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Monday, July 19, 2010

Overdue Update - on Prozac & "food retraining".

Ok. So, last week we started Rufus on his kitty Prozac (generic name fluoxetine). I've decided to start with a very conservative dose, mainly because I was terrified of some unforeseen adverse reaction to it. I worked from home last Tuesday, July 13, and he got his first dose. The funny thing is, he is a Pill Pockets JUNKIE. So, giving him the Prozac is easy AND I can do a little clicker training at the same time! His dose is 2.5mg daily. The smallest the tablet comes in (and it's an oblong kind of tablet, not round) is 10mg, and I'm not going to lie - cutting those suckers evenly into quarters is a major hassle. I bought a pill cutter for that purpose, but it's useless on a pill of this size and shape that has to be quartered. Sigh.

My biggest concern before starting the Prozac centered around one particular potential side effect called serotonin syndrome. When Grady was a few weeks away from his 19th birthday (and I'll remind everyone here - in addition to being the Methusaleh of cats, Grady had been being treated for Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) for nearly a year and half by this time), he seemed to take a downward turn. I had long been attuned to watching his overall demeanor - energy, appearance, grooming, eating, drinking and litterbox habits. He'd been not eating enough, and it was concerning. I took him to the Hope Clinic, and they prescribed a little bit of Mirtazipine. Mirtazipine itself is an antidepressant, but in cats, it's known to stimulate appetite. I was approaching desperate at that point, and when I went home, I gave him the Mirtazipine (it need only be given once every three days, which, if your cat doesn't have a reaction from it, is a bonus) and prepared his food. Within 20 minutes I knew something was badly wrong. He was drooling great gobs of thick, clear drool. He was howling. It was obvious his respiration was extremely elevated. His pupils were dilated. I couldn't get too great a heartrate reading, but it was elevated as well. I rushed him back to the veterinary ER. He was having a rare reaction to Mirtazipine - serotonin syndrome. All they could do for him was admit him, give him the "antidote" (which is cyproheptadine, another appetite stimulant that uses the OPPOSITE effect) and some activated charcoal. They stuck him on an IV and he was in the vet hospital for two days. It was during this time that - coicidentally - they found the tumor in his kidney. My poor baby - we knew treating cancer in a nearly 19 year old kitty who already had kidney issues and whose cancer was IN the kidney was not going to happen. But the vet told me to bring him home - he wasn't in pain - and just make him comfortable and spoil him rotten, which I did. But it took him another full day after coming home to really get back to being Grady. That Mirtazipine almost killed him.

So, when I saw "serotonin syndrom" as a potential side effect of kitty Prozac, I was understandably concerned. I've been giving Rufus his daily dose and then watching him like a hawk.

The most common side effect of Prozac is constipation. So, all kitties are getting the equivalent of about 1/4 of a tsp. of plain canned pumpkin mixed into their wet food daily, which helps keep the poop hydrated and movable. I thought - "there's no WAY these cats are going to eat canned pumpkin". But I bought a can anyway and added it to their food last week. They WOLFED it - all of them. I also got a neat trick years ago from the feline CRF webiste suggesting that I store unused canned pumpkin (once the can is opened) in an ice cube tray and then freeze them into pumpkin cubes. All four cats go through a little less than a cube a day, so I defrost one by putting it in the fridge in the AM for use with the PM feeding. The things we learn.

All cats are still physically separated and on a rotating schedule. Bella out, Rufus, Feats & Meatball in the front bedroom. Rufus, Feats & Meatball out, Bella in the office. You get the drift.

This weekend begun the food portion of our retraining. The behavioral vet said that step one (after medication) was to get all household cats oriented towards food as a reward and not as a given. This means that they're all fed several times a day (5-6 times) for 20-30 minutes at a pop. In theory (and probably in actuality), they'll learn to anticipate the food and perceive it as a treat rather than a given. But I feel bad not having food down for them!

The goal is to go ahead and continue the medication, continue clicker training when possible, continue to get Rufus used to the harness (hilarious - I'll have to post a video of that), and start Bella on the BusPar (that starts today or tomorrow). Then, next weekend, Rufus will have to start taking his meals in the dog crate. Two weeks after that, Bella comes into the room and eats with him with Rufus in the dog crate. This should allow plenty of time for the Prozac to start having its desired effect and for each individual change to be phased in gradually so as not to upset everyone with too much change too quickly.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A discussion with the animal behaviorist.

