Double Trouble!

DNT3

Greetings, dear readers!  I hope this article finds you (and your kitties) filled with as much hope for the future as we’ve been blessed with at Suzie’s Cat Refuge.  We have much to be grateful for, as we’ve come a very long way in our rescue efforts this year!  Eight adoptions (so far!), new foster volunteers, and the coming-together of a board of directors, are just a few of many exciting developments around here.  We are now a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit!  We’re starting to feel like an honest to God animal rescue, and holy divine pooper-scooper, does that ever feel spectacular!  A big, sincere thanks to those of you who have supported us, in one way or another, through our amazing journey leading up to this point.

Our experiences in fostering rescued cats have been nothing out of the ordinary.  By that, I mean, always totally unpredictable, sometimes utterly horrifying, occasionally, delightful and rewarding, and all too often, frustrating, and even heartbreaking.  I had an experience recently that contained nearly all of those descriptives, to a certain degree.  Since the experience involved a couple of adorable black kitties, I was hoping to publish this by Halloween. Obviously, I’m getting it done a little late in the season, but there really is no wrong time to tell the story of my two little misters named Double and Trouble.

The truth be told, fostering these little loves was pure delight from start to finish.  They were healthy, for one thing.  Always a plus!  Especially with cats that aren’t socialized.  Nothing dulls your enthusiasm for rescue work like trying to administer antibiotic eye ointment to a cat that wants to tear your eyes clean out of their sockets!  Thankfully, there was nothing going on with these two that a little chicken soup for the soul couldn’t cure.  They used their litter boxes well, had hearty, voracious appetites, and they blended nicely with the other resident cats, once the time came for them to emerge from the foster den.  They also made the most endearing, high-pitched little chirpy-twittery noises every time they got excited.  And although they were not friendly to start with, in time, they developed into sweet, funny, inquisitive little gentlemen…the kind that melt hearts and leave permanent, paw-shaped impressions on souls.

They were found abandoned outside of an apartment building in North Minneapolis, at about six months old.  It was February, and they were cold, hungry, and terrified.  Somehow, a concerned resident managed to lure them into a pet carrier, and bring them to a local shelter, where life, unfortunately, didn’t improve much for them…other than…at least they were warm and fed.  But they remained scared, cowering in the back of their cages, wildly darting away from every attempted human interaction.

Cats like Double and Trouble don’t often make it to the adoption floor.  Too scared to thrive in a room overrun with curious children and people looking to adopt, they are deemed “unadoptable,” at least from a shelter environment, and usually either transferred to a foster-based rescue, where they will have the opportunity to become social on their own terms, or they might be euthanized if rescue groups are too full to take them. We love socialization projects at Suzie’s Cat Refuge!  So it goes without saying that Double and Trouble escaped the needle of death, and found their way to my foster space.

Within five minutes of releasing them from their carriers (which I’m pretty sure were labeled wrong to begin with), I completely lost track of which one was who.  At that point, their names might as well have been Black Kitty and Black Kitty.  But within a week or so, based on their shelter photos (or mugshots, as I like to call them), and comparing their behavior at home to how they behaved when I visited them at the shelter, I was able to piece together that Double was probably the one with the slightly more pronounced white specks, who allowed some petting, but would hiss when approached.  And Trouble was…well…the “other one,” the one with a minor case of the sniffles, who would hide in plain sight (usually up high, perched on the cat tower), but immediately flee if I so much as entertained the thought of wandering near.  The possibility remains that I might have mistaken their identities.  We will never know for sure who Trouble (or the “other one”) really is.

The socialization process began.  If you ever decide to take on a project like this yourself (and I hope that you do), be prepared to feel very unloved for no less than three weeks, and bored out of your skull for at least a few days.  The yummy food and the fuzzy blankets that you’ve provided for them are nice, but you are still very big and scary, and the cats are convinced that you secretly plan to cook them on a rotisserie, once they’ve marbled up.  In order to UNconvince them of such hideous fears, you cannot simply plop the Fancy Feast down on the floor, and then go fold laundry.  No, ma’am!  You must sit quietly, and do absolutely nothing for a minimum of two hours per day.  No eye contact.  No shifting in your seat.  No scratching of itches, and for the love of all that is holy, do not sneeze! No breathing, and absolutely NOOOO touchy the kitty!  You may, however…talk…a little bit…in a quiet, friendly tone, to get them accustomed to the sound of your voice.  You may also read a book, or play on your smartphone.  After two or three days, they will probably be comfortable eating their food in your presence.  At that point, you can begin moving their food a little closer to where you’re sitting, closer and closer each day, until they will eat right next to you.

For Double and Trouble, this process took about two weeks.  I had gotten them to the point where they would eat their Fancy Feast off my lap, with their front paws propped right up on my legs!  And yet, they persisted with their very strict, “No touchy the kitty!” policy.  I noticed they had no such rules about “No touchy the human,” however.

They weren’t friendly yet, but their curious, playful instincts were in full swing.  If I sat in the room quietly, they would bat their little toy mice around on the floor, or engage with each other in chasey-tackley games.  To get them more comfortable in the presence of human hands, I invented a little game called Kill the Chopstick, which involved running a bamboo chopstick along the floor while the kitties chased it.  Similar to the string toy concept, except with a chopstick, your hand is less than a foot away from the other end, and the kitty claws can’t penetrate, or get stuck on it, so you can keep it moving.  This allows the cat to grow accustomed to your movements, and develop a positive association with you, since you’re engaging them in something they enjoy.  Every now and then, Double and Trouble would “touchy the human,” tapping my hand with their little paws.

Over the next few weeks, the kitties learned that human limbs were nothing to be concerned about.  Finally, on one sunny afternoon of glorious triumph, Trouble not only allowed me to pet him, but he purred and leaned into my hand as if being petted was the missing piece that he’d been searching for, his entire life.  I am very thrilled to have caught this momentous achievement on video!  Double, who always allowed petting, but clearly didn’t enjoy it, also reached this long-awaited milestone, about a week later. After two months of steady social progress, it was time to open the gate, and allow them to come downstairs.  Interestingly, Double evolved to be the more outgoing cat, even though it took him longer to warm up.

At one point in years past, following a scary and heartbreaking ordeal involving a cat with Feline Leukemia, I was very adamant that you should never mix your foster cats with your resident cats.  While there are some circumstances where this rule still applies, in recent years, I’ve changed my tune somewhat, having learned that seeing how a once unsocialized cat will get along as part of an ordinary household, is really a very critical next step in the process.  How will they react to the other cats in the home?  To the other people in the home?  To the humming and swishing of a dishwasher?  How will they react toward strangers when visitors come over? All very important things to know, so that you can determine the type of home for which the cat is best suited, and educate new owners on the best way to accommodate their furry friend.

The following facts about Double and Trouble were unveiled within weeks of their introduction to the household.  1) Both cats are nonconfrontational, and integrate easily with other friendly cats, 2) Double loves everyone, has no fear of anything, and can probably live just about anywhere, 3) Trouble is a very adamant “mamas boy” who thinks I’m the bees knees, but regards everyone else with intense suspicion, and 4) The two of them together are highly entertaining, and quickly become household favorites, despite Trouble’s unwillingness to bond with (most) people.

The disparity between facts number 2 and 3 had me concerned about whether they could be adopted as a pair.  It was abundantly clear that they had vastly different home requirements.  Double would certainly adapt fine to whatever home Trouble was suited for, but Trouble might not do so well in a house with a lot of noise, or with kids, or people who aren’t experts at working with timid cats (and most people aren’t).

But I had to try!  For one thing, it’s just nice when cats that are bonded can stay together.  It’s also more beneficial to the rescue effort, in terms of cost savings and space availability, when we have the luxury of two cats leaving at the same time. Also, placing them singly would significantly change how I would have to present them in the adoption “marketplace” (for lack of a better term). A name change would be in order, for sure. Trouble, I suppose, is a halfway decent stand-alone name, but let’s face it.  The only reason for naming a cat Double is if he comes with a brother named Trouble!  The fact that they were a creatively-named duo was half of what made them stand out in the first place, and with black cats (which are difficult to photograph and tend to all look the same), clever positioning is sometimes the only way they’ll ever get noticed.  With that in mind, onto Petfinder.com they went, listed as a pair, with the option to adopt one or the other, and a reduced fee for adopting the two.  We would keep our fingers crossed, and pray that fact number 4 would encourage just the right family to adopt (and love) them both.

The waiting began.  And, the waiting continued.  For four months, there was not one single e-mail, voice message, Facebook comment, or Petfinder inquiry, asking a single question about Double and Trouble. Not a peep. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I didn’t mind so much, either. I know I should be working as hard as I can to promote my adoptable cats, so that I can move them through the program, and open my space to other cats in need.  Most of the time, I’m happy to see them move on to their adoptive homes. But these little “bubbs” were such natural fixtures around here!  My roommate had grown especially attached to Double, who would often curl up in a cozy little nook by his computer.  And Trouble continued to melt my heart with his sweet little chirps, his expressive tail that would bob up and down excitedly like a symphony conductor as he walked, and his prevailing, stubborn attachment to me, and me alone.  Trouble hadn’t grown any friendlier toward the other members of the household, which made me wonder how he would do in a whole new place with unfamiliar people.  He didn’t hide, and he didn’t mind being around people, but he would immediately bolt if anybody walked toward him.  Even with me, his trust had limits.

Trouble had a highly intense fear of physical restraint on any level.  He would seek attention, and roll around on the floor and purr while I scratched his little belly, but if I tried to pick him up, he would immediately panic and scratch me to ribbons. For this reason, I was never able to trim his nails, or manually place him into a pet carrier.  How would I even bring him to his adoptive home?  For that matter, if the new owner decided that things weren’t working out, how would they bring him back?  With the ever-growing laundry list of possible things that could go wrong,  one day, the defeating thought occurred, Perhaps I should just…adopt him.

No sooner did that thought occur than a Petfinder inquiry came through my e-mail.  A lady and her husband, who had recently lost their beloved senior cat to lymphoma, were looking forward to becoming fur parents again, after a few months of intense grief.  They were interested in adopting Double and Trouble, together.  All at once, my heart fell to the floor, and my anxiety levels shot through the roof.  I was heartbroken at the thought of them no longer being here, especially thinking about Trouble being scared in a new place with strange people.  And the logistics of getting Trouble into a carrier for transport raced through my brain, and kept me awake at night.

But I have to try!

People are often surprised when I tell them that the adoption phase is the most stressful part of the entire rescue process.  On the one hand, it’s the driving force (and ultimate goal) behind everything we do.  It’s also necessary if we’re going to continue helping more cats.  And don’t get me wrong.  Adoptions are intensely rewarding when just the right match comes together!  But very rarely do I have complete confidence that things will go that way.  Sometimes it seems like adoptions don’t work out, almost as often as they do!  And it’s not because people are “bad”.  It’s a question of whether they’re the right fit for the cat they’re adopting.  Often, there’s some lingering concern which makes me think, Hmmm.  That could be a problem.  But maybe it won’t!  And how will you know, if you don’t give it a chance?

Double and Trouble’s adoption prospects were a joy to work with.  They asked intelligent questions, were receptive to my advice, and they spent a considerable time studying the information pamphlet (aka “Parenting Guide”) that I had written about Double and Trouble.  They were gainfully employed, lived in a beautiful, spacious home, and they had a solid history of responsible pet ownership. They also had a five-year-old daughter.

I gave it to them straight, and sugar-coated absolutely nothing.  I wasn’t sure if Trouble would be happy living with a child.  He had no history with kids, one way or the other, but I suspected that all the vigorous, youthful activity and noise would be too scary for him.  Furthermore, I couldn’t guarantee that he would become friendly toward anyone.  I suspected that he could eventually bond with at least one member of the household, if they followed the exact same socialization process that I did (which I wrote about in detail in the Parenting Guide).  I advised them that within a month or two, Trouble should no longer be hiding, and that if he was still too scared to come out by that time, he is probably too stressed there, and should come back.  And, I explained why “bringing him back” might not go smoothly.  If nothing else, he would certainly be a good companion for his brother, who would surely adapt just fine in the new home.  After a week of dead silence (during which time, I wondered if they had decided to move on), I received an out-of-the-blue e-mail from them which read, “We would like to proceed.”

The following week was mostly spent planning and practicing my strategy for transport, as well as lots of crying, and tossing and turning at night.  I was going to miss those boys terribly, and I was extremely anxious about what I would do if I couldn’t get Trouble to go into a carrier.  No matter what, I would not betray his trust by chasing him into a corner, picking him up by the scruff, and forcing him into a box.  Somehow, I would have to convince him to go in there on his own.

Every evening, Double would eat his canned food alone in my office, and Trouble would follow me upstairs to eat his.  I placed his food in a spacious pet carrier with a wide entrance.  Trouble walked right in, and dove happily into his food.  I did this every day (each time, leaving the carrier door open), until it was time to bring the boys to their new home.  On that day, when Trouble walked into the carrier, I silently closed the door behind him, and felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders, when he acted like he didn’t even notice.  I had successfully contained him…without causing trauma, and without his final moment with me being one of terror and betrayal.

Double and Trouble’s adoptive parents had taken great care to provide the perfect starter space for their new fur kids.  It was a quiet guest bedroom with large windows, fully equipped with food, water, toys, two litter boxes, and a comfy bed, which they could either sleep on, or hide under.  I asked for a moment alone with the kitties, to help ease the transition and get them situated.  I placed the carriers on the bed, and opened the doors.  Both boys slowly ventured out.  They didn’t run and hide, like I thought they would.  They explored the entire room, sniffing every nook and cranny, and taking inventory of the supplies.  Once they were satisfied that’d been provided with all the essential basics, Double wandered back into his carrier, and laid down.  He didn’t seem scared, just comfy.  I decided to leave the carrier there, so he could just stay in it.  Trouble had made his way to a space just under the window, where he had plopped himself down on the floor.  I knelt down beside him and began petting him. He looked up at me with big yellow eyes, his gaze seeming to convey a sense of gratitude for the reassuring pets.  Was this really the last time I would see my boy? Double was sacked out comfortably with his head near the doorway of his carrier, just within kissing reach.  I said goodbye, and managed to choke back tears before looking back one last time, and then I closed the door behind me, and headed home….to a Double-and-Trouble-less house, which would surely feel empty for quite a while.

