For many people, April and Easter are a time of new life and new beginnings. For me, this time of year is associated with loss.

As noted in my entry of April 30, 2015, my mother and my mother-in-law both died in April (though on different dates and nine years apart). And on Saturday morning of this Easter weekend, we said goodbye to Tony (also referred to in this blog as Albert), one of the two cats we adopted following my mother-in-law's death.

We had known since taking him to our vet for a checkup in 2015 that he was susceptible to heart problems and he did in fact undergo a number of cardiological tests that first summer before we decided we could risk getting him put under long enough to neuter and microchip him. There were no real complications and he seemed to cope well enough with the anesthetic. But the tests indicated one chamber of his heart was slightly enlarged and he had an irregular heartbeat. There was always the possibility that he might suddenly stop breathing, possibly dying in his sleep or even just being here one second, gone the next. But the scenario was suggested as being relatively painless, at least from the cat's point of view. I thought to myself that while I didn't want that to happen, there were certainly worse ways to go!

By the end of summer 2015, he seemed in fine fettle, having progressed from that scared little boy cowering under the china cabinet or on the windowsill to an oft-affectionate (though it had to be on his own terms) purry kneady and needy beast who loved to leap on furniture and people or chase laser pointers across the floor and up the wall. And this weekend, as recently as Friday night, he seemed very much his usual self.

But on Saturday morning, he didn't come running to get his breakfast the way he usually did. In fact, he wasn't in any fit state to run. We heard a yowl and I found him at the bottom of the basement steps. His back legs were paralyzed. Coronary thrombosis. We took him to the veterinary hospital and the prognosis was not good.

Still, we were there with him at the end and we're glad he was part of the family and our lives, although it was for too short a time.
Last July, I wrote here about adopting two 13-year-old cats which were orphaned following the death of my mother-in-law. I'm pleased to report that they have settled into the family quite nicely. And we recently took them to our vet for their annual checkup.

Last year, it was the male (referred to in earlier entries as Albert) who garnered most of the veterinary attention. He had never been "fixed" and we were worrying about all the usual problems humans tend to have with unneutered tomcats. He was also a very neurotic creature who used to cower behind the bed and snarl at anyone who dared to approach him.

But by the end of last summer, after he'd been snipped and had had the chance to settle in, there was a huge change in him. We awoke one morning to find him on our bed, purring loudly and looking for some attention and affection (and food, of course). He's also very spry for a 14-year-old cat and will leap up on people's backs or try to climb the wall when chasing the laser pointer or any stray fly or spider he spots. He still has a wheezy-sounding purr and snore and the irregular heartbeat thing is something that will probably always be with him, but meanwhile we'll enjoy him for as long as he's with us and seems reasonably happy and healthy!

The female ("Victoria") seems to have a few more health (and perhaps emotional) issues. She had lost a considerable amount of weight and while she had been very much overweight last year, the vet suspected that there was something else going on as well, particularly when we told her about Victoria's digestive problems - she had been throwing up quite regularly, sometimes 2 or 3 times in succession. So the vet decided some bloodwork was in order.

The blood tests confirmed two problems: firstly, a vitamin B-12 deficiency and secondly, hyperthyroidism. We're dealing with the first by weekly injections of B-12, which will gradually taper off to monthly ones. We were offered two options for the hyperthyroidism: tapazole tablets twice a day (probably for life) or radiation therapy (which usually is a cure rather than just a treatment, but comes at a cost).

The main drawbacks to the radiation option were: 1) it would have to be done in Carp, which admittedly is closer to home than St-Hyacinthe, but could still be quite an ordeal for a cat who doesn't travel very well; 2) it would require about a 3-day period of boarding out there; 3) we would have to deprive her of ANY medication for the condition for a couple of weeks before the therapy; after the therapy, she would have to have special food and litter for a while afterwards, which could not be shared with the other 2 cats in residence here; 4) the financial factor - we didn't go as far as getting a cost estimate since the option seemed impractical, but it would undoubtedly be costlier than the medication, and even if it did cure her (occasionally it doesn't, or needs to be repeated), how many years, realistically, are left on a 14-year-old cat?

