Friday, June 29, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust

In 1999, when I was relatively new to the feral cat “community” and Trap/Neuter/Return I answered a call from a very nice woman who needed help trapping a litter of 8 – 10 week old feral kittens.  She had managed to trap the mother cat and her semi-grown kittens from a previous litter and get them all fixed through Orange County’s CARE program.  In 1999 I had recently become the president of CARE and we did not normally go out and do the trapping.  She was a very sweet woman and desperately worried that the homeowner’s association would call either animal control or critter control and the kittens along with the ones she had already fixed (and bonded with) would be trapped and killed.  I talked at a meeting of the homeowner’s association and convinced them to hold off on trapping, explaining that CARE worked in partnership with Orange County Animal Services to trap, alter and vaccinate cats.  My intention was to trap the kittens and return them “to the wild.”  

I only managed to catch one kitten on my first attempt.  She was absolutely beautiful, but completely wild.  Being a novice I felt she was too old to try to tame/socialize her.  So, once she was spayed and recovered, I returned her.  She died within 2 days, which devastated me.  I decided once I trapped the rest (actually 4 remaining littermates and 2 from the litter of another female), I would make every effort to socialize them and find homes for them, although CARE did not do adoptions.  I felt I had enough contacts in the rescue community that I could easily find a group who would handle the adoptions.  I was ridiculously lucky, trapping all 6 kittens at once, something I never managed to do again in the following 8 years of trapping expeditions.  

After dropping the little ones off at the clinic in the morning, I saw a kitten blithely walking across a normally very busy road as I was driving home.  Of course, I stopped and picked him up and took him home.  He was about the same age as the kittens, but he was the friendliest kitten I had ever seen.  He cuddled on my chest and purred all the way home.  

Within two days of bringing the 6 kittens home, I noticed one of them (Chaz) had a beard of bubbles on his chin.  I called my veterinarian and she told me to come in the next morning with all of the kittens because, at least, Chaz had calicivirus, which was/is highly contagious.  No doubt they had contracted it at the animal services clinic and that is probably what caused their sister’s death.  Charlise, Chaz’ sister was the only one in the 2 litters who got sick, seriously sick.  However, Clark, the sweet boy I picked up off the street, got deathly ill as well, along with one of my adult cats, Catherine.  All were bundled off to the veterinary clinic, where both Charlise and Catherine spent 2 weeks for treatment and force-feeding.  Clark was the sickest and spent a month at the vet’s office before he began eating on his own.  Whew – we had dodged a bullet.  It is always dreadful to lose one of my animals, but losing kittens is the worst by far for me.  As of tonight, Charlise is the last of this little family of kittens/cats.


I lost Cisco suddenly on February 16, 2008.  I had taken him to my vet because the nictitating membranes (third eyelid) in both of his eyes were partially up.  He had no other signs of illness.  He hadn’t lost weight, he was eating, so I didn’t suspect there was anything seriously wrong.  Within 2 or 3 days, he had died.  The vet suspected either liver or pancreatic cancer.  

Darling Clark, the kitten rescued from the 6 lane highway died, after a long wasting, undiagnosed illness, on February 25, 2010.  He had grown into a Velcro cat.  He would leap through the air, almost like a bird, to be in my arms.  He would leap from the floor, from a countertop, the bed or the arm of a chair, flying into my arms without scratching me or digging in with his claws.  Turning my back did not do any good in dissuading him from his goal, so there were many times he would end up on my back, much like a living backpack.  


Chaz first developed plasma cell stomatitis, a common result of having had calicivirus in early 2008.   I had most of his teeth removed in April, 2008.  He was fine for awhile.  By the end of 2010 it was obvious he had a problem with one of his ears.  Cordelia, one of my dogs, would continuously clean Chaz’ ear, while Chaz would lie there seeming to enjoy the cleaning, grooming process.  I took Chaz to my vet and she found that he had a cancerous, inoperable tumor in his ear.  His health deteriorated and I had to have him euthanized on February 12, 2011.  


As Chaz was going through his illness, his brother Charlie, another sweet, extremely affectionate boy began losing weight much like Clark   He would lose weight, and then seem to recover and start putting some of the weight back on he had lost for a period, and then start losing weight again.  I took him to the vet on numerous occasions, had tests run again and again to no avail  X-rays, blood tests, nothing revealed what was causing the weight loss.  I had to force feed him from time to time, as well as give him sub-cutaneous fluids to keep him hydrated.  Finally, it became obvious that he wasn’t going to recover and his weight loss was decimating him.   I had often brought him to work with me, and everyone on staff fell in love with him.  He was happiest in someone’s arms.  I let him go and had him put down on June 14th, 2011.  

