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A No Name Cat Called Remington
I was looking forward
to a day of peace and quiet, for there aren’t too many days out of 365
that I actually close for business. I own a pet shop, the backdrop for
this story and so many others past, present and future. I had just sat
down on the couch with the TV remote in hand, when the phone rang.
“Hi, Deb. This is Gail. I’ve got a real serious problem,” she said.
Gail was my step-children's mother. With teenagers, it seems like there is always some kind of crisis going on . . .
“What’s that,” I asked, thinking something horrible might have happened to one of the children.
“The kids brought me this cat that got hit by a car. He has a big hole in his side and his leg is broke,” she explained.
I hesitated for a moment. “Uh oh, here we go again. I’ll just listen. I’m not going to offer my services. I’ll let them take care of it,” I thought. I wasn’t trying to be ignorant, but I was feeling a little under the weather.
“Deb, I don’t know what to do with him. I gave the cat some water with sugar and salt to try to put some fluids back into him, but he needs some fluids subcutaneously,” said Gail, who has a strong nursing background.
“Gail, I wish I could help, but I don’t have any IV fluids anymore. All the medications I had from the pet shop expired during the move. I had to throw everything out,” I explained.
The No Name Cat
Aimie, my step-daughter, had heard the cat meowing for a couple of days, but couldn’t figure out where the noise was coming from. She is just like her mother—has a heart of gold when it comes to animals. After searching endlessly, Aimie eventually found the black cat lying underneath the house.
“I think he has great constitution and that’s what gives me my positive energy,” Gail said. “And for him to have pulled himself more than 200 feet, and end up underneath my house says a lot about him.”
“It’s like my sister said, ‘Gail. He went under your house to die,’ but I think he went under there to protect himself against the elements,” she went on to explain of the stray.
Advice to an Animal Lover
I could tell Gail was looking for some positive feedback and reassurance. Sometimes, that’s all we need—to know that there is a life line out there.
“Well, I’d just try to clean the cat up the best you can, keep him warm, and try to get him to a vet,” I advised.
“He can’t move his back leg either,” Gail added. He has feeling in one leg, but not the other. I took a needle and poked it on the bottom of the one paw, but there’s no reflex.”
“I would be more concerned about the open wound than I would be with the paralysis. Sometimes, it can be temporary. He could have a pinched nerve, or some trauma that is causing some swelling and pressure on the spine. He may gain use of his leg at a later date. I wouldn’t write him off just yet.”
“Deb, I’m telling you. This cat is really bad. I don’t know if he’s going to make it or not,” she added.
“Just do the best you can,” I reiterated. That’s all you can do. If you need me, call me.”
“Okay. Thanks, a lot Deb,” she said, hanging up the phone.
After she hung up, I started to feel guilty. I should have offered to help, but I knew if she brought the cat to me to take care of, I would get attached to him. A few minutes later, the phone rang. It was Aimie.
“Hi, Ms. Deb. Do you know the number of an emergency animal clinic?” she asked.
“There are a couple of them. Probably the one in Hagerstown, Maryland, is the closest to where you live,” I said.
“Yeah, but they want $85 just for an office visit before they do anything,” she said.
“I know. Emergency care is expensive,” I told her.
“We’re trying to find a vet that will put him down,” she explained.
I paused. And paused again . . . Then sighed, letting out a deep breath.
“If you want me to take a look at him, you can bring him down,” I suggested. “But I’m not keeping him. I have six cats of my own. I can’t keep another cat. I just can’t.”
“Okay, Ms. Deb. We’re leaving in five minutes. We’ll be right down,” Aimie said.
About that time, my friend, Eric, came into the room.
“What are they bringing the cat down to you?” he asked.
When I first met Eric, I had four baby opossums running around in my bedroom. I had temporary custody of them until I could find a wildlife rehabilitator, who was willing to take them in.
“They’ll be here in about a half hour,” I said. “I’m going to go get ready for them.”
