This I Believe ….

All able-bodied adults should cohabit with at least one cat. Nearly ten millennia of history and precedent support this position. More than seven thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ in what is now Egypt, one of the cradles of civilization, two Lynx-like beings sat under the midday sun, hot, thirsty, and hungry, eyeing with cupidity the ease and abundance enjoyed by a group of vertically oriented beings who lazed around a fire under a canopy sipping water casually while casting aside huge morsels of uneaten foods. As the Felis Primericus watched, an idea formed, and one of them said to the other, “Hey, let’s go over and hang around the bipeds. They look pretty stupid.” On that day in that far-away land the planet Earth’s singly greatest symbiotic relationship developed that persists to this day. In exchange for sustenance and shelter, the Felis Domesticus offers a panoply of advantages and life lessons for the improvement of the human species.

As with any communal living situation, certain responsibilities get divided among the members. At the outset, however, it is important to imagine someone ten times your size coming at you with a large pair of garden shears to lop off the tips of your fingers at the first knuckle to rid you of those bothersome fingernails. In short, leave the cat’s claws alone and invest in a few good scratching posts along with some slip covers. Most of them catch on when you shout “No!” at the top of your lungs the fourth or fifth time. Additionally, they like it when you clean their bathrooms at least twice per week, refreshing the toiletries on a regular basis as you would expect for yourselves. Likewise, morning and evening mealtimes are sacrosanct and will occasion mild punishments should deviations occur. Changing drinking water daily is required along with some little dry treats left out for snacking. These are all non-negotiable.

In return you will enjoy the benefits of an education that only a small furry quadripedal companion will provide. Felines are excellent teachers, encouraging the attribute of patience in their human partners. Unlike humans, most cats like to take their time in making decisions concerning a whole range of lifestyle choices, from foods they will and will not eat to where they choose to sleep on you at night to which of the many play toys they select as their current favorite to when they decide you must give them relaxing neck massages. Then they will change their minds for no apparent reason. They also help us to better understand the concept of sharing as everything you now consider yours they now consider theirs, including every square foot of floor space and every piece of furniture. They also use those claws to enforce a more rigid sense of boundaries, giving you a quick swipe when you misbehave by not scritching them quite right or because you know very well what you did.

Living with a cat also enables you to better understand teenagers. Like adolescents, they want you to love them in very specific ways at the times they choose. They will occasionally surprise you with the power of their love and devotion then get annoyed when you do something they do not like such as moving a piece of furniture. Like pre-adults, they need your protection but will resent you for it. Cats live much longer if they stay inside, but will take every opportunity to bolt through a slightly open door if opportunity arises. Yet no greater warmth of love will spread through your body when this small pointy-eared being chooses you for an afternoon repose, lies in your arms so you feel their heartbeat and their purrs of happiness.

These reasons and so many others I could enumerate enjoin you to trek without delay to your local shelter and allow one of their calicos, ragdolls, siamese, or good old tabby’s to select you as their domestic partner. Ultimately, their good judgement and forbearance will yield great dividends as you become the better human they know you can become.

If one cat can do all this, just think what two can accomplish.

The Mean Season

Of the eight years we have lived with our pointy-eared companions, this past late summer and early fall were probably the worst for the preponderance of Ragweed pollen. We in the Midwest endure our fair share of hot, humid days each year, but these last weeks ushered in the longest streak of Florida-esque humidity in a very great while, even setting some records. It was not all that hot, but every day felt like living in a hothouse dome, a light sheen of sweat gathering the moment we stepped out the door and our leaden chests pushing that little bit harder for each breath. The amount of pollen exploded in this fetid air, never reaching critically high levels, but inescapably there week after week after week. Though we live in an air conditioned house with a merv eight air filter, eventually our poor allergic furry succumbed to the onslaught of so many waves of microbes assaulting her little ten pound system. She chewed a gash in her right rear central paw pad that fairly quickly became infected.

