Mews & Views

Mews & Views -- A blog for cat lovers everywhere with a focus on the low-income pet cats of northern and central New Mexico.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Do Live-Trapped Cats Hold A Grudge? Ask Larry.

Caring for feral cats is tricky – take Larry for example. He’s an impressive, 17-pound male cat – now 9 years old -- who is very shy around people. He would never let anyone lift him -- much less confine him in a cat carrier for a vet visit -- that’s hard enough to do even with a socialized cat.

Larry, and his sister Cleo, were part of the show-and-tell feral cat colony we had in the barn at our cat farm. We received them in 2002 when they were still very young. Before they moved in, they were vaccinated and had thorough check ups. Both passed with flying colors so we didn’t press further routine examinations on them -- knowing how stressful they would be. Since 2005 they’ve lived as indoor-only cats in our closed retirement shelter, seem happy and healthy, and are still young enough for us not to worry about geriatric illnesses.

But Larry has put on a few pounds over the years, and grooming his back has become increasingly difficult – because he can’t reach it any more. He won’t let us comb him either – so he gradually got very matted and we knew it made him uncomfortable. It was time to take him in – not only for an exam – but to have the staff anesthetize him and fix his matted fur.

The only snag was figuring out how to get him to an appointment when we couldn’t pick him up. Our resourceful vet did not require us to live trap him, so we decided to try a less stressful strategy. On a Saturday afternoon, we placed a nice bed inside a large pet carrier and – with the door locked open – put it on the cat room floor near where he naps.

Immediately the carrier became a hot property – with two or three other cats trying it out first. This was not lost on Larry – and when the other cats moved on, he moved in. Everything seemed to be going to plan. Larry liked the carrier/bed so much he spent most of his weekend in it – leaving only long enough to eat or use the litter box. We knew if the novelty lasted only one more morning, we’d have Larry delivered to the vet without any hassle.

Monday morning came and Larry continued to revel in the luxury of his new bed. I kept looking at the clock wondering when I should shut the door on him. If I did it too soon, he may get frantic, but if I waited too long, he may leave the bed and miss his 11:30 appointment. It’s only a 15-minute drive to the clinic so I decided to wait until at least 10:30 to close the door.

At 10:30 Larry was napping and confining him was easier than I ever imagined. I simply tiptoed over and with a flick of the wrist locked him inside and then quickly covered the carrier with a towel to calm him. Larry awoke – and uttered several woeful wails. In a flash, the other “former barn cats” – Joyce, Emmy and Cleo – appeared out of nowhere and positioned themselves around the carrier – trying to find a way to free Larry. It broke my heart to see them. Joyce, in particular, is Larry’s soul mate. She pressed her head against the carrier’s front grate trying to comfort Larry as best she could through the bars.

Emmy and Cleo were upset but after realizing there was nothing they could do, left the room – probably fearful they may be confined too. Larry continued to moan and Joyce continued to comfort him. Knowing how painful seeing Larry confined was for Joyce, I decided to take Larry to the clinic early. We got in the car and he cried the whole way there. I left him at the clinic knowing as hard as it was on him, he needed the professional care.

The actual appointment went well. Larry’s matted fur was combed through where possible and shaved off only when neessary. He passed his physical exam and had good lab work. We did find out, however, that he has gum disease that should be treated by a specialist – meaning another vet appointment! He’s savvier now so it won’t be easy. The challenge of a vet appointment for a feral cat is not so much catching them, but catching them on cue -- a specific day at a specific time. If we had it to do over again, Larry would have left one vet clinic for the next and had the dental work done before he came back home. We’re working on his next appointment – but it will take some planning.

Did Larry hold a grudge against us for tricking him into a carrier and taking him to the vet? Maybe. When Larry came home I took him to the cat room and opened the door to his carrier thinking he’d like to stay in it while he recuperated. Instead he shot like a bullet out of the room and boycotted it for a good two days – preferring instead to sit on the hard tile floor of our potting room-- just looking at cupboards – and stirring more than a little guilt in me. What I hadn’t anticipated was that Joyce and Emmy would join him -- providing Larry with loving solidarity and me with even more guilt.

As the memory of the scary day passed, so did the grudge. Larry, Emmy and Joyce have gradually returned to their normal routine – sleeping and playing in the cat room and letting me pet them. The vet appointment was hard on all of us –- yet overall we know it was very worthwhile – especially if we can get Larry’s teeth taken care of before they cause him any unnecessary problems.