In the following two weeks, I felt highly optimistic about Double and Trouble’s placement, having seen the ease at which they had settled into their cozy little room.  In addition, the relief of having two less cats in the house was starting to be felt.  My little gray and white kitty, Farrah, certainly didn’t mind their absence!  Kind of the hissy, growly one of the bunch, Farrah doesn’t mind other cats, as long as they leave her alone, but toward the end, Double had developed a bit of King Shit attitude, which Farrah was having none of.  Double could sense her disapproval, which only made him want to pester her more.  Trouble had been more respectful of Farrah’s boundaries, so she didn’t mind him as much.  Satisfied that the boys had gone to a safe, loving home with devoted pet parents, my heart began to move on.

One day, an e-mail update came from Double and Trouble’s new mom.  One cat was still hiding, while the other had pretty much taken over the house.  This news was nothing alarming or unexpected.  But, there was one problem.  At least one of the cats had begun pooping on their bed at night while they slept (ew!!), and several other accidents had been discovered throughout the home (also, very “ew!”). This news was absolutely shocking to me!  Even at the very beginning, when they were at their most terrified, two (near feral) kittens, still shaking off the stress of the shelter environment, they had nonetheless, exhibited nothing other than rockstar poop and pee habits!  So, WTF?! I searched my brain for possible solutions.  I recalled that the litter boxes they had been set up with in their new home were quite small, and contained only, maybe, two inches of litter on the bottom.  Was it possible that they were unhappy with the bathroom accommodations?  I recommended that they try using bigger litter boxes, and making sure there was at least three inches of litter in the bottom. Not wanting to give up, they were happy to try my suggestion, and I crossed my fingers and hoped to hear much better news, after a few more weeks.

More news did come, but not the kind I was hoping for.  Trouble would have to come back.  The soiling incidents had grown more frequent, and after keeping Trouble separate from his brother for the past week, they determined that he was the one that wasn’t using the box.  In addition, he continued to hide, only coming out to eat and drink when no one was around.  Double, on the other hand, had adjusted beautifully, and they would be keeping him.

I’ve never had such mixed emotions surrounding a failed adoption.  Usually, I’m just plain frustrated.  For one thing, it stifles the rescue effort!  Having to take them back means I no longer have a space available, which means a cat that needs help won’t get it, at least not from me.  Possibly not from anyone else either, since most rescues operate in a constant state of busting at the seams.  When I learned that Trouble would be coming back, the first emotion I felt was anxiety.  Once again, we would be faced with the task of getting him into a carrier, and there was no guarantee that his adopters would be able to accomplish that task as easily as I did.  On the other hand, my little “Troubly-Bubbs” was coming home, which brought tears of joy to my eyes!  But would he still be the same cat?  Would he remember me?  Would he resume his good litter box habits, or would he poop on my bed too?  Perhaps he was permanently ruined, after six weeks of living afraid.  And yes…I was frustrated too.  I suspected that if I’d been a fly on the wall for those six weeks, I might have discovered the problem and been able to fix it.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to fix something that I can’t see.  No matter how happy I am that Trouble got to come home, a successful adoption with his partner in crime would still have been the far more satisfying outcome.

And, home he came!  No “trouble” getting him into the carrier (pun intended), using the same strategy that I had employed to bring him there.  Thank goodness for Fancy Feast, and cats that are highly food-motivated!  To my delight, within less than an hour of coming home, it was as if he had never left.  He was already playing with his favorite toys, eating, purring and allowing pets…and, using his box!  The other cats seemed excited to see him too, which made me feel a little better about separating him from his brother.

If you ever try to adopt a pet from a rescue, and your application is denied, please know that it’s not necessarily because you’re a bad pet owner.  Keep in mind, rescue folks don’t get paid for their work, and the work, as I’ve mentioned, is often an anxiety-fueled test of one’s patience, and even tedious at times.  We endure a lot of stress (and boredom!) trying to rehabilitate animals that have emerged from rough situations, and we don’t want to put them through the trauma of relocating them to another home, unless the odds of them staying in that home are very high. Otherwise, we risk situations that put us (and the animals) under even more stress.

I tend to air on the side of giving things a chance, even if I have some minor concerns.  Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised with the results.  Even when the adoption fails, I often learn something about the cat that gives me a clearer picture of the kind of home that might work better.  Unfortunately, in Trouble’s case, we didn’t figure out what would work better, since we couldn’t isolate the problem.  He just wasn’t happy there, and we don’t know for sure the reason why…which is why I’ve decided to adopt him, rather than put him through the process again, and risk the same issue.  I don’t know what Trouble needs in order to live happily in another person’s home.  But he’s happy here, and he is loved.  To this day, I remain the only person who has ever been able bury my face in his soft belly fur, kiss the top of his head, or squish his little toe beans.  Too bad I still can’t trim his nails!  One thing’s for sure, no one can say that he hasn’t lived up to his name.

Mr. “Troubly-Bubbs”

Trouble2

A “Minnie” Gripe and a Few Words About Dedicated Pet Ownership

Minnie

Howdy, folks! I have a fairly simple point to make, so this should be a brief post, comparatively speaking. Meet Minnie (pictured above)! This cat is not one of Suzie’s. You see, when I am unable to bring more cats into my program, I try to help the rescue effort in other ways. In this case, helping to transport cats from the shelter where they would have been euthanized, to the rescue group that’s giving them a chance at life. A big thanks to Furball Farm Pet Sanctuary, and Fur-Ever Home/ValuCause for making room for her at the last second!

Minnie was within minutes of being killed in a shelter today. She was surrendered to the shelter (twice!) because of issues that were probably resolvable, and most likely, the owner’s fault. In home# 1, she was kept with six other cats, and only two litter boxes. Minnie wants a clean bathroom, heaven forbid, and since there’s no way to keep the boxes clean with six cats using only two of them, Minnie, not surprisingly, found other places to do her business. In home#2, she was using the box, but peeing over the side of it. Rather than purchase a larger, or covered litter box, her owners promptly returned her to the shelter, where she almost died, because she wasn’t thriving in the stressful shelter environment, and finding foster volunteers for cats with a house soiling history is damn near impossible. Surprise surprise!

A word of advice to new cat owners: There is no such thing as too big of a litter box, too clean of a litter box, or for that matter, too many boxes. Those plastic “cake pans” that people like to buy, because they’re cheap and fit nicely between the toilet and the bathtub are meant for kittens, cats that have to be kenneled for some reason, or as something to use in a pinch, until a better litter box can be acquired. They are WAY too small for a typical cat in a typical household, and if you skimp out on your cat’s bathroom accommodations, you’re either going to end up with pee going over the side, litter being flung all over the place as the cat digs, or a cat that simply won’t use the box.

Although there will always be some cats with litter box issues, regardless of what the owner does, there are a few, tried-and-true methods that work in most circumstances, and would most likely have worked for this 6-years-young, Russian Blue beauty, named Minnie. Always have at least one, appropriately-sized litter box per cat. By “appropriately-sized,” I mean, at the very least, the largest litter box you can find, preferably with a cover on it, although a Rubbermade bin that’s deeper than the cat is tall, is not going to do anyone any harm. No cake pans! Not unless you’re taking your cats on a long road trip, and you need a box that’s small enough to fit into the kennel, or you’re attending an April Fool’s Day party, and you’re bringing that cat poop cake[i] as a humorous contribution to the potluck.  Seriously. That’s all those things are good for. Once you’ve acquired the right size box, put no less than 3-4 inches of litter in the bottom, and scoop at least once, daily. If your cat starts urinating or defecating in inappropriate places, have your vet check him for bladder stones, kidney problems, urine crystals, or a urinary tract infection. Oh! And don’t declaw.

Please remember that pets are living organisms, not home entertainment centers from Best Buy, although I’m willing to use the electronic device scenario as a metaphor for cats, if it makes it easier for people to understand that some assembly is required, and they may not work perfectly the first time you fire them up. In other words, be willing to make some accommodations to resolve the issues that may arise when you adopt a new pet. Realize, also, that some issues may never resolve completely, and you may simply have to just…cope! Believe it or not, you’re not as easy to live with as you think you are either, but you would hope that your family would work with you at little, and maybe even tolerate a thing or two, rather than simply kick you to the curb. Washing your hands of the problem might make your life easier, but it’s incredibly paralyzing to the rescue effort (as well as traumatizing for the animals), when we have to keep making space for ones that were already adopted, and placing the same ones for adoption over and over again.

Thank you for listening to my vent! You may now return to your regularly scheduled program.

-Rachel Pouliot
Suzie’s Cat Refuge

[i] https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/7415/kitty-litter-cake/

Busting at the Seams

(Featured image submitted by Cassi Ohman.  Thank you, Cassi!)

Once again, a year has passed, and I haven’t written a word until now.  The lack of editorial follow-up, as usual, is not due to a deficiency in the goings-on, so much as a holding-out for the kind of happenings that I like to write about.  As a typical American, I like stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and I prefer the happily-ever-after type endings to the depressing Shakespearean ones.  I’m especially not fond of the kind of endings where the plot just sort of evaporates, leaving the reader confused and wondering what in the hell happened.  So…if this story begins in the middle, and/or it unfolds to a somewhat vapory conclusion, that’s only because there’s no end in sight, happy or otherwise.  No Shakespearean tragedies (yet) either, thank God, but I do seem to accumulate the kind of challenges that come back to bite me in the bum, rather than the kind that get resolved and allow me to turn the page.

Quite truthfully, Suzie’s Cat Refuge is busier than ever!  I’ve rescued three more cats this year, and I’ve discovered new and creative ways to raise money for my cause.  I even recruited a foster volunteer for the first time! And…since some of the local rescue folks feel that I haven’t been doing too terrible of a job with my little furballs, I’m delighted to have made some new friends in the feline welfare community.  I’ve also gotten involved with a new kind of rescue effort, which involves saving cats that are scheduled for euthanasia in local shelters.  These are all very exciting developments!  My learning has increased ten-fold, and I continue to be rewarded daily for my efforts by being wrapped in a blanket of purrs and cuddles, and goofy, kittenish antics that never cease to amuse.  *sigh*  If only it wasn’t such a pathetic year for adoptions.

In twelve months of being “busier than ever,” my total adoptions for 2017 have reached a whopping -1.  No, you read that correctly.  The negative sign in front of the 1 isn’t just a speck of dust on your monitor.  Not only have I been unsuccessful in placing any of my cats, but I also re-inherited one that was adopted a year ago, because his owner had to move and couldn’t take him with.  More recently, a cat that was adopted, pending a 30-day trial period, had to come back to the Refuge to be treated for an ear infection that I thought had already been cured, at which point the new “owner” decided not to proceed with the adoption.  Had I been lucky (or perhaps taken better notice of the problem afflicting the cat), my total adoptions might have increased to zero, which is hardly a reason for popping the cork, but I would have celebrated, nonetheless.

I experience many of the same challenges that other rescue groups do, on a much smaller scale. It’s always the challenge of too many cats in need, and a tireless, passionate endeavor to save ALL of them, hindered by limited shelter capacity, inconsistent foster support, and not enough funds to cover the expenses. My version of “busting at the seams” is having four cats in my downstairs, one cat in my upstairs, another placed with a foster volunteer (but only for a three-month commitment), and at any moment, facing the possibility of having to reclaim a cat from an adoption that didn’t stick.  To illustrate that one person’s “busting at the seams” is another’s vacation from all the fuckery, take my situation and multiply it by a thousand, and you have some concept of what most animal welfare groups in the country are dealing with.  And no.  It doesn’t end.  It merely enjoys the sporadic, illusory glimmer of a pause (er…paws?), whereupon we allow ourselves a pee break, and perhaps an episode of Game of Thrones before plummeting back into the mess.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)[i] reported that 3.2 million cats are surrendered to shelters each year, and only about 1.6 million are adopted. Sadly, 860,000 are euthanized.  This information seems to imply that there simply aren’t enough homes for all of the displaced cats.  But interestingly, only about 35% of all U.S households own a cat, with an average of 2.1 cats per household, and 85.8 million cats owned in total.  Although these numbers vary somewhat, depending on the source, the overall trend is consistent.  More people own dogs than cats (for some strange reason), and the majority of American households are yet unblessed with a feline companion. Those poor folks!  As an ongoing supplier of unclaimed felines, what can I do to enrich the lives of the catless (and obviously very depressed and lonely) 65%?

A study by the American Humane Association (AHA)[ii] revealed some of the more common reasons why people don’t own pets.  Among the subjects questioned, 35% of those who had never owned a cat, reported that they simply don’t like cats.  29% said that they don’t like the smell of a litter box.  Of those who had previously owned a cat, 16% had developed allergies, 17% were still grieving the loss of a cat that had died, and 24% named cost as their biggest barrier to future cat ownership.  Persons aged 65 and over, who had not previously owned a cat were the least inclined to adopt, with an overwhelming 94% saying that they would not open their home to a cat.

The problem of too many cats being surrendered to shelters, and not enough people adopting, is really only part of the problem, and it’s a problem that everyone already knows about, to a certain extent.  What you may not be aware of are the high volume of cats that are taking too long to get adopted, or even made available for adoption, either because they exhibit some sort of undesireable behavior, or they suffer from chronic health problems, which might be anything from ear mites that won’t go away, to infectious, and fatal diseases like feline leukemia.

