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Today’s Happy Shot — and why I love my vet

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My husband and his family have been taking their pets to Feather and Fur Animal Hospital for years.

When we got married, he insisted I take my two dogs there, too.

I was on the fence. I really like the vet who’s been taking care of both Sunny and Indy since they were pups and the thought of going somewhere new — and trusting someone new — wasn’t appealing.

Vets are like hair stylists, dentists and mechanics. You find one you like, one who you’re comfortable with, and you don’t change.

But working with the vets at the Kailua animal hospital with ‘Elua these past few months have really changed my mind.

There aren’t many clinics that have vets who know how to treat and care for birds and exotic animals. But Drs. Kirk Ayling and Mina Khoii were both knowledgable and compassionate in how we handled ‘Elua’s ailing health. They both plainly laid out our options and explained each scenario so we could make the best choice for our bird. It made me feel a ton better knowing ‘Elua was here with these two.

When my husband and I went to the hospital to say goodbye to ‘Elua, Dr. Khoii, who has worked as an associate veterinarian at the Honolulu Zoo and has handled plenty of chickens there, went over exactly what would happen when we put down our bird. She said that since the infection caused fluid build-up in her belly, she couldn’t inject the euthanizing drug there. (Usually, it can be injected in the belly and we could have held her while she died.) Instead, she had to administer the drug in her wing, so we could only stand by and watch.

Dr. Khoii was sympathetic and kind. I could tell euthanizing animals — not matter how humane — wasn’t her favorite thing. But she kept reminding us that this was the most compassionate choice for ‘Elua.

She brought in a box of Kleenex for us and let us spend a few minutes with ‘Elua after. We could even leave out the back door to avoid the sympathetic stares and concerned looks on the faces of the folks in the waiting area.

It wasn’t easy, but Dr. Khoii made us feel good — well, as good as could feel — about our decision.

And then, the other day, we got a card from her and the staff at Feathers and Fur (above). And the card included a few of ‘Elua’s feathers.

It was the sweetest, most thoughtful gesture of sympathy I could have ever imagined getting from anyone, much less our vet. It rendered me speechless — which, if you know me, isn’t easy — and made me feel a lot better, not just about our choice to euthanize ‘Elua but to switch vets, too.

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Ode to ‘Elua

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‘Elua, our beloved chicken with a big personality and an adventurous spirit, died last night.

We took her in a couple of days ago after finding her standing out in the rain, soaked and frail. She wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t move. We knew it was bad.

It was the second time we had taken ‘Elua to Feathers and Fur Animal Hospital in Kailua this year for being egg bound. (That means she had an egg inside her that she couldn’t expel. Read my blog on that.) The first time we left her there — incidentally during Hurricane Iselle; she was back at the vet this time around during Hurricane Ana — for about a week. The vet drained the fluid in her belly, put her in an incubator, and fed her antibiotics daily.

We brought her home and gave her calcium supplements and antibiotics every day for about a week, slowly reintroducing her back with the other two hens when she was strong enough to hold her own. (Chickens notoriously pick on the weaker in the flock.) And for a while there, she looked fine. She was healthy enough to jump into the hutch and was eating with the others. I had no idea she was suffering.

I’m not sure how long she had been sick. I noticed she was acting a bit strange on Friday when she didn’t jump into the hutch to eat. She stood outside in the mud, her red crown flopped over, just looking at me. I poured some chicken feed into my hand and let her eat out of my outstretched palm.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we found her, standing near the banana trees, confused and disoriented, that we knew she was really sick. We rushed her to the vet.

‘Elua tried to pull through. She just wasn’t strong enough. The infection ran rampant through her belly, making it difficult for her to stand, breath or digest anything, including the medication she desperately needed.

She was suffering — and we had to make a choice.

My husband called me in the morning and told me the prognosis. It wasn’t good. We could keep ‘Elua at the hospital indefinitely, but she likely would never get better.