In our feral cat spay/neuter program, new caregivers often express relucance to live-trap their feral cats for fear the cats will be upset with them and move on. And – we know anecdotally – that feral cats sometimes do disappear for a few days after they’ve been sterilized and returned to their outdoor homes. Yet, like Larry, they may just need a day or two to regroup after a stressful event. Once they settle down again – all is forgiven. So – as Larry demonstrated -- cats may hold a grudge – but if they do, it isn't for very long.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Emmy - A Cat With Value

No cat is born a socialized companion cat. All cats are born feral. The friendly cats placed for adoption are simply feral cats consciously trained (during their first 8 weeks of life) to enjoy people. Only recently did the mainstream even start categorizing cats this way –probably not until the 1990’s when Alley Cat Allies began promoting TNR (trap-neuter-return) as the most humane alternative to shelter euthanasia of less-socialized cats.

Friendly vs. feral
is only one of the litmus tests that euthanasia-based shelters use to manage their population. Other common litmus tests include young vs. old, sick vs.healthy, and viral-positive (Felv or FIV) vs. non-viral positive.

These tests are troubling on many levels. They allow euthanasia shelters to bring in all cats that come their way and then cherry pick the most adoptable (friendly young cats and kittens) that require minimal veterinary care -- and then euthanize the rest – for “justifiable reasons”.

None of these litmus tests hold up under scrutiny. Minimally-trained shelter personnel have no sure way of determining the age of stray adult cats– yet cats live or die based on their estimates. A single positive viral test does not conclusively diagnose feline leukemia or FIV -- yet cats live or die based on one test. A cat’s true personality is not obvious when they are under extreme stress – as they are at shelters – yet how friendly they are on intake determines whether they live or die.

Underlying the entire process is the assumption that people only want to adopt very young and friendly cats. Yet, since shelters only account for about 15% of the total cat adoptions, we know that is simply not true. 85% of cats that find homes are not prescreened by unreliable litmus tests – they are simply random cats – friendly and feral, young and old, sick and healthy – that show up at someone’s home and touch the heart of the person who discovers them. They give the cat food or milk, watch them eat, and take them indoors or give them an outdoor shelter. The bonding process happens completely and quickly – not because they are a perfect cat but because they are a life worth saving.

Emmy – the cat who came to us with Joyce – is a good example. She’s semi-feral – accepts some human attention but prefers the company of other cats overall. At a shelter, she would have been DOA – but she graces our lives with her charm, beauty and spirit. All cats – even old,feral or sick cats – have intrinsic value. Luckily for cats, many people recognize this -- even if the organizations funded to protect them often don’t.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Joyce - A Cat Who Likes To Keep Distant

The cats in our closed retirement shelter range from a highly-socialized Brandon to a very shy and skittish Joyce – with most being somewhere in between.

Joyce -- a petite long-haired gray-black tabby with white toes -- was part of the show-and-tell feral cat colony on display in the barn at our cat farm. She – along with Emmy another cat in our colony – was rescued by a well-meaning nursing home employee from a colony living on their grounds. She took them to an Ann Arbor veterinary clinic that spayed them and then gave them to us for life care. This was in 2002 when Joyce was about two years old.

She clearly had little human contact as a kitten and – in spite of living comfortably as an indoor cat – still looks at people with intrepidation – maintaining a safe distance at all times. Her close friendships and attention come from other cats -- particularly Larry – a 17 pound long-haired black male. They are virtually inseparable.

It’s important to understand that the term “feral” only defines how a cat responds to people – they can live indoors or outdoors much like pet cats can. How feral a cat is, is determined solely on how much human contact they have as young kittens. Rescuing feral kittens before they turn 8 weeks old is good– if you can give them lots of love and attention while placing them in permanent indoor homes. Rescuing feral cats is generally not encouraged because they are more akin to wildlife than to lap cats. Their best option is to have a daily caregiver providing them with food, water and outdoor dry shelter – and fixing them so they don’t reproduce. Feral cats can live very healthy, fulfilling lives for ten or more years in this manner.

