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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bruce's Blue Ribbon

So cat #6 arrived in late May. I lost all will power when I went to the local pet superstore to purchase an item for work. It was to be a quick in and out trip but then I made my usual stop to see the cats in the back of the store. The local humane organization always has cats in the store available for adoption. I usually admire them, comment how cute they are and move on with a hopeful heart that they will all find a good home. So this time, there is this unbelievably handsome tuxedo cat trying to get my attention. Usually the cats look at you and yawn but this guy was working it. He knew the secret to get adopted: put on a show and impress the humans on the other side of the glass. Aside from his playful antics, he must have seen "sucker for black and whites" written across my forehead. His personality and his tuxedo got the best of me and the rest is history. Bruce became part of the clan.

Historically, the average age for cats in our house is high. I like old cats so I to gravitate to the elderly cats when adopting. Having a young cat who is a bit less than a year old, is a whole different story. Things you wouldn't normally worry about are suddenly on the radar which leads me to the point of my story. I went shopping about a week prior to our recent vacation for which I was already starting to have some travel anxiety (see previous post). I bought some clothes in a store that for whatever reason, decorates your shopping bags with ribbons. Three ribbons to be exact, all different colors and each about 18 inches long. I came home and threw the bags on the floor and I headed off to do some cleaning around the house. A few hours later, I took my purchases upstairs and noticed that a ribbon was missing. I knew for a fact there were 3 to begin with and now there were 2. I went looking for the ribbon and much to my dismay found a chewed up piece with only about 6 inches remaining. Holy crap, I'm a veterinarian and I let my cat have access to all those tempting ribbons.

Hopefully most cat owners know that ribbons/strings can be deadly to cats. Veterinarians refer to them as "linear foreign bodies." They swallow them and then the ribbon bunches up inside their intestines and causes them to become obstructed. If the animal is showing signs of obstruction they stop eating, start vomiting and will require surgical removal of the object. So, I had a dilemma on my hands. I didn't want to perform unnecessary surgery but I was pretty certain that Bruce ate the ribbon because never before have I had any issues with the other cats eating stringy stuff. I attempted to induce vomiting by giving him hydrogen peroxide which by the way, is not at all fun for the cat or the person. He didn't vomit so I decided to play the waiting game and hope that he would either vomit or poop it out. Now remember, I am going on vacation in less than 7 days so this was bad timing! So for 2 days I religiously watched him for signs of illness and the litter box. He ate great and felt good the whole time which was a good sign. On day 3 after the incident, he presented a nice stool sample in the litter box. So I put on the gloves and started digging....much to my relief there was a wadded up piece of blue ribbon buried in the poop. The great news was that Bruce would not need intestinal surgery 4 days before I left on vacation. The bad news was he didn't get a blue ribbon for having the best tuxedo.

So the moral of the story, even the professionals make mistakes and don't let your cat eat strings. Fortunately Bruce is doing great despite his close call. He continues to be a young curious cat but he gets in much less trouble now that the house is secure!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Helen's Vision

During a recent visit to southern California, we spent some time at Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe just north of San Diego. HWAC is a not for profit animal adoption center that was started in 1972 by a woman (Helen) who had a vision. This is not your typical animal shelter in the low rent district, euthanizing animals, and a depressing place to visit. Quite the opposite actually. The center is located in the most expensive community in the United States, has a pet boarding facility, an equine and small animal veterinary clinic, educational programs, children's summer camp, a therapeutic riding program and does 3000 adoptions a year. Wow! Of course, none of that is possible without its committed volunteers and staff who run the center like a well oiled machine.

The success of the center stems from its involvement in the community and how it is managed verses a typical animal control facility. President Mike Arms has been in the shelter business for over 30 years. Notice, I said business. He runs the center and makes decisions using successful business and marketing principles, not emotion which is often how these types of organizations are managed. Of course the emotion is there wanting to save animals and keep them from being killed but he has proven time and again that shrewd decisions based on business is how it is done. Mr. Arms shares these principles and teaches them to shelter organizations around the world with the goal of saving the lives of animals and adopting them into their forever family.

