Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A sad goodbye...

I know the title of this blog is Gone to the Dogs and the first couple of posts are about cats, but it only seems appropriate to say goodbye to two much loved kitties before I go any further.
Hoppycat came to me in April of 1994. A client found him under a bush at a soccer game and brought him to me. He was a MESS. He must have gotten caught in the fanbelt of a car (a common scenario with kitties- they climb up inside to get warm). Poor Hoppy smelled AWFUL. He right front leg was mangled and he had gangrene on the leg and his face. But he was so sweet....and he caught me in a weak moment.

His leg obviously needed to be amputated, and I hadn't done the surgery in a while and thought it would be good experience. In addition, he needed to have parts of his lip removed and I thought when he had healed I could practice some plastic surgery techniques and try and build him a new lip. So Hoppy stayed, and lost not only the leg and lip but also most of the teeth on that side and the gum tissue all the way down to the bone (which amazingly completely regenerated). He lived at the clinic for a while until he smelled a little better :0 and then went home with me (I never did fix his lip- by the time he healed I was too attached to do any non-essential surgery). He was far too "unique" looking to live at the clinic- I wouldn't want my clients to think all my patients went home looking like that! But Hoppy was the sweetest cat ever; all he ever wanted was to snuggle and be loved.
Hoppy also had pretty severe food allergies and seasonal allergies which worsened when we moved into my new house a couple of years ago (he lost his buddy Simba around then so there may also have been some emotional grooming issues). The food allergies got so bad he developed a huge "rodent ulcer" on the roof of his mouth which I never could get to totally heal, despite too many medications to count, multiple diet changes, surgery, and even acupuncture. He did grow his coat back and his skin was back into decent shape though. However this spring he became hyperthyroid (a common older kitty complaint) and eventually his kidneys started to fail as well. Between all of his medical issues he was producing a HUGE amount of urine and stool, and while he had never had any litterbox issues he now had to be confined first to the training room in the basement (not really a hardship with it's prime view of the birdfeeders, his own couch and TV, and about 1500 square feet of space full of tunnels and toys), and eventually to a large pen with his litterbox right there. Between this and his ulcerated mouth, I knew his quality of life was deteriorating and that he would not be with me a lot longer, but I had not been able to bring myself to make the final decision yet. On December 2 (ironically, the day we had assigned to be his birthday when he originally came to us- it would have been his 15th) my mom stopped over to pick some things up and my house and called to tell me Hoppy had died in his sleep. I feel so bad that he was alone at the end, but I know he had a good life and he almost certainly had more than the standard nine lives that were allotted! Sleep well, little Hop man, I hope you are in a warm place.

Grouch was our much loved clinic cat for more than 11 years. An exotic shorthair (kind of like a shorthaired, plushy Persian) he belonged to my tech Pam. When her husband accepted a job in England in 1997, there was still a mandatory six month quarantine and Pam could only take three dogs with her. So the rest of her animals were placed in new homes and Grouch came to live with us. Grouchie was one of those very special cats with a personality that we will never find again, and a face that just made you laugh. Poor Grouchie, his face always inspired us to dress him up in some new costume or another (you can see some of them in the pictures in this blog, including his "Oscar the Grouch" halloween picture that helps to show where he got his name). Despite his name, he was not at ALL grouchy but was a sweet, snuggly boy. He loved to climb into any small space he could find and it was our greatest fear that one day he would climb into an empty box and get thrown out with the trash. He did, on one memorable occasion, escape into the ceiling when a workman left a tile out of place (the space there communicates with the whole complex, so he could have been lost a LONG time!). Luckily he loved his laser pointer and we were able to lure him over to the opening with it and grab him. Before he came to live with us, he also disappeared when the washing machine repair man was there. No Grouch to be found that night....finally he did start to cry and it was discovered that he had climbed into the machine while the repairman had it apart, and it had been put back together with him inside (but luckily not turned on!). Pam's husband had to take the whole thing apart again to rescue him, and he was NOT a cat person!
Grouchie also had his own personal pet, a betta named Gil who came to visit while one of our employees was on vacation. Grouch LOVED Gil so much that he stayed for quite a while to keep him company. The picture below shows Grouch embracing Gil's little tank- it was a true love affair. Gil went to the rainbow bridge (presumably UNDER it!) a while ago so maybe he and Grouch are together again.
One year we decided to dye Grouch green for Halloween and dress him as his namesake, Oscar the Grouch. He was NOT happy with this development! As it turns out, green Kool Aid does NOT rinse out all that easily and he was green for a while! While he was green we also decided he could pose as the Grinch as well. You can see the full story of this escapade at Grouch's own webpage on our site.http://www.edgewoodanimalclinic.org/index_files/Page384.htm

