Cat Tales


posted September 16th, 2012 by
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by Camille Hulen

In early August, Oklahoma was on fire. During the evening of August 4, the sky darkened, and the smell of smoke lingered over Tulsa. Ash from the fires in Creek County even fell on cars in Midtown Tulsa. There were many pictures on TV of the devastation throughout the state. But what about the animals? Here are three personal stories of people and their pets in the Mannford, Bristow and Thunderbird fires.


On Saturday August 4, a young couple called me wanting to board their cat because fire was nearing their home in Mannford. They had evacuated their home and spent the previous night in a motel, fearing the worst. When they brought “Mr. Stitches” to me, they told me that not only was their home in danger, but also the homes of their relatives, who were electing to stay and fight the fire. At least this couple had insurance; their relatives did not.

Fortunately, on Sunday, I received the good news that Mr. Stitches’ home, as well as those of his relatives, had been saved, and he might go home on Monday. When they reached their home, however, electricity was still out, so they elected to stay away until Wednesday. Mr. Stitches was understandably stressed and not too happy with the situation, but he was safe.


The next call that I received was from Cathy, a lady from the Drumright area. Cathy explained that she had barely escaped, as helicopters whirled overhead; and the flames spread to the trees on the western edge of her property. She had two cats, but had been able to find only one in time to flee. She and her kitty were spending the night in Tulsa with a relative, and then she would bring the kitty to me on Sunday.

On Saturday night, the rain came, and eased the situation somewhat. When I spoke to Cathy on Sunday, she was trying to get back to Drumright to see if her home had been saved. One can only imagine her anxiety throughout the day as she was trying to find alternate routes into town. Major roads were blocked while firefighters continued to battle the blaze. The only vehicles permitted on the roads were emergency vehicles and equipment.

Finally, at 9 a.m., on Monday, Cathy called. Her house had been saved! It was only then that I learned the rest of the story. She had recently lost a son, and throughout this entire time, her husband had been hospitalized in Tulsa, suffering from a stroke. She had remained so calm in talking to me to make arrangements for her cat that I had no idea of the other difficulties in her life. However, her neighbors knew. They called in friends who traveled cross-country through burning fields to help. They just had to save her house. Using whatever resources they had available, they battled the blaze for seven hours and were successful. And, what is more, when Cathy reached her property, her missing cat “Snoball” came running to greet her.


Sometime during the weekend, I received a call from Oklahoma City, seeking shelter for four cats. This family in the Thunderbird fire was not so fortunate. They had lost everything, but their horses had been saved; and a member of Thunderkatz, an OKC cat advocacy group, would be bringing their four cats to me. Another anonymous donor called to say that she would be sending a donation on their behalf. I have since learned that this family too had other difficulties. The husband is handicapped from an accident, which happened exactly one year ago to the date, and was scheduled for surgery within the week. “Sophie,” “Scrappy,” “Drew,” and “Zuko” are now rested and happy and will be staying with me until their living situation is resolved.

When tragedy strikes, there are so many heartwarming stories of good people helping others. PALS was on the scene immediately to rescue animals at the Mannford shelter before the fire reached them. And Kudos to the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals and Tulsa SPCA, who spearheaded the rescue efforts in Creek County. Also, numerous unnamed, generous people donated supplies, veterinary care, and foster homes for animals.

A Facebook page has been established to reunite owners with their pets, Creek County Displaced Animals. The need will be ongoing, as many acres of farmland were destroyed. Oklahoma Department of Agriculture and Forestry has set up a donation site for hay or feed at the Creek County Fairgrounds. Donations may also be sent to Oklahoma Alliance for Animals (11822 E. 15th St., Tulsa, OK 74105) for its continuing work.

Myths and Misconceptions

posted July 15th, 2012 by
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by Camille Hulen

 I’m pregnant. I have to get rid of the cat.

It is true that toxoplasmosis can be a risk to the unborn baby. The simple solution: have Dad scoop the litter box during this time. It’s good practice for changing diapers later! Most adults are not at risk for toxoplasmosis, but the best precaution is to use good sanitary practices of wearing gloves while scoop­ing the litter box or washing


hands thor­oughly after scooping.