All three of the cats that came to the Refuge this year have had issues that have delayed them getting adopted.  Two were plagued with persistent ear infections, while the third (a giant male tuxedo named Kat), suffered a 2-month bout with recurring mouth sores (occasionally accompanied by an upper respiratory infection) with an unknown cause.  Fortunately, after some TLC, Kat has been symptom-free for over a month now.  But his health issues are only half of the challenge.

Kat’s personality is…shall we say…not for everyone?  On the one hand, he’s a low-key, mellow dude, very quiet and easy to handle.  He’s also pretty darn funny and entertaining! But in spite his generous servings of comic relief, and easy-going attitude, he’s been surprisingly difficult to bond with.  He is neither friendly, nor unfriendly, with occasional leanings in one direction or the other, sometimes approaching for head scritches, while at other times, whipping around to lay a good chomp on you.  He was, in fact, nearly euthanized in a local shelter for biting someone on the adoption floor.  He was surrendered to the shelter by his owner because he was antagonizing the resident senior cat too much.

It would help tremendously if Kat could at least be placed into a home with other cats, but alas… I would agree with his prior owner, that his behavior toward other cats could be described “antagonistic.” He’s territorial in a weird, silent kind of way.  He doesn’t hiss or growl.  He just lurks in areas that the cats have to stroll through in order to access food and other resources, and he chases and tackles whoever wanders by, which sometimes results in his face being scratched to ribbons. After numerous attempts at socialization, I’ve resigned to keeping Kat separate, where his behavior toward humans has reverted to the “norm,” sometimes friendly, but mostly just there for the food.  Ain’t he cute though?  Seriously, what a ham!

Kat n Box

Several outcomes are possible (many of them, not pleasant) when calls from people who need to surrender a cat continue to flow in, but all of the no-kill rescue groups are packed to the gills with unadoptable cats.  Animals that can’t find placement with a no-kill rescue might be taken by local impound facilities, or open-admission shelters (shelters like the Animal Humane Society[iii] that take any animal, regardless of the circumstances), where they are placed for adoption (if healthy and adoptable), or placed on the list for euthanasia.

Fortunately, cats that are scheduled for euthanasia do not immediately die.  They are first offered to a select list of approved rescue groups (known as Rescue Partners), who may then express interest in saving the cat (a process known as “tagging”), if they can find additional foster support, and/or raise enough funds to offset the added cost.  For numerous reasons that I may discuss at length in a future blog entry, cats that are placed on the euthanasia list are not available for adoption by the general public.

Occasionally, even the open-admission shelters become so full that they have to turn animals away.  That, unfortunately, is why some cats end up getting shot, abandoned, placed in cardboard boxes along the highway, or met with other fates too terrible to mention.  For this reason, some people believe that euthanasia is actually more humane than allowing animals to continue suffering in whatever awful situation they’re in.  It’s a valid point, to a certain extent, but there are a couple of problems with it.  For one, it risks being a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  A scared cat that endures in a shelter for a prolonged period, or a cat that roams the streets covered in fleas and scrounging for food, is nonetheless, alive, and might eventually find placement with a rescue, or a kind person who takes him under their wing. By killing cats that might someday be adoptable, we eliminate any possibility for a happy ending.  Also, we have to consider the message that we’re sending, and the influence that our practices may have on the public.  The moment we decide that it’s okay to kill animals, simply to suit the purpose of creating space, or even saving them from a fate worse than death, we present them to our neighbors as something akin to a noxious weed, a mere “problem” to be eradicated, rather than loving, intelligent beings that deserve to exist…which kind of goes against the mission of fostering an attitude of compassion toward animals, and convincing our largely catless society that cats are worthy to keep around.

The AHA study that I referenced earlier indicates that a large percentage of people who do not want to adopt a cat, are simply people who don’t like cats.  As a person who believes that the “Gospel” should be lived by, but not preached down other people’s throats, I’m not sure there’s much we can do about the cat haters in the world, other than insert the occasional “good word,” where the topic of cute, adoptable kitties naturally creeps into the conversation.  Once in a while, a person is converted.  My ex-husband, in fact, didn’t think very positively of cats for most of his life, but he adored every one of the three cats that we had during our marriage.  A year ago, he adopted one of his own from Suzie’s Refuge.  Then there are folks like my great auntie Helen, who recently passed away at the age of 100.  Helen, as far as I’m concerned, was a near-perfect individual, her one flaw being her dislike of cats, which never wavered in the entire century that she graced the planet.  While I remain hopeful that the cat haters will eventually confess their sins (and repent, by making their way to the local adoption center), at the end of the day, we have little choice but to promote our adoptable cats to those who are already open to taking one in.

If the last sentence describes you at all, especially if you’re one of the 24% that’s holding out due to lack of the needed funds to care for a pet, please consider fostering for a rescue.  All of the donations in the world do not automatically create the extra space for more cats to be brought to safety, so if you would like to open your home to a cat, but are concerned about the money, fostering provides a huge benefit to the rescue effort, and allows you to simply provide the loving care, while all expenses are paid for by someone else.

If you are looking to adopt, take a moment to inquire with the rescue staff about which cats they’re having a hard time placing.  You may find that many of those cats are perfectly fine.  Some of them might just be…black!  Yes!  Black cats, for whatever reason, do not get adopted very quickly.  Same with cats that are older than one year. Others might be missing an eye, or a leg.  They might be deaf, or blind, or afflicted with some kind of harmless deformity or birth defect that makes them look a little funny, but doesn’t impact their disposition, their life expectancy, or overall health.  Some cats are simply a little bit shy, and need to be placed in a quieter home. By opening your home to one of the hard-to-adopts, you enable them to move through the program a little more quickly, which ensures continued open space for other cats in need of safe refuge….a much kinder alternative to euthanasia, don’t you think?

 

Warmest regards,

-Rachel Pouliot
Suzie’s Cat Refuge

 

References:

[i] https://www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics

[ii] https://www.americanhumane.org/app/uploads/2016/08/aha-petsmart-retention-study-phase-1.pdf

[iii] https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/about-animal-humane-society

When it’s Not the Right Fit

Whether you go to a shelter, a rescue, a breeder, or you simply open your door to the neighborhood stray, there are many factors to consider when selecting the purrfect cat for you.  The most obvious, of course, is whether the fluffy addition will be liked (or at least tolerated) by all residents of the home.  With that question in mind, most people seek out cats with a friendly disposition, and good behavior patterns, which usually come in the form of a willingness to scratch a scratching post rather than furniture, poop in the designated bathroom spot, and play nice with the other household critters. Another consideration that you hopefully contemplate often is, whether you, the owner, can provide the kind of environment that your cat will thrive in.  You want a cat that you will love to pieces, and you want your cat to be happy too.  Unfortunately, scenarios with the potential for making a very unhappy kitty, or an unhappy household, are sometimes easier to spot in hindsight than beforehand.

The cat pictured above (once named Cody) is a 3-year-old male who was surrendered to Suzie’s Cat Refuge late this past summer, by a nice woman who simply felt that he wasn’t happy living in her home.  She had adopted him from a shelter in the early spring, and he apparently hadn’t come out of hiding since.  She said that he made occasional attempts to socialize, but would quickly change his mind as soon as her four-year-old daughter entered the room.  Kids, it turned out, were problematic for a timid cat like Cody.  Incidentally, the woman was also pregnant, and due to give birth any day, so in order to spare Cody from stress that would certainly not be improved by introducing another child, she made the difficult, but honest decision to find him a happier home.

In the beginning, I questioned why a shelter would adopt a shy cat to a household with children.  This would usually be an automatic no-no to anyone who understands the particular needs of shy cats.  My question was answered, not more than five minutes after releasing Cody into the foster room.  Given how he had been described (because that was his owner’s honest experience), I was kind of expecting the socialization challenge of a lifetime.  I figured he would slink his way out of the carrier, dart under the recliner, and with some luck, maybe pop his head out in a month or two.  The actual result, however, was pleasantly the opposite.

We found Cody to be an attention-seeking lovebug right from the very first day.  And chatty!  Oh my goodness, he had an opinion on every topic!  I never got around to asking him what he thinks of Donald Trump, but I’m certain he would have a lot to say about America’s political climate in general, and perhaps even offer a unique perspective on the meaning of our existence.  Suffice it to say that Cody was very NOT shy when he came here.  So, if his caretakers at the shelter had a similar experience, then there may have been no reason for assuming that he wouldn’t thrive in a family setting.  Armed with the knowledge that this would have to be a consideration going forward, I would later place Cody (now named Stormy) into a quiet, one-person home with no children or other pets, where he is spoiled rotten, and no longer feels the need to hide.

Rescuers try their hardest to place animals into the type of home where they will get along best.  Visit the website of any shelter or rescue, and while perusing the list of adoptable cats, you will find descriptions that read, “This cat is recommended for a home with no small children,” or, “This cat does not get along with dogs,” etc.  But sometimes, such as in the case with rescued strays, or any cat with an unknown history around kids or animals, some are placed for adoption with many guesses as to the kind of home environment that will work for them, and everybody just crosses their fingers and hopes for the best.  Often, it works out fine, but if it doesn’t, then it becomes a question of the new owners’ ability to recognize the problem, and their willingness to make it right.

Recognizing the Problem

Most cats will experience some degree of stress when relocating to an unfamiliar place. Makes sense!  After all, if somebody shoved you into a box with holes, put you in a car, and then turned you loose in a totally strange environment, you would be a little shaken yourself.  Thus, cats may hide for up to several days, or hiss and growl when they first encounter people or other animals. They may not even eat very much right off the bat, and potty accidents during this time aren’t terribly uncommon either.

Even once fully adjusted, cats may periodically have minor scuffles with your other pets, or hide on occasion, probably when your child is having a birthday party, or you decide to go on a cleaning spree and run the vaccuum.  But these ordeals should be fairly benign, and short-lived.  Fights with other pets should never draw blood, or cause such stress that the cat is reluctant to eat or use the litter box, and no cat should be living in such fear that it feels need to hide constantly.  Each cat will adjust at its own pace, of course, but a good rule of thumb is that within three to six weeks, the cat should be comfortable exploring the abode, bonding with at least some of the household humans, eating and eliminating normally, and behaving civilly toward other pets.

Making it Right

It’s probably a no-brainer (at least, it should be) that the first step toward “making it right” is doing your best to prevent problems in the first place.  If, for example, you own a dog, and you happen to know in advance that the feline of interest has a fear of, or aggression toward dogs, then please do not open your home to that particular cat.  If you go to a shelter or rescue, be honest when filling out the adoption paperwork.  Give the rescuers a clear and truthful picture of the type of home you will be offering, and only take in animals that you have good reasons to believe will be a good fit for your home.

If, in spite your due diligence, you discover that your home is an inappropriate match for the cat chosen (or vice versa), here are some suggestions for managing a few of the more common mismatch scenarios.  And take note, finding another home for the cat is not always desireable or necessary.

Problem: The cat doesn’t get along with other animals in the home.

Solution: Again, due diligence.  If you already have pets, don’t open your door to a cat with a known history of not playing well with others.  Starting your new kitty off in a private room, or secluded space, with his own food, water, and litter box, allowing him to gradually acclimate to the sounds and smells of your home environment, can also help ease his introduction to the other members of the household, and prevent territorial disputes later.  Some cats just don’t like to share, however, and even if they do, your preexisting animals might not be keen to the new addition.  If they simply cannot coexist, no matter what you do, then your options are, 1) Keeping the animals separate from each other, or 2) Finding another home for one of the animals.

Option# 1 is not a practical solution in every household, and it presents a few challenges. Because my house functions as both a foster space, and as a loving home for our own three cats, I have a fairly well-developed system for keeping cats separate.  However, in order to ensure that no one feels neglected or lonely, I have to divide my time between two sets of animals, and cats are notorious for always wanting to be on the opposite side of whatever closed door is in front of them! When I’m upstairs spending time with foster kitty, my own cat, Farrah (a self-proclaimed “mama’s girl”), sits at the top of the stairs wondering why she’s not allowed to join me.  Likewise, when I’m downstairs spending time with Farrah and the other cats, foster kitty sits at the top of the stairs, meowing her little heart out from behind the gate, wondering why she can’t come down.  Thus, Option# 1 is doable, if you have the right setup for it, and you have a certain knack for blocking out the forlorn cries of jealous animals whose turn it is to wait.

Option# 2 begins with the question of which animal to relocate. My personal opinion is that whichever animal was there first, really ought to be entitled to first dibbs on your pad.  However, I’ve seen situations where the opposite decision was made, and it still worked out fine.  A couple of friends of mine had two 3-year-old male cats, who were perfectly happy until the dog was introduced.  I, personally, would have tried to find a home for the dog, rather than the cats that had already been there for three years, but in the end, the cats were given to a trusted friend, not a shelter, or a random stranger.  They adjusted beautifully in their new home, and in fact, were probably relieved to be free of the barking hell beast.  My friends are also enjoying the heck out of their new dog, so it worked out well for everyone.  At the end of the day, what matters most is that everyone is happy, and a decision is made with the animals’ best interests in mind.

Problem: The cat doesn’t get along with kids, or other people in the home.

Solution: Some people just have an unusually loud speaking voice, or a particularly thundersome walk, or other mannerism that sends the cat slinking under the couch with her tail between her legs.  Regardless, the problem has almost certain to do with the human, and not the cat.  Identifying the problem behavior, and convincing the offender to change it for the sake of the cat, may be all that’s needed for everyone to coexist. Speaking and walking more quietly, and avoiding direct eye contact with the cat, over time, can go a long way toward repairing the relationship.

Of course, the younger the human, the more you have to lower your expectations.  As in Stormy’s case, living with children ranging from infancy to four years old…well…let’s just say that getting kids that age to “quiet down” would probably require more duct tape than the average parent keeps on hand.  Cats that don’t like noise aren’t going to be happy in homes with children below a certain age, and that’s just all there is to it.  Thus, finding a quieter home for the cat may be your best option.  You may still be able to have a cat!  Just try to find one that’s more outgoing, one that has a known history of living happily with kids, and allow him to adjust gradually by starting him off in his own space.