We almost made it. The cat held on throughout the summer until late August when, traditionally, temperatures come down, days get shorter, and we start to relax as another allergy season usually begins to close. Not so this year, as the humidity and warm temperatures extended into mid then late September. Once the infection in her paw took hold, we brought our distressed kitty to our usual veterinary clinic for renewals of the antibiotic Orbax and the pain medication Torbugesic. Our preferred experienced vet left on holiday the week before, so my wife saw one of the younger, more philosophically committed vets who once again warned us of antibiotic resistance then grudgingly gave her the medications once she insisted. Mission completed, my wife brought our terrified Calico huddling in the very back of her carrier past a gauntlet of barking dogs out to the car then home to begin treatment.

At this point my wife and I both feel a real concern about this cat developing an antibiotic resistance. In the last five years we administered Orbax to her for at least one two week duration every summer, with a few summers like this one in which we gave her the drug for even longer periods. If she develops a resistance we fear that no antibiotic would work to combat the infection and it would spread, causing the cat to lose a leg or even her life. We also worry about the amount of chemicals we put into a relatively small frame. During an episode she gets antihistamine as well as antibiotics as well as pain killers. We do not want her liver or any other organ to fail. As an alternative, the vet could give the cat a shot that theoretically would work for a month to combat infections. Some preliminary research mentioned a small percentage of cases in which the shot actually killed the animal, so naturally we eschewed this option as the greater of two evils. This winter we need to research the options further and possibly reconsider.

These considerations remained foremost in our thoughts as we went through the regimen to treat the infection in her right rear pad. At the end of two weeks her paw healed and we nearly stopped giving her the antibiotic and the pain killer. Then I noticed her favoring her left front paw, holding it up off the floor when she sat. That night I grabbed her gently by the scruff and we examined the front paw. Our hearts sank as we saw a new opening in her central pad. My wife called the vet, bandied once again with the young vet who eventually acceded to our request for a renewal of the antibiotic. We extended her treatment, uneasy with both the length of time on the medications and the severity of her symptoms.

Eventually our usual vet returned and we were able to consult with her regarding the situation. She told us that this allergy season hit many animals extremely hard with very little relief coming until the end of September. Oddly, we felt better knowing that others also struggled with the elements this year. As we continued to talk, I mentioned that I worried about the damage we might do to our cat’s innards. Our vet then told me that the Torbugesic had no lasting effect upon feline systems and we could give it to her for an extended period. She renewed our prescription for a slightly larger bottle. As the second round of antibiotics came to a close toward the end of September, the cut on the front paw still bothered our white splotchy pal. Rather than go for another round of antibiotics, we simply extended the pain killer and hoped the weather would turn cold sooner rather than later.

This feline on pain killers gets a glazed look in her eyes and she only wants to sit undisturbed to stare at the world. The first few years we felt very guilty about this because she had no way of understanding what happened and obviously we could not explain it to her. In the past few years she copes much more calmly with the whole situation and we learned to simply let her alone in her purple haze. She also really likes the chicken flavor the vet puts in the liquid to make it taste good. This particular batch lasted well into October by which time the cut nearly healed, but more importantly the temperatures finally eased putting an end to the high humidity. We still give her antihistamines daily, though we began lowering the dosages in preparation for removing them completely. Withal, we put more drugs into her system for a longer period of time this season than in any year but one since we brought her home.

Our pesky Calico now once again taunts her gray tabby sister until we shout at them to stop, her paws healed, her eyes clear, her fur softer, and our hearts lighter. In the new year my wife and I will think about what we will do next spring, possibly talking to the vet about using the pain killer in lower doses prophylactically as another way to prevent our friend from experiencing her allergies so deeply. Those thoughts will wait until after the holidays. Now, just grateful to survive this mean season, we move on to a late fall and wonder what the winter will bring.

Fraidy Cat!

Among the myriad other issues our beloved Calico friend brings with her, she is the apogean of what we might call a Fraidy Cat. In fact, both she and her sister qualify. Even as members of a notoriously wary species, these two set the figurative statistical high end of the curve. They are afraid of, in hierarchical order: people, fireworks, the sound of motorcycle engines, thunder, our stereo system, children screaming while at play across the street, barking dogs, my wife’s singing, squirrels sitting in the front window (really a love/hate thing), strange noises, my sneezes, a good stiff breeze, their reflections in a mirror, anything and everything unfamiliar, and long division. Alright, the last one might be mine. If this list were complete our splotchy furry might not take the prize. The idiosyncrasy that takes her over the top, though, is that she will not eat her morning or evening meals unless my wife stands guard, “watching her back” as it were, without saying a word, or moving in any way, or breathing.

