the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

trying to beat the odds

I'm not going to sugar-coat it for all the dreamers: winter aboard really does suck. Low tides. Precarious climbing on and off the boat. The poor dog trying to get on and off without falling in or breaking a leg. I don't mind the cold as far as comfort goes. I can always bundle up and I manage to keep it between 55 and 65 degrees inside with the space heaters. But the water line froze up between the tank and the pump. I had bought some foam for insulating the line but hadn't managed to climb down into the engine room to do it before it froze. So I had to wait for it to thaw. (And fill bottles of water in the bathhouse in the interim.) I aimed a 60 watt halogen bulb as far aft toward the line as I could; yes, I duct-taped a work light to a pink and black umbrella, don't laugh too hard. I've been running a space heater part-time aimed into the engine room. It finally thawed... and then froze again. Between freezes I did manage to climb down and put foam on the line but realized once I was down there that the line I was seeing was actually the one from the pump to the sinks, which wasn't frozen. I insulated that line, which I could reach, and then traced my way to find the culprit section. Naturally that segment is smushed between the batteries and the hull and I could barely reach any portion of it. I wrapped as much as I could, which was not much, but when the old batteries come out for replacement I will have to use that opportunity to squiggle down there and fully insulate that hose.  

Anyway, spring is easy. Anyone can live on a boat in the spring or the fall. It's the heat of summer and frigid, windy winters that test us. Most liveaboards don't last much past the first year, so I've already beat those odds. I know I'm in for the long haul and can handle whatever life throws at me, but if you're someone who heats their house to 75 degrees in the winter, you better head south if you ever live on a boat because winter aboard is cold, inconvenient, and frustrating. If you don't already curse like a sailor, it will inspire you to. But it's a good excuse for hot buttered rum or some peppermint schnapps in your cocoa. 

Hunter had his ear surgery six days ago. (Before and after photos that might bother the particularly squeamish are tucked away at the very bottom of this post, so don't scroll too far if you are feint of heart or having dinner. I'll put a warning before they appear).

A huge thanks to Annapolis Cat Hospital for fitting Hunter in a week early and taking such good care of my little guy even though he was apparently a terror to them. It was a pretty rough surgery and because the wound was oozing and bleeding, they had him stay overnight. When I picked him up the following day, I had to take him out of the cage because the tech didn't think Hunter would let him pick him up. Of course he let me pick him up and put him in his carrier and hasn't even fussed much when I'm putting on or taking off his Elizabethan collar. But he's a mama's kitty. It's really messy if he tries to eat with the collar on, so I've taken pity on him and given him some breaks from it when I can keep an eye on him to make sure he's not scratching at his ear or pulling any of the stitches. I kept him pretty well stoned on morphine for the first few days home. Gratefully I just had to shoot a small amount of the liquid into his mouth and it absorbs through his gums. Pup dog went to a friend's for the week since it would be almost impossible to put the litter box somewhere the cat can get to it with his e-collar on but that the dog couldn't get to it to raid it. It's sad/funny to watch Hunter trying to walk around with the e-collar on because it bumps into everything and he sometimes has fits where he bucks like a bronco trying to shake the thing off his head. Oh, the humiliation.

The bad news, though not unexpected, came today. The tumor was a malignant soft tissue sarcoma. Many such sarcomas in cats are related to vaccinations and appear at the injection site. Since this one is not vaccine-induced, it makes it difficult to sort out information online in trying to research it. The vet spoke with both the pathologist who analyzed the biopsy and with an oncologist. The good news is that we had a clean margin around the tumor. Unfortunately, that margin is only 2mm instead of the preferred 2cm. The location of the tumor at base of his ear made it impossible to obtain large margins around the tumor. Also unfortunate is that sarcomas tend to send out "tendrils," so any tendrils that went out are likely still there and the tumor has a substantial likelihood of recurring in a few months. More radical surgery is not much of an option because his eye and brain are right there. Radiation is the preferred next step, but I would have to drive quite a ways to Gaithersburg for such treatments and he would have to be under general anethesia. And, of course, radiation therapy would easily be several thousand dollars. Even if I had the money, however, I think the physical and mental stress that treatment would put on Hunter may do more harm than good. I wish he would live forever. He's one of my best friends and kept me going through very dark days. But I will not torture him with medical treatments, or prolong his suffering, just to delay my grief. I made that clear to the vet and I know that I'll likely have to have a discussion with her about palliative care if the tumor returns and he's in pain. Through it all he has been incredibly brave and his favorite place to be is still right on my lap, purring away. And with hope he will beat the odds.

Of course, I've been out of work since December 17. The total cost for the cat's surgery came to $981.50 (plus another $15 for the collar) and $775 for the dog's. I definitely don't have the money right now to pay for the vet to remove the cat's stitches, so they'll either take a few months to dissolve or I may have to figure out how to remove them myself. They let me leave a post-dated check for the 29th for the $401.75 balance for the cat's surgery, but that leaves me with just $60 to my name after paying the rest of the bills due this month, and in the hole $133 for paying the bills due on the 1st. (If anyone wants to donate towards Hunter's vet bill, feel free to call Annapolis Cat Hospital at 410-268-2287, no amount is too small, any amount is deeply appreciated, and you can remain anonymous to me if you so desire.)  