Problem: The cat does not use a litter box consistently.

Solution: I debated whether to even discuss this issue here, because it almost belongs in an entirely different article, one that focuses more on behavior, I suppose.  However, people often do perceive this as a problem of the cat not being a good fit for the household, and it’s one of the most common reasons why cats get surrendered to shelters.  Thus, I decided that it fits well enough into a discussion about finding the right match, although in truth, a cat with a litter box problem is unlikely to be a good fit for anyone’s home, which is why you should try to resolve it before making a choice to get rid of the cat.

If your cat is peeing in inappropriate places, the first thing you should do is have your vet examine her for health problems such as bladder stones, urethral blockages, kidney disease, or urinary tract infections.  All of these, and more, can cause your feline to go outside the box.  If all potential health causes are ruled out, then move onto identifying possible environmental causes.

Often, the culprit is simply location.  We humans like to put litter boxes in the laundry room, because it’s a nice out-of-the-way location, and it often has a cement floor, which allows for easy clean-up.  But Murphy’s Law dicatates that the moment your cat decides to squat down for a wee will be the precise moment that your washer launches the rinse cycle.  Watching your cat leap three feet into the air when the machine suddenly changes modes may be hilarious to you, but it’s stressful to the cat, and it’s a surefire recipe for accidents.  Try placing the litter box in a large closet, or a quiet den or office, or any place with minimal human traffic and no appliance noise.

Occasionally, the litter box itself is part of the problem. Some cats may require more than one litter box, or they may have finicky tastes regarding the type of litter used.  I like the wood pellet kind, myself, but I’ve had at least one foster cat that refused to use it. Some cats won’t use a litter box that’s too dirty…or too clean, even!  Scooping the litter box daily, and reserving a poop to place into a freshly scrubbed and sanitized litter box can help make the feline bathroom atmosphere more appealing, and signal the appropriate place for “doing business.”

The amount of clutter you carry can make a difference too, which, not having inherited one smidgen of my mother’s housekeeping skills, is something I have to think about all the time.  Piles of dirty laundry or unzipped duffel bags filled with stuff might look too much like a bathroom to some cats.  Keeping tidy and tucked away, that which might be taken for a litter box can help prevent confusion on the appropriate place to go.

If, for whatever reason, your cat simply is not great with litter box usage (and some cats aren’t), please consider every alternative before surrendering her to a shelter.  The shelter system is overtaxed as it is, and a cat with a history of litter box problems is very unlikely to be adopted, even if the problem was the owner’s fault.  As a last ditch effort, consider keeping your kitty as an outdoor cat, although this is only an option for cats that are fixed, up-to-date on vaccines, and armed with a full set of claws.  They will also require a garage, barn, or other shelter to hide from inclement weather, and they should be given flea, tick, and deworming medicines regularly.  This is not an ideal solution.  Every bad thing that can happen to your cat is far more likely in an outdoor environment, but for cats that are happy being outside, who refuse to exhibit proper indoor behavior, it’s a better option than giving them to a shelter.

Hopefully, one thing you’ve gathered from reading this is that a bad fit can sometimes become a good fit, with a little bit of work and ingenuity. It’s always best when the problem can be resolved, and the cat is allowed to remain in the home.  However, when all efforts fail, and the only option is to relocate the cat, take comfort in knowing that merely being a poor fit for a particular cat (or vice versa) does not necessarily make you a failure.  It depends on how you respond to the situation. Finding a happier home for a cat that couldn’t get along in yours is not a bad decision!  On the other hand, dumping or abandoning a cat that you don’t want is never the right thing to do.  Giving your cat to a shelter or rescue is an acceptable alternative when there are no other options, but before you do this, consider what will happen to the cat, especially when choosing the particular shelter.  Senior cats, or cats that have health or behavior concerns are almost certain never to be adopted, so please make sure they go to a no-kill rescue, a foster-based one, if you can find one, where they will at least be allowed to live out their days in comfort.  Whatever your decision, make it with compassion, and let it be one that results in a better life for everyone, including you.

Happy Holidays!
-Rachel, Suzie’s Cat Refuge

Putting an End to Catty Behavior in Social Media

cat·ty   

 /ˈkadē/

Adjective
Definition, per Google: 

1) Deliberately hurtful in one’s remarks; spiteful
2) Of or relating to cats; catlike

 

Let’s be honest.  Cats can be jerks.  For all their warm, fuzzy companionship, and their amazing elegance and charm, we also know that they can be lazy, impolite, demanding and arrogant little beings who don’t give a sand-crusted turd about your feelings or anyone else’s. But we don’t care!  For one thing, cats are absurdly cute when they behave this way, and even when it ruffles our feathers a bit, we still open our homes and our hearts to felis catus with the wholehearted acceptance that its very nature comes with a package of quirks.  In short, catty behavior is acceptable and even adorable….in cats!

When it starts to spill over into human interactions, however, the amusement grinds to a snarling, pooping, fur-flying halt.  No matter how you crunch the numbers, this behavior in people is just plain ugly…and I’m sorry, but you cannot even mop up a hairball with the excuse that cattiness is a “part of our nature!” Although it may actually be a part of human nature to a certain extent, also natural to humans are the advanced cognitive mechanisms for recognizing catty tendencies, having the awareness of their negative impact on our relationships, and caring enough about other people to nip ugly behavior in the bud before it escalates.

Nowhere else does catty behavior in humans present itself more spectacularly than in online social media outlets such as Facebook, where total strangers of “like minds” can verbally assault one another from the five-star comforts of their safe abode.  Thanks to the digital barriers of the 21st century, we can finally “exercise our First Amendment rights” with the unbridled (and all too often un-fact-checked) display of inglorious stupidity, worthy of a Jerry Springer episode.  Except….on Facebook, no one gets punched in the face, which is the beauty of it, right?  The unpleasant saga continues until either the defeated party exits the conversation, or the keyboard simply crumbles under our flailing digits, whichever happens first.  Or more likely, the page administrator deletes the entire post, pulling the plug on what might have actually been an interesting discussion in polite company.

Pet-focused pages seem to be especially prone to the kind of discussions that carry a high risk of elevation to cat fight status.  I think it’s important to remember that this is very likely the result of a lot of hearts being in the right place. We communicate with such venom, not because we’re mean-spirited people by nature, but because we are all very passionate about the welfare of animals, particularly cats, and the package that naturally comes with that is a lot of head-strong, conflicting views on how cats should be treated, and what constitutes responsible pet ownership.

Whether to spay and neuter, whether to declaw, proper nutrition, the best way to manage behavior problems, and how many cats a person must own to be labeled a “hoarder” are just some of the topics that I’ve seen stir controversy among cat lovers.  Sorry, although they are worthy of discussion, I won’t be sharing my personal views on those topics here.  Many of you already know where I stand on them anyway, and ultimately, it’s not about where we stand so much as how we treat people when we talk about it. With that being said, the next time you find yourself online, in a heated exchange with your fellow cat people (or any people, for that matter), I ask you to please consider the following:

1) Obey the rules of the page that you’re commenting on.  Or, at the very least, understand that if your comments are deleted, or you are blocked from participating in future discussions, it’s neither an infringement on your right to free speech, nor a personal attack on you for stating an opinion.  It’s a sure sign that your written communication skills need work, so take the hint, and come back again when you’ve learned to speak your mind in a way that shows respect to the other readers on the page.

2) Before you publicly roast an individual, consider whether you would take a softer approach if you knew that they:

  • just lost a child to suicide
  • were recently diagnosed with a terminal illness
  • nearly got beaten to death by an abusive spouse, or
  • need I go on?

When the life circumstances and/or state of mind of the stranger with whom you are chatting are unknown, please consider that your negative comments might be doing more harm than you think.

3) Opinions can be stated very effectively without the use of sarcasm, name calling, profanity, or personal attacks.  When somebody says something that you don’t agree with, simply explain, in a matter-of-fact way why you don’t agree, and move along.  There’s no need to criticize, and you’re just there to present your thoughts alongside everyone else’s, not “win the argument,” or take over the entire discussion.

4) What we believe to be “facts” are sometimes really no more than just things we heard, somewhere, at some point.  Do some additional research before you comment, especially on topics that you haven’t read up on for a while.  Sometimes new studies emerge that bring long-held beliefs into question, and it’s always better to be armed with the most up-to-date and relevant knowledge, especially if you’re about to light someone on fire over it.

5) Just because a person is wrong, doesn’t mean they’re stupid, and just because they won’t take your advice doesn’t mean they don’t care about their cats.  They may simply prefer to take the advice of their vet over that of a stranger on the internet, and you have to admit, it’s kind of hard to argue with that logic.

6) It’s about the cats, not your lofty credentials. If a discussion that started over the grain-free diet controversy has suddenly erupted into a squabble over which of you has the least embarrassing resume´, then you’re on the wrong topic.  Quit stroking your ego, and get back to the cats.

7) As they say at the local tavern, “Take it outside!”  Suppose we agree that no one can be nice all the time, and that sometimes there’s just no way to respond to an imbecile than going balls-to-the-wall medieval on their ass.  Fortunately, there is an outlet for that too.  It’s called private messaging. Keep it off of the public page, so that others may continue engaging in a civilized talk.

In conclusion, social media is a wonderful tool that allows us to discuss more topics of interest with more people. Catty behavior notwithstanding, overall, I have benefited greatly from the discussions that I’ve had with my online cat-loving friends.  Although the anonymity aspect of online communication does make it easier to burn people without any obvious consequences, don’t forget that it also allows us the ability to put more thought into our comments.  Unlike face-to-face communication, where the pressure to respond immediately often interferes with our ability to say the right thing, when engaged in online chat, we can actually take time to put together well-crafted, thoughtful comments with the power to enrich the discussion, rather than take it in an ugly direction.  And finally, if we’re going to allow our cat’s behavior to influence us, perhaps we should stay focused on being more playful, resourceful, and low-maintenance.  We should probably take more naps too.

Best Regards,

-Rachel
Suzie’s Cat Refuge

 

Getting to the “Raw” “Grains” of the Diet Controversy

Very little is said about feline nutrition that doesn’t draw criticism from somebody.  What people feed their cats is almost as much a source of pride for themselves as it is sustenance for the cat.  Opinions range from the assertion that cats should only eat raw meat, to the laid back view that you can’t go wrong with dry Purina, the occasional can of tuna, and whatever scraps fall from the dinner table.  Regardless of what food you choose for your cat, chances are that you are not lukewarm on this topic.  You have a strong concern for the welfare of your “baby”, you’ve taken the time to do a little research, and you are firm in your belief that you’re giving your cat the right food. That’s great!  The fact that people don’t take their cat’s diet lightly is a true sign of responsible ownership.  However, the questions that remain, especially for new cat owners who want to make the best choice, but are confused by the overwhelming sea of options, are, 1) What food actually is best for cats?  And, 2) What information should be relied upon to answer question #1?

Nature-based Nutrition

On the one hand, there are those who insist that nature knows best.  Generally speaking, I fall into that category.  When I step out of the shower, I slather my body with pure coconut oil, not Aveeno, and certainly not Vaseline Intensive Care!  Likewise, when it comes to the food that I eat (nevermind my weakness for McDonald’s big macs), I usually seek out foods that are minimally processed, with ingredients that I can actually pronounce.  Thus, I sympathize with those who select cat foods containing the few simple ingredients most appropriate for an obligate carnivore, with minimal fillers, no artificial colors or flavors, and certainly no roadkill or diseased, euthanized slaughterhouse animals!

One growing trend with those intentions in mind is the raw meat, or so-called BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods) diet.  I really don’t have enough experience with BARF diets to either recommend or boycott them, although when Suzie was here, I periodically fed her little pieces of raw chicken and giblets.  Boy, she certainly wouldn’t have minded if I had given her nothing else!  She gobbled up those treats like she hadn’t seen a morsel of food in six months!  Raw meat, however, was never a staple in Suzie’s diet.  Once, I attempted to switch her over to a product called Rad Cat, a commercially-produced raw diet for cats (http://www.radfood.com/), but alas, Suzie was unimpressed, so I kept her on her usual diet of Natural Balance grain-free kibble, with occasional canned and raw treats.  She lived for 18 years, with no noticeable health problems until about two weeks prior to her death.

The consensus among veterinarians (at least most that I’ve talked to) seems to be that any benefits of feeding raw foods are heavily outweighed by the risk of the various “cooties” that they might contain, such as salmonella and listeria bacteria.  According to a 2011 article published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3003575/), there are at least some studies giving credence to this concern.  Not all vets are opposed to raw foods, however.  One proponent of raw diets is Dr. Dodds, who, in her blog, discusses her research findings about raw food in dogs (http://drjeandoddspethealthresource.tumblr.com/post/134679160366/raw-diet-bloodwork-dog#.V1SfXpErKwU).  Another proponent is a local feline vet, Dr. Susan Swanson from The Cat Care Clinic in Mahtomedi, MN.  Here is a short video of Dr. Swanson’s suggestions regarding raw diets for cats http://www.holisticcatclinic.com/tag/raw-food/.  The Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition does not condone feeding raw food to cats, but it does point out that a cat’s stomach, being highly acidic, gives it an enhanced ability to break down harmful bacteria (https://www.waltham.com/dyn/_assets/_pdfs/waltham-booklets/Essentialcatanddognutritionbookletelectronicversion.pdf).  If you do decide to go the BARF route, the FDA gives some excellent suggestions on how to mitigate the risk of food-born illnesses when feeding raw food to your pets (http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealthLiteracy/ucm373757.htm).