Assessing the Cat's Condition
Gail and Aimie had finally arrived, carrying the cat wrapped up in a navy blue towel.
“Let me just finish setting up his cage,” I said. “Then I’ll take a look at him.”
“Eric, can we move the stuff off the table?” I asked. “I’m going to need an exam table. This will have to work.”
Then I went and grabbed a beach towel and spread it out on the table.
“Okay. Let’s set him down here, and take a look,” I said.
He smelt like death warmed over—like rotting flesh—or chicken that had been left out on the counter—the kind of smell you just don’t forget.
“Here’s where he got hit,” Gail said lifting up his right limb.
“Oh, geesh. That’s worse than I thought,” I said with an alarming look on my face.
There was a very large flesh wound the size of a golf ball. It looked like a chunk of meat that someone had butchered. I looked, then looked again.
“That is just what I thought,” I said. “That is exactly what I was afraid of.”
His bone near his sternum was snapped clean in half—like a twig on a branch. Every time he would try to move, the bone would poke out the front.
“Okay. You can put his arm down now. Let’s try not to move him or stress him out a whole lot. I don’t want him going into shock. Let’s just keep him as quiet as possible,” I said.
Next, I went and got a digital scale used for weighing the puppies in the shop. Then we eased him off the towel and onto the scale. He registered 4.15 pounds. For a feral cat, I didn’t think that was too bad.
“You know I feed all the cats that come around,” Gail said.
“His weight is actually pretty good,” I added.
Judging by his teeth, I estimated he was probably around a year old. He was a fully intact male as well. For his body size, I guessed he should probably weigh around seven to eight pounds. He was just a few pounds underweight.
Preparing a Makeshift Exam Room
I headed back into the kennel contemplating where I was going to put the cat. After much deliberation, I had Eric grab a cage off the top rack and move it into the puppy play room.
“Why don’t we put the cage on top of the microwave stand—that way he’s up off the floor? It won’t be so cold, and it will be easier for me to clean in the morning. He’s going to be a mess. If he has no use of his legs, then that means he’s going to have no control over his bowels.”
Somehow, I got the feeling I had been down this road before, and was wondering what I had gotten myself into.
Tending to the Cat's Wound
I was quiet for a moment . . . “I’m just thinking,” I said. “I’m trying to decide what to do for him.”
I left the room for a minute then came back with a bottle of Dextrose solution used to treat ketosis in cattle.
“I think I can make this work,” I said. “But I don’t have any sterile water.”
I hesitated for a moment. Okay, it’s the weekend . . . vets offices are closed . . . stores are closed . . .
“Eric, run up stairs and get me a bottle of water out of the refrigerator,” I said.
“Just a regular bottle of water?” he asked.
“Yeah, that will have to do. I don’t have anything else to use,” I replied. “Do me a favor, and warm it up a bit. Thanks.”
I was out of lactated ringers. Usually I keep some on hand in case I have a puppy that goes into hypoglycemia (sugar shock from low blood sugar). The best I could come up with was a 20 cc syringe. I attached a 22 gauge needle and drew up 2 cc of Dextrose to 18 cc of somewhat sterile water. Aimie had given the cat some dry food. To our surprise, he started nibbling at it. I’ve got an idea.
“Eric, can you get me a can of cat food, too?” I hollered.
My plan was to distract him with some canned food while I administered fluids subcutaneously. I wasn’t sure how he was going to handle it.
He started woofing down the canned food like he was starved to death. I grabbed a tuft of skin off to the right side of his shoulder blades just behind the neck.
“Darn. This needle’s not going in. I can tell he’s an outside cat. They have really thick skin around their necks,” I said. “I’ll have to use a heavier gauge needle.”
I should have used the 18 gauge to start with, but it’s a lot bigger needle. I knew he’d feel it more. I was trying not to hurt him.
“I can’t see a thing,” I said frustrated. “He’s a black cat, and there’s no light in here.”
“What about that little flashlight--the one with the little tripod?” Eric suggested.
