Anya is scheduled for spay surgery in two weeks. It was the first available appointment with my regular vet. I could possibly had it done sooner if I’d have gone back through the shelter and used their choice of vet, but my bigger focus for the last two months has been making sure her eye issues were resolved, so I didn’t especially mind the delay. 

Now that we’re four days in to her first heat, let me be the very first to say that I wish I had been focused on both things simultaneously. She’s eight months old now, so this turn of events is not exactly unexpected. As we drew closer to her appointment, I mostly hoped that the natural course of things would just hold off a bit longer. It didn’t, of course, so I’ve been treated to a solid weekend of caterwauling and sweet Aud being an enormous pain in the ass.

All the other rescue animals who have made their way home with me have either arrived after neutering or had standing appointments to have the operation shortly after they got here. These last few days have certainly made the case in my mind for animals to be neutered before they’re placed in a home. For someone who was less tolerant of animal peculiarities or who doesn’t sleep quite as deeply as I do, I can see where the story might not end well.

At least with Anya there’s light at the end of the tunnel – or at the end of May, whichever comes first. I have to wonder, though, how many other intact animals the shelter has sent out into the world who will end up “unfixed” and contributing to the next wave of unwanted cats. I’m fully aware of the resource limitations they’re contending with, but I have to strongly recommend that Cecil County Animal Services revisit their policy of placing intact cats in the community. At some point it becomes a self-licking ice cream cone.

With Anya’s path more or less laid out, now I’m focused on getting Cordelia caught up with her vaccinations and on someone’s schedule for her own surgery. Whether that will be my regular vet or someone else, remains to be determined. Now that she has emerged from her reclusive, under bed period, I’m cautiously optimistic I’ll be able to get her contained and into a crate without tearing the entire house down in the process. Probably. Maybe.

The blocked cat…

Because I’m both inquisitive by nature and also a glutton for punishment, recrimination, and self-doubt, over the last few days I’ve been reading a lot about feline urinary blockage. I had a cat for the better part of seven years and never heard the issue mentioned at all my various visits to veterinary offices.

I wish someone along the way had warned me that this was a common occurrence and that there were some key indicators to watch out for. The early warning signs are subtle and there’s no guarantee that even if I had been home, I’d have noticed them right out of the gate, but forewarned is forearmed and all that.

One particular article that doesn’t go too deeply into veterinary jargon or advanced biology is: The Nightmare That is Blocked Cats. I found it a helpful place to start that didn’t lead off by trying to give me a degree in veterinary medicine. The number of comments left on this article feels like a telling indicator of just how common this issue may be for our pets.

So, having said that, if there’s a cat in your life – particularly one that’s male and in middle age – I’d encourage you to take a few minutes and do your reading. The sooner you recognize something might be off kilter, the better for you and the fuzzy little critter living in your house. I hope it’s information you’ll never need to have at your fingertips, but if you do, I promise you’ll be glad you made the effort.

Credit where it’s due…

I spend a lot of time on this blog bitching and complaining about things. No apologies. It’s just who I am as a person. However, when credit is due, I like to think I cover those bases too. So, with that said, here’s the credit due this week:

1. Summit Bridge Veterinary Hospital. As soon as I found Hershel on Sunday morning, I was on the phone immediately to Summit Bridge. The fact that on a Sunday morning, they were open and immediately available for an emergency phone consult put them steps above just about any other practice I’ve used. Assessing that the situation was likely beyond their capabilities, they immediately referred me to two local emergency vet options. Quick, professional, and focused, they’re a solid recommend in my book if you have veterinary service needs in the local area.

2. BluePearl Pet Hospital – Christiana. BluePearl, like a lot of the other large chain veterinary practices get a lot of guff. I suspect that’s at least in part because of the prices involved when it comes to emergency or specialty vet medicine. I get it. However, everyone I worked with there on Sunday morning was fantastic. Hershel was in triage within 45 seconds of walking through the doors and the receptionist seeing his condition. Fifteen minutes later, the emergency vet was providing a detailed breakdown of his condition, pros and cons of treatment, and likely outcomes. She was compassionate and responsive to questions throughout our conversation. The tech who walked me though options for cremation or other arrangements was incredibly professional. The vet and tech tending to the actual euthanasia somehow managed to be a physical presence and yet disappeared in plain sight, allowing as much time as I wanted both before and after administering the final drug cocktail. From start to finish, the team at BluePearl displayed competence, professionalism, and compassion both for Hershel and for me. I don’t regret a nickel of their fee.