Cornell University is the proverbial gold standard for veterinary medicine. It's affiliated animal behaviorists are vets - they have their veterinary degrees and then go through a master's program in animal behavior. All told, they have nine years of post-high school education to bring to a problem, so I felt I was in the best possible hands.

Dr. Albright called me exactly on time. She had clearly reviewed the questionnaire I had sent. Our conversation was free form - there's only so much I could put in the questionnaire and I added as much into the discussion as I thought would be helpful.

The first major "aha!" area came to light when I referenced that Rufus and his brother, Feats, were bottle-fed cats. Dr. Albright said that there has been a great deal of research on "orphaned" kittens and their ancillary issues.

In the wild, cats live with a pretty defined social structure. There is one mature adult male in a clowder (group) of cats. There are typicaly several adult females who are related. The remainder of the clowder consists of immature males and females. The adult females are solely responsible for the rearing of the young cats. In essence, a cat learns how to be a cat - and how to be a proper memeber of a clowder - from its mother. Kittens who lack a mother's nurturing, comfort and teaching develop demonstrable problems as they mature, and apparently, Rufus is no exception.

So we've basically decided, at this point in the conversation, that Rufus' orphan status as a kitten is likely the cause of his behavior issues, which have intensified as he has matured (he's now 3 years old).

I then talked about Rufus' woolsucking behavior, which is common with orphaned kittens. Dr. Albright basically told me that this is a sign that Rufus feels some level of stress. But she cautioned me not to construe that with needing to reduce environmental stress on Rufus. Rather, she equated it to the human habit of fingernail biting. As long as the woolsucking doesn't beomce pica - where the cat ingests fabric or materials - it's not dangerous and furthermore can't be stopped. I don't care that Rufus woolsucks - but it makes me sad that he does it as a self-comforting activity due to some level of stress. :(

We then went on to the specifics of the attacks on Bella, and I let her know as well about the incident of hair pulling with Feats. We talked about how and when each cat (or cats) joined the family, how they were integrated, what their overall demeanor is and the like.

All told, we spent 90 minutes on the phone that day. Dr. Albright gave me specific guidance about what she thought I needed to do not only for Rufus, the aggressor, but also for Bella, the victim.

1. Bella needed to go to the vet and get a medical issue ruled out as a cause for Rufus' aggression.
2. Bella needed to be tested to see if she could go on a specific medication, buspirone.
3. Buspirone is commonly prescribed to victim cats.
4. Rufus needs to go on fluoxetine. Start with a low dose, 2.5mg. per day and work up as needed in 2 week increments.
5. Bella and the other cats need to be physically and visually separated for two weeks (minimum).
6. Starting immediately, feeding habits have to change. Rather than feed twice daily and leave food down to be snacked on throughout the day, food has to become more reward and less granted. Feeding multiple times daily in 20-30 minute increments and then picking food up was suggested as ideal.
7. Once the separation period is concluded, Rufus is to be placed in a dog crate at feeding time. Bella is to be brought into his line of sight. They are all to be fed for 30 minutes and then Bella removed and all food removed. As cats are calm and feed without aggression, Bella's dish is to be moved closer to Rufus in 1 ft. increments. The goal here is for all household cats to associate Bella with something really good - food. Whenever Bella appears, food appears.
8. Starting immediately, I am to start clicker training Rufus so that I can redirect bad behaviors to good ones using the clicker.
9. Starting immediately, I am to get Rufus used to wearing a harness. I am to start slowly and do something he likes while he's wearing it (the whole harness thing is hilarious - I'll try to get and post some video on that).
10. Once Bella and Rufus (still in a crate) can eat next to each other without anxiety or aggression, I am to put the harness on Rufus and attach a tether to it and start feeding outside of the crate.
11. Once feeding time is consistently calm, I am to start letting Bella and Rufus out together with Rufus on the tether so that I can prevent an attack.

