Story Corner: Puppy in the Snow (part III)

When the sky turned purple, and then gradually set into a deep inky blue, Amy began to think maybe the old newspaper man had been called to something more serious than needing to take a photo of a dog. She had watched the puppy eat his meal of kibble, monitoring him intently. But when they were clearing their dishes after dinner, there came a knock at the front door. Amy’s heart sank.

            Mr. Tim came in, bent more than usual, with snow dusting his jacket. The way he was puffing out his cheeks, and the bright red of his jacket, Amy thought he could be a skinny Santa Claus. Maybe if he had a beard to go along with his impeccably groomed white moustache. He spoke as if he couldn’t catch his breath. “Dreadfully sorry to you, Martha. The manager of our little theater here wanted the paper to capture their opening night of The Nutcracker so I’m afraid I had to stay later than anticipated.”

            “Goodness sake, Tim, take a seat before you keel over on my front doorstep” the grandmother chided. And then, with a wistful sigh she said, “I’m sure the ballet was lovely.”

            “Oh yes, lovely, lovely” he said, taking off his snow-dusted gloves. Amy couldn’t help but notice the camera bag hanging from Mr. Tim’s shoulder. “Now then, where is the little fellow?”

            The grandmother turned to Amy. She smiled warmly at her granddaughter. “If he’s not asleep, why don’t you bring the puppy downstairs?”

            Amy lowered her eyes. Without a word she turned and made the terrible trek up the staircase. She found the puppy chewing on a corner of his blanket. When he saw her, he yipped happily, his tail wagging in greeting. She gently picked him up and held him close as she joined the others in the front room downstairs.

            “Well now, this little fellow sure is cute” Mr. Tim chimed.

            “Whoever lost him must be missing him terribly” the grandmother said.

            Mr. Tim took a couple photos of the puppy in Amy’s arms. She set him down on the armchair when he began to wiggle. He pawed at the buttons on the chair, his toes – like little brown and white beans – spread to clutch at the fabric. Ivan began to dangle a string toy above the puppy, which he immediately became enraptured with. Mr. Tim snapped a few photos of this scene. “This ought to do” he said, putting away his camera. At once, Amy scooped up the puppy and marched back to her room.

            “He needs his sleep” she said, adopting a caregiver’s tone.

            Mr. Tim silently took note of Amy’s behavior, wizened to the innocent tragedies of children ever since he had become a grandfather years ago. He bade Martha and Ivan goodbye – Amy had already disappeared upstairs – and headed back out into the cold, dark blue of the evening.

            The grandmother – wizened in much the same way – found Amy in her room. She was sitting on her bed, crying softly as she watched over the puppy. The grandmother sat down next to her. She put a comforting arm around her granddaughter. “It will be okay” she said. “You’ve done such a good job of taking care of him, and he knows you care. Don’t forget, you found him. He might still be huddled in that patch of snow if it hadn’t been for you.”

            “I know,” Amy said through a meek sob. “I just wish I could keep him.”

            “I know you’ve bonded with him. But just think, imagine if he was yours, and you had lost him. Imagine how sad you would be not knowing where your puppy was. How awful that would be. There could be someone out there missing him terribly.”

            Amy nodded.

            “It’s going to be okay” her grandmother repeated.

            That night, Amy held the puppy in her arms as they both fell asleep.

            The next morning, the family ate breakfast in the front room. Amy and Ivan had bowls of cereal while their grandmother sipped coffee and read aloud from The Secret Garden. The puppy sat in the grandmother’s lap and looked at her intently as she spoke. Around midday they brought the puppy back to the armchair to play. Around this time, Mr. Tim had probably put the notice in the paper.

            At dinner, the family sat at the little kitchen table eating a meal of grilled cheese sandwiches. To her surprise, Amy caught her grandmother sneaking the puppy a morsel of the toasted buttered bread. Ivan was first to finish eating and first to clean his dishes. He took some of the puppy’s kibble from the pantry and tried to teach him to sit. By this time, people were reading the evening paper, no doubt seeing the notice about the puppy. Despite her grandmother’s best efforts to console her, Amy could not sleep that night.

            “Do you want to finish our snowball fight?” Ivan asked her the next morning. A fresh snowfall had coated the front yard and left everything a stark white. Amy glanced out her window at the wintry scene. It was the day before Christmas Eve.

            “It might take your mind off things?” Ivan said.

            She finally agreed. Both were bundled up in thick jackets and rubber boots. Ivan helped Amy create fresh snowballs and together they built two sentinels in the shape of a dog – one for each of their posts. They kept themselves so occupied with their play that the children didn’t notice the sky darkening; they did not even hear the telephone ring from inside the house. A few minutes later their grandmother appeared in the doorway, still holding the phone with the cord disappearing behind her. She watched her two grandchildren for a moment and spoke into the receiver before going back inside. She would wait until they were done with their play. Best not to tell them just yet.

            When the children did come in, their jackets were wet with melted snow and their noses were as red as cherries in summer. Their grandmother had two mugs of hot chocolate waiting for them on the kitchen table.

            “I received a phone call from Mr. Tim” the grandmother said. Amy and Ivan looked up. With a sigh she continued. “It seems our notice in the paper worked.”

            “You mean, the puppy does belong to someone?” Amy asked.

            “To a family in the village. They adopted him for their little boy. He’s a few years younger than you I believe. But he’s been missing him very much. I’m afraid the father did not properly latch the new doggie door while he was cleaning and the poor little thing got out.”

            “What is his name?” Amy asked, looking down into her mug.

            “I believe Mr. Tim said the family named him…Oliver. I told him they could come tomorrow to pick him up.”

            “Oliver” Amy repeated.

