Saturday, June 29, 2013

Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, Part 2

Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, Part 2

Well, I'd promised to fill this month with stories of all the various cats I've known, but it's been a busy month and that promise has gone unfulfilled! So here's a story of my first feline companion, which started over 25 years ago.

Humane Society House Panther

Pictured above is my first cat. In my early thirties, I'd been through yet another difficult breakup with a boyfriend and had come to realize that I needed someone to love who wasn't going to reject me. Having grown up with dogs, I knew that would be a pet. But my job had me on the road a lot and a dog wasn't a practical companion for my apartment lifestyle.

Since early childhood, I'd had a terrible allergy to cats. Just walking into a house where cats lived would start my eyes itching. The sneezing would commence shortly thereafter, and if I still didn't get out, I'd soon start having an asthma attack. Even in my twenties, when I'd tried to cat-sit for a friend who was traveling, it had happened to me. But there were better antihistamines coming out that I could get from my doctor, so I decided to give a cat a try.

It was Monday of Thanksgiving week and I was on vacation from work. Someone from the local humane society was on the noon news show and had a beautiful Himalayan cat they'd named Stormy. "Whoa! There are cats that gorgeous at the Humane Society?" I thought. "I'm going to get Stormy!"

Unfortunately, as I arrived there, somebody was already adopting the TV star. Disappointed, but still wanting a feline companion, I asked, "Well, what else do you have?" They took me back into the cat area.

In the row of double-decker cubbyholes with bars on the fronts, there were cats of all sizes and colors. Some were coughing like they were sick. Most were lethargic and seemed depressed. And then I got to the last upper cage, where a beautiful black cat came over and put his paw up against the bars. I put my hand up to touch him, and he wanted to be petted. He was playful and friendly. Now, here was a creature who would love me unconditionally! 

The information card they had on him didn't tell us much. Just that he was around a year old, and had been there for a while. He had a beautiful black coat and reminded me of a miniature panther with gold eyes. "And he would complement my black-and-white decorating theme in the living room perfectly," I thought.

But I didn't have any cat supplies at my house! What to do? I asked them to hold him for me, and rushed over to the nearby grocery store to pick up some litter, a litter box, food, and dishes for him (along with some antihistamine for me), worrying the whole time that somebody would get there, see my gorgeous cat and adopt him before I could return. But he was still waiting for me, so I filled out the paperwork and took my new boy home. He yelled in the car the whole way there. "Should've bought a carrier for him, too."

Adjusting to Each Other

He spent the first couple of days hiding under my bed. "Great," I thought, "so much for something to cuddle with!" But soon he was exploring every part of the house. He used his litter box faithfully and didn't even show any interest in scratching my furniture! He loved to be near me and always wanted to be petted. He'd sit in the windows overlooking a retention pond at my apartments and watch the ducks waddle around. He'd sit on the end of the sofa and wrap his tail around me. He slept on the other pillow in my bed, right next to my head. Aloof? Certainly not my cat!

Christmas was coming, and it was time to decorate. You always hear horror stories of cats climbing Christmas trees, batting off ornaments, and even knocking the whole thing over. So I was a little nervous about this. But I put up a real tree in the corner by my front windows, and my little cat loved it! He'd sit in front of the tree and just gaze up at it, like it was the prettiest thing he'd ever seen. Then he'd lean forward and gently sniff the tips of the branches. What must have been going on in that little feline brain of his?

When we moved to Atlanta, there was a lovely walking path out behind the condo. My boy would stand at the door and yowl to go outside, so I put his harness and leash on him and decided to try walking him there. Walking a cat is not quite like walking a dog; it's more like "standing with a cat." He'd sniff the grass in one spot for a few minutes, then take a couple of steps and sniff it somewhere else. One evening around dusk, he decided he wanted to actually walk, and we walked the entire flagstone pathway before I finally picked him up and carried him back inside. Another time he showed particular interest in going under a bush, like he was stalking something. I got down on his level to look, and there was a big ol' snake staring back at me! Grabbing up my boy, I hurried back inside. Within a couple of days, I was hearing that they'd killed a copperhead snake back in the walking area, with a whole nest of baby snakes. "Yes, I met that mama snake, up close and personal," I thought. Although I didn't like the idea of their having killed her and her brood, it's the way things go in today's litigious society.