LOTS of stuff to do. I've decided this weekend that I'm going to start with the medication first. I don't want to turn Rufus' world upside down with a lot of change at once - medication, changes to feeding routine, etc. I want to phase each major item in when it makes sense. So the fluoxetine starts for Rufus on Tuesday of this week. Saturday, I'll change their feeding habits and the two week clock will start ticking. I'll start Bella on the buspirone as soon as she is medically cleared to receive it.

I'll post as things develop - I have a LOT to do. These little cats are my family and my responsibility. Right now, I rotate them every two hours (except at night) - three cats in the bedroom, Bella out. Bella in the office, three cats out. It's frankly exhausting, but it keeps everyone safe as I get my hands around the problem and begin to address it.

Wish me luck!

Rufus goes to the vet.

Two articles in particular were helpful to me in developing an initial plan.

Feline Behavior Problems: Aggression (Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine)
Introduction to Feline Aggression (Petplace)

There are other sources you can find online. Most outline the most commonly identified forms and manifestations of feline aggression. Most furthermore say that the first thing you do when aggression starts to become a problem is take the aggressor to the vet for a full checkup and bloodwork to rule out a medical issue as the cause of the aggression.

So Rufus went to the vet.

He was given a full tactile physical - normal. His blood was drawn and analyzed - normal. His eyes were checked for any telltale signs of blood pressure anomalies, portosystemic shunt, or brain tumor - normal, normal, normal. The vet judged that the aggression was behavioral and not medical.

She discussed options with me. She was to the point - she said that she has never seen behavior modification alone succeed. She also has not seen medication only succeed. Rather, the best results come with a combination of medication and behavioral modification.

Enter fluoxetine, better known as kitty Prozac. Fluoxetine basically increases serotonin in the brain which facilitates better carriage of brain messages and has been known to decrease aggression in tandem with behavioral modification. Rufus' blood had to be tested for certain chemicals to ensure that fluoxetine would be safe for him.

In the meantime, my regular vet referred me to the Cornell Animal Behavior Clinic under their College of Veterinary Medicine. I filled out an extensive questionnaire - it wound up being a 14 page Word document. I scheduled a phone appointment with Dr. Julia Albright for last Thursday and sent the questionnaire to her in advance of the appointment.

I'll cover that conversation in detail in my next post.

Three weeks ago - cat insanity.

So. Four cats, two are siblings and came to the house at the same time, two others added at different times and with different backgrounds.

As you can imagine, the cat shenanigans are myriad and numerous. And that's what it was - shenanigans - for a solid 7 1/2 months of all four of them living together unrestricted with full run of the house. As I mentioned when I introduced Bella in a previous post, she's easily the most skittish of the four. Rather than jump in and join in, she watches the others as they go about their cat activities. She doesn't particularly want any of the cats up "in her business". Her business is strictly off-limits. The other three would occasionally chase her as well, and she'd run and then hiss at them, swat a little, and everyone would go back to what they were doing before the interruption.

Before I can talk about three weeks ago, I have to go back to April. I'm petting Feats, and I see a smallish (size of a nickel) bald spot between his shoulder blades. My cats are strictly indoors, so they don't get Frontline or Profender or anything like that. I was concerned, though, because I still volunteered with homeless animals (I always washed my hands carefully before coming home and petting my own cats, but you never know), about the possibility of some kind of fungus that could a) spread on Feats; and b) spread to the other cats (and potentially the humans!) in the household.

Feats was packed off to the vet. By this time the bald spot was the size of a quarter. The vet took a scraping to test for fungus and prescribed me a topical antibiotic ointment just in case. I brought Feats home, and a few days later that bald spot was the size of a half dollar. WTF?

About a week after the vet visit, I'm watching Feats just walk into the living room. I hear the galloping of feet coming up - Rufus. Rufus runs up along Feats' left side and while still slide behind but alongside of him, Rufus slings his front right leg across Feats' back, wraps him up, forces him to the ground, and commences biting and ripping Feats hair off between the shoulder blades.

Mystery solved.

