Cat Tales

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!

Little Black Bundle Mends Hearts

posted March 15th, 2011 by
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By. Camille Hulen


Paul is a WWII veteran and holds the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts. His wife Gurney is a cancer survivor. They have endured the death of their only son, followed by the death of one of their daughters.

Living alone, their dog Fritzy was a special comfort to them. During Fritzy’s golden years, he received special care, eventually dying in his sleep. That left only a pet turtle which the couple nurtured for 27 years.

Paul and Gurney had some good friends who visited regularly. Marcia and Philip entertained with stories of the stray cats and kittens who visited their yard.

Unfortunately, Marcia and Philip also had some sad stories to tell of their neighbor who did not look so kindly upon the strays. This neighbor routinely trapped cats who invaded his yard and took them to the pound to face certain death.

To him, kittens were nothing more than “rabies infested vermin to do away with!” When Gurney learned of the trapping, she wanted to save at least one of them. Although she knew that the kitten would be wild, she was confident she could tame it.

Our Story Begins:

One day the neighbor trapped a little black kitten. Although Marcia told him that she had a home for it, he loaded the terrified kitten into his truck and took it to the city shelter. Marcia sprang into action and went to the shelter to retrieve the kitten.

Although there were several black kittens there, she was confident that she could identify the right one, because it had a short tail. After paying the fees and waiting the required time, she brought it home to begin the domestication.

Marcia had done this before, so she knew that it would take time to gain the trust of this little creature. She covered his carrier with a “security blanket” and took it from room to room with her so that he would become familiar with her voice.

Finally, he became more curious than sad, and began to trill like a small bird and even purred slightly. Although it would mean another change for him, he was ready to go to his permanent home.

And Paul and Gurney were more than ready for him! Nothing was too good for this baby. They set up a large cage in the room where they spent most of their time, and from Marcia’s description, it was like a luxury motel complete with padded bed. Instead of mints on his pillow, this kitty received a new toy every day. They named the kitten Precious Angel.

Precious Angel responded quickly to their love and within a week he was ready to be picked up and held. Perhaps it was the songs that Paul sang to him. Although Paul admits that he cannot carry a tune and sometimes forgets the words, he likes to sing hymns to Precious Angel. Precious Angel sleeps in his arms as he sings, and routinely put his paws on Paul’s hands as he says his prayers.

About a year later, Marcia’s neighbor trapped another kitten. This time he called Marcia, because he had seen a picture of Precious Angel sleeping in Paul’s lap, and began to realize that stray cats are not so evil after all. (And, of course, you know where this kitten would go.)

Precious Angel got a sister to play with. Paul and Gurney took this baby and set up Fritz’s old cage for her right next to Precious Angel’s. She adapted quickly, and now the kitties run and wrestle, providing constant entertainment as only young ones can do, instilling new vitality to this senior household.


posted November 15th, 2010 by
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SCAMP AND HIS TWO fellow housemates had visited me many times while their human mom Betty Anne traveled far and wide. Their last visit was at Thanksgiving, while Betty Anne visited relatives back east. This trip was not a happy one, for her cancer had returned. Then, in December, she was hospitalized. When I visited her on December 17, she wrote me a note with a shaky hand saying, “As I go into hospice, I’d like for my cats to be with you. I have funds to provide for them.” Less than a week later, just before Christmas, Betty Anne died.

Scamp is a cat who lives up to his name. In past visits, he was a challenge. He was a very independent and dominant cat, confronting everyone he met, feline or human. He ruled the kennel just as he ruled his home. However, when he arrived after Betty Anne’s death, he was different. He still wanted to be the boss, but he became very loving toward me. He would rub against me and follow me about, as if he knew that he was now dependent on me.

When visitors came, he was especially beguiling, as if auditioning for a home. He would roll onto his back, lure them into petting him, but, if they didn’t do it just right, he would bite them. Several people looked to adopt him because he was a beautiful Maine Coon, but no one wanted a cat that would bite!

Months passed, winter became spring, spring became summer, summer turned to fall. At last, a lady saw his picture posted on an adoption board and came to visit. As soon as she saw him, tears welled in her eyes. “He looks just like Harley!” Charlene exclaimed. She petted him and talked to him and he responded appropriately. A little nip did not dissuade her. “Harley used to do that,” she said. “Well, he is very dominant,” I cautioned. Charlene then turned to the friend who was with her and asked, “What is on Harley’s box of ashes?” “The Boss,” her friend replied. I knew instantly that Scamp had found his new home. He even went into the cat carrier that she had brought for his ride home without persuasion.

Now, as Christmas approaches, Scamp has settled into his new home with two dogs, another cat, and even a new kitten. He is playfully jumping into every box and pouncing on every loose ribbon. He doesn’t need any presents, for he has found the greatest gift of all: someone to love him. This year will be a very Merry Christmas!

