at the vet by now, but it never gets easier.

I just said goodbye to my dear cat Westin, one of the most endearing animals I’ve ever met. Westin’s life was difficult. He was deaf and had severe allergies that necessitated monthly shots and daily medication. Whenever I was asked if I’d like a receipt from the vet, I always said I didn’t want to know the price of his medical care. I’m pretty sure Westin cost more than the 50 or so animals I’ve tended to over the years put together. But he was such a joy, that I always smiled when I handed over my credit card.

The vet made it clear that Westin would not live a normal kitty lifespan as eventually the medications would take their toll. Westin was eight and he died peacefully surrounded by those who loved him.

In his honor, I thought I’d share the story I wrote about the day we brought Westin home.

A cat, a boy, a bond

There was nothing extraordinary about the cat that stared at me from the pages of my local newspaper. He was black. Gold eyes. His name was Westin. He’d been at the Humane Society way too long. His $20 price tag a clear indication that if he did not find a home soon, well…

I called my son Troy to come look at the picture. I told him about Westin. “Should we go get him?” I asked. His eyes lit up.

Within the hour we bounded through the door at the shelter, waving the newspaper article. “We’re here for Westin.” We grinned at the receptionist. A woman standing nearby frowned. I pointed at the picture again, wondering at her odd reaction.

“The story did not tell you everything,” she said, leading us toward a glassed-in enclosure, a place called the Campus for Compassion, where hard-to-adopt animals are placed for one last push to find them a forever home.

My son and I glimpsed Westin briefly through a large window as the woman ushered us through a doorway, around a corner, and through another door.  We somehow missed the sign that would have tipped us off that Westin was no ordinary kitty. The woman escorted us into the tidy room scattered with cat toys and shelves ascending one wall, where Westin quickly displayed his climbing skills. I sat on a small couch. Westin stared at me, then bounded into my lap.

“You get acquainted. I’ll get Westin’s records.” She left, closing the door behind her.

A short time later, a young volunteer appeared, bearing a thick folder.

“Where did he come from?” I asked as Westin head-butted my hand for the rub.

“He was one of thirty cats found abandoned in a hotel room,” she said. “We named them all after hotels.”

The thought that there were kitties nearby named Radisson, Hilton, Sheraton, and Howard Johnson made me want to laugh. Perhaps she read my mind.

“They’re all gone. They’ve been adopted. Westin is the only one left.”

I stared at the cat, now happily ensconced in my son’s lap. “Why?”

“Westin is sick.”

Troy and and I simultaneously stared at the cat, who appeared quite healthy and happy.

“When he came to us, he had lost a lot of his hair. We almost put him down. The vets here did a lot of testing and, well, Westin is deaf and has horrible allergies. He’s on daily medication and will be for the rest of his life. He has to be fed special food that’s about $60 a bag. I’ll leave you two to think about it,” she said, a hint of sadness in her voice. “He’s been here a long time.”

“It’s a lot of money,” I said when my son and I were alone. “And a lot of responsibility.” We already had four cats and a cattle dog.

When the volunteer came back, I asked if anyone else had ever wanted to adopt Westin.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Until they found out about his problems.”

The boy with the blue eyes stroked Westin’s head. “He’s just like me, Mom. No one wanted me either.”

I stared at the ground. Troy is my third son. All of my boys spent time in the foster care system, before entering my life when they were teenagers, having been shuttled between group facilities and foster homes too many times to count, clearly understanding that there didn’t seem to be any families that wanted them.

Of course, we took Westin home. I can’t say it hasn’t been a struggle. Westin suffered a ruptured ear drum and only wants to eat food that he’s allergic to. Still, he gets along fine with the other animals and is under the watchful eye of our vet. We are hoping that, someday, he can go without the daily doses of medication and the special expensive food. In the meantime, Troy takes care of Westin. They seem to have an understanding.

Today, I’m sad, which I know from experience is to be expected. There’s a small hole in my heart that hurts. But I know eventually that space will fill in. Joy will take its place. Joy that I had the pleasure of knowing Westin. And perhaps a small piece of rainbow will lodge in my heart, color and light left behind from the moment Westin mounted the storied Rainbow Bridge.

Five years ago, Westin was featured on the Arizona Humane Society’s Pets on Parade.

You can watch the video here.

Find Anne Montgomery’s novels wherever you buy books.



If you suffer from wrap rage, listen up!

Easy open? One wonders if anyone at the factory ever tried to get into one of these packages.

All I wanted was a cracker: a Triscuit to be precise.

But  I…couldn’t…open…the… package! Which had me saying all kinds of impolite things as I wrestled with the plastic bag inside the hermetically sealed cardboard box that had already tried my patience.

But it’s not just crackers that have me irritated. There’s the pet food bags that come with a string one just needs to pull and voilà the kibble bag is opened. But the thing rarely works, which has me reaching for a bone-handled camping knife I now keep on hand so I might stab those bags open. Then there are the drink containers which require me to fiddle with tiny plastic tabs that periodically break off leaving the cap useless. And let’s not forget those seals inside the peanut butter jar where one must attempt to grasp a miniscule flap and pull. I suppose the manufacturers intend for the lid to come off in one pretty, round piece, but more often than not the cover just rips and I’m off to find that camping knife and the stabbing begins anew.