Not understanding this, well-meaning individuals often capture feral adult cats thinking they can “tame them” and then keep them as pets or adopt them to others. As feral as Joyce is – she was lucky to have a happy ending to being “rescued”. This was only because she ended up at a pro-active cat-friendly clinic that had the wherewithal to match her to our budding program. Opportunities like this are few and far between with most rescued adult feral cats being killed on arrival at shelters --- much the same way older companion cats are.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Brandon -- Our Bona Fide Retirement Cat

In our now, closed-to-new-intake, retirement shelter, Brandon was our first (and only) bona fide retirement cat. The other residents were mostly random elderly cats rescued from our local animal control shelters and veterinary clinics. Had we not taken them, they would have been euthanized without an opportunity for adoption. We needed these rescue cats to seed the shelter as we anticipated a long lag from when the program started to when we would receive estate-planned retirement cats.

Interest in our program was strong from the beginning – but the people inquiring were generally in their 50’s or 60’s and – short of having a fatal accident – would not need the program for many years. Brandon was the exception. He spent his first eleven years with a loving couple who treated him as their family member. They aged -- as he aged -- and by 2003 they were no longer able to handle daily tasks. They moved to an assisted living facility and were forced to give up their beloved Brandon.

The couple’s daughter offered to take him – she was a cat lover with several cats of her own – but she also worked full time at a demanding job. Although Brandon was in good health, he did have an apparent cyst growing under his face between his nose and left eye that often got infected. Treatment meant repeated vet appointments for evaluation followed by repeated rounds of daily antibiotics. This she hadn’t planned on. After a few months of providing this extra care, she gave up on him. The week before Christmas she advised her parents that Brandon would be euthanized that Saturday.

The couple was frantic – they couldn’t take him back, and he would be DOA at a shelter. They learned of our retirement program and quickly made arrangements for us to take him. We did and 6 years later he’s still with us.

A few years after we took Brandon -- while he was having dental surgery -- the veterinarian noticed a tiny fistula (natural opening) on his face leading into the nose. While Brandon was still under anesthesia, the vet probed through the fistula -- finding and removing a 7-year accumulation of nasal discharge and necrotic bones-- that were destroyed by the blockage. Brandon’s face problem was not a cyst at all but simply the toll of a clogged nose! Once the clog was removed, the repeated infections and associated foul odor went away too. The nose infrastructure couldn’t be rebuilt, so to compensate, we have to flush his nose daily with fluids.

Brandon – like many older cats – has developed several chronic ailments including kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease – and even blindness. Despite this, he eats well, drinks a lot of water and spends most of his time sleeping comfortably in his private condo – complete with food, water, a litter box and a comfy bed. When he’s awake -- and we can help him get around -- he comes out for lap time and attention.

Life has continued to be pretty good for him overall – but, a few years ago we found another health issue. There was an obvious lump near his throat and the blood work and ultrasound pointed to a parathyroid growth requiring surgery. The growth covered most of both his parathyroid and thyroid glands and the biopsy of the excised tissue diagnosed him with carcinoma – a very aggressive form of cancer.

The surgery was complicated by the delicate location and we knew that not all of the carcinoma had been removed and would inevitably cause more problems – and this winter it did. We’ve found two new growths – one near his larynx and another further down his chest. Surgery is not an option this time because of his heart and kidney disease -- so he’s now in hospice. We watch him closely and will make sure his passing is peaceful, but as long as he stays reasonably comfortable he’ll continue to live.

Brandon is a delightful cat – probably the most socialized one we’ve ever known. He assumes that all people and cats he meets are friends and loves the attention they give him. He’s now spent a third of his life in our retirement shelter – extending his life almost six years from that fateful Saturday before Christmas when he was almost euthanised – not because he was terminally ill or in pain that could not be treated – but just because his “parents” moved to assisted living.

As much as friends and relatives want to help with these older, orphaned cats, it’s often not possible for them to do so. Fee-based retirement programs can be a good alternative. In either event, planning for successor care for your pets is almost as important as providing for successor care for your minor children. Without a plan in place, the overwhelming odds are that your death or disability will be fatal to your adult cats – regardless of how much you love them and don’t want that to happen.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Keja -- Cat Trouble With A Capital "T"

Cats are the #1 U.S. pet. They fit our busy lifestyles because --in addition to being great companions -- they are very low maintenance. You can leave dry food and water out for them 24/7, they use a litter box so they don’t have to go outdoors, and they’re pretty quiet–neighbors don’t complain about them barking. Most guardians don’t worry about providing extra care -- special diets, medications, and/or frequent vet visits --until their cat is geriatric.