In August of 2006, Grouch had a day where he spiked a fever. He responded right away to antibiotics and seemed fine, and all lab work was normal. However, about 3 weeks later it happened again. Bloodwork, radiographs, urine culture, viral panel- all normal. Again he responded to treatment quickly. But when it happened the third time just a couple of weeks later, I knew we had trouble. "Fever of unknown origin" is a frustrating problem in cats...but in an older kitty with everything testing normal, cancer has to be tops on your list. So we scheduled Grouch for exploratory surgery to take biopsies of as many abdominal organs as possible and see if we could find the source of the problem. The day of surgery as he was being prepped I looked across at him on the table being shaved and said "What is THAT?". "That" was his spleen, which was so enlarged I could see the bulge from across the room, desp
ite the fact that it had just been normal on radiographs the day before. So we took out the spleen, biopsied liver, pancreas, and multiple intestinal sites, and crossed our fingers. Unfortunately both the spleen and the liver came back with a diagnosis of lymphoma, a common cancer of cats. With it in two abdominal organs, this was not a very good outlook for Grouch and we were devastated. Ironically, at the same time this diagnosis was made, Grouch's Halloween picture in the trash can had made it through hundreds of submissions to the Enquirer's Halloween pet photo contest and they had called and wanted us to bring him to their studio for a photo shoot and feature in their Halloween spread; we had to decline due to his illness, but they did publish the original photo because they loved it so much. Initially I did not think I would pursue chemotherapy as Grouch was a TERRIBLE patient and had to be sedated for even a blood draw (he wasn't aggressive, but he was a champion wiggler!) and he absolutely hated riding in the car. Then I thought about it and decided I would do a conservative chemo protocol that I could do rigt there in the clinic where he lived so he did not have to go through the car rides at least and we could just sedate him and get it over with (I normally refer our chemo patients to one of our local oncologists). Then I thought if he was having to be sedated anyway we might as well treat him aggressively and see how he did. So around Halloween we started the "Wisconsin protocol" which involved a rotation of three different chemo drugs (vincristine-cyclophoshomide-vincristine-adriamycin), with a fourth additional one given at the beginning and oral pred daily as well. Initially the chemo was done on a weekly basis, then eventually every other week and finally every third week for a total of six months. He also got medications for nausea and to stimulate his appetite. Grouch handled the treatments like a champ. The vincristine would usually make him feel a bit pukey for a couple of days, but other than that he did very well and had great quality of life. We got him into remission and he even got to tolerate the blood draws and most often the IV injections without sedation. Grouch's remission lasted until this summer, when he started to lose weight and be picky about his food again. We restarted the Wisconsin protocol and he did pretty well for a while, although I never felt we really had him fully in remission this time. In mid November he started to lose weight again, developed a slight heart murmur (probably because he was a little anemic from the chronic disease), and his kidney values started to go up. Just a day after I lost Hoppy, radiographs showed that Grouch now had tumors on his liver and kidney. We started a "rescue" drug called CCNU the next day, and Grouch still seemed to be feeling pretty good and eating ravenously although he was very thin. He did well over the weekend, but when we came to work on Monday morning he was very weak and depressed, and nothing we could do seemed to make any difference. On Tuesday December 9 we made the difficult decision that the time we were trying to buy him was no longer good time, and we had to let him go. He would have been 14 in January. His chemo had worked for more than two years, but the reprieve had finally run out. Losing Grouchie has been terribly hard on our whole staff; we could not bring ourselves to put up the Christmas tree this year and we will feel the hole he left for a long time. We love you Grouch, you will be remembered, missed, and loved forever.
The hardest part of having pets is that their lifespans are so much shorter than ours and losing them is inevitable...each and every one of them has carved out a special place in my heart. It is so painful to think of them now, but the smiles and happiness they brought us for so many years was worth the heartbreak at the end.
Next post I promise will be happier!


Welcome to my blog! I hope to use this as both a way to get info to my clients easily and quickly (eventually I will link this to the clinic web page, but first I want to get my feet under me!) and also I am hoping to chronicle some experiments in training for a couple of my email lists- I am hoping to have time this winter to do some clicker training with Stevie, our clinic cat.

Stevie isn't terribly long on brains, but he IS very food motivated, and will offer behaviors for quite a while. A few years back, I taught him to do a jump-tunnel-pause table sequence (using a small, round popcorn tin for a pause table) and I have always wanted to teach him to do weaves. Recently I was looking at some videos of agility demos at cat shows, and it seems to me cats should be capable of doing MUCH better weaves that are much closer to those we see in dog competitions. Mostly they are only asking them to do 4 or 5, very widely spaced weaves; the cats are mostly lured through with no real understanding of the behavior, and there is a LOT of starting and stopping. Since Stevie is now my only kitty at the moment, my plan is to bring him home with me on the weekends I am around, and play around with him a bit in the training room. He won't be lonely, I won't be catless, and I won't have to make a special trip back to the clinic just to check on him... a win/win situation. Now we'll see if I actually follow through...

Please bear with me also, as I dumped a coke in my laptop keyboard and as a result periodically I will have weird typos or inability to capitalize as a result...so if I mess up and don't catch it before I post, I'm really not illiterate, just a caffeine addict!