This story is all about cats I have treasured in my own life. It continues my journey towards embracing Feline Friendly Care and becoming a CatAdvocaT and to start at the beginning, I invite you to read the prequel first.
No time for a cat. Working 16 hours a day. Learning. Helping. Cleaning.
Until Mona got sick. I still think of how kind and courageous she was when her pregnancy went wrong and the womb ruptured so a kitten was in her abdomen instead of her uterus. Big surgeries, abdominal flushing and permanent adhesions. I sent her home to die with her owner – there was no more I could do and she would not eat. Painstakingly, the owner fed her, groomed her, cared for her. TLC did more than antibiotics, and she survived. The other breeding cat in the home was Maggie, and while her litter was fine, she got an infected uterus (this pregnancy thing is not without risks – not so long ago and still in many countries, pregnancy for a woman is likely to kill her). Treatment worked but a problem persisted that played out later on. The owner also had two other neutered cats – a Somali related to the one I had, and another Birman. He fell on hard times, and was unable to pay his accounts. I wanted the Somali (we do not always learn from history – but Lewis was older and had always been an indoor cat), but I knew Mona was going to have long term problems with adhesions in her intestine. And Maggie was her half sister so they had been together since they were a week old. I took on the two girls in lieu of the debt (no such thing as a free cat), and re-homed Lewis and Greta. I still got to see Lewis as a patient, so that was a pretty good outcome. And two cats are better than one in the modern home. I was beginning to recognize the key to confined cat contentment – a longterm stable companion with which to share the day. Sounds familiar really.
Maggie had a skin problem when she arrived to stay. We got rid of the fleas and improved her diet, but still she was scabby and skinny. I thought I’d like to have a litter from her but did not want to propagate anything genetic. Again, this ‘future responsibility’ thing. So I took her to the Dermatologist for skin testing. From that I learned that Dermatologists don’t give discounts to anyone. It seemed she might have an unusual form of ringworm (actually a fungus), so she had to be washed twice a week, and sit soaking in a special shampoo, for 12 weeks. She got so depressed at the loss of her own smell, she would pee on herself. Fortunately I also learned the proper way to do food trials, and it turned out Maggie was intensely allergic to beef – including milk, and the whey protein tucked in down the bottom of the food ingredients packet was the problem. So her scabs cleared up. My experience meant I could pass on really helpful guidance to thousands of other cats that I saw, so her contribution was worth the suffering. She had a lovely litter of kittens – waited till I got home to have them. But then the adhesions from the pyometra (the previous uterine infection) caused tears and bleeding.
By the time I took her to surgery and removed the torn uterus, she had almost no blood left. So we rushed her and Mona to the emergency clinic to do a blood transfusion – a rare procedure in those days, and quite risky as mixing the wrong blood types will kill the recipient cat. Their blood matched, and Mona saved Maggie. Maggie loved her babies, and we all had a great time raising them. They all got good homes, although one got ‘recycled’. I can tell you that statistically, 70% of cats will change homes at least once if they live to 6 years or more, due to changed owner circumstances, behavioural issues or just plain wandering off and not finding the way home. A bit like divorces and second marriages for us, maybe.
My cats are now indoor, neutered, flea free and on a hypoallergenic diet. So now there are only behavioural problems and allergies to deal with. Much like the rest of my clientele. Mona worried when I was away – she pee’d blood in the bathtub while John was in the bathroom to draw his attention to her distress. Humans are pretty slow, really. We discovered that the two triggers for her ‘social cystitis’ were me being away more than 3 days, or having the plumber come. She did not mind carpenters or electricians, just plumbers. So timely valium and pain relief resolved and prevented those bouts. There are better drugs now, but that was all we had at the time.
Mona had intermittent intestinal problems – she was always prone to vomiting. At one stage, though, she vomited every day, despite every drug I could think of and dietary change she would tolerate. Turned out the litter tray was too dirty and she felt nauseous before she went into it. I did not figure that out till she vomited in front of me in front of the tray. Humans are pretty slow really.
I finally got a horse again – it took me 25 years to have the same as my teenage self - a horse to ride, a man to pay the bills and a cook in the kitchen (the last two were the same man!). I learned fear and how to trust, reliability and consistency are critical to any relationship – but especially with horses. I have a hero husband and a hero horse – they do what it takes to get me out of trouble!
My husband got ferrets. I describe this as being a cross between a disease and an addiction. He loves them. I treat them for their (fortunately rare) problems. Ferrets only ‘explore with their teeth’. They stop biting once they know who you are, and they never bit me.