3. Jorah. This sweet, slightly neurotic boy has been unfailingly happy through what has felt like a very long couple of days. After sniffing around a bit Sunday night, he settled in to his own routine of snoozing in the living room, barking at the squirrels, and chasing the birds from the back yard. I honestly don’t know what I’d have done if he hadn’t been here when I got home with an empty crate on Sunday afternoon.

My sweet, tabby boy…

Hershel came to live with me on October 29th, 2016. A tiny spit of a thing, he showed absolutely no fear in the face of either a bulldog or a chocolate lab. In fact, from the beginning, Hershel mostly thought he was one of the dogs. There’s a backstory there, of course. 

Our Hershel, you see, was the sole survivor of a litter dropped off in the dead of night at my then veterinarian’s office. The office manager there took him in and got him fixed up. There’s where I came into the picture. I mean I couldn’t really have that kind of fighter just dropped off at shelter, could I?

So, home he came and within the week, he was running both dogs and firmly ensconced as leader of my motley pack. Every day from then to now, he was the best cat a boy could ask for. After dinner, every single night, he tucked into his spot on my lap, purring happily while I read or grumbled at the television. After more than six years, you could have kept time with our routine. 

Sometime in the last 24 hours, Hershel suffered a blockage of his bladder or urinary tract. I found him sprawled on the floor, barely conscious when I got home this morning from a weekend trip. Thirty-five minutes later, after breaking most of the traffic laws in two states, we were rushed through to triage at the local emergency vet’s office. His kidneys were shut down, bloodwork was off the charts, and his temperature was described politely as “incompatible with life.” He was obviously in pain and there was virtually no chance of recovering. 

Letting him go and ending his suffering was the last kindness I could offer this magnificent member of the family. Even to the last, he took endless chin scratches and ear rubs as if they were simply his due. Under other circumstances, he would have almost looked happy. It’s certainly how I’d like to remember him, but mostly I’ll remember not being here last night when he was sick, and scared, and needed me most. I’ll carry that guilt every day from now until my own end.

I miss my sweet, tabby boy. I just walked around with the assumption that we’d have so much more time and I’m whatever it is that exists beyond broken. 

Breaking up… sort of…

I did it. I told our current vet that although I’ve been happy with their service, I’m leaving to pursue less expensive basic medical care for two of the three furry little hooligans who share my house. Maggie will be staying put for the time being. With her thickening medical record and established relationship with the primary doc and specialists, I don’t want to rock that particular boat by reading someone new into the project at this late stage. George, of course, gets his own once a year trip to the local exotic vet practice.

Jorah is due for his annual checkup and vaccinations in a few weeks, so there wasn’t much room to put off decisions any longer. Thanks to the internet, I think I have our new vet (or vets, plural, since they’re a multi-person practice) picked out. It’s still a twenty-five-minute drive (but what isn’t when you decide to live in the middle of nowhere). Their online reviews seem impressive enough. They have on-site hydrotherapy, which is nice if I ever need to go that route again. They also have offer self-contained boarding, day care and grooming. I’m not altogether a fan of boarding, and it’s been a rare enough event that I’ve ever had to leave a critter behind, but I appreciate having the option bolted on to the medical facility.

If I’m 100% honest, I’m not sure this place will be much cheaper than where we’re leaving. They’ve got a whole lot of infrastructure that needs to be paid for and kept up. It’s definitely not the old-fashioned country vet I thought I wanted for them. What it does have, beyond the obvious, is the virtue of being open for 12 hours on weekdays and 10 hours on both Saturday and Sunday.  That’s the kind of thing that could save a guy at least a couple of emergency vet visits over the course of an average pet lifetime. I’m probably willing to pay a little bit of a premium for that… so we’re going to give this outfit a test run starting in July and see how it goes.

Schlepping across Pennsylvania…

Almost two months ago I noticed that Maggie had started drinking approximately an Olympic sized swimming pool’s volume of water every day. I assumed it was a return of some of the symptoms that led us to her Cushing’s diagnosis. Several rounds of testing more or less proved that wasn’t the case. Her Cushing’s remains controlled, but there was bacterial growth in her urine sample – diagnosis: urinary tract or kidney infection.