I personally know at least a few people who claimed that certain health problems in their cats and dogs went away completely when they began feeding them exclusively raw meat.  On the one hand, I see no reason why those people shouldn’t stick with what, in their experience, works best, as long as they’re taking the proper safety precautions.  I would, however, urge them to consider whether the rawness of the food is really what’s doing the trick.  Isn’t it also possible that the food they were eating before they were switched contained an allergen not present in the raw diet?  *shrug* Just something to consider.  To those who profess raw meat as the only healthful option for cats, I would politely reject that argument, based on the sketchy assumptions on which it is made.  The most common one that I hear is that a cat’s health relies on a diet that mimics, as closely as possible, what it would eat if it were living in the wild.

Felines are obligate carnivores, which means they require a diet that largely consists of meat (http://cats.about.com/od/catfoodglossary/g/obligcarnivore.htm).  Domestic, companion cats, however, are not exactly wild carnivores at this stage of their evolution and breeding.  They’ve lived among humans for over 3,000 years, during which time, their systems have likely adapted to eating other foods that are not always raw, or even necessarily meat.  Furthermore, there are plenty of examples to suggest that what animals eat in the wild has less to do with what’s good for them, and more to do with how hungry they are at the time, and what food sources are available.  To illustrate my point, here’s a disturbing YouTube video of a deer eating a bird https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQOQdBLHrLk.  Enjoy!  🙂

An even better example than deer eating birds is the strangely inappropriate cuisine choice among panda bears.  Pandas have scraped by on a bamboo-only diet for centuries, and yet they possess neither the gut flora, nor the enzymes required for digesting it.  They eat close to 30 pounds of bamboo per day, and only digest about 17% of what they consume.  All evidence points to the conclusion that panda bears are carnivores, and yet they will eat little other than bamboo, and they have survived (however as an endangered species), to the present day (http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150519-pandas-not-designed-to-eat-bamboo).

Now, I don’t know if deer gain any nutritional benefit from eating birds, or what would happen to pandas if they were forced to eat meat, but if we’re going with the assumption that a cat’s carnivore instincts will naturally drive him to eat what is healthiest, I know that when cats are left to their own devices, “in the wild”, they often consume foods that are not meat, even when ample small-prey sources are available.  If you’ve ever lived in Hawaii (I have not, but some relatives of mine lived in Maui for several years), then you know that the Hawaiian islands carry an overabundance of feral cats, who, in additional to wreaking havoc on wild bird populations, will clear an avocado tree of its fruit faster than you can say, “Holy hairball!” While toxic to some herbivores such as rabbits and horses, there is no evidence that avocados are harmful to cats, although a diet consisting of nothing else would certainly result in a horrendous case of diarrhea.  Avocado oil is listed as an ingredient in some cat foods, such as AvoDerm (http://www.avodermnatural.com/all-products/cat-foods/wet/chicken-formula), and the fruit itself may offer a good source of B vitamins and potassium (http://drjeandoddspethealthresource.tumblr.com/post/43604617320/avocados-dogs-cats#.V2WMvpErKwU).

If domesticated cats are adapted to safely consume some vegetation, and even draw some nutritional benefits from it, then I have to wonder if the “grain-free” cat food trend (foods that are absent of wheat, corn, soy, oats, barley, or rice) may also be none other than the result of persuasive marketing.  The assumptions behind grain-free seem to be that, 1) An obligate carnivore shouldn’t be eating grains, and 2) Cats are unable to digest grains and are often allergic to them.  Even in my own experience, I’ve noticed a pretty significant reduction in hairball problems when I have fed grain-free foods to my cats, although I can’t say for sure that this was due to the absence of grains, versus the presence of other ingredients common in grain-free recipes (beet pulp, pumpkin puree, and chicory root, to name a few).  How do we know that the overall, improved digestibility of these foods isn’t due to some other factor?  A PetMD article by Dr. Ken Tudor raises the point that grain-free diets tend to be made from better quality ingredients in general than many conventional diets (http://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/ktudor/2012/august/is_grain_free_really_the_answer-26668), which could also explain why cats seem to do better on them.

Science-based Nutrition

Plenty of peer-reviewed studies exist to suggest that grains are, in most cases, easily digested by cats, are not common allergens in cats, and may even offer some nutritional benefits (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3775244/). Thus, the foods that contain them are not likely to harm your cat, at least not for the reason that they contain grains.  A common criticism of these “studies,” however, is that they are largely funded by big pet food companies such as Hills, Royal Canin, and Purina (owned, respectively, by parent companies Colegate-Palmolive, Mars Company, and Nestle).  Can we trust what these studies have to say when the companies funding them are the very ones selling us our products?  As a person with no particular love for corporate America, I can definitely understand why people would see that as a conflict of interest.  However, keep in mind that the research method (not the source of funding), is what ultimately determines whether a study gives useful information or biased information (http://physics.ucr.edu/~wudka/Physics7/Notes_www/node6.html).  To ensure that studies are carried out in a manner as free from bias as possible, they have to undergo a rigorous peer-review process before they can be published in any reputable scientific journal (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3474310/). For that reason, I have to believe there is at least some merit to the studies done on pet food.  There is, however, still a bias in the sense that the companies that are selling raw and/or grain free foods aren’t conducting nearly as much research on their products, and we don’t have any way of knowing what the findings would be if they did.  Perhaps the holistic/natural pet food movement is accomplishing wonderful things for our cats, and we just don’t have the research to prove it yet.

The Effect of Diet on Lifespan

After poking around for information on whose cats are living the longest, and what foods might have contributed to such a long life, I’m somewhat baffled by the findings.  Jake Perry (http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/how-to-raise-a-165-year-old-cat), an 85-year-old plumber from Austin Texas, was the proud owner of, not one, but two cats that were in the Guinness Book of World Records for most years lived.  The first was a Sphynx/Devon mix named Granpa, who lived to the age of 34.  The second, who, to this day, is the reigning champion of longest-lived cats, was a female, spotted tabby named Crème Puff, who lived to age of 38!  What did Mr. Perry feed them?…………*drum roll*…………*wait for it!*………..Commercially-produced dry cat food (the article doesn’t specify the type or brand), along with a daily breakfast of eggs, bacon, broccoli, and coffee.  Coffee!  For realzies??!  I’m sorry, but I can’t bring myself to recommend that you give your cats coffee, or even try it on my own cats, for that matter.  But still, given this gentleman’s track record, you really have to wonder.  Maybe bacon is the reason why Granpa and Crème Puff lived so long.  I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t need no scientific hocus pocus to know that bacon cures everything from plantar warts to whiney attitudes!

The oldest cat that I ever knew was a cat that I grew up with, long before the natural pet food movement became a thing.  She was a raspy-voiced, curmudgeonly gray calico named Shadow.  She lived for 21 years and her diet consisted of both dry and wet Meow Mix, a cheap food laden with artificial everything, and corn as the first ingredient. *shrug* Go figure.

Making a Selection

I’m afraid I’m still in pursuit of that magical recipe that’s going to restore balance to The Force, bring world peace, save the planet, ward off everything from hairballs to kidney disease, and ensure that my cat (and yours!) lives to the age of 107.  If I ever find a food like that, y’all are gonna be the first to know!  Meanwhile, although I won’t tell you what to feed your furry companion, in my recent studies and personal experiences, I’ve managed to draw some basic conclusions about cat food that you might find helpful.  Or not.  In any case, here they are:

1) A food that your cat will eat is more nourishing than a food he will NOT eat.

As they say in the old country, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.” Suppose you do discover the Holy Grail of cat diets.  Will it amount to a hill of beans if your cat won’t eat it?  Mind you, there are ways of making an unappetizing dish more appealing to your finicky feline.  I’ve grown rather fond of a product called Liv-a-Littles (https://www.chewy.com/halo-liv-littles-grain-free-100-wild/dp/32776).  It’s a freeze dried meat product that can easily be crushed into a powder and sprinkled over your cat’s food.  I have seen many picky cats devour their food after it’s been dusted with Liv-a-Littles, but alas, some cats are just too smart to be fooled in that fashion.  On that note, find the best quality food that your cat will eat, and go with that.

2) A food that fits your budget is potentially better than one you can’t afford.

Diet is but one component of your cat’s overall health. It’s an important one, no doubt, but there are others to consider as well, such as routine veterinary care.  If you’re spending so much money on food that you can’t afford to take your cat to the vet, then you might do better to downgrade to a food that allows you to put a little money aside for upcoming vet bills, which you very likely will have at some point, regardless of diet.

3) If your cat is healthy and happy on the diet that she’s on, then there’s probably no reason to change it.

At the risk of overdoing the cliches in this article, “If it aint broke, don’t fix it.”  If your cat has clear, bright eyes, a soft, glossy coat, and minimal-to-nonexistent bowel or tummy upsets, then why risk causing a problem that wasn’t already there?  Keeping her food consistent, even if said diet contains such perceivedly sinister ingredients as corn gluten *gasp!*, may nonetheless be healthier for her digestive ecosystem than making an unnecessary change.

4) There is no one-size-fits-all approach to cat food.

Different cats have different genetics, different food preferences, and varying predispositions toward one health condition or another.  A cat that suffers from diabetes may require a different diet than one that suffers from kidney disease, and so on and so forth.  Some cats have guts of steel, as well as rock-solid immune systems, and seem to thrive whether they eat Natural Balance or Hormel Spam.  That being said, a good food is one that meets your cat’s unique requirements, which is something that can only be decided by knowing your cat, experimenting with different foods until you find one that does the trick, and consulting with your veterinarian.

*sigh* And lastly….

5) Raking people over the coals for the food they feed their cats is rude, presumptuous, eliteist, and generally unhelpful.

I could probably write an entire article about some of the mean-spirited behavior that I’ve witnessed in the animal welfare community, particularly online, where people don’t have to worry about standing face-to-face with the complete stranger who they just insulted in a public forum.  By all means, if you have knowledge regarding feline nutrition that you think might be helpful to the person that your comment is aimed, then feel free to share said pearls of wisdom.  But either cite your source (you must have gotten your information from somewhere), or make it clear that your statements are anecdotal, and not rooted in scientific findings.  Regardless of your knowledge, comments like, “If you really cared about your cat, then you wouldn’t feed him Wiskas,” have no place in the civilized world.  And that statement is bullocks to begin with.  What people feed their cats is generally based on their personal level of nutrition knowledge, their budget, the advice that they’ve gotten from their vet, and in some cases, what their cat will even eat.  Please show some respect toward your fellow cat lovers so that we can stay focused on finding the real answers to our questions about nutrition.  Given how much disagreement exists, even among experts who share the same credentials, I highly doubt if those questions are as easy to answer as we would like to think.

Disclaimer:  I am neither a veterinarian, nor a qualified nutrition expert.  This article is for discussion purposes only.  Statements contained therein (particularly those concerning bacon and Spam) should be taken with a huge grain of salt (pun intended).  Please consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your cat’s diet. 

On Their Terms

 

Whether you’re a cat person to the core, an animal lover in general, an adamant dog person, or even somebody who prefers the company of humans only, you probably have some idea, based on the title, what this article is going to be about.  Cats, after all, are known by people all across the land for having that certain special trait, that universal preference for having 100% control over everything from the placement of their water dish to the circumstances and freqency in which they interact with humans.  I say this trait is universal because I’ve yet to observe one exception, even taking into account the unique and complex personalities of individual cats.  Make no mistake.  Even if your cat follows you everywhere, greets you at the door, curls up in your lap the moment you sit down, and sleeps right next to your head every single night, he’s doing all of that because he feels inclined to, not because you want him to.

This feline quirk, more often than not, enters our minds as nothing more than the popular internet meme, “Dogs have owners.  Cats have staff.”  We roll our eyes and chuckle over the matter, and then we get on with our day.  We don’t take it too seriously, and in general, there’s no need to, as long as your cat is adjusted to her environment and bonds well with at least some of the people living in it.  But never is our understanding of the universal on-their-terms code more critical than when encountered with cats who, unlike the one described above, are aloof, skittish, and distrustful of humans.  The extent to which a cat’s trust can be gained, after all, determines whether she will be happy living with you, whether you will enjoy her as a companion, and in the case of a feline rescuer, whether you will be successful in finding her a suitable home.

Cats that flee when humans approach, and spend the majority of their time hiding, may do so for a variety of reasons.  In many cases, it’s as simple as not having been adequately socialized during the age when cats will most readily bond with humans (2-12 weeks old, according to the NYC Feral Cat Initiative http://www.nycferalcat.org/newsletter/2009-02/shycat.htm).  In other cases, the cat may have had bad experiences with humans.  Cats that roamed the streets for any length of time might have been chased down, had rocks thrown at them, or suffered any manner of unfriendly human encounters. Even cats that were kept safe indoors might have been taunted too frequently by unruly children, or lived with well-intended, but ignorant people, who simply didn’t understand the proper way to interact with their cats.

Regardless of the source of a cat’s anxiety, the way you begin to repair the damage is the same, and it all comes down to the three words in bold print at the top of this page.  It’s not a matter of training the cat to be friendly.  It’s a matter of tuning into your cat’s personality, getting to know his likes and dislikes, understanding what he needs in order to develop a secure bond with you, and adjusting your behavior toward him accordingly.

In the past year, I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with two different cats that each presented me with a unique socialization challenge.  Both stories ended well, and in both cases, the most likely reason for their shyness was the age at which they came in contact with humans.  I have no reason to think they were ever abused or mistreated.  They simply came to the domestic world a little bit too late, and therefore, it took them longer to adjust.  The first of these elusive felines was my quirky, spicy-as-cumin little girl Farrah (pictured above), who I took in when she was about 11 weeks old.

Farrah (aka Miss Kittenface) had been born and raised in a dilapidated, leaky shed that was attached to a small, privately owned community bar.  She came from a litter of three, and it was my original intent to bring all three kittens and their mother to the refuge, before the shed, which had been condemned by the city, would be torn down.  Unfortunately, there were many complications that prevented me from doing this, and Farrah was the only one I was able to get.  The kittens’ mother, thankfully, was eventually taken by a local rescue, but the other two kittens remain at large, one having disappeared entirely, and the other, a beautiful black and white tuxedo male, still wanders over to my friend Donna’s house every day for food.  Perhaps one day, Donna will be able to employ her highly imaginative cat whispering skills to lure him into a carrier or live trap so that I can get him vetted and find him a home.