Ivan patted his sister’s hand. “Then this means we have one more night with him.”

Amy did her best but she couldn’t help feeling sad. When the next morning came, it was Christmas Eve. Somehow the finely wrapped presents, decorated cookies, and the Christmas music just did not hold the same joy they once had. In the short amount of time the puppy was in their care, Amy had come to care for him a great deal. But she also realized not all wonderful things lasted forever. It was time for the puppy – Oliver – to go back home. When the knock at the door came, Amy was the first to greet the family and their young son, Will. He immediately gave Amy’s hand a grateful squeeze when he saw her.

“Thank you” he spoke, eyes wide and hopeful. Amy thought that perhaps letting go wouldn’t be so bad. Oliver would, after all, grow up in a loving home. He and the little boy would grow up together.

That Christmas Eve, she said goodbye to Oliver the puppy, giving him one last hug before handing him carefully to the arms of the little boy. Oliver nuzzled Will’s face. The family left, but not before telling Amy that they would come back for visits. The grandmother invited them for Christmas dinner. And her grandmother was right, it would be okay. She would come to open her heart to many more small creatures, but she would not forget Oliver, the puppy in the snow.

Story Corner: Puppy in the Snow (part II)

By the next morning, the grandmother had already risen with the crows and the sparrows. She filled her coffee mug and had oatmeal and scrambled eggs on the stove ready for when her grandchildren came downstairs. She was at the kitchen table writing busily on a pad of paper. Amy was first to come down for breakfast, as usual.

            “What’s that?” Amy asked.

            Her grandmother, as shrewd as ever, answered mildly, “Young lady, you know precisely that I am preparing a flier for our little furry guest upstairs. We need to establish if there is a family looking for him.”

            At this, Amy pulled a chair out from the table and sat down quietly pensive.

            Ivan appeared in the kitchen doorway, his mouth agape in a lazy yawn, arms outstretched. Without saying a word he prepared a bowl of oatmeal and a good helping of eggs and took the seat next to his sister. The table remained quiet save for Ivan’s chewing, the grandmother’s steady scribbling, and Amy’s growling stomach.

            “Eat some breakfast, dear” the grandmother said without looking up.

            “I’m not hungry” Amy said, but she got up and fixed herself a plate anyway.

            As soon as breakfast was done, Ivan and Amy cleaned their dishes and the empty pot of oatmeal.

            Their grandmother stood up. “Now go wash up and feed the puppy. After that, we will go see Mr. Tim and then we’ll pick up some real dog food.” Mr. Tim was the elderly gentleman who owned the local newspaper.

            Amy had brought a small plate of boiled chicken and rice – which looked more like applesauce after her grandmother put it in the food processor – and set it in the box where the puppy slept. His sweet black nose twitched at the scent of the chicken. Without opening his eyes, he wiggled closer to the plate and started eating. Amy smiled at this little creature who had completely surprised her. Who would have expected to find something so precious out in such unforgiving conditions?

            In town, the shops were decorated with fresh evergreen and fairy light. Telephone poles were wrapped in red ribbon and Christmas music was playing from intermittent speakers along the main street, ushering along the throng of bundled up Christmas shoppers. The newspaper office was nestled between the local pharmacy and grocery. Amy and Ivan followed their grandmother into Mr. Tim’s office. Apparently most of his crew had gone out to gather stories from nearby towns so the building was mostly empty save for Mr. Tim himself and his niece who worked as his secretary.

            Mr. Tim, a kindly soul with finely tailored-suits and a plume of white hair who stooped just ever so slightly from years of carrying heavy bundles of newspapers, looked up from his desk when they walked in.

            “Martha!” he greeted. His bright blue eyes twinkled merrily from above the rim of his half-moon glasses. He stood up from his seat and walked as briskly as he could over to the grandmother to take her hand in his pale, wrinkled one. “So good to see you again! What brings you all the way from your beautifully quaint cottage?”

            “Hello, Tim” their grandmother smiled politely, the faintest blush spreading across her cheeks. Everyone knew she took pride in how well she kept up with her home. “I came to ask if you would run this notice in your paper.” She handed him the writing pad she’d been working on that morning.

            Mr. Tim pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose and squinted. “I see,” he said. “It seems this little fellow was very lucky to wind up in your yard then. Do you have a photo of him to go along with your description?”

            “I’m afraid I don’t, that old camera of mine is headed for the graveyard.”

            The old gentleman furrowed his eyebrows. “Now that won’t do. How about this? I’d be happy to stop by after work and take a nice picture of the little fellow. I’ll even bring my best camera.”

            “Thank would be wonderful,” the grandmother said.

            Mr. Tim smiled as he took the papers back to his desk. Amy hadn’t said a peep, and to her surprise, neither had her brother. He remained as quiet as she was as their grandmother ushered them back out onto the cheerily lit street and into the grocery next door where they picked up milk, cereal, eggs, and dog food.

            Back home, Ivan started to perk up a little, prattling on to his grandmother about the shiny red fire engine he wanted for Christmas and how Mr. Tim reminded him of a skinny Santa Claus. Amy still hadn’t said anything, far too engrossed in her own thoughts and thinking of possible scenarios which would keep old Mr. Tim from coming by to take photos of her little rescue. Perhaps there would be a sensational news story that would require him to be present with his “best camera” or maybe the throng of Christmas shoppers would congest the streets so much he wouldn’t be able to get out of his office.

End of Part II

Story Corner: Puppy in the Snow (part I)

The children heard the sound of their grandmother calling them in from their play. Her voice had mingled with the whispers of the wind, so at first, they simply thought it was the blustery weather. The little girl, Amy, was rolling a ball of snow in her mittened-hand, she could feel the cold soak through. Her brother, Ivan, who was just a couple years older, was pushing a small toy truck in the snow. He was busy making designs from the tiny tire tracks. Again their grandmother called out to them, this time with that subtle edge in her voice that hinted at parental irritation.