I have never put down an animal before. All of our pets — guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, fish, parakeet — have all died naturally, as far as I can remember. I never had to make a choice about whether they lived or not.

There was really no option: to euthanize ‘Elua was the most compassionate decision. She was in a lot of pain and there was little hope she would ever recover.

We drove to Kailua yesterday to say goodbye to our feisty chicken, the one who would escape the pen so often my husband had to double the height of the fence. She wasn’t the biggest or the bravest, but she was the smartest and the most adventurous, ready for anything and fiercely independent. If she could, she would have lived in the house with us.

The vet invited us to stay with ‘Elua as she injected her with the euthanizing drug. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, watching her emaciated body twist and jerk as the drug circulated throughout her body and stopped her heart. I watched her chest fill and contract, fill and contract, until it stopped. And it was quiet.

My husband stood there, stoic and strong. But even he couldn’t hold back the tears. That’s what I love and admire about this man. He has the kindest, biggest, most compassionate heart for any creature. Even when he fishes, he’s respectful, taking only what he needs — which is usually just one fish — kills it quickly and humanely, and thanks it for giving up its life to feed us. It’s a special thing to be in the presence of someone who respects and values life so much, and he has inspired me to view the world in much the same way.

I cried. I cried hours later. Even in bed, watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Even as I blog. It’s strange for me, someone who has never had chickens before, to feel such an emotional connection to them. I felt badly that we didn’t see how much she was suffering earlier, that she was pretending to be strong and healthy. I know this was the best choice, to end her pain and let her sleep forever, but it’s still hard to watch her life leave her.

What I’ve learned is life, no matter how small or short or seemingly trivial, is valuable and worth our respect. That’s what ‘Elua and my husband taught me.

Farewell, my sweet bird. You’ll be missed but not forgotten.

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#CatTravels: Inside the Scottish referendum

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We didn’t plan this at all.

It just so happened we ended up in Scotland the week of the historic independence vote. More than 5 million Scots will hit the polls Thursday to answer one simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

And right now, it could go either way.

The latest polls have suggested the result is too close to call. One survey published Wednesday afternoon put support for “Yes” at 49 percent against 51 percent for “No” when undecided voters were excluded. Another poll released earlier on Wednesday showed support for independence was at 48 percent, with 52 percent support for Scotland staying in the U.K., once undecided voters were excluded.

And social media is a-buzz with reasons to #VoteYes or #VoteNo.

But the real action is right here in Scotland.

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We just walked from Leith to Edinburgh this afternoon and passed dozens of people wearing stickers and pins declaring their support for either side. There were people waving signs and handing out flyers with information about the referendum on street corners, urging people to take a side at the polls tomorrow.

We even saw a farm in East Lothian, on our way back from a whiskey tasting at the Glenkinchie Distillery, with the words, “NO,” plowed into the fields.

I mean, this is serious.

On our way back from dinner at Monteiths on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, we came across a group of people gathered around a van parked at the top of Cockburn Street. From the van shot a huge spotlight with a scrim that read, “Yes,” on it, boldly displayed on the side of the building. (See first image)

And that was after a #VoteYes rally spontaneously gathered there and walked to the Scottish Parliament, several thousand strong. (Some were chanting, “Where’s your cameras, BBC?”)

This referendum is not just the biggest news here, it’s the only news. No one is talking or thinking about anything else — aside from maybe where to grab a pint after the polls close.

This is huge. If the results are in favor of independence, Scotland will transition to its own country by early next year. That means Scots will need to vote in a new government, decide on a new currency and figure out what to do next.

And that’s not something the Scots aren’t already accustomed to.

It seems, in every chapter of Scottish history, they’ve always made do with whatever they have. They’ve always figured it out — and succeeded. And I wouldn’t expect anything less from the Scots.

But the vote right now is so close: there are people who truly believe they deserve independence from Great Britain and should be allowed to make their own choices about what’s best for their country — and there are others who feel separating from the U.K. would be detrimental to the country.