Farrah was one terrified little kitten on her first day among the two-legged folk.  Prior to then, I didn’t even know it was possible for shrieks at such high decibles to radiate from the mouth of a 2.5-pound critter! While at the vet, she literally scaled the walls to get away, and the tech had to throw a towel over her in order to subdue her.  Once wrapped in the towel, however, she quieted down and remained still, allowing the doctor to look her over for fleas, determine her sex, draw her blood, and administer her first shots.

After getting a clean bill of health, I brought Farrah home, where my training as her faithful servant would begin.  Farrah made her terms abundantly clear from the very first week, and those terms, omitting, of course, the one that says “Never take me to the vet ever again,” are outlined as follows:

Term# 1: Leave me in my hiding spot.

Farrah was never violent or aggressive toward people, but for the first few days, she would hiss when people approached her in her hidey hole.  She wasn’t ready to explore the room, even when humans were absent, and for a while, it was necessary to bring food, water, and her litter box directly to her so that she didn’t have to venture out of her comfort zone to access them.  It didn’t take long, however, for her to figure out that these strange two-legged beings were the ones bringing her all of this nice stuff, and by the third day, not only had she stopped hissing, but she would even purr when we reached in to pet her.

Term# 2: Sit on the floor and be quiet.

Up against a wall in our foster room are two soft cushions from an old loveseat that had fallen apart.  They provide the perfect place for people to sit comfortably at ground level while foster cats sniff them out, and decide if they’re trustworthy.  As long as I sat there quietly and didn’t make any sudden movements, Farrah would prance around the room and play with her toys.  She still didn’t want to be approached, and she would run and hide as soon as I stood up, but I could sit in the one spot, and drag a string across the floor, and Farrah would happily chase after it.

Term# 3: Bring me lots of canned food.

Farrah always had an abundant supply of dry food that she could dive into any time she wanted, but canned food, as every cat knows, is something truly magical.  Every day, I would bring Farrah a small bowl of canned food, at first, directly to her hiding spot, but once her curiosity instincts kicked in, and she began exploring the room, I started moving the bowl closer and closer to where I was seated.  One week after I had brought Farrah home, I set her food bowl upon my leg.  It took a little while, but she cautiously wandered over, and eventually, she crawled up onto my lap and began eating.  She even allowed me to pet her while she ate.  Afterwards, she purred loudly and for the first time, I was able to slowly pick her up.  Tuckered out from lots of play and a protein-induced coma, she plopped down under my chin for a nap that lasted 45 minutes.  Farrah and I have been good buds ever since then.

Unfortunately, though, Farrah decided pretty early on that there are two kinds of people in the world; Mama (that’s me), and cat-flesh-devouring psychopaths.  Guess which category YOU fit into!  Farrah had become a one-person cat, and a tragic event added further challenges to getting her socialized with humans other than myself.  Our own cat, Pepe, had just been diagnosed with FLV, which meant that Farrah would have to remain upstairs, away from Pepe, and for the most part, away from everyone else, since I’m the only one who sleeps up there.  Thus, her socialization opportunities were greatly limited, which in turn, made it difficult to get her adopted.  In the end though, Pepe crossed the Rainbow Bridge and Farrah was able to take his place as our foster failure.  Adoption challenge averted!

The following Healthy Pets article (http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2015/11/15/socializing-shy-cats.aspx), for me, has become a cat socialization bible of sorts.  I’ve shared it on Facebook once or twice, and recommended it to people I know who have felines that suffer from the scaredy cat syndrome.  It’s a simple, easy read, and has many helpful pointers.  You can read the entire article at your leisure, of course, but there are a couple of tips from the article that I would like to discuss here in more detail.

Tip# 5, along with other valuable advice, mentions, in passing, the following tidbit: “…and don’t stare at her [referring to the cat], because this can be perceived as threatening.” Yes!  The eye contact thing!  In all honesty, I really haven’t decided if cats actually feel threatened by this, or if they just find it awkward and embarrassing.  Even cats that are friendly and well socialized drop plenty of subtle hints that they don’t much care for it when we look at them.  Ever notice that your cat stops playing the moment he notices you watching him, or how he becomes instantly more affectionate when you switch your focus from him to something else (like reading the paper, for example)?

My old black cat Pugsley and I used to play a little game.  I would sit on the recliner, and Pugsley would sit on the floor and look up at me.  If I looked down at him, and beckoned for him to jump up into my lap, he wouldn’t budge.  He would look away, and sit there like he was waiting for me to do something.  If, however, I looked the opposite direction and began singing the I-am-ignoring-the-kitty song, he would immediately jump up on my lap and start headbutting me for attention.  Okay, so the silly song probably wasn’t necessary, but…*shrug*…choice of music nothwithstanding, do keep in mind, for the more timid cats, as well as the affectionate ones, that not staring, or alternatively, making only brief eye contact and then quickly looking away, or even ignoring them altogether for a while, can go a long way toward getting your kitty to seek attention from you.

I also have some additional points to make regarding tip# 6.  “Never force anything on your cat.  Don’t pull him from his hiding spot or hold him against his will (unless there’s an emergency of some kind and you need to move him).” I am in 100% agreement about not holding a cat against his will, unless it’s a matter of protecting his health and safety.  On the point about not pulling the cat from his hiding spot, however, while this is generally true, I recently learned that there’s room for some degree of experimentation.

Take the example of my most recent foster cat, a beautiful, brown and white tabby named Jackie (pictured on the Meet the Cats! page).  Jackie didn’t budge from her hiding spot for over a week, other than to eat and do her business, but only when no one was present.  I noticed, however, that when I reached my hand in to pet her, she would purr loudly, and even roll around on her back and allow me to scratch her belly.  Not exactly the kind of behavior you expect from a timid cat, and yet, she was VERY timid, even moreso than Farrah had been in the beginning, and for a much longer period of time.

One day, I decided to lift up the recliner that Jackie was hiding under, and gently pick her up.  She did not protest when I did this.  Furthermore, when I sat on the chair with her, she resumed her purr, curled up in my lap, and napped for about 30 minutes.  In the days that followed, Jackie was much more inclined to explore the room, and hang out on the cat tower rather than under the recliner.  It was as if she just needed somebody to show her that the room was safe, and people aren’t so bad.  On the other hand, when I attempted this same stunt with another person in the room, Jackie just about tore me to ribbons before diving toward the window, causing the shades to come crashing to the floor, and then she scurried back to her hidey hole where she remained for the evening.

Whereas Farrah is a one-person cat, Jackie, it turned out, is more of a one-person-at-a-time cat.  That being said, not all cats are the same, and what’s comfortable in one situation might not be in another.  But trying different things to see how she reacts, even if it goes against the expert advice, can sometimes help you get to know her better, and subsequently learn the most effective ways to interact with her.

After about one month, Jackie was adopted into a quiet home, with no small children, and no other pets.  Just like she had at my place, it took her a long time to come out of her shell, but with lots of patience, and a little bit of coaching from me, Jackie’s new humans ended up with a sweet, lovable, and very happy little kitty, who will probably just never be the life of the party.  Like Farrah, Jackie may never be comfortable around strangers, but she will, in all likelihood, remain closely bonded with the few individuals that are familiar to her, which is enough to make the household happy, and that’s what counts.

Socializing timid cats after they’re adopted, in many ways, is the lesser challenge when compared to the one that comes immediately before that, which is getting them adopted in the first place.  Especially when presented with more appealing options, not many people will open their home to a cat that presents no obvious evidence that he will ever warm up to them, even though he very likely will if given the chance.  It takes time and patience to earn a fearful cat’s trust that not everyone is willing to give, and even some who are willing may not be able to provide the necessary living environment.  Whereas cats that have a friendly and laid back temperament can live practically anywhere, including barns with horses, houses with kids and dogs, and lots of busy people, etc., cats like Jackie and Farrah would find that sort of environment highly stressful. Thus, there’s a limited pool of adoption candidates for shy cats, and shelters are overrun with them.  The Humane Society refers to these cats as forget-me-nots (https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/adoption/forgetmenot?page=1).

If you’re currently on the lookout for a feline companion, and you live in a quiet home with no small children and minimal human activity, please consider, not only which cat you want the most, but also which cat you can help the most.  The cat that immediately takes to you will likely do the same with every adoption prospect.  Let that cat go to the person with the fast-paced, chaotic lifestyle and house full of kids.  You have the perfect home for a special cat, and there are many reason why cats like Farrah and Jackie, who don’t necessarily show well in shelters, are worthy of your time and effort.  For one thing, once you’ve earned their trust, you’ll have a friend like no other.  Farrah still wants nothing to do with anyone other than me, and you know what?  I’m actually rather touched by that.  Just remember that the bond develops on their terms, not yours, and with a little bit of patience and gentle care, they’ll eventually come to decide, on their own accord, that being loved by you is actually kind of a groovy thing.

Best Regards!

-Rachel
Suzie’s Cat Refuge

 

 

 

 

Pepe’s Legacy and the Story of his Unfortunate Diagnosis

Firstly, I must apologize for neglecting this page for so long.  It was not my intention to be one of those bloggers who never blogs.  In fact, after my last story ended so happily (three kittens going to good homes, opening my foster space to new adventures), I assumed that I would actually be quite busy on here, with all sorts of new tales to tell.  And there is a tale (or….tail?), a really interesting one, in fact, but it was a long time in the making, and I was reluctant to begin telling it when I wasn’t sure how it would end.  Much of this story is so utterly heartbreaking, too, that telling it before it could end on a positive note just seemed sort of a cruel way to treat my audience, the few of you that there are.  But now that the ordeal is done (a fact that I still have very mixed feelings about), I can finally begin unraveling it for you.

If you’re a sentimental fool like me, then you might want to grab some tissues before reading this.  This was a sad deal, but I assure you, there is a silver lining here.  More than one, even!  At the very least, I won’t be talking about buttholes this time.  I swear on Suzie’s ashes that not one…single…anus…will be discussed in detail, or in passing, for the duration of this entry.  No promises about poop though!  But if you can’t talk about poop, then why are you here?  Surely, a blog that discusses knitting would be more palatable for you.

Pepe was a sweet and beautiful tuxedo kitten who my partner, Bunny, and I, adopted from a local rescue, after fostering him and his two siblings for a few months, until they were ready to be rehomed.  My ex-husband, Joel, adopted the two tailless Manx kittens, Daphne and Luigi, and Bunny and I decided that Pepe, with his glorious long tail and heart-shaped forehead mark would become our “foster failure”.  That’s the term affectionately applied to animals who are kept by their fosterers (rather than placed for public adoption), because they’re too amazing to be parted with.

All three kittens appeared to be in suitable health at the time of their adoption, and since they had already tested negative for Feline Leukemia (FLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), any intermittent symptoms that we had noticed were presumed by us, as well as their doctors, to be no more than the residual effects of their rough start in life and their still-budding immune systems.  The occasional sneeze, chapped nose, little bead of eye goop, or softer-than-average stool can have multiple benign causes, and simply were not big concerns to us…until…suddenly, they were.

In late May, three months after Pepe had become a permanent resident of our home (and two months after I had already taken in two more foster cats), his eyes had started to look red, and were producing a lot of yellow, goopy discharge.  He also sometimes appeared feverish, shivering away while resting in his kitty bed.  These symptoms notwithstanding, he didn’t seem to feel too bad.  He still had a ravenous appetite and plenty of energy.  Concerned that Pepe might be suffering from an upper respiratory infection, or other nonlifethreatening thing that could be cured with antibiotics, I decided it was time for a trip to Banfield clinic, where I don’t normally go, but they happened to have an opening at the time that Pepe needed to be seen.

Upon taking Pepe to the vet, the doctor pulled up his medical history in some sort of database, and noted the age at which he and his siblings had undergone the combo test for FLV and FIV.  She expressed the concern that at eight weeks of age, the test results may not have been accurate, and that a retest at twelve to fourteen weeks would have been more telling.

This, I have found, is a topic of some controversy.  Since this whole ordeal began, I’ve consulted with multiple veterinarians on the issue of testing.  About half of them confirmed what the Banfield doctor said, that kittens infected with FLV in utero may not test positive until at least twelve weeks of age, for the reason that the antibodies from their mother (which haven’t died off yet) can interfere with the results of the test.  The other half of the doctors I spoke to said that the test used on Pepe and his siblings (called a Witness test, product of Zoetis https://www.zoetisus.com/products/cats/simplysmarterchoice.aspx) is not influenced by maternal antibodies at all.  They contended that the Witness test detects the antigens (fragments of the virus itself), not the antibodies produced to fight it off.  Thus, kittens can be tested at any age.  Some, however, went on to say that although the Witness, ELISA, and other in-house tests commonly used are not rendered falsely negative due to antibodies, the antigen levels must reach a certain height before they’re detectable, and how long it takes for the disease to progress that far in kittens can range from several weeks to several months.  The later opinion, if true, presents a frustrating dilemma for members of the animal rescue community, who must conserve resources while practicing due diligence in making sure that cats are healthy before being placed for adoption.

Once again, this time at eight months old, Pepe’s blood was drawn for a second screening.  I sat at the clinic waiting for the test results, biting my nails and sweating bullets while Pepe wandered curiously about the room.  During this fifteen-minute period, which seemed more like twelve hours, a sense of impending doom came over me.  I somehow knew that this was not going to be a happy day.  Pepe, I think, knew nothing at all, other than the room smelled funny, and had a lot of interesting doo-dads to tinker about with. A while later, the doctor emerged from the lab with a somber expression, and promptly informed me that our new “baby”, who we had no prior reason to believe would not live healthily for fifteen years plus, was negative for FIV, but positive for the Leukemia virus.