            “Coming!” Amy called, still minding her meticulously crafted balls of snow more so than her grandmother.

            “What are you going to do with all those snowballs?” her brother asked her as he dusted off his jacket.

            “Throw them, duh” she answered, thinking of their snowball fight last Christmas. An imaginary battle had taken place in the whole of their grandmother’s front yard. Amy had lost by just two imaginary casualties: her Raggedy Ann doll and her favorite yellow robot – they were laid up in the laundry room/infirmary for days.

            She was still setting up the snowballs in neat piles when their grandmother called again. Amy quickly abandoned her work and ran after her brother toward the house. Before she passed the front gate, a slight movement in the snow caught her eye. She hesitated. At the base of the mailbox post shivered a tiny brown and white creature. Its ears were wet with snow and it kept its tail tucked against its small body. Amy held her breath. The imploring eyes finally looked up at her, too afraid to run away.

            “A puppy!” Amy squealed.

            Her grandmother came forward, stepping off the front porch and shaking her head.

            “What on earth is that girl going on about this time?”

            Amy slowly bent down. When the puppy didn’t move, she reached out. At this, the puppy scrambled backyard, burying himself deeper into the snow. Amy frowned.

            “What’s all this?” Her grandmother knelt beside her, peering into the little mound before them.

            “It’s a puppy, grandma. But he’s all by himself. And he won’t let me pet him.”

            Her grandmother watched for a moment as the puppy-shaped pile continued to shiver.

            “Run inside and get a piece of bacon from this morning’s leftovers” she instructed.

            Without delay, Amy did as her grandmother said, surprising a confused Ivan who had then appeared in the doorway, retrieved a piece of bacon from the ice box and ran back outside. Her grandmother was still crouched in the same spot.

            “Shh” she cautioned her granddaughter and held her hand out for the bacon. “This will have to do” she said quietly. She reached out slowly toward the puppy with the piece of bacon on her palm.

            The small nose emerged first, the delicate black membrane wiggling as he sniffed out the proffered meat. Next came the small brown face with the imploring eyes, large shining eyes suddenly lit up with interest. He cautiously took a few steps forward, paws dusted with frost. The grandmother held perfectly still until the little creature finally came out of his hiding place and took the bacon in one lick. The grandmother carefully reached out and cupped the puppy in her hands – he was so small he fit perfectly inside them – and held him securely against her sweater.

            Amy was hopping up and down as if it were Christmas morning. The girl’s heart was near to bursting with excitement. “Can we keep him, can we?”

            “Calm down, child,” her grandmother admonished, “we don’t even know yet if he belongs to anyone.”

            Back inside the warm kitchen, the grandmother instructed Amy to sit down near the stove which was still emanating heat and tucked the puppy in her granddaughter’s arms, placing a blanket over them both. Amy’s cheeks were flushed a rosy hue, her brimming smile making it all the more noticeable.

            “You look red in the face” Ivan said as he took the chair next to her, peering into the little bundle she held in her arms. “How long do you think he’s been out there?”

            “Couldn’t say,” their grandmother spoke up, stirring the pot of stew on the stove. “I can’t imagine he was outside for too long, otherwise he would be in far poorer condition, bless his heart. We’ll put a notice in the paper first thing tomorrow morning.”

            “Aw, can’t we keep him?” Amy whined.

            Her grandmother gave her a stern look. “Young lady, I’ve already told you. We do not know yet if he belongs to anyone. Now you and your brother better go find a secure box with blankets for him to sleep in and wash up for dinner.”

            Frowning, Amy stood up from her chair and proceeded toward her bedroom, Ivan joining her. They found an old shipping box under her bed which had once held a collection of fairytale books. Now it would be outfitted as a dog bed. Amy chose three of her softest blankets for the puppy to sleep on, her brother contributing an old stuffed teddy bear as a bedtime companion for their new tiny guest. Finally nestled inside the box, in the warmth of the house, the puppy fell asleep right before their eyes.

            After dinner, their grandmother read them a bedtime story about dragons and knights with God-given courage. Ivan listened intently, but all Amy could think of was her hope that she would be able to keep the puppy. She dreamed in her bed, next to the dreaming puppy, both at peace for the time being. Hope was such a fragile state for such small creatures as they. Amy did not want to deprive someone of finding their missing pet if he truly did belong to someone else. But at the same time she knew she already loved him, and made a wish that night. More than hoping for a porcelain tea set or a finely painted wooden sword to lead her imaginary troops in this year’s snowball fight against her brother, Amy wanted a puppy for Christmas. The stars seemed to answer her wish that night, twinkling as they did in the velvet night sky, but their voice was as soft as it always was, and not even the lonely night owl could hear them.

End of Part I

Another year has come and gone. Thank you to those who have been reading the blog posts, it is always much appreciated. I hope everyone has a great 2023 with their friends and family and furry four-legged loved ones. Happy New Year!

Onychietomy (part II of Why Cats Scratch)

For years and years, cats have been misunderstood for their natural behavior of scratching. People may think their furry friends are being purposefully destructive or acting out, and if they happen to scratch their human family members, it hurts! Speaking as one who still has a scar from a family cat from a scratch ten years ago, there’s no objection that it hurts. So many times, pet parents will resort to the declaw procedure. This is an amputation surgery to remove your cat’s toes.