At that point, I had only 3 cats of the original 6 remaining.  Of those one had never become tame, Chandler.  Over the years, I had only managed to get a quick “pet” of him while he was eating.  Generally, If I got within about 3 feet of him, he would hiss and take off.  Courtney, one of Chaz’ and Charlie’s sisters who was among the three, had remained feral for the first year after joining my herd of cats.  Then, surprisingly, she lay on the edge of the bed, rolled onto her back and looked up at me, asking for a belly rub.  At the top of my can’t resist list is a kitty tummy.  Regardless of the potential danger, the soft fur of a kitty tummy is totally irresistible to me. From that moment on, I could pet her and love on her and she never failed to offer me her tummy for a rub.  


Courtney developed a snuffing noise during the time I was dealing with other seriously ill cats.  I assumed it was an upper respiratory problem, so I used a vaporizer to try to clear it up.  I tried a nebulizer, but neither did any good.  I took her to the vet, who insisted it was, in fact, an upper respiratory illness despite my insistence that wasn’t the problem.  In late 2011 she spent a week at the vet’s office, but she continued snuffling when I took her home.  I did some research on the internet, the vet did x-rays because I was certain she had a nasal tumor.  I ended up taking her to the area veterinary specialists, where they did a CAT scan.  Unfortunately, I was right.  She has nasopharyngeal carcinoma.   It was an inoperable, fatal condition.  She was fine for a while, but one morning she started having seizures.  I rushed her to the vet and had her euthanized.  That was on January 12, 2012.  

About a month or two after losing Courtney, Chandler began losing weight, much like Clark and Charlie had done.  After visiting two different vets, both of whom failed to diagnose either Clark’s or Charlie’s conditions, I saw no need to go through the frustration and enormous costs just to be told either “don’t know” or “can’t treat”. Chandler continued to eat, quite a bit, being the first cat with his head in a bowl of food.  As he continued to lose weight, I called my vet’s office to alert them that I would be dropping him off, explaining he was feral and would have to be sedated to be examined.  The problem?  I couldn’t catch him.  After making several attempts, I gave up.  Then one day, to my great surprise, he allowed me to pet him.  Within a week or two, he allowed me to pick him up, and even carry him around.  I took him into the vet and she postulated, due to feeling a mass in his abdominal region that he either had a kidney tumor or one in his spleen.  By this time he had lost a considerable amount of weight and certainly could not withstand a major surgery.  


I refuse to sanction surgeries to remove tumors, especially internal ones.  Every time I’ve had that done to other dogs or cats, the cancer spread like wild fire throughout their bodies.  I had put Cricket through 5 surgeries for mammary cancer, many years before.  After the 5th surgery, the tumors returned within 2 days.  The vet suggested subcutaneous fluids daily for Chandler after giving him an antibiotic injection. He lasted 2 weeks.  Although he ate a small amount yesterday morning before I left for work, and the fact that I knew his remaining time was very limited, I chose not to take him to the vet on Thursday to have him euthanized.  I wasn’t ready to give up and he didn’t seem to be ready either.  However, when I got home from work, it was obvious that it was time. He’d spent the day in a carrier.  When I first looked at him, lying with his head in a awkward, unnatural position, I feared he had died while I was at work.  He was alive but terribly weak, so I arranged to bring him to the vet in the morning.  It became obvious within the hour that he probably wouldn’t last the night.  He was uncomfortable and probably in pain. I took him to the nearest emergency clinic and had him euthanized.  At least, after 13 years of longing to touch him, pet him and hold him, I had the opportunity to do that for the final weeks of his life.  It was a special gift he gave me in the end that I will always treasure.  To hear him purr for me when I petted him and hold him was a reward that I shall always cherish.  

Little, petite Charlise, stunted by her early illness, remains the last of the group of kittens saved from a shorter, more difficult life on their own.  May she live many, many more years.  



  1. Oh, I'm so sorry. But you gave all of them such better lives than they every would have had without you. Sending you big hugs and purrs...


    1. Thanks, Cat. It never gets easier, but yeah they were off the street, safe & well fed, and loved. Can any of us really ask for anything more?

  2. It was interesting to read their histories. I'm sorry you lost another. I guess it is the inevitable price of living, but when you love someone, then lose them, it is sad and hard.

    1. As a friend wrote in a recent email, there is no joy without the pain. Personally, I still feel it's worth it. After all, the joy lasts longer than the intense period of pain. The loss, however, leaves an eternal hole in our lives/hearts.

      I love how you chronicle how your cats appeared in your life & the stories about their connections/friendships with each other.

  3. Thanks so much for stoping by and your kind words about Baxter. Your post made me tear up, its so hard loosing your furry babies isn't it? But what a great life you gave them all, and so much care! A month at the vet, I cringe to think how much that cost you.
    Hopefully a new litter of kittens, in need of love and shelter will find their way to you.

    1. Your lovely post about Baxter Bear brought tears to my eyes as well. I know what it's like to lose that extra special cat. Not that they all aren't special, but although my Casey has been gone for over 22 years and I still miss him, I would not have missed the chance to connect & bond like we did. I think Baxter was that cat for you.

