Cat Tales

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

FIRE

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.

Mannford

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.

Drumright

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.

Thunderbird

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.”

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