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.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Missy (1993-2014)

Calico cats are cat-lover cats.  They possess the traits all cats are cherished for – grace, beauty, peacefulness and curiosity – but they also possess a certain je ne sais quoi that make them very special to know.  Missy was an archetype Calico.    

Even though she was a small cat – only 8 pounds at her best weight – Missy had the presence of a lioness – looking at humans and other cats (regardless of size) with a look of equality or dominance.  She feared no one.    When she entered a room she did so with the stride of a victorious general back from war. Yet she was also a loner – wanting attention and social interaction solely on her own terms.

Despite how special Missy was, we rescued her from death row at the Ann Arbor humane society in 2000 when her original guardian passed away.   As often happens, she had no relatives to take over Missy’s care and – at 7 years old -- the shelter considered her "too old" for adoption.   We had just started our Older Cats for Older People program and were able to take over her care and place her as a live-in service cat first for one elderly woman – and then when she passed away three years later -- to a second elderly couple.   She lived with them for a few years but their own health issues eventually became too great and she was returned to us to live out her life in retirement.

Maybe it was her flaming orange and black coat or the very alert look in her eyes but Missy
continued to look vibrant, healthy and youthful up until the last few months.   She had an unidentified tumor the size of a fist that started on her liver and continued to spread causing her to lose weight and become lethargic.  

Finally on Friday it got the better of her and the quality of her 21-year life vanished.    We said our goodbyes and had her euthanized – not wanting her to suffer unnecessarily when there was no sign she could improve.  We were in awe of her stamina and will to live and will miss her greatly.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Feral Cat Assistance Through Community Grants

We recently awarded our Community Cat Program’s first feral cat TNR grant to the Animal Welfare Coalition of Northeastern New Mexico.  This grant will enable them to continue an important project they began earlier this year with a similar ASPCA grant.  Under that grant they fixed 180 free-roaming feral cats in San Miguel and surrounding counties.    Our grant should help them double that number.

San Miguel county is also one of the 10 counties we target with our low-income pet cat spay/neuter program – which over the last few years – has funded the sterilization of almost 6,500 cats through the 27 veterinary clinics that work with us.  These local clinics make free-and-local spay/neuter a welcome reality for low-income guardians – including the elderly, the disabled, the un-or under-employed, young families living on a tight budget and students.   Once their pet cats are sterilized, they become easier to care for – no more kittening, spraying and yowling – and stand a better chance of keeping their “forever” homes forever.      Those that don’t get fixed are always at  risk of being relinquished to shelters or abandoned outdoors where they form or join feral cat colonies.  

While our spay/neuter program isn't equipped to directly work with feral cats – we support the work of groups that can which is why we’re happy to fund the Animal Welfare Coalition project.  Their efforts complement our basic pet cat spay/neuter work and help further our mission of reducing the New Mexico cat population to a manageable number – stemming the growth of feral cat colonies and reducing shelter intake and euthanasias. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Yet another reason to fix your cat.

A few days ago we took a spay/neuter application from a woman with two cats – she wanted to get one of the cats spayed, but thought she’d need to give the other one to the shelter because there was “something wrong with her” and she lacked the money to take the cat to a vet for treatment.  We asked what was wrong with the cat and she said she didn't feel well and was oozing pus from her vagina.
We suggested getting vouchers for both cats anyway and taking the one that was sick to the vet asap – it’s possible spaying her would take care of the problem and she could keep her cat – and if the vet thought something else was wrong -- we may be able to cover some or all of the treatment cost if it was an acute health issue.

Lucky for this cat her mom took her in quickly and sure enough – the problem was pyometra – and the cure was getting her spayed.  Pyometra is an infection of the uterus and – if not treated quickly can lead to sepsis and death of the cat.  Only female cats that have not been spayed can get this type of infection – so when you’re weighing the odds of whether to let your cat reproduce or fix her – think of how sad you’d be to see your cat sick with a totally preventable infection.  Other illnesses your cats can’t get after they’re fixed include mammary gland tumors, uterine cancer and – in male cats – testicular cancer.

