You can’t have a name like “Princess Ophelia PowderPuff” and be anything but cute, right? Well, this little rescued kitten pulled from a stray and feral colony because she was so little and so pretty and so nearly pure white that her rescuers were concerned for her safety has more energy, more friendliness, more affection, more imagination, more cute than just about any creature I’ve seen in a while—wait until you see the videos. And there’s another reason to wait on those videos, because she’s been rescued not once but twice in her brief nine weeks, and her cuteness plays a big part in not only the first but the second rescue as well.
This little puffball, sweet and happy and healthy as she appears, has a life-threatening condition, and in fact just a few days ago it was decided to euthanize her because this condition was beginning to take its toll and treatment is equally life-threatening, recovery and quality of life not guaranteed, as well as expensive.
Ophelia has a very rare condition, a “Vascular Ring Anomaly”. The heart’s blood vessels constrict the esophagus at the level of the base of the heart, wrapping around it. As the cat grows, it slowly constricts the esophagus until no food will fit through, and it also stops the peristalsis that helps the food go down in the area above the constriction so the food just sits in the esophagus. Even with surgery, the esophagus often can’t be reconstructed to remove the restricted area, and the cat slowly starves to death. After surgery, the cat likely needs to eat a liquid diet and be fed sitting in an upright position for the rest of its life, and sit upright for about 15 minutes after eating, so that the food will move down to the stomach by gravity since there is no peristalsis in the esophagus to move it down.
That’s a pretty complex condition for a little kitten and not a quality outlook for her future, and because of the risks of surgery and the questionable quality of life afterward, and considering she was already beginning to fail at only about 9 weeks, her rescuers had decided they would have her put to sleep sooner rather than later. She’d had the symptoms, persistent regurgitation and constipation, for at least three weeks, was becoming dehydrated and was beginning to lose weight at about an ounce a day, starting out at less than two pounds.
But she never stopped being a happy little kitten! She just wiggled out of everyone’s hands and ran and played and purred and just enjoyed every single moment as if nothing at all was wrong with her.
The decision made, her rescuers would take some time to let her enjoy life. But the veterinarians who had examined her had also noted her exceptional personality, and that she was so happy and playful, that they didn’t want Ophelia’s rescuers to have to make the decision to euthanize her, and they wanted to take a chance on the surgery for her. It is so rare they had never seen the condition, but they were willing to prepare and perform the surgery if she could stay stable for long enough to gain weight, meeting that magic two pound mark and preferably more, but not so long that the condition was irreversible. She is still growing, and hadn’t had the condition for too long, there was a chance they could save her and give her a normal life. If not, she would never suffer, and either way perhaps the surgeons could learn just a little more about this rare condition and be able to help the next kitten who came along.
Her rescuer is none other than Melanie Ulicny, who recently helped Tommy recover from a saddle thrombus—and he can not only walk normally now but leaped up onto the countertop and just last night ran up the steps without a sign of any deficiency—so though she is highly skilled with difficult conditions, she also has her hands full with other special needs cats to care for as well as helping the caretaker to maintain the 50+ cat colony where Ophelia was rescued from.
Ophelia’s condition had begun soon after she arrived at five weeks, dirty and with ear mites but no other apparent issues, but with frequent vomiting/regurgitation, then the beginnings of constipation, none of which slowed her down even as it became more severe. At first it was thought she was just eating too fast and playing too hard, which can happen with kittens, but as time passed and the her constipation was seen to be the bigger issue, nothing would work to clean her out. She couldn’t hold any food down and even choked on the Laxatone she’d been given. She was holding no food down and losing weight. Eventually Melanie took her to Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center (PVSEC) for emergency treatment, and she was transferred over to the specialty veterinarians where she was diagnosed with the condition.
But since Ophelia arrived home, Melanie has been feeding her small meals, holding her upright, and trying to get her to stay upright afterward as long as possible, as well as giving her small amounts of subcutaneous fluids several times a day. So far, Ophelia has held everything down except one time when Melanie feels she gave her too much at one time, and Ophelia has gained three ounces already, and had a few bowel movements, so food is moving through, she is getting nutrition and the surgery looks more promising all the time.
Here is the catch with the surgery: it will cost between $3,000 and $4,000. The veterinarians at PVSEC suggested Melanie set up an online funding site to see if she can raise $2,000 and PVSEC will provide the rest through their Animal Care and Assistance Fund. There is a little bit of time for Ophelia to continue to gain weight and strength, but the surgery would have to happen in the next two weeks. I know I’m asking for donations for rescues all the time, but I can’t not help this little rugrat who wants to grab life and toss it around the room like a cat toy.
Please visit the YouCaring link to read more about Ophelia and read updates as Melanie posts them. If you want to donate, you can donate directly to PVSEC by calling (412) 366-3400 and making your donation to the account for Ophelia Ulicny, but remember that it’s also an emergency hospital when calling. You can also use the YouCaring link :
A little less than 30 years ago, a cat belonging to one of my co-workers had kittens, and one by one they died in their first two weeks. I was concerned and talked to my veterinarian at the time, asking what might be the cause. She sighed and told me it could be any number of things, that kittens dying in their first few weeks was not at all uncommon, and in fact the kitten survival rate was only about 50% of all kittens born, no matter where they were born. I was just beginning to rescue cats hadn’t lost any kittens yet, and was shocked at that fact. Now, considering all that is up against kittens even before their birth—from their mother’s health and nutrition or lack thereof, to weather, to predation to genetic conditions like a vascular ring anomaly, sometimes it’s a wonder any survive.
In the face of all that loss, there’s always the desire to save any kitten you can, at whatever cost, but that’s not realistic. In the rescues I know, we let kittens go nearly every day in the face of treatments the could never tolerate and a poor quality of life for a cat afterward, and everyone who was making decisions was ready to let Ophelia go too, seeing the treatment as pointless because of the lower chance of survival and potentially very poor quality of life to follow. But attitude is an important part of survival in any living creature, and Ophelia has attitude to spare. In any circumstance, she will not be allowed to suffer.
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Weekly schedule of features:
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