Cat Tales


posted November 16th, 2013 by
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by P.J. Witte

May 3, 2001, I was living in Cluj- Napoca, Romania, studying for a Romanian language test with the windows wide open to embrace the warm spring afternoon. I heard the sound of a cat wailing in the distance, not an unusual sound as stray animals roam in abundance in Eastern Europe.

Soon I heard the sound again but now it seemed to be from across the street on a weedy hill which was home to squabbling hens and roosters. I set out to investigate and met Vali, the downstairs neighbor boy. We climbed the steep slope toward a circle of agitated fowl that were pecking at a small cleft partially covered by weeds.

There, crouching and making a pitiful sound, was a tiny black kitten. Vali immediately warned me not to touch the animal, but I was already bending in for the rescue. The creature leaped into my outstretched hands and clawed her way up and onto my shirt.

On closer inspection, we noted the peanut butter markings and caramel sprinkled black fur—our little find was a Torti. While the kitten clung to me, and Vali tried to dissuade me from the venture, I carried the trembling cat to my home. After coaxing some milk and giving her a bath, washing off the chicken stench, we set out to find a litter pan.

I found a copy paper box lid along with some sand and settled in to decide what was next. I put her on a towel for the night, and she never moved for the next 12 hours. She was exhausted from trying to stay alive on the mean streets of Cluj.

I knew finding a home for her was highly unlikely so my choices became euthanasia, returning her to an early death on the streets, or making her a part of my household. Clearly, the latter was my only real choice. Now I needed a name.

She was in poor shape, bony and parasite ridden, so I wanted a hopeful name. Zoe, which means “life of God,” seemed hopeful. Zoe it was. The vet estimated she was 8 to 10 weeks old.

Finding pet accessories was not easy in Cluj, but I did find a mini litter pan and some very odd litter. Since I could not find toys, I balled up tin foil and was surprised to watch her play with it. She quickly made a game of “paw ball” in my foyer, batting the ball at the wall and running to hit it again and again.

She also was quick to learn hide and seek. I would run and hide behind a door. She would find me and then run and hide behind a door. (I am not joking.) Every day she would greet me after work and want to play a game.

After the first night and every night until the end of her life, she slept with me with one paw stretched out to touch me. Don’t get me wrong though. This was no snuggly kitty. Zoe was very feisty and would snap and bat at you if she didn’t want your attention. I attribute her survival to that scrappy attitude.

In late summer, I unexpectedly moved back to the United States. My choices were to leave her to fend for herself or bring her home. The vet warned she was too young and frail to travel in baggage. Also, although she had her shots and her kitty passport, there was a rabies outbreak in our area, and it would be difficult to get her over the border.

Having no animal sedation, the vet gave me a children’s Benadryltype substance for the transatlantic flight. I also packed the mini pan, litter and some dry food. Zoe was in a nylon carrier. Happily, all three legs to Tulsa were open to an animal in the cabin.

During the eight-hour van ride to Budapest, Hungary, Zoe slept unmedicated in her carrier. Although I had told the driver I had her and had given him her papers, he didn’t mention her to the border guard.

I wish I had a video of us in the airport bathrooms. Putting litter in the pan, I would put Zoe in it. What cat eliminates on command? Sometimes the bathroom matron could come in and see me squatting in the corner with a kitten. No one thought it cute or interesting though.

Finally, in Amsterdam, I found an unused concourse and let her run around a bit. She was delighted to be out and enjoyed the large windows. Near flight time I found a single handicapped bathroom on the empty concourse and decided to give her the meds there. She freaked; I chased and had more of the sticky substance on me than in her. When we emerged there was a handicapped person waiting.

I felt awful and got quite the look. After seven hours in Amsterdam, we boarded for the long flight home. Zoe remained quiet until about an hour from landing. When she started to wail, the flight attendants took her in the galley and gave her ice cream.

We went through Memphis customs. I had marked the customs declaration where it asks about “having plants, food, or animals.” I was literally the last person to go through. The agent looked at my declaration and asked sarcastically if I had brought in a granola bar.

I was so exhausted I didn’t know what he meant at first. He pointed to the check mark. I sharply retorted, “No, I have a cat!” and gave him Zoe’s papers. I did not know what to expect bringing an animal into the U.S. I didn’t expect what happened. Nothing!

