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Free Kittens – A Cat Tale

posted May 27th, 2013 by
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by Camille Hulen

“Kittens, free to good home.” It’s spring! The newspaper classified pages and Craigslist abound with ads for free kittens. In addition, kittens are peddled from the back of pick-ups in parking lots or on street corners, where a few sellers will ask a nominal amount for them.

The child sees them: “Oh, aren’t they cute?” Then Mom relents and takes one home. We won’t talk about the unsold ones dumped in the country or drowned in the river. The following is the story of one kitten purchased under such circumstances.

Two friends of mine were driving through a neighborhood when they spied a beautiful Siamese loose in the middle of the street, anxiously trotting along to follow a woman who was paying no attention.

When they stopped to inquire, the woman admitted that this was her cat. However, she no longer wanted it. “I got this kitten for my little boy, but he’s gonna kill it, so I turned it loose.” She then proceeded to tote her case of beer toward the apartment.

My compassionate friends, of course, followed up. “How did you get this kitten? Has it had its vaccinations?”

“Well, I gave $150 for this cat and just put it in my pocket and brought it home. What vaccinations? I don’t know about that stuff,” the lady replied.

The lady agreed to relinquish ownership of the cat, and my friend Linda then made arrangements to pick up the kitten from her the next day.

When Linda arrived, there the kitten presented a pitiful picture sitting alone outside the door with all of its belongings: a kitty condo, a litter box and food. The kitten was immediately taken to a veterinarian, and spayed and vaccinated at the expense of some Good Samaritans.

Fortunately for this kitten, our Internet network was able to find a loving home with owners whose cat had died recently. Kitty is now well cared for and will lead a wonderful life.

How many other kittens are not so lucky as this one because their owners have no idea of what responsible pet ownership entails? They think buying a big bag of cat food monthly, along with a toy at Christmas, is sufficient.

This is the reason that rescue organizations ask so many questions to screen applicants carefully. Reputable agencies will also be sure the cat is already spayed or neutered and must charge a fee to cover this expense. How many “free” kittens are abandoned when the novelty wears off? We see them every day: former pets, unspayed and forming feral colonies with their offspring, or taken to the shelter and euthanized.

Adoption is a commitment to a lifetime relationship—a cat will live close to 20 years. ASPCA estimates a first year cost of cat ownership to be approximately $1,000, and at least $670 per year thereafter. Kiplinger agrees, putting the cost between $500 and $1,000 per year.

What are some of the costs? To begin with, a sizable pet deposit is generally required of tenants with pets. Some estimates of recurring annual costs are: food, $115; litter, $165; treatment for flea prevention, $144; annual medical exams and vaccinations, $160.

This does not include miscellaneous things such as grooming expenses and care while you are on vacation. There should also be savings available for emergency veterinary care in case of illness or accidents.

So, the next time a person asks, “How much is that kitty (doggie) in the window?” The answer is, “There is no such thing as a free cat.” However, the love of a cat is priceless.

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!

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.”

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! 

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

Background:

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.