“That will work,” I said. “That would be good.”
I managed to get about 40 ccs of fluids subcutaneously in him. At this point, he didn’t seem too dehydrated, but I did it to give him some extra energy while he was able to take it readily.
“I broke my golden rule,” I told Gail.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“I didn’t wear latex gloves when I was working with him,” I said.
I was worried about rabies not knowing his history. I just took an unnecessary chance because I was tired, and didn’t give it a second thought.
“Oh, well. It’s too late now,” I thought.
“Gail, we’re going to have to try to clean this wound out, so infection doesn’t set in. This is going to require some team work. Are you up for it?” I asked.
“I’m up for it,” she said.
“Let’s carry him over to the tub in the kennel. I’ve got a good sprayer. We can flush it out,” I instructed.
About that time, my two boys Kenny and Johnny stopped by with their friend Ryan and his girlfriend.
“Eric, get me a towel,” I said.
“Ryan, look in that plastic bin and get me some cotton rolls. I’m going to have to dry this wound when I’m done bathing him,” I said.
I placed a towel in the bottom of the tub to make the cat feel more secure, so he would have something to grip onto instead of the slippery tub.
“I want to try not to get him wet,” I said. “I don’t want him getting cold.”
Gail grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and held him up in the tub. I took the sprayer and squirted out the open wound, making sure not to get any water into the body cavity.
“That looks pretty good. What do you think?” I asked Gail.
“It looks good to me, but try to get this stuff off right here,” she said.
It was scum—combination of pus, fur and flesh. I picked at it with the towel ever so gently.
“Okay. Let’s set him up in the cage,” I said motioning everybody to the puppy play room now the kitty isolation room. I had my own entourage it appeared.
“You need to just shoot that cat and put it out of its misery,” Johnny replied.
“What are you going to do with that thing? Take it to the vet? That’s going to cost you money,” Kenny added.
“Guys, just chill,” I said. The teenage years were upon me . . .
“It looks worse than it is,” I explained. “It’s a clean break. It will probably have to be amputated though, and flesh wounds always look nasty.”
I was already starting to get attached to the cat. It was kind of hard not to when something was fighting so hard to survive. I dreaded the thought of infection setting in and taking over his body--that was my worst fear. Everything else was fixable to a certain degree, I thought.
Gail offered to take the cat back and provide him with a good, loving home, if we could get him healthy again. At least I had a back up plan.
We placed the cat in the cage for the night on a heating pad made especially for newborn puppies and kittens that regulated a constant temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. He seemed comfortable.
“Look, he’s drinking water!” Gail exclaimed.
“Maybe we should add a little bit of sugar,” I suggested. It will help to keep his energy level up.”
After we got him situated, I turned off the lights for the night.
“Feel free to call me tomorrow to see how he’s doing. Oh, and thanks, for bringing me the cat,” I said sarcastically with a grin.
After everybody left, I went in to check on the cat. He seemed in good spirits. In fact, he was even grooming himself and cleaning his own wounds. I scooped up some canned food and heaped it into a pile. He ate it ravenously. At one point, I thought he was going to bite my hand he was gulping it down so fast. I petted him gently on his head.
“It’s going to be alright buddy. It’s going to be alright,” I said. He seemed to know I was trying to help him. I think animals can sense when someone is trying to help.
Administering Cat First Aid
Today was long and exhausting. I woke up early to the sounds of the cat thrashing around in his cage like a fish out of water. I could hear him on the other side of the wall where my bedroom was located. The stench from rotting flesh and infection was also making its way through the cracks in the walls to my bedroom.
I laid in bed thinking to myself, “What in the heck is that cat doing? He’s probably dying.” Sometimes pre-death, animals get a burst of energy—one last jolt—before they exhale and just die.