At the heart of it, though, these Scots love their country, unconditionally and unabashedly, and this referendum has split a very spirited and proud people. To me, both sides are looking at what they feel is best for the country and its people. I believe that. But what’s best is what’s on debate, and each side has compelling arguments.

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We’ve been spending a lot of time with Andrew, head of social media at an independent digital consultancy in Edinburgh, whose loft at which we are staying. (He’s the guy in the photo above, on the left.) And he’s pro-independence — for all the reasons that make sense to me. They finally get a say in what happens to their country. They can get rid of the nuclear weapons stored on their land. They can keep the tax and revenue made from its oil reserves. I can’t help but feel sympathetic toward the #VoteYes folks.

Whatever happens, though, we’ll be here for it. Voting starts tomorrow morning and runs until 10 p.m. Then it will take several hours of counting each vote to determine the outcome, which is expected to be announced around 8 a.m. Friday. And then we’ll know.

No matter what the outcome, there will be revelry in Edinburgh — on the streets and in the pubs. And either way, I’ll be toasting the beauty of democracy.

Follow Cat on her #FoxHoneymoon to England, Scotland and Ireland on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth. Track her travels at #CatTravels.

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Concussions aren’t fun

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I wouldn’t say I’m accident prone.

But it’s no surprise things happen to me that make for great Facebook status updates.

Like getting my wallet stolen in Athens. Or getting a serious staph infection after surfing in Tavarua, Fiji. Or suffering through a urinary tract infection on a flight to Hamburg. (The Germans have the best medicine, let me tell you!)

So why wouldn’t I get a concussion on a recent kayak trip to the Mokulua Islands in Kailua?

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Here’s the story: We met up with some friends this past Sunday to kayak to the iconic twin islands off Lanikai Beach on the windward side of O‘ahu. The plan was to walk around Moku Nui, the larger of the two and the only one the public can legally land on.

The backside of the island can be dangerous to traverse, and I wouldn’t recommend people venture there.

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An unofficial warning sign posted toward the back of Moku Nui.

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But of course, I never listen to my own advice. I’ve been back there (see above) a couple of times before without any incident. There’s a protected cove into which adventure-seekers like to jump from the rocks overhead. And there’s also a shallow saltwater bath — into which adventure-seekers like to jump from the rocks overhead.

I don’t jump into anything, so that’s not where I hit my head.

In fact, it was on my way around the island when I sustained this concussion that doesn’t seem to go away.

I followed my friends’ two teenagers into a sea cave and a wave pushed me against the side of a rock wall, full force, and I whacked my right cranium pretty hard.

At first I panicked, thinking I was going to start bleeding profusely. And the ocean is the last place I’d like to be with an open wound to my head and blood gushing everywhere.

So I quickly got out of the water and onto land.

And to be honest, save for a headache, I felt fine.

In fact, I felt fine up until that night, when I sipped a glass of moscato and started slurring. Then I went into the bathroom, switched on the lights, and everything got so bright, I thought the roof had been torn from the house and the sunlight was streaming in. I couldn’t open my eyes.

When I told my husband about this strange phenomenon — I was actually tripping out about the suddenly bright bathroom more than thinking this could be neurological damage — he started asking me a bunch of questions.

“Do you have a headache?”

“Are you nauseous?”

“Are you dizzy?”

“Do you have any weakness or numbness in your arms?”

To all of these questions I answered yes.

“I think you have a concussion.”

OK, so I’ve heard about concussions. Football players, boxers and car accident victims get them. You have to really hit your head pretty hard, I thought, to sustain something like that.

Turns out, millions of Americans have suffered from a concussion, many unreported. More than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in the U.S., according to the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Trauma Research Center.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. And you don’t have to actually hit your head to get one. A violent shake can cause a concussion, too.

Effects are usually temporary and include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.

On Monday, I was really starting to feel the effects. I had a difficult time concentrating, I would forget what I was saying mid-sentence, I felt dizzy and nauseous all the time. Light hurt my eyes and I was still suffering from what was starting to feel like a migraine. It wasn’t fun.