The main concern we had about the pills was whether she would be able to keep them down. If she just brought them right back up again, the whole thing would be something of an exercise in futility. But we thought that our initial plan of attack should be the pills and B-12 shots.

Luckily, we noticed a change almost immediately. She's had 3 of her 6 weekly B12 injections and the process is much less problematic than I had feared. And the vomiting is no longer a daily event. Her coat is looking glossier too, and she seems to be putting back a little weight, though we hope she won't get severely overweight again. She's much more agile when it comes to jumping up on a bed or sofa, though I suspect she'll never be a leaper and climber like the other two.

The emotional issues I alluded to earlier in this post relate to her habit of wandering around the basement and occasionally yowling, as if she's trying to find her dear departed human down there! Or perhaps as if she feels something is missing from her life but she's not quite sure what it is. On the other hand, she's yowling less than she used to (and she would often yowl just before she threw up, which is happening less often now as well). She seems to be socializing a little more than she used to.

Tomorrow we take her for more blood tests to see if there's an improvement in her thyroid and B-12 levels. Stay tuned!
NOTE: This is the final instalment in our cat adoption story. If you are top-posting (or top-displaying) these entries from most recent to least recent (which is what I personally prefer and what most people seem to do and expect - though there have been some vigorous arguments about it around our place!) you may want to scroll down and catch up on any parts you may not yet have read. This is NOT the last you'll hear of these cats, but it seems fitting to be posting the last part of our adoption story on the August long weekend, two years after we found ourselves walking into a Pet Valu store and asking, "How much is that moggie in the window?"

So Albert got his heart tests done. Next day, the vet who had conducted these tests phoned to discuss the results. They were mostly positive, but did indicate that one chamber of Albert's heart was slightly enlarged. That meant a bit of extra risk with anaesthetic although the vet said if it were his cat, he would consider it a risk worth taking. And Albert had already had some sedation for the tests, and come out of it okay. The neutering operation, at least with the male of the species, is quite quick so he would not need to be under for very long. Dental work, on the other hand, would mean sedating him for significantly longer. We decided the priority for now was to get him snipped, and the dental issues could be addressed later or by some other means. But our vet was not going to be back from holidays for another week, so we decided to defer the operation until her return.

It was done on Tuesday, July 21. And he survived, intact except for his dignity and the intended physical modification. He did, however, breathe as if he were snoring, the aftermath of having had a tube down his throat for a while. He was prescribed drops to be inserted into his cheek to alleviate the pain. I was a little apprehensive about being able to successfully medicate him but fortunately it was quite easy - he had a hearty appetite right from the time we got him home and I was able to insert the dropper into his mouth while he was ravenously gobbling his food.

While we didn't want to risk the dental work at that time, we did get him microchipped and claw-trimmed while he was under, as those procedures could both be done quickly and easily.

Nowadays, when we're at home to keep an eye on them, we allow the cats to mingle quite freely except at mealtimes or when there seems to be trouble brewing. When we go out, we need to confine all the cats to one part of the house so that they can't activate the motion detectors and trigger the burglar alarm. Reigning Cat is not a problem - she comes running whenever she hears the "magic cupboard" opening - that's where the cat treats are kept. We're hoping she'll tell Victoria and Albert about it too, so that as they get more daring about exploring the house, we can round them up quickly if we need to, just by opening the cupboard door.

I think the cats still have a few issues they need to sort out with one other - and with us, too. I'm hoping one day I'll actually be able to stroke Albert when he's NOT engrossed in his food, and maybe groom him a bit as well. Victoria already seems to be losing a bit of the weight - she's more active these days but still walks with a limp and does not seem able to jump up on chairs, beds, etc.

But we're getting there.
Note: As noted above, this is part four of our cat adoption story. If you haven't read any of parts 1 through 3, you may want to scroll down and read them first.

So our story continues the morning of July 2. We brought Albert to the veterinary hospital and got him all checked in. Then we left, after being told to expect a phone call from the vet later that morning.