The agent never even looked at her and waved us through. I was relieved but also conflicted. Should it really be so easy to bring in a foreign animal? I knew she was fine, but how did he? He couldn’t even read what her papers said.

At last we boarded our final leg into Tulsa where we were met by family, and Zoe began her new life in America.

Zoe and I were together for 12 years and eight weeks. She was feisty and funny to the end. I was saddened to be in the position we all dread with our critters, of helping her leave this life. On June 28, 2013, I said goodbye to Zoe. It was an honor to have known her. I will miss her!

The Luv Train – A Cat Tale

posted November 16th, 2013 by
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by Camille Hulen

The story begins in June, when Dorothy, a hard-working professional woman in her 50s, died suddenly. She lived alone with her two cats: Hara and Ama. Dorothy had no children or family; what is more, she had no living will or other instructions. What would happen to her beloved cats?

Co-worker Jenny knew that something must be done, and sprang into action. She retrieved the scared felines from under the bed at Dorothy’s home and took them to her vet. They were given a medical check-up and remained there for boarding. However, after a few days the kitties remained terrified, cowering in their cages. These 5-year-old girls had never been away from their safe and comfortable home.

It was then that I met Jenny, when she brought Hara and Ama to board with me for socialization. She knew that if they were ever to find new homes, Hara and Ama must learn to trust people. At my facility, they would be in a relaxed setting, not in a cage, co-mingling with other cats and people.

Meanwhile, a fund in Dorothy’s memory was established to care for her kitties. What an awesome tribute! Even former colleagues from out of state contributed, in addition to her local friends—a display of love for a deceased person, as well as for the cats.

As the kitties began to adapt, another crisis ensued. They began to show some symptoms of upper respiratory illness, probably induced by stress. To avoid transmission to other boarders, back to the vet they went, this time, in isolation.

After a two-week stay, they were deemed healthy, so they came back to me. Now they adjusted quite quickly, head-butting and demanding to be petted. They became more comfortable with other cats as well as people. Giant strides, but it was now August; we needed to find a permanent home. Emails were circulated.

An amazing thing happened! A former colleague from Boston wanted to adopt them! She was a real cat person with one cat of her own and had loved Hara and Ama when she had visited Dorothy in the past. Only one dilemma remained: how to get the cats to Boston.

Air travel was not an option. The danger of transporting cats as cargo is well known. Someone could fly with one cat accompanying her in the cabin, but not two cats. Someone might drive the 1,600 miles, or perhaps meet the new owner (“meowmie”) halfway— it still remained a long journey.

Then another friend, Samantha, discovered the Underground Railroad Rescued Kitty Network (URRKN). And so the saga of Hara and Ama’s journey begins. The URRKN is a volunteer organization working to transport rescued cats anywhere in the United States. A route is mapped out, and the trip is divided into manageable segments so as not to be a burden for any one person.

In this case, 17 volunteers participated. Hara and Ama left Tulsa on August 10, arriving in Cambridge, Mass., on August 17. The route was Sapulpa to Vinita to Joplin to Springfield to Lebanon to Rolla to St. Louis to Toledo to Elyria to Youngstown to Brookville to Bellefonte to Bloomsburg to Wilkes- Barre to Milford to Danbury to Hartford to Cambridge and their new home! Whew!

Is it any wonder that we choose to call this operation “The Luv Train?”

At last report, Hara and Ama have settled comfortably into their new home. According to their new meowmie, “The only fatality thus far has been the couch as they take turns shredding it.”

To volunteer or learn more, visit the Underground Railroad Rescued Kitty Network on Facebook ( ).

FIV – Not A Death Sentence

posted September 21st, 2013 by
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by Camille Hulen

The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a retrovirus in the same family as human HIV, but it cannot be transmitted to humans. FIV can live in many different tissues in cats, and typically causes a weakening of the cat’s immune system.

FIV positive cats are more prone to getting infections such as upper respiratory, skin, and bladder infections, along with dental disease. There are no specific signs of FIV, and a cat may not show any symptoms for years, so the only way to determine it is through a blood test.

A positive result from an FIV test can have a devastating effect on a cat owner. There is much misinformation about this disease; so much, in fact, that many consider it a death sentence. The purpose of this article is to dispel that myth.

The most common test is the SNAP test, performed by your veterinarian to look for antibodies to FIV. An initial positive result is usually followed up by a more extensive laboratory Blot test. It should be noted that tests on kittens under 6 months of age frequently result in false positive results and should be deemed unreliable. Antibodies from an infected mother may have been spread to the kitten in utero or via milk, but they may go away with time.

It is estimated that perhaps 2 percent of cats in the United States are infected with the virus. FIV is mainly passed from cat to cat through deep bite wounds, the kind that occur outdoors among intact males fighting to defend territory. It is very unlikely to be spread by sharing food bowls or litter boxes, by casual contact or by grooming.

There is no way to rid the cat of FIV, but FIV positive cats can lead normal lives both in quality and duration. They should be monitored with careful veterinary care to treat any secondary infections. Unfortunately, most rescue organizations will euthanize FIV positive cats, because people are hesitant to adopt a “sick” kitty. This is not necessary, as you will see in the following stories.

Cheryl in Oklahoma City has helped many FIV victims. Big White Cat (BWC) is just one of them. He was the neighborhood tom. He was at least 10 years old and showed up on a neighbor’s doorstep, looking rough and feeling worse: dirty, matted, stinky with fleas, ear mites and bad teeth.

Following treatment and neutering at the vet—and a bath which he enjoyed— he immediately relaxed indoors with the comforting sleep of rescue. He was adopted by his foster mom and now enjoys life as an indoor kitty, getting along fine with her dogs and another cat.

Bobby, a stunning bull’s-eye Tabby, was also a neighborhood stray. Jane and John fed him for months but could not get near him. Finally, he would let Jane approach as he ate. Then one day, he showed up with an injured eye; plus, it was cold outside. Trapping was the only option. After his treatment at the vet, he lived inside in a cage while Jane and John gained his trust. Eventually he became a wonderful loving pet, sharing many hours on the lap of John as he watched T.V. Bobby is gone now, but would Jane and John give up the two plus years of love that they shared with Bobby? I think not.

Another story comes from Angela. “FIV kitties are great; I have one!” she says. “My vet feels that FIV has been around much longer than we have had a name to place on the condition, and that many cats over the years have lived out a seemingly normal life while having FIV, and no one [knew] any different.

“Not to say we should dismiss the condition or allow conditions that would enable it to spread, but after my panic when I got the diagnosis on Murphy, I thought it was a death sentence for him. I spent a lot of time researching it and found FIV positive cats can live successfully with other cats and not share the condition. I have found this to be true, as Murphy lives with two other cats that have not contracted FIV. Hopefully, these guys can continue to hang out together for the rest of their lives.”

Sisco’s story is a little different because he is still waiting for his forever home. Sisco is an affectionate guy with a big purr, currently in foster care. He was an indoor/outdoor kitty that adopted a little orange kitten, Alfred, showing him the ways of the world, leading him around and grooming him, then inviting him in.

Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, Sisco and Alfred were later turned outside. Sisco was easily captured, and it was at that point that he was diagnosed as FIV positive. Alfred the kitten was more elusive, but when Alfred was found, Sisco welcomed him with kitty hugs and grooming, as if to say, “Where have you been, Buddy?” They are pals for life; all they now need is a home.

Stories of FIV cats abound. Best Friends Animal Society in Utah has a wing devoted to them, and even the official greeter at Best Friends is FIV positive! They are strong advocates for saving all lives, as is Dr. Janet M. Scarlett of Cornell University. To quote Dr. Scarlett, “There is no disease or condition of companion animals that takes more of their lives than euthanasia.” Some food for thought.

A Different Breed of Cat

posted March 9th, 2013 by
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by Camille Hulen

When you think of a baby kitten, playful balls of fur come to mind. In contrast to that image and the fuzzy kitten on this issue’s cover, consider the hairless Sphynx. This breed did not originate in Egypt, as one might think, but rather in Canada as a result of a spontaneous mutation, born to a black and white domestic cat.

The Sphynx does, in fact, have a very short downy coat, which can be seen only with difficulty; to the touch, it feels like suede or chamois cloth. Their skin may be a variety of colors and patterns similar to other cats (Tabby, Torti, etc.). In addition, the Sphynx has an unusual body type— long, thin and muscular with no whiskers and huge ears.

In cats with normal coats, the hair helps to regulate body temperature, so the Sphynx requires special care. It is subject to sunburn and sensitive to cold. This, of course, allows the doting owner to acquire an extensive wardrobe for the cat! Some Sphynx are real “clothes hounds” and wear them proudly, while others resist.

Some might think that the lack of hair would make the Sphynx the ideal pet for allergy suff erers. however, this is not the case because allergies to cats are triggered by a protein called Fel d1, not cat hair itself. Fel d1 is a tiny, sticky protein primarily found in cat saliva and sebaceous glands. Those with cat allergies may actually react worse to direct contact with Sphynx cats than other breeds!

While Sphynx cats lack a coat to shed or groom, they are not maintenance free. Body oils, which would normally be absorbed by the hair, tend to build up on the skin. As a result, regular weekly baths become necessary, along with ear cleaning and nail clipping. Now, instead of cleaning cat hair off of the furniture, you must remove oil stains.

With regard to personality, some references say Sphynx are loners, resist cuddling and prefer to be an “only child.” My friend Terry (who has been owned and trained by several cats) agrees with other reports, saying that they are very social, demand attention and are real purr machines. This confirms my experience that every cat is an individual, regardless of breed, and we must appreciate their idiosyncrasies.

Now meet Flora, Terry and husband Donald’s newest family member, who was adopted from Sphynx rescue alliance in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Incidentally, if you are considering a purebred cat of any type, please rescue rather than support breeding.) rescue organizations for all breeds are accessible via the internet; one is Specialty purebred cat rescue in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Flora’s name is particularly fitting, because she was born in the spring eight years ago and has indeed blossomed since coming to live in her new home one year ago. Most recently, Flora was named Sphynx of the Week by Facebook group Naked Nonsense. Flora, herself, perhaps gives the best endorsement for the Sphynx breed; excerpts from her interview follow.

Q: What is your favorite food?

A: I will eat anything I find to steal! They never feed me. (Sphynx have notorious appetites in order to maintain their body temperature.)

Q: Favorite toy or activity?

A: I have a rubber chew toy that I carried with me everywhere until I had my dental surgery. I no longer need to chew to make my mouth feel better, so I have no favorite toys right now. I prefer chasing my siblings around the house when the spirit moves me.

Q: Greatest talent?

A: Waking the dead. Since I had bi-lateral ear ablation surgeries, I can hear only muffled sounds. I want to make sure everyone hears me when I want attention or food (‘cause they never feed me).

Q: Naughtiest moment?

A: Stealing food from my brothers and sisters (‘cause they never feed me) and biting brother Skynard’s ears when he won’t sit still while I’m bathing him.

Q: Most embarrassing moment?

A: probably the way I looked after my ear surgery. One eye was completely closed; one eye was half open; my head tilted, and I had to wear one of those embarrassing collars!

Q: Your secret love?

A: “My Skynard” and it’s no secret. We are inseparable. He grooms me; I groom him, and we sleep together all the time. We went together to OSU last year to check our hearts, since Momma says that Sphynx are prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). I have a heart murmur, but Skynard is perfect (which I already knew).

Conclusion: These Sphynx cats, in spite of the extra care required, are loved dearly!

Room for One More

posted January 14th, 2013 by
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by Camille Hulen

Last March, a friend asked me if I could help with some kittens she had found. They had been abandoned by their mama cat on a patio in a “not so nice” neighborhood from which she had rescued several other cats.

She transported the kittens to my home in the filthy box in which they had been found, and I was horrified. These babies were probably about 10 days old, barely trying to open their eyes, which were covered in matter.

Abandoned kittens usually have fleas, but this was worse; these kittens were covered with both fleas and maggots. I later learned that the yellow crud on them was actually maggot eggs. We set about bathing them in Dawn, picking off fleas and maggots, and then started the feeding.

I stayed awake that night, feeding them every two hours, and continued cleaning. I took them to my vet the next day because I was so uncertain about treatment for the maggots. As he flushed the maggots from their eyes, his advice was to simply continue what I was doing. They were too frail for any other medical treatment.

From experience, I knew that the best care for starving kittens is to feed them small amounts very frequently, for they would naturally be nursing on mama continuously. As the week progressed, I knew that I had three survivors!

My personal cats, of course, were curious but not happy. The older ones tried to ignore them because they had seen this act before. “Mom’s at it again,” I imagine they were thinking. One cat, though, was so incensed that he hissed and growled every time he walked by the room they were in. My two big dogs were interested too, but I dare not introduce them to a tiny critter smaller than one of their big paws.