So let's digress and just talk about Rufus for a moment. He is hands down the most neurotic of the four. He's a beautiful kitty - truly striking. But the only way I can describe him is obsessive compulsive (OCD). I don't use that lightly. He's a chronic woolsucker. Multiple times a day he gets on a soft blanket or a towel or a particular kitty bed or one of the humans and commences sucking and making biscuits. He's uncannily focused as well. You can tell he knows when he's either about to or in the middle of doing something he shouldn't. But he won't break his concentration on the thing he's doing or about to do - he can't seem to help himself. It's like a pathology. Rufus seems to get on "jags". Ripping Feats' hair out was one jag. Another is the occasional fixation on toilet paper and the shredding of it.

Now I should mention - Rufus weighs 12lbs. Feats is 13.5lbs. Meatball is 12lbs. Little Bella is barely 8lbs. She's the smallest of the four.

So on June 18, I'm getting everyone's breakfast ready. My cats eat twice daily, and they each get fed the same thing in the same amount into their own dish. I'm in the kitchen getting the food ready and I hear Rufus chasing Bella upstairs. From upstairs I hear Bella screaming. I run upstairs and find Rufus on her. He's not attacking and then backing off - he's on her, biting. She's completely frozen. I have to yank Rufus off of her and put him into the spare bedroom and close the door. When I go back to check on Bella, she's freaked and she's so scared that during the attack she let go of her bladder.

I separated them that day, putting Bella in my office while I went to work. I let them out together, but only under my supervision. Rufus was chasing her a bit, but nothing like that other day.

Until about a week and a half ago.

I could see Rufus staring at Bella while Bella was on the stairs. She seemed to sense something bad - she started to take off. Rufus pursued and attacked her again. I tried to grab him as she freed herself and went into the bedroom, but I missed. He chased her into the office and attacked her behind my desk out of my reach. She was screaming the whole time, and Rufus was on her the whole time. I finally managed to grab hold of Rufus' leg and yank him off of her. He went into the spare bedroom and I shut the office door and coaxed Bella out from behind the desk. She had, again, let go of her bladder in fear.

That's when I started Googling "feline aggression" in earnest. One thing was clear - once something like that starts, it will keep happening. I decided to keep them physically separated until I could get my arms around the issue and start trying to address it.

I called the vet and made an appointment for Rufus.

For whom the Bella tolls.

As I mentioned in my last post, losing Grady is not something I'll ever get over. I am deeply grateful and beyond fortunate that he shared his 19 year long life with me, and I never lose sight of that.

One thing that I started to do when the numb wore off after Grady went to the Bridge was volunteer more actively with a local no-kill rescue, The Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation. They have an adoption center in my local PetSmart, and that's how I got involved. It started with simply volunteering at Sunday adoption events. That moved to a shift caring for the cats in the adoption center (PetSmart adoption centers are attended to by volunteers who come in two to three times a day to play with center residents and clean their enclosures, refill their food & water, etc.). That moved to becoming a foster caregiver. I turned my office in the house into a "foster room" and hosted various kittens and cats on their way to their forever homes.

In very late October 2009, I got a call from the foster coordinator asking if I could take in two 2-year old cats who were being returned to the rescue. They were siblings - a brother and sister - who had been adopted together as kittens. Their humans told the rescue that one of the cats had had a problem with bladder infections and that they simply couldn't afford to care for them. I contacted the human in question and told him to bring the cats to the Sunday adoption event and that, if they weren't adopted, they would come into foster with me.

He did show up. With one cat. He told me, basically, that his children couldn't bear to part with the brother cat so he had just brought the sister, Bella. He said that she was shy and "not very nice". He signed overall the paperwork relinquishing ownership (I hate the concept of "owning" a cat, by the way) and turned Bella over to me in a cold carrier with nothing soft for her to lay on.

I took her out of the carrier - she was TINY - she was TERRIFIED. We made it through the adoption event (I wanted to take her home with me right away, fearing the stress of the event was too much for her, but I was overruled) and I packed her up and brought her home to the foster room. I spent a LOT of time with her in the following days - encouraging her to come to me, to let me pet her, to try to play a little bit. I fed her great food and slowly built a relationship with her.