Cat Buddies

posted October 15th, 2010 by
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I have heard from many cat owners that their cat is an “only child” because it simply doesn’t get along with other cats. Cats are solitary animals, the myth goes. I believe otherwise.

1. Feral Cat Colonies
It is true that cats are not “pack animals” like dogs. In the wild, they do not necessarily form a group with a distinct hierarchy and hunt together as dogs do. The lion is unique in the feline world in its formation of a pride which participates in group hunting activity. However, feral cats on the street do form groups who appear to enjoy each other’s company, but the group is loosely structured, more like a social club. When a new cat joins the group, there is no need to fight and establish a strict pecking order.

My focus here, however, is on the domestic cat: the cat who is pampered by her owner and thinks she is human. Through my catboarding business, I have had the unique opportunity to observe the interaction of these very special cats who are introduced as strangers to one another. They do socialize.

2. Cats “feel each other’s pain.”
When a new cat comes to board, the other cats are typically curious and go to its carrier to greet it. They follow me to its cage to check it out. If the newcomer is calm, they ignore it and go about their business. However, if the newcomer is upset, they all become disturbed. Similarly, if for any reason at any time, a cat becomes agitated, all cats respond in like manner. They clearly pick up on each other’s stress. Ever wonder why your cat is stressed at the vet’s office? I believe it senses the distress of sick cats in the area.

3. Cats Have Territories.
When a newcomer is released from its cage, there is no fighting, because the kennel is neutral territory. Visitors marvel at how all of these strange cats co-exist at my facility. In general, there is no confrontation. If there is a confrontation, it is usually between male cats (although they are neutered). There is no question that some cats, particularly male, are alpha personalities. Usually this alpha simply needs to be confined until he learns what is acceptable behavior. (Yes, cats do understand discipline.) Typically, the female cats are like women, they just complain and hiss at one another.

In its own home or yard, a cat is more likely to become defensive when a new cat enters the picture, for this is his territory. Cats have distinct territories. I cannot say the exact size of these territories. Anecdotally, I have observed that one of my cats did not do well on a small postage-stamp city lot, but did fine when he had 1/3 acre as his domain. The larger lot seemed to fit his sense of space, and other neighborhood cats were happy in their own similar spaces. No one had the urge to intrude on another. On the small lot, there were regular cat fights: not so on the larger lots. They could comfortably visit each other over the fence.

Cats who are strictly indoors will choose particular places as their own within the home. One may choose the highest spot, another a favorite chair, and someone else his own side of the bed. For this reason, when introducing a new cat to your home, it is important to keep it separate for a little while until it can gain self-confidence in its own space. Put it in a separate room and let the resident cats become curious about it. Then exchange spaces between the newcomer and the residents so that they can check out each other’s scents and then introduce them gradually. Very seldom is it love at first sight. Sometimes they become good buddies; sometimes they simply tolerate each other.

4. Cats Choose Their Own Friends.
Unfortunately, I am often called upon to bottle-feed an orphan kitten. Most of my resident cats say, “Oh, no, here comes another one!” and hiss and walk away. Usually, it is my female cats who are most accepting of the kittens, as their mothering instincts conquer all. In one case, however, one of my male cats adopted a little brother, as shown in the picture (Mister and Duncan). To this day, they are the best of friends, sleeping together and grooming each other. On the opposite side of the spectrum, one visitor, Miyagi, will never get along with PomPom, the Persian. He always seeks her out and chases her. Is it because he loves to tease her and hear her squeal?

In the kennel, cats from different households will frequently visit each other’s cages and play together. They will run and chase and even share toys. In fact, one of the best ways to introduce cats is to play with them with an interactive toy on a string. The cats become so focused on the toy that they forget their differences.

5. Cats Teach One Another.
We have all heard that mama cat teaches the kittens to hunt. On several occasions, one of my older cats has brought in a lizard or bug, presented it to a kitten, then backed off to watch it play. Often, several older cats will gather to watch and not compete. Similarly, I have seen one boarder introduce a newcomer to a toy.

6. Cats Respect Old Age.
Kittens will always play together, but what about old cats? I have observed that old cats actually seem to enjoy watching the younger ones. I remember one cat, Sultan, in particular. He would sleep in his cage most of the day, but then take a morning and evening stroll through the kennel, as if to review the troops. All of the old cats seem to gain new vigor from watching the young ones, like old folks sitting on the porch watching children at play. What is more interesting is that the younger cats respect old age. They let the old guys go at their own pace and never challenge them. The conclusion? I believe in the adage: “Cats are like potato chips. You cannot have just one.”

Camille Hulen
Camille Hulen is the owner of Camille’s Cathouse, a bed & breakfast exclusively for cats.

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