There are ten days left in 2014. How did that happen? It’s been a year full of beginnings, but among the most obvious, this marks the first full year John and I have been a foster home for SPCR–a purebred cat rescue based in Kenosha, Wisconsin. (www.purebredcatrescue.org) Just last week, cattie number 64 for the year checked into the Wolf Crossing Cattie B&B. It’s been fun and rewarding to help save so many catties. I have to say, tho, if not for John being retired, we would not be able to operate at this capacity. Still, I’ve kept decent records, and if I were good at Excel, I’d create endless pivot tables and analyze how many guests we’ve had at any given time to predict next year’s traffic flow based on history. But I’m not.
It makes sense that when you have more than sixty cats pass through your house, you risk falling for a sweet soul you’re unable to part with. Especially true given that you’re the kind of person willing to house sixty cats to begin with. Well, it happened to us this year. Meet Windsor.
He’s a classic silver shaded Persian with emerald eyes encased by black eyeliner and sports brick red nose leather; his wide-set rounded ears are breed standard. And I love those ears! According to the shelter who delivered Windsor to rescue, he was a product of divorce. Three years old, Windsor was matted, filthy and flea infested when he arrived at Wolf Crossing. I took one look at him and those enormous sad green eyes melted my heart. Windsor also has a snaggle tooth, which endears him to people, but according to our vet it’s the result of previous trauma to his jaw. Hmmm. How does a cattie get a broken jaw?
When Windsor arrived, he wasn’t neutered, either. So, getting that remedied was top order of the day. But we soon learned that Windsor wasn’t healthy. After his neuter surgery, Windsor simply stopped eating to the point where his life was threatened. He was weak, lethargic and couldn’t even hold up his head. Of course we took him to the vet and followed directions incuding force feeding Windsor from a syringe three times a day. Ugh. If you’ve never force fed a cat, be advised it’s a messy affair designed to upset all involved. During this time, he weighed around five-ish pounds and lived in our bathroom.
And so Windsor progressed, but didn’t really thrive. Sometime in early summer, we officially adopted him and cemented Windsor’s future at Wolf Crossing forever, in spite of the fact he consistently vomited two or three times a day. I mean huge vomits where the entire contents of his stomach landed all over my house, carpet, clothes and furniture. And he was ravenous. So there was a lot.
During these months, we took Windsor to our vet for a series of tests, but the only conclusive determination was that Windsor was one sick boy. Our vet is very competent but he, like most vets in small clinics, simply does not have the resources for state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment. And so, he referred us to the University of Illnois Veteranary School of Medicine in Champagin, IL–a one and a half hour drive for us.
Early one Wednesday morning in October, John took our sweet boy to Champaign with hopes of understanding and fixing whatever was wrong. Wow. Were we in for an astonishing ride. First of all, this vet school hospital is amazing. It’s just like a people hospital with surgeons, radiologists, cardiologists and you-name-it-ologists. Who knew there were so many kinds of specialized veteranarian doctors? We didn’t. But luckily for us there are, because within three hours of Windsor’s arrival at the hospital, the team had conclusively determined that Windsor had a sliding haital hernia caused by his severely restricted airway. In other words, Windsor had such difficulty breathing through his tiny nostrils, the negative pressured caused by the sheer force of his effort to breathe caused him to suck his stomach up into his chest cavity. This phenomenon is well-documented in brachycephalic breeds of dogs like bulldogs, but has not been formally studied in cats.
And so, Windsor’s surgery was scheduled for the next day. I drove to Champaign that evening with hopes that I would get to see him. They’d planned to open his nostrils by removing tissue, making it much easier for Windsor to breathe. In addition, they were to suture his stomach to his abdominal wall to prevent it from sliding in and out of his esophagus. And, in as much as possible, they’d planned to repair his stretched esophagus. In addition, they’d discovered bladder crystals and hoped to flush those out as well. His surgery went very long, but I finally got to see Windsor at around 10:00 pm that night He was so happy to see me. Even though he was very out of it, he reached out his paw to touch my hand. But it actually touched my heart.
See the amazing intensive-care accommodations for Windsor after his surgery? That bed is heated from the bottom. Every effort (including pain medication) was made to keep him comfortable, and it seemed like each breath was counted. Initially, the surgeon was very pleased with how his surgery had gone, but Windsor was far from out of the woods.
The next few days was an emotional roller-coster of good news mixed with concerning news. He ended up needing another emergency surgery for a blocked bladder, requiring a blood transfusion and contracting pneumonia. But through it all, we visited as often as we could and the doctors took exceptional care of our boy, keeping us informed every step of the way. Thankfully, after a week the good news started outweighing the bad, and we brought our baby home a week after his surgery. At his lowest, he weighed in at 4-1/2 pounds. I held him all the way home, wrapped in a baby blanket.
Windsor came home with a feeding tube, which while not as messy as traditional force feeding, was still challenging. We gave him his meds through the tube and fed him through it, too, if he didn’t eat enough on his own. At first it seemed overwhelming, but we soon got the hang of it. And within a few days, Windsor was eating enough so we didn’t have to push food through the tube; and within a week, the tube was out. There were other ups and downs along the way including a white-nuckled midnight emergency run back to the hospital, but he got a little better each day.
Fast forward two months later, Windsor has made a full recovery. Was it expensive? Yep. Would we do it again? You bet! Windsor eats like there’s no tomorrow and weighs nearly seven pounds–which according to our vet is exactly perfect! And while there is still an occasional puke, the bond that we’ve developed with him is like no other. It always amazes me that many of the catties who have been through the worst times are the sweetest and most loving. A lesson for us, maybe?