Every now and then, though, cats – like people – are born with special needs. Keja (aka “Trouble”) is one of these cats. She was born in 1997 and stayed in her first “forever” home until 2002. During that time she had black, gooey ear problems -- that were first treated as ear mites and later as ear infections -- and litter box lapses -- possibly caused by frequent bladder infections. To get chronic health issues under control can cost a great deal in time, money and stress– often more than many families are willing or able to handle. Instead, their solution is to give up on the cat entirely – and that’s what happened to Keja. Fortunately for her, the cat rescue placed her quickly in a new home.

But in this new home, Keja’s health problems persisted. Her second family tried to handle them-- like the first family had -- but now a third problem appeared – Keja began balding -- and was bare from her waist down. The veterinary diagnosis was psychogenic alopecia – caused by stress. They pinned the source of the stress on the family’s dog – a Border collie puppy and that was a deal-breaker for Keja.

So … once more Keja lost her home. This time she went to the local animal control shelter -- where at 7 years old -- she was ineligible for adoption. By 2003, we had slowed down our intake of older cats, but agreed to take one more in and Trouble moved to our cat farm. It was hard calling this beautiful baby “Trouble”– so we changed her name to Keja – an Indian word for “cat”.

When Keja had her intake exam, our vet shined a fresh light on Keja’s chronic conditions. She diagnosed the ear goop and the fur loss were related symptoms pointing to allergies. We did a blood test and sure enough Keja was allergic to almost everything– but most allergic to eggs, beef and dust mites.

We immediately eliminated beef and eggs from Keja’s diet and started her on allergy shots targeted at the dust mite component. The shots proved ineffective because there were so many other allergy triggers the shots couldn’t address. We did put her on a low dose of vetalog to control the itchiness. It took a long time, but Keja’s allergies are now managed with only minor hair loss on her hind legs – which is okay.
Her bladder infections come and go but her litter box use is impeccable. Rarely -- when we suspect a bladder infection -- we test her urine and if needed -- give her antibiotics. Chronic health problems are much easier to deal with than many people think – once you have a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. And now that Keja has both – she’s no Trouble whatsoever.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Simon Sees A Bright Future

It’s not often that we get a good look at Simon’s baby blues underneath all his fur – but when we do, it makes us happy to see them. We got Simon in 2003 from the local animal control shelter after someone turned him in as a stray cat. His intake sheet described him as a “blind 10-year old Himalayan”. (The shelter assumed he was blind because his eyes had a solid white milky appearance – his pupils weren’t even visible.) To add to Simon’s misery, he was covered with fleas and had a sore on his nose. The fleas were easy to treat – with a couple doses of Revolution -- but the eyes and nose would foil us for some time to come.

Diagnosing the problem proved a challenge. The lab results from an eye-scraping were inconclusive, so we tried a “shotgun” approach to treatment -- applying ophthalmic drops to his eyes 3 times a day as well as antibiotics and steroids twice a day. In spite of this, the nose sore continued to bleed intermittently and the eyes continued to secrete pinkish pus, but since the condition had stabilized, we continued the treatment.

Then one day -- when applying drops to his eyes -- we noticed Simon’s right eye now looked like a raw meatball. We whisked him back to the vet and were immediately referred to an ophthalmologist. On the long drive there we assumed Simon would lose the eye -- but once at the clinic -- we learned he was only suffering from an extreme herpes virus outbreak. The red eye was blind but he still had some vision in the other – and through a regimented treatment plan -- both eyes would recover.

For a few weeks, Simon needed round-the-clock care. Eye drops, artificial tears, anti-virals, antibiotics – all given multiple times a day with 30-minute spacing between the drops -- so that one application didn’t wash out the other. In a few weeks time, the eyes quieted down, the pupils reappeared, and Simon could see normally again. Unfortunately, the virus would flare up again every 6 months or so for the next several years – requiring a repeat of the round-the-clock treatment. During the quiet periods, Simon still needed l-lysine supplements and artificial tears twice daily. His last major outbreak was almost two years ago. Since then we’ve added a steroid drop twice a week and that seems to provide more complete control of the virus.