 Cats suck the breath out of ba­bies and they suffocate.

This myth probably originated before anything was known about SIDS (Sud­den Infant Death Syndrome). I posit: “Could it be that a cat was trying to warn parents that something was wrong with the baby, and that is why the cat was in the crib?” If you are concerned about kitty getting too close to baby, close the door and get a baby monitor. The nor­mal cat will run when baby screams or does something the cat doesn’t like, not harm the baby. In general, cats and ba­bies make good companions.

 Stray cats spread diseases, so I can’t feed one.

To answer this, I ask: “What diseases? How would you get it?” Very few dis­eases are spread between species; these are called zoonotic diseases. Three come to mind: rabies, toxoplasmosis, and cat scratch fever. The stray cat is no more likely to have rabies than the squirrel in your yard. If it did, it would be show­ing symptoms and acting sickly. Toxo­plasmosis is generally spread from cat to human through the handling of cat litter. Cat scratch fever is very rare, and you are not handling the cat, are you? If you wish to help this cat, borrow or rent a humane trap, have it checked by a vet, get it spayed/neutered so that there will be no additional kitties, and continue to feed it or find it a home.

 Female cats are more loving than males.

Years of experience have shown this not to be the case. If anything, I would say that female cats are actually fussier and more “hissy!”

 My cat should have one litter of kittens before I get her spayed.

Why? So that your children can wit­ness birth? Instead, take the children to an animal shelter and show them all the kittens for adoption that will be eu­thanized because there are not enough homes! It is never too early to teach them compassion. Besides, it has been shown that spaying reduces the risk of cancer in female cats. And no, it will not change their personality.

 Wait until your cat is 6 months old to spay or neuter.

This is certainly not necessary. If you wait too long, it increases the probabil­ity that the cat will get outside and do what comes naturally. If you have ever lived with a female cat in estrus (heat), you know that it is not a pleasant expe­rience! Most vets recommend the sur­gery at about 4 months of age.

 All male cats spray. Unneutered male cats are the ones most likely to spray. It is the instinct in the wild to mark ter­ritory. This is another good reason to have your young male cat neutered early. Spraying also occurs to establish dominance in a multi-cat household or to express dissatisfaction about some­thing. Work with your vet to curb these tendencies.

 Cats are indepen­dent. They won’t even come when called.

“Au Contraire!” as the French would say. All of my seven cats know their own names, each other’s names, and even the dogs’ names. They come run­ning across the yard when called. Begin early, and always call the cat by name, not just “Here, Kitty, Kitty.” Some cats will even play “fetch” and perform tricks on command.

 Cats can fend for themselves. They can live by mice alone.

Cats are animals which were domesti­cated by man and, in turn, have evolved to become dependent upon man. Even barn cats need to be fed regularly to obtain the proper nutrients and to be treated for parasites.

 Black cats are bad luck.

As the happy owner of three black cats, I consider myself pretty lucky. I ask those who still believe this myth: “Do you also believe in the tooth fairy?”

True (Pet) Love

posted May 15th, 2012 by
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by Camille Hulen

YOU HAVE PROBABLY SEEN him hitch-hiking beside the road —the tattered man with his dog. Or perhaps you have seen the picture circulating on the Internet of the homeless man sleep­ing with his dog, or begging with a menagerie of dogs, cats, and rodents. But have you experienced such love in real life, as they say, up close and personal?

I got a call recently on behalf of a couple heading to the Tulsa shelter for the homeless as they were in need of a place to stay. Before they would go there to seek shelter for themselves, they needed to find shelter for their two cats. Yes, these cats were that important to them. They would not simply move out and leave them, as so many irresponsible people do every day.

This is not the first such call I have received. A few years ago, another couple was living in their car until they could find a place for their cats. Another girl was desperate be­cause financial circumstances, incurred by student debt, had forced her to move in with relatives who would not accept her cat. The list goes on.

I have been hesitant to write about this, lest some think that I am seeking acclaim for helping these people. I am not alone in doing this; other people have contributed to their welfare, as well. However, the underlying story to be told is an important one: that of unconditional love.