My frustration no doubt stems from the fact that I’m old enough to remember when opening packages was simple. Today, however, just about everything we buy is encased in practically indestructible plastic clamshells and blister packs, shrink wrap and cling film. And though manufacturers insist their products are easy to open, we know they’re not.

I blame it all on the Tylenol Killer, a still unknown person who thought it would be just fine to lace acetaminophen capsules with cyanide back in 1982. Seven people died. And just like that, food and drug packaging changed. While I don’t generally believe in the death penalty, in this case I’d volunteer to push that plunger filled with potassium chloride, if only we could find the perp.

My go-to implement when attacking difficult packaging is my bone-handled camping knife.

So you know, I’m not the only one complaining. There’s actually a name for this “syndrome.” It’s called wrap rage, which is defined as “the common name for heightened levels of anger and frustration resulting from the inability to open packaging, particularly some heat-sealed plastic blister packs and clamshells.”

The thing is, it’s not like all this iron-clad packaging has made us safer. In fact, a British study revealed about 60,000 people suffer injuries annually that require hospital treatment—6,000 in the U.S. alone—because of their herculean attempts to open packages. The reason for these wounds is because, as I’ve already mentioned, we get frustrated and resort to dangerous implements—razors, box cutters, scissors, ice picks, and even bone-handled camping knives— in our efforts to open containers.

I looked for tips on how to deal with wrap rage, but I didn’t find much except that you should “never hold the item between your legs to stabilize it.” One wonders why that particular situation stands out, but I don’t want to think about it.

How can we avoid wrap rage? Next time you’re hungry try a banana or an apple. But since we can’t completely dodge impenetrable packaging, always have your bone-handled camping knife nearby.

Find Anne Montgomery’s novels wherever you buy books.



Don’t let age differences get in the way

That I’d anchored SportsCenter in my youth did nothing to prevent one of my former students from saying I was too old to teach sports reporting.

Most of us understand that people should not be discriminated against because of who they are. In fact, there are hate laws protecting people against bigotry based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability.

But there is one big category missing. How about discrimination based on age? (There is, of course, a law banning ageism in the workplace, but here I’m talking about the social implications of the issue.)

Ageism is generally understood to be a dislike that focuses on older adults. But why? Shouldn’t mature people be respected for the wisdom they’ve acquired over their long lives, knowledge that if shared can help younger folks be happier and more successful?

Asian, Native American, and Indian cultures, among others, respect their elders and, in fact, celebrate older adults. But venerating the elderly seems almost nonexistent in the U.S. The question is why. Some of this attitude—as is the case with most prejudice—is based on stereotypes. Older people are considered slow workers, poor drivers, hard of hearing, unable to embrace new technologies, and generally weak and unattractive. Ugh!

Alice was my dear friend, despite the decades that separated us in age.

Now I’m not saying older people don’t also harbor ageist attitudes against the young. As a Baby Boomer, I’m embarrassed when my peers mumble derisively about the “younger generation.” I want to yell, “Don’t you remember when our parents said the same things about us? How they didn’t like our clothes and hair and music and political views?” Still, while agism can go both ways, today it generally tilts toward the denigration of the elderly.

I ran into this problem after teaching a course in sports reporting at Arizona State University. At the end of the semester, students are encouraged to rate their instructors and one comment hit me hard. “Next time ASU hires someone to teach sports reporting, they should hire someone younger!” I was 67. That I’d worked as a sports reporter and anchor at five TV stations both locally and nationally, including a stint at ESPN where I anchored SportsCenter, and had been a print reporter for three magazines and three newspapers, did nothing to up my stock. It was only my age that mattered. (It might have been my gender, too, but that’s for another time.)

I thought about that critique for a while and then recalled something I did back in my forties. I’d been sent to interview a woman who was a competitive swimmer. She was 64 and I remember gushing about how amazing it was that she was still swimming “at her age.” She was kind and polite, but there was a look on her face, bemusement perhaps, that I didn’t understand at the time. Later, when I turned 64 and was still swimming laps, I finally understood. She didn’t feel old or act old, and yet I’d labeled her that way.

I know we can do better, and I think a good way to do that would be more social mixing of the generations. I was fortunate in my youth to have several older friends. One in particular stands out. Alice was my rocking buddy. We met when she was in her seventies and I was in my thirties. I would head out into the Arizona desert with Alice where we wandered along wild washes, hiked up and down mountains, and frequently got lost in our quest for mineral specimens. We were still at it when Alice was approaching 90. I never thought of her as old. Ever!

Getting to know one another is the key, I think.  So, let’s not allow stereotypes to get in the way of what might become a beautiful friendship.

Find Anne Montgomery’s novels wherever you buy books.