Where did Simon get herpes? Herpes is one of the most common upper respiratory viruses that afflict cats – and the bane of these viruses is that after they get the virus – even in a mild form – it can lie dormant on the cat’s body only to fester again during stressful times. The virus can even pass from mother to kitten at birth. For Simon– losing his home would have been a major stressor and could have triggered the first outbreak. Then moving to our cat farm and living with other cats could have been another stressor playing a role in the subsequent outbreaks.

He’s only had one major outbreak since we closed our retirement program to new cats. This could be the added medication or it could be the lowering of his stress level by stabilizing his home– whichever – something has pushed the virus back into dormancy – and we’ll do our best to make sure it stays there. Simon’s eyes are much too pretty to be clouded by a nasty disease.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Coswell - The Dumpster Kitty Who Wasn't

As sweet and demure as Coswell looks, you would never guess in 2002 he was a “dumpster kitty” at our local mall. The shopping center management live-trapped and removed him as part of a larger group of feral cats that had colonized around their dumpsters. Lost or abandoned companion cats often join feral cat colonies to survive -- and, if left in these colonies -- will often revert to feral behaviors themselves. Later in life -- if they again receive human contact -- they can revert back to being socialized cats -- no longer needing the cloak of feral behaviors to survive.

The mall colony was taken to our animal control shelter where the feral cats were immediately killed. Coswell was exempted because he was front-declawed and obviously sweet– and despite his years (estimated at 8) – they thought someone might still adopt him. This was late December when kitten season takes a breath and is the only time of year that older cats are likely to get a chance for a new home.

The staff's hope of placing Coswell dashed after he had been there for over a month. (Older cats do adopt out -- but their timetable is much longer than that of younger cats or kittens -- and often exceeds the time given them by shelters to get placed.) Coswell was scheduled for euthanasia the day I went to pick up Onyx.

The staff petitioned me to consider Coswell too and took me in the shelter to see him. He was sleeping in the back of his floor-level cage and if I hadn’t stooped down, I wouldn’t have seen him. When they opened the door, Coswell ran forward for petting. No convincing was needed to get me to take him too – it was love at first sight. They loaned me a cat carrier and off I went with two cats instead of one.

Medical issues prevented us from fostering Coswell through our Older Cat Program. His intake exam identified a heart murmur that was later confirmed by an ultrasound to be hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). The cardiologist’s diagnosis was “guarded" and he was prescribed twice-daily heart medicine. In spite of this, Coswell was adopted outright briefly but then returned because the cat already in the home did not accept him.

HCM is usually a progressive, lifelong condition but, in Coswell’s case it was not. Each follow-up ultrasound resulted in the lowering of his medication until a few years ago when he was pronounced cured. Possibly the initial readings were high because of the stress of being lost or abandoned. We just don’t know. Whatever it was, we’re glad he’s got a good heart as we’d hate to lose him prematurely. At fifteen, he’s in the early stages of kidney disease but overall in great shape. Oh -- and Onyx – the cat who saved his life – is now his best friend.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Onyx - The Cat With Dog Characteristics

When someone meets Onyx, their first comment is generally something like: “My, he’s so friendly -- he’s acts more like a dog than a cat!” He’s fearless. When the doorbell rings he’s the first one to answer it – greeting whoever is there with a rub on their leg and a warm “meow”. And maybe that was his demise.

Unlike the retirement cats we previously introduced, Onyx was not an “”owner turn-in” -- he was a “stray”. His family had less than 10 days to claim him before the shelter would move him from the hold area to the euthanasia room (because of his age) – if he was (or appeared) feral they have no obligation to hold him at all.

You may think that 10 days is sufficient for someone to claim their cat. Think again. If Onyx, for example, was an indoor cat, his family would have been out full-time looking for him during the first week or so that he got out. After that, they would grieve his loss and give up on finding him. But the odds of a cat being taken to a shelter during the first 10 days they’re missing are pretty slim -- here’s why.

If a cat is outgoing (like Onyx) -- and he’s seen alone outdoors by a cat Samaritan -- they often jump to the conclusion that he is lost or abandoned -- not considering the possibility he may be an indoor cat with outdoor privileges and be standing in front of his own home -- not lost or abandoned.