“Could this be it--the grand finale,” I thought. I didn’t want to see it, but I had to check on him. My conscientious wouldn’t let me lie in bed another minute longer. To my surprise, when I went to check on him, he had completely flipped his body from left to right. He must have gotten too hot on the heating pad. I don’t know how in the world he mustered up the strength to have flipped himself with his bone protruding out his chest. I gained a whole new respect for that cat. He had true grit.
I figured he was probably hungry, so I popped the lid off the canned food and offered it to him. He didn’t seem too interested at the time, but he gobbled a few bites. I offered him some water as well. Over the next hour, he drank two bowls. I was pleased that he was drinking on his own. He seemed to be getting plenty of fluids orally. At least he wouldn’t dehydrate. My main goal was to get him to the animal hospital first thing Monday morning, so Dr. John Dodson, D.V.M., my store veterinarian, could assess him. Then we would make a decision from there. Unfortunately, an emergency veterinary clinic was out of the question. I had been down that road before. I didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a stray cat, and I wasn’t about to re-mortgage my house. My only option at this point was to try to stabilize him and make him as comfortable as possible until I could place him in the hands of professionals.
I went over to my medical library and pulled out, “Cat First Aid,” written by the American Red Cross. I had recently taken their Pet CPR and First Aid class. I sat down in my office chair and started flipping through the pages. I had hoped to maybe run across something helpful that maybe I could do better for him. Then I found the bone, muscle and joint injuries section.
“Okay, there are sprains and strains . . . nope, that’s not it. Fractures . . . nope, he’s got a clean break . . . signs and symptoms . . . (still scanning down with my finger) . . . piece of bone sticking through the skin. That’s it. That’s what I’m looking for,” I thought.
The book suggested washing the area with water or saline solution. The recipe called for one teaspoon of salt to a quart of warm water. I hollered for Eric to once again to grab me the table salt from upstairs in the kitchen. I had been running him ragged the past two days, but he was still cordial. I mixed the solution up as directed, but I was missing something. It was hard for me to work on the cat without moving him and causing him unnecessary pain. Then I remembered an oak carousel that I had packed away in the cupboard.
“That would be perfect,” I thought. “I could just spin him around right or left or whatever way I needed to work on him.”
Sometimes, you just have to improvise. So, I placed the wooden carousel on the table. Then I put a towel down, and gently moved the cat onto the carousel.
“Perfect,” I thought. “This is great. This is just great. I can just twirl him around. I was like a child with a new bike! It’s the simple things in life that make me happy, and I was tickled pink with my newfound toy.”
I grabbed a Monoject syringe and proceeded to squirt out the infected area with saline solution. It was actually starting to look pretty good. Then I scanned down to the next paragraph. The book advised me to loosely place a dressing over the wound, extending it several inches past the opening, and then to apply tape.
“Hmm. I was trying to let the wound drain, but they’re suggesting covering the area,” I thought.
The more I thought about it. The more sense it made. Eric, a former firefighter and EMT, also brought to my attention that the cat was losing its body heat out of the wound.
The cat did seem to be taking a turn for the worst. It was cold to the touch—despite the heating pad and the space heater pointed directly at it. Over the course of the day, it had lost its appetite and had become depressed. Its nictating membrane, (a third eyelid that cats have), had also become more apparent.
“Eric, do you think you could help me?” I asked.
“Sure, just tell me what you want me to do?” he said.
“I’ll lift the cat up, if you can slide the vet wrap underneath of him,” I explained.
Earlier that day, I had tried to offer him some relief with a makeshift sling, but to no avail, he weaseled right out of it.
Visit to the Veterinarian
Eight o’clock came early the next morning. I had lain most of the night awake, replaying my every move over and over again in my head. I imagine most medical professionals do the same thing. The veterinary hospital called and said they could get me in first thing. I felt relieved—like a big black cloud had just been lifted off my shoulders.
Upon arriving, I was whisked back to exam room no. 2. Within a few minutes, Dr. Dodson entered the room. He examined the cat’s injuries and took x-rays. Worst case scenario, we were looking at possible amputation of the limb.