About a month later, the kittens were sure on their feet and stable enough to scamper about, so it was time to meet the dogs. It was love at first sight—my dogs had been taught as puppies to respect cats. They sniffed them gingerly as I watched carefully.

Soon two of the three kittens had been adopted, and Wooly Bully, my 85-pound dog, spoke up. “I want this one, Mom,” he said (not actually, but I’m certain he would have if he could). It was clear that he loved this little white kitten, and the feeling was mutual. Wooly Bully would nuzzle the kitten, sometimes even with open mouth, much to my consternation. The 2 pound kitten would reciprocate and grab the big dog by the muzzle. They would seek each out, chasing around the living room, dog on floor, kitten on top of sofas. What fun!

As the kitten grew, he cried at the door whenever he saw the dogs outside on the patio. Many is the time we had to retrieve him when he was part way out the cat door to join them, for he was still far too little for the outside world. Eventually the day came, though, when he could play chase with “his dog” in the yard. When I would call him and he failed to come, Wooly Bully would find him and point him out.

So what do you do when your dog wants to adopt a kitten? You say “yes,” of course. You name the white kitten Tahoe after the beautiful white snows of Lake Tahoe which you remember fondly, and Tahoe becomes part of the family. What do the other cats think? Most of them have accepted Tahoe, and will cuddle and groom him, while one cat still grumbles. I try to explain, “You were a rescue also. There’s room for one more.” 

To Declaw or not to Declaw?

posted November 24th, 2012 by
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 Claws are an integral part of a cat’s anatomy. They are used for balance, climbing, striking in defense, capturing prey and marking territory. In spite of this, one of the most frequent questions asked by new cat owners is, “Should I declaw my cat?”

This is a very controversial and emotionally charged issue in the cat world. Many feel that this is cruel mutilation— so much, in fact, that many countries, such as England, Australia and New Zealand, have outlawed it. Others feel that declawing saves the lives of many cats that would otherwise be given up to shelters and, ultimately, euthanized.

The most valid justification for declawing is to prevent injury or infection to a member of the household who may be elderly with thin skin, on blood thinners, or whose immune system is compromised. However, declawing is done primarily to prevent damage to furnishings.

If you are considering declawing, consider this. Declawing is serious surgery. It is not simply removal of the claw, but bone as well. Bone must be removed, or the claw will grow back. Many would equivocate this to the removal of a human fingertip down to the first knuckle. There are various techniques, but all involve removal of the bone down to the first joint.

The newest laser techniques can certainly be more precise if properly executed, but as with any surgery, there is some pain and discomfort; so pain management medication is indicated. Most cats recover quickly without complication. To prevent infection, special litter should be used during recuperation.

What are the long-term effects of declawing? Some say that it alters a cat’s personality, although no scientific study has supported this. However, I can testify from personal observation that cats without claws are more prone to biting. After all, you have removed their first line of defense, so this makes common sense, doesn’t it? And, in light of this, declawed cats should remain indoors.

What are the alternatives? Perhaps the simplest is regular kitty manicures. It may take a while for Kitty to get used to this, but you can easily clip your cat’s claws at home with an inexpensive pair of clippers from the pet store. I have found this easiest to do when the unsuspecting kitty is in a mellow mood sitting on my lap. If all else fails, your veterinarian will gladly do it for you. The claws can still do some damage to furniture, but it is minimized. Another alternative is plastic nail caps. These are applied with super glue to the clipped claws and last for about a month. (Caution: other cats may laugh at the big boy cat with blue fingernails!)

A scratching post is an absolute necessity in any cat friendly home. A variety of styles are available, and some can actually be attractive. The post should be tall enough and sturdy enough for the cat to extend full length to use it; sisal rope is usually the most desirable covering. It is easier to train a kitten than an adult cat, but start training Kitty to use it when she first comes to live with you, regardless of age. Whenever the cat scratches something inappropriately, take her to the post. Catnip will often entice her to use it.

In spite of the lengths and expense to which some people will go to declaw their cats, many declawed cats are found abandoned on the street. I must ask, “Did they really want a cat to begin with? Or did they want just another toy for their own satisfaction? Do they not realize that all the furnishings and material goods in the world cannot replace the love of a cat?”

Camille Hulen

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