To “help” the cat, they pick him up and take him home and debate what is best for him. They may decide to keep him as their pet – if he fits in with their other pets – or they may network to find a permanent home with someone else – or try to find a no-kill shelter to take him. Hopefully they also contact veterinary clinics and shelters to report finding a lost cat. Only after these options all fail, the cat is taken to the animal control shelter. This may be weeks – or months – after the initial rescue. Long after the time the typical family quit looking for their beloved pet.

Another problem in rehoming lost cats is that many shelters are very protective of their stray holds and refuse to give out information over the phone requiring -- their guardians to physically visit the hold area to see if their cat is there. Few keep track of who is reporting their lost pets and so if months later the cat shows up, they don’t make any attempt at matching the stray cat to an earlier report. The likelihood of retrieving your lost cat from an animal control shelter is abysmal. Our local shelter, for example, in 2007 rehomed only 68 cats -- out of an intake of almost 3,000.

We’re glad we were there to take Onyx -- but are sad that someone else lost him -- and may still worry about what happened to him. Unlike seeing a cat through to a natural death,there is no closure when the cat simply disappears into thin air.

Onyx has been with us since January, 2003. He wasn’t a good candidate for our Older Cat foster program because he gets nippy when he’s excited. That’s been okay -- for Onyx truly relishes the company of other cats – the more the merrier. You often find him sleeping or grooming another cat – and start to wonder if he could be part dog – but then he jumps up on your lap, curls into a ball and starts purring loud rhythmic purrs and you know he’s definitely a cat – a sweet, friendly, curious and delightful cat.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Gloria Uses Up One of Her 9 Cat Lives

Imagine this. You’re a ten year old cat who’s been the constant companion of an elderly woman living alone – it’s probably been years since you’ve been outside. You’re happy and content – you have nice sleep spots, a ready supply of food, a roof over your head and a person totally devoted to you. Then one day your world gets turned upside down. Your companion is still there but she doesn’t bring your dinner and you’re starting to get hungry.

Time passes --hours? --days? You hear the front door open and you don’t know who it is so you run under the bed. You crunch up as small as you can and don’t make any noise – all you want is for the strangers to leave, and your “mom” to bring you some food and tell you everything is okay. Instead, the strangers take your mom away, and start hunting for you – she’s passed away and left you homeless.

The strangers don’t know how sweet and kind you are -- and are afraid to reach for you -- thinking you may bite and scratch. Failing to lure you out from under the bed with sweet talk, they leave for awhile but then come back – this time with a live trap baited with food – something you haven’t had in quite awhile. They leave you alone again and the hunger is just too much. You venture out from under the bed and into the live trap. Forgetting how scared you are, you inhale the food, but then realize you’re trapped and begin feeling even more scared and abandoned than you did before.

Then the strangers return to find you in the trap. They pick it up and carry you off to the local animal shelter. This is a nightmare! When you get there they tell the staff what little they know about you – you’re around 10 years old and your guardian just died.

The staff sees you in the live trap and assumes you’re feral – even the sweetest cat comes off that way scared stiff inside a live trap. They take you directly to the euthanasia room and bring out the pentobarbital. But wait … a very observant staff member notices you’ve been declawed – and, since few feral cats are – asks the euthanasia tech to wait while he makes a phone call to us to see if we have room for another old cat. We do, so you’re taken out of the euthanasia room and put in the hold area for us to pick up. Whew!

No this isn’t a bad dream it’s what really happened to Gloria in 2002. She was scared and nervous when we first got her, but calmed down into a sweet, shy cat that really likes to be with people. We fostered Gloria to another elderly woman who was looking for an experienced companion cat to share her apartment. They hit it off pretty good -- although Gloria continued to hide from their guests – including our visiting volunteer who had to get on the floor and evaluate Gloria’s condition from under the bed. But when Gloria and her foster mom were alone together they enjoyed each other’s company immensely.

