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The Cat Hotelier

Taking care of up to 80 cats isn't easy, especially when you're managing type 2 diabetes.

Becoming the proprietor of a luxury cat hotel wasn’t quite what UK-born Kevin Prince had in mind when he emigrated halfway across the world to New Zealand, but that’s exactly what he ended up doing.

Kevin, a self-proclaimed animal lover, bought the hotel and the house that went with it when he moved to “the land of Middle Earth” in 2007. For nine years, his home was a hop away from the hectic environment of a booming cat hotel.

“In a busy week, we could have 80 cats staying, all with their own unique needs and personalities,” says Kevin. “And dealing with pet owners–who have their unique needs and personalities–is an art form in itself!”

In the wake of the devastating Canterbury earthquakes in 2011, Kevin and his partner expected some traumatized pets to arrive, while owners left town for respite from ongoing aftershocks, or looked to relocate. But Kevin says most of the animals were far calmer than anticipated.

“The owners would tell us how stressed out the cats were, but they soon settled in. Cats are extremely resilient, probably more than we give them credit for.”

Kevin Prince.

Kevin says dealing with the human side of things is far more challenging. He describes the rituals of “drop-off” with amusement, with some owners spending up to half an hour explaining in close detail their cat’s every need… and providing handwritten sheets of instructions too.

“People are extremely particular when it comes to their animals, which isn’t surprising. Sometimes it gets amazingly detailed. We had someone describe exactly how their cat needed its meals: A small pile of meat in the middle of the bowl, biscuits around the bowl and four–four, not five, not three, four–treats placed on top of the meat. Anything else was unacceptable.”

Living literally “on the job” made work/life balance a little difficult, providing some unique challenges for Kevin, who has Type 2 Diabetes.

“Because you live onsite, you never really get a break. People would turn up at the house at all hours, because they figure you’re there, so you’re available.”

Diet is a major key to managing this sort of diabetes, and with long, busy days at the cattery, Kevin found himself missing meals, eating late, or being too tired to cook proper, nutritious dinners.

Kevin’s diabetes was discovered by accident. He also suffers from a condition known as Non Alcoholic Steatohepatitis, or Fatty Liver Syndrome. During a routine blood test, doctors discovered he had a reading of 22 on the diabetic blood sugar scale. That reading should usually be between four and six.

“’You’ve got the liver of a sixty-year-old alcoholic, with none of the fun,’” my doctor told me,” Kevin says. That meant he had to make some radical changes in his diet in order to manage his blood sugar and mitigate some of the risks that come with Type Two.

Kevin Prince’s own cat, Guido, with her beautiful eyes.

He says it’s much easier to spot the lows in blood sugar than the highs, though both can be equally dangerous.

“When I’m low, my hands start to shake, and I know I have to eat something quick. But the highs… well, you just feel good, so you don’t necessarily see it.”

He says it’s really important to have realistic support when you’re trying to make health and lifestyle changes.

“My last doctor was like; you’re diabetic, you’re bad, if you don’t do these things, you’ll die tomorrow. Whereas now I have someone who says; “Ok, here is where we’re at. How did we get here, and where do we want to get to next?”

Kevin’s biggest concern is losing his eyesight, something that is a risk for many people with both types of diabetes.

“I know that it’s my liver that’s probably going to kill me,” he says matter-of-factly, “…but I’m hyper conscious of changes in my eyesight. That’s what scares me.”

“If you’re having a lot of sugar at once, every time you hit that peak, you can end up with another burst blood vessel in your eye. And that doesn’t really recover, especially if you just keep pushing it with your diet.”

At home, Kevin has two dogs and three cats keeping a close eye on him, and his dinner. He says none of the animals had a problem living onsite at the cattery, and some of them even helped out.

“Zoe’s the boss, she’s a ten-year-old tortoiseshell. Then there’s Pumba, a black moggie, and Guido, a Manx cat – they’re both five. The dogs are Ollie, a seven-year-old Affenpinscher, he’s the father to Vera, she’s three. The dogs spend their times avoiding the cats. They know their place in the pecking order!”