Not to be confused with FIV (often referred to as the feline version of AIDS), which is a similar, yet distinctly different disease, feline leukemia (FLV), described as a retrovirus (http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/Health_Information/brochure_felv.cfm), was first discovered in the 1960s.  It infects approximately 1-8% of all healthy cats, kittens being the highest at risk, and may be contracted in the womb, or from direct contact with the saliva, milk, nasal secretions, blood, or urine of infected cats.

Feline leukemia is not transmittable to humans, dogs, or any animals other than cats, and since it doesn’t survive in the environment for very long, cats that are kept indoors, and/or away from cats that are infected, are said to be at a negligble risk.  60-80% of cats that are exposed to this virus will fight it off before it has the chance to affect their system.  In the remaining 20-40% of cases, the virus eventually settles into the bone marrow, at which point, the cat will remain infected for life, and will either succumb to the disease through a wide range of possible afflictions, or they will become carriers and display no symptoms at all for months, or even several years.

FLV weakens the cat’s immune response, resulting in symptoms that may vary significantly from one cat to another.  Some cats may develop cancers of the lymph nodes, while others might suffer skin and mouth inflammations, as well as any range of persistent bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.  A vaccine for FLV is widely available, reasonably inexpensive, and does not interfere with test results.  It is recommended only for cats that are at a high risk for the disease (kittens under one year of age, any cats that are kept outdoors, or that roam freely among cats that have tested positive).  The vaccine will do nothing to protect cats that have already tested positive for the virus.

This information, in case you are wondering, mostly comes from the Long Beach Animal Hospital in Long Beach, CA (http://www.lbah.com/word/feline/feline-leukemia-virus-felv/), because I feel that this is one of the most comprehensive online articles on FLV.  The same data, however, with slight variations, can be obtained from multiple sources.  Please conduct your own research, and feel free to bring me up to speed if you think that any of the information I’ve presented here is flawed.

Before I continue, allow me to offer some perspective on just how tragic this diagnosis was to Bunny and I, as well as to Joel, who I immediately contacted after receiving the news about Pepe.  As I previously mentioned, Joel had adopted Pepe’s brother and sister, who I now suspected might be infected, and I urged Joel to have them tested immediately.  Just as I had feared, Daphne and Luigi tested positive as well, probably because they all shared the womb of an infected queen, not because they were exposed to an infected cat after they were born.  All cats that were exposed to the three kittens during my fostering of them had already tested negative for the disease, and were not likely the cause for our kittens becoming infected.

It had already not been a good year for us, cat wise.  Eight months prior to Pepe’s diagnosis, before Suzie’s Cat Refuge was a “thing”, I, as you know, had lost Suzie to kidney disease, an event that was so devastating for me, I had almost vowed to never get another cat.  Then, three months after Suzie’s journey to the Rainbow Bridge, early last January, Bunny’s 13-year-old orange tabby named Bean, succumbed to pancreatitis.  And THEN (I swear, I’m almost done), not more than 24 hours after Bean’s passing, Joel texted me with the news that our 18-year-old black cat Pugsley, had, like Suzie, lost his battle with old age and a good life.  These three deaths, which had occurred in as many months, were a big part of the reason why we had decided to adopt the kittens.  But now we were faced with the all likely probability that our little ones, too, would pass, and tragically before their time.  And, of course, I wouldn’t be able to take in any more foster cats either.

So, there we were, back at home with Pepe, who was sick with a disease that we knew little about.  It suddenly dawned on me, also, that we hadn’t received much in the way of professional advice.  The doctor who diagnosed Pepe had not prescribed or recommended any treatments, and being too distraught by the news to even think to ask, I had no idea how we were supposed to proceed.  Pepe, on the other hand, knew exactly what to do.  He continued to wave his sassy tail that he was so proud of, being the only one of his litter to possess one, I suppose, and he played with catnip and killed flies as though no other course of action was needed. The one remedy that I knew about was Lysine, a supplement recommended for boosting the immune system and treating an array of eye problems.  I ordered a product online called Viralys, which is a powdered Lysine supplement, specially formulated for pets (http://www.allivet.com/p-3077-viralys-powder-100-gm.aspx?gclid=CNXL_cy89ckCFQEIaQodNSYKoA), and I began mixing it @ 500mgs, twice daily into Pepe’s canned food.

As much as supplements are criticized for not always having a scientific basis to support their uses, the Viralys seemed to make a difference.  Pepe’s eyes were far less goopy, some days not goopy at all, and even the redness had diminished somewhat.  His appetite and energy levels also remained good, and he continued jumping up on counter tops and batting around the little tinsel ball toy that his brother, Luigi, had previously ripped most of the tinsel out of.  So, it was really just a pathetic little nub at that point, but Pepe thought it was the greatest thing in the world.  In spite of Pepe’s good progress, however, I had the nagging sense that for a disease like FLV, surely, Viralys would not be enough, and we needed to be doing more.

As I expected, the effect of the Lysine was short-lived, and by July, Pepe had taken a turn for the worse.  His eyes were not only goopy again, but they had taken on sort a hazy appearance, and the stuff coming out of them was less like mucous and more like a sticky resin.  One day, I came home from work and found Pepe wandering through the kitchen totally blind, his eyes super-glued shut.  I don’t think that Pepe noticed he was blind though.  He still wandered right up to me, singing his little “mew,” which hadn’t lowered in pitch even though he had, for the most part, graduated kittenhood.  He placed his little white paws up on my knee, and stared at me through closed eyelids as if asking to be picked up, and I held him like a little baby doll while I wiped his eyes clean with a warm, wet cotton round.

While tinkering around on Google, I came across some information about a promising treatment called LTCI (Lymphocyte T-Cell Immunomodulator).  Made by a pharmaceutical company called T-Cyte (http://tcyte.com/), LTCI is the only USDA-approved treatment for both FLV and FIV.  It is a substance derived from the thymus glands of cows, and is said to increase the cat’s immune reponse against the virus.  It is administered by vets only, as as series of injections, the first three of which are given once every seven days, then semimonthly, and then, hopefully, only once every month or two after the cat starts feeling better.

USDA-approval, of course, only attests to the drug’s safety, not its effectiveness, and while studies on this treatment show good results, those studies, like all studies done on any new drug, have their limitations, sample size being a big one in this case.  In a study of only 23 cats, about half of whom suffered from FLV, the other half, FIV, and all at varying stages of the disease, it’s impossible to know for sure if their observed improvement was due to the treatment itself, or some other factor (http://tcyte.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/3.pdf).  However, desperate to try something, and without many options, there was really no doubt in our minds, now, what the next step would be. “Yesterday!” Bunny commented when I posted a link to T-Cyte’s page on his Facebook timeline.  “Let’s get him started on this yesterday!”

*sigh* But it didn’t happen… “yesterday”… today, or even tomorrow, for that matter.  By the way, if you think the human healthcare system is slow and inefficient, try getting immediate care for a chronically ill cat.  LTCI isn’t something that can be picked up at the local Wal-Mart, unfortunately.  It has to be acquired and administered by a licensed veterinarian (with good reason), and since it is a fairly new and rarely-used drug that has to be customized for the cat who’s receiving it, even vet clinics don’t carry it on hand.

T-Cyte’s web page has a list of clinics that have ordered LTCI in the past.  One such clinic was the Camden Pet Hospital in North Minneapolis (http://camdenpet.com/), which happens to be located a convenient, seven-minute drive from our house.  Katrina, my next door neighbor, had taken her pets to this clinic on multiple occasions, and had only great things to say about the staff and quality of care there. So, I immediately called them and scheduled an appointment with Dr. Kelsey Johnson, a wonderful lady whose kindness, humility, and dedicated care of Pepe, I am convinced, were the only reasons for his improved quality of life.

Pepe’s first appointment at Camden was productive, but it would not be during this first appointment (nor the second), when he would receive his first treatment.  First, he needed to be examined to assess his overall health.  Next, the T-Cyte company would have to be contacted to determine if there were any changes in the treatment protocol, since it had been three years since any doctor at Camden had prescribed LTCI.  Then, Pepe would have to undergo a series of blood tests.  The first was an ELISA in-house test, to confirm his earlier diagnosis.  The second (which would be performed only if the first test was positive) was an immunoflorescence assay test (IFA), which involved shipping the blood specimen to an out-of-state laboratory, where it would be determined within a few days if the disease had advanced to the bone marrow.  Both of these tests came back positive, which was no surprise to us.  A complete blood count (CBC) was also taken to detect a number of things, most notably, elevated white blood cell counts, and/or signs of anemia.  This information would be used by the T-Cyte company to formulate the treatments for Pepe, as well as to provide a baseline so that future test results would indicate if there was any improvement in his condition.

At least two weeks had passed between my first phone call to Camden and the date that Pepe received his first injection.  During this time, Pepe himself had finally begun to notice the effects of his disease.  His appetite was still decent, but his stools were soft and mucousy, and lacking the energy for much playtime, he spent countless hours in the basement, curled up in the wet bar sink.  Although I understood the necessity for the steps that had to be taken before Pepe could begin this journey, I really had wished that something could be done to hurry things along.

Finally, on a Monday morning in August, Pepe received his first LTCI treatment, a simple, quick, and painless injection that went between his shoulder blades.  Pepe seemed to experience no side effects from this treatment, other than feeling a bit sleepy for a few hours afterwards.  Then, we watched and waited with our fingers crossed, closely observing Pepe for any signs of improvement.  Meanwhile, Pepe continued to wander listlessly throughout the basement, his eyes always threatening to stick shut…and the wet bar sink remained his home.

The following Thursday, less than one week before Pepe’s second scheduled treatment, his eyes suddenly grew painful.  Normally, Pepe had been calm and even content when we would wipe the waxy goop away from his eyes, but now he was wincing and crying whenever we came near him with the cotton rounds.  Even more disturbing was the blister-like anomaly that had formed on the surface of his left cornea, sort of grayish in appearance.  He was also holding his left eye closed a lot while leaning his head in that direction, and both eyes were tearing profusely.  Whatever was going on, it couldn’t wait until next Monday.

I had already taken the day off from work, because I was suffering from a terrible cold, and luckily, Dr. Johnson was able to squeeze Pepe in, even though there were no available appointments.  Upon close examination of Pepe’s eyes, she informed me that the lesion on his left eye was a deep corneal ulcer, most likely the result of a feline herpes infection.  This ulcer, she went on to tell me, carried the potential to rupture Pepe’s eye, and would have to be treated immediately.  Eyes were not Kelsey’s specialty, she confessed, but she knew that they were nothing to mess with, and so she spent the next 45 minutes, while I waited there with Pepe, frantically reaching out to any available animal opthalmologist.

Finally, an animal opthalmologist at the Blue Pearl clinic in Eden Prairie, whose name I never knew, recommended the following, highly aggressive treatment for Pepe: A broad-spectrum, oral antibiotic called Doxycycline, an antiviral eye drop called Cidofovir that specifically targets feline herpes, and an antibacterial eye drop called Ofloxacin.  All of these were to be given twice per day, and the oral antibiotic was to be mixed with Pepe’s canned food.  Lastly, we were given several, pre-filled syringes containing a serum, made from the blood of Dr. Johnson’s own dog.  This had to be given as en eye drop as often as possible, up to once every hour, for a few weeks, or until Pepe’s eye was no longer in danger of rupturing.

I sat in the clinic, an absolute mess, as Dr. Johnson outlined the series of tasks ahead of us.  “What is the point?” I barely uttered, through a layered combination of tears, snot, and uncontrollable coughs.  I failed to see how a cat with FLV could possibly ever recover from this.  Meanwhile, Pepe rolled around on his fluffy kitty bed, which sat on the examining table, enjoying a moment of belly scritches while Kelsey and I discussed his fate.  After handing me a much-needed bottle of cold water to control my cough, Dr. Johnson went on to assure me that the opthalmologist was aware of Pepe’s diagnosis.  Even with feline leukemia, he had suggested, there was a good chance that Pepe could be cleared of this eye problem if we followed his recommendations.  In time, he would prove to be at least partially correct.

So, Pepe was not euthanized that day.  We immediately went to work on treating his eyes, and for once, I was actually grateful that Bunny and I worked different hours.   Every morning, I woke up at 6am on the dot, and gave Pepe his serum at 6, 7, 8, and 9.  Bunny would wake up at 11am, and give the serum at 11, 12, and 1, before getting on the bus to work.  I would then come home from work around 7pm, and repeat until bedtime, all the while, sneaking his other medicines somewhere in between the hourly doses of serum.

This is where Pepe’s sweet disposition really helped his prognosis.  I’ve always believed that the quality of life is far more important than how long a cat actually lives.  Therefore, when making the decision of whether to treat their condition or simply have them put down, the cat’s personality has to be taken into account as much as anything else.  Not all cats would have tolerated hourly eye drop giving, semimonthly trips to the vet, pills, or other such things, but Pepe took it all in stride like a real soldier.  He allowed us to hold him on his back like a little baby while we did whatever was necessary.  Knowing that he would be spoiled immediately afterwards with a treat of diced, organic chicken tenders probably helped that along.

Less than three days after we began this incredibly stressful, time-consuming, and not to mention expensive regimen, the goop in Pepe’s eyes had completely cleared away, and the ulcer had begun to scar over and even shrink somewhat.  In addition, he began eating ravenously!  His stools also firmed up, and he went back to displaying normal social and playtime behavior.  For several weeks, at least, it appeared that we had won the battle, but how much of this miraculous turn-around was due to the LTCI injections, versus the cabinet full of other drugs he was on?  The answer to that question did reveal itself over time, but either way, never again did Pepe experience eye problems as severely as he had during the months of July and August.