Because cats naturally walk on their toes, taking their toes away will of course change their mobility, and over time they have to constantly compensate for their missing toes. In atypical settings (where the procedure may not be necessarily done properly or with the best tools, medicine, or skill) this can eventually lead to health complications like arthritis, lumbar-spine pain, avoidance of stepping into the litter box due to pain, aggression due to pain, bony protrusions, calluses, cysts, growths, inflammation, cutaneous horns, lacerations, plantigrade stance, swollen fingers, or tendon contracture. These examples are not necessarily what will happen, more so what has been seen in past non-accredited, non-cat friendly practice hospitals, but important to take into account when you are thinking about this particular procedure. “But my cat was just fine after their declaw” you say? Cats are notorious for hiding pain. And the majority of cat owners aren’t trained to notice the subtle signs of discomfort and health problems. It is important to keep a dialogue with your veterinarian if your cat has recently been declawed, so you can monitor your cat for early signs of pain or abnormalities. I encourage you to search the x-rays of a cat before and after declawing, investigate both sides of the debate, read testimonies from pet parents that have had it done and declaws that ended in good and bad results so you will know all aspects of it.

Disadvantages to take into account:

  • Cats can no longer engage in their natural behavior of scratching.
  • Declawing a cat is not a guarantee that a cat will stay in its home (meaning it’s not a guarantee that the pet parent and pet relationship will necessarily be kept intact), the cat may still wind up at the shelter if the pet parent finds irreconcilable differences and then you have a declawed cat in the shelter.
  • Letting your declawed cat outdoors leaves them at a severe disadvantage as you have removed their main means of self-defense against dogs, other cats, or other predatory animals. Please keep in mind an indoor-only lifestyle is not inhumane for your kitty.
  • Declawing your new cat just because the cat you already have is already declawed is not necessarily beneficial to the cat you already have.
  • The older or heavier the newly declawed cat is, the more weight and strain they are putting on their altered, currently healing feet.
  • Resorting to declaw as a behavior modification will not necessarily give you the results you are looking for, the cat may still practice other behaviors like trying to scratch (the declawed cat does not necessarily know he’s declawed), or biting if they are young and already inclined to rough play.
  • Some non-accredited, non-cat friendly clinics may not employ the most up to date methods of declaw and after care.

Alternatives to declawing:

  • Use scratching posts or scratching pads, either sisal or corrugated cardboard, either a vertical or horizontal post.
  • You can make the scratching post more desirable by putting cat nip around it or treats.
  • You can make the leg of your couch or chair (or other object that you don’t want your cat to scratch) undesirable by wrapping it with plastic (to create an unpleasant feel to scratch), or, as Veterinary Partner suggests, you can tape little balloons to the surfaces so when the cat goes to scratch they will cause a loud pop sound. Loud startling noises are the key here!
  • Use cone shaped scratching posts that you can put on either side for your couch, guarding the arms of the couch or chair.
  • Make the things they like to scratch an unpleasant experience to scratch: you can use double-sided tape on surfaces they like to scratch, you can put crinkled up aluminum foil on chair arms to make it have an unpleasant sound and feel to scratch.
  • Be sure to trim your cat’s claws regularly.
  • Utilize synthetic nail caps like the Pretty Claws brand soft nail caps. But just be aware these caps must be replaced as the claws grow and sometimes it will not deter the scratching.

The key here is training: it can take time to redirect your cat’s interest to something you’d prefer them to scratch and direct them away from your furniture or your arms, but if over time, you ARE successful and now you don’t have to consider a permanently altering procedure, isn’t that worth the time and effort?

I have a firm personal stance but it is not my place to say what is right and wrong for your cat, but I do feel it’s important that cat parents learn all the facts about this procedure and exhaust all alternatives first so they can make an informed decision with their veterinarian. Anything invasive should always be discussed with your vet (preferably an accredited, cat friendly vet who knows all the nuances of cat behavior and their wellbeing). A declaw is a permanently altering procedure, it is not something to take lightly. The important take away from all this discussion about such a hot-button subject that I want to convey is to remember to have patience with your cat. They love you and they are just doing what all cats do when they scratch. And to please please please make sure you are informed and make decisions regarding your cat’s wellbeing with the guidance of your veterinarian.

Image credit for above anatomic changes illustration:

Why Cats Scratch

Let’s break this up in two parts. We’ll have a conversation about what may seem like a semi-innocuous word: declaw. A declaw, or onychietomy, is a controversial surgical amputation of the P3 joint of a cat’s paw (similar to if you were to remove the first knuckle of a person’s finger) and usually to prevent a cat from scratching. But first, why do cats scratch? Cats are digitigrade, meaning they walk on their toes. And scratching is a completely normal behavior for them. Scratching is instinct, it’s natural, and it just feels good to them. The act of scratching removes the dead outer part of the cat’s nails and it stretches their claws, toes, legs, and back which leads to the release of hormones that make the cat feel good (a pheromone that can come from the interdigital glands of a cat’s paw). They may scratch due to feeling anxiety or enthusiasm, or to mark their territory via the scent glands in their paws. They scratch to satisfy their needs for comfort, not to make you mad or to purposefully destroy your things. They simply like to stretch out and extend their claws on tall, vertical, non-wobbly objects (which is why that dining room chair or your favorite couch or even the door trim into your bedroom is all torn up). You will likely not come across a feline who doesn’t like to scratch.

Stay tuned for Part Two!