On the other hand, I have gotten calls seeking a particular breed of cat. “I want a Persian because they are so pretty.” “I want a Siamese. I don’t know why. I just think they are cool.” “I want a kitten, not a cat, because they are more fun.”

I ask myself, “Does that person want a living, breath­ing companion or a trophy or a toy?” One need only look at the number of breed-specific rescue groups to see the answer. The trophy cat for which they paid hundreds of dollars suddenly becomes a burden. The child throws away his toy, and it ends up in the animal shel­ter.

From my experience, it seems that the forgotten in our society often treasure their pets the most. The animal accepts them for who they are. The cat does not care that they look different than other people, or that they are handicapped in some way. As the writer George Eliot said, “Animals are such agreeable friends —they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.”

The love is deep, and there is true communication across species. You may not believe it until you witness it. The cat comes running to greet them at the sound of their voices. They cry for sheer joy at the sight of their cat.

Did you ever stop and think that perhaps this is the reason the “crazy old cat lady” has 15 cats? She will sacrifice her own material goods in order to care for her cats. Why? They give her the love that humankind will not, so perhaps we should not be so quick to judge. The same is true for the older per­son who refuses to go to a care facility without his or her pet. That animal is the most important thing in that person’s life. And when he or she dies, why would a relative not cherish the pet in his or her memory, but, instead, put it to death? This I fail to understand.

I leave you, the reader, with this thought from Anatole France. “Until one has loved an animal, part of his soul remains unawakened.”

Thinking Outside the Box

posted March 15th, 2012 by
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by Camille Hulen

Thinking outside the box is a good thing, isn’t it? Not when your cat does it, too! Litter box issues are one of the most frequent encountered by cat owners.

The first question is: “How do you train a kitten?” It is instinctive: the tiniest kitten will naturally go to the litter box. I use disposable aluminum lasagna pans with low sides, and the little ones just tumble into it. Even without a momma cat to demonstrate, the kitten knows what to do. Kittens are not the tidiest; therefore, it is best to use regular clay litter for them, so that it does not clump to their feet, risking ingestion as they clean themselves. Once they discover the litter box, they will use it regularly. Only occasionally do they have accidents while busily playing—just as children might.

So, what to do if your cat isn’t using the litter box? First, examine your own conscience. Have you been diligent in cleaning it? Cats are fastidious creatures and demand a clean box. Scoopable litter makes it easy to develop the habit of scooping twice a day—morning and evening—when you get up and at bedtime. And, of course, multiple cats require multiple boxes.

Sometimes, the type of litter may be the problem. The latest perfumed scent may be pleasing to humans but not to kitty. One cat I know was accustomed to clay litter, and when the new owner presented her with pine litter, she thought it was something to eat!

Perhaps the type of box is not to kitty’s liking. There are so many from which to choose: low boxes, high boxes, covered, open, automatic self-cleaning, easy sifting, and even trainers for the toilet seat. I have found that most cats prefer the open type, while most humans prefer the closed. The automatic ones work well, and although cats are initially afraid of them, they are later fascinated watching their operation. You must still be diligent in their cleaning, however, to prevent jams.

Long-legged male cats often do their best to use the box but still wet outside the box when they stand to urinate. A covered box helps, but drips can still occur through the lips of most boxes. An especially good design is the “Booda” dome, designed with a sort of tongue and groove type closure that prevents leakage. However, it may not be big enough for some cats. Placing any box on a “puppy pad” also eases clean-up. Incidentally, disposable bed pads for human incontinence are usually less expensive and larger than the puppy ones. And, did you know that extra-large boxes for puppies are available? These work wonderfully for large cats and multiple cats. Check with your pet store for availability.

A particularly difficult case was PomPom. This full-blooded Persian was found declawed and roaming the streets in a very upscale neighborhood. Why would anyone abandon a beautiful cat like that? After she was taken to a shelter and adopted out many times, always being returned, the answer was obvious. PomPom urinated on carpet. (Did she think Persian rugs were designated for Persian cats?)