“How much are you willing to spend on this cat?” he asked, noting that these kinds of things can get pretty costly.
“Go easy on me now,” I said. “Be merciful. He’s a stray, and he doesn’t belong to me.”
“I understand, but how much are you willing to spend? I need to know before I get started,” he asked again.
“I’m willing to go $800 or so,” I said cautiously, not wanting to insult him, but yet knowing it would run a whole lot more somewhere else.
Dr. Dodson was willing to work with me given the situation, but we were also facing the risk of infection traveling through the cat’s body. It was uncertain as to how old his injuries were. The infection may have already started to spread despite my gallant efforts. Dr. Dodson had a busy morning with other surgeries scheduled. I was grateful; however, that he was even able to get me in on such short notice, so I left the cat in his care. When he got a chance to look at the x-rays, he said he would give me a call.
A couple of hours went by, and I hadn’t heard anything. I assumed that everything was going well with the surgery, no complications. Then the phone rang . . .
“Hey this is Dr. Dodson. Did you get my message earlier?” he asked.
“No. I didn’t. I’ve been sitting right by the phone waiting,” I replied.
“Well, it’s worse than we thought,” he said. This cat has been shot.”
“Shot!” I exclaimed. “I thought so. I just knew it.”
“There are bullets in the belly. The bullets must have gone from front to back, and entered the belly around the liver. Since there are pieces of bullets in the abdomen, it’s possible that you could have some torn bowels,” Dr. Dodson explained.
He went on to tell the story of another cat that came into the hospital on Christmas eve that was able to be saved because its injuries were treated right away.
“I’m not sure the prognosis here can be very good,” he said. “We have to go into the abdomen and make sure everything is okay first before we can do the amputation.”
“How did you conclude that he was shot, and not hit by a car?” I asked.
“Remember, I told you that I wanted to x-ray the back end?” reminding me of our conversation in the exam room.
“Yeah, because of his hind quarters not working right,” I said.
“Well, that’s how we picked up on it. We found bullet fragments in the x-ray,” he said.
“I’m just curious. What kind of bullet fragments were they?” I asked.
“They appeared to be from a .22,” he said.
“So, it wasn’t like buckshot or anything?” I asked.
“No. It looked like the bullet penetrated through the front and shattered the bone and continued out the back,” he reiterated.
“That makes me so mad,” I said lost for words.
“So, I need to know if you’re up for all of this. It is very major and can get quite expensive, and there’s no guarantee that we can fix it,” he said tactfully.
I hesitated. Once again, I was faced with having to make a tough decision.
“So, what are we looking at? Thousands of dollars . . .,” I asked.
“Because there are bullet pieces in the belly, you have significant risk of infection,” he reiterated again, trying not to make a decision for me. “But we, the staff and I, feel that he has suffered long enough.”
On that note, I made the decision to have him euthanized. As I hung up the phone, I felt angry, not sad. A million thoughts raced through my head. I found myself pacing back and forth in front of my desk.
Then I recalled looking into the cat’s bright green eyes, and how he looked back at me as if to say, "Thanks, for your kindness.” I remembered how he’d lift his head for me to scratch underneath of his chin. He loved his temples massaged, too. While I never heard him cry out in pain, not once, I did hear him purr. He even kneaded the blanket the way cats do when they’re kittens. And then I thought of how someone so cold-heartedly used him for the sport of target practice . . . I thought about it some more . . . and decided that the cat needed a name. He deserved that much. He had earned that right, I thought. And so I named the no name cat Remington after the .22 caliber bullet that claimed his life. I did not want him to die in vain. He had suffered long and hard like Jesus nailed to the cross. “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do,” I thought, shaking my head in disgust. Or do they?
The staff informed me later that there were several other cats admitted to the veterinary hospital that same week with similar injuries—gun shot wounds.
If you suspect foul play, cruelty or neglect, contact your local animal shelter or state dog warden.
For more information on Pet CPR and First Aid certification, contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross.