When my day was taken slightly off track on Thursday by a deer napping and nibbling in my back yard it was fun and adventurous. I went up the street to my neighbor’s house knowing she had two young children and an older puppy, and our yards are contiguous and unfenced, though we are on a hill with retaining walls and trees and shrubs dividing the yards. I both wanted to see if they had seen a deer and to warn them to look around before they went outdoors so they wouldn’t startle a deer in their back yard.
So when eight-year-old Nate came running down the street and onto my walk on Friday morning, barefoot and shirtless on a warm morning yelling, “Miss Bernadette! Miss Bernadette!” I thought he was coming to tell me the deer was in his back yard.
Instead his breathless message was, “Little Man, our cat, he can’t stand up, we tried to take him to the water bowl and he can’t drink, his hind legs are stiff, he just falls over!”
I ran outside and we started back up the hill to his house. “How long?” I asked. “When did you first see him like this?”
He told me his six-year-old sister had found him under the couch because his legs were sticking out and he wasn’t moving. They pulled him out and tried to make him stand up and he just fell over. They told their mom and she said to run and get me.
I knew it wasn’t good. The cat was young, only two, and not much will make a young cat crawl under the couch, unable to walk, and I knew he likely needed to see a veterinarian. Injury? Urinary issue? Something toxic around the house? How were the other cats?
Their mother had him wrapped in a towel, holding him, when we went inside. His eyes were unfocused and he didn’t follow my hand, barely reacted to snaps in his face, hind legs were very stiff, paws extended and cold, breathing a little labored. I knew he’d accidentally gotten outdoors two days before, just out in the yard, unfortunately caught one of the birds he’d been watching for days and brought it to the porch. He wasn’t outside long. Had he been injured? Had he eaten something like rat poison, which some people still put out for just about any reason? Had symptoms been delayed from something he’d encountered? Especially after I smelled fairly strong breath I strongly suspected he’d ingested something toxic, and possibly his kidneys were affected. I didn’t bother with any more of an exam, I knew he needed to see a veterinarian immediately.
I had seen him at the window the day before when I’d come to visit, and he was as bright and alert as ever. He was one of the three I’d taken to have neutered last summer so I knew he’d also had his vaccinations. He was playful, friendly and full of pranks, and Ginny’s favorite—she called him “Little Man” because he looked like a serious little man when he was a kitten, born in a litter of five, though only two survived. The others had died from what had seemed congenital defects.
A single mother with two young children and no car and little means, I began running the veterinary possibilities through my head—the Friday before a holiday weekend, Frankie’s Friends clinic wasn’t really available until Sunday for the spay/neuter clinic, most other vets were short-handed, and he likely needed critical emergency hospitalization no matter what the cause of his condition was. I could call a few vets and see if they had the time, but most likely we’d end up at the emergency hospital. How she’d pay for it, well, we’d see.
I ran back to my house to start making phone calls and plan. The kids and Ginny came down carrying Little Man in a towel a little later. Finally I decided we should just go straight to Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center (PVSEC) since they had both an emergency hospital I trusted for my own cats and specialists who were available to help with diagnosis and treatment recommendations for difficult cases. I got a carrier and we gently put him in it, looking worse all the time. They were still wearing pajamas and play clothes and were barefoot so I told them to run back up to their house and get ready to go to the vet while I finished up a few things.
But before we could just run I realized I had stuff in my car that had to come out, then I couldn’t find the seat belts for the back seat. I had no idea I’d be using them so soon, but we couldn’t have two young children in the back seat without seat belts. Minutes went by while I nicked up my knuckles digging for the buckles before we got everything settled and were finally on our way. It had seemed like forever!
When we got there we explained what we’d seen and they took Little Man to the back while we finished paperwork. PVSEC has a children’s play area in the waiting area and Nate and Dana got to work while Ginny and I watched and waited for the vet.
It was not good news. They first suspected a toxin as well followed by a viral infection and did a basic blood panel and toxicity panel, but the veterinarian had noticed that the reaction was becoming strongly unilateral, which ruled out toxins and traumatic injuries which would have affected both sides of his body. It looked more like an internal issue. She had talked to the neurological specialist and confirmed her suspicions but was still waiting for the test results.