By Tuesday I was at the doctor’s office, getting my eyes checked and my brain scanned. No blood clots, but I definitely had a concussion that the doctor said may take weeks to months to heal fully.

This is Day 5, and I already see an improvement, at least in my concentration and balance. (It would take me twice as long to type an email, for example. It literally hurt to think.) But this injury is no joke.

Friends kept reminding of me actress Natasha Richardson, who, back in 2009, sustained a head injury when she fell while taking a beginner skiing lesson at a resort in Canada. She seemed fine, talked and acted normally — then died the next day.

I feel like if I’ve survived this long, I’m in the clear.

But I won’t be swimming into any sea caves anytime soon.

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‘Sometimes you gotta jump in the van’

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I had never been to a writer’s conference before, which may seem odd since that’s what I do for a living.

But these conferences are notoriously expensive, when you include airfare to and from Hawai‘i and the cost of accommodations, and being a writer, well, you’re usually broke.

So I’ve read about them, I’ve longed over websites, I’ve listened with uncloaked envy to people who have attended these mysterious wonders where speakers talk about story arcs and cliched ledes.

Then I finally decided to suck it up — read: fork over some hard-earned cash — and go to one myself.

And I’m not kidding when I say this: I literally signed up the week of the conference. And I had no place to stay, either.

The conference was for travel writers and photographers, put on for the past 22 years at Book Passage, a reputable independent bookstore in Corte Madera, Calif. that puts on highly regarded conferences and workshops throughout the year, including the one I had attended this weekend.

It’s expensive — a little more than $600 for the four-day conference — and airfare to San Francisco, especially at such short-notice, wasn’t cheap. So I had lofty hopes that I’d get my money’s worth.

And I have to say, the experience was well worth the investment. (I even missed a little south shore bump, too.)

IMG_0510Like every conference in the Western world, it featured a bunch of seminars, from talk-story panel discussions on freelancing to intensive workshops on writing narratives.

I hadn’t been to one of these before — it seemed like most people were conference alums — so I just sat in whichever session sounded remotely interesting. I settled on, “Writing the Big Five,” with Jim Benning and David Farley, both accomplished travel writers and return speakers. The course focused on the five main types of travel writing: magazine stories, newspaper articles, personal essays, blog posts and books.

We started by introducing ourselves with our names, hometowns and favorite animals. More than 60 people filled the event room in the back of the bookstore, hailing from as far as Berlin to as nearby as the Santa Cruz Mountains. (For some reason, there was a strangely high number of people who were from Minnesota and didn’t know each other.) There were two others from Hawai‘i and a guy named Alan Toth. I felt right at home.

The first thing the pair of speakers did was dispel myths about travel writing.

“The first one. You make a lot of money.” That made attendees chuckle.

Though I’ve been freelancing for more than 10 years now, it was nice to have time to actually think about my approach to my craft and career. The discussions in this course challenged me to hone my writing, to be more specific in my descriptions, to not be lazy with my word choices, to re-read and edit more carefully my work, and to strategize on how to sell my stories to editors.

The next seminar — this time a discussion about finding your story on the road — really inspired me.

In this panel discussion, Spud Hilton, the travel editor at the San Francisco Chronicle aptly said, “Sometimes you gotta jump in the van.”

Meaning, sometimes you have to do the stuff that you’re going to write about. And sometimes you’re not going to like it. Sometimes it might scare you. Sometimes it might be against your better judgement. But if you’re going to make this a bona fide career — and you want a paycheck — well, you gotta do what you gotta do. And jumping in that proverbial van might be it.

I didn’t realize, until I attended this conference, that there was such a huge world out there to be explored. And that I could, very feasibly, write about it.

It’s too bad it took me $1,800 and three days in another city to figure this out.

But maybe that’s what it was going to take.

I’m just glad I got in the van.

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