The center is located on 12 acres surrounded by Jenny Craig's horse ranch and multi million dollar homes. The buildings are older and serve the purpose but currently the center is undergoing construction. They are building a new veterinary hospital and administration offices which will later be followed by new adoption and boarding facilities. Once completed, the center will be a state of the art facility continuing to serve and improve the lives and welfare of animals in the community. We talked to several employees during our visit and it is obvious that they all serve the vision of founder Helen Woodward to "make the world a better place for people and animals".

Be sure when you adopt an animal visit your local shelter and save a life. If you have extra time, volunteer and make the difference in the lives of orphaned animals-help save lives and find them their families. To learn more about Helen Woodward Animal Center visit

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Travel Anxiety

For me, one of the most stressful times about owning pets is leaving for vacation. I don't worry about them being alone as they have each other to keep themselves company, but I worry about health issues especially in the older cats we have. We do not put them in a boarding kennel for a multitude of reasons. First of all, taking 6 cats in carriers all in the same car is laughable! Second, cats are generally unhappy and stressed in any environment outside their normal routine. For those reasons and others, I have always hired a pet sitter to come to the house daily to care for them and keep an eye on the house. Fortunately, my pet sitters are usually good friends so I don't have the extra worry of having a stranger in my house. Despite this luxury, I still have anxiety.

Several years ago I had planned a trip to Florida with my brother. I had asked a friend to check on the cats and thought I had all the details in place. A word of advice, always confirm your dates with your pet sitter! When I arrived home, I was immediately worried when the paper was on the front door step as she always brought in the paper and the mail while I was gone. I got inside and the cats were unusually happy to see me. I went into the room where their food was kept and their bowls were completely empty. I had recently been to a veterinary meeting so there were bags on the floor that had bisquits and food samples all of which had been ripped open and eaten. I kept their food in a metal tin of which they somehow managed to get the lid off. They still had water since I had put an extra bowl of water down before I left. I called my pet sitter and it was obvious we hadn't confirmed as she had other dates in mind. It was a horrible feeling knowing that their welfare was compromised and something much worse could have resulted.

Fortunately, cats are clever creatures and survivors. To this day, cats continue to amaze me with their abilities to survive in this world. There are many cat stories of survival that sometimes are beyond belief. I have seen some of those cats in practice and continue to be stunned at what they can survive. Cats deserve way more credit than people give them. For now, I need to call my pet sitter and confirm dates for my upcoming vacation. Hoping for happy, well fed cats when we return!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The path

It probably all started when I was about 3 years old, that is my addiction to animals. In particular cats. There is an old home movie of me playing with a litter of kittens and appearing to be enjoying every minute of it. Now of course at that age it was more fun to pick them up by their tails rather than cuddle them but it is cute and fun to watch at this point in my life. Regardless of what encouraged the addiction, it inspired me my to spend my career helping animals as a veterinarian. It really wasn't a decision wrought with a lot of deliberation and I guess I never considered any other options. I have never regretted this path although it has come with many challenges and stressful times.

So, many of my friends do call me a crazy cat lady. I admit that I am probably certifiable at this point in my life. I recently adopted my 6th cat. I don't fit the exact image of that "person" as I am in a relationship, I have a clean house and I'm not old with dementia. As I was going through vet school and the first part of my career it wasn't obvious. I always had pets but they were usually cats and I have always treated both dogs and cats as patients in the clinic. They were somewhat equal in my mind but something started to change. Cats always seem to be the low guy on the totem pole. They often don't get the same respect their counterpart the dog does. This ranges from veterinary care to daily life sustaining care and everything in between. They need advocates so I have become one to speak up for the cat. Aside from that the are loving little creatures who are independent and individually unique.

My goals for this blog are to educate, inform and tell stories that relate to the animal world. In this day and age, where globally there are many issues that affect the relationship people have with animals. Whether it is livestock care issues, animal abuse or the human animal bond. I would like to add my perspective and hopefully the reader will be more thoughtful and understanding when these issues are facing them in their own lives or communities.

As for now, I need to go clean a litter box somewhere and feed the beasts. Cats do rule the household but I wouldn't have it any other way. Until next time...