On the rare occasion that I feed the cats, the Calico looks around furtively, licks up the gravy of her wet food, nibbles on a few morsels, then slinks away to the dining room. Even when my wife feeds them, if she moves or tries to, say, rinse out a bowl to put in the sink, the cat scurries away. If I happen to sit in the kitchen, if I speak or my wife speaks or if we try to whisper, the cat scurries away. If the television is on with the sound on and there is a loud noise in a particular program, the cat scurries away. If that motorcycle one of our neighbor owns roars by while she eats, the cat scurries away. In short, we must have complete silence with my wife standing soundless attention behind her if we want any chance at our fraidy cat eating a complete meal.

Most of the year this behavioral quirkiness annoys us mildly but we endure it because of the fun-loving affection, the occasional unrestrained purring, the cute sleeping positions, and general love we feel for her. The issue takes on a whole new sinister dimension when we need her to eat in order to administer medication. I have pilled cats. I have even used a dropper to deliver necessary medications. With most cats, it is an unpleasant process for all concerned, but manageable. This cat, however, fights taking in medication. She chokes and gags and forces the medicine down her chin. The part that really gets me, though, is that not once, when we tried using a dropper, when we need to restrain her to look at her paws, not once has she ever used her claws. They are razor sharp and she could easily damage us for putting her in such discomfort. Most cats would. This contrary, stubborn, loving Calico will not cooperate if we try to medicate her and she will not hurt us for trying. In fact, within a few minutes she comes back, rubbing on my leg looking to move past the incident. That part really gets me.

So morning and night my wife mixes chicken flavored Torbugesic, antihistimines, Orbax in the evening, along with some gravy from the wet food into a solution and then stands rock solid behind our allergic kitty with the frayed paw pads hoping that no stray sounds disrupt the proceedings. I sit quietly in another room, television muted, waiting. I know it went well when the cat trots in to find me afterward for a few scritches behind the ears. Hers, not mine.

I Thought We Might Make It …..

I thought we might make it this year.  After all the turmoil and doubt, my wife and I learned not to hope for too much.  In fact, we do not  even speak of it for fear of tempting fate.  Every year in the past seven years, our beloved Calico’s allergy to Ragweed brought her such discomfort that she chewed her paw pads until they bled and then became infected.  In the early years, it happened more than once per summer on more than one paw.

In the past few years, along with the upgrades to our HVAC systems, we came to understand much better how to protect our quadruped friend from the pollens that affect her so badly.  We administer antihistamines in the proper dose, keep the house closed, try to make sure the air circulates for at least ten minutes every hour so the Merv-8 filtration system has a chance to clean the air, and we do our best not to stress her.  That last bit gets tricky when the feline in question maintains the highest expectations regarding feeding times, bed times, and daily routine.  Withal, last year we made it all the way into September before succumbing to a string of very hot and humid days coupled with high Ragweed pollen counts.

This summer boasted a few strings of ninety degree days, but up until the middle of August the pollen counts remained low.  Then came the latter part of the month with three and four day stretches that had high pollen counts and much warmer daytime high temperatures.  The poor kitty was overcome and began the tell-tale overgrooming and chewing behaviors signalling her distress.  We hoped the episode would pass quickly.  We hoped this would be the first year we could avoid taking the cat to the vet.  Such trips upset her so badly that it takes two or three days for her to settle back into her routine.  Meanwhile, my wife gets upset because the cat is both ill and upset.

She bit the center pad of right rear paw until it bled and became infected.  We still had half a bottle of Orbax and we began administering the antibiotic as soon as we found the cuts.  A few days later we brought the Calico back to the vet for refills of Orbax and a painkiller called Torbugesic that helps reduce her tendency to lick the area by inuring her to the discomfort.  Fortunately, she now remembers these visits to the vet and this year recovered more quickly, in only a day or two.  Her disposition and her paw are improving.  Temperatures are falling along with the likelihood of high Ragweed pollen count days.

I really thought we might make it this year.  That should teach me for next year.