Story Corner: The Little Orange Cat

Ms Danvers was not accustomed to surprises. Even when it rained after the weatherman specifically announced that it was not likely to rain that day, she would be completely caught off guard and would be blaming the weatherman for why she couldn’t go outside and plant her Begonias. So imagine her surprise when one morning, as she went down her front steps to collect the mail, she heard a distinct, soft trill. She stopped half-way to the mailbox and listened again, more carefully this time. When after a few moments she did not hear this little noise save for the rustle of some leaves, she surveyed her street. A few houses down lived Mrs. Winters, she had two very pretty if not extremely ornery Persian cats whom she let outside on the rare occasion the weather was perfectly agreeable. But she was visiting her sister in Oklahoma and always took those two fluff balls with claws with her. So it couldn’t be her. Across the street, where the train tracks passed behind the houses, lived the young eccentric who absolutely wilted inwardly at the sight of a bug. Ms Danvers couldn’t see her owning anything that could dash underfoot or blink back at her much less a cat. But she did not hear the soft trill again and decided to collect her mail, go inside, and think no more about the matter.

By the next afternoon, the minor disturbance now forgotten, Ms Danvers stepped down her walkway to her car. She needed to go to the super market for cereal, potatoes, and coffee (mustn’t forget the coffee!). As she placed her hand on the car door, again came that soft little trill, it sounded so much closer this time, as if it were just underfoot. The thoroughly confused lady looked down at her feet and, as if on cue, a tiny pink nose followed by whiskers and two fuzzy orange ears peeked out from underneath the car. Ms Danvers gasped in mild alarm as more of the tiny orange creature appeared. Two large amber eyes stared up at Ms Danvers. Again came that distinct trill. He was mewling at her. She never thought a stray cat would approach her. She had always been slightly anxious around cats, especially after the unfortunate run-in with Mrs. Winters’ Persians – they nearly tore up her hand when she tried to pet them.

“Shoo!” said Ms Danvers, waving her hands in an obviously shooing motion. The cat responded by rubbing against her shoe.

“You should know, I don’t particularly like cats” she said, trying a different tactic. But the little orange cat only stared up at her with those big amber eyes as if he only understood that she was talking to him, nothing more.

She side-stepped him, careful not to let her feet touch a hair on him and hurriedly got into her car. When she started the engine, the cat only curled up on the bottom step of her walkway and settled in for a nap.

Reluctant to leave this new visitor the run of her whole front yard, she drove off to the local super market. An hour later when she returned, the cat was gone.

A few days passed with no sign of the cat. Ms Danvers had started to think he had finally gone home to his owner when one Sunday afternoon she heard that familiar trill. This time it was right outside her door.

She opened the door to find the little orange cat sitting on her front porch step, swishing his tail, amber eyes lazily following the jaunty movement of a fly.

“What are you doing here?” Ms Danvers scoffed. But then she noticed the cat’s fur. It wasn’t as shiny as before, as if he had been sleeping in the dirt, his stomach appeared slightly sunken in – probably from lack of a decent meal – and there was now an ugly notch in his left ear, as if another animal had beat him up. The little orange cat looked up at Ms Danvers again and gave a muffled, sad cry. The sort of noise that implores more than it greets. And something inside Ms Danvers crumbled, just ever so slightly.

“Fine,” she said aloud, annoyed at herself, “wait right there.” The cat seemed to swish his tail in response.

Moments later, Ms Danvers came back outside with a paper plate. She didn’t have cat food, so she had put a heaping amount of canned tuna onto the plate. The cat’s whiskers twitched and he stood erect at the sight of the plate. As soon as she set the plate of tuna in front of him, he immediately started eating his meal. Ms Danvers went back inside the house and thought about the cat.

The weather began to change, summer slid gradually into fall. It was starting to get that chill in the air. The cat had returned to Ms Danvers’ front step for weeks now. Now he knew the lay of the land as far as Ms Danvers’ front yard and backyard were concerned. His favorite spot to sleep was right underneath the Hydrangea bush outside the bedroom window. His favorite spot to sun himself was right on top of Ms Danvers’ car, somewhat to Ms Danvers’ annoyance though she allowed him that liberty regardless. And though she had started buying actual cat food to put outside for him, his favorite meal was still tuna from a can. Before she realized what had happened, Ms Danvers found herself becoming quite fond of the little orange cat.

One evening, the rain had come, just as the weatherman promised. It poured down in sheets with the force of some unruly winds. It had become decidedly colder, the last traces of summer warmth dissipating and washing away with the rains. It dissolved Ms Danvers’ beautiful kempt backyard into a soaked mud puddle. Water from the eaves rushed down heavily and noisily.

Ms Danvers was making herself a cup of tea. Maybe she’d start that new mystery novel she’d been meaning to pick up. Maybe, if the electricity held up, she’d go online and order a nice fluffy cat bed to put outside for the little orange cat. At the thought of the cat, she went over to open her front door. But the front porch was empty save for some potted plants she took care to shelter closer to the house.

Back in the kitchen, she poured the water fresh from the kettle; the steam rose and curled pleasantly in the air. She slowly moved the spoon around in the cup, enjoying the clink of the metal against the ceramic rim. Ms Danvers’ ears pricked. It wasn’t the little clink, but something else. It was that familiar, and now most welcome, trill. The now not-so-easily-surprised lady turned to observe her kitchen door. The door had a set of windows on each side that revealed a view of her backyard. The rain was pouring down in streaks across the windowpanes, turning the distant neighborhood into a watercolor. She kept a trash can directly outside one of these windows, it was normally used to collect rain water on torrential days like this, only this time she had completely forgotten to open it. Instead, perched atop the trash can was the little orange cat, head cocked to the side and looking in. His poor whiskers were weighed down with rain drops and his fur was completely soaked. He shivered as he meowed. It was the most pitiful sight Ms Danvers had ever seen.