Many different types of litter were tried by the would-be owners, and none worked. It was also clear that she did not have a medical problem. Finally, I agreed that she could live in my kennel where the damage would be minimal. Sure enough, if I put down a carpet sample, PomPom would use it. In the absence of carpet, any soft surface would be the next choice. It actually took years for me to discover that a section of newspaper (not shredded) placed on top of the litter in the box made the box acceptable. I guess PomPom simply does not like the messiness of litter on her pretty, furry paws!

When you have done your part, and kitty still has a problem, a visit to the vet is in order. The most frequent cause is a urinary infection. The cat brain associates the litter box with pain, so he or she goes elsewhere. Usually, a round of antibiotics will do the trick.

If no physical problem can be found, work with your veterinarian. He may prescribe a drug to reduce anxiety, such as amitriptyline or Prozac. Separating cats in a multiple cat household may be necessary in order to give each cat the attention he or she demands. Confining the cat to a small area such as a bathroom may also help with retraining. Needless to say, understanding the mind of a cat takes much patience. At this point, you must definitely think outside the box! 

Horizon Animal Heroes

posted January 15th, 2012 by
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By Camille Hulen

Photos by Howard Hulen

Ah, kittens at play…. Who wouldn’t smile at this picture? But these are no ordinary kittens — these are Horizon Animal Heroes. Riley, the little gray kitten, was rescued from the Tulsa Animal Shelter with his right front leg completely broken. With surgery it was pinned, but it was not certain that he would regain full use of it. And look at him now! When last seen, he was ready to climb the Christmas tree.

Look again closely at the picture. Riley’s playmate, the dark Tabby kitten, has his rear legs in an unusual position. He was rescued and brought to Horizon Animal Hospital by a client because he couldn’t walk. When Dr. Cari McDonald looked at the X-rays, she could see no fractures or trauma and had “trouble” making a diagnosis. At least he now had a name: Trouble. Apparently, he had a congenital neurological defect, and nothing could be done to correct it. He has normal feeling in his tail but limited response in his hind legs.

That did not stop the staff from loving him, nor did it stop Trouble from moving around. When I first met him, he was busily scooting around in the clinic, even undeterred by a resident dog. (You might say that Trouble was sweeping the floor at the same time.) After Riley’s recovery, he became Trouble’s best buddy and cage-mate. When turned loose in the clinic, they romp and box like normal kittens. Trouble does not know that he is medically challenged, and Riley doesn’t care. Trouble is about 6 months old now, and will soon get some rear wheels — thanks to a generous donor. Then, he will indeed be “hell on wheels!” Best of all, he has a home waiting for him. Riley is still waiting for the right family to come along.

Riley and Trouble are just two representatives of the new non-profit program started in July at Horizon, dedicated to the rehabilitation and placement of homeless, abandoned or abused animals in the Tulsa area. Dr. McDonald had seen too many cats and dogs that would make wonderful pets euthanized because no adoption organization was equipped to deal with them since most rescue organizations tend to take only healthy or breed specific animals. With her expertise, Dr. McDonald knew she could do more. Joleen Hansen leads the staff and volunteers who dedicate their personal time, and they have already saved several deserving dogs and cats. Their motto is “Heroes never give up Hope.”

Other heroes, like Riley and Trouble, are awaiting forever homes. First, there is Red, found by firefighters. Red, now known as Clementine, suffered from mange so bad she was nearly bald, and it took three months for her to recover. Then, there is Mo, a deaf Rat Terrier burned in a meth fire; Star, a black Lab mix, dumped and found nearly dead in a ditch; and Newton, a Pointer mix was found with an embedded collar. Dolly, a Manx cat, had her front leg amputated, and was adopted to a happy home, while Gabby the Torti, found declawed and abandoned in the rain, remains at the clinic, always talking, trying to “sell” herself.

If you would like become a hero to a pet in need, log on to Facebook and search for “Horizon Animal Heroes.”

The Special Ones

posted November 15th, 2011 by
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Overcoming Disabilities

By Camille Hulen

The first inspirat ion for this article came from ‘Lil Snout, whom I recently met. He was injured as a kitten and is both blind and brain damaged. This presents a special challenge for his owners, Jana and Steve, because Snout not only requires medicine twice a day, but he must be hand-fed and then facewashed twice daily as well. In spite of this, they have cherished the love of Snout for nine years when he purrs contentedly each time he is held. He climbs his way into bed with them, and even enjoys chasing his noisy ball down the hall.

