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A Tail of Two Cats

Sam came to us as a 3 week old completely black kitten, abandoned in the trailer park where we lived. I had just graduated from veterinary school and neither of us wanted another cat but neither of us could really refuse the little thing either.

Having gotten her at such a young age, she became very attached to us. She liked to lay on Mike's chest and suck on his beard and I started to train her to jump into my arms on command. Like all kittens taken from their mother this young, she had a bit of a willful, wild streak to her that would never go away. She would be a guerilla warrior and leap out from behind furniture to attack unsuspecting legs way into her teen years. One weekend when Mike and I went away camping with Clyde the dog, we asked our neighbor to take care of the cat. We told him that it would be easy, once daily clean her litterbox, fill her food bowl and make sure she had water. Five minutes and you're out of there. What we hadn't thought of was her attitude. When we came back, he told us that he'd probably not want to do that again. Evidently, when he walked into the bathroom where all of Sam's stuff was, she was in there, felt alittle scared and acted like a cornered wild cat, pinning her ears back, yowling and actually lunging for him. She was only nine pounds but she scared him enough to where he didn't want to do that again.

While Sam was very attached to us I wouldn't say that Sam was an overly affectionate cat. She was too busy doing her own thing during the day. At night she would find me in bed, nudge me to move my arm and when I did, she would curl up in my armpit area and go soundly to sleep. It was rare that she didn't sleep there for at least part of the night. It was something that I got used to and actually found comforting in an odd sort of way.

When Sam became older, not much changed. She slept more but when awake, she acted like a kitten. Feet and legs were not safe in the house and no cabinet was too high for her to climb or jump up on. By the time she was 15, I began to noticed that she seemed to regurgitate her dried food quite often and changing to a different type of food didn?t help. Her bloodwork was normal and radiographs didn?t show anything unusual so I switched her to a canned diet and she did well. I also noticed that she seemed to drink more and she preferred the canned food that had no chunks in it but I reasoned that it was just a preference on her part, nothing more. Months went by and I noticed that again she seemed to not be eating well, bringing us undigested food and losing weight. Liquids were kept down with no problem. Again, I did bloodowork and again, there were no abnormalities noted. In watching her eat, and drink I thought I noticed more of an effort to swallow. So we brought her in and made her swallow some barium which is a not so good tasting liquid that can be tracked through the digestive tract. I thought there was something weird in her esophagus and upper stomach area. Reading radiographs is part art and part science. One doctor may think they may see something in a radiograph and another doctor may not. Since it was hard for me to tell especially being emotionally attached to Sam, I took the radiographs to a specialist and they couldn't be too sure either.

A few more weeks went by and the only thing Mike and I were sure of was that Sam was now losing weight. She was not consuming enough liquid diet to counterbalance her calorie needs. We also noticed that she started to drink out of the pool a lot and she never used to do this. We had a couple of choices. We could take Sam to a specialist for either an endoscopy (upper GI scoping) or for a CT scan. She would have to be anesthetized for either procedure and neither procedure could fix her, only diagnose her. Or we could do an exploratory and hope to both diagnose her and fix her at the same time. Even though I normally don't do surgery on my own animals, I decided that this would be the best thing to do. I had a bad feeling that I knew what the problem was and I also knew that if it was what I thought it was, it would not be fixable.

We planned the surgery as soon as we could, she wasn't able to keep anything but water down and was losing weight daily. An exploratory is just what the name implies, you are exploring because it is uncertain what you'll find. Oh, you usually have a pretty good guess but sometimes something surprising comes up. In Sam's case, unfortunately, my gut feeling was right. She had a firm mass in her distal esophagus, where her esophagus attaches to her stomach. It had made the opening to her stomach so small that I could barely pass a needle through it. I called Mike into surgery and explained it to him and we both agreed to put her to sleep and not let her wake up. It was extremely difficult to do. I felt a lot of guilt because I kept thinking that maybe if a surgeon had done the surgery, they could have thought of a way to "fix" her that I couldn't. I felt guilt that I had not done anything sooner, seeing normal bloodwork does not mean you have a normal animal. How many times have I told that to a client and yet I fell into the same blind trap.

I spent many nights missing her warmth in my armpit. I gradually got used to it.

On a Saturday in May, two months after Sam died, Animal Control brought in a completely black kitten. She had been thrown from a moving car on Becker Road and had been picked up by the trailing car. They brought her to Animal Control who brought her in to us to be put to sleep because her injuries seemed too severe. She had a broken leg, a broken tail, she was in shock and she was comatose, or as close to being in a coma as you can be. As I looked at this little lifeless body, she opened her eyes and, in those eyes I saw Sam. And I couldn't do it. I gave her fluids, gave her injections of medicine to help fight off the shock, wrapped her up and brought her home. I walked in the door and started crying, telling Mike that I was sorry but since my birthday was just a couple of weeks away, I really wanted this for my birthday present. She really didn't look like she would live but I had to try. He knew it was pointless to say the obvious, that she really didn't have a chance because he also knew I had to try.

She came out of the comatose state that she was in. The tone to her rectal area was not good and I saw that she couldn't urinate on her own. I expressed the urine out of her bladder and fed her. She made it through the night but still couldn't urinate on her own and her tail just kind of flopped. It was Sunday and I couldn't wait till Monday so I called a neurologist who checked her out for me and told me the obvious, she probably had been thrown from the car by her tail and the nerves going to her tail and rectum were damaged. She said that it was unknown if the nerves would regrow, but because the kitten was so young it was possible. She said to give the kitten 2 weeks and if at the end of it, she wasn't better then she would never regain function.

I was willing to give the kitten time but her very broken leg wouldn't. We had to have it set soon or she might never regain function in the leg. I called Dr. Kathy Wander, a surgeon who has helped me out a lot through the years and she agreed to squeeze the kitten in for bone surgery. The kitten was still fragile but she survived the surgery where Dr. Wander managed to pin the little leg bone in a pretty good position. While the kitten was hospitalized, Dr. Wander's techs also noticed that she urinated on her own. That was a plus! Even if she had not been able to urinate on her own very well, I was already becoming attached to her. I had been worried about what to do if she couldn?t control her bladder, so this was one less thing to worry about.

We brought her home and she quickly became a handful to handle. There was absolutely no fear. Mentally she was just a bit off, not at all cat like, more like a puppy. When she slept in a deep sleep, she would have her tongue hanging out the front of her mouth and she would sometimes make sucking noises. She loved the dog's toys and would play with them more than the dogs did. We jokingly attributed her odd behavior to oxygen deprivation while she was comatose! And while she occasionally dropped a ball of stool when playing, she quickly became continent with her urine. And she was a vigorous litterbox digger, 2 ½ pounds of kitten spewing litter everywhere. As soon as her leg healed well enough for her to jump, she got a covered litterbox.

Since it was obvious that she would live, we had to name her and spent quite a bit of time on the subject. We both eventually liked "Jonesy" after the cat that Ripley goes back to rescue in the movie "Alien".

Jonesy, the cat, had to have two more surgeries. I spayed her and at the same time I removed the dead tip of her tail so that hair would grow over it again (it had almost looked like a rat's tail at the tip). Months later, she had to have a hip surgery to fix some delayed damage that occurred to the growing bone of her femur. Dr. Wander again helped out and the surgery was successful.

Jonsey is now a full adult, fully continent, and totally crazy. She follows me around the house while I am home, like a dog, comes when she is called, and loves to fetch tennis balls. Her best pal is Pete, the sixty pound dog. They frequently instigate each other in furious play as they run around the house. It looks and sounds vicious and I used to worry but when Jonesy has had enough, she just jumps up on the counter, out of the way for awhile. And if Pete stops the play to soon for Jonesy, she will jump up and get him in a headlock, gnawing on his face until he starts playing again.

The only thing that is obvious about her past injury is her left rear leg that just cant bend as well as the good leg, so it is not unusual to see her sitting on a chair or table with the left leg hanging straight out into the air with her right leg tucked under her. She does have some degenerative joint disease in her lumbo-sacral area that is only obvious if you feel her back or look at a radiograph of the area. It certainly doesn't hinder her aerobatic or acrobatic ability and hopefully never will.

She hasn't made me forget Sam and I still do miss the furrball in my armpit when I sleep. But Jonesy has brought a new kind of joy to my life and I can't explain how lucky I feel that I didn't put her to sleep. I'm the lucky one, not her. And sometimes when I see the wicked gleam in her eyes, I think she knows it.



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