We still maintain the number one reason to fix your pet cats is that they’ll be easier for you to care for and will be better long-term companions but with secondary reasons like these – who wouldn’t want to get their cats fixed – sooner rather than later?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Community Cat Spay Neuter -- Thinking Outside the Voucher

For the past 5 years in New Mexico (and for 9 years earlier in Michigan) we've been providing free-and-local spay/neuter for cats through a simple voucher program.   The specifics have evolved over time but it currently works like this:   If you live in our service area, have a household gross income under $40,000 and have an intact pet cat, you can complete a phone application and -- if we approve it -- we’ll mail you a voucher that pays the complete cost to spay or neuter the cat and get a rabies shot at any of the veterinary or spay/neuter clinics we work with.

This works remarkably well for the cats that qualify – but like most programs – it doesn't work well for all cats.  It's intended to fix only low-income family pet cats with lifelong caregivers -- and so it excludes loosely owned outdoor cats, kittens being fostered for adoption, stray cats, cats whose caregivers make more than our $40K limit, and those living outside of our service area.

Recently we've been looking for ways to increase our Foundation’s spay-neuter radar to include some of these other types of cats on a limited basis and so we've begun developing a Community Cat Spay-Neuter program.    Our goal is to reach these other groups of cats without sacrificing our well-honed voucher program by making exceptions and blurring its focus.  

Last winter we worked with Santa Fe’s Felines & Friends to fix a few dozen cats from Ramah, New Mexico.  This group was both outside our service area and included a mix of both feral and pet cats.  Then a few months ago we started working with the Espanola Valley Humane Society to ensure that the cats in Rio Arriba County could be fixed at no charge to the caregiver at their spay/neuter clinic.  They are in our service area but their clinic’s open door policy to fix all cats (companion and feral) extends our reach beyond low-income pet cats.  And beginning this month cats from Espanola residents are also included.  We particularly like this partnership because they are providing Rio Arriba County with free-and-local spay/neuter across the board.  And -- in our vision -- this is necessary in all areas if we are to get on top of the cat overpopulation problem.

We'll keep our primary focus on our Low-Income Pet Cat Voucher Program – because these are the cats that when left intact most often end up at shelters – where they are often put down for lack of homes – or abandoned on the streets – where they form or join feral cat colonies and continue to reproduce.   But we look to these new community cat situations as a way to provide a more complete cat spay/neuter service to New Mexico – a state with many people wanting to take care of the cats they live with –as pets and as wildlife -- but often lacking the money to pay for their sterilization.    And we welcome inquiries from other cat nonprofits who may want to join with us in this community effort.  We know realistically there will always be intact cats outside of our reach --- but by adding a community aspect to our spay/neuter package we’ll minimize their numbers.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Feline Cardiomyopathy -- Death without warning

We've lost two of our geriatric cats over the last 18 months to sudden death – Larry and Joyce.    Both were indoor-only feral cats about 16 years old and neither death came with forewarning.   Joyce’s death was so sudden that we had no chance to get her to a vet for examination – we just woke up one morning and she was gone – we assume it was a heart problem but have no clinical proof of that.

Larry on the other hand started showing signs of distress a few days before he died – he stopped eating and stayed under a bed coming out only to use a litter box.  We knew he was in trouble and took him to the vet for treatment.  And -- since Larry had had a complete physical exam last December -- we went into the appointment knowing that 5 months ago he was in good health for a geriatric cat – no indication of kidney disease, hyperthyroidism or cancer – at least none that were picked up by the exam or lab work.