Forgetting all about her tea and her mystery novel, and her total aversion to getting wet, Ms Danvers rushed around grabbing towels and dashed outside. The little orange cat did not make a move toward her when she came outside, but huddled more into himself. Ms Danvers bravely stepped into the mud and mush and wrapped the little shivering creature in a heap of towels. She carefully carried him inside and did her best to dry his fur. After awhile the little cat stopped his shivering and began to purr. He looked up appreciatively at Ms Danvers and Ms Danvers looked thoughtfully down at him.

“Well Oscar,” (she had then and there decided on the name Oscar, since he ended up on top of a trash can after all) “I can’t continue to leave you outside if you’re going to go get yourself soaking wet, all chilled to the bone.”

He continued to purr in her arms. He knew he was now safe, he had found his forever home, he was happy, and above all, Oscar the little orange cat knew he was loved.

The Value of the Annual Exam

If asked if you would like to make an appointment to see the vet for what you’re calling about, or, if you’re in the middle of the exam and the vet asks if you’d like to do labwork today because it hasn’t been done in a couple years, many times, we’ll hear the resounding phrase “My pet seems fine at home.” Okay, that’s fair. You know your furry friend better than anyone, there’s no denying that. But what about the things you can’t see? Things like an underlying illness that’s slowly brewing, or an irregular heart rate, or something that your cat is hiding (felines are experts at hiding sickness by the way), or something else that may be much more than an “age-related” condition. This is where your vet comes in, to help catch these quietly brewing maladies before it becomes too late, or before you get to a point where it’s more expensive to treat because you waited. We’ve all been there. I myself have waited to bring a fur baby in, not realizing her retinas detached, and it was too late to do anything about re-attaching them. On the opposite spectrum, there is the “mommy feeling” or the “mommy senses going off”. This is sort of like Spider-Man’s “spidey senses”! It’s just an unshakable sense that something is wrong even though you can’t pin point what it is. It’s worth your peace of mind and your pet’s well-being to get your pet checked out. Don’t ignore the mommy feeling. And don’t underestimate the value of bringing your furry friend in at least once a year to be professionally evaluated by your local veterinarian.

So why is an annual exam important? Your vet is trained to recognize the subtle signs of a health problem. They have years of combined schooling and experience. A typical physical well exam will evaluate your pet’s body condition, muscle condition, heart rate, respiration/lung fields, ears, eyes, dental cavity, joints, abdomen, internal organs that can be palpated from the abdomen, skin, etc, as well as any concerns you are having at home and from there they can make a recommendation. I don’t have the knowledge or know-how that my vets do, and I certainly could not tell you about the aforementioned physical traits. And checking these physical traits annually helps create a baseline for overall health condition. As each year passes, your vet collects a pattern of your pet’s physical state. They may be able to see which joints are painful when you notice your dog’s mobility is declining, or when they yelp when you pick them up. If your dog is itchy, maybe it’s not just allergies, maybe it’s a skin infection. And there are so many different types of skin conditions that appear similar. I’m not trained to discern the differences. If your cat is hiding and everything else is normal, their kidneys may be starting to decline, and you won’t see obvious signs until your kitty’s creatinine level is too high beyond the help of fluids and medication. And bloodwork is a diagnostic that helps the vet see increases in values like creatinine.

It’s always good to create a baseline. If your pet is young, it may be okay to update bloodwork every other year. But it’s important to get that baseline. With a healthy young pet, you get all sorts of information about values in their blood while those values are still relatively normal. And as you pet ages, updating bloodwork every year or every 6 months is highly recommended. Let’s say you have a cat who is predisposed to Chronic Kidney Disease (a very common condition for cats). That cat’s kidney values can drastically change within a span of 6 months. So if you defer bloodwork, or even an annual physical exam, because your cat “is perfectly normal at home”, you could be missing these subtle changes. And this is just one example.

Your pet’s health changes once they reach a certain age, changes to important body functions that we can mistake as a normal “age-related” condition, overlooking the subtle signs of something more sinister, and thus missing a chance to further your pet’s well-being. Senior pets hold a special place in our hearts, they’ve earned it. They’ve been with us a long time, or they are a senior cat or dog that we recently adopted but have been through so much and need tender loving care.

Another key point about the physical exam is the fact that it’s physical. You cannot obtain the information afforded from sight, sound, and touch via a phone call. Many of us defer a doctor exam due to the cost. But it’s not about the money. Veterinarians do what they do because they care about your furry friend as much as you do! They love animals and it’s their calling to help them. But they need to see them on a regular annual basis.

Canned Food vs Dry Food

Welcome to the first of my “Food Series” posts. As we all know, nutrition is a key component of keeping your pet healthy. We want them to live long and happily and therefore we need to provide the right fuel to keep that going. I wanted to begin with a post about cat food. Pets can be a bit picky in regards to what they eat, and cats are certainly no exception. Some of us are well aware of a contrary kitty in our home that will want tuna one day, and then chicken the next, and then it seems no flavor will tempt them to eat. In a way they are like little kids – very particular about their meals or they will refuse to eat (excluding the cases where a cat will not eat due to a medical problem). There are many facets to pet food. Today I want to talk about the debate between canned food vs dry food for cats.

Domesticated cats share similar traits with their much larger, wilder ancestors. One of those traits is their need for meat. Your pet cat is an obligate carnivore; they require animal protein and animal fat as part of their balanced diet. Now this is not a post advocating for raw food – that is another topic entirely and for now, let’s just say raw food does not come highly recommended due to the risk of food-borne illnesses. Protein is the key word here. Cats need protein-based calories vs carbohydrate-based calories, and cats need moisture in their food. Thus, canned food is preferred over dry food. Canned food is predominantly protein and water, whereas dry food typically has no amount of moisture of dietary benefit but it contains a great deal of carbohydrates. Those carbs lead to large build up of unnecessary calories which can lead to weight gain, diabetes, or poor kidney function later on.