After the first week of antibiotics there wasn’t much improvement, so they changed up the prescription to something a little more powerful. Two weeks of that showed some vague signs of at least getting her seemingly endless thirst under control. We’re almost through the second two-week round of antibiotics – for a total of five weeks under treatment.

Overall, she seems far better than she was two months ago. She’s not draining off a gallon of water every time I refill the bowl. She’s not struggling to get her feet under her to stand up and her back legs aren’t apt to fall out from under her every time she tries making a turn on an even remotely slick floor.

When we were in the worst of it, I scheduled an appointment with an internal medicine specialist – basically what I expected was a hail Mary play to find out if there was anything that the rest of us had missed and provide a fresh set of eyes to look over an increasingly thick medical record.

Having a dog that drinks non-stop in and of itself isn’t a huge deal when I’m mostly working from home. All that water has to end up somewhere, but it’s not hard to open the door every hour or two or even to get up in the middle of the night for a trip outside. Starting back to work in the office on a more regular basis created a bit of an issue. As much of a dog lover as I am, living with a critter that can’t help but pee all over the house or whatever room you’ve tried to waterproof isn’t a realistic option… and have you even looked at what getting a dog walked two or three times a day would cost?

I kept the appointment with internal medicine – knowing that if I cancelled and there was any backsliding, it would take a month or longer to get another appointment. I still want a set of fresh eyes to give her the once over and either confirm that we’re getting after the right problem or find out if there’s anything that can reasonably be done to coax a little more quality of life out of the situation. Maybe it’s overkill for a 13-year-old lab, but it’s why I went schlepping across Pennsylvania today.

A rare moment of indecisiveness…

I’ll admit that a decade ago I picked the vet whose office location was the most convenient. I was just back to Maryland with a bulldog who at least once a month seemed to need to go to the vet immediately. Their office being between five and seven minutes from the house was a much appreciated convenience.

That office closed a few years ago and folded many of their clients, myself included, into their sister facility twenty-five minutes away. We’ve gotten good service there and I like my regular vet and the staff, but their fees tend towards eyewatering territory on a pretty regular basis.

I’m leaning towards transitioning the two youngest members of the household over to a different vet – one that’s still locally owned and operated (and presumably with lower costs for basic veterinary care). With Maggie’s long and complex history over the last several years, though, I expect to keep her with people who know the full back story until we’ve played that hand all the way through.

Part of the reason I liked the big corporate chain vet in the first place was having ready access to emergency and specialists “in the family.” With a host of them now sprung up within reasonable driving distance, I’m not sure that’s the selling point it was then. It feels likely that nothing more than the inertia of dealing with a known quantity is what really kept us where we’ve been this long.

Or not. I’m currently feeling mightily indecisive… and since a decision isn’t needed right the hell now, I’ll probably continue to dither for a bit yet.

10 week update…

I realized this afternoon that it’s been a while since my last Winston update and figured with this being a slow news day it’s as good a time to correct that as I’m likely to find. For those of you playing along at home, tomorrow will be 10 weeks since his surgery. You’ll remember the first two weeks were close confinement with walking kept to an absolute minimum. The last six weeks have seen slightly less confinement, but still have kept activity rather limited. In two weeks when we go back to the surgeon for his alleged last post-operative check up, I desperately hope that she will give the all clear for him to resume as much of a normal life as possible.

I really don’t know which of us will be more excited to finally see the plastic pen disappear from the middle of the living room. That the current Rental Casa de Jeff is a tri-level split gives me a moment of pause, though. I think it’s safe to say that my boy has climbed his last set of stairs, which means that he’s more or less limited to the kitchen and living room for the foreseeable future. That’s a lot more space than he’s had in the last two months, but still feels pretty confining. The pitch of the steps and their location make any kind of indoor ramping prohibitive, but I’m still casting around for a better idea than throwing up baby gates and calling it a done deal.

One thing I do have to say is that he’s getting around far better than I would have expected given how much work they did to his leg. I suppose in the wild a dog either plays hurt or lays down and dies, so there’s probably more than a little evolution at play. Still, even with high quality medication I’m not sure two days after having my knee rebuilt I’d have much interest in getting up and looking around.

Winston has been a real trooper through the whole experience and it seems like the hard part for him is wrapping up. Now if I can get past the notion that 50% of dogs that blow out one knee also blow out the other, everything will be just fine. Until then, I’m going to spaz out a little inside every time the poor dog takes a step.