But by the time Larry reached the clinic he had gone from being an ostensibly healthy cat two days earlier to a terminally ill cat with all his vital signs shutting down – the change was dramatic and alarming.  An x-ray pointed to the culprit – congestive heart failure brought on by cardiomyopathy.  As sad as it sounds, Larry’s unannounced and quick death is not uncommon with this disease – and it is often genetically-based so the average age of death from cardiomyopathy is a young 7 years old – and most of the victims are males.  In its advanced stage, the prognosis is very bad – even with treatment which is more of a “Hail Mary” than a sure thing.    Blood clots often result in the hind legs causing extreme pain and paralysis.

The advance symptoms are minimal if any.  If your cat goes in for annual physical exams and your vet detects a heart murmur that could point to cardiomyopathy which can be confirmed only through further testing by a cardiologist.  But – not all cats with cardiomyopathy have heart murmurs so even with an annual exam it can go undetected until the end stage when the naturally stoic cat can no longer hide the signs of distress.

Simply put, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a disease of the heart muscle that eventually prevents the heart from pumping properly causing fluid buildup ending in congestive heart failure.    Although the condition develops over time, there are few early signs and since cats are masters at hiding illness it’s hard to pick up on until it’s too late.  To learn more about feline cardiomyopathy visit our web site.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Black Cats Rule!

Over the last four years, May has become known as “Adopt a Black Pet Month” at shelters participating in Best Friends’ No More Homeless Pets initiative.    They’re spotlighting them – and even adopting them at reduced fees – because historically they are one of the hardest categories to place.  For black dogs this is somewhat understandable as many that end up at shelters are big and unwieldy –requiring special homes to work with them – and typically are not good choices for apartment living.  For cats the challenge is overcoming the many dark myths attached to them –tying them to bad luck, satanic rituals and witchcraft.  The strength of these myths is so strong that there are shelters who will not adopt out black cats around Halloween to protect them from cult activities and mischief tied into the holiday.

We've gotten to know several black cats through our Foundation’s early focus on Older Cat rescue and our creation of a show-and-tell colony of feral barn cats (2001-2005) at the sanctuary where the older cats lived.   To a T – they were among the gentlest and warmest cats we took in.  Some of them were lucky enough to find permanent homes with loving caregivers – Gus and Molly, Whiskers and Sparkle, and Blackjack.  Others lived out their lives with us after we shifted the Foundation’s focus exclusively to cat spay/neuter.     Of these, Robin passed away last year and – sadly – Larry died last week. 

Larry’s death was particularly sad because it was sudden – for a 17 year-old feral cat he lived a pretty cushy life and showed none of the chronic illnesses cats his age usually develop – kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, cancer and diabetes.  He began life as a feral cat living outside an apartment complex in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Then was live-trapped and brought indoors to socialize when he was about 6 months old – four months too late as the cat’s personality is formed at two months.  This closed the traditional adoption door on him and he was moved to a large feral cat sanctuary near East Lansing where he wasn’t doing well.  We picked him up from there when he was two years old and he became one of our Foundation’s barn cats illustrating to our volunteers and visitors how being an outdoor cat wasn’t a “death sentence”.  Then when he was about 7 years old he transitioned to being an indoor-only house cat.    Although he stayed feral up to the end – on his own terms he enjoyed human companionship and the perks of an indoor cat – 3 squares a day, soft beds and protection from rain and snow.    And his untimely death saved him from the chronic illnesses that -- although easily treatable in companion cats -- would have been difficult to handle with a feral cat who couldn't be handled or given medications.

If you're looking for a pet cat this year be color blind -- don't turn a cat away because you heard a scary story at camp about black cats -- as Larry shows -- black cats are every bit as worthy of our care and love as any other cat -- and if you adopt one they will not disappoint.  Black is beautiful!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Lost Cat Tips

With warm weather on its way, your indoor-only pet cat is more at risk of getting out– doors open and close more often as you enjoy the outdoors –  and if your cat is curious –  he or she may try to bolt when they see the opportunity.  This does not mean they are trying to run away – or would prefer living outdoors – it simply means they are curious.  They are more comfortable indoors as their territorial nature defines wherever they routinely live as their home – and anywhere they don’t live – as a foreign territory.