Not all calories are the same! The calories a cat gains from the meat/protein in its canned food help fuel its energy and body function. Their bodies are made for this. But calories from carbohydrates are something to be wary of. Dry food may seem preferable because it’s low-maintenance (you can just leave it out rather than continuing to wash and refill the food bowl at several intervals during the day), it may be less expensive depending on what and where you buy, and let’s face it, it tends to smell a lot better than its stinky canned food opposite. And of course, many cats, after eating that first meal of dry kibble, will keep coming back for more. Like with humans and fast food, it creates a craving that needs to be satisfied even though the craving is for a less-than-healthy option. As advocates for our cat’s health and well-being, we need to be the one to push for the healthier option.

For some, I understand it may not be enough for me to just tell you carbs are not the best thing. But perhaps an explanation steeped in a little science will help. Dry kibble contains many carbohydrates due to its production process. It is typically made with ingredients like rice and cornmeal, ingredients that add a lot of carbs to the recipe. Cats lack glucokinase which is a liver enzyme that aids in converting glucose (and carbohydrates are composed of sugars like glucose) into a form that cells in the body can use for energy. Cats also do not have amylase in their saliva. Amylase is an enzyme that kick starts the process of carb digestion. So they have all this glucose in their system that they cannot use, so it just builds up into very high blood glucose levels. Thus, a high carbohydrate diet is one of the main causes of obesity and/or diabetes in cats.

A note on moisture:

Cats may not feel thirsty despite being dehydrated. You may not see your kitty going over to their water bowl often to drink. And you may have heard that cats have a significantly reduced “thirst drive” when compared to dogs. The next option they have to get their daily water intake is through their food. As stated earlier, canned food is predominantly protein and water. Dry kibble does not offer any kind of beneficial moisture content. So canned food is important to keep organ functions normal which rely heavily on water intake, like the kidneys. As cats get older, one of the common diseases I see coming through the clinic is kidney failure. If we want to keep kidney issues at bay, let’s start with the most basic component of wellbeing – their food. Canned food is key.

A note on meals vs free feeding:

In the wild, cats are used to eating up to 5 to 7 meals a day. Following the wet food recommendation, this would mean opening a can or reheating refrigerated wet food leftovers multiple times a day. But this is usually not a viable option for us humans – the cat’s caretaker. Instead, to make it easier, you can try to feed 2 to 3 canned food meals a day.

And if at the end of the day you are still on team dry food (or your cat refuses to go to team wet food, which is the case for some), you can try the following brands of dry food to reduce as many unwanted carbohydrates as possible:
“Zero” cat food by the brand Young Again pet food, or “Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein”


The way mother cats carry their kittens:

In order to safely carry their babies, mother cats will carry a kitten by the skin on the back of its neck with her mouth, or, scruffing. Due to a special “flexor reflex” the mother cat’s hold on the back of the kitten’s neck causes the kitten’s body to go limp. But this reflex is only present in the very early stages of a kitten’s life. Which means, if you try to do this to a cat, you are doing something quite different and quite painful. When you scruff, you are pulling the cat’s skin (imagine someone yanking on your hair) and taking away the cat’s option to retreat which only increases fear, stress, mistrust, and your likelihood of never being able to handle the cat again. And when you scruff a cat to pick it up, you are basically letting all of the cat’s weight hang by the tissue, nerves, and hair of that small piece of the cat’s neck you are clutching in your tight grasp. So why do people still do this?

Why people still scruff:

Cats are very unpredictable – especially in a new or scary environment such as a vet’s office. And anything new is usually scary to them. They are very much “fight or flight” creatures when faced with a stressor. So in order to restrain a cat who is exhibiting signs of “fight or flight” (or even before they give the cat a chance) people will scruff them, and this even happens in some vet offices today. This often stems from fear of what a cat may do to them, or else, a big misunderstanding about cats. We should of course take safety into consideration and not force ourselves to do something we’re uncomfortable with, but there are safe ways to approach handling a cat that do not involve scruffing! And we should try our best to better understand our furry feline friends because above all, we just want them to be happy and healthy and show them we have enough respect for them not to do something to them which would escalate their fears and mistrust – like scruffing. When we yank them or hold them by the skin on the back of the neck to remove them from their carriers, from their hiding places, to hold them down, to examine them, to give them vaccines or draw blood, this is cruel. And for an AAHA accredited hospital, this is neither fear-free nor appropriate handling.

Better alternatives:

So what should we do instead? In order to gain access to the cat if they will not come out of their carrier on their own, please do not dump them or pull them out by their scruff. Would you want someone to dump you off the couch onto the floor or reach for you out of nowhere and yank the skin on the back of the neck to pull you in another room? No, of course not! Instead, try taking the top off the carrier (if your carrier has that capability) then put a blanket over them to provide them a hiding place and pick them up by their abdomen and bottom. Or if your carrier cannot be disassembled, use a towel anyway to wrap over them and pick them up. When holding them for an exam, to trim their nails, to give meds, etc, try the burrito method. For this method, wrap the cat tightly and snuggly in a blanket in a way that keeps their limbs from slipping out of the blanket or kicking or moving, but their head is still out, which makes the cat-blanket combo look like a burrito, or purrito.

If you want the cat to come out to where you want them – say, an exam room at a vet’s office – make that environment somewhere they want to be. Make the room calm and comfortable. Try dim lighting, soft music, soft blankets, and feline pheromones. Feliway makes synthetic feline pheromones in the form of sprays, collars, and plug-in diffusers. The idea is to create layers of calm. And if all of those fail, the next thing to try is sedation restraint. But unless the cat is giving off obvious signs that it will bite or attack you, it is usually recommended that sedation should NOT be the first thing you try, especially for older kitties whose heart, liver, kidneys and other organs may not be able to handle the sedation. And if this be the case, one just has to take their cat home and try again a different day.