Before putting an animal under anaesthetic, they typically do a preliminary workup: bloodwork, weighing and measuring, listening to his heart, and generally ensuring he's fit to be put under.

Mostly, Albert checked out OK; the one concern was that the vet noticed an irregular heartbeat that she hadn't detected during his physical just two weeks earlier.

She said it could be just that he was stressed out - though that didn't seem to fully explain it as he had been considerably calmer that day than during his checkup of two weeks ago. His slightly wonky heartbeat might make it riskier to put him under, but without knowing the cause, it was difficult to know if the risk was significant. Would we like her to arrange an appointment for some additional tests with a cardiologist at another local veterinary hospital?

We did have a few questions. Was there much risk associated with the tests themselves? And if those tests (including an echocardiogram and electrocardiogram) indicated that his heart was fine, were there other unrelated concerns about his health? He was, after all, a 13-year-old cat and if he already had cancer or some terminal disease and was not expected to live more than a few more months, there wouldn't be much point in proceeding!

Our vet's responses were reassuring and after discussing it briefly between ourselves, we asked her to go ahead and set something up with the heart specialist. Albert's ordeal was over for today and we could come and pick him up after lunch.

But when we arrived, there was yet another glitch in the plan. Apparently the cardiologist had left at the end of June and they weren't sure when there'd be a replacement. The closest veterinary cardiologist they knew of was it St-Hyacinthe, Quebec. Did we want to take Albert there?

Well, no. We weren't prepared to go that far - literally, metaphorically or financially. We figured the stress of the journey alone would probably be more than poor Albert's heart could bear!

The other options were: 1) Postpone the snip until there was a cardiologist at the nearby local hospital; 2) Go ahead with it and take whatever risks were associated with the anaesthesia; or 3) Get some heart tests done next week here at our usual veterinary hospital by one of the vets on staff who was very experienced but just not a cardiologist.

We chose option 3.

Unfortunately the week ahead already promised to be a rather frantic one for us. We had medical appointments of our own - doctor, dentist, ophthalmologist - and so did our car! There was also the matter of a protest outside the Saudi embassy to protest the plight of Raif Badawi. The Music and Beyond festival was about to start too, and we had hoped to get to a bunch of concerts. We settled on Friday for the heart tests, as we were only going to an evening concert that day.

We brought him in as scheduled Friday morning. When we went back home, we allowed Victoria and Reigning Cat to mingle with each other, without the added complication of a third cat in the mix.

Interestingly enough, while Albert tends to be a bit hostile towards humans, he took to Reigning Cat quite readily right from the beginning. With Victoria it's been just the opposite. Sweet and affectionate with humans, she would hiss at poor Reigning Cat, who would back nervously away or else puff herself up and arch her tail. It seems both of them want to be the lady of the house. Albert, on the other hand, was not so keen on gender reassignment (or more accurately, de-assignment).

Anyway, we picked him up at 3:30 PM, subdued but unharmed, brought him home, and settled him back into his bedroom with Victoria. That left us plenty of time for supper and our evening concert.

NEXT TIME ... I'll reveal the results of Albert's heart tests and what we decided to do.
Note: To read these in chronological order, you will likely need to scroll down to Part 1.

One thing we learned from the cat bite episode was that the carriers we had for the cats were not really very practical. We needed to invest in carriers that were a little more human-accessible and human-controllable. Our vet told us about some that had a door on top in addition to the door in one end. I located a picture of a model that looked ideal, on the PetSmart site. Better yet, I was able to search the inventory of local stores and find out that the PetSmart closest to us had them in stock. I get frustrated with our online world at times, but it does have its uses!

When we took the carriers home, Reigning Cat took to them right away, wanting to explore them through both the skylight-door and the end-door. It remained to be seen what Queen Victoria and Uncle Albert would make of them.

Since Albert's neuter/dentistry appointment on July 2 was scheduled for a bleary-eyed 7:30AM AND he had to be deprived of food for 12 hours beforehand AND the veterinary hospital is much closer to our place than to the inlaws', we decided to relocate him to our place on July 1. And we didn't really want to separate him from Victoria, so that meant relocating both cats on July 1. An added bonus was that since it's a public holiday, additional family members were available to help calm them down.