Fruits of The Call of the Wild

My beautiful little house panther lived with me through three moves, and eventually decided that he was going to pee on everything in the house if we didn't let him go outside. He'd come in every night, but preferred to spend his days exploring the neighborhood and drinking from the bird bath in my back garden. No watching the birds from the window for him: he wanted to be right out there with them!

He did kill a couple of doves, and would eat everything except the liver. We'd find feathers and the cleaned-off liver where he'd eaten the bird. But before the anti-cat bird folks get all up in arms, he wasn't the only one killing birds in our yard; a hawk would bring his prey to the oak tree out back to devour, so there were always piles of feathers underneath that tree. And crows were always stealing baby birds from nests and washing them off in our bird bath before eating them.

Our little mini-panther also killed a couple of garter snakes. One wasn't quite dead when he left it on our doorstep, and my mother nearly had a heart attack when she went to step out the back door and that snake raised up its head! But she said he was right there to pounce on it and hold it down again.

Going outdoors, however, is not a good idea for cats in the suburban environment, and soon he got into something that poisoned his kidneys. It was in about January when he grew lethargic and wasn't eating. I took him to the vet, where they told me he was in renal failure. I cried. They told me I could keep him going a little longer by feeding him a special kidney diet and giving him sub-cutaneous fluids at home. "Do what?" I asked, a little leery of taking on that task. They showed me how, and we headed home.

The first administration of "sub-cute" fluids was a real adventure. I carried him into the bathroom and closed the door so he couldn't escape. He may not have felt well, but he could still move pretty quickly when he wanted to! Setting him on my lap, I pinched up the skin like the vet had taught me, and uncapped the needle on the IV bag. Inserting it into the fold of skin, I started the flow of saline...which immediately started squirting out of the needle that had gone through both sides of the fold of skin, wetting the entire bathroom. The cat was squirming, the fluids were going everywhere, and I couldn't get the flow turned off fast enough!

There was also a problem with the kidney diet: it was made of liver. He wouldn't even touch it once he got a whiff of that. So I'd go to the grocery store and buy fresh chicken livers and boil them, then chop them up very finely. He'd drink that broth. That and the occasional teaspoonful of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream was the only thing keeping him alive.

True Kitty Love

By this time, he'd developed a close friendship with a little girl cat from down the street who'd come down and spend the whole day hanging out with him. We started referring to her as his little protégé. When he came in overnight, she'd hunker down in our front yard and wait all night for him. Each morning, he'd be eager to get outside and see her. She was wearing a collar and tag, which had her owner's name engraved on it. I called them to tell them she was down here, in case they were worried about her. "Oh, we're so sorry! We'll come and get her," they said the first time. After that, I'd tell them not to worry about it, I just wanted them to know where she was and that she was okay. If they took her home, she was just going to return as soon as she got out the door, anyway.

Eventually I learned how to give the fluids correctly, and my boy would get all sloshy in the chest area afterward, where they would pool to be absorbed by his body as he needed them. One night a few months later, he had peed on the carpet in the den, which he never did. Cleaning it up, I noticed that it was just like water, no odor or color to it. I held him all night, and he even peed on me a couple of times. My boy could no longer control his bladder. He was still feeling very bad, and I knew it was time. The next morning, I took him to my vet's office, and soon thereafter we were digging his grave next to the bird bath in the garden from which he'd loved to drink.

In the days after his death, we observed something fascinating. His little protégé would come down to our house every day and lie on his grave. How she knew where it was, was a mystery to us. It was so touching and sweet to observe. She was grieving for her love!

Eventually, she stopped coming and we didn't see her for a while. Then one evening, we had a relative visiting and were sitting out front in lawn chairs. Here she came, ambling up the street to see us. She said hello, hung out with us for a few minutes, and went on her way. Shortly thereafter, her family moved away and we never saw his little protégé again. I like to think of them happily reunited together in heaven today, or if she's still alive, perhaps his spirit visiting with her.