Worse, though, he was losing ground very quickly. His paws were beginning to curl and he wasn’t reacting to any outside stimulus, and already he needed supplemental oxygen. She could begin an aggressive treatment with fluids and antibiotics and steroids to try to treat all the possibilities until test results came back with some clues, and give him 12 to 24 hours on that treatment to see if anything took effect. But whether or not she could stop what was happening before it took his life wasn’t something she could guarantee. He was only two years old and with no signs at all of a cardiac issue so a stroke or blood clot wasn’t likely, more than likely it was something that was already in process in his brain, like a brain tumor, or, especially considering the health issues with his siblings, even a suspicion of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) which can cause granulomas to develop on the brain eventually causing seizures and other neurological symptoms; Lucy had begun having seizures, and I’ve seen a variety of neurological symptoms in other cats with suspected FIP, even with no other previous symptoms. It could also be an aggressive viral infection like meningitis, and though that could be fought with antibiotics and steroids it had already done damage and was rapidly doing more. Sometimes it couldn’t be stopped in time. Getting there a half hour earlier wouldn’t have made treatment more possible, and even if they had noticed his condition a couple of hours earlier it probably wouldn’t have made any difference, it was moving fast. I helped Ginny by explaining a few things and talked it over with her.
In the end they decided to let him go rather than try aggressive treatment. When the veterinarian brought him to the room for us to say goodbye his eyes were closed, his paws all knuckled under and his body rigid, yet his tail flipped back and forth, the only sign he could give of his distress. They said tearful goodbyes, wrote notes in the journals kept in the room. When the veterinarian came Nate could only watch so much and we went out to the hall, then Dana joined us. They took impressions of Little Man’s pawprints, and we took him home. Ginny’s other three cats, siblings and relatives, go t to see him, and she told me they all looked at him, one actually tried to wake him up and licked his face. Later he went to Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. Thankfully, all the other cats seem normal—if it had been a viral infection they’d already been exposed to him or the virus itself in the hours before he’d left the house.
As people who love our pets and share the fun in our lives with our pets, we also share the sadness. I think both children were real heroes, at their ages being able to determine something was wrong and being able to explain to me and to the veterinarians, and very brave at a strange place, and coming to understand the reality of losing their cat. I had fully intended to do a little loose sketch of Little Man as part of my own grief at his loss, but I didn’t get home until about 9:00 and I’m way too tired to focus. But thank you for listening, because writing about it certainly helped me.
The image at the top is one of the little Kashmire urns Deb has on display at her place.
. . . . . . .
Then a little later, another part of life with cats…
The siblings or half-siblings of two kittens I trapped and took to foster last year, Salem and Magic, have turned up again, now nearly a year old and decidedly accustomed to outdoor living—and one of them is visibly pregnant. Sable and Liam need to be brought in for spay and neuter. I borrowed two traps from the rescue group and took them over this evening so their caretaker could feed them all in the traps to get them accustomed to them, and hopefully the ones we wanted to catch could be caught in them more easily.
According to the person who feeds them in her back yard, they are not unfriendly, but shy. There are five cats there including these two, one of them being the mother of the two kittens rescued last fall, one of them being the father of at least one of the two cats in question, and another possibly being the mother of these two. All are spayed an neutered but the youngest ones.
And in this woman’s house are two more of the cats from this family of outdoor cats. What a strong family lineage—when I saw Pepper I could immediately see her resemblance to Salem and Magic, and Pepper has a brother in the house too.
So we hope they grow accustomed to the traps tonight and tomorrow, because we hope to trap the two young cats tomorrow evening so I can take them to the TNR clinic on Sunday. Likely we’ll catch the others first, seeing their reactions to the traps tonight. It is certain to be an adventure!
We spay and neuter all cats we trap who are living outdoors, including ones who are pregnant. There are limited foster homes which can care for a feral mother cat while socializing her kittens, and the ones available are already full of feral mother cats with kittens found in back yards and under porches and just about anywhere else cats and kittens can be found. Nearly each day for the past month one or more than one little family is found, often orphaned kittens who need to be bottle fed. These rescues are given priority and kittens are spayed and neutered and given veterinary care when ready, then are hopefully found homes through our own efforts or local shelters and rescues, often at the expense of adult cats who are passed by in favor of kittens.
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