Surprisingly, Albert was pretty calm throughout most of the car trip. This time it was Victoria who was stressed out, vocalizing and salivating and at one point, throwing up. But we got them both safely home, and settled them in a bedroom with their familiar accoutrements - cat beds, scratching posts, food dishes, litterboxes, etc. And once we opened the doors in the carriers, Victoria soon reverted to being her affectionate, sociable self. Albert, on the other paw, just stayed in his carrier for quite a while - maybe figuring that if he couldn't see us, we couldn't see him.

We soon learned that unlike most cats, Victoria and Albert are totally unpicky about food - they'll eat whatever is put in front of them (and often what ISN'T as well)! So it's easy enough to give them what the vet recommended, a high quality brand seniors' food. But it does mean feeding them separately from Reigning Cat, who is young and still pretty active.

Next morning, we got Albert to the vet's on time... but for reasons I'll reveal in the next episode, he didn't get the snip that day.
NOTE: If you want to read this story in chronological order, you will probably need to scroll down for Part 1.

The last episode ended with my visit to the clinic and a prescription which went unneeded and unfilled. Fast forward to Monday, June 22, when I took a phone call from a man at Ottawa Public Health. I explained what had happened. He seemed pretty reasonable and said he would need to see the cat ten days after the bite occurred, just to make sure she was alive and well and hadn't succumbed to rabies. Where would the examination take place, I asked? He would swing by our place, see the cat and be on his way.

Oh.

The trouble was, the cats had not yet been transported to our place. The plan had been to do that AFTER Albert's little orchidectomy. I had to make a split-second decision. Did I set up an appointment for him to come to our place, and count on smuggling one or both cats over here in time for the appointment? Or did I fess up and tell him that Victoria was still over at my mother-in-law's house?

I decided to be honest and hope for the best. We made an appointment for him to meet us over there the morning of June 29.

As he had promised, it was quick and painless. We showed him the cat and the vaccination records. He said he had the information he needed to file his report and he left. He told us that he was in fact only on contract to the City of Ottawa and his term was nearly up. But it seems city hall was satisfied because we've heard no more about it. I don't know if anyone reported back to the veterinary hospital.

Victoria was on her best behaviour, back to being her sweet, affectionate self. I'm just glad it wasn't Albert who bit me, since he was cowering under the china cabinet the whole time, hissing and snarling and gnashing his teeth at anyone who dared to come near him!

IN THE NEXT EXCITING EPISODE... we relocate both cats to our place, in preparation for Albert's scheduled neutering and dentistry.
When my mother-in-law died three months ago, she left behind two thirteen-year-old cats, who had been her sole live-in companions for the last eight years of her life. It didn't seem right to take them to a shelter. We seemed to be in the best position to adopt them, although we already had a cat in residence (see my post of two summers ago, "A funny thing happened on the way home from cat sitting"). So adopt them we did. The venture has not been has not been without its challenges, however.

The first step was to ensure that neither of them had any contagious diseases that might be passed on to Reigning Cat. That meant taking both of them to our vet for a once-over.

One of them is a spayed female, severely overweight. Let's call her Queen Victoria, the snow queen. The other was an un-neutered male, also somewhat overweight. Let's call him Uncle Albert. Those aren't their real names, but Eliot said something along the lines of every cat needing at least three names. Both are big white fluffy long-haired cats which at least initially, I had trouble telling apart.

Their check-up was on Friday, June 19. Somehow we managed to wrestle both of them into their (separate) carriers and transport them to the vet. Albert yowled and panted all the way. Victoria seemed quietly resigned and settled down for a little catnap in her carrier.

First step was weigh-in. We decided to start with Victoria, since she seemed calmer. We opened the door to the carrier. She moved farther back in it. The veterinary technician tipped the carrier and Victoria dug in her heels - all four of them. The technician suggested one of us should get her out and since my partner was busy trying to get Albert a bit calmer, I volunteered.