Guido in particular played an active role in meeting and greeting the cattery clientele.

“Guido used to wait in the dark for people coming to the cattery, then leap out at them,” says Kevin. “They’d try to get past but it’d be like that dance in the street, when you meet someone coming the other way and you both go left, then both go right. You just couldn’t get past him.”

Pumba has the same demanding personality. “If you don’t give him enough attention, he’ll sit on the back of the chair and bite your hair – it really hurts, he’s a right bastard!”

Unfortunately, Kevin sold the hotel in February this year, but has pursued a career in accessibility, which he’s very passionate about. He’s currently working for the local City Council, helping ensure that government resources and services are accessible to everyone who needs them, and is a trustee on the board for Deafblind New Zealand.

These days, Kevin Prince no longer works as a cat hotelier, but he’s a trustee on the board of DeafBlind New Zealand.

“Technically I work in IT, but I’ve always been more interested in the people side of things. And accessibility: I have a very holistic view of that.”

“A while ago, I was helping a woman with low vision. She was studying, but she could only do about twenty minutes at a time before she was in pain. I observed how she was using her computer, hunched up, sitting on a dining chair. The problem wasn’t her eyes–it was her back and the way she was sitting. Once that got sorted, she could study for two hours straight.”

Working nine-to-five means Kevin now has more time, and energy, available to exercise and eat well.

“I loved the cattery work, but this gives me the opportunity to both help others, and to look after myself–to actually make and eat good meals, to get out for a walk. I lost my father when he was only 66. I don’t want to go down the same road.”

Plus, he gets to spend more time at home with his own menagerie.

“Having three cats and two dogs always provides occupation and entertainment!”

Health & Fitness

The Tale Of The Long Island Mariner

Type 2 diabetes and weekly dialysis won't stop Peter Lamia from hauling in the bluefins whenever he can.

With his gruff voice, stocky build and full white beard, Peter Lamia could’ve have strolled out of the verses of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. And like the salty old sailor from the epic Coleridge poem, Peter has no shortage of tales to tell about his time at sea.

If Peter looks the part of a storybook sailor, it could well be down to a lifetime spent fishing the Atlantic waters. As a child, his uncle took him fishing on open boats off the Long Island coast, where he still lives. When he was twenty two, fishing became a career.

It all began one January, when a bout of pneumonia forced him to take some time out of his political science studies at Columbia University. As he slipped further and further behind with his college assignments, he decided to find some paid work to tide him over. A friend suggested he head down to the docks at Long Island’s Captree State Park, to see if any of the charter fishing boats needed crew.

Peter Lamia acting as mate on the Fishfinder.

“I got there late, most of the boats had already gone out fishing already. But one guy was still there working on his boat. I said ‘do you need any help?’, and he said, ‘can you fillet fish?’ and I said I couldn’t, then he said, ‘if I put a knife in your hand will you cut yourself?’ and I said ‘I don’t know,’ and he said, ‘you’re hired!’

Peter didn’t go back to college. Instead, he found another education on the ocean. That first captain was Eddie B. Although he was a great teacher, showing the young man everything he needed to know, he wasn’t the best boss, Peter remembers. The boat crew earned tips from the passengers who’d hire the boat for the day, and the captain had the “inglorious habit” of putting his hand into these earnings. One summer with a tip-skimming captain was enough, and Peter soon moved on to his next job: a bluefish charter boat.

Bluefish bite after dusk, and Peter’s shift was 7pm till 4am. It was arduous work–which wasn’t all due to the fishing. “The kind of people that night fishing attracted back in the seventies were a little rowdy, and they had a tendency to have a few too many beers on their fishing trip, and it could get ugly.”