After a few years of being together, Gloria --- accidentally without meaning it -- nipped at her foster mom giving her a puncture wound. This was dangerous because she would get infected and had to seek emergency care. This only happened twice -- once while she was combing Gloria’s hair, and once when they were playing. Since cat bites can be very serious, we couldn’t risk a third incident, so we removed Gloria from the foster home. She’s been back with the other cats since 2005 and has adjusted well to group living. Best of all her nipping has stopped entirely – provided we don’t try to comb her.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tasha: A Cat for the Record Books

Sick cats have an edge over sick people – they have no concept of illness. Life after a major medical diagnosis continues just as it did before. They don’t get depressed or overwhelmed by the bad news -- they just keep being a cat – eating, sleeping, playing and cuddling – at least until their illness physically overtakes them. We took Tasha into our Older Cat Program in 2001 when she was 10 years old. Her story up to that point was like many of the earlier ones we’ve presented. She was rescued from the outdoors as a kitten, and then relinquished when her guardian’s 8-month-old baby developed allergies – becoming another good but homeless cat. Tasha was thin but looked healthy and had no veterinary records to tell us otherwise – she hadn’t seen a vet in over 5 years.

During our intake process, all new cats were given thorough physical exams including the standard geriatric blood panel used to pick up signs of kidney or thyroid disease (as well as a host of other maladies) that often afflict older cats. And sure enough -- with Tasha-- the testing was useful as it showed advanced kidney disease. (By the time a cat’s blood work shows this, at least 75% of kidney function is gone and that’s about how much excess kidney value a cat has.)

Because Tasha was still “young” in terms of having kidney problems -- and because her right kidney felt very abnormal (lumpy-bumpy) -- we tested for polycystic kidney disease and the test was positive. The meant that Tasha’s kidney disease was congenital -- developing almost from birth – slowly but surely losing function as the kidneys turned to scar tissue.

Tasha had become a master of utilizing her diminished kidney capacity over a long period of time. But how much longer she could cope was the question – and we were told at most 6-12 months – with supportive SQ fluids and medications. Her blood work seemed to affirm this as each time we did follow-ups, the kidney values worsened.

We decided to remove her from the cat farm for hospice care in our home-based shelter where we could compassionately see her through these final months of life. Well … that was in August 2002 and almost 7 years later we’re still providing her supportive care – she gets SQ fluids every other day. Apparently we forgot to tell her she was dying so she continues to live a comfortable life using the fluids to compensate for her own kidneys’ shortcomings. How much longer we’ll enjoy her company is not a question we ask any longer – but we are planning to contact the Guinness Book of World Records when she passes – she may well live longer on fluid therapy than any other kidney-failure cat!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Our Velveteen Cat Named Scooter

“I am the nursery magic Fairy," she said. "I take care of all the playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children don't need them anymore, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real." "Wasn't I Real before?" asked the little Rabbit. "You were Real to the Boy," the Fairy said, "because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to everyone." -- The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Scooter and her tuxedo-cat sister Oreo spent their first 11 years in a family with three young children. For whatever reason – we simply don’t know – they lost their home. Nothing on their intake report points to the problem. They used their litter boxes, had no history of aggressive behavior, got along well with children, and were in overall good health – although it had been a few years since their last check up.

They were well-behaved pets, yet through some quirk of fate they became homeless. Maybe two cats and three kids were too much to handle -- or the children wanted a puppy or a new kitten -- or they were moving to a nicer house. These are common reasons why families give up their pets. Lucky for Scooter and Oreo, a second quirk of fate landed them in our cat retirement program instead of on the shelter's death row just because of their age.

Oreo soon found a permanent home with a nurse who had recently lost her pet cat. Scooter was fostered to an elderly couple who had another cat of ours named Joe. He had lymphoma so we took him back to hospice placing Scooter in his place. The foster home worked well for Scooter for many years – until she was 16 and started having health issues that went beyond the foster parents’ ability to handle. Periodically we took her back for extended treatments returning her to the foster home when she recovered. During one of these treatment periods, the foster parents’ adult daughter moved back home bringing her cat along – a young, frisky male. When Scooter returned to their care, she struggled with the young cat, so we took her back again – this time for good.

Scooter’s now 19 years old. She's totally blind and has kidney disease needing SQ fluids to help them function. We compensate for her blindness, by giving her a cat condo with a comfy bed, food, water and a litter box. The cage door is left ajar so she can come out and visit when she's awake -- but more often, you’ll find her sleeping peacefully in her condo.

Much like velveteen rabbits, cats are often the friends and confidantes of young children and they’re all too often brushed aside by the family as they grow older. For these discarded cats, though, there is no Magic Nursery Fairy to make them real again – only the senseless shelter practice of euthanasia -- snuffing them out before their time.