Now, Victoria, unlike Albert, is usually super-affectionate with people. You start petting her and she nuzzles and rubs around you and purrs loudly. Should be easy to get her out of a carrier, right?

Wrong! I reached in and the moment I tried to gently extricate the cat, she bit down on my hand. Hard. Blood flowed. A little more freely than it might for most people, since I'm on anti-inflammatories for my arthritis. The technician was alarmed and decided to weigh the cat inside the carrier and weigh the carrier alone once the vet had managed to get her out. Ditto for Albert.

Once we got into the vet's examining room, the vet informed me that by law, since the bite had occurred on their premises, they had had to file a report with Ottawa Public Health. Moreover, she said, I needed to get that bite of mine looked at by a doctor (the kind that treats humans). Today.

Did I mention that both cats have been indoor cats their whole lives (or at least since they were adopted by my in-laws) so it was highly unlikely they could have rabies, even if their shots were not up to date?

Anyway, both cats eventually got examined and vaccinated, although doing Albert was a two-person job - our vet got one of her interns to put a towel over his face (Albert's face, that is) and murmur sweet nothings to him while she completed the necessary procedures. We're so sorry, Uncle Albert!

Victoria had one of the particularly matted bits of her coat cut - it has since grown back and she actually has quite a luxuriant coat now. Albert was given a neuter-and-dentistry appointment for July 2 (they couldn't admit him before that as they had to allow time for the vaccinations to take effect).

Once we had taken them back to my late mother-in-law's house, we went to an Appletree Clinic near our place. It was closed for the weekend. Next, we drove to the one in the Loblaws where we usually shop. It was just closing, but unlike the Appletree one, it's open Saturdays between 9 and 1.

So the next morning we went back there, even though I really wanted to go to the Friends of the Experimental Farm book sale (we did go there after I was finished). By then, the "wound" was barely noticeable. The doctor raised his eyebrows a little when I told him what had happened. He didn't seem too concerned but wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic, which he said I might not need, but if the injury swelled up or started oozing later, I could get filled.

Over a month later, the prescription still sits unfilled in my wallet. Maybe I should get it framed.

STAY TUNED .... for the next exciting episode of Old Blogcutter's Blog of Impractical Cats!
We've always been cat people. But since our last cat developed end-state liver disease and departed for that great field of catnip in the sky after a sudden and rapid decline in her health, I just didn't have the heart to acquire another animal. Until last week.

We were catsitting for our kids who were off camping over the long weekend. I was servicing the cats' litterboxes, I used up the last of a bag of litter and couldn't find a new bag. No problem, I thought - we'll just go get another bag of the same type of litter and bring it over when we make our next catsitting visit.

So after completing that catsitting visit, we went off to buy groceries. As my partner took those groceries back to the car, I thought I would nip into the pet store next door and see about getting that kitty-litter. They were restocking the shelves in that area, so I wandered around a bit and inevitably stopped by the kitten enclosures. And in one of them was a 6-month-old calico kitten who, from her markings, could almost have been a reincarnation of our dear departed cat. This kitten was very much alive, however, a playful, affectionate, loud-purred creature. I was instantly smitten.

I did then locate the kitty litter I'd wanted and headed back to the car, encountering aforementioned partner on the way and explaining about the delay. Well, to make a long story a little shorter, on returning to the pet-shop, we both felt that this was meant to be, and following a token mull-it-over over cappuccino, we adopted the cat.

Like many petshops, this one features Ottawa Humane Society cats that are available for adoption. We had to go through and sign a detailed contract and were a little afraid we might not give the right answers to all their questions! So it was quite bureaucratic, a sharp contrast to the "Here, take this cat because we don't want it" approach to relinquishing a cat to our care which we've encountered in the past. On the plus side, however, she was already spayed, vaccinated and microchipped and came with a 6-week trial of pet insurance (which we may or may not continue with after the trial period expires). And she seems to be a really sweet-natured cat, without a lot of the psychological and emotional "baggage" our last cats had. We're taking her to our vet on Monday for a once-over.