If I can get everything out of my storage unit I could save $57 a month so I'll probably have to figure out a way to make that happen in the next two weeks. I've been applying online for jobs as well as hoofing it around trying to find restaurant work. The challenge there is that if you show up any time other than between 2:00PM and 4:00PM Monday through Wednesday or Thursday, the odds are good they will just toss your résumé for not coming at the deadest time; I get it, but it adds an extra logistical challenge. And of course it is winter, so many of the restaurants are slow and people are fighting for shifts, so not many spots are in hiring mode at all. Fingers crossed something shakes out very, very soon. But, hey, I need to go on a radical diet to lose that last 15 pounds anyway!

As I think most of my readers know by now, I'm not about sugar-coating my life or the liveaboard lifestyle. It is the right thing for me, but it's not all palm trees and fruity rum drinks and it is especially challenging with pets. Having pets aboard is something I had to do in my particular circumstances. I made a commitment to my pets for their lifetimes and I have sacrificed many opportunities so that I can keep them and keep them all together. The opportunity for me to buy a boat came along and because of my very challenging and unstable financial situation, I had to seize that opportunity and move aboard and have a home of my own. It was the right thing for me, but my pack didn't get a vote in the matter and it probably wasn't the best thing for them. I know there are readers who will be miffed at my saying this, but, honestly, I truly don't recommend having pets aboard. I'm not casting judgment or trying to make anyone feel guilty, but unless you absolutely cannot put off moving aboard until your pets have passed on, it simply adds an extra layer of strain to a lifestyle that isn't exactly easy for human, canine, or feline. I admit that perhaps down the line I will have a boat cat again to take care of rodents and provide a little companionship, but I would get a kitten who never knows anything but boat life and has sea legs from the beginning.

Pup dog hates the boat. Or at least hates getting on and off and getting inside and out. I think she was equally bored hanging out in a house all day as she is hanging out on a boat all day, and her preference would be if I could stay home and play with her, go swimming, go hiking, and just be together all the time. (As one friend told me "Having a dog is like having a three-year-old that never, ever grows up.") Unfortunately, the kibble doesn't just magically appear and I have to work. We haven't even tackled the utter hell that will be trying to get her in and out of a dinghy to go ashore for potty breaks when I head south or if I end up living on a mooring ball or on the hook since I probably can't afford marinas anymore. That will take our shared misery to a whole new level. As much as it would break my heart to let her go, if I had a friend with a farm where pup would be loved in abundance and could run around all day and then snuggle up by a fireplace, I would probably let her move ashore because it would be a happier life for her.

I think my cats do love being in the boat while docked since it is full of interesting little napping spaces. And they enjoy sunning on the decks, smelling smells, and hunting marina mice. And since cats hate change, when we move, all their stuff goes with them and stays in the same place, so that puts less stress on them than moving from house to house did. But they hate the boat in motion. Max lays down and just has the most pathetic queasy, terrified expression. Hunter pukes exorcist-style even for a mild motoring trip from one creek to another around the Eastport peninsula, and for longer, bouncier rides he really loses it.

When you have pets aboard is that really what is best for them, or just what is best for their human? I hate to say it, but I think it's the latter. I know a lot of people have pets aboard, and I don't doubt that they are loved and better off than in a shelter, but it definitely makes cruising more difficult and costly. Many islands are rabies-free and simply no-go zones without very lengthy quarantines. Even in countries where pets are allowed to enter, there are often complicated hoops of paperwork and veterinary certifications and fees to jump through. If you have a purse dog it is certainly easier than if you have a breed than isn't easily carried aboard. And other than the sizable footprint a litter box takes up, cats are simpler and don't ever actually need to leave the boat for anything other than vet visits. 

As with most things, folks tend to remember the easy parts and get amnesia about the hard stuff. Anyone can live on a boat in April. Springtime is a cake walk. But in a place like Annapolis, the cold of winter and sweltering heat of summer last a lot longer than the mild, easy days of spring and fall. Sure, if you have a dog that weighs less than 30 pounds you can just lift it on and off by hand. If you have a younger dog who can jump on and off, it all may seem simple. Until the dog gets old and arthritic or has an injury and isn't allowed to run, or jump, or climb stairs. Then, getting a 60-pound dog three feet from point A to point B may take hours, and tears, and risk life and limb. (It took all of those last week and I think pup and I were both at our wits' end.) No one wants to think about or tell anyone about those days. So that's why I'm saying it. Just go in with your eyes open. And if you're doing a better job of having pets aboard than I am, I envy and applaud you, because it is not easy.

OK, here's a photo of my beautiful boy Hunter with big green eyes and enormous scooper ears. If you keep going past that forewarned. I don't think the photos are overly gross but if you can't handle seeing stitches and such, you may want to stop here.


  1. Poor kitty, my best wishes for Hunter and speedy healing. I appreciate your advice about living onboard with animals, we are about to move two house cats to our sailboat. I'm hoping for the best, but if I had someone to take them, that would be my first choice.

    1. Thanks, Donna. Good luck with the cats! Cats are much, much easier to have aboard than a dog.


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