For three solid months, Pepe underwent semimonthly LTCI injections while we continued treating him at home with various prescribed drugs and supplements.  All the while, every attempt we had made to cut out his medications entirely resulted in moderately painful flare-ups in Pepe’s eyes.  We were able to permanently whittle his meds back somewhat, however.  Having swiched to a different antibiotic (Azithromycin), so that he wouldn’t develop a resistence, he now only required oral medicine once every other day, and he only needed one of his eye drops (Cidofovir), which we gave only when he seemed to be having trouble.

A follow-up CBC test showed no improvement from the first one, which confirmed our suspicion that T-Cyte’s new drug, however promising in studies and testimonials, wasn’t accomplishing anything that the other drugs weren’t.  At a cost of $98 per injection, plus all the other expense, we decided with much disappointment that it was time to cease the program entirely, and continue doing the best we could with Pepe’s home treatments.

Pepe enjoyed several more weeks of good playtime, bug killing, and lots of cuddles from Bunny and I, with only minor eye flare-ups that would occur every one to two weeks.  The supplements that he was taking to help support his immune system, and thwart some of the harmful effects of the antibiotics (appetite stimulants, digestive enzyme probiotics, and vitamin E, to name a few) also seemed to work very well, at least for a while.  Still, we could tell that Pepe’s condition was slowly deteriorating.  He was eating less than before, making it harder to get all those supplements into him, and his playtime sessions were getting shorter.  He did manage to take us through a nice roller coaster of ups and downs before his end finally came though!

Pepe was a proud boy who took himself very seriously, as most cats do, and he would not give up his life easily. One morning, after Pepe had endured a particularly rough day, whereupon I had already made an appointment to have him put down, he came trotting up the basement stairs, carrying in his mouth, the biggest, juiciest cricket I had ever seen.  Oh, happy day!!!  Pepe proudly dropped his crunchy prey onto the kitchen floor, and proceeded to play gleefully with it as the poor thing made vain attempts to scamper away.  I suppose it’s not appropriate to laugh about such things.  I’m certain that the cricket saw no humor in it, but as my basement carries an overabundance of these insects, I decided to let Pepe revel in his moment of sadistic fun.  I also picked up my phone to make a second call to the mobile vet.  Pepe would not be euthanized on this day either.

Weeks later, two months after his one-year birthday, and one year to the date after I had taken him in as a foster, Pepe finally refused all food, even chicken broth, signaling his request that we send him to heaven.  He didn’t appear to be in any pain, and he could still walk, but his energy was depleted, and he had taken to spending the majority of the time curled up in his bed.  This time, we knew that Pepe really was ready to go.

On a pleasant Monday afternoon, at 1pm, Pepe crossed the Rainbow Bridge via a peaceful home euthanasia, which, in my opinion, is the only way to end an animal’s suffering.  I think I would literally steal the money to have a vet come to my home for this dreaded task, rather than subject an animal who has already suffered enough to the stress and trauma of one more trip to the clinic.   By the way, if you’re ever in need of this service, a company that I recommend is MN Pets (http://www.mnpets.com/).  They are highly professional, very kind, less expensive than many clinics that offer the same service, and their euthanasia method is flawless.  No pain, or even much awareness that anything unusual is happening.  I really hope, however, that I won’t have reason to hire them anytime soon.  We are most sincerely “pooped” from all of this depressing nonsense.

Okay, onto the silver lining.  I promised that this story would have a happy ending, and I’ll be damned if I don’t have the anecdotes to follow through on that promise.  I sure do!  So, here goes.

Pepe’s brother and sister remain alive and well, with no noticeable symptoms of their disease.  Hard to say why Pepe got sick and the others didn’t, but as I mentioned earlier, that’s the nature of this bizarre disease.  Some cats manage to kick it, or become carriers, while others fall prey to it, and Pepe just wasn’t that lucky.  Daphne and Luigi remain happy in their new home, with their “daddy,” who loves them, and takes excellent care of them.

Another positive outcome was that none of the cats that were exposed to Pepe, prior to and following his diagnosis, were infected with feline leukemia.  Bunny’s 10-year-old buff tabby named Poppy was the highest at risk, having already been exposed to Pepe for six months before he tested positive.  Poppy tested negative twice for the disease, once, immediately following Pepe’s diagnoses, and again about two months ago when she had to be brought in for a urinary tract infection.  We also had her vaccinated to give her extra protection, but at her age, it’s likely that she was already producing sufficient antibodies to fight off the disease.

I mentioned earlier that I had already taken in two more foster cats at the time that Pepe was diagnosed.  The first was a big orange tabby named Owen.  I had Owen for about two months total, but he only roamed freely with Pepe for about three weeks.  After Pepe’s test came back positive, Owen was taken back to the animal rescue from which he can come, and quarantined for six weeks before being retested (and that test was negative, thank you Lord!), and he was adopted into a loving home soon after.

The other foster cat that I had taken in a little while after Owen came, was a gray and white, cow-patterned, 11-week-old feral kitten, who had been rescued out of a condemned shed behind a bar in St. Paul.  Initially named Farrah’l, we promised to drop the’l off the end of her name once she decided to stop being feral and grow accustomed life among humans, which took about one week.  Farrah was never truly at risk for FLV, as she remained sequestered to the upstairs from the time we took her in, until Pepe’s death.  Farrah’s saving grace was that she had tested positive for roundworm, and my reason for keeping her upstairs, initially, was so she wouldn’t poop in the other cats’ litter boxes and pass her cooties onto them.  I was literally one week away from allowing her to roam freely throughout the home when I learned about Pepe’s illness, which brings me to an important side note about fostering.

If you plan to foster rescued animals in your home, please resist the temptation to intermingle them with your own pets.  We got lucky this time, but I will never make this mistake again.  Even if all cats are tested, vaccinated, and appear totally healthy….just don’t.  We didn’t think there was a risk with Pepe, either, and there was.  It’s not worth the risk to your cats, or to your foster cats, who will eventually be adopted by families who might have cats of their own, who would then, also be at risk.  So, unless you plan on turning them into foster failures, just….DON’T.  Keep them separate.

It’s oddly appropriate that Pepe’s forehead had a cute little white mark in the shape of an upside-down heart.  In his fourteen short months, he succeeded in turning many hearts upside down, including the heart of his wonderful doctor, who even reported having occasional dreams about Pepe’s little eyeballs.  Yeesh!  I don’t even want to think about the kind of things that vets must dream about, the horrific things that they witness every day.  We’re still a bit shaken from the events of this journey ourselves, and occasionally, we contemplate whether we would have done things differently if we had known what the outcome would be.  The answer, however, is always a loud, resounding “NO!.”

With the right kind of care (and a little bit of luck), many cats live long, healthy lives with feline leukemia, in some cases, even after it has progressed their bone marrow.  Pepe, being so young at the time of his diagnosis, deserved the chance to live those fifteen plus years, even if they were ultimately denied to him.  Although we miss Pepe terribly, we feel grateful for the time that he was with us, and we are confident that we did everything that we could for him.  We are also proud to have offered one more piece of valuable data to his doctor, who had said that she learned a lot from Pepe, as well as to the T-Cyte company, who will continue developing their treatment, and hopefully, eventually come to understand why some cats respond well to LTCI, while others don’t.  Perhaps, one day, there will even be a cure for this unfair and cruel disease.

Meanwhile, on to new adventures, and a happy new year to all of you!

Sincerely,

Rachel
Suzie’s Cat Refuge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foster Intake# 1: The Poopy-Bottom Gang

As I understand it, the story of these three kittens began when an unnamed individual on the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota happened to be walking by.  To where and for what purpose, we will likely never know.  All of a sudden, a tiny little gray and white kitten (minus her tail) fell out of a nearby tree and landed on the ground within view of the passerby.   The anonymous wanderer picked up the kitten and attempted to place her back up into the tree, where then, two more kittens suddenly emerged.  One was a black and white male with merely an inch or two more tail than his sister.  The other one was also a black and white male, unique from his siblings in being the only one to wield a full-length tail (Mom ran out of toner, apparently).

Too young to survive without milk and their mother nowhere to be found, the individual who discovered these orphans decided to bring them to the Lake Traverse Animal Rescue.  In turn, the kittens were relocated to a rescue group in Minnesota where they were tested for diseases, bottle-fed until weaned, given their first round of vaccines, and then passed along to Suzie’s Cat Refuge where they would remain until ready for adoption.

In many ways, almost any litter of kittens could be referred to as the “Poopy-Bottom Gang”.  It’s not uncommon for kittens, especially ones who didn’t exactly enter the world in ideal circumstances, to experience intermittent bowel upsets while their digestive systems adapt to a solid-food diet and they are cleared of parasites.  These guys, however, were literally covered…. from head to toe…. in poop, and while all three were experiencing some degree of difficulty with their bowels, it was immediately apparent that one kitty in particular was producing the majority of the mess.

The little gray kitty with no tail (then, simply referred to as Butt) was the only one of her siblings to test positive for coccidia, a nasty parasite that wreaks major havoc on the bowels, resulting in symptoms such as severe diarrhea, rectal prolapse, and in some cases, nausea and vomiting.  Although her brothers had tested negative, they were being medicated for it also as a preventative measure, since healthy cats who share the same litter box with an infected cat will certainly contract the bug themselves if not treated.

In addition to miss Butt kitty’s unfortunate drizzly poop episodes, she was also afflicted with a prolapsed rectum….which is a polite way of saying that her butthole was turned inside out.  While not a life-threatening condition (so long as it doesn’t get infected), it’s bloody horrifying to look at!  It’s also quite frustrating to manage, as the delicate tissues are highly vulnerable to injury and chafing.  And because a cat’s butt (well, everyone’s butt for that matter) has to be used on a regular basis for obvious purposes, there’s really no way to protect the area by covering it, or even let it rest so it can heal.

Unfortunately, Butt missed out on her chance to have surgery for this condition during the time when it would have done the most good.  She weighed barely over a pound when she came here, and she would have to weigh at least twice that before she could safely be put under anesthesia.  By the time she had reached a safe surgical weight, her coccidia infection had already cleared up, and her prolapse, while far from gone, had shrunk enough on its own that the vet didn’t think the surgery was worth the risk.  The surgery doesn’t correct the prolapse anyway, I am told, as much as it holds everything in place while the underlying cause is being treated.  The hope is that once the condition is cleared and the stitches are removed, the rectum will remain in place, although that’s not a guarantee.  Once an animal has had a rectal prolapse, the chances of it happening again will always be higher than if it had never happened at all.

No amount of having an abnormal hiney, however, would be enough to keep this little kitten’s spirits down.  And I’m going to stop calling her Butt now, because that’s not her name.  This sweet little fur baby carried out her days at the refuge, romping with her siblings and playing with her toys, with no knowledge whatsoever of herself as being any different from any other cat.  She never lost her trust in humans either, bless her heart, in spite of all of the unpleasant things I had to do in order to keep her clean and treated.  We still don’t know if her bottom will continue to improve as she ages, or if she’ll have this problem forever to a certain degree.  Either way, it’s not expected to cause her, or the man who adopted her, any significant problems.

Right.  Their names.  When I acquired these three little poop-crusted cuties, I was given strict instructions to assign them proper names, since Butt, Stub, and Tail, while descriptive enough, simply weren’t cutting it.  So….Butt became Daphne (named for the tree sprite from Greek Mythology), Stub became Luigi (because he looked like his name should be Luigi), and Tail became Pepe.  My partner was actually the one who named Pepe, and I’m pretty sure he had the Looney Toons character Pepe Le Pew in mind.  It doesn’t matter though, because he gets called Tinkerbottom most of the time anyway.  He’s our naughty little goon bug, that one.  You know, kind of like a June bug only cuter.

Just two months after I had brought them into the refuge, all three kittens were adopted.  Pepe, who my partner fell in love with from the beginning, stayed right here with us.  We had always planned on adopting at least one of the kittens, since two of our elderly cats had recently passed away.  I wanted to adopt Daphne, myself.  I loved her trilly little vocalizations and the way she would sing through her purrs when she was happy to see someone.  And she was always so trusting and cuddly, even though I made her take butt baths and gave her icky tasting medicines.  In the end though, Pepe proved to be the best choice as a cat for our household for a number of reasons, especially since keeping all three of them wasn’t an option.  Daphne had to be on a strict, low-residue diet, so I couldn’t give her full run of my house without the risk of her helping herself to the other cat’s food.  She doesn’t like to be alone either, so she really needed a companion, and Pepe would not have been a good one for her.  The two played so incredibly rough with each other that it became dangerous for Daphne’s bottom.  More than once, he hooked her poor little butt with one of his claws, which almost caused an infection, and significantly added to her recovery time.  Luigi, by contrast, grew to be a big, lazy lump, who would rather find a human lap on which to plant himself, or buddy up next to his sister for a snooze, than anything else.

Thus, the two Manx kittens, one, a cuddly lap dweller, and the other, a climbing, dancing ball of energy, were a match made in heaven!   They were adopted as a pair, at first, on a trial basis, to ensure that their new daddy would be able to handle all of Daphne’s upkeep.  During this time, the animal rescue continued to offer support in case anything needed to be done, and Suzie’s Cat Refuge remained vacant in case I needed to take Daphne back for any reason.  Fortunately, all went well, and Daphne and Luigi are now official, permanent residents in their new home.

So, here ends Suzie’s Cat Refuge’s first ever blog post.  I apologize that it ended up having a lot to do with anuses and poop.  I promise you that won’t become a trend, but there is simply no getting around the fact that some of the things we have to deal with as fosterers don’t exactly make for polite dinner conversation, and I want this to be an honest blog, even if it’s sometimes hard to read.  I do hope that all of this “honesty” doesn’t turn people away from the idea of fostering, however.  With most animal shelters busting at the seams, the service that we offer to these organizations that rely heavily on limited shelter capacity and donated funds, is truly invaluable!  Ultimately, I find that the rewards of it all far exceed the burdens, and I can’t wait to see who our next guest(s) will be!