I didn't take her to the adoption event the following week because I just thought she would do better with a little more time to acclimate to her new circumstances before throwing her back into the mix. By sheer coincidence, I had resigned my job on October 31 and was due to start a new one on November 16. This gave me a LOT of time to spend with Bella, and I made sure I gave her that time.

She was a lovely kitty. Petite and mostly black with the cutest white toes and a little bit of white on her tummy. She came to me freely as the days passed, accepting love and giving it back.

As the day fo the adoption event I was supposed to take her to approached, I knew I couldn't give her up. My husband came into the living room and asked if Bella would be going to the event two days later. I hesitated - he said, "We can't keep her."

I burst into tears.

Basically, after holding out for 17 years and not allowing my husband to get a tattoo, I arranged a trade: I get Bella, he gets a tattoo. Truthfully, he would have acquiesced regardless because he knew that I loved Bella and she loved me back.

What commenced was a trip to the vet for a health check (healthy) and a long transition period where I introduced her to the other three cats. The other three are all very outgoing - rambunctious, chasing each other, you name it. Bella is different. I don't believe she was abused per se - but I do think she spent two years with her previous family basically hiding and largely ignored. It was obvious to me from the start that she didn't know how to play, which was really weird. She would watch the other cats play and slowly learn herself. Where she would always run from my husband or another cat, she started hanging on the edges of the activity, keeping an ever-watchful eye on everyone but me.

I can't say that she fell into the cat groove in the house - but I can say that she didn't disrupt the cat groove in the house. She made (and continues to make) progress every single day. She plays more, trusts more, and gets more social with each day that passes.

Until about three weeks ago.
Sidenote: Bella's brother was surrendered back to the rescue by the same family three weeks ago.

Grady goes to the Bridge.

I'm not going to go into a long description or discussion of Grady's Chronic Renal Failure (CRF). If you've never heard of CRF, it's a common problem for particularly older kitties. Their kidneys just kind of start to wear out. The only thing you can do for a kitty with CRF is try to slow the progression of the disease itself by using a low protein, low phosphorus prescirption diet, careful attention to hydration with sub-cutaneous fluids administered to keep a kitty properly hydrated, and a careful attention to bloodwork and a willingness to treat any issues that bloodwork and behavior might reveal.

There is no cure.

I was helped greatly by a Yahoo! group for Feline CRF, and I owe them a debt of eternal thanks and gratitude for helping me help Grady have a happy life filled with love and hugs and kisses and pets. I kept Grady's quality-of-life as my absolute baseline requirement for any and all things and I'm happy to say that, with the exception of a few bad days, he lived to be just over 19 years old.

Grady pretty much let us know it was time. He was weak, and we had found out a few weeks earlier that he had a fatal complication - a tumor in his kidney. I was absolutely assured that he wasn't in pain and to take him home and enjoy the time I had left with him. I was also told that the time would be weeks and not months.

On Monday, March 23, 2009 at 2:23pm EST, our kind and caring mobile vet came to our home and helped Grady pass. He was on my lap the whole time, and I told him that it was ok for him to go, that he'd been the best friend I'd ever had and that I knew he was ready and I would see him again.

I'll never really get over losing Grady. I could write a whole blog about how he was with me my entire adult life and all the things that made my relationship with him exceptional. Suffice it to say that he's a special boy and is dearly missed.

Grady was survived by Rufus, Feats & Meatball.

I have told a little of Grady's story at his Rainbow Bridge Residency site.

Meatball joins the family.

My husband and I, in addition to having pretty serious day jobs, are working musicians. We have a great big band filled with talented musicians and writers, and it made sense that we would do an album.

We spent a little more than a week in October of 2008 at Bias Studios in Springfield, VA, recording our album.

The owners of the studio - Bob and Gloria Dawson - are great people. They brought their lovely scottish terrier, Yogi, to work with them every day. Yogi was such a character. When I had a break between times they needed me in the studio, I would go out into the meeting area and hang out with Yogi, who was still more puppy than dog. Over lunch one day, I asked Bob Dawson how Yogi got his name.

"I wanted to name him Meatball, but Gloria wouldn't let me." And that was all he said about that.

A few days later, I'm pulling into my neighborhood and I see this little black splotch kind of in the gutter on the curb near a neighbor's house. I get out, and it's obvious that the blob is a kitten. She's laying there meowing at me. I ask the neighbors if it's theirs.