This little cat, who someone had cast off by taking to the humane society, brought me so much love and enjoyment in our decade together. Sure, I have to take an antihistamine every day to live with cats, but the rewards are so worth it. There's no amount of money I could have spent on a cat from a breeder that would have made me any happier than he did. Or have been more beautiful. And there's something about a rescued cat, too: they know that you saved their lives. They are eternally grateful to you for having done so. And that's something money can't buy.

Friday, June 7, 2013

June is Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month!

June is Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month!

All month, I'll be encouraging people to adopt cats from shelters. And today's an especially special day for me to kick off this series, as it's the first "Gotcha Day" for my two red mackerel tabbies, Captain Roughy and Gilligan, pictured above! Yes, one year ago today, I officially adopted the little cuties I quickly dubbed "The Golden Boys."

All month long I'll be sharing stories of cats I've taken in. Today, you hear about my Golden Boys.

Last year, as you may recall, I lost my beloved little Vixen when she was 24 years old. I was devastated. The last few years with her had been rough, as her body and mind began to fail her. But she'd been with me through several moves, the death of two boy kitties, the rescue and homing of several other cats, countless broken hearts from failed romances, and the deaths of both of my parents. I lived with her longer than any stretch of time living with a person, even my parents. She left a huge void.

Coming home to this empty house was unbearable. Living alone and working alone can make you feel very isolated. But my little Vixen had always been there before. Once she was gone the aloneness felt so much worse.

But was I ready to adopt another cat? Not really. It takes time to grieve for a lost family member, be that of the human or feline variety. It was kitten season at the local shelter, though, and I knew that little lives were at risk. They get so many litters brought in every day, and it's tough to find homes for all of them. The American Humane Association estimates that 71% of the cats taken to shelters don't make it out alive. Until I was ready to adopt an older cat, I thought it might help my state of mind a bit to foster some kittens...or an older cat, or whoever needed a little TLC outside of the shelter.

My First Cat-Fostering Experience

I drove across town to the county shelter and told them I was there to pick up a cat or kittens for fostering. I'd thought of getting a mother cat who was still nursing her litter, but the kind shelter employee who helped me said that might be a bit much for my first fostering experience. After a little Q&A session, she said, "I have just the right ones for you. They were brought in as strays, and they're four weeks old, just starting to eat solid food. We've all just loved them. They're a little too small to be neutered yet, and we haven't been able to get them to put on any weight here. Maybe you'll have better luck with them. They're about a four-week commitment."

She took the carrier I'd brought with me and brought it back filled with a huge quilt and two tiny yellow kittens. I got the paperwork filled out as they sat there, patiently waiting. Giving me a big dog crate to keep them in, accompanied by a stuffed duck toy to serve as their "mama," some instruction on watering down their food and using a paper-based litter so it wouldn't gum up their digestive system when they ate it, she sent me on my way.

The boys were quiet during the ride home. We stopped off at a nearby pet store on the way home to pick up a few necessities, and everybody oohed and ahed over them in their carrier as I rode them around on top of my cart. I was a little excited about having somebody in the house with me again. I set up their crate in the den and added a little litter box, their water bowls, bed, and a mirror so they could look at themselves. There was enough room in there for it all, they were so tiny!

It was hard to understand how the shelter folks couldn't have gotten them to gain any weight; they seemed to want to eat everything I gave them! I'd wet down some crunchies for them to soften them, and also give them a little canned food a few times a day that I'd thin to a pablum consistency with a little water. They walked in it, they ate it, they played in it, and they peed and pooped...a lot. There was certainly plenty of food and water going through their systems! They started growing a little.

But they were still tiny. My friend Carol, who's saved many cats in her day, came over to see them and was amazed at how small they were. "Oh, my God! I've never seen any this tiny before!" They loved to come out of their crate and climb on me, the furniture, and anything else they could get to. One seemed to be a little larger than the other, and a little bit orangier. I kept trying to think of good names, but my creativity wasn't up to snuff; well, after all, I was still in a period of grieving for my little Vixen. Nothing was coming to me.