So what happens when cats run outdoors unexpectedly?  Most often they  realize they are no longer safe in their home and get scared – and then hide under the closest bush or porch or in an outbuilding or garage.   They don't keep running as dogs would.  If you see them get out and go after them – they will run away from you and end up further from your home but still be looking for a place to hide.    And – you can be pretty certain they’ll use their hiding spot as their new “home base” – coming out only in the dark when they are hungry and need food or to gradually work their way back to their home without being seen by potential predators.    Even if you call them and they know your voice they won't come out.

To find your cat start looking as soon as possible remembering the cat is almost certainly very close at hand.
  1. Look in, behind and under any place the cat may be hiding, starting right from the exit point – in dense plantings, under a porch, in a garage.  And don’t neglect to look up – in trees and on rooftops.
  2. Softly call the cat while looking.  It’s unlikely the cat will respond – it’s terrified of everything including you – but it may give a very faint “mew” reply so listen closely.
  3. Try again at dusk and dawn using a flashlight to re-search all the areas you explored earlier.
  4. Put some cat food and water overnight in the vicinity of the exit point.  The cat may go back into hiding after eating but this encourages him or her to hide nearby rather than getting further away looking for food.  If you have a live trap consider putting food in it – if the cat enters the trap you can easily get him back indoors without risking getting bit or scratched.   Putting food in a cat carrier may work too but tie a string on the door so you can close it remotely without being seen.  
  5. When you do locate the cat, approach very slowly and gently – calming the cat.  It’s frightened and may bolt if found – even from you.  Use a carrier to take your cat home.  Trying to carry a scared cat is dangerous and if the cat gets away from you, you'll have to go through the process again.
Alerting  your neighbors (within a 3-4 house radius) and asking their children to help find the cat are good strategies.  Kids know the neighborhood better than most adults.  And posting a “Lost Cat” flyer  (with a photo if possible) in your immediate neighborhood, at the local pet stores, veterinary offices and animal shelters is also useful.

Most importantly -- don't give up -- it can take weeks or months to recover your cat and at least that long for them to turn up at a shelter as a "lost cat".    To learn more about lost cat behavior visit our web site.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Zimmer Foundation is now the Zimmer Feline Foundation

Just in case you haven’t noticed -- over the past few months we’ve been using a slightly different name for our foundation – Zimmer Feline Foundation.  It’s a subtle change but one that more depicts who we are and what we do.  And – it also is the last step in transitioning from a Michigan corporation (where we worked with cats from 2000-2009 to a New Mexico corporation where we’ve been working with cats since 2010. 
We no longer use Cat Spay of Santa Fe for our spay-neuter program either.  When we first moved to New Mexico we “assumed” we would limit our work to Santa Fe County – but soon understood the need for free-and-local cat spay/neuter for low-income pets here is great – and extends far beyond the boundaries of Santa Fe County.    So – with the help of 27 private and non-profit veterinary clinics – we now locally service north and central New Mexico including most of Bernalillo, Catron, Colfax, Rio Arriba, San Miguel, Santa Fe, Socorro, Taos, Torrance and Valencia counties – and will add more counties as we find vet clinics to service them.

The Zimmer Feline Foundation vouchers are totally free to qualified applicants – individuals and households with gross incomes under $40K per year can apply for free spay/neuter vouchers – and those who receive food stamps can also apply for acute veterinary vouchers in the event of a treatable medical emergency.  The spay/neuter vouchers cover the complete cost to spay or neuter a cat – and a rabies vaccination given at time of surgery.  The acute care vouchers pay up to $300 toward the cost to treat a medical emergency such as broken bones, infections and fight wounds.