Risk of injection site sarcoma:

One last note on using the scruff. There are still some clinics that administer feline vaccinations via the scruff. The adjuvanted rabies vaccine (or “killed” rabies) is particularly risky. This is because adjuvants are linked to an adverse reaction known as an injection-site sarcoma In some cats, their bodies cannot control the swelling, so the tumor keeps growing larger until it starts to affect the cat’s quality of life. Due to its rapid growth, the tumor can grow into other areas of the body and spread. But vaccines – in most patients – are still recommended as a protection from diseases. So for those clinics who still administer vaccines via the scruff, that would mean risking an injection-site sarcoma in the scruff, a hard swelling directly over the neck and the only way to remove it would be euthanasia. This is why at our clinic – though we use the safer non-adjuvented vaccine – we administer vaccines to kitties in an area as far down the leg as possible. For if it would become necessary to remove a tumor caused by an injection site, if such a rare event were to occur, amputation would be a possibility which would mean a much better outcome for your kitty vs the alternative.

Spooky Animals of Myth & Legend

As Halloween is just upon us, what better way to prepare than sharing tidbits about the spooky dogs and cats of myth?

Nekomata – In Japanese folklore, a domesticated cat contains a monster spirit that comes about once the cat reaches old age. The Nekomata are one of the more sinister feline yōkai. Origins of this myth date back to 1185. Accounts of this creature incited fear and, unfortunately, affected the way cats were treated during this era. During the Edo period, the Nekomata was described as a rather large cat with powers, and later, between the 17th and 18th centuries, more details emerged about this cat and how it was transformed from a domesticated cat if it had been kept in the home for a certain length of time. The tail of this cat would split in two before it transformed. It is indeed a hostile creature, inclined to eat other, rather large, animals, setting buildings ablaze by creating balls of fire, and given to necromancy or shape-shifting into lions or leopards.

Bakeneko – The slightly less hostile monster cat of the yōkai form, the Bakeneko would also transform once they reach an age over 13 years. They maintain their appearance as an ordinary house cat for a time, then their supernatural powers increase as they grow even older and will eventually be given to stand upright and walk around on their hind legs. They will grow larger, sometimes even to the size of their human caretaker. Their  powers include shape-shifting (becoming smaller, regular sized cats or taking on the form of other people, even their owners), and if they are disguising themselves as humans, you can tell it is a Bakeneko if they are wearing a towel wrapped around their head. According to folklore, signs that a house cat was going to transform into one of these Bakeneko was their age (over 13 years old), their weight (if they grew to be over 8 lbs), if they have a very long tail, or if they had been spotted licking up lamp oil. The Bakeneko will not necessarily eat other large creatures like their supernatural cousin, the Nekomata, but they are said to bring with them curses and misfortune.

Maneki neko – This yōkai is actually a popular symbol for good luck and fortune. If you’ve ever passed by a storefront or a counter at a restaurant, you may have seen a little statue of a calico sitting, smiling, and holding up its paw. In opposition to the Nekomata and the Bakeneko, the Maneki neko are benign cats who are good luck charms for agriculture – they eat the mice and other pests that would otherwise attack a farmer’s crops – and the folklore says they protect their owners from danger and bring them riches.

Black Shuck – Near England, there was a creature that haunted the folktales of people who lived along the coastlines and countryside. The Black Shuck is a large spectral black dog with glowing red eyes and a howl like a savage wind, it hunts in wild lands.

The Wampus Cat – One of the stories surrounding this creature depicts it as a supernatural feline spirit from Cherokee folklore which originated in a part of North Carolina. A woman was turned into a half-woman/half-cougar monster called Ewah (or, the Wampus Cat) as punishment for sneaking into a secret meeting of the Cherokee men who were telling sacred stories that women were forbidden to hear. She was cursed to wander the forests, howling for and lamenting her true human form, terrorizing anyone who became lost in her forest after dark. In opposition to this, another tale relates that the Ew’ah was an evil demon which plagued the lives of the Cherokee tribes until one day they sent their bravest to fight the Ew’ah. This warrior was named Standing Bear. He did not return from his mission until weeks later but he was never the same, deranged and no longer any use as a warrior. He came home crazed and screaming. In revenge, Standing Bear’s wife, Running Deer, went after the Ew’ah. Garbed in a mask depicting a bobcat and covered in special black paste to hide herself from the demon’s notice, she snuck up on the creature, sprang forth and vanquished it. It is said that Running Deer’s spirit resides in the Wampus Cat to watch over her tribe’s lands.

Werewolves – What short collection of legends regarding the canine and feline creatures of lore would be complete without the mention of the infamous werewolf? Most of us are aware of this particular character – most commonly a man that transforms into a wolf or wolf man sometimes by the influence of a full moon – because of literature and film. Werewolves have historically been a part of the world’s folktales since about 1200 B.C. where the first known reference of this creature was made in the Mesopotamian odyssey The Epic of Gilgamesh. The god Zeus cursed Lycaon by turning him into a werewolf. According to many stories, one can become one of these terrifying monster dogs by being bitten by it, and cursed to transform under each full moon, given to madness and mayhem. Or, as some myths proclaim, lycanthropy was a punishment from the gods. In Northern European legends, the werewolf was likely to have emerged from the stories of men dressing in the pelt of wolves in order to battle like wolves. The Norse berserk warriors share a similar trait in that they don the pelt of a bear in battle.

Thank you for reading and remember, black cats are NOT bad luck, make sure your pet does not get into the trick-or-treat bucket, and have a safe and happy Halloween!

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