The girls grew old, life was measured by horse rides and Easter rituals.
There were really only two other medical episodes in my girls’ lives.
Maggie lost weight and did not really want to eat much. She was only nine years old, so I took her to the specialist clinic and said “do what it takes to find out what is wrong’ and they did. Blood tests and ultrasounds (no CAT scans back then) and finally bone marrow biopsy. I heard the news while sitting in the café at the crematorium across the road – they don’t mind if you cry there, they just put tissues on the table. Bone marrow shutdown, nothing could be done. There was no ‘bad guy to kill’. I took Maggie home, and she stayed skinny and quiet. Then I read about antioxidants and thought – give it a try. Whether it was just time or the antioxidants I don’t know, but gradually Maggie recovered.
Her final problem was terminal though. At 14 years old, Maggie started drooling and was in great pain. I thought it was pancreatitis and took her into my hospital. I could see the pain in her eyes, and drugs did not help. Then her breathing was laboured and I knew her heart had given out. At the specialist clinic – yes, she had right-sided heart failure (likely a genetic propensity) but there was a drug that would help. Trouble was, it was a pill and Maggie HATED pills (I have always told owners to teach their kitten to take pills – most cats need regular medication at some point in their lives!). And it was twice a day. It did help though, and she was back to being a quiet, elderly cat, who stayed away from our laps because of the pills. John and I decided enough was enough, there were not years left in her. John promised her no more pills. So I came home that day and put her to sleep. I learned the truth of the concept that sometimes the medications make the misery.
I still see Cleopatra, the one of Maggie’s kittens that is still alive. We call her the GrandKitten and the owner calls me Nan. She came in the other day, and I always get a catch in my throat when I look into those blue eyes, so like Maggie’s. Cleo has made it to 16 years old!
Now Mona was an only cat, and very clingy.
A 10 year old Ragdoll boy needed a home – his owner had become demented, she was in a home and the family lived overseas. So Alex snuck into our lives.
Mona ADORED him – he was the Toy Boy she had waited for all her life!
Alex just wanted to hang around me. We figured that out because he pee’d on John’s clothes (and if you have ever ironed jeans that have been anointed in cat pee, you will understand that some compromise had to be reached).
First though, it was the only thing that ever made John pick his clothes up off the floor consistently. Second we changed the type of litter, put in more trays, and crucially, offered cloth nappies at strategic places around the house as a substitute substrate. And put Alex onto Serepax.
He was already on treatment for high blood pressure, so this was just one more pill. And he LOVES taking pills – he asks for his pills if we forget! Thank you to his owner, as it is now 5 or 6 years he has been medicated daily. However, I do tell people he is on Serepax because I disappoint him every day. I do not come home at the same time, and I smell of other cats. However, except for occasional ‘4 nappy days’ when the stress of being Alex and worrying about the whole world causes his ‘social cystitis’ to recur, he has a calm and happy life – if you are to believe the purring and close contact. I learned so much from Alex it is hard to put into one sentence!
Eventually, Mona just wore out. Her intestine just got too thin to work. I could not believe it was the end, so I took her to a cat vet friend and they did everything they could to resurrect her. It took that to make me believe she had run her course. I thought she would last till 16 years old – turns out she was CATholic – she lasted to 16 years post-conception. I spent a day with her, and when John came home, we put her to sleep.
Now we have Alex only – I have tried introducing other cats, but he just hides from them. He is not a lap cat (he shows affection but just leaning gently) and I missed my Maggie lapcat. However, our responsibility was to Alex, so I ended up being the transitional home for 3 more cats. It is just easier if you abide by the Cat rules.
Would I be anything other than a vet? Not on your Nellie. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. What would I change? The perception that vets are the problem (desexings should not cost so much) or charge too much. For the investment of time and skills, vets should be paid as much as Magistrates. But the job satisfaction counts for much more than dollars, so if you look closely, most vets are getting by in this harsh capitalist world (Capitalism has no conscience), and the buzz they get when working with animals makes up for their reduced circumstances. Helping a little kitten has, to some of us, greater value than having a yacht in the marina or a Ferrari in the garage. It is not for everyone, but for those addicted to animals, it is never about the money.
I don’t home out kittens any more. I miss that – though it was hard work and emotionally stressful sometimes. The kittens that I homed out in the early days are getting old, and some have died. So I decided to write it all down, and help other cats the only way I can – by educating their owners.