"No," they say. "It just kind of showed up. We've asked around it doesn't belong to anyone."

A few months earlier I had started volunteering with one of the local rescues, so I scooped that kitten up with the idea that I would turn it over to rescue once I got it it inside and fed. I came in the house and went down into the basement where my husband was and said "Look what I found!" I showed him the kitten.

"What are we going to do with it?" my husband asked.

"We're going to feed her and put her in the bathroom to rest. We'll take her to our vet on Monday and get her medically checked out and then she can go into rescue."
So up the stairs we went. I put her in the larger bathroom with my husband and went downstairs to get her some food. I put a 3oz can of wet food on a paper plate and brought it upstairs. This kitten went to town on that food - ate every. last. bite. Then I picked her up and put her in my lap. She rolled onto her back and fell sound asleep.

Needless to say, the cute got the better of us and there was NO WAY we were going to be parting with this kitten. We named her Meatball - in part because of Bob Dawson but mostly because she looked like a little black and white Meatball. She went to the vet on Monday and was judged to be about 8-10 weeks old and healthy.

She spent another two weeks in medical isolation before being retested for anything nasty. She was spayed a month or so later, integrated with the other household cats, and became a member of the family.

Enter Rufus and Feats

So we've decided that the best thing for Grady is to consider another cat or cats to keep him company. I have to tell you - my heart was really heavy over this despite knowing that it was the right thing to do.

I was out one weekend running errands when I see a sign - "Cat Adoption Today", it said. I followed the arrows to a local public library, parked and went in. There were a ton of enclosures set up on tables that had been pushed together to form a very large "U" in the room. There were different people attending a particular cat or cats, and it was quickly apparent to me that a bunch of different rescues were participating in the event.

I went to each and every enclosure and chatted with the cats there. I paid them each attention, believing that each is so worthy of attention, affection and love. I wasn't especially looking for anything in particular - no particular breed, age or gender. No specific colors. Rather, I was looking for "it". I knew that if "it" was there, I would find it and the ony way was by spending time with each cat.

I made it all the way around the U to the very last enclosure. There were two cats in there - tuxedoes. They were sound asleep. I bent down to peer in and the one with more black on his face than white opened his eyes, looked at me, and then reached a paw out through the bars and touched my face.

I almost cried.

I peered at his friend in the enclosure, another tuxedo kitty with more white than black on his face. He was substantially more subdued. One of his eyes was runny, and he frankly looked pretty miserable.

"They're brothers," said the man minding this group of enclosures. "Their mother was killed when they were 2.5 ounces. They were the only survivors and they've been bottle fed."

"How old are they?" I asked.

"Seven months."

I took his card because the event was winding up. I called him the next day and said that I would like to bring my husband by to meet the brothers. We picked a time and he sent me an address. By the time we got there a few days after the event at the library, they had let the two brothers out in the shelter (which was actually the entirety of their basement, converted for feline care). As we walked towards the door to the basement, I could see the first one - the face-toucher - with his paws up on the door looking out. We came in and my husband met them and it was a done deal. There was no way these two boys didn't belong with us. We filled out the paperwork, paid the adoption fee, and scheduled to have the boys dropped at hour house a few days hence so that they could get the last of their shots.

"I get to name them," said my husband. In a moment of insanity, I had apparently promised him that he had naming rights to the new cats.

"Well, what will their names be?"

"Rick James," said my husband (who is a fan of funk music).

"Which one will be Rick James?" I asked.

"Both. They'll both be Rick Jmaes," he said.

"Bobby. We cannot name both cats Rick James. They'll get confused. Why not something like Rufus and Chakha?" I was thinking of Chakha Khan and Rufus, of course, of Tell Me Something Good fame.

"No - they'll be 'Rufus' and 'Featuring Chakha Khan'," he said.

"Feats for short," I insisted.

Hence Rufus and Feats.

They came to us on a Wednesday before Christmas in 2007. I converted my stepson's old bedroom to the new cat room, knowing that Rufus and Feats would have to be medically isolated and then tested by my vet, and then furthermore neutered and recovered. I wanted to do a slow, careful introduction of the two brothers to Grady, always reaffirming Grady's "top cat" status in the household.