Our spay/neuter focus is expressly on the 15% of pet cats who are not routinely fixed when they are adopted –those in low-income homes who find the cost of sterilization even at low-cost clinics a burden that is easily put off.  Our experience (10 years working with both pet and feral cat caregivers in Michigan and 4 years working with pet caregivers in New Mexico), finds these unfixed pet cats are the root source of most of the feral colonies formed each year and most of the cats and kittens delivered to animal control shelters and often euthanized.

We no longer provide spay/neuter vouchers for feral cats (ie, cats you cannot handle) because we rely on our Participants making (and keeping) pre-arranged veterinary appointments so that the clinics we work with are not faced with last-minute cancellations because the feral cat didn’t show (or couldn’t be trapped) the morning of the appointment.

But – we can now selectively provide financial assistance to cat groups who work in situations our vouchers wouldn’t normally cover – outside our service area or special situations or events – provided the cat caregivers are not charged any co-pay and the project is well-defined and furthers our mission.

Many adoption and TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs are active in New Mexico to deal with the problem caused by leaving this 15% of pet cats intact – and we support and applaud their efforts.  But – we’ve come to the conclusion that the cat population cannot stabilize unless and until that 15% of unfixed pet cats is significantly reduced – and in our opinion that can happen only when cat sterilization services are free and local for all cats – that is our program focus.  To date we’ve helped 2,800 New Mexico caregivers sterilize – and keep – 5,200 cats.  

If you know anyone in our service area that could use our help, please ask them to call – applications are taken over the phone and vouchers are mailed within a day or two of approval.     Keeping a cat in its original homes is well worth it!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Onyx Passes Away at 19 Years

With a heavy heart we said goodbye to Onyx on Tuesday – almost exactly 11 years after we accepted him into our Older Cats for Older People Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Onyx was a transfer from the local animal control shelter who knew little about him other than he appeared to be at least 8 years old making him “too old” for their adoption program. 
His past was a blank because he was turned in as a homeless stray cat, yet he could equally have been someone’s indoor-outdoor pet.  Unlike most cats, Onyx had zero fear of people and so while playing outdoors, would have approached any stranger passing by -- and that friendliness may have cost him his original home.  All too often people who see cats outdoors assume the worst – that the cat has been abandoned by its guardian and/or gotten lost and will “die on the streets” -- where in reality they have a home and a caregiver nearby.  They needlessly uproot the cats and take them to a shelter where they are as likely killed as re-homed.
Moving to our cage-free older cat sanctuary turned out to be a boon for Onyx – as he thoroughly enjoyed the companionship of both people and other cats.  Of the 70+ cats we took in, he was one of only 3 that immediately settled in to group living.  He loved other cats and would spend hours snuggling and grooming them – yet every now and then he’d attack a cat without notice or provocation.  And – if it had not been for a pesky problem he had with nipping people, he could have been adopted out several times over in spite of his advanced age.    Visitors were fascinated by his extroversion and his willingness to jump up on their laps even though he didn't know them.  Caring for Onyx over the last 11 years wasn't always easy -- but it was always fascinating.  His incredible openness and curiosity made him a cat bar none.

Losing a cat is often like losing a family member.  It gives you a sudden feeling of helplessness that you couldn't do something to intervene.    Yet – as we've learned so often in caring for the cats in our Older Cat Program death is unstoppable and – in a strange way – often kind.  Onyx had been dying for a long time – you could almost see him fading away as his weight steadily dropped from 17 pounds 18 months ago to just under 5 pounds on Tuesday.  Over that time he was examined by 5 different veterinarians with no definitive diagnosis as to the cause of the weight loss.   Sure he was old and was hyperthyroid and had chronic kidney disease – but there was no "smoking gun" as to what was going on with him.    Yet as much as we saw him physically erode, mentally he stayed alert up until Monday afternoon when he became very tired and we knew it was time to say goodbye – to let him sleep in peace forever – and hopefully to get to the Rainbow Bridge to reconnect with all his old TLC friends that passed before him.