I seem to recall my mother once asking me, "Will you ALWAYS have a cat?" Well, this one may even outlive us both!
About nine or ten years ago, I decided to become a life member of the Ottawa Humane Society. I liked the fact that they were offering this option (which seems to be becoming increasingly rare) and at a price I considered reasonable. And I'm a life-long felinophile (though currently catless).

Since then, I've donated a few times. For example, I knew that their old shelter was cramped and lacking in modern amenities, so I donated towards the building of a new shelter (which I have yet to go and see). And I'm sure they still are doing some great work in terms of animal welfare. On the other paw, there have been some cases in the last few years which have led me to be a bit leery of contributing further to their operations.

Recently, a Barrhaven woman was charged with cruelty-to- or neglect-of-animal because her 12-year-old cat, Napoleon, was severely overweight and apparently could not even stand properly or groom himself. She has my sympathies. After all, animal welfare organizations are quick to tell us that we should spay or neuter our pets and keep them indoors, or outdoors under strict supervision. And that in itself is likely to make the animals less active and overweight, especially in their senior years. In the news articles about Napoleon-and-human companion, it was mentioned that Napoleon had been under a vet's care, but Ms. Caregiver had ignored the vet's instructions. Had she really been ignoring the vet, or was it just a matter of Napoleon having ideas of his own about what he would or wouldn't eat? Or perhaps Napoleon's excess weight was in fact the SYMPTOM of an underlying medical condition - an underactive thyroid, for example - rather than the result of Ms. Human's disobedience with regard to the vet's instructions?

Cats are notoriously picky eaters. If they turn up their noses at that healthy, low-cal dish of catfood that you've lovingly set before them, or if they decide that they're going to do their own scavenging for higher-calorie, less-healthy meals of spiders, frogs, household mice and backyard birds, there's very little that's going to change their minds! And if the Humane Society was so concerned for the cat's life, surely it could have found a better alternative than to "euthanize" the animal. Not that I believe euthanasia is necessarily a mistake when the animal is genuinely suffering and there are few options for alternate treatment. But I can't help feeling there might have been other reasonable possibilities for Napoleon's care. Assuming his condition was not contagious, perhaps he could have been housed with another cat. Mutual grooming would have ensued and perhaps the two cats would have started chasing each other around their living quarters, playing together, and resulting in a weight loss for poor Napoleon.

Another case, this some years ago now, involved a dog that was tied up in a back stairwell of an apartment building. The Ottawa Humane Society seemed to think this was a case of animal abuse. Personally, I thought it was probably a matter of someone having found the animal at large, but was unable for whatever reason (maybe he lived in an apartment that didn't allow pets, maybe her parents had forbidden her to keep a pet or the family had allergies) and the dog-finder was going to get help. I would think we should have been far more worried that maybe the human going for help had met with foul play and perhaps was lying dead or incapacitated out in the snow! But admittedly, I don't know if that's what actually happened.

There are a few other issues with regard to animal welfare that I'd like to address in my blog at some point. For example, some organizations claim to be "no-kill" shelters. But what does that really mean? I think euthanasia is a viable option in certain circumstances; sometimes perhaps we allow our pets to die with greater dignity than we do our human family.

Also, there was a demonstration by some Quebec-based shelter workers recently against the use of gas chambers for killing unwanted animals. I'm very much on their side. I remember some twenty years ago seeing a segment on TV about an animal shelter in the province of Quebec (perhaps in the Montreal area?) which made use of this kind of animal holocaust. It was horrendous! Just as we've largely eliminated the hangman's noose or the electric chair in favour of lethal injection for humans (in countries that still have the death penalty) so I believe that this is the best option for putting down a non-human animal.

Recently, the Parliament Hill cat sanctuary closed. There is an art exhibit at the Orange Gallery in Parkdale Market which has some paintings of the cats there. I'd like to believe the claims that the closing of the sanctuary is a good-news story, that it means the facility is no longer needed. But frankly, I'm sceptical. I think there will always be feral cats which are not really adoptable and need something like we had on Parliament Hill. But time will tell, I guess.

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