Tag Archives: veterinarians

Chill Out, Kitty!

My husband’s big orange-striped cat, Matches, was so chill that Dan once put the creature into an empty birdcage and hung it from the ceiling. Amazingly, the cat voiced no objections. He just looked around calmly from his unique new vantage point.

Not many cats are that agreeable about being put in a cage – especially when it signals a trip to the vet. Even the cardboard boxes that pass as pet carriers are useless. Just try to put a cat in one and you have a (Your State’s Name Here) Chainsaw Massacre. And cardboard carriers aren’t designed to stand up to a massacre.

We had a black-and-white cat named Shaker, who started with one fang hooked into an air hole in the cardboard carrier and demolished the entire thing until it was a pile of Shredded Wheat. We had to drive the rest of the way to the vet with one revved-up, pissed-off cat. For later visits, we just let her sit on my lap while we drove and while sitting in the waiting room. While we waited, Shaker hopped off my lap and made a break for it. She waddled (she was chubby, okay?) as fast as her little white feet would carry her toward the door. She just hadn’t counted on it being glass. She bonked her head against it and while she was stunned, I scooped her up.

Another cat, Julia, was okay with going to the vet. It was what they did to her there that she objected to. The vet tried to demonstrate to us the proper way to give a cat a pill or liquid medicine. Julia went into her act. She demonstrated her own little invention – projectile drooling. Soon the exam room was dappled with gooey patches of sticky saliva. And so were we, when we tried it at home.

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that her cat, known as Mrs. Bompstample (I may have spelled that wrong), had been voted the second-worst cat at their vet’s office. And that was despite Mrs. B. being sedated before she came. I don’t even want to contemplate what the worst cat was like. There was a note on its cage that said, “Do not open!” which probably made it difficult to treat the cat. (Personally, I think most vets coat their hands with a Valium salve that is absorbed through the animals’ fur, which is why vets don’t shake hands with pet owners. Although maybe they should in some cases. But I digress.)

We’ve never had a cat that needed Valium to go to the vet, though we have had cats be naughty. One jumped off the examining table and holed up between it and the wall. We had to get down on our hands and knees to coax her out (something we couldn’t do now). Well, and Drooly Julie can’t strictly be said to have been on her best behavior. Django once scratched my face and various other cats have bitten me. Once it was so bad that I had to ask the vet to treat me too.

Matches, of course, was so chill at the vet that he should have worn shades. He loved riding in the car and never had to be put in a box. Maybe that was why he was so cool.

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I Tried Not to Love Her

Dushenka came to us as a stray. She hung around the neighborhood for about a week, with my husband trying to coax her closer. Then she disappeared for a week. One day, though, she came trotting through our garden and up to our door. She had chosen us as her family.

It turned out that her former family lived just a couple of streets away from us, which we found out because the vet discovered that she had a microchip. (We also found out that her original name was Carmen, which isn’t a bad name for a cat, but we had already started calling her Dushenka because we couldn’t keep calling her Li’l Bit. “Dushenka” is Russian and means “little soul.” But I digress.)

I tried not to love her. I really did. We had recently lost our darling cat Julia, another little calico, and Dushenka reminded me so much of her. I just felt I wasn’t ready to give my heart to another one yet. But there Dushenka was with her little pinky nose, her smudgy chin, her crazy eyes, her super-long white whiskers, her floofy white belly, and her gorgeous, silky calico fur.

I began to suspect that I was falling in love when a neighbor (not Dushenka’s former owners – they never responded to us) lost their cat, also a calico, and came to inquire about the one we’d found. I found myself quizzing them closely about what their cat looked like. He said she was female. Check. I asked if she had a dark smudge under her chin. What were her eyes like? Then I brought Dushenka out for him to look at, and he said that she wasn’t his. I began to suspect she was ours (or we were hers) and that I was in love with her.

It turned out she is different enough from Julia that I was able to think of them as individuals. Dushenka has shorter fur than Julia did. Julia had a distinctive, bitchy meow. (She wasn’t actually bitchy. She just sounded that way.) Dushenka almost never meows, but she has a strong purr. And she snores. Daintily, but she snores.

She has acquired nicknames. (Baby Cat. Pretty Grrl. (Occasionally Naughty Grrl when she goes walkabout.) The Incredible Pettable Pet. Ms. Muss (rhymes with puss). Shenka-doo. (I may or may not have once called her Shenka-Doodle-Doo.) She even has her own song (“Shenka-Shenka-Doo, where are you? On your little kitty adventure!” ttto the Scooby-Doo theme song.) But I digress. Again. At length.)