      No more kittens, and I've been tempted. I'm 62 and still have many cats still with me. 3 of them I rescued in the last year, from off the "streets". There's the worry I won't be around for them as they age.

      BTW - back then (1999) my vet gave me a big rescue discount. Not true any more, unfortunately.

  4. Thank you for a very interesting post and for all you do for our feral cat population, who deserve so much more than to be rounded up and killed.
    I stopped and read twice where you said you refused to sanction surgery for the removal of internal tumors from dogs and cats, as it made me think of my dog Brandy. Brandy, diagnosed with Cushings disease was doing very well (I thought) when a Dec. 2008 xray unexpectedly revealed a lung tumor. After some thought I had it removed and it was classified as a grade 1 adenocarcinoma, no spread found, and her prognosis was excellent. Great! I was hoping for a few more good years for Brandy, but then in April she underwent a personality change, becoming much more stubborn and resistant to handling, such as grooming and the installing of ear drops (which she had never like, but to which she acquiesced if handled firmly). No medical reason was found for the change, but then in December she got very sick, dying almost a year to the day after the surgery. I wonder now if the cancer *did* spread (to her brain) and I would certainly think twice before having the procedure done on another animal of mine, especially an older one (Brandy was 13 at the time).
    P.S. I "liked" your post on Sky Dancing as Barbara Di Bari Visconti, but WordPress won't let me sign in on your blog for some reason. Yes, that adorable little avatar is Brandy!

  5. I am so sorry about Brandy. Goodness but she was so darling.

    I was assured after at least the 1st & 2nd surgeries on Cricket (it was so long ago now) that the vet had gotten "everything." And the surgeries were over, I think, just under 4 years.

    Although I have a B.S. in zoology, I'm no expert. I've convinced myself that tumors, at least some of them, are like fungi & release undetectable spores when exposed to the air. When I was about 14 our boxer developed a tumor on her chest where the fur swirls together. Once removed the cancer rapidly moved to her mouth. The only thing she could eat without bleeding was ice cream.

    Skin tumors are usually a different matter, and their removal isn't major, internal surgery. And if an appendage can be removed, if found early enough can be successful. X-rays for internal tumors aren't good enough in my experience, generally. Colt had x-rays that looked like congestion. It was lung cancer. Courtney's x-rays showed nothing, but the CAT scan showed the carcinoma had progressed almost to her brain. Once there, she had those horrendous seizures.

    Thanks for liking the post on Sky Dancing. Is that how you found me? I think blogger only takes Google sign ins or Anonymous.

  6. Connie, I'm the same age as you are and I've had my share of loss of my companion animals. You have my sympathy going through this period when it hurts the most sharply, although the grief always remains a little for each one.

    Interesting what you say about the illness and surgery. Thank you for sharing your experience. I had an abdominal tumour removed from one of my dogs years ago but he died at the vets a few days later. They said his heart gave out. For my current dog I just had two skin tumours removed - I hope that they are not spreading internally. He's nine years old so I'm crossing my fingers for a few more good years.

    One always wonders how far to go treating pets, especially cats who don't have clear symptoms. One of my strays of unknown age stops eating every once in a while. Tests reveal nothing wrong and he usually starts eating again in a day or so. He was skin and bones when I rescued him so who knows what effect this had on his health.

    I don't consider the age of the cats I take - I have a range from one year to twelve. There is such an overpopulation that I feel if I don't take them in, they live on the street or worse get euthanized. So I do what I can.

    1. Sorry for the late response. Your comment ended up in the spam folder & I hadn't checked it lately.

      I've had skin tumors/bumps removed from dogs in the past. In my experience they weren't malignant & didn't spread. I think they are almost like the age spots we get as we age, in many cases.

      My cats & dogs came off the street too. I'm with you - whatever time they have is far better than what they will have on the street. I told myself no more & then Cagney appeared under a car next door to my vet last year.

      Make sure your vet checks your cat's mouth/teeth. That's often what has caused my cats to stop eating. If the vet chooses to remove any teeth, I think it's best to take them all to prevent a 2nd surgery down the road.

      Thanks for stopping by & taking the time to comment. It's good to hear from another compassionate person.

  7. It's me, I'm back again. Sorry for taking so long to reply. I am working hard trying to keep myself going and it is exhausting.
    Thank you about Brandy :( I'm no expert either (B.S. in biology), but I have thought maybe vets' manipulation of tumors could cause cells to break away from it and travel through the bloodstream to new locations. That would go for skin as well as internal tumors. Interesting theory you have there about spores, I wonder if it could be studied.
    X rays are often not good for internal tumors, but it was good for Brandy's lung tumor as it showed up as a discreet mass on the xray. That was another factor in favor of removing it.
    Yep, I found you via Sky Dancing.

    1. I think your supposition is as good as mine. Needless to say, the surgical techniques used on humans, along with the hi-tech equipment, are much better than those used on our cats & dogs.

      Wishing you well. Do take care of yourself.