I've always liked cat names that have a title in them, so for the orange one, I decided to name him Captain Roughy, like the orange roughy fish. But what to call his little brother? He was the little buddy of the two, so the name Gilligan seemed to settle on him. Not perfect, but they worked. These were only temporary names, anyway, as their eventual adopter would be free to change them to whatever.

Two weeks after getting them, I had to drive them back across town to the shelter for a check-up. With a funeral at my church to attend that same morning, I asked if I could leave them there until I returned. It made me nervous to do so; you're always reading stories about animals mistakenly being put down at shelters, so I was worried about them the whole time. But when I returned, they were sitting in their carrier, up near the front, patiently waiting on me. They hadn't quite gotten up to their neutering weight (2 pounds) yet, so I had a little more work to do. But they were doing quite well, so the shelter folks were pleased with how I was doing.

A Little Setback With My Foster Cats

That all changed over the weekend, however. One of them started getting some very nasty, stinky diarrhea. Who could tell which one it was, and it would certainly be spreading to the other one since they lived in such close quarters. I cursed myself for having left them there at the shelter, where they'd likely picked up a virus of some kind! Monday morning I put in a call to the shelter and they said to bring them in. So it was back in the car for the half-hour drive across town.

The boys had actually lost some weight over the weekend with the diarrhea, but they said it was a common virus and gave me some Clavamox to knock it out. I don't know if you've ever tried to use an eye-dropper to get bubble-gum-flavored liquid antibiotic down the throats of squirmy kittens with needle-like claws, but here's a tip: wear something that won't be ruined by the stains of bubble-gum-flavored liquid antibiotic. You'll end up wearing as much of it as goes down the kittens' throats!

The Clavamox worked, however, and soon The Golden Boys, as I was now calling them, were quickly packing on the weight. At their next check-up, they were up to the 2 pounds required for neutering, so I could schedule their appointment. And they were to go into adoptions immediately after the surgery. But by this time, there was no way anybody else was going home with my Golden Boys. I was smitten. The thought of their being separated was too much to bear; they so loved wrestling, chasing, and playing together, and they'd groom each other and curl up together for comfort. So I told the shelter I wanted to adopt them. "You know the rule for that, right?" "No; what's that?" "You have to continue fostering after you adopt them!"

Since neutering required an overnight stay, I was again a little worried. And they told me I had to be there by 10 a.m. the next morning to make sure they didn't go into adoptions, even though they'd put a hold on them as already having an adopter (me). A tremendous sense of relief came over me as I saw their carrier coming out that next morning, and my boys safely inside it! They seemed to have suffered no problem from their neutering surgery, and didn't even have any stitches. 

Vets increasingly like to neuter cats very young, as they recover more quickly and suffer less complications, and there's absolutely no chance that they'll start to enter puberty before being neutered. That certainly seemed to be the case with my boys, as they were just as rambunctious as before the surgery. I was happy that they'd never start to spray urine or get roamy and aggressive like unneutered tomcats will do. They'd be sweet and innocent for their entire lives!

And that was a year ago today. The Golden Boys have become two very spoiled kitty cats! As my official product testers for Old Maid Cat Lady, they get to try out the cat trees, the foods, the well as the things they don't enjoy quite as much, such as going for walks in their stroller. They're starting to make little squeaky noises, but since they weren't around other cats for long, they probably don't really know much about what kinds of noises they're supposed to make! They have filled my life with love, once again, as did the cats who came before them.

If you've never fostered animals from your local shelter, consider doing so. It saves lives. And if you're feeling a little lonely, or if your companion animal is lonely while you're at work, consider adopting a shelter cat. Every cat adopted from a kill shelter saves two lives: that cat's, and the one who can now take his place in the empty cage there at the shelter. But they really also save a third life: yours.

All month, I'll be sharing stories of my rescued cats, along with shelter statistics, resources, and information on the no-kill movement. Feel free to share stories of your own rescued cats below!

Oh, and by the way: has a section with two pages filled with Rescue Time products that can be gifted to your local shelter or cat rescue group. The bulk items are specially priced to allow you to afford more of them for this purpose. Remember, if you can't adopt, foster. If you can't foster, volunteer. If you can't volunteer, donate. And if you can't donate, help share information about adoptable cats at your local shelter!