I’m not sure exactly how old Dushenka is because she came to us fully grown, though still youthful. Now she seems more like a little old lady, or at least on her way past middle age. Lately, she’s been in poor health. She just can’t seem to pee. She eats and drinks just fine, but nothing comes out the other end. Several vet visits later, it seems – no big surprise here – to be a problem with her kidneys. I hesitate to say how much we’ve spent, what with the weekend emergency vet visit, the blood tests, and the x-rays.

We’re giving her subcutaneous (subQ) fluids, a process we learned how to do over the years with other cats. It involves immobilizing the cat – no easy matter – and sticking a needle under the skin between her shoulder blades. (That’s always my job. Dan can’t bear to do it). We have a bag of fluids and a drip set and let about 150 ml run in. The fluid occupies the space between skin and flesh and makes her look lumpy and weird until it gradually absorbs. Repeat the next day. The idea is to flush out her kidneys. The process exhausts us and Dushenka, too. Afterward, Dushenka has a little snack for her nerves and then we all go have a lie-down. These are the things we do for the little soul we love.

Every so often we look at Dushenka and say, “Who could not love this cat?” Other than the people who had her originally, I don’t know. I couldn’t not love her. I tried.

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Who Would Spend Thousands on a Pet?

Me, for one. And quite a few other people I know. None of us is wealthy, but still we have laid out what some would consider extreme – even obscene – amounts on our pets.

First, let me say that these are regular cats and dogs, mostly rescues, strays, and shelter animals, not fancy, purebred show animals. The expense doesn’t come with the initial investment. Vet check, shots, worming, spaying and neutering – though shelters and local organizations sometimes offer lower-cost options on these – are just the cost of entry into pet guardianship.

Likewise, toys, beds, pet furniture, and other accouterments don’t need to be large investments. I’ve known cats that would ignore fancy toys to play with the plastic rings that come on milk jugs. Dogs can be amused for hours with a stick, tennis ball, or Frisbee.

No, the real expense comes with veterinarian bills. When I was a child, hardly anyone took pets to the vet, except to get the mandated yearly shots or to stitch up an injury from an attack by another animal.

My, how times have changed!

We know a lot more these days about heartworm, feline AIDS, urinary or intestinal blockage, fatty liver disease, kidney failure, and a host of illnesses that pets experience. We sympathize because we humans can get many of the same or similar ailments as well (though we don’t generally catch them from the animals).

So how do the costs scale up into the thousands? Well, veterinary training is as rigorous as medical school – perhaps more so because of the number of different animals a vet might be expected to treat. (A cow and a cat have different anatomy, after all.) Veterinary drugs can sometimes the same ones humans take, though usually at different doses. An x-ray is an x-ray and an ultrasound is an ultrasound. And you can expect to pay more for an after-hours emergency clinic visit than a regular office call.

Still, thousands?

Yes. We’ve been through it a number of times. When my cat Laurel had fatty liver disease, she needed, in addition to all the regular medical care, several weeks of intensive treatment – hand feedings, fluids, specially mixed vitamins. The vet actually took her to his home and treated her there for several weeks. I got a raise that year at work, and every cent of it went to that marvelous vet. He didn’t have to do what he did for Laurel – and I suppose not many people would have paid for the personal care. We did so willingly.

When our dog Bridget developed a tumor on her shoulder, the vet was honest. “We can operate on it, or we can do nothing.” Bridget was middle-aged, as dogs go, a formerly feral rescue dog.

“Do whatever it takes,” Dan said. “She deserves a chance.”

“She’s lucky to have you,” the vet replied.

Bridget came through the operation, never had a recurrence and died peacefully at the age of 17.

We’ve learned to give subcutaneous fluids to cats with kidney failure. We’ve taken them to specialty vets who have given them – literally – years of comfortable life with us. (Once we even had a parakeet that needed an operation – and pulled through.)

Every time we pulled out a checkbook or a credit card and paid willingly, though often with a wince. Some vets kindly allowed us, as long-time customers, to pay in installments.

But the question remains, why? Why do we spend this time, energy, care, worry, and especially money on maintaining the health of our pets or making them comfortable in their last days?

I don’t expect everyone to understand this, but these animals have become family to us. And as family members, they deserve our attention, care – including medical care – and love as long as they are capable of benefiting from it.