By the end of January 2008, Grady was sitting on my lap watching the brothers race wildly through the house, flinging toys and being generally nuts. They were always great with Grady - respectful and never aggressive. I will always credit Rufus and Feats with the year and half sweet Grady lived after his CRF diagnosis.

A little about me and why I'm starting this blog.

Hi. My name is Rena, I'm in my early 40's, married, and I have four cats. My husband is the proverbial "trench line" that keeps me from fully succumbing to CCLS (Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome).

I've had cats my whole life. I actually don't think there's been a period of more than a few months where a cat or cats wasn't a member of my household. At birth there was Mai Ling, my mother's Siamese. After her came JB, a sweet orange tabby. He was joined when I was about 7 by Pancake, a wonderful tabby with a brown bib. Pancake survived JB, and was joined first by JennyAnyDots, a petite tortie, and then Foster, the friendliest, loving medium-haired black kitty with small white patches. When I finally struck out on my own, I found my sweet Grady, a beautiful, regal and soulmate tuxedo boy. He was then joined by Baby Girl, a beautiful brown tabby and the only one of seven litters of feral kittens for whom I didn't find a permanent home that wasn't mine. We then added Krispy, who was with us until 1996.

I guess the story of my Dysfunctional Cat House begins in October/November of 2007, the single most expensive cat month I ever had. Grady was 17 1/2 years old that fall, and Baby Girl was coming up on her 15th birthday. They were elderly kitties. In the space of three weeks, both of them got sick. Really sick. It started with Grady. He just walked downstairs one evening at the very end of October 2007 and literally meowed at me and fell over. I scooped him up and we went to the veterinary ER (The Hope Center in Vienna, VA). After a two day stay, I was told that my sweet Grady had early Chronic Renal Failure (CRF). Thus began my journey with CRF and Grady.

Right around the same time, Baby Girl went to the bathroom on the carpet. HIGHLY unusual. When I went to clean it up, it was clearly tinged with blood. This, of course, happened one evening in early November of 2007, so she was off to the veterinary ER. They took her for some tests and brought us into the room where the vet would consult with us. We were told she had a urinary tract infection, but also that they felt a mass in her abdomen. They kept her overnight and scheduled her for a consultation with a veterinary internal medicine specialist the next morning.

Naturally, we were thinking cancer. It was a rough time - one kitty with kidney issues and another with what could be cancer. Imagine, then, our relief when the specialty vet told us the next day that the mass appeared to be a cyst. They drained it and sent the fluid off for testing and discharged her to our care at home where she was getting antibiotics. The fluid came back negative for cancer, and the vet advised us to give it two weeks and see how quickly the cyst filled back up. If it was a slow process, we could just leave it be - but if it filled quickly, the recommendation was going to be surgery to remove it.

It did fill quickly. So she finished her antibiotics and had a round of bloodwork to ensure she was healthy enough for surgery, and then we scheduled it.

She went in on November 27, 2007 to remove the cyst. I was nervous all day. The vet called at around 2:30pm and indicated that there was a problem. Basically, when they were removing the cyst, they found that her liver and pancreas were overwhelmed with cancer. The issue, they explained, was twofold: one, they were having trouble waking her from anesthesia. Two, they told me clearly that if she did wake up, her liver could not handle the pain medication she would need to be pain free.

Our sweet Baby Girl became an angel that day, November 27, 2007. I didn't even really get to say goodbye.

You can imagine that we were devastated. We thought we were out of the woods with her and we weren't. But surprisingly, Grady took it as hard as we did. Within days of her passing to the Bridge, Grady started wandering the house meowing pitifully, clearly looking for her.

We weren't ready for more cats. We were still in shock as you can imagine. But here was Grady - 17 1/2 and being treated for CRF, and clearly telling us that he was unhappy with his only cat-dom. So we opened our minds and our hearts to another cat or cats, using the logic that an infusion of youth would encourage youthfulness for Grady.

And that's where this story really begins, to be told in coming posts.

More of Baby Girl's story can be found at her Rainbow Bridge Residency site.