Overcoming DisabilitiesThis article gives but a glimpse into the lives of Snout and other special needs kitties. However, I highly recommend a recent book, “Homer’s Odyssey,” which recounts in detail the life of Homer, another fearless blind kitty. Author Gwen Cooper not only tells Homer’s tale, but all of the lessons about love and life that she has learned from him.

Dale would agree. She has fostered numerous special needs cats with disabilities, ranging from diabetes to cardiomyopathy to kidney failure. With the prescribed medication and attention, she has been able to give these cats a good quality of life as they move into old age and beyond.

Although not professionally trained in medicine, she has learned much useful information through the Internet and diligent observation. However, Baby, a blind kitty, became her joy. Baby taught her to pick up after herself, to not leave anything in the middle of the room, to wear clunky shoes so he could hear to follow her, and to talk so that he knew where she was. Baby was even a winner in a recent pet photo contest! Wouldn’t you love to adopt the beautiful white kitten pictured here? But what if you learned that she was deaf, as many pure white cats are? Would you adopt her anyway? Tom and Brandy did not hesitate, and now Dafney has become an integral part of their family, along with several other pets.

The only problem with a deaf cat is that she won’t come when called. (Yes, contrary to popular belief, cats do come when called!) On a positive note, Dafney is not afraid of the vacuum cleaner. Of course, Brandy was protective when Dafney came to visit me, warning that she should not be left unattended with other cats. Guess what? The other cats scarcely noticed Dafney and did not harass her in any way. Through the years, I have observed that this is the case: animals are particularly understanding of those who are handicapped. When a somewhat feeble old cat strolls through the kennel, the younger ones respect his age; when a kitten gets overly rowdy, they all feel younger and join the game.Overcoming Disabilities

Now consider Oreo. Oreo’s rear leg had to be amputated after an injury sustained from climbing a fence. He required special care at first, but now he gets along just fine without it; Oreo just doesn’t climb fences anymore. Then, there is the tiny kitten who was hit by a car. The irresponsible owner seemed unconcerned about his fate, saying that she had several other kittens! However, the responsible driver, Bud, took him to his vet, where it was determined he had a broken pelvis. Over time, the injury healed, with careful attention to limiting the curious kitten’s activity. Now he lives happily with Bud and Marilyn’s other cats, and he truly earned his unique name: Pirelli, after the brand of tire that hit him! Another injured kitten was found in a pound, cowering at the back of her cage, because she was languishing in pain. Without hesitation over the expense, Gail took her to the vet, where x-rays revealed several leg and hip fractures. But this kitty had a will to live! As she recovered, the kitten found a strange bedfellow: a squirrel that Gail was also rehabilitating. As they overcame their handicaps, these animals from two different species became unlikely friends, running and playing together.

What about cats with chronic diseases? Consider Peaches, who was deemed unadoptable because she was diabetic. That did not matter to Samantha, who seized the opportunity to learn all that she could about diabetes, and has now been able to help many other cats with the disease. It takes dedication to assure that kitty gets her insulin on schedule twice daily, but most loving owners are willing to adjust their schedules to accommodate this. Although insulin injections are required for most diabetic cats, it has been found that many times feline diabetes can go into remission with the proper diet.

At this point, Peaches is still enjoying life at age 19! But what about those dread diseases of FIV and feline leukemia? While most humane groups will put these cats down, some organizations such as Best Friends in Utah, and loving owners like the ones mentioned above, have proven that they are adoptable. Although the immune systems of these cats are compromised, the educated owner will see them lead happy normal lives.

The only concern: care must be taken in their contact with other cats, since these diseases can be spread through cat bites.
There are many more special kitties out there. In fact, as cats age, they all inevitably require special care. The original title of this article was going to be “Special Needs Kitties,” but, as I wrote, I realized that the kitties are not the only ones who are special.
So, too, are their human caregivers, who appreciate the fact that all life is precious. Hats off to them!

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