Since they run in large schools, bluefish are fairly easy to catch. However, adult fish are strong, fast and aggressive, with low-slung jaws and sharp teeth which won’t hesitate to snap at careless hands. An adult can easily weigh twenty pounds–a sizeable catch for any angler.

“You’re talking about fish that could take your finger off, fifty people on a boat with fifty lines in the water… tangles, screaming, yelling, and confusion.”

“Bluefishing can be a nightmare: you’re talking about fish that could take your finger off, fifty people on a boat with fifty lines in the water, and twenty people trying to get their fish onto the boat at once. There were tangles, screaming, yelling and confusion.”

Almost forty years later, Peter looks back fondly on those early days out on the Atlantic. While he still gets out whenever he can, his life has been different in the last ten years, since a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis sent his health downhill.

His first inkling something might be wrong was a good twenty-five years ago, when a blood sugar test came back on the high side. But he ignored the symptoms – an easy thing to do with diabetes, he says.

“That’s the horrible part about diabetes: there are no symptoms, you feel nothing. But even though you feel nothing there’s a degradation happening within your system.”

Ten years ago, in his early fifties, Peter returned to Columbia to finish the political science degree he’d begun three decades earlier. He’d always regretted not seeing it through, and at the urging of his girlfriend Abby he took the entrance exam, placing in the top two percent of students. The rest, he said, just fell into place. During those first few months of study, he went for a checkup at the campus clinic. He wasn’t feeling great, and the nurse took a blood sugar test.

“My result was off the chart, I blew past the highest number. The woman that did that test said, ‘I can’t believe you’re not in a coma.’”

Lamia shows off some flukes on the Superhawk.

These days, Peter’s retired, but he still gets out on the ocean whenever he can. Unfortunately, fishing competes with other, more pressing matters: like twelve hours of weekly dialysis, and diabetic retinopathy, a common problem for diabetes sufferers, who are at risk from a host of eye-related diseases.

“One morning I woke up and it looked like a Rorschach test in front of my eyes, I was terrified. I went to the eye doctor and they told me it was blood leaking from my eyes.”

Doctors treated Peter’s eyes with laser treatment and steroid injections, but when these didn’t work, Peter went onto an Iluvien implant, a slow-release steroid which should last up to three years. The next step is a new kidney, which his brother has offered to donate.

That’s the horrible part about diabetes: there are no symptoms, you feel nothing.

Peter’s the stoic type, though, not one to complain or dwell on hardships. It’s hard to say whether this stoicism is a product of his years at sea, or an innate quality that naturally drew him to the kind of hard work you only find on fishing boats.

And those early saltwater days were hard, he remembers.

The Fishfinder II, looking for another school of bluefish before heading into the sunset.

“On the bluefish boat, I would get sick every night. I never threw up, but I’d get green around the gills. And since I was the new guy, I was the chum boy. The chum was in a five gallon barrel, a mix of ground up fish and blood. I’d take a ladle and spray it out every fifteen seconds onto the water, to create a slick to attract the bluefish. There I am, sick in the first place and every time I ladled it out, a little bit of breeze would spray some of the chum into my face.”

Like the Ancient Mariner, Peter has tales of ocean disaster. The most devastating involved an accident with a flat-bottomed clam boat.

“The boat had been hired for a charter cruise one night. This teenager had a clam boat, he and his friends were playing chicken with our wake, jumping over the waves with the boat. They turned into us and buried the entire thing into the stern of our boat.

“One of the kids was never found. Another kid was thrown onto our boat. His head hit the rail coming in, he split his skull open. The charter we had that night happened to be doctors and lawyers, and the doctors used the boat’s garden hose to do an emergency tracheotomy to try and save him but the kid died.”

After a lifetime spent on the ocean, Peter still says he’d go fishing every day, if he could.

“The season has started and I’m dying to go out. Lovely, crappy, it doesn’t matter–I got rain gear. It’s not just the fishing, you’re out in an expanse of water and it’s just absolutely gorgeous. No place I’d rather be.”