When the time comes that we have to let them go, when there is nothing we can do medically except prolong their misery, we take them to the vet for that final act of mercy, or let them pass quietly at home.

And the only cost we count is in our hearts.

Cats, etc. – The Little Soul Who Strayed, Then Stayed

The slim calico prowled the neighborhood, checking out the opportunities. This house? That one? There was a nice culvert in the cul-de-sac where she could both hide and find water.

The big, dark car stopped beside her and the door opened. The cat froze, waiting to see what came next. The human made cooing and chirping sounds, and the ones she’d learned to recognize as “here, kitty, kitty.” But she ignored him and sauntered on. You don’t get into a strange car with just any old human, after all.

Still, the human hadn’t appeared threatening. Maybe she’d check out this area again.

Carefully, the calico watched and waited. The big car went by several times a day. If she was hidden well, it passed by. If she allowed the human a glimpse of her bright eyes and sleek tri-colored fur, she might also listen to the low, comforting sounds that spoke of invitation.

Sometimes she strolled past the place she had lived before, just to check it out. Loud dogs barking in the house. In the yard. Not worth trying right now. Maybe some day the dogs would go away, just as she had.


“I’ve seen this little calico around lately,” my husband said. “Doesn’t look like anyone owns it.”

“Her,” I said. “Calicos are almost always female. They need two X chromosomes to get that color pattern.” I knew I was being pedantic, but I wanted to keep the conversation out of emotional realms. Our big gray and white cat Django had died not long before, and I wasn’t ready to give my heart to another feline companion.


A few days later, the calico saw the sign above our door, visible only to cats: SUCKERS LIVE HERE. FREE FOOD. Casually, she picked her dainty way through the garden and up to the front door. Just as the sign had revealed, the man from the car opened the door and brought her an offering of food. She started hanging around the house more. She could smell that there were other cats there. One dog in the back yard, but not a very noisy one. She allowed the man to take her inside.

He gave her a room to herself, with a constantly filled food dish and a container of litter. The man, and sometimes the woman, would visit her and pet her and give her a lap to sit on. There was a window to look out of and a comfy chair and lots of shelves and bins and boxes to explore.

No barking.


“If we’re going to keep her, we need to take her to the vet for a check-up,” Dan said.

I was still trying to resist. “But are we going to keep her? I’m not ready yet. It’s too soon.”

“Even if we don’t keep her, she needs a vet-check before we can let her mix with the other cats. We can’t leave her in your study. If we do try to find her owner, it could take a while.”

“There was a sign up a couple of streets over about a missing calico. It’s probably this one,” I said.

The neighbor came to see the little calico. I made him describe her before I brought her out. She might not put up with being held very long and turn into a clawed tornado. He neglected to mention the sooty smudge on her chin or her crazy eyes, one gold, one green, and when I did bring her out for inspection, he shook his head sadly. No.

“Good luck,” I said, holding the cat firmly against my chest.


“We’ve got to name her something, if only for the vet records. And we can’t keep calling her Li’l Bit. She’s not so little any more now that she’s eating regularly,” Dan said as we prepared to put her in a carrier. “Do you have any good ideas?”

“Well, there’s Dushenka,” I offered. “It’s Russian and means ‘little soul.’ On Babylon 5, Ivanova’s father called her that as a term of endearment.”

“That’s it, then. She’s Dushenka.”


All Dushenka’s tests were fine. She did seem like she hadn’t been on the street too long – glossy coat, not malnourished, definitely not feral. Just as we were about to take her home for another round of “Should We Keep Her?” the vet said, “I should probably scan her. Lots of cats have ID chips these days.

The quick wave of a wand over her shoulders and – BEEP. Somewhere Dushenka had an owner. And it wasn’t us.

The vet called the chip registry service and the phone number they gave her, but had to leave a message. A few days later, she gave us the address and phone number too. The cat’s registered name was Carmen, and she had lived one street behind us.


We tried. We really did. We called, left messages, even put a note on the door.

And I tried not to love her. I really did. But, truth be told, she had me as soon as I saw the crazy eyes and the smudgy chin.


So we got the vet to write a letter to the chip registry about what awesome pet guardians we are and how all of us had tried to contact the registered owner. And we sent in the $25 re-registration fee. The paperwork done, her ownership officially changed hands. To this day, we’ve never heard a squeak from the neighbors who used to have her.

We’ve seen this meme since, and except for the pronouns, it’s